The EU’s two most senior officials cast doubt on David Cameron’s chances of agreement on his key reform demand ahead of talks in Brussels. …read more
A man living in his seventh temporary home with his family since he was evicted in 2011 told the BBC what it was like. …read more
A “small incendiary” device “ignites” at a shopping centre in Lancashire, causing it to be evacuated, police say. …read more
The Oil and Gas Authority awards a raft of new licences to explore for shale oil and gas on the mainland of the UK, paving the way for fracking firms. …read more
Climate change deniers are probably feeling as uncomfortable as we felt this morning. It is mid-December and we were feeling somewhat overheated as we dug our trenches dressed appropriately for this time of the year. Eventually we could stand it no longer and soon the wall was festooned with an array of coats and scarves. How much more evidence do they need? Singlets in January perhaps?
One would have imagined that the daily comics would be busy producing evidence that the Paris agreement is the last chance to save the planet, but those that are seem intent on producing the loopiest evidence. Today they tell us in solemn tones that only cuts in carbon emissions can save the haggis. It seems that sheep lungs are being left unusable for food by lungworm infections, the result of rising temperatures leading to a rise in parasites. To convince the faint-hearts it might be better to focus on melting icecaps, drowning Cumbria and wet global regions turning into deserts.
But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the media feels a compulsion to focus on trivia. Today countless column inches are devoted to debate about Jeremy Corbyn’s choice of his Christmas card design. Did he realise, asks Simon Klener, that “Merry Christmas” is not an appropriate greeting for “other faiths”. And why choose a picture of a snow-covered bicycle? The odds are that the bearded one gave it all no thought at all. And whilst we hate to offend the mighty Simon, we suggest that 99 per cent of the rest of us are happy to do likewise. Perhaps brother Jeremy is Norman Tebbitt in disguise?
As we settled in the hut we wondered why it is that our so-called newspapers seem so obsessed with trivia. Presumably that is what their readers demand, but maybe the fact that all of the big-circulation versions are owned by a handful of powerful tycoons with nothing but profit in mind has something to do with it. One thing is certain – the scandalous behaviour that brought down the News of the World is still the norm. The Daily Mail filled its front page on Tuesday with pictures of the Duchess of Cornwall shopping, and portrayed what it described as evidence that she is feeling the strain of Christmas. In reality she had dared to go out without a full face of make-up, and was snapped by a member of the paperazzi. These reptiles are as busy as ever! They destroyed Diana, and now they are being paid handsome amounts to repeat the treatment.
The astonishing aspect of it all is that deep down we know that we cannot believe a word. As an example turn to the Mail on Sunday of 22 November. “Can champagne really sparkle?” it asked, and sent along its “expert” Olly Smith to find out by conducting a blind tasting of various supermarket bubblies. His conclusion? Aldi’s Veuve Monsigny Brut was a “revelation…a real find and my top choice served chilled for an aperitif this Christmas”. By an astonishing coincidence, the same champagne tops the “Festive Top 7” recommended by Aldi’s own in-house expert, recruited this year to promote its drinks brands in the run-up to Christmas. You’ve guessed it – his name is Olly Smith.
But it was not such minutia that held our attention this morning. A few days ago it was announced that there are to be no more prosecutions of journalists involved in the ‘Hacking’ scandal. This meant that the second part of the Leveson inquiry is now free to proceed. Part one of the inquiry looked at the ethics and practices of the press and was published in November 2012. Part 2 was designated to investigate “the extent of unlawful or improper conduct” within Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers. It would also look at other media organisations and whether the police received corrupt payments and were “complicit in misconduct”.
The first part revealed an appalling story of lies, merciless bullying and intimidation culminating in the hacking of the murdered schoolgirl Millie Dowler. The dogged investigative journalism of Nick Davies of the Guardian had revealed what members of the police and government had sought to cover-up – illegal conduct by the Murdoch organisation on a grand scale. That perhaps surprised us less than evidence implicating every part of the establishment. Scotland Yard, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt, the Press Council and many others all appeared to have been dancing at the end of the strings of the Murdochs, Rebekah Brooks and their sidekicks. Many have gone to jail, many have resigned and Britain’s biggest circulation newspaper has been closed down.
