Tia Sharp death: Stuart Hazell accused of killing her after sexual assault

Murder trial hears grandmother's ex-boyfriend took naked photograph of Tia, 12, whose body was found in loft a week later

The man accused of murdering a 12-year-old girl, whose decomposing body was found in his loft, secretly filmed her to satisfy his sexual interest in the weeks before she was killed, the Old Bailey was told on Tuesday.

Stuart Hazell, 37, went to extensive lengths to hide the body of Tia Sharp after subjecting her to a sexual assault and smothering her in August last year, the jury was told.

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Anti-EU campaign gets a huge boost!

As if to remind us that we have just enjoyed the sunniest Bank Holiday in living memory, Phoebe was back on duty this morning as we codgers hobbled on to the allotments. But we resolved to make the best of it for the descendants of Michael Fish are issuing dire warnings about gales to come.

We were pleased to read the innocent explanation of the bruise on Nigel Evan’s forehead. Once again the Daily Mail has shown no compunction about saying anything about anyone, once again it has shown scant regard for the truth. Small wonder that this morning’s poll on public support for the plans of the press to self-regulate reveals that only 20% are in favour.

Less predictable was the news that the British military now has 500 drones, and plans to replace over a third of the RAF by remotely piloted aircraft by 2030. The ethics of this sound dubious in the extreme, but we are enthralled at the prospect of unmanned drones taking over much of our earthly tasks. Having drones to clean out hens will be fine by us!

But enough of such escapism, the real focus of our attention this morning was the news that former Chancellor, Lord Lawson, has claimed that the British economy would be better off outside the EU. Lawson is still a highly respected figure in Conservative circles, and his change of position on EU membership has caused quite a stir. Coming so soon after the Ukip success it has certainly intensified the presure on our dear leader to press ahead with a referendum.

According to the man seen as the great reforming Chancellor under Margaret Thatcher, the EU has passed its sell-by date and has become “a bureaucratic monstrosity”. In an article for the Times, Lawson writes that in a referendum he will vote for exit. He believes that any renegotiation with the UK’s EU partners is doomed to failure. A rapidly disintegrating bureaucracy would, he warns, fear a “general unravelling” as other countries sought to match any return of powers granted to the UK.

He goes on to say; “The heart of the matter is that the very nature of the EU, and of our relationship with it, has fundamentally changed after the coming into being of the eurozone.” He insists there would be advantages in the UK leaving the EU and insists that; “You don’t need to be within the single market to be able to export to the European Union, as we see from the wide range of goods on our shelves today”. He goes on to remark that : “The heart of the matter is that the relevant economic context nowadays is not Europe but globalisation, including global free trade, with the World Trade Organisation as its monitor”.

Coming from a former advocate of EU membership this is strong stuff. Lawson believes that entry into the Common Market half a century ago provided a much needed change of focus. The institution has now outgrown its historic purpose, and a new change of focus is now essential.

We codgers cannot pretend to have the financial grasp of a Lawson but we are less than surprised that the top bean-counters are beginning to question the wisdom of paying massive amounts each year to an organisation that contributes little in return bar endless, and often irrelevant, regulations.

Once again we find ourselves wondering why the Lib Dems are so obsessed with being sucked into a fractious United States of Europe. Of course we understand the benefits to smaller European states of being tucked under Germany’s wing, but are we really so convinced of our vulnerablity? And why is the Labour Party so indecisive?

Of one thing at least we can be sure. A combination of the soaring strength of Ukip and the shift in position of powerful financial figures such as Lawson is creating an unstoppable momemtum toward a referendum. It is time for a proper public debate and David Cameron must get off the fence before he is knocked from it!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “There is now a massive credibility gap with the public over politician’s assurances that more EU immigrants could not access benefits and public services too readily!”…The Business for New Europe group, 6/5/13 

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British justice? It stinks to high heaven!

Someone up there has surely erred. It is a Bank Holiday and the sun is out, an event rarer than Fergie complimenting a referee. It brought back happy memories of long gone seaside trips as we set about cleaning out the hens this morning. But it did little to assuage our anger at the latest example of someone accused being pronounced guilty until proved innocent by the media.

Yesterday our local MP, Nigel Evans, gave an interview in which he forcefully claimed that the allegations made aginst him are “completely false”. He added that he was mystified as to why two people known to him, one of whom he socialised with just a week ago, have accused him of serious sexual offences. Mr Evans is a well respected and popular figure in this patch and no one finds credible the idea that he would lie.

That of course would be a judgement for the courts if he is ever charged. What sickens us, and many local people, is that he has not been charged with anything yet is effectively smeared on every front page. The Daily Mail has even gone so far as to run a story about a scar on his forehead that wasn’t there just a week ago. Since the allegations do not appear to relate to anything that happened in the past seven days that can only be described as gutter press character assassination.

But the real issue here is the conduct of the police. In their announcement they gave the conventional patter abut a 55 year old male being arrested and, presumably, we are expected to believe that pure coincidence led to cameramen being present when police called or when they examined Mr Evan’s car. We are also expected to believe that details of the allegations were obtained by the media from non-police sources.

The police have said that they must show due care and attention when allegations are made, and in this respect they are right. But surely common justice demands that total secrecy is maintained until, and if, charges are actually made. Already the prospect of a fair trial, should it come to that, have been seriously prejudiced. Already the reputation of what many believe to be an innocent man has been dragged through mud that will stick, however ill-founded.

Two years ago the Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen was also accused of a sex assault, only for police to drop their inquiries seven days later. Presumably they concluded that the allegations were false. So why were we told of them?

We were particularly impressed by a statement released yesterday by Brian Binley, Tory MP for Northampton South. He said that he was “deeply disturbed and shocked” at the arrest. “I know Nigel to be caring, compassionate, and in no way would he inflict himself violently on any other person”, he said.

Yesterday Lord Blair, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, told Sky News that the failure to grant anonymity to those suspected but not charged was a “real problem”. However, he added that the “names have to be given”. Why? At the very least should allegations prove to be false the names of the accusers should be given and they should be prosecuted.

We codgers believe, as do many, that justice must be seen to be done if the rule of law is to be respected. Of course the police must seriously consider every allegation and, if they amass evidence, must seek prosecution. But until such time they should treat the matter as totally confidential.

Anything less is not rough justice, it is no justice at all. It stinks to high heaven!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  “I don’t know how Nick Clegg dares show his face…he’s got such a smacked bum…of that pre-nuptial  agreement it seems nothing has come to life. In 2015 they will go their seperate ways – but the Liberals have done themselves a tremendous disservice and long-term damage. I can’t see that this coalition will ever exist again!”  Lord Sugar, interviewed yesterday by Cristina Odone

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Human Rights farce plumbs new depths!

It is not unusual to see our popular local MP, Nigel Evans, in the headlines but the ones that greeted us this morning were not of the usual variety. We all like him, this morning we  greeted the news of his arrest with a shocked silence. We refuse to believe that he would do what is alleged. Only yesterday we were expressing dismay about fallen idols, we can only hope that there is a happy ending to this latest development. Right now it feels as if someone is rapidly switching off the lights in our hall of fame and happy memories.

The shock news cast gloom over our Sunday morning hen rituals. And the mood wasn’t helped by yet more evidence that the Human Rights Act is well past its sell-by date. Time and again we have fumed at decisions to bar deportation of non-British citizens on ludicrous grounds, and today’s examples must surely rank amongst the daftest of them all.

The 2011 riots were a frightening experience for thousands of innocent people. What started out as a legitimate protest turned into a disgraceful orgy of violence and looting. For once the government recognised the danger of papering over the cracks of an horrendous precedent, and encouraged the courts to crack down hard. They did, and two leading rioters were jailed.

One was convicted of violent disorder after rampages involving attacks on shops and cars by a gang in the Home Counties, while the other was convicted of burglary for his part in the London riots. Ubong-Luke Nkanta, a Nigerian, was jailed for 18 months for his part in shop looting. The other convicted criminal, a Zimbabwean,terrified passersby as he rampaged through two Buckinghamshire towns in a gang of 30 to 50 youths who left a woman bus driver “frightened for her life” after being part of a violent attck on her vehicle. He was convicted of violent assault and jailed for 18 months. Incredibly he was this week granted anonymity by two senior immigration judges, and is to be known only as TS.

Even more amazing was the ruling that neither man can be deported as ordered by the Home Office. Nkanta appealed against deportation on the grounds that his relationship with two biological children – by two mothers one of whom is his current partner – and with his partner’s other children meant that his right to family life entitled him to remain here. TS, who had already been cautioned for carrying an offensive weapon in 2007, appealed on the grounds that he has a girl-friend of three-years standing.

Many of the victims of both men have spoken out. Vincent Kong, who manages the Chinese takeaway targetd by TS and his gang, said; “If you come to this country you should behave. It’s not right to come and cause trouble. If you do that you should leave the country”. Ebenezer Markose, of the Sai Spermarket in Bletchley, said of TS; “He should be punished and he should be deported”. Their views are typical of many of the victims of mob rule, much of it led by these men.

Writing for today’s Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Raab, MP, says that these cases “warp the moral balance of British justice, endanger the public and make hman rights sound like “dirty words to many people”.

This decision has been taken in spite of Theresa May’s new, tougher rules. Her frustration is palpable. The truth is that the only human rights being protected here, and in many other cases, are those of violent non-British temporary residents.

Just days after the Ukip triumph we have yet more evidence to suggest that Nigel Farage has got it right!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  “Beyond the riots between 200 to 400 foreign criminals evade deportation each year by citing nebulous family or social ties under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, accounting for around 90% of successful challenges. In one case a drug dealer convicted of beating his girlfriend – and jailed twice for barbaric attacks -successfully cited his young daughter as grounds to avoid deportation. He never paid maintenance and had scarcely seen his daughter until lawyers explained that it would help his case – and despite the mother not wanting her to visit him in prison.”…..Dominic Raab, Conservative MP for Esher and Walton.

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To be or not to be?

The clouds had gathered when we arrived at the allotments this morning. For those of my pals who retain a loyalty to the two main political parties – the last Lib Demmer has absconded – it must have seemed symbolic. Just weeks ago David Cameron was dismissive of the Ukip “fruitcakes”, now he is talking in more concilitary tones.

We had an interesting chat with one of the non-hen keeping allotment holders who proudly told us that he had cast his vote for the “clowns”. Whether he is typical is open to debate but he emphasised that his decision was not simply about Europe, although he does believe that Ukip is the only chance to rid ourselves of what he describes as an albatross around our neck. He sees the EU as an emblem of many other things he hates including bossy, distant, arrogant, metropolitan elites foisting immigrants on him and then telling him he is a racist.

To many of the new Ukip voters, David Cameron looks too close to that model of politician to ever be trusted, even when the alternative is Ed Miliband. If this chap’s feelings are any indication Ukip may well sustain a surprising share of the vote even in a general election. And this morning’s news that our dear leader has appointed two more Old Etonians to his No 10 team will have served only to reinforce the belief that an elitist clique is on the bridge.

On last night’s Newsnight the three major parties – including the Lib Dems in that category is becoming increasingly dubious – struggled to deal with the fact that what they call a protest vote has reached 25% of those bothering to vote. And on Europe their contortions were painful. The Labour representative evaded the question altogether whilst the coalition partners talked about a referendum should there be a major treaty change. Ukip are having none of it – they want out, full stop.

All three tried to reassure themselves that come a general election the public will turn back to the ‘real’ parties. Hmm. If our friend is anything to go by they have a major fight on their hands for the level of trust in the established order has never been lower.

Is it fanciful to speculate that trust in ‘stars’ from all walks of life is collapsing at an alarming rate? Perhaps political scepticism is escalating as a result of growing evidence that many who once enjoyed our personal trust were not what they seemed. In my own family Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris for many years provided innocent fun, living proof that life needn’t be taken too seriously.

I am still praying that the man that so often enthralled us with those two little boys is innocent. Sadly we now know that the Its a Knock Out hero was anything but. Sadly each week brings new dark allegations against others we regarded as the perfect antedote to ghastly politicians, and each new story brings out our cry of how could we have believed in them.

It all takes us in the direction of believing in no one that we see or read about. It is not a fruitful atmosphere in which politicians have to struggle to regain our trust. Perhaps they are secretly praying that Nigel Farage will be found wanting. But all the signs are that he is as we are. He drinks, smokes, honestly admits his mistakes, and loves lounging on bar stools. Not something one would put on a CV but the man spurns stardom before it can cast its halo.

To be or not to be? Right now we codgers are disinclined to answer, be the question related to politicians, showbiz or even sporting heroes. We now instinctively trust no one. We need a hero of rectitude. Farage? The jury is out!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home in Weston-super-Mare!”….Kingsley Amis 1922-95

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Ukip provides a straight choice on Europe!

There were quite a few clown jokes as we cleaned out the hens this morning. The sun had gone into hiding, but spirits amongst the codgers were high since everyone enjoys anything that rebounds on the Hush Puppy man Ken Clarke. It takes one to know one and, a few days ago, our least favourite Hooray Henry branded Ukip supporters as clowns. This morning he may well be reflecting that there are rather a lot of people with painted faces and funny hats!

A lot of the local election results have yet to reach us but those that have show that Farage et al have made considerable progress. The fledgling party’s success in the South Shields by-election is remarkable, they surged into second place with 24% of the vote and left the Conservatives a long way behind. They completely eclipsed the Lib Dems who came seventh, only just beating the Howling Laud Hope Loony, and losing their deposit in the process.

The inquests amongst the ‘big’ three parties has begun. Most spokesmen have talked of a protest vote, but the wiser heads amongst them have recognised that it is more than that. Many people are disillusioned by a failure of the coalition partners to keep to their manifesto promises.Even more feel that the political establishment has become elitist, unrepresentative and out-of-touch. Unlike Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband the Ukip leader has been crystal clear about his party’s aims and he has sounded like a breath of fresh air.

We have of course seen sudden upswings in popularity before, most recently in the case if Nick Clegg in the run-up to the last general election. But there is a difference this time. Clegg won support as a result of out-performing Cameron and Grumpy Gordon in open debate. But in terms of policy he promised little more than fine tuning. Nigel Farage stands above all else for something that the other parties will not countenance, an exit from the EU.

David Cameron has spotted this and is trying to play the referendum card, but his party is divided and the Lib Dems will block any move he makes. The Lib Dems are fiercely pro-EU membership, the Labour party likewise. This means that those who have come to see the EU as an unnecessary expense bringing with it open-door immigration and enough regulations to sink an aircraft carrier if we had one, have only one choice.

