How did we let win Letwin?

BR OpinionBy Sam Barker

Who knew? Who would have guessed that beyond the tangerine diamonds and exhortations to vote Green that Bridport was somehow blue? That the man purveying shredded Letwin literature as toilet paper outside his house was not representative of the voting intentions of the town?

But then maybe it wasn’t Bridport. Maybe it was elsewhere in West Dorset that gave Letwin this supercharged majority? The man himself seemed strangely absent from DT6 during the weeks of the campaign, preferring friendlier territories like Poundbury or Sherborne. Not that he didn’t come here at all – in a video on his site he’s standing outside the South Street toilets one Tuesday in April, all gap-toothed equanimity, saying how much he likes being out on the election trail talking to “all sorts of interesting people who raise all sorts of interesting points and questions,” celebrating “the chance to argue things out.”

Maybe there should have been more arguing things out. That way, an impassioned minority that felt like a majority might have better known what it was up against. But then maybe it was the arguing that drove the majority to cowed silence. A few weeks ago, Janan Ganesh, the political commentator, said that voting Conservative had become a transgressive act, like being punk or emo. He was right, except that unlike punks or emos Conservative voters played it normcore until the opportunity came for self-expression in secret.

Presciently, Letwin himself foresaw the outcome. In another video filmed on May 1, he says that the last few days of an election are a “precious moment” in which there is the possibility of a “large number” of normally disengaged people actually “attending to the political question.” As the “awesome decision” approaches, he predicts that this group will, “probably more and more decide that they opt for securing a better future for themselves [by voting Conservative]…”

For Letwin, therefore, voting is a private act, the culmination of a short but intense period of personal reflection. A moment of deep communion between citizen and state. Not an expression of long-term tribal affiliation to be displayed on Facebook.

Where does this it leave Bridport? With high house prices and low pay the town has benefited from the tax credits that look most at risk from the new regime. The new government aims to make £12bn in cuts to benefits by 2018 and Liberal Democrats such as Ros Kayes will not be there to check this. Sometime soon, those decisions made in private will start manifesting themselves in public. Start donating to food banks now.

By |May 9th, 2015|Opinion, Politics, Sam Barker|2 Comments

Vote, Vote, Vote…But Who For?

BR OpinionA personal view by Sean Geraghty

When I had my first vote in Dorset in 1983, a massive truck crashed into The Clock House in Chideock on polling day. The greasy undercarriage blocked the main road and a spectacle was made of a team of butchers unloading several hundred carcasses as the evening wore on.

When we woke up, Thatcher was in again, and James Spicer, the minister looking after trade with South Africa (then under Apartheid) was in again in the safe seat of Dorset West.

The same day there was a triple hanging in South Africa (, with the victims allegedly strung up with twine made in Bridport.
The omens are similar today. The Clock House has been destroyed again and a vile (minority) Tory government is claiming to be in power. Our local MP is hell bent on privatising anything that moves and Thatcherism has never gone away.

My solitary vote of conscience in 1983 contributed to 3,000 or so polled for Labour against a 23,000 Tory majority and we took the right hooks in the coming months as Bridport’s unemployment rate went up to 25% after Gundry’s closed. This was made easy for the owners by Thatcher ‘opening up the markets to international trade’. In effect, British companies could still be British even if their manufacturing base moved abroad where labour was cheaper. So the rope-making industry moved to Portugal and Bridport had dole queues so long that the line of people waiting in the rain ran around the block from the old DHSS office (now the Citizens Advice Bureau) and down Church Street past the Water Board, (later privatised of course).

There were a lot of people whose lives were irrevocably changed by the politics of the time, and while the industry wasn’t as heavy or traditional or as widespread as mining, steel-making, fishing, shipbuilding or any other nationally recognised industry, the effects of its removal have never been forgotten.

Quite a few people got council houses in that era, probably their first-ever break, and celebrated Thatcher as some sort of champion. People like me were advised to take anything they could find and so I got on to a scheme for the National Trust and worked 40 hours a week for about £35, a full £10 more per week than social security. It didn’t lead to anything, but it got the unemployed numbers down by one.

The bus service we relied on to get around was instantly streamlined and any non-profit-making services were cut. This meant that if you wanted to travel late in the day you had to do it by 5.45pm heading west out of Bridport, or 6pm heading east. People like me, a 19-year-old pedestrian, used to hitch-hike everywhere.

The Tories are always giving the impression they are rational, making a strong case for economic stability. But is that what daily life is about? I see the extension of the Thatcher years as something more sinister. You used to pull the ladder up behind you. These days it’s more like raising a drawbridge around your mansion, with private health care, private schools, old-school tie jobs, private security, fantastical wages and lifestyle while the rest of the people out there in the badlands have to get by some way or other, or just crawl off and die.

The mentally ill can just deal with it; the old can get themselves out of bed or rot in their soiled bedsheets. The privateer drug-dealer or hustler can go about his business with the skeletal police force uninterested and understaffed mopping up the mess after the event.