But many questions have yet to be answered, and it was generally agreed that these could not be the subject of public inquiry until all prosecutions had been through the courts. Today there are newspaper reports that the government has decided to abandon Part two. That sounds extremely sinister. We already know of the close links between the Prime Minister and the Murdochs, and that he and Jeremy Hunt had been about to nod through the bid for BSkyB when the Millie Dowler affair triggered national revulsion. We also know that, although several leading officers resigned, the police have much explaining to do about their complicity in concealing evidence.
Christmas is an excellent time for burying news. Are we paranoid in suspecting that someone is preparing the greatest cover-up of them all? If the answer is no, guessing who and why is not difficult!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The Home Secretary should hold urgent discussions with the head of the judiciary on the prospect of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry going ahead”… Hacked Off.
Surviving life in the “hyper-masculine” military …read more
Will the new Star Wars film be bigger than Avatar? …read more
Pupils are challenged to give up fizzy drinks …read more
Staff at a jail which houses more than 600 sex offenders must be more alert to the risk of prisoner-on-prisoner sexual grooming, an inspection report says. …read more
The first 1,000 Syrian refugees to be resettled in the UK have now arrived in the country, David Cameron confirms. …read more
Online marketplace Amazon is advising customers who bought certain “hoverboards” – or self-balancing scooters – to throw them out after safety concerns. …read more
David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn exchange seasonal wishes and barbs at the last Prime Minister’s Questions of the year, where the clashes are dominated by health. …read more
The NHS trust that ran Stafford Hospital is fined £500,000 for “basic” blunders linked to the deaths of four patients, a court hears. …read more
Down here on Planet Earth it was wet, dark and miserable as we cleaned out the hens this morning. But our ancient minds rose above such mundane matters as we recalled last night’s BBC coverage of the arrival of Tim Peake on the International Space Station. Hopefully this episode will inspire children to become engineers, scientists or test pilots. Suddenly the attraction of becoming media or PR gurus seems diminished. Just a glimpse of the globe around which Tim and his fellow astronauts are now hurtling puts such earthly occupations into perspective. Seen from afar the Earth was put into perspective. How could such an integrated ball contain so many preoccupied not with looking outward but with fighting each other, playing political power games and turning a blind eye to misery and hunger?
On the day before he blasted off Tim Peake ventured the view that the experience would affect him profoundly. That seems inevitable. When our planet is transformed to a classroom globe everything that we insignificant specks do seems unimportant. The speeches we listen to, the programmes we watch, even the thoughts of Mourinho, seem utterly irrelevant. From that distance it must be hard to see any logic other than a people living as one in common cause, a people overwhelmed by the realisation that we are but an insignificant speck in the grand order of things.
Dream on. For months Major Tim will circle the globe with a regular glimpse of the tiny entity that we call the United Kingdom. His nearest and dearest will watch the sight of his glittering spacecraft solar panels. The rest of us will return our attention to the mundane. We will fret at the news that, as is our tradition, our transport services will be severely diminished over the busy Christmas period. We will focus on our concern at the prospect of half of Europe moving in. We will clamour to buy things we will soon discard, whilst other members of the human race starve to death or are blown to bits by madmen. We will idolise and condemn in turn fellow humans who by luck, inheritance or skulduggery have risen to the top of the pecking order. From his lofty perch the good Major will see it all for the irrelevant nonsense that it really is.
As we dried out around the hut fire it was apparent that the adventure of Major Tim had, momentarily at least, had quite a profound effect on us. Someone remarked that a true resident in outer space would glimpse our spinning globe and imagine that it was a united unit colonised some short space-time ago, governed by a single government dedicated to ensuring its long-term survival. Were they to pay a visit they would be surprised to find it inhabited by scores of warring factions dedicated to grabbing as much territory as possible, with each believing that their imaginary God and their way of life was the right one.