Of course not everyone wishes to exit the grasp of Brussels, but polls suggest that over half of the electorate feel that way and the longer the age of austerity and tax-avoidance goes on the more appealing will become the case for exit. And the Farage stance is of the no-ifs-or-buts variety.

Without doubt Ukip faces ever increasing scrutiny and much will be made of its economic competence, its lack of governmental experience. But many a disgruntled voter will reason that they could hardly be worse that this government and the last.

Perhaps we are merely witnessing a sudden spark that will be extinguished by the first strong wind. Then again, it is hard to see the ‘major’ parties shifting ground on either EU or immigration. If Ukip is to wither and die it will require the electorate to lose interest in the EU and all its implications. How likely is that?

Farage has already shown himself to be no shrinking violet when dismissing such suggestions as our exports beng dependent on EU membership. And the forthcoming MEP elections will provide him with a dream platform.

Only a brave individual would dare to say that this is the long-awaited big shift in British politics. But only a fool would talk of clowns!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Damn it all, you can’t have the crown of thorns AND the thirty pieces of silver!”…Aneurin Bevan on his position in the Labour Party, 1956

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New barons rule Britain today!

Another beautiful morning boded well for we hen-cleaners, but does it bode well for our dear leader? Chipping Norton’s favourite son seems besieged, a feeling hardly helped by the Daily Torygraph featuring a huge picture of Nigel Farage on its front page. To be fair it has also headlined David Cameron’s latest anti-Ukip wheeze which involves bringing forward legislation for an EU referendum. Nice thought but since the dreaded Nick Clegg has immediately announced that the Lib Dems will not allow it, the odds are that the hastily constructed torpedo will explode on loading.

We sat outside with our mugs of tea this morning, an experience so rare that the gang was in the sort of warm reflective mood that is usually unique to the Bull & Royal. The general view was that, given such amiable but weak leadership, Britain is back to being ruled by unelected Barons. But this time around it is not the union variety that is ruling our roost. Beer and sandwiches will not placate the new groups that turn the organ-grinder’s handle whilst monkeys, disguised as ministers, dance.

Today two groups are the equivalent of the unions of yesteryear. The first are the boardroom tax avoiders, whose corporate and individual taxes, if paid as intended, would transform the public finances from deficit to surplus in an instant. It is hard for ordinary folk to understand the grip they hold on their fellow clique of elitists at the heart of government, but it has become increasingly clear that our Old Etonians lack the courage to seriously challenge them.

The second group is the British press with its collective interest in weak government. The Leveson report, published last November amid so much hope for much needed change following the phone-hacking scandal and much else, has failed. Its 2,000 pages are history.

Today the Leveson report is to press reform what ‘In Place of Strife’ was to union reform. Harold Wilson flirted with union reform after the seaman’s strike in 1966, and then got scared off in 1969. David Cameron has done the same thing, flirting with press reform after the phone hacking scandals in 2011 before getting scared off in 2013. In both cases vested interests prevailed. In 1969 the Daily Mirror ran a front page editorial headlined; “There exists in Britain a power outside parliament as great as that which exists within it!” And so it is today, only the identity of the power has changed.

There is perhaps a slight hope that the government, backed by the all-party agreement, may stand firm on press regulation but as the general election draws nearer it is unlikely. The prime minister’s links with Murdoch et al are well known and he is unlikely to jeopardise their support. And should Ed Miliband triumph he is unlikely to want to pick a fight with the press in the difficult circumstances of a Labour government.

So we now have not union barons, but those of the boardroom and press variety. There seems no prospect whatsoever that government will tackle the former, and only a remote hope regarding the latter. The implications for us all are unnecessarily harsh austerity and continued bullying and unethical hounding by the media.

At times like this one tends to think back for examples of champions lost, of tough characters who would have said enough is enough, and meant it. Sadly it is a short list, only Thatcher and Churchill spring to mind. Perhaps a continuing success on the part of Ukip might just force David Cameron’s hand on the tax avoiders at least.

But we shouldn’t hold our breath, barons have a tradition of ruling for decades!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  “I’m tired of all the nonsense about beauty being only skin deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want – an adorable pancreas? …Jean Kerr in ‘The Snake has all the Lines’.

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BBC bias – what are they talking about?

That occasionally visible hot ball in the sky has a much bigger influence on our moods than we generally realise. Hardly a profound opener is it? But we sometimes forget when on dark, wet mornings life seems as exciting as a convocation of insurance loss adjusters. This morning we were following the usual routine with the hens but we felt perkier, everything seemed brighter. The colours of everything seemed enhanced, even Albert’s grubby coat looked slightly more Joseph’s dream like. We have decided to raise a petition to be presented at Heaven’s gate in the manner of those endlessly presented outside our dear leader’s Downing Street pad. Hopefully God will pay rather more attention than he does.

But either way we codgers are becoming weary of the endless accusations of bias hurled in the direction of our favourite institution, the Beeb. It always strikes us as ludicrous that the almost daily diatribes by politicians of right-wing persuasion are headlined in the newspapers, every one of which are as bent as corkscrews when it comes to objectivity. The coverage of Margaret Thatcher’s demise had most of them foaming at the mouth. The Mail led a chorus of outrage at the decision of the BBC to play a few bars from ‘Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead’.

It was hard to imagine how the broadcaster could omit mention of a ditty that, for whatever reason, had established itself in the top ten hits list. But it was, the press barons declared, final proof that the BBC consists of lefties hell-bent on a marxist revolution. To reinforce their obsession they pointed ut that various news bulletins had used the word divisive to describe the totally adored Margaret. The fact that it was merely recording a fact seemed to pass them by.

Because we believe that by and large our national institution is studiously objective we have since kept an eye on coverage of the biography by Charles Moore. Since he released his book of praise it has been given acres of airtime on radio and TV by the same dastardly corporation. Moore’s praise of his heroine has been the focus of endless discussions, and the great man himself has appeared on just about every TV sofa.

After Sunday’s wall-to-wall publicity for Moore and his adulation, Radio Four unveiled its latest Book at Bedtime – yes, readings from The Lady’s Not For Turning, by one C Moore. If anything the balance on all things Thatcher has been tilting to the right!

The truth is that politicians see as bias anything that contradicts their own prejudices. For several days ministers have lined up to claim that Ukip is racist, and the Beeb has faithfully broadcast their strange utterances. Suddenly it has covered the news that the father of Tory MP Priti Patel has become a Ukip candidate. Patel, who fled to Britian from Uganda in the 1970s to escape the murderous Idi Amin, wishes it to be known that his party is not racist.

Immediately we hear the cry of bias. In reality the BBC is merely reporting the news. We begin to understand more clearly why Cameron and Hunt were so keen to facilitate the BSkyB bid, one that would have emasculated the BBC.

Anyone who has watched Fox News will realise that our national broadcaster is as near lily-white as it could be by comparison!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  “To goad the BBC is a rewarding sport in itself. It makes a tabloid feel like a heavyweight!”….Clive James in “The Dreaming Swimmer (1992)’   

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The secret and sinister HMRC!

Having failed to produce another affliction with which to burden the overburdened NHS, I was back in hen-cleaning mode this morning. The sun brought out the best in us and the mood as we worked was unusually affable. At least it was until Phil mentioned his self-assessment tax return. That prompted two reactions, the first being from Albert who, as founder of the Bacup Popular Front, believes that anyone ‘rich’ enough to merit a tax return should be deported to darkest Russia. His philosophy is slightly out of date, clearly he hasn’t heard of the owner of Chelsea football club.

The second reaction was more rational. For some time there have been rumours abroad about cosy deals with the very rich. Today it is revealed for the first time that four recent ‘settlements’ have been reached resulting in total payments of £4.5 billion. But the question is just how much should it have been? A worrying clue is that the total is believed to include a previously reported Vodafone deal which should have been £6 billion or more.

News of the deal has reached the public as a result of a leak. The copy of a document sent to David Gaulke, by Dave Hartnett, the former head of tax at HM Revenue & Customs, describes deals of £1 billion as “not uncommon” and has triggered a furious response from Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Commons public accounts committee. She plans to demand details of deals done, and another clash between the committee and the taxmen is on the cards.

The committee is likely to be once again frustrated. Everyone knows that many of our larger concerns pay no tax at all and there are growing suspicions that those that do are being given so-called sweetheart trade-offs. Contrast that with the reaction to the local window-cleaner who fails to report some of his takings!

Since tax-avoidance is a major factor in our economic crisis it is not unreasonable that MPs demand openness. But the door is constantly slammed in their faces and extraordinary action is taken against any would-be whistleblower. Today we learn that intrusive investigative powers designed to help HMRC catch serious criminals are being employed to harrass the individual that first uncovered the deal with Goldman Sachs.

The belongings, emails, internet search records and telephone calls of HMRC solicitor Osita Mba and the mobile phone records of his wife, Claudia, have been demanded and examined. The tax authorities believe that the solicitor may have passed information to the Guardian. Cathy James, head of the whistleblowers charity Public Concern at Work, says that the decision to use intrusive powers to examine an employee who made claims using whistleblowing legislation was “outrageous” and “sinister”.

It was the publication by the Guardian of the story of Goldman Sachs being excused its full tax liability that prompted the revenue’s criminal investigative unit to take action. Using powers not intended for revelations was sinister in the extreme. Mba worked in the team that dealt with Goldman Sachs and told the National Audit Office and two parliamentary committees that the bank’s settlement had been agreed with a handshake by Harnett, the permanent secretary for tax at HMRC. His evidence led to Harnett’s being accused of lying to parliament.

Ordinary folk such as us can only guess at what is really going on. But one thing is certain, at a time when the national treasury needs every penny it is being systematically robbed and the HMRC is party to this. It is also misusing powers to intimidate employees whose consciences trigger revelations.

Which leads to one obvious question. Why is a government agency allowed to behave in this astonishing way? Over recent days the BBC has given considerable coverage to claims that corruption is rife in Pakistan. Perhaps it should switch its attention to affairs nearer to home!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  ” The average homebred Englishman ….will shut his eyes to the most villainous abuses if the remedy threatens to add another penny in the pound to the rates and taxes which he has to be half cheated, half coerced into paying!”….George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950

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Abuse begins – Farage has them rattled!

For the second time in a week I was missing from the allotments when Albert and his less-than-merry men did battle with the hens and their deposits. I had an appointment with my GP who decided that, given BP too high to count, I should have an ECG. Gone are the old days when he and I would peer at a small screen, I was soon wired up to a cardiac unit in Manchester who said that the old sod is OK, or words to that effect. So I was then bundled off to the local hospital for an XRay.

I took a book with me, having some years ago spent longer there than one devotes to a days play in a Test Match. Here again times have changed for I was in and out in less time than it takes our dear leader to hurl the weekly abuse at Ed Miliband. The other positive was that I appeared to be the youngest person in the waiting room, evidence perhaps of the real problem facing the NHS.

However I did have enough time to scan a discarded newspaper – do the circulation figures allow for all the people that read but don’t pay? The thing that most caught my eye was the coverage of the barrage of abuse being released by the coalition in the direction of Nigel Farage and Ukip.

Kenneth Clarke, he of the Hush-Puppies and sagging jowls, has gone on air to describe Ukip folk as clowns. Patrick McLoughlin said that they are nothing-people, not worth so much as a word, although he did use rather a lot. Mad Boris said that Ukip’s success merely illustrates that “Labour is going nowhere” since Ukip are merely saying what all true blues think. Others clambered on to TV sofas to describe them as racists and “nutters”.

Of course they are all playing into Nigel Farage’s hands. He was quick to claim that Clark clearly holds millions in contempt. Instead of “slagging us off”, he should “try to wrap his head around the idea that Ukip appeal to people is due to the failure of the bloated, self satisfied political machine of which he is a leading member!”

But the sudden onslaught means that Ukip may be in for a rough ride. Having climbed suddenly from zero to 15% in the polls, they haven’t the resources to check out every one of the 1700 candudates they are fielding on Thursday. Even as I type the phone-hackers will be very busy!

But the most significant development came when our dear leader issued a special Chipping Norton announcement. Under no circumstance will Farage be allowed to take part in the TV debates planned for the general election. It seems that even if Ukip is by then showing 25% in the polls, and light years ahead of the Lib Dems, the new party is not to be treated as a “serious political entity”.

i hate to nit-pick but is it just possible that the ‘big three’ fear defending EU membership and open-door immigration against a very articulate adversary? Then again it may be that they have read the latest poll which shows that less than a quarter of the electorate retains any faith in any of them!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY: ” To some extent, Ukip’s argument is that all the established parties cannot make a difference to the country. The question people ask is, can anyone turn the country around?”….Ed Miliband 28/4/2013 

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Terrorists free to roam!

The party mentioned yesterday went on into the small hours. Judging by the number of bottles we hurled into the recycling wheelie we had a good time, but my recollection is vague. I do remember Albert having a fall-out with Mrs Albert, but from that unsurprising point things become a little blurred.

So that morning-after feeling was abroad on the allotments this morning. But at least we are alive. Strange remark? I use it only because we have learned that a member of a terror gang which plotted to blow up Big Ben and Westminister Abbey has been released “on the quiet” after his sentence was cut by judges.

Mohibur Rahman’s five-year term for having al-Qaida magazines featuring bomb-making instructions – handed down in February 2012 – was reduced to four and a half years by judges. Rahman was part of a nine-strong gang who also plotted to target Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye in a “Mumbai-style” bomb blitz. The Stoke-based plotter is now out on licence.

The media will undoubtedly make great play of the fact that the sentence was reduced by none other than Lord Leveson. But that misses the key point, which is surely that people committed to acts of terrorism are free to roam the streets at all. Which raises a very difficult dilemna. How can any society condone locking people up permanently to prevent them doing something? But if it doesn’t, how does society prevent the inevitable.

A measure of the problem developing in this country is indicated by a statement from hate cleric Anjem Choudary, 45, who has previously admitted teaching six of the nine Stock Exchange bomb plot gang, including Rahman. He has praised the terror plotter as an ‘upstanding’ member of the community and a “good role model”.

The only consolation the public can draw is that, after release, terrorist offenders on licence are managed through Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements. But all of the agencies involved are suffering cuts and all are unable to maintain detailed surveillance.

Sadly there is no simple solution. But protection of human rights must apply both ways. At the very least citizens travelling abroad for training in terrorism should be barred from re-entry. And those living here who are not British citizens should be sent packing.