Thatcher-lite is not what the Eton crowd are peddling. They think that going further down that blocked road is the answer. I keep thinking people can’t be so stupid to swallow it again, but there is no doubt that the dumbing down process has been very effective and many people are indifferent, ill-informed and downright gullible, lured by the false hope of personal furtherance, about being unique or special. We’re all in it together….

Oh yeah, we are all lost in it together.

So, in case it isn’t obvious, I won’t be voting Tory. They are facile people who can only deal with simplistic solutions: get on yer bike, get up off your arse and start a business, it’s all down to you, anything’s possible. Well it isn’t, actually. Most people need help through their lives at different times. Help to get an income, get a roof over their heads, feed their children, get well, find some sort of hope, purpose or meaning to their lives. To better yourself when you have trouble just getting by, when all your energy is diverted into survival is where many people will probably find themselves if Cameron and his shysters get another crack at running the show. This lot are coming back to pick up the scraps they missed last time after the energy companies, the oil, the railways the buses, all the public utilities that were siphoned off.

My dilemma is whether to vote Green, because I believe in a radical approach that has our use of our resources as the paramount consideration, or to vote for a locally-minded person. Do we see the solution to a housing crisis as building more, or maybe legislating to encourage second-home owners to sell up through high taxes? To deflate the housing market would be my vote winner, but the Greens don’t go far enough for me. They also want to boost fuel prices so independent travel in rural areas would become a major problem for those of us who live and work in places such as West Dorset. There is no way buses would be able to serve the small communities dotted about the place and rural isolation would probably increase.

So Labour. Vote for them? I have done in the past, and I traded my vote last time for a Lib-Dem one and feel so repelled by Clegg’s behaviour I am wrangling with very mixed feelings about doing something similar again and voting for Ros Kayes. She has done her bit locally and supported many causes I agree with strongly. She also has the only realistic chance of unseating Oliver Letwin. While I have sympathy for Labour, they really did bollocks it up when they went to war and sided with that cretin, Dubya. I so admired the preening French for saying non in the face of pressure to go to war.

I despise the false hope that Blair engendered. I remember the celebrations we had in 1997, running from Kings Cross to the South Bank to join the party. Walking along opposite Parliament that day I believed I could hear the dying howls of John Major’s lacklustre crew fleeing the building. It was like a breath of fresh air in the spring morning sunshine and hope abounded.

This time my only hope is that the election will depose this awful, dreary brigade of toffs. The BBC have done their best to misrepresent the left, as usual, insinuating a Scottish takeover, economic ineptitude and a weakness in that curiously uncharismatic Milliband brother who is still trying to convince us he is part-human with his ineffectual sincerity-speak.

I will probably have to vote local, and send Ros a card saying I only voted tactically, hoping it might keep the bigger evil out. To try and pick between Letwin and Clegg is actually impossible, like trying your best to support Germany or Argentina in the World Cup final.

Getting Ros in would be the best of a bad lot for me. She doesn’t make the same noises as Clegg and I would hope she would also vote according to her professed beliefs rather than the party whip. I would hope she would have a go at promoting local issues that are aimed at benefiting the local community in a far wider regard than Letwin, (or his predecessor, Spicer) who seems to see himself as a national figure, and is one of the ringleaders of the selfish swine who care nothing for our buses, our housing crisis or our hopes for our young or old people to live in a safe environment.

So I will draw back the little curtain, scrawl my cross somewhere and wait with a vague hope that we get a bunch of decent-minded people into a cramped chamber to make some good decisions and hopefully prosecute a few bankers, but I don’t really have much hope. I will be hugely surprised if Dorset West changes its colours, flabbergasted in fact.

One person, one vote. I only hope that more people use theirs. I will probably hold up the queue when I go to use mine, dithering, wrestling with my conscience, while many will simply not bother.

They say we get the governments we deserve as a society. I hope they are wrong.

By |May 6th, 2015|Opinion, Sean Geraghty|4 Comments

Tragic fact, tragic fiction

BR OpinionBroadchurch has been a huge success, soon to be repeated. But one aspect of the series, in which drama mirrored life, was regrettable.

By Sam Barker

Incongruous is not the word. Maybe discordant? Maybe disturbing? Maybe the full moral elongation of reprehensible? How else can you describe the attempts to drum up excitement about Broadchurch Series II when another person has recently died near West Bay?

What will Series II contain? We’re all being kept on tenterhooks. All we have is the teaser preview of the hit series, accessible on the web and the Bridport News website. All we know from the teaser preview is that there’s a distraught mother crying on the stairs, that two girls have gone missing, that it’s the “same town”, but with “new secrets”. And that East Cliff, or Harbour Cliff as its screen name goes, is somehow implicated. Again.

In Broadchurch Series I, East Cliff’s role was as an accessory to death. The plot pivoted around the body of a child on the beach below. Was he pushed? Was he put there? Did he jump? The cliff was predictably taciturn. And then, after several episodes, the cliff showed its hand: one of the potential perpetrators did jump. He was innocent but unable to bear the intimation of guilt. Dispensing with the depths of East Cliff’s amiable light, the series was shot in a flat blue-grey hue. Sad things happened. People died.