But long and sad experience has taught us that contemplating infinity is a recipe for headaches and identical packets of Neurofen wrapped up in different colours. So by the time we were on to our second doughnuts we had returned to earthly affairs. Prince Charles has, it seems, been secretly receiving copies of cabinet papers as a means of curing his insomnia. Jeremy Hunt has come up with a new wheeze aimed at integrating the NHS and social services – he has delegated it to local authorities. NHS Trusts’ funding deficits are forecasted to hit £2.2bn this year. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence, after a two year study, has concluded that dying patients should be allowed water. Scotland Yard is till trying to explain why masses of evidence of hacking was concealed for four years. The entire Los Angeles school system was closed down yesterday in the face of rumours that extremists had planted bombs. Donald Trump was busy explaining his latest popular lunacy.
Enough! We were simply not in the mood to discuss such things. In the absence of British participants we have in the past given scant attention to matters of Space. The sight of six men looking down on the rest of us en mass spinning on our axis has taught us that what happens amongst earthlings is of no great importance.
After all, even our great leader is invisible when viewed from just 300 miles above our theatrical planet!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you say, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”….Maya Angelou.
What are your chances of becoming an astronaut? …read more
Sir Elton John describes secondary ticket sites as “disgraceful” for selling tickets to his shows at vastly inflated prices. …read more
Elton John on happiness and why he’ll never retire …read more
Doctors and nurses are being urged to move away from a “tick-box approach” to end-of-life care, in new guidelines for England. …read more
RMT union members working on the Caledonian Sleeper rail service linking Scotland and London vote overwhelmingly in favour of strike action. …read more
A woman whose ex-boyfriend was the first man to be sentenced under new “revenge porn” laws is calling for a change in the law to give all other victims the right to anonymity in such cases. …read more
The rocket carrying Briton Tim Peake, and two colleagues, on a landmark flight to the International Space Station launches from Kazakhstan. …read more
One of the men accused of the Hatton Garden burglary said he was having a family barbecue and spent the evening at home at the time of the heist. …read more
The pill-poppers on the allotments were not happy bunnies this morning. Several of our members always carry an assortment of Nurofen packets and frequently sort through them to self-dose according to their latest aches and pains. Back pain after crouching over a coop and out comes the green pack. Feeling tense after the latest set-to with Albert and the orange one emerges. Touch of migraine and it’s blue. Who needs doctors, they have often asked. Now the Australian courts have spoiled their mind-over-matter triumphs. It seems that Reckitt Benckiser has been as crafty as a Werrity-less fox – the contents of their packets are identical. Those of us who prefer to leave casual pains to their own caprices have often talked of claptrap – had they listened they would now have had funds enough to buy a crate of red wine.
To add to our resident hypochondriac’s discomfiture the hens seemed in a particularly stubborn mood this morning. As fast as we cleared one bunch from the coops another went back in. The result was that cleaning them out took almost as long as Hadrian took with his wall, and tempers became somewhat frayed. One suspects that their reward will be unclean coops on Christmas morning when the choice between avian musical chairs in arctic conditions and opening packets of socks by the fire looms. But that is still some way off, and meantime we have other decisions to make such as choosing between bribing grandchildren to do our festive shopping or indulging in an hour or so of trolley-bashing in Tesco.
Usually by the time we reach the warm hut our topics for discussion cover a wide field. Today it was different. Everyone seemed inclined to focus on our dear leader. For starters he seems to have needled even his resident fans by launching into an attack on social service staff up and down the country. Having read of a number of cases of “serious failings” he yesterday threatened to take over units that fail vulnerable children. We respectfully suggest that he should first deign to visit one or two of them. The reason for their shortcomings will quickly become apparent. Funding cuts have led to huge reductions in headcount and a high percentage of senior, and more experienced, staff have been axed. Those remaining have unmanageable case-loads and rock-bottom morale.