None of us will rest easy at any aspect of this developing threat. All of us would prefer to pretend things are as they always were, all of us would prefer not to even think about the new enemies within.

But someone has to get a grip, we can’t continue to slash police and security numbers yet expect every plot to be dealt with before our streets become places of carnage!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “William Hague may be good at telling jokes, but every time you come to a critical question of judgement he gets it wrong!”……Tony Blair 28/11/1999

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Helping the poor by daft as a Basil Brush!

It is said that the older you grow the faster doth time flow. But we have found a way of applying the brake, we ignore birthdays. But big ones have to be celebrated and today the clubhouse is ablaze with colour in readiness for a knees-up to mark the arrival of her seventy-tenth by one of our lady allotment members. It perhaps sums up our occasionally outdated approach to life that we blew up the 200 balloons by mouth. Hopefully it also suggests that our aged lungs are still in good working order.

Everyone is bringing food and booze. Thanks to the lecture given yesterday by the minister for Environment Food and Rural Affairs we know just how to preserve the leftovers should there be any. Richard Benyon took time out from running the country to explain that living on next to nothing is easy if you carefully wrap cheese, pack biscuits in a tin, seal vegetables in cellophane packages and moisten and reheat bread. We are grateful for such revolutionary advice, sadly it seems that our dear leader is less so. David Cameron let it be known that telling people to “live on leftovers” is not a good idea when elections loom.

But we ignored such nit-picking, it was good to learn that at least one minister knows just how it feels to live in poor street in tax-avoidance Britain. At least that was our first reaction. It was superceded when Bill checked poor Mr Benyon on the internet. It does seem that he is feeling the pinch having droppd to number seven in The Times list of Britain’s richest political figures. But he has managed to cling on to his £110 million which stems from two vast estates in Berkshire and Hampshire, and still beats Tory MPs such as Zac Goldsmith and Adam Afriye who are scraping along on £75m and £50m respectively. Clearly the Benyon plan for cheese preservation has paid dividends.

One bit of advice Mr Benyon didn’t pass on was the importance of seeking EU subsidies In 2009 he and his fellow trustees of Englefield Estate in Newbury claimed over £2 million from Brussels – a wizard wheeze given that we all pay the cash into the bureaucrats in the first place. And to think we wondered why he is so fiercely pro-EU!

If a tetchy note is creeping in here it is probably down to Mr Benyon’s claim that the average household wastes £50 per month in unused leftovers. Sounds a bit high for many of the households we know.

Having said that let us re-don our usual generosity of spirit. The odds are that Mr Benyon has never visited the domain of his head chef and it is to his credit that he spends valuable time on worrying about the plebs.

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “The English country gentleman used to gallop after a fox – the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable!”……Oscar Wilde 1854-1900

“Mr Benyon’s best-by date is now surely behind him!”….Matthew Norman, Daily Telegraph 27/4/2013

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A nice little earner!

I was excused from hen-cleaning this morning on the grounds that I had an outpatients appointment at our local hospital. It proved to be no great perk. When I entered the OPD department I was somewhat taken aback to join the biggest local indoor attendance since the Beast of Bolsover came to stage one of his rant-ins. I soon consumed every inch of my morning paper and envied the rows of people reading Kindles, an emotion I never expected to feel. It felt rather like a gathering of the Borg collective – were they all reading the same little blue book of our dear leader’s thoughts?

The doctor I eventually saw asked if I had ever smoked and was less than impressed by my honesty. He is too young to realise that in the days of my long-gone youth smoking was the in-thing. Every movie featured puffers, every visit to even a bank-manager opened with a proffered cigarette box. I wish I hadn’t, but short of the intervention of Dr Who’s time machine there is nothing I can do to right the wrong. And does smoking really cause an ingrowing toenail?

My thus enforced studying of the news brought a surprise. Nick Clegg does have a backbone! It seems that he has faced down Theresa May who was hell-bent on introducing a snoopers’ charter aimed at giving the police and security services the power to monitor everyone’s internet use. Since they can obtain court permission to monitor suspected terrorists,  it is hard to fathom why ministers desire such draconian powers. And I have no wish to have my occasional thoughts on Suarez passed on. I can handle most ordeals but being bitten would prove too much.

But the big story is surely that of the “big four” accountancy firms who regularly take on work for HM Revenue and Customs. In that capacity they play a leading role in drawing up tax laws, and then pocket a fortune by advising multinationals and individuals on how to exploit loopholes around the legislation they helped to write. What its chair Margaret Hodge describes as a “ridiculous conflict of interest” was uncovered by the parliamentary public accounts committee.

The committee concluded that; “Through their work in advising government on changes to legislation they have a detailed knowledge of UK tax law, and the insight to identify loopholes in new legislation quickly”. In less parliamentray language this is a cunning plan, a nice little earner.

It seems that Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers between them employ almost 900 staff and earn £2 billion a year from their services for the HMRC. In the area of transfer pricing alone they employ four times as many as work for the Inland Revenue.

One example unearthed by the committee involved KPMG, whose staff advised on the development of “controlled foreign company” and “patent box” rules and then issued marketing brochures highlighting the role they had played. The brochure “Patent box; what’s in it or you” had, it said, suggested the legislation represented a business opportunity to reduce tax and that KPMG could help clients in the “preparation of defendable expense allocation”.

Prem Sikka, professor of accounting at Essex University, had this to say: “The big four are the epicentre of a global tax avoidance industry and the loss of tax revenues is directly responsible for the current economic crisis. The Treasury should follow the US authorities and prosecute and fine the firms”.

Perhaps an easier solution would be not to use them as government advisers and to reverse the ludicrous cuts made to HMRC expert staffing levels!

If you read all this in a ‘Whodunnit’ you would surely declare it too far-fetched!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Logic and taxation are not always the best of friends!”…..James C McReynolds 1862-1946

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Angry public turns on Amazon and EU!

Brian Blessed apart, there are few things so irritating as persistent drizzle. It often plagues us at Old Trafford as we wait in vain for the umpires to emerge, and it plagued us this morning as we cleaned out the hens. Wet socks and stubborn chickens are not the recipe for a Boris countenance, and we became as grumpy as Eric Pickles as we slithered around.

But at least we were not as angry as the 160,000 people who signed a petition delivered to our dear leader yesterday. Frances and Keith Smith run the independent Kenilworth and Warwick bookshops in the Midlands and have lost patience at the tolerance being shown to Amazon in regard to its tax-avoidance. They decided to launch a petition demanding action by the government and were astonished by the massive public reaction. The petition is headed “We pay our taxes and so should Amazon!”

Support has come from such diverse figures as Stephen Fry and the chair of the parliamentary public accounts committee, Margaret Hodge. She said yesterday that the retailing giant is avoiding UK taxes by reporting its sales through a Luxembourg account; “People want to know why companies that benefit from an infrastructure paid for by (taxes) and who are paying people low wages, who receive taxpayer funded credits from the exchequer, are not paying taxes”.

The Smiths complain that businesses such as theirs are facing unrelenting pressure from huge online retailers undercutting prices, in particular Amazon, and it is pushing businesses like theirs to the brink. They point out that Amazon made sales in the UK last year of £3.3 billion, yet paid no corporation tax on the substantial profits. Those sales have been at the expense of small businesses which would have paid tax on them.

It is a pity that the Smiths limited their petition to the Midlands for the response suggests that many millions would have signed up nationally. People are sick and tired of a one-sided austerity.

Thir mood won’t have been helped by the news that ‘advisers’ to Michael Gove’s academies programmes are beng paid over £1000 per day credited to personal companies, thus reducing their tax liability to 20%, a practice recently condemned by MPs. Neither will they have been overly impressed by news that the richest 1000 people in Britain increased their wealth by £35 billion last year, and by a mind-boggling £190 billion since the crash four years ago. That’s just their gains; their total wealth has now reached £449 billion with tax-avoidance schemes by the bucketful.

All the signs are that the public feeling of unfairness is reaching dangerous heights. Of course there are those such as Kenneth Clark and Nick Clegg who tell us that were we to bed down to the EU dream all would be tickety-boo. A new poll out today shows that 69% disagree and want out. And we are far from alone. In Spain 72% have lost all faith in the Union, in Germany the antis now total 59%, and in France 56% say non.

It all adds up to explaining the rising popularity of Ukip. Its leader, the dashing Nigel, is unique amongst national leaders in demanding an exit from the financial burden of Brussels and penal sanctions against tax-avoidance.

Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband seem to be underestimating the appeal of such a message!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  ” The world is divided into people who do things and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the first class. There’s far less competition!”…..Dwight Morrow 1873-1931

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A & E in meltdown as privatisation day looms!

Today’s headlines about the collapse of NHS Accident & Emergency departments are, to say the least, worrying. Patients who arrive at hospital needing emergency treatment are increasingly having to spend the night in units designed for people undergoing heart surgery or having broken limbs plastered because A & E units are now under massive pressure, and have neither the beds nor staff to cope. According to the Daily Torygraph patients are being housed in cupboards, but we can probably discount anything quite as extreme as that.

Probably more factual is the widely quoted report from Karen Webb, the east of England regional director of the Royal College of Nursing. She reports that “patients are being scatterd around hospitals like confetti”, because A & E staff have nowhere else to put them. Growing numbers are being left in corridors and areas used during daytime hours. The result is that doctors have to form what they call “safari teams” to track them down.

Dr Clifford Mann, an A & E consultant in Somerset, said yestetday that; “The pressures on emergency departments are unprecedented. They have been building steadily but have now come to a tipping point where the number of incidents of concern have started to significantly take off. There are now examples of patients who need to be resuscitated because they have collapsed whilst waiting attention”.

Incredibly the Department of Health claims that local GPs are already leading great work to prevent patients having to go to A & E. The exact opposite is the case. In many parts of the country the waiting times to see a GP are now such that patients are going to their nearest hospital.

None of this is any surprise to we allotment codgers. From time to time we suffer minor injuries and, over the years, have used our local A & E to good effect. Now we dread having to go and, when we do, spend many an hour watching harrassed staff skidding around like Keyhole Kate. The service is in meltdown.

All this has drawn attention on the day the Lords takes a last look at the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This provides a legally enforceable basis for opening up the NHS to competition, contrary to minister’s stated objctives of allowing commissioners to decide if and when it should be used. Once again, and for the last time, the Lib Dems will support the move.

Many of the peers who vote have commercial interests in private healthcare providers, and have doubtless noted health minister Earl Howe’s remarks that private providers now have “huge opportunities”.

Expect to see many of the routine, and more profitable, services transferred from NHS hospitals. The result will be yet more cuts to clinical staff. A & E units will be hit hard given that they receive funding of £75 per patient irrespective of condition and treatment required. If they lose the ‘easy’ cases, their funding will collapse and the serious cases will be dependent on lower-cost junior doctors.

Deep down every family rests content in the knowledge that should a crisis occur an ambulance and skilled clinicians stand ready on a 24/7 basis. Those days are about to end and everyone of us should be extremely concerned.

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  “These are the actions of people who intend to turn the NHS into a kitemark for private profiteers!”…Geoff Barr

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Why not privatise parliament ?

The sun was back with us this morning, even though the wind had a Suarez-like bite to it. It helps particularly since operation catch-up is underway. We imagine that right across the country growers are trying to make up for lost time, yesterday we sowed beans, potatoes and onions before filling a dozen tubs with geraniums and lobelia. But nature will take its course and everything will, like our local trains, be late in arriving.

Of course not every creature on the allotments was disappointed by the later start. The hens enjoyed an extra month of wandering at large over a big area, now they are refused access in the manner of known drunks at our local watering-hole. Sounds harsh but we can assure you that letting chickens loose on young plants produces results that even locusts would struggle to match.

Several of my pals went to meet Ed Miliband yesterday when he visited Chorley. They seemed impressed with his candour, not least the point that his weekly shouting match with our dear leader is only serving to reduce even further the standing of politicians in the public eye. I did comment that further reduction from a trust level of zero is difficult, but it is good to learn that someone at Westminster is still in touch with reality. However the glimmer of hope was soon extinguished by the morning papers.

Headline-grabber is David Laws with his threat to close yet more schools. The case for doing so sounds flawed, the preacher even more so. Isn’t this the man that fell from grace just months ago for fiddling his expenses? Then we have Chris Huhne banging on about prosecution costs arising from his sudden admission of guilt. And to complete the hat-trick, Jeremy Hunt, who wriggled out of his guilt in regard to the BSkyB bid, is giving a lecture to nurses about ethical behaviour. For most jobs offering high salaries one needs character references, it seems that such niceties are regarded as unnecessary for the most influential positions in the land.

But this morning’s greatest irritation is provided by yet more pronouncements on privatisation. Undeterred by the news that Michael Gove has overspent his budget for Academy Schools by £1 billion which he intends to take from the amount allocated to ‘state-run’ schools, ministers have let it be known that next in line are Companies House, the Land Registry, the Met Office, the Student Loans service, the blood donor service, Ordnance Survey and – surprise, surprise – Royal Mail.

Selling off the family silver may seem a wizard wheeze to a Chancelor desperate for cash up-front, but its long-term implications are horrendous. If you doubt that take a glance at what has happened to the Forensic services or the energy giants. All have finished up in foreign ownership and priorities that do not have service to the British taxpayers anywhere near the top of their lists.

Other than the chance to haul in quick cash can anyone explain the logic behind the Royal Mail sell-off? The organisation has been modernised and the service is now stable. There already is competition in profitable areas such as parcel delivery, but private providers are reluctant to take on the declining household postal deliveries. Result will be a knock-down price and a drastic curtailment to Post Offices providing essential services.

No one denies that competition for non-essential goods or services that are available from a range of suppliers makes absolute sense. But what is happening now is the surrender of monpolistic services essential to everyone. Hand them over and we all become potential victims. For example? Try Eastern Rail, the only state-owned rail franchise. It is the most efficient and hands millions back to the treasury. Replacing it with G4S, or whoever, will not provide competition on the east coast, it will merely divert taxpayers money to shareholders.

Perhaps we codgers are Luddites in disguise, but we just don’t get it. But since our masters are so convnced they should perhaps consider privatising parliament. Fewer MPs, minimum wage for all but the bigwigs, compulsory attendance, minimal expenses. Come to think about it privatisation may have its positives.

Perhaps they are simply privatising the wrong things?

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “As a bank you can be big and simple or small and complicated, and do well. If you get big and complicated, you become unmanageable !”……Archbishop of Canterbury 22/4/2013

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Tax dodger to oversee HMRC!