People do die at West Bay. Every year, one or two real people end their lives by going over East Cliff’s edge. “There have been several incidents like this,” a 73-year-old man who had lived by the cliffs for three decades told a journalist after a suicide on Christmas morning 2009. Anyone who’s lived in Bridport for any time can attest that he was speaking the truth.

East Cliff is not Beachy Head. At East Cliff, the deaths are more occasional, more local, less publicized than they are in East Sussex. They are for the nearby community to grieve and assimilate.

If you live near East Cliff, the abstraction is gone. While Broadchurch’s national audience of six million sees Harbour Cliff as a beautiful but macabre backdrop to the deaths on screen, the local community know East Cliff in reality. And in reality, the cliff’s warm glow can cast a worrisome shadow inland. Is your recently-divorced husband missing? Has your unhappy teenage daughter disappeared? Where did your son go after the pub closed? Check the beach below the cliff. And think twice before walking the beach on Christmas mornings.

Last Christmas it was 65-year-old Derek Smith who died at West Bay. Suffering from agonising tooth pain and taking anti-depressants, he drove to the cliff for three nights running before walking to the top and stepping over on the night of Saturday December 8. The people who witnessed his body being removed from the beach the next morning confessed they thought they had started filming the second series of Broadchurch early.

And this Christmas? A 26-year-old woman from Devon died on December 10. Moments before, people playing golf nearby reportedly tried to encourage her away from the cliff’s edge, warning of the unstable ground. The cast and crew of Broadchurch were also discouraged from the edge when filming Series II in June. They took no notice. The resulting vertiginous shots, taken from the top of the cliff looking down, are included in the teaser preview. So now we know – this is what people see before they fall.

Broadchurch II comes to our screens on January 5. Until then, the Bridport News website is inviting us to whip up the excitement with tweets including the hashtag, #‎BroadchurchReturns.

Is this discordant, disturbing, or reprehensible? Bridport must decide. Broadchurch is set around a place deserving of gentle sanctity and quiet respect. Real people have passed away there. Bridport thinks Broadchurch is bullshit. Or at least, maybe it should.

By |January 6th, 2015|Opinion, The Sam Barker Column|5 Comments

It’s Gatsby night at the Bull. But leave me out, Darling

BR OpinionBy Sam Barker

It’s New Year’s Eve and it’s Great Gatsby night at The Bull Hotel. Of the two destructive, dipsomaniac, American male writers from the 1920s, one – Fitzgerald (and his Gatsby) – has been enjoying a thematic revival. Forget Ernest Hemingway with his penniless Paris years, his Cuban cocktails and his shotgun to the head. Elitism and its calling cards of beauty and wealth are all the rage. It’s F. Scott Fitzgerald we want to party with now.

Or do we? Gatsby is terribly 2013. It’s also a little crass and missing-the-point. When Bridport’s food bank is said to be struggling to cope, it’s worth remembering that the beautiful young things of the twenties gave way to the Depression of the thirties. That F. Scott himself died of an alcohol-related heart attack aged 44. And that The Great Gatsby is in fact a parable about a man with money but without love who throws parties for empty-headed hedonists for the sake of snaring a woman already committed to the sort of loveless old-money which will never be impressed by his trinkets no matter how hard he tries. The Great Gatsby is a tragedy, Gatsby’s party-goers the vacuous chorus.

Not that this seems to have dissuaded celebrants at the Bull Hotel. We understand that the Great Gatsby New Year’s Eve is sold out. The Bull’s event-organisers may be feeling pleased with their efforts. Next year, however, for a hotel that prides itself on being eclectic and original – despite now being part of the Fuller’s Brewery chain, we’d like to suggest a Hemingway fiesta. Or failing that, a Dorothy Parker salon, with dancing.

By |December 29th, 2014|Opinion, The Sam Barker Column|0 Comments

Parking Scandal

BR OpinionNew parking machines have been installed in the South Street Car Park. Instead of putting in the right money and getting a ticket, you now have to enter your car’s registration number, followed by the coins and then you get a ticket dedicated to your vehicle.

No doubt this new system, which was trialled in the West Street Car Park and will doubtless be rolled out all over town, is intended to prevent the practice of handing a ticket with unexpired time to a fellow parker. And no doubt West Dorset District Council regards such acts of generosity as fraud. But hang on: if I have paid for two hours parking, say, and find that my business has been concluded early, why shouldn’t I pass on what I have bought? If I bought a bar of chocolate, would it be fraudulent to give a chunk to a friend?

The new system is not just mean-spirited and legally questionable but also stupid. Since some of us have trouble working out the new ticketing process, or remembering our registration number (the car may be hired and out of sight from the machine), queues build up. So now you have to wait to buy a ticket as well. It’s called progress.

By |December 22nd, 2014|Opinion|0 Comments