Monday morning is traditionally the time when we codgers look back on the highs and lows of the weekend’s football. Banter passes the time as we clean out the hens, and those who tread the Fergie path were outcrowing our resident cockerels this morning. But the glitter is fading. Sadly the great game is showing signs of returning to its murkier side. Last weekend saw the reappearance of the Millwall thugs, this one a player being assaulted at Kidderminster and, worst of all, the spectacle of Suarez biting an opponent in Liverpoool’s game against Chelsea.

The truth is that football is losing its heart, its sense of decency. Glance at the new Sunday Times rich list and you will see that some of the richest people in Britain – none of them British – are in control of our top clubs. The result is ludicrously high wages paid to foreign mercenaries and a win-at-any-cost mentality, one which is spreading down from the Premiership like a cancer. The authorities should act before the game returns to anarchy, and a life-ban for Suarez would be a good start.

Meantime, this morning’s Markit household finance index shows that the people that pay out cash they cannot afford to watch this mayhem are falling ever faster into crises of their own. Household finances are sinking faster than the Titanic under the weight of lower incomes and higher living costs. Top of these are energy and water bills imposed by foreign-owned companies, most of whom pay no tax to the exchequer.

Npower last week admitted that over the past three years it has paid no corporation tax, despite making £766 million in profits. Tax specialists such as Richard Murphy have pointed to the “interest payments” made by Npower to its parent company RWE in Germany, which conveniently reduce on paper any tax liability. Most of understand enough to realise that our tax authorities are making no attempt to tackle such outrages whereby the big six suppliers drain money out of the British economy but pay nothing back.

Since tax-avoidance is now by far the biggest contributory factor in our ever-deteriorating national economy, one would imagine that the government would be taking action to toughen up HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). We have already had clear evidence that it enjoys a very cosy relationship with the major offenders, but now comes the ultimate lunacy.

It has appointed Volker Beckers, the former boss of RWE npower, as a director. The reaction of Mark Williams, of anti-austerity campaigners UK Uncut, says it all; “It is no surprise the government loses billions of pounds to corporate tax-dodgers every year when they hire those same tax-dodgers to oversee tax inspectors. HMRC should be throwing the book at people like Volker, not hiring them!”.

Ian Lavery is a member of the Commons energy and climate change select committee, and he was equally scathing when news of the appointment broke. “George Osborne has serious questions to answer abut why he has appointed the boss of an energy company which pays no corportion tax to the board of HMRC. It has a bad enough recrd at stopping tax avoidance as it is!”

Today brings more warnings of yet more hikes to energy bills. It is bad enough that the treasury appears to have given up the fight to protect consumers, to learn that one of the leading tax-dodgers is to join the HMRC is the last straw.

Yesterday we revealed that Liam Fox is demanding a five year freeze on all public services. As with all the other right-wing bigwigs he made no mention of tax avoidance. Fatcats united!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  “Being an MP is the sort of job every working-class parent wants for their children – clean, indoors, long holidays and no heavy lifting!”…Diane Abbott

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The Fox is back and he’s hunting us!

For reasons unknown Werrity has become a familiar cry on the allotments. I can only imagine that his supposedly dashing yet mysterious adventures, at the time when he was helping Liam Fox to run the Ministry of Defence, bewitched us all. Of course we all know that it ended in tears, but to this day whenever we encounter a problem the cry goes up to ‘Send for Werrity’. Th gentleman in question has faded from the headlines but today his boss has emerged from hibernation.

Dr Fox is, to put it mildly, a little to the right of our dear leader in political thinking. He obviously feels that the passing of Margaret Thatcher is an opportune moment to restore the standing of the Conservative Party in the eyes of all true blues, and to that end he is about to sound a call to arms. He is demanding a total freeze in all state spending for up to five years, a draconian move that would yield about £345 billion.

“We need to stop talking simply about growth and start talking about wealth creation”, he will say. We must, he will argue, reduce taxes and remind many why they were drawn to the Tory cause under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership. As a move aimed at unseating Cameron and Osborne it is a clever move but, as with all actions of a Fox, it risks a huge backlash.

It has to be said that things in the wealth department are somewhat different to those of Maggie’s day. She argued in favour of the small entrepeneur who, through sheer graft and enterprise, could create cash for himself and gainful employment for others. She would not have approved of tax-avoiders or executives of banks and energy companies pocketing millions. She would also have drawn the line at freezing every state service to the point where all but the very rich would suffer.

Fox is not merely talking about benefits here. Just imagine the effect on the NHS or police. No problem for those able to afford private medicine or who, like the Doctor, live in houses with electronic gates and private security to hand. For the rest of us – it doesn’t bear thinking about.

But credit where it is due. Dr Fox has given us an insight into right-wing thinking, one well concealed by the seemingly moderate, albeit confusing, policies of the Cameroons.

If his intention was to swing doubting voters at the local elections it seems likely to backfire. The great man should have sent for Werrity!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” To suppose, as we all suppose, that we could be rich and not behave as the rich behave, is like supposing that we could drink all day and keep absolutely sober!”……Logan Pearsall Smith 1865-1946

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Justice? This stinks to high heaven!

Even such a mundane task of cleaning out a few hundred hens was a pleasure this morning. If every morning was as sunny as this one life would seem a more relaxing experience. The grandson of one of our number is a medic and works in Australia. He tells us that Rodney Junior reports that his patients tend to be a good deal more cheerful than those he left behind in Slough. We codgers, who spend so much time exposed to the British weather, find that less than surprising.

Equally predictable is the behaviour of our newspapers. Today’s Daily Torygraph is devoted almost entirely to the life of Margaret Thatcher, as related by Charles Moore. Hardly news, and had we wanted to read the book we could have bought it. Even more irritating are the constant contradictions. On 18 November 1990 the Mail editorial urged the replacement of the Iron Lady by Michael Heseltine, the only “sensible choice”. Fast forward to today and we learn that she was the greatest national leader “in an age of pygmies”.

On 27 June 2007 Dominic Sandbrook described, in the Evening Standard, how Thatcher had  “left the country bitterly divided with a lingering sense of discord and rancour”. Fast forward to today and he tells Mail readers that claims that she created an unequal and divided Britain are “nonsense”.

But let us waste no more words to prove what we already know, everything we read should be taken with a large pinch of salt. And the situation is not helped by the strange system that passes for justice in this country. Today most papers have used such space as is left over after their diatribes about the late prime minister to let us know that Rolf Harris hs been arrested on suspicion of a sexual offence. Not charged, just arrested.

Stories about this have featured on Twitter, blog-sites such as Guido Fawkes, and by media in his native Australia for several months so it seems reasonable to assume that the police have been less than discreet. There remains in Britain a legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But even innocence does not free you of the stigma of arrest, which so often leads to no charges.

Rolf’s name has been added to those of Freddie Starr, Dave Lee Travis, Jim Davidson, Max Clifford and others arrested but not charged. What sort of justice is this? And the character assassination does not end with possible sex offences. Neil Wallis, ex deputy-editor of the News of the World, was arrested in connection with phone-hacking. He has been bailed for a total of 21 months before being told there would be no charges.

This man lost his job and had his reputation besmirched, his family has endured severe emotional and financial stresses for almost two years, and now we learn that there is no evidence against him. Why? Guilt by association, a police cock-up, a false accusation by a rival?

Are we alone in feeling very uncomfortable about a system that allows the police to publicise every arrest that they make, irrespective of evidence? Should someone who dislikes, say, Albert and  decides to claim that some fifty years ago he committed an offence be given the opportunity to trigger a ‘no smoke without fire’ headline in the Worm Breeder’s Weekly?

It has to be admitted that we old codgers trust neither the police nor the media. Come to think about it, with the exception of Mother Theresa, we trust no one. But does that make us wrong in believing that no one should be named in connection with any offence until such time as they are formally charged?

Perhaps you prefer the present arrangement of naming and shaming irrespective of evidence. If so do remember that it could very easily happen to you!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” I don’t want to know what the law is, I want to know who the judge is!” ……Roy M Cohn 1927-86

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State ownership is the only hope for rail users!

Yesterday was quite like old time on the allotments, and you would be wrong to suspect a note of nostalgia in the words. After months of rain and ice we have rejoiced at warmer days. British weather, we said as we picked bunches of daffodils, isn’t so bad after all. But yesterday heralded a return of the howling gales, and almost a third of our hen-run roofs headed off to constitute a danger to planes heading in to Manchester airport.

This time we have decided that enough is enough. The hens have sheds but we have battled long to match the modern belief that even their runs should be protected from the elements. Henceforth, if they lack the sense to stay under cover when the heavens open, they will learn the error of their ways. We have reluctantly concluded that sometimes the old methods were the most sensible ones.

And it would seem that that is true of more things than we imagined. Several of our number are train lovers, codgers who remember with affection those long gone days of steam, branch lines, British Rail and low fares. Until now we have been careful to make clear that we do of course recognise that such things were symbols of an age before it was realised that state-ownership of anything was inefficient, outdated and wasteful. It was, our younger city-slicker pals tell us, an illusion which hoodwinked dedicated railmen and passengers alike. Suddenly we begin to wonder.

Politicians of all colours have long assured us that the arrival on the scene of Richard Branson et al would demonstrate just what we were missing in those distant times. Competition would drive down fares and drive up the pleasure of stepping aboard spacious carriages as sparkingly claen as my old Gran’s front parlour. Excited by the prospect of paradise on rails, millions have switched from their daily experience of forming orderly queues on our overcrowded roads. Sadly what they have found has been rocketing fares, a daily re-run of a sardine-maker’s outing and timetables as fictional as anything J K Rowling ever attempted.

But up to now we have maintained a stoical silence. We hate to be labelled dinosaurs yearning for something that a bankrupt nation simply cannot afford. It is true, concede our younger and more enlightened friends, that the experience of privatised rail services has produced less delightful journeys than originally envisaged, but at least they prevent a drain on the taxpayer. Now we know that the reality is somewhat different.

More by accident than design one of the rail franchises, the East Coast rail service, is back under state control. The route has been under the control of the Department of Transport since November 2009 after the transport company National Express pulled out. All of the privatised franchises are subsidised when money spent on infrastructure is included. The net subsidy for East Coast was 1% of the line’s income, compared with an average of 32%!

The government paid £1.155bn directly to the private companies last year, while receiving £1.105bn back in franchise payments. In other words all ran at a loss. The highest payment to the taxpayer came from East Coast which handed over £177m. The Office of Rail Regulations report also reveals that passengers are shouldering a higher proportion of the cost of Britain’s privatised railways. Fares accounted for 57.6% of income in 2011-12.

Of course a state-owned operation does not boast highly paid executives or well-staffed PR departments. But the ‘dinosaurs’ of East Coast were moved to put out a statement yesterday; “The facts speak for themselves. We’re also proud of our record of improving customer satisfaction to the highest level ever on the line and ensuring consistently better train punctuality, as well as returning £640m to the taxpayer over the past three years”.

Come to think about it there is no real competition amongst the bearded wizard and the rest in that they all run seperate lines. They also have an overriding objective, to provide dividends to their shareholders. and they can afford to be very generous given that state subsidies provide unearned income galore.

So why has the coalition pledged to re-privatise East Coast before the next election? It can only be for ideological reasons. If pressed they will say it is to avoid a return to the days of union power. But isn’t that long gone, why hasn’t it emerged at East Coast?

It would seem that the idea of state-owned railways, still the reality in mnay European countries, isn’t so daft after all.

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Commuter – one who spends his life  In riding to and from his wife;  A man who shaves and takes a train,  and then rides back to shave again. “…..E B White 1899-1985

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Real tears swamped by crocodile variety!

Given that our average age is 80, as you might expect we codgers often indulge in humour of the who-will-be first-to go variety. Who knows, but of one thing we are sure. We don’t like the idea of funerals that draw numbers of people who scarcely give us the time of day whilst we are alive. Most of us have, during our professional lives, attended services as representatives of this or that organisation and, to be brutally honest, our prime mssion was to be seen rather than to mourn someone we scarcely knew.

And we would suggest that so it was yesterday at the last journey of the Iron Lady. Of course for her family and close friends it was an incredibly sad occasion, for most of the other guests at the service it was important to sing lustily given the presence of TV cameras. Outside the streets were lined by former devotees and a sprinkling of mindless protestors, mindless in the sense that the target was dead. Both were probably outnumbered by those who love a spectacle.

You may disagree, you may believe that the real tears in St Pauls exceeded the crocodile variety. If so take a closer look at the ranks of Lords, Ladies, Dames, Knights and ‘who is thats ‘. First to catch our eye Michael Haseltine, Geoffrey Howe and Ken Clarke, who disposed of Mrs T with such efficient dispatch in 1990. There was Nigel Lawson, his resignation marked the beginning of her downward slide and Lord Carrington, who refused not to resign over the Falklands. In fact most of the original cabinet were there, all looking serious rather than sorrowful, the bad fairies who had been at Snow White’s christening, now assembled to apologise for the poisoned apple.

Many images from ‘Spitting Image’ were, as it were, recreated. David Owen and David Steel sat together, and actually spoke to each other. John Major sat within spitting image distance of Gordon Brown, who looked happy at the thought that he planned all this, happy enough to be in attendance at a Raith Rovers home game. George Osborne alone shed tears, but whether that was down to a sense of loss or the latest employment figures is unclear. Never one to fail to perform on camera our dear leader read the lesson as if he meant it. Mad Boris sat near Tony Blair, perhaps the only true child of Thatcher, a status suddenly claimed by many of the great, good and plain awful.

On last night’s Newsnight a government spokesman said that the ten million had been “well spent”. It was, he said, perfect PR. Potential partners overseas would be induced to do business with us. He dismissed out-of-hand the argument from a bishop that funerals are all about meeting ones maker.

We don’t know, but the second eleven fielded by the likes of America did suggest that our former prime minister was more world famous in Britain than she was in the rest of the world.

But our gripe is not with Margaret Thatcher who was in the view of many in the south of England at least, with the exception of Winston, the only real man to occupy 10 Downing Street in our lifetimes. Our gripe is with the concept of funerals in general. They are best restricted to those who feel the real pain of loss, those for whom tears flow for love lost, not for screening on the 6.00pm news.

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old have reminiscences of what never happened”….Saki 1870-1916

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Energy companies are tax dodgers!

We suspect that we have already stretched our reader’s patience by banging on about Lady Thatcher, so we will turn our attention elsewhere this morning. But we do pray that today’s funeral will pass off peacefully. It is surely ironic that the very people that talk of the divisive nature of the former prime minister’s period of office seem determined to act in a divisive way as a fellow human being is being mourned by her family and friends.

We have watched with amazement the arguments being aired about her and Winston Churchill, particularly since most of those holding forth were not born then. We were, and we can only say that any comparison is absurd. Enough said other than the view that the so-called protestors should find something else to do today.

We prefer to vent our anger on living people, a group of whom are currently doing everything in their considerable power to make the lives of millions a form of hell-on-earth. We refer to the energy companies, whose constant price increases have forced many vulnerable people to spend a wretched winter. We have long suspected that the various monopolists – for that is what they really are – work together to ensure that the only real choice is that of Hobson. We have known that many of them are owned by overseas interests, and that their regulation is a hollow facade.

What we didn’t know until yesterday is that they pay virtually no corporate tax. In other words they are robbing the exchequer of desperately needed funds, thus increasing the pressure for more austerity measures whilst, at the same time, cranking up their profits by overcharging their customers whose income is diminishing. If people wish to protest this is a more relevant subject than a funeral!

RWE npower, with 6.6 million custmers, paid no corporation tax between 2009 and 2011, while Scottish Power paid only £102m in 2012 on profits of £1.2 bn. German-owned E.ON paid only £532m in tax between 2007 and 2011 on pre-tax profits of nearly £5bn. French-owned EDF paid only £200m last year on pre-tax profits of £1.7bn.. The figures are difficult to obtain as most of the companies are subsidiaries of foreign nationals, and only emerged at all when Labour’s Caroline Flint approached each company directly.

Ian Lavery, a Labour MP, singled out German-owned RWE npower. “In the last three years it has reported huge profits yet today has admitted they have not paid a single penny of corporation tax over the same period”, he said. “People who pay their taxes are sick and tired of seeing hugely profitable companies use every trick in the book to get out of contributing their fair share. Hard-pressed families struggling with sky-high energy bills will be absolutely astonished that an energy company which makes hundreds of millions in profits doesn’t pay tax”.

The chairman of the parliamentary select committee, Tim Yeo, said that he doesn’t think that “these companies grasp the extent of public disgust towards them”. He spoke out after yesterday’ meeting of the committee with spokesmen for the companies, an event that degenerated into a shouting-match as frustrated MPs poured forth their entirely justifiable anger.

All this exploded on the day that the IMF condemned the Chancellor’s overly-rigid austerity policy. Indeed most leading economists now contend that he is cutting too hard and too quickly. But neither Osborne nor any of his critics ever mention the fact that the biggest contributory factor is the failure of almost all of our largest companies to pay tax.

We realise that on this day of all days many will remind us that Margaret Thatcher triggered the privatisation of energy supply. True, but does anyone seriously believe that she would have allowed the resulting companies to behave as they are today? No, no, no!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “She cannot see company or institution without hitting it with her handbag!”….Julian Critchley 21/6/1982 in The Times

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Passing the buck – the new British disease!

At long last the growing season is underway. In our case the delay caused by months of rain and ice is merely a setback for our hobby, but for British farmers the situation is a grave one. Unless the government finds a way to offer temporary support many will go to the wall. Crop failure, combined with supermarkets paying below cost for milk, will soon see us reliant on imported products. The stakes here are even higher than the prices we will soon be paying for steaks, if ministers continue to waffle.

On the allotments we are at last able to plant our early, already late, potatoes and onions. Cabbage and lettuce seedlings are appearing in the greenhouses, so all is now well in our little world. Not really. We realise that one species has enjoyed the surfeit of wet stuff, our old adversary the slug is almost certainly preparing gleefully for an all out assault. Little Albert and his big bucket filled with salty water, will soon be in action!

We can at least be sure of one thing. If come the autumn our green crops have a skeletal appearance our pal will not be blaming it on someone, or something, else. When it comes to dealing with the slimy ones the buck stops here.

We codgers are in danger of becoming a unique, and ultimately extinct, species for the old concept of accepting responsibility for one’s own failings seems to be passing into history. At the highest level we now see constant examples of passing the buck. Ministers such as Jeremy Hunt fire aides who foul up without even remotely considering the idea that they carry the ultimate responsibility. At the other end of the social scale we regualrly meet able-bodied people who make no effort to help themselves and, without so much as a blush, see their problems as belonging to those that do.

Nowhere is this new malaise more evident than in the much lauded private sector. The security giant G4S is a classic example. Its abysmal performance at the Olympic Games forced the government to draft in the military at the eleventh hour, and chief executive Nick Buckles appeared before MPs to tell them that he regretted ever signing the contract. As foul-ups go this was up there with the charge of the Light Brigade.

But far from losing his job Mr Buckles is set to receive a pay package of £4.5 million. John Connolly, the chairman of G4S brought in after the ill-fated ISS bid – an attempt at taking over a major rival – and the Olympics fiasco, yesterday announced that the board had decided Buckles should remain in his role. “There has been no significant shortcoming in his performance, nor any serious failures directly attributable to him” he said in the annual report.

It leaves us wondering how the new national modus operandi would work in the event that we still had a navy. In days past the ship’s captain would automatically face court martial should his ship run aground, or suffer any other man-made failure. Presumably unless his hands were actually on the tiller, he would now be excused all blame.

This may all seem a quibble by old guys dreaming of a rosier past. But we believe that once you take away the concept of absolute responsibilty you destroy the sense if it. When we were taken by surprise by the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands Defence Minister Nott resigned even though he clearly wasn’t directly to blame. Fast forward to now and you have the spectacle of Tony Blair telling Ed Miliband how to behave. Iraq? Not me Guv!

Football is back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but it does get one thing right. Team fails, manager goes!  

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;   ” He’s passed from rising star to elder statesman without any intervening period whatsoever!”…Michael Foot on David Steel 28/3/1979 (Hanzard)

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Thatcher; let’s fight Alzheimer’s not each other!

Any day now we will be treated to the less than impressive sight of Albert’s bare chest on the allotments. Like so many others, our human ferret is prone to extremes. Throughout the long winter he has resembled little John Mills playing Scott of the Antartic, now the first taste of warmer weather will trigger a re-run of the pigmy often chased around by Tarzan. But it takes all sorts!

Nowhere is that more evident than in the case of Lady Thatcher’s funeral. At one extreme are the supposedly tearful ranks of the Tory grandees who choose to forget that they combined to break her heart by engineering her expulsion from Downing Street. At the other we have lunatics many of whom were in their nappies when the Iron Lady reigned, who believe that  staging protests at a funeral is appropriate. One group calls itself the Bedroom Tax Alliance, a policy dreamed up decades after she bade her tearful farewell.

We codgers do not subscribe to the idea that anything that happens today is in some mysterious way down to someone who left office over two decades ago. Since then we have endured the governments of Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron – are we really supposed to believe that they are not answerable for their own actions?

By sheer chance the 19th/20th of April will bring the first ever Alzheimer’s Show, to be held at London’s Royal Agricultural Halls. The show is aimed primarily at carers, and all those who have to cope with the rocketing number of elderly people afflicted by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. That it is taking place at all is a reflection of the failure of state provision. For many families the show offers the possibility of hope and help in how to negotiate the dark and desperate days that lie ahead.

As NHS budgets are cut , so geriatric psychiatry services have suffered. Patients are now merely diagnosed and then discharged back to the care of GPs, who are not specialists and now lack access to beds on acute wards. This means that families face a nightmare as some one they love deteriorates. Tragically there are many sufferers in our fractured and atomised society who lack even family support. A study by the Alzheimer’s Society has shown that one-third of those with dementia live alone. Almost all of those questionned mentioned loneliness as their greatest terror.

One doesn’t need to be very perceptive to realise that Margaret Thatcher was herself a victim. Of course she was well looked after, but even that comfort is a small one.

All this leads up to our plea that posturing politicians and mindless protestors alike should find something better to do with their thoughts in a week that will be painful to the former PM’s family and real friends. They could resolve to join the fight for a civilised approach to dementia in all its destructive forms, a disease that threatens every family in the land.

If the present government wishes to create a lasting memorial to Margaret Thatcher it could do so by creating a service that no one would deface or protest against!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  “I think sometimes the Prime Minister should be intimidating. There’s not much point in being a weak, floppy thing in the chair, is there?…Margaret Thatcher n BBC1, 21/10/1993 

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Justice for rape/sexual assault victims is long overdue!

Unsurprisingly, a lot of my allotment pals have a soft spot for Wigan Athletic, indeed two of them travelled down to Wembley yesterday. This morning they were less happy than one would expect after the club, which many of us remember being in our local non-league fraternity, earned the right to appear in an FA Cup final. Sadly their big day was marred by the appalling thuggery of many of the Millwall supporters.

I can still remember my first introduction to what became the blight of the game. Oxford United were playing Millwall. It was at a time when policing was minimal and fans were free to mingle. Most present was shocked at the behaviour of the mindless visiting supporters, not least the young programme sellers, some of whom had to be taken to hospital. In the years that followed football descended into a dark cesspit, and the pioneers were Millwall.

Today the club is once again unique. This time the authorities must act before the infection spreads. At the very least Millwall should be banned from the FA Cup. It may be harsh on their peaceful followers, but the greater good of the game must prevail.

Ironically it was the other name dominating todays headlines that played a major part in forcing action during the last age of soccer violence born of Millwall. Margaret Thatcher sent for the FA officials of the day and shook them out of their complacency. This time around there is no tough no-nonsense political leadership, and the people that supposedly run the game must discover their own backbones.

But neither Millwall nor Margaret Thatcher dominated our thinking this morning as we gathered for our post-hen cleaning brew. The coverage of the latter did attract some comment, mainly based on today’s Telegraph claims that all she did was based on her Methodist upbringing. Having been brought up a Methodist, I for one find that unbelievable. But, in reading the piece, I did notice the contempt that traditional true blues still hold for those who ousted her.

We found ourselves more concerned at yet more evidence of the appalling treatment meted out in the courts to victims of that most heinous of crimes, rape or sexual assault. Rather than identify a new local example, I need do no more than go back just weeks to the case of Frances Andrade. Mrs Andrade, 48, committed suicide after the trial of Michael Brewer, former director of music at Chetham’s in Manchester. He was found guilty of  five charges of indecently assaulting her when she was a teenage pupil.

Her family say she felt like she had been on trial. Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, commented on the trial. He said that many victims are unwilling to come forward because of fears of undergoing cross-examination and seeing it reported in the media. Sir Peter said that in this case, as in most others, the defence too often relied on trying to blame the victim. Mrs Andrade was accused of just about every mortal sin as silver tongued lawyers attempted to cast doubt in the minds of the jury.

If we have learned anything ftom the Savile scandal it is that ordinary girls and women are seldom believed when they have the courage to speak out. If Savile had lived to stand trial we can be sure that his victims would have been denigrated in court. They would have been described as liars, erotocists, given to flights of fancy, given to immoral behaviour. They would have been destroyed and forever tainted.

Of course there must be safeguards aginst false accusations, but the present system goes far beyond that. The only possible way forward is to dispense with juries, for it is the opportunity to influence them that triggers the relentless abuse of alleged victims by defending legal teams. Faced simply with an experienced judge, preferably a woman, they would be obliged to be objective in their questionning.

Maybe there is a better answer such as special courts. All we know from what has become, for one of our number, a personal nightmare is that there has to be a significant change. Right now the hidden message is suffer in silence lest you suffer public interrogation by someone clever enough to besmirch your character for life.

The gvernment has decided to give priority to gay marriage. We have no quarrel with that but the idea that it is tackling the greatest social injustice of all is truly astonishing!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  ” Conservatives do not believe that the political struggle is the most important thing in life …. The simplest of them all prefer fox-hunting – the wisest religion!”….Lord Hailsham in “The Case for Conservatism”

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There will be more than one funeral next week!

The front page of the Daily Express, which has forsaken Diana in favour of weather, tells us that we are about to receive one month’s rain in 24-hours. That contradicts Albert’s seaweed, and so far the day has been beautiful. It made our hen-cleaning a pleasant experience, and we drew comfort from the thought that maybe the wet stuff will centre on the madrigal singers of Surbiton.

As we settled for our brew we gave the papers a wide-berth for the coverage of the blessed Margaret is becoming a trifle wearisome. And not just the written word, today’s local radio interrupted programmes to tell us that David Cameron is to read the lesson at St Pauls. We have no wish to be insensitive about what is a tragedy for her family, neither do we wish to be associated with the lunatics who plan to demonstrate. But we do resent the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a single politician who gives a fig for the lot of our troops in Afghanistan. And yesterday yet more Nato troops died.

It was politicians who initially committed young men and women to Iraq and, subsequently, Afghanistan. The original invented cause was weapons of mass destruction and we can fairly attribute that to Blair. Since then politicians have continued to talk about sacrifices being made for their country, knowing full well that the war is unwinnable and that the only implication for this country has always been an increase in the threat from fanatics.

I have just finished reading Andy McNab’s “Spoken from the Front”, a collection of diary entries by British troops serving, mainly, in Helmand province. There are hundreds of harrowing accounts, a typical example being one describing the fate of three privates on a routine patrol. Two of them were aged nineteen, the other twenty-one. All three died when a suicide bomber detonated a large explosive device strapped to his chest.

It illustrated in a terrible way the sheer impossibility of being at war with an invisible enemy. That is illustrated in a dramatic way by an entry by Ranger David McKee of The Royal Irish Regiment. He reports that ” me and my mates work with the ANA (Afghanistan army) but they are dodgy”. He goes on to say that the only people he trusts are the Taliban since he at least knows where they stood. The problem is that the Taliban wear no uniforms and David and his colleagues have regular reasons to suspect that their supposed allies in the ANA are themselves Taliban.

We all realise that the politicians are at last planning the end of mission impossible, but they are many years, and many tragic deaths, too late. Blair, Brown and Cameron have all lacked the guts to say I will not sacrifice one more young life for a lost cause. And no other politician has made any serious attempt to force their hand.  Families across the UK have been sacrificed to save the face of politicians.

Next week they will read their lessons and shed their tears for a lady who at least reached old age. If they have any to spare they should shed them for young heroes sent to their death not in defence of their country but in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” I gave my life or freedom – This I know; For those who bade me fight had told me so!”….William Norman Ewer, 1885-1976

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Blair presumes to offer advice!

Definitely warmer this morning. If this miracle continues Albert will be divesting himself of his long-johns, which he tells us he also wears at night due to the absence of central heating in Chez Brown. His recent fall into the pond was a blessing in disguise for those who occasionally find themselves downwind of the human ferret. But I musn’t be snide for the wee man helped me clean-out my 50-odd hens this morning, having noticed that my right knee was staging a go-slow of Scargill proportions.

For us at least the topic of Margaret Thatcher is beginning to trigger ennui. No disrespect intended, but we are tiring of the seemingly endless Tory grandees telling us that this was the greatest being since Gabriel popped down for a quick lookaround. On Bumblebee’s Question Time last night it was Kenneth Clarke’s turn to eulogise. When David Blunkett dared to point out that it was Clarke and his fellow senior Conservatives that staged the coup that ended her reign, the Hush Puppy man almost blew a fuse.

We much preferred a piece written by John Simpson who, throughout the 1980s, followed her whenever she went abroad. If you choose to believe Charles Moore the BBC has long conducted a vendetta against the Iron Lady, but when you read the measured words of the Beeb’s political editor that is hard to believe. Then again, Moore is just two weeks away from publishing his book and cash-tills are ringing in his mind.

Simpson writes that Thatcher never cared how television or the press presented her. She didn’t read the press, she didn’t watch TV and certainly didn’t believe in the supposed art of PR. He recalls one occasion when he was conducting an interview with her in India. The two of them were walking side-by-side when suddenly she put her foot down a hole and fell flat. A Downing Street aide screamed at Simpson that these pictures must never appear on air. The lady climbed to her feet and said; “Oh, don’t be silly – of course he can use them if he wants to!”. Simpson wonders what would have happened with Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell.

An inconsequential tale but it does serve to remind us that for all her faults Margaret Thatcher was not interested in pretence. In her own mind she was right and those that believed otherwise could go to hell, which of course is exactly where so many went, metaphorically speaking. In so many ways she was more honest than the creation she saw as her greatest, Tony Blair.

It was perhaps inevitable that yesterday he couldn’t resist the temptation to pause from amassing his fortune to issue a lecture to Ed Miliband. He warned him not to “shift to the left” and to refrain from identifying himself with those who “oppose what the government is doing”. The current Labour leader lost little time in distancing himself from his would-be advisor.

Of course Blair will never be forgiven for the lies that he told as he bagged his place alongside George W Bush. In exchange for a supposed role as the right-hand man of the world’s most powerful, he was prepared to sacrifice the lives of millions in a war that could never be won. He was equally prepared to make Britain the target for every madman in the world.

On the domestic front, under the guise of ‘New’ Labour, he followed the Thatcher lead in almost everything. He was a smooth performer and he won middle-class support. But he left the traditional Labour support without a champion. His was a world of spin, celebrity and total lack of sympathy for the less fortunate.

I met him at the time when we were creating the first Primary Care Trusts. I went to London with a party of local GPs. He entered the room, threw his coat on to vacant chair, and proceded to have us eating out of his hand. Believe me, he said, this venture will have my support for as long as it takes. Three years later he scrapped it.

We codgers have slowly come to quite admire Miliband and would venture to suggest that just about the last person on earth from whom he should take advice is Blair. Yes, Miliband lacks his charisma or eloquence but he has sincerity. In a strange way he resembles Thatcher in only saying what he believes to be true.

Of course he knows that the day of the socialist dinosaurs has gone, but he also knows that every policy must be considered in the light of its potential harm to families. He clearly has much of his father in his make-up. Time has moved on, and people no longer sing the Red Flag, but people do count.

Who knows, the public may come to like honesty with a kindly voice. Either way we hope he will stick to his honourable guns. Right now Britain needs an effective opposition and an incrasingly rebellious public needs to feel that there is a peaceful channel for protest.

As an intellegent young man he will seek advice from many. He would be well advised to exclude Mr Blair!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  ” If life was really fair, Elvis would be alive today and all the impersonators would be dead!” …..Johnny Carson

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Politicians are busy distorting history!

It has to be admitted that many aspects of today’s world puzzle we codgers. We have often considered entering a team for Eggheads which, since it uniquely appears on every weekday throughout the year, seems happy to accept dunderheads galore. But the probablity of our scoring nil deters us despite our yearning to meet Kevin Ashton who appears to have the sort of memory elephants would envy.

Thus it is we don’t understand why parliament was recalled yesterday to say things about Margaret Thatcher that could easily have waited until Monday. Neither do we understand why millions are to be spent on a near-state funeral. Yes, the lady did have clearly defined beliefs and, yes, she does deserve credit for proving that women can compete equally in a male-dominated world. But does she really merit treatment not even afforded to Clem Attlee, who played such a key part in uniting the nation during World War 2? As for those who are calling for a minutes silence at Saturday’s Premiership matches, we can only assume that they have taken leave of their senses. Even the Iron Lady’s greatest fans would have to admit that football was not one of her favourite pastimes!

But you may well disagree on all that. However, we hope you will agree that facts are facts and politicians should refrain from attempts at rewriting history to suit their own ends. Yesterday was a classic example. Several former Tory ministers told us that Margaret Thatcher was much loved, and remains an example of all that is good about the Conservative Party. It was hard not to note that the eulogists included several who plotted against her and led to her tearful exit. Several leading Labour notables painted the opposite picture in which she stole children’s milk, connived in the Hillsborough cover-up, destroyed communities. Blair, they implied, was a living saint and saviour of the working class.

It was left to the leaders to provide a more balanced picture. To an extent David Cameron attempted this, but he couldn’t resist the temptation to play politics with history. There were things, he claimed, that she had argued about fiercely but about which there were ” no longer arguments at all”. Chief amongst these was the privatisation of essential services such as water and power. Really? An ICM poll yesterday suggested that the vast majority view such privatisation as a mistake.

I didn’t imagine I would ever write these words but it has to be said that the hero of the day, in terms of accuracy and fairness, was Ed Miliband. He faced the difficult task of striking the right note of respect for a deceased woman and a towering public figure, without conceding too much ground or descending into cant. He resisted the temptation to ape Blair who loved to eulogise – it was noticeable that Cameron cited him – and showed clearly that he was not prepared to say one word he didn’t believe.

He showed real generosity in saluting the intellectual coherence of her agenda and, uniquely, made the point that the scientist-turned-politician was one of the first global leaders to understand climate change. He then showed courage of his own by plainly setting out a brief list of the uglier blots on her record – mining communities destroyed, section 28, apartheid indulged.

What he did not do was indulge in the sort of character assassination being used by many on the left. He struck exactly the right balance, and it is hard to imagine that history will disagree. The lady was fearless, she had conviction, but she cared nothing for casualties amongst those who stood in her way.

In our neck of the woods it is hard to maintain a balanced view for many of her policies were socially ruinous. The story of the mines is well known and history will claim mitigation in that she had to face down anarchists. But her role in destroying the heavy vehicles industry was an act of wanton vandalism. Manufacturing was, in her book, an unnecessary evil and a key part of our economy and social fabric was destroyed for ever.

It is inevitable that we will all have different views of Margaret Thatcher, according to the effect she had on us. History will record that she was a towering figure, it will also record that this was a woman who divided as well as ruled.

One final thought. Since Margaret Thatcher was axed by her party we have had four prime ministers. It is high time we stopped attributing every failure or success to someone who has been out of office for decades!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” All I ask is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy!”…..Spike Milligan

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Banker punishment; pension cut to only £406,000!

As in all things, we Brits recognise no middle ground. According to the weathermen we are emerging from the great ice age into tropical temperatures. We codgers delude ourselves in believing that we live in the real world. Maybe not, but at least we know that a cold spell is being supplanted by a warmer one.

So it is with the Margaret Thatcher coverage. According to which newspaper you read, she was Mother Theresa in disguise or the Devil incarnate. In reality a bit of both, but what really sickened us were the pictures of mindless yobs attacking police officers as part of their sick celebrations at the death of a fellow human being. One glance reveals that they were scarcely born when Thatcher divided the nation, perhaps these were the people who attacked a paediatrician’s house in the belief that his title refers to child abuse?

Certain it is that claims that Mrs Thatcher triggered the banker’s behaviour are wide of the mark. Everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten the Major, Blair and Brown years. Come to think of it they seem to have overlooked the greatest truth of all. The mess we are in is the direct result of bankers who developed a culture of perilously high-risk lending, fiddled the Libor rates, and paid themselves obscenely high salaries and bonuses.

And politicans who were still teenagers in the Thatcher years have played a big part. Mervyn King, the retiring Governor of the Bank of England, told MPs last month that bank executives “have easier access to the people at the very top than the regulators have”. By his mild standards that was a huge revelation. Blair, Cameron and Osborne in particular have aligned themselves with their fellow rich-boys.

But now we are told that the people that rendered us all near bankrupt are owning up and taking their medicine. Whoopie! Former HBOS chief executive Sir James Crosby has been severely criticised by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, no great surprise given that his conduct led, amongst other disasters, to a £30 billion taxpayer bail-out. The noble knight, we are told, is truly ashamed and intends voluntarily to set an example to all the other bankers who lit the fire that destroyed our economy. He will, we are told, henceforth share the hardships of all those he impoverished.

The words are inspiring, the detail is not. Sir James will take a cut in his pension from £580,000 per year to a mere index-linked £406,000. What planet do these people live on? Can you even begin to imagine having fouled up in your job to a disgraceful extent and then being allowed to enjoy a pension the like of which dreams are made ?

He is also to surrender the Sir bit. But since such labels can now be purchased by a £100,000 donation to the Conservative Party we can reasonably disregard that sacrifice.

On last night’s Newsnight programme a leading banker told Paxman that this example will trigger others to search their consciences. The fact that he, and they, regard over £400K as a pittance tells us all we need to know.

Even in their version of sackcloth and ashes the fatcats rule OK!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” When I want a peerage, I shall buy it like an honest man!” …Lord Northcliffe

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The ghost of Thatcher is all around us!

It says much that the death of an elderly lady suffering from the condition that every elderly person dreads has stunned a nation. At times like this the practice of never speaking ill of the dead tends to produce carefully worded tributes, and by the time of our final service most of us have a debit column washed clean by tears or a resolve to let bygones be bygones.

It was never going to be like that for Margaret Thatcher for she was no ordinary traveller along life’s journey. It is of course too early to attempt an historical perspective for old devotions and, yes, hatreds still influence too many memories. As we gathered on the allotments this morning it was soon apparent that our first female prime minister has, for good or ill, made a mark on every one of us.

Look around this kingdom of ours, at a devolved Scotland contemplating independence – a state of affairs that owes much to Thatcher’s antagonistic realionship with that country. Look at a privatised network of largely foreign-owned power companies, the powerless trades unions, the obsession with materialism, the huge increase in the gap between rich and poor, the trio of 1980s teenagers who lead the three main parties..wherever you look the ghost of Margaret Thatcher is hovering still.

Old habits die hard and I cannot resist focussing on the good that she did. Top of my list is the fearless war she waged with the trades unions of her day. As a senior executive in the then state-owned British Leyland I had come to despair for our country as militant hard-left factions ruled the workforce with a fearsome tyranny. Many of them declared themselves to be Trots, Moaists and an assortment of other supposed ideologies. They were hell-bent on revolution, and the smallest grievance was a potential subject for disputes. Slowly but surely people who were feared by the people they supposedly represented were making Britain ungovernable, and destroying our reputation for quality manufacturing in the process.

They met their match in Margaret Thatcher. Bar Churchill it is impossible to imagine any other political figure being strong enough to do what she did. She rid the country of workforce extremism and, despite what people like our industry’s ‘Red Robbo’ or the coal industry’s Arthur Scargill expected, she never wavered in the process. She saved Britain from anarchy.

Sadly she also destroyed much of our industry in the process. She also revealed herself to be both ruthless and unscrupulous. I remember her sending for the then head of the car division. She told him that the board must recommend a sell-out to Ford. He replied that the board did not support such an idea. He thus blocked the proposal but he was fired the very next day.

There were of course many actions that divided the heart of what once was a caring society in which the gap between employer and employed was broadly seen as just. Today’s spectacle of multi-millionaires employing people on a minimum wage owes much to what Margaret Thatcher set in train. She did not believe in the concept of a society, she believed in the weak going to the wall.

But there was much to admire in what she did, not least her relationships overseas. No one then doubted that our partnership with America was other than just that. No one believed that her partnership with Gorbachov would do other than end the cold war. No one believed that the EU would take control of our island. And politically fortuitous though its timing was, no one believed other than that the Iron Lady would call the bluff of Argentinian generals.

Of course historians will struggle to balance the record of Margaret Thatcher. In our books she did more harm than good, yet we have to accept that our country needed some one of such determination at a time when it was in a bad place. And there is one tribute we must make.

Margaret Thatcher had belief. We may not have liked what she believed in, but we knew what it was. Our leaders of today believe only in doing what is politically popular. No one could accuse the lady of that!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always rely on the support of Paul!”…George Bernard Shaw

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Ultimate cruelty – the untold story!

We would like to preface our piece today by extending our sympathies to the family of Lady Thatcher. Of course we often disagreed with her policies, but we always admired her determination and the fact that one knew exactly what it was she stood for. RIP Iron Lady!

No sun this morning, but any weather that doesn’t include rain is fine by us. Inevitably the chat as we cleaned out the hens was about yesterday’s Premiership matches, particularly the one involving Wigan who sent ‘Arry Redknapp into apoplexy by scoring a last second equaliser against his struggling QPR. He should have expected it for our local heroes have developed a reputation to match that of Houdini.

But once we, whose footballing skills have mysteriously improved since we actually played, had exhausted our repertoire about playing with width and depth, we turned to a real-life subject. For real read cruel, heartless and ignored by the media.

Gorgeous George Osborne has over the weekend, made much of the fact that he has overwhelming public support for his views on benefit reforms. He is right in so far as people are sick and tired of those claimants who regard idleness and scrounging as their right. But he is surely wrong in imagining that the public supports the idea of disabled people being deprived of the little they have.

Osborne and his rich pals go to great lengths to divert stories of real suffering, and today we would like to bring attention to the fate of frail elderly patients who now find themselves in the care of privatised care homes. One such is the River View Care Centre run by the European Care Group, one of the UK’s biggest providers and much lauded by ministers as an example of just how good things can be when the NHS is replaced.

The new £5m centre opened just six weeks ago. Already the police are involved and, in a statement, have revealed that NHS health staff have been drafted in to ensure that the care of the remaining residents is improved dramatically. We say remaining because five frail people had to be moved out after a whistleblower revealed that they were being left unattended for long periods, sometimes going without food or drinks for even longer periods.

Last week Devon county council and Devon NHS said there was now an embargo on sending any new publicly-funded residents to the centre. The company blamed staff and sad; “We are hugely disappointed by the behaviour of individuals who are no longer working for us”. It has a familiar ring doesn’t it?

Although we all prefer to leave such stories under the carpet, the fact is that this is but one of hundreds of situations involving neglect and cruelty. Presumably even the Chancellor would not suggest that such vulnerable people are not deserving of decent and humane care. But then again he might not, for right now the government is colluding with employers to ignore minimum wage legislation, with the inevitable result that staff employed in the care industry are not of the highest calibre.

This extends far beyond the likes of River View. Jobcentreplus is advertising hundreds of jobs around the country for workers to provide care duties for elderly or disabled people in their own homes. The stated pay is the minimum of £6.19 but many agencies are refusing to pay for travel time between houses visited. This means that a carer working from, say, 7.30am until their 12.30 lunch break (for which they are not paid) and providing, say, 30 minutes of care for each of six clients, could end up being paid little more than £18 for their five hours : a clear breach of the legisaltion and grossly shortchanging the carers and their vulnerable clients.

This scandal is compounded by the fact that the unemployed face sanctions – cuts in their jobseekers ‘allowance – if Jobcentreplus staff decide they have not applied for carer posts recommended to them. In other words unemployed people are being forced to become carers and are being paid far below a living wage. The real victims are of course those who have to rely on the service they provide.

The sad fact is that the care of our elderly and frail is hidden from sight beneath a national preoccupation with benefits reform. Yet no reform can improve the lot of those unable to speak up for themselves. Such services as they once enjoyed have been privatised, and the introduction of the profit motive has done the rest. Private companies will provide the lowest service level they can get away with and, if the government allows it, will regard the minimum wage in the same way they regard tax avoidance.

Perhaps, being ancient ourselves, we codgers can be accused of having a vested interest. But are we really alone in believing that what is happening in our name is the ultimate cruelty?

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  ” What are the desirable qualifications for any young man who wishes to become a politician?  It is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen”.Winston Churchill

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A world of make-believe!

We are constantly reminded that we are enduring the coldest weather since Adam was a lad, but we codgers are more than content. After months of mud-wrestling and battenng down roof panels in danger of constituting a threat to low-flying aircraft, we are happy to settle for blue-skies and sunshine. Those talking of a change in the weather should beware of what they wish for. Mind you, we do find ourselves wondering when we will be able to begin planting on the allotments.

On Sunday mornings some head for church, some sleep on. We tend to reflect on the week past. Today we found it hard to avoid focussing on the sudden reappearance in the headlines of Harvey Smith, who back in the 70s became our hero by ending a show-jumping triumph with a V-sign toward judge Douglas Bunn. Had we thought about him at all we might have guessed that Harvey was up amongst the V-signers in the sky, instead we learned yesterday that he and his wife had produced the Grand National winner.

It was a relief to learn from interviews that he has not changed one iota. Refreshing! No world of make-believe for the once renowned bluff Yorkshireman. It is very tempting to compare his demeanour with that of our selected pillock of the week, Iain Duncan Smith. We had always imagined that the former Tory leader was a toff, someone about as funny as a dinner for two with Vicky Price and as exciting as a convocation of insurance loss adjusters. But we had never imagined him to be a fantasist, a Walter Mitty.

Suddenly he shattered our grudging respect by claiming that he would be perfectly capable of living on £53 per week. Of course he wouldn’t, no one can, but it wasn’t the ludicrous nature of his claim that surprised us, it was the fact that he said it at all. The ‘quiet man’ was revealed as just another of the people living in Westminster’s world of make-believe. They genuinely believe that they not only understand the hardships of constituents, but can at a stroke swap places and prove that hardships are easily overcome.

There was a time when put-downs on this scale had credibility. The likes of Kier Hardy, Nye Bevan and Ernie Bevin came from under-privileged backgrounds and would have found a return trip less than traumatic. But the ministers of today have no experience of hardship, indeed the vast majority hail from, and inhabit, backgrounds of considerable affluence.

IDS might survive for a week on £53 but he would have the consolation of knowing that his index-linked pension and ministerial salary of £134,565 would not disappear. He would also rest content that his fragrant wife Betsy, daughter of Lord Cottesloe, would be waiting for him at their Buckinghamshire manor house.

Of course he isn’t alone in believing that his inner-man is a potentially poor but capable one. David Cameron spends much time drinking beer in pubs and visiting the homeless in hostels. “I want to listen, to show that I know what real human experience in the raw feels like”, he tells us. Nadine Dorries put on a Muslim headscarf to hang-out in a run-down Acton housing estate. Clare Short became a seven-day teacher in an inner-city comprehensive. Michael Portillo swapped places with a single mother in Merseyside. Matthew Parris moved into a Newcastle bedsit. The list is an unending one.

It all reminds me of a visit Tony Benn, then Lord Wedgewood-Benn, made to a workers co-operative in Meradin when he was a secretary of state. He met the workforce in the canteen and was given tea in a china cup. He refused it, saying he wanted the kind of mug the workers were clutching. One of them pointed out that they only had mugs because they could afford nothing better. “You are just playing at being poor”, he said. I know it happened because I was there!

If ministers really want to understand deprivation they should have someone arrange meetings. They should stop pretending to be something they most certainly are not. It only serves to irritate!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “A diplomat is a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip!”…..Caskie Stinnett

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North Korea – nightmare or pantomime?

On such a lovely morning I should have been working out my master plan to acquire more Tesco Clubcard points as I helped to clean out the hens – the work itself is easy on the brain – but I found myself becoming increasingly preoccupied with the little fat chap running North Korea. Yesterday he warned that, in the event of war, he can no longer guarantee the safety of our Embassy staff. I confess that I wasn’t aware that such people existed, but my concern blocked out the option of wondering what the hell they actually do.

I mentioned this to my fellow codgers. Their views ranged from he wouldn’t dare through to he is madder than a mongoose. The latter is probably near the mark, but doesn’t that make the possibility of his taking brinkmanship beyond the brink a real possibility? I wasn’t reassured by our dear leader’s suddenly announced plan to have our Tridents on standby either. Perhaps he has realised that given the likelihood that any war would be a re-run of a South v North land war, our contribution to the UN force would have to be contracted out to G4S.

I am probably wrong to find the prospect of madmen in big hats in charge of nuclear weapons scary. Either way I was relieved to switch to arguing the toss about a less dangerous adversary, the EU.

Theresa Rafacz, a Polish national, killed her husband in a “gratuitous” attack by repeatedly kicking and stamping on his head. She came to the UK in 2007 and her husband followed her 18 months later.   He had a serious alcohol addiction at the time of arrival, and when his wife came home from work on July 18 2009 she found that he had failed to look after their three-year old son. Violence followed. In due course Mrs Rafacz went to prison. Not surprisingly the Home Office decided to deport her upon release.

Yesterday Mr Justice Blake, Britain’s most senior immigration judge, ruled that deportation is not possible since her crime did not cross a seriousness threshold set out in EU law. Under EU free movement rules, the Government can only deport EU citizens who have committed crimes in “exceptional circumstances”.

A few days ago this blogsite set out the case for leaving the domination of Brussels and promised to also publish the case for staying in. As yet we haven’t managed to work out what it is! We were not helped by the Conservative response to the Rafacz case. Dominic Raab, MP, said that “Brussels has whittled away our national border controls, undermined public safety and democratic accountabilty. If we can’t renegotiate this kind of issue with Brussels, public trust will  continue to ebb and the clarion calls for Britain to leave will grow louder”

Never mind, there are pleasanter diversions to be had on this lovely sunlit day. The coalition has gone to war over George Osborne’s claim that the murderous Philpott is typical of all benefit claimants. The Lib Dems are less than impressed, and Alexander has promised to reverse the millionnaire’s tax cut when he becomes Ed Ball’s flag-bearer.

Even livelier is the row developing about the new Sunderland manager who sounds capable of giving the North Korean leader a run for his money. Many Sunderland supporters seem sceptical about claims that pictures of him with his arm in the air are merely shots of him waving to his Mum, but most are holding their fire. If he saves Sunderland from relegation he was saying Hi Mum. If they go down he is to be deported to Korea, always assuming that EU law allows it.

Perhaps it all adds up to the fact that, with the honourable exception of Prince Philip, we are losing our traditional sense of humour. Yesterday whilst the Queen toured a Mars bar factory, he dallied with a lady who said that she works in the stripping section. You can guess the rest!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Life is a book and those who do not travel read only a page!”….St Augustine

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Hitler would have approved of Osborne’s slur!

The weathermen tell us that warmer weather is on the way. We will believe it when we see it, and if warmer equals wetter will not be leaping for joy. Yes it has been cold at night and, yes, our gardening timetable is now as fictional as the local rail service version, but to have day after day of blue skies has been our most unexpected treat since Albert bought us all a drink. I wonder if Osborne has a collective description for people like we hen-keepers. Probably, for he seems to be engaged in labelling most others.

Our reaction to the Philpott case has been one of absolute disgust. That such a character exists at all is bad enough, that he should serve only 15 years in jail having caused the death of six innocents is appalling. Equally appalling is the attempt by Osborne to use this tragedy to label everyone in receipt of benefits. He and his friends at the Daily Mail are beneath contempt.

Everyone knows that there are people receiving benefits who are parasites, and unpleasant ones to boot. But they are a small minority and to attempt to label everyone in need of support is disgraceful, even by Old Etonian standards. Of course the system needs tightening but many beneficiaries, particularly the severely disabled, are decent honourable people who simply cannot cope without state aid.

Yesterday we read a report entitled ‘An Accident Waiting to Happen’ by the City regulator into the “colossal failure” of the HBOS management. The commission expressed “profound regret” that no fitting sanctions were imposed in response to the “imcompetent and reckless” policy that led to the bank’s collapse. It questions whether the three senior exceutives are “fit and proper” to ever work in the city again. In fact former chief executive Sir James Crosby has retained his knighthood and his £570,000 pension. He also sold two-thirds of his shares before the banking crisis became known. Does Osborne now believe that all bankers are equally incompetent, immoral and corrupt?

At local level something happened yesterday that inclined us to enter the Osborne labelling club. it was announced that the annual grant of £28m to cover the cost of life-prolonging drugs for cancer victims is to be withdrawn. As cruel acts go this is right up there. But, angry though we are, we must reist the temptation to label all politicians as heartless and out-of-touch for the likelihood is that most MPs deplore this decision but have no power to influence it.

Labelling of any group, be they poor or rich, is reminiscent of the blind bigotry of Hitler and his kind and has no place in a society such as ours. As each day passes the actions and attitudes of rich-boys such as Osborne make Ukip look increasingly attractive!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” I don’t know what effect these men have on our enemies, but by God, they frighten me!” …..Duke of Wellington

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The case for leaving the EU!

The subject of our EU membership often comes up on the allotments, but it has to be admitted that the argument is seldom a well-informed one. Some codgers see the cost of membership as disastrous, others fear that pulling out of Club Merkel will be even more disastrous in terms of trade.

Clearly the issue is rather more complicated. To establish the argument in favour of pulling out it is sensible to visit the website of the Democracy Movement, an organisation now enjoying significant support. At a later date we will try to present the case for staying in, but right now it is difficult to find a cogent version.

The Democracy Movement urges us to stop being “Little Europeans”. It points out that a majority of our exports now go to non-EU countries as Europe goes into economic and demographic decline. If Britain were to leave the EU we could, like independent Switzerland, still have access to the EU Single Market. We would not therefore lose any jobs. As a self-governing democracy we could decide what policies are best for the UK economy.

The Democracy Movement goes on to advance a number of key reasons for leaving. The EU is in demographic decline. It now only accounts for 19% of World GDP. By 2050 the figure will be 7%. There is an unstoppable shift in economic power taking place from Europe. The Commonwealth countries are already more economically significant than the 17 Eurozone members, a key factor being the population ageing of Europe, whereas over half on Commonwealth citizens are 25 or under.

As a signatory to the World Trade Organisation, an independent Britain would be protected from discriminatory high tariffs because of the Most Favoured Nation principle, one of the cornerstones of the WTO system. The WTO is rendering customs unions like the EU redundant by reducing tariff barriers across the world.

In the new Global era, it is vital that we can react speedily to chnging events and take decisions that are in the interest of the UK economy. Our parliament needs to be able to modify or reverse laws that are detrimental to our enterprises and public sector bodies. As the EU becomes ever more politically centralised this will be impossible. We now have only 8.4% of the votes in the main EU institutions and are losing all influence on law-making. Yet 100% of EU laws are applied to our firms regardless of whether they trade with EU members. Brussels now accounts for half of all our internal, national legislation.

Out of the EU, we would be free of the Common Agricultural Policy that discriminates against Third World producers. We would be free to determine our own trade policy and save £15 billion a year in payments to the EU budget.

Interestingly, Switzerland is Europe’s most successful economy per capita. Following a referendum it remains outside of the EU but continues to trade with its members. It has signed a free trade agreement with China, thus destroying the myth that if we leave the EU we will not be able to trade with the big economies.

These are merely the headlines of the case. The Labour and Lib Dem parties are resolutely in favour of remaining part of the EU. The Conservatives are deeply divided, only this week over 100 of its MPs have signed a new demand for an early referendum. Only Ukip is committed to leaving and it is gathering increasing support.

We codgers have to confess to being in the don’t know group. To us the case for leaving, given that we are not part of the Euro group, seems a very strong one. But we are open to persuasion if someone will only present an analysis of the positive aspects of remaining in. But so far we have heard little that convinces.

If you want to learn more about the Democratic Movement you will find it on www.democracymovement.org.uk . This is a huge issue and we would love to hear from you!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Speak in French when you can’t think of the English for a thing!”….Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking-Glass”

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Mick Philpott jailed for life over Derby house fire that left six children dead

Father is described by judge as disturbingly dangerous man as wife and friend are also jailed

Mick Philpott has been jailed for life for being the "driving force" behind a plot to torch a Derby home which led to the deaths of six children, with the trial judge describing him as a disturbingly dangerous man with no moral compass.

Mrs Justice Thirlwall said Philpott, 56, should serve a minimum of 15 years after a jury at Nottingham crown court convicted him on six counts of manslaughter for plotting the fire, which he and two others started in May 2012.

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Overseas aid is the real scandal!

Life is never dull on the allotments. This morning Albert managed to fall into the big pond whilst leaning out to break the ice. Fortunately the pond, whilst big in terms of area covered, is not deep and we were able to pull the human ferret out without too much effort. As I type he is on his way home for his latest verbal assault from Mrs Albert. We have always known that our pal can be relied upon to fall into any available hole, but up until today he has always selected dry ones. He doesn’t physically resemble our dear leader, but he certainly behaves like him!

Once the excitement was over we cleaned out the hens and headed for the hut. Given the stove and the sun penetrating the windows, it didn’t feel wintry in there and our usual attempt to put the world to rights began. Having worried about the antics of the mad little fat guy runnin North Korea, and yet more examples of the effect of the equally absurd bedroom tax, we quickly moved on to overseas aid. At a time when almost every service here is being cut to the bone it does seem decidedly odd that the Department for International Aid (DffD) is about to receive an increase in its budget of 31.9%, the largest percentage increase in a single year ever enjoyed by a government department in British peacetime history. Whilst all around it are facing huge additional cuts, DffD will suddenly have an extra £2.6 billion, bringing the cash available for aid to £10.5 billion.

That would pay for a lot of policemen, firemen, nurses and the rest but all the political parties agree that charity does not begin at home. Of course the money which reaches its intended destination will do much good. By 2015 British money will have helped to vaccinate 55 million children against killer diseases, and put nine million through primary school. But whenever these achievements are lauded in high places our politicians forget to mention one awkward fact. The truth is that the governments running the countries concerned often have the money to achieve all the above.

They could educate and vaccinate millions more children without a penny from us. But they don’t because they choose instead to spend their national budgets in dsgraceful ways. Put bluntly, they rely on the British taxpayer to fund useful things, like health and education, while they spend their own money on guns and palaces.

Take Pakistan, the biggest recipient of British aid. Much of that will go to the “Benazir Income Support Programme”, a welfare scheme providing money to poor families. “Benazir” is the name of the late prime minister whose husband is now president, and whose Pakistan People’s Party runs the government. Suffice to say DffD stands accused of inadvertantly funding the PPPs re-election campaign.

But leaving that aside the issue is really the way in which the Pakistan government spends its considerable wealth. No less than 54% of all federal spending goes on army and related debt servicing. Even stranger is the fact that only a tiny minority of Pakistanis pays tax. In a country of 180 million, fewer than 860,000 contribute anything from their incomes. President Asif Ali Zardari set a notable example in 2011 by failing to so much as file a tax return. At the same time 35 cabinet ministers paid no tax whatsover, along with 251 members of the National Assembly.

If Pakistan’s fabulously wealthy politicians paid tax – and if the governmnet spent less on the army – it could fund everything that DffD provides many times over. In effect we are making possible the grotesque way in which Pakistan’s elite squander the nation’s resources.

For another eample look no further than Zimbabwe. Last year Mr Mugabe spent £11.9 million on foreign travel – and absolutely nothing on schools. He did however blow £560,000 on his palaces, and a further incalculable amount on wild extravagence. The burden of equipping schools was left entirely to foreign donors, including us.

There is a moral dilemna here. If we stop aid will the generals relax their iron grip on Pakistan money, will the government introduce effective tax measures? Will Mugabe decide that he must sacrifice palaces for classrooms? Given that the men that rule such countries are rotten to the core, the answer is probably no.

But at the very least it all raises serious questions about the decision to further uplift our aid budget. Should the mythical man from outer space arrive today and see the extent of deprivation now being enforced here, he would surely assume that we have taken leave of our senses!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Politics is said to be the second oldest profession I have come to believe that it bears a very strong resemblence to the first!” ….Ronald Reagan

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Will your hospital still be there in 2015?

We spent much of the time devoted to hen-cleaning this morning with our minds elsewhere. We were trying to work out just how Ian Duncan Smith would manage to survive on £53 per week. We failed. We even resorted to my Gran’s method involving a row of tins on the mantelpiece. But by the time we had put enough in the containers marked gas, coal, electricity, bus fares, washing powder and soap the amount left for the food tin would only stretch to a packet of crisps. We can only conclude that he is a good deal cleverer than us.

If we are honest we have to acknowledge that there are many aspects of his welfare reforms that are beyond our understanding, but it does seem certain that one hell of a storm is brewing. Our dear leader tells us that the Churches are out of touch and that the great British public is solidly behind IDS and all his works. We suspect that it will prove to be a zillion miles behind him when the first stories of chldren on the streets hit the headlines. But we only suspect, what we know for sure is that the death of the NHS will be an equally big issue come the 2015 election

This is not the first government to launch a massive top-down reorganisation of the health service, but it is the first one to do so whilst imposing massive ‘efficiency savings’. The result is that the service is already in meltdown. And yesterday it underwent its greatest upheaval snce 1948. Mis-sold as putting GPs in charge of the budget, most GPs say it does nothing of the kind; only a third told a Pulse survey that they are gaining more power.

Instead GP leaders say blame is devolved without power, their relationship with patients poisoned by mistrust. The GP is now the rationer, not the patient’s advocate. And given the reductions in funding measured against the increasing demand of an ageing population they see no prospect of developing the community alternatives to hospitals of which ministers talk.

There are many worries surrounding the GP issue. Least monitored of all health professionals, over a third of them have financial interests in private healthcare ventures. Suddenly they are open to suspicion of conflict of interest on several fronts. But that is their worry, not ours. Ours centres around the dictats they have to follow in regard to bringing in maximum competition.

The new Commissioning groups will have no altetrnative to offer all services to all prospective providers. NHS services will find themselves bidding against the likes of Virgin Care or the giant American United Healthcare. They are likely to cherry-pick easy and profitable services – outpatients, diagnostics, routine surgery and simple treatments – leaving behind A& E, cancer, complex surgery, the elderly, the mentally ill. NHS hospitals will in effect be left with that which is unpredictably expensive. The best estimate is that at least half will become financially unstable and liable to closure.

In an attempt to save themselves, many of the threatened hospitals will take up the Lnasley plan to re-allocate up to 49% of their beds to private medicine. One way or another the number of hospital beds available locally will reduce dramatically.

The trend is already underway. Figures for 2011-12 from analysts Laing and Buisson show that the English NHS increased its private purchasing by 10.7%. Since private companies will use the NHS logo you will not know who is providing the service, and you will have no way of knowing how much profit is being made since such information is covered by confidentiality clauses.

Ministers will follow the lead of Labour’s Patricia Hewitt in trumpeting the value of competition. But health is not a market and fragmentation will destroy the cohesion and local availability of services. It will also substantially increase postcode medicine, where you live will determine your fate.

Not surprisingly many will argue that the Staffordshre experience demands that changes be made. They are right and given local mismanagement a case could be made for total privatisation of the whole hospital. But private providers are not interested in total responsibility. Therefore failing managements must be replaced rather than pardoned on the basis that nurses were solely to blame.

Those that understand the NHS know that these issues are not the only threats. Two weeks ago the government abolished networks. Over the past few years I have been involved with the cancer version. It has integrated services across regions and shared resources and skills. Many patients have benefited. Lives have been saved. Now it is gone and the excellent nurse in charge sent packing.

Sorry about the air of doom. But that is how it is. The bumbling ministers of the last Labour government and this one have succeeded in destroying the NHS. MPs in constituencies that lose their hospitals will pay the price come 2015.

But it is all of us that will pay the ultimate price!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” But the privilege and pleasure, That we treasure beyond measure, Is to run on little errands for the Ministers of State”…W S Gilbert: The Gondoliers

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April Ist 2013 – birth of the unfair society!

It is said that inside every man is a small boy itching to get out. It seemed true this mornng when Albert arrived to see a pair of his wellies protuding from under the fork-lift truck. But the April Fools trick fell flat when he commented that whoever was under there could stay there, he needed a brew. The rest of the gang resumed their cleaning-out, and instead of laughing began to bemoan what most see as the birth of an unfair Britain.

The mornng papers coverage of the benefit cuts launched today was predictable. On the left the Mirror describes what is happening as shameful. On the right the Daily Torygraph trumpets our arrival at the foothills of reform. To the media and politicians alike the issue is a black and white one. The poor are either scroungers or oppressed heroes, the rich are either fat-cats or the rock of our economy.

We venture to suggest that the issue facing Britain today is rather more complicated. Only madmen believe that we can continue to operate a welfare budget of the present size. But only madmen would have gone about change in such a blatently unfair and incompetent way. In terms of both compassion and awareness of the potential for major social unrest the Coalition has failed miserably.

Over centuries our most enlightened reformers have recognised that we as a nation have a duty to look after those who cannot help themselves by providng a safety net. Without proper analysis or forethought that has been swept aside and what the vulnerable, and almost everyone else, sees as unfairness for some and largesse for others put in its place. Fat-cats at the banks, and utility companies such as British Gas, have over the past week awarded themselves a fortune in bonuses. Later this week 13,000 millionaires will be given a tax cut of at least £42,000. At the bottom end of the income scale people who choose between heating and eating will join the ever-lengthening queues at the food banks.

Even the much maligned ‘rescue’ deal in Cyprus eventually recognised that the burden of austerity must fall primarily on the broadest shoulders. Here we see a concerted effort by ministers to stigmatise the poor and to punish them accordingly. The chairman of the Conservative Party tells us that large numbers of claimants for invalidity benefits have withdrawn their claims when faced with a medical. His inference is clear, they are malingerers frightened of exposure. But where is the evidence? According to experts many have found work, having recovered.

Then we have the uproar over the so-called bedroom tax. Information published today by local authorities suggests that 19 out of 20 families affected would be unable to move to a smaller property even if they wanted to because suitable social housing is not available in their area.

For many years the churches have stood back from criticising politicians , but even they now feel obliged to launch an attack. And respected organisations like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have felt compelled to protest. Yesterday its head, Julia Unwin, spoke of a decade of destitution and added ; “I am more convinced than ever that we have a perfect storm brewing; the reforms to welfare, the economic slowdown and spiralling costs together with an increasingly spiteful tone in how we describe people in poverty risks the UK becoming a nation where people face appalling destitution”.

Social analysts warn that the poorest families – with more than 60% of such households in work – will unravrel recent achievements in tackling poverty. The Child Poverty Action Group calculates that six of the changes introduced today will take £2.3 billion from the pockets of the poorest households, and disabled people will be disproportionately affected.

Of course you can ascribe what is happening as a return to Thatcherite policies. We codgers tend to the view that the main factor here is incompetence. We all know people who never work and regard hand-outs as their right. But they represent a small minority. What the Coalition has done is to use a sledge-hammer to crack a walnut. In so doing it has sown the seeds of its own political death, together with the destruction of many innocent lives.

The latest financial assessments show tax avoidance as being responsible for £72 billion loss of revenue. To stigmatise and thrash the poor whilst leaving this unchallenged is grossly unfair and socially unsustainable.

But there is little point in the Opposition merely crying foul. It is high time they produced a plan showing a competent and fair way of balancing the books

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  “It’s no dsgrace to be poor but it might as well be !”…..Frank McKinney Hubbard, 1868-1930

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A heathier, happier world is still possible!

Happy Easter! We codgers were probably not alone in oversleeping this morning, we have yet to do otherwise having put the clocks forward. When the hens were eventually released they expended their pent-up rage on a mouse that was enjoying an illicit breakfast at a corn-trough. Hen’s image as slow plodders is destroyed in a flash at the sight of a mouse which triggers a response that Usain Bolt would struggle to match.

But, such Prescott-like aggression apart, Easter Day got off to a perfect start with the sun giving emergency aid to the primula which had turned white during the night in the manner of a lottery winner unable to find his ticket. As I have explained many times we are, with one exception, not a religious bunch, but Easter morning always seems special.

Whether we are Christians or not, everybody would benefit from meditating on the meaning of Easter, when a good man gave his life for others. For us the miracle lies not just in the belief that he rose from the dead afterwards, but also in the fact that he was prepared to suffer on a cross purely out of love. Today seems to us to be a time to consider the wonder of self-sacrifice and selfless giving – values key to building a healthier, happier society.

In one respect at least our island has an impressive track record. Few countries in the world can boast such an example of the volunteerist principle. Even before politicians and bankers alike managed to create a time of unparallelled austerity, our society contained vast numbers of voluntary organisations. Now they are inundated with supporters, people willing to give time and effort to helping those less fortunate than themselves.

But in a strange way the people we codgers have come to admire above all others are the green campaigners. There was a time when we saw such as eccentrics. No longer. For some time now we have noticed that our own little kingdom is losing much of what we have always taken for granted. Sparrows no longer hassle us as we eat our sandwiches on warm summer days. No longer do we hear the constant drone of bees. Our local rivers, once a guarantee of reward for patient fishing, are polluted. Our local farmland is rendered sterile of all but the monoculture crop by demented dosing with pesticides; the farmland insects and wild flowers have gone.

I realise that we old ‘uns have become insular, too preoccupied with our own area. But look at the wide world and the picture is no brighter. The Earth is under threat, as it has never been before. The oppressive scale of human enterprise is taking a terrible toll. What man is doing is wiping out ecosystems and species, across the world, at an ever increasing rate; the forests are chain-sawed, the oceans are stripmined of their fish, the natural world is being destroyed.

Some choose to dispute the effect of melting ice-caps, of global warming. But day after day brings new scientific evidence. Some of the largest industrial nations deny that the hand of man is responsible. But it is increasingly clear that this is not all the result of some natural phenomenon, it is down to the actions of Homo Sapiens. Man has become Earth’s problem child. We are the only species capable of destroying our own home. And it looks like we will.

But it is not too late. We desperately need a lead from the top, but in its absence we can all do our bit. We can support the green lobby in any way we can We can use our little patches of land to provide wild-life havens. We can recycle. We can tell our local MPs that time is running out and there is none to spare for political trivia.

Call it reality or myth, the Easter message of redemption is one heard across the globe. A few days ago we learnd that far more of us pray than anyone could possibly have imagined. Perhaps we should pray for new world leadership and inspiration of the kind provided by the likes of Mandella, Mother Theresa and Pope Francis.

The planet may not be saved, but we should each one of us surely ensure that what we have loved is not lost to future generations without one hell of a fight!

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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” The world is disgracefully managed, one hardly knows to whom to complain !”..Ronald Firbank   1886-1926

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