Sadly we increasingly gain the impression that the Prime Minister is losing touch with reality, despite having a clear majority in the Commons and a badly divided opposition. We suspect that we are beginning to see the real David Cameron, a generally decent cove with an unfortunate tendency toward trying to be all things to all men. That may be admirable in a local vicar but significantly less so in a prime minister. Yesterday even his most loyal newspapers were urging him to “show some steel”. And when such as the Daily Mail say that it is apparent that all is not well in the halls of the ruling classes.
The decision we all face on Europe is arguably the most important for many years, and those who fear the consequences of a ‘Leave’ vote are bewildered. It seems that ‘Dave’ is no longer regarding EU immigration as a ‘red-line’ in his negotiations. That leaves only demands so vague that no European partner will object, but it leaves even the waverers here heading in despair for the exit. Even his plan to limit benefit payments for new arrivals was a compromise given the obvious need to stem the flood. Now even that appears to have been jettisoned.
And to compound this example of hesitant lunacy, our leader has dropped the new banking law scheduled to come into force within weeks. Baroness Kramer, the Lib Dem economic spokesman, said: “It beggars belief that the Government is watering down rules to hold top bankers to account. It is as if they have already forgotten about the 2008 crash, Libor fixing or any one of the other scandals that cost the taxpayer millions. It is simply not good enough for top bankers to be able to deny all knowledge of what’s going on inside their banks and to get off scot free”. With the pesky Lib Dems out of the way the prime minister has listened to the voices of Gorgeous George and his banker friends, but he has antagonised millions.
Another commitment to be shelved last week was the so-called ‘Responsibility Deal’, a programme requiring junk food firms to reduce the sugar and salt in their products. Instead firms will be “encouraged” to do that – the equivalent of putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank. Wrong decision. The powerful food industry lobbyists have been appeased but the medical profession alienated.
And what can one say about the decision not to decide about the Heathrow third runway? On the one side stands prominent business men, on the other Boris and a zillion local residents. We codgers are open-minded but a commissioned report has delivered its verdict. It is hard to escape the conclusion that with the London mayoral election looming our dear leader has decided to offend no one.
I once toured a hospital with David Cameron. I gained the impression of a decent, caring man. But I also gained the impression of a man who is weak behind the bonhomie and PR bluster with a tendency to run with the hare and hounds alike. It increasingly looks as if I as right for once.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Cameron must be bold and consistent. When it comes to the massive issues facing Britain, he simply can’t afford to retreat when the going gets tough”…Daily Mail editorial, 14/12/2015.
A firearms officer will be suspended after a man was shot dead in London during an alleged attempt to escape from custody. …read more
The countdown to UK astronaut Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station is widely reported, and DJ Neil Fox is on the front pages after being cleared of sex assault charges. …read more
Historic England – formerly English Heritage – is calling on the public to help track down missing works of art, 10 years after a bronze Henry Moore sculpture was stolen. …read more
More than three-quarters of the UK’s butterflies have declined in the past 40 years, according to scientists. …read more
One of the Hatton Garden raid ringleaders was “eccentric to extremes” and would speak to his dog as if it were human, a court is told. …read more
The X Factor final results show is watched by 8.4 million viewers, an improvement on the programme’s recent ratings, but still down on last year’s final. …read more
A man is found dead at a block of flats as fellow residents were evacuated due to the presence of a “possible noxious gas”. …read more
We learned this morning that Pat the Penguin, thought to be the oldest such bird in Britain and the second oldest in Europe, has died at the age of 37. The African penguin was put down by vets at a Devon zoo because of her arthritis. She had, said Phil Knowling, a spokesman for ‘Living Coasts’, a “terrific innings in which she raised nine chicks”. As we shivered and shuddered our way through this Monday morning’s hen-cleaning we arthritic codgers almost envied Pat. There are occasions when being pampered for the whole of ones life by a kindly guardian who will turn off the switch when it becomes impossible to bear can, on cold mornings such as this, sound quite an attractive proposition.
Fortunately our Monday motivation saw us digging on. And we have much to be thankful for. Not least, it seems, because we can all read to a standard capable of understanding The Sun. A study for the National Literacy Trust has today revealed that there is only one answer to the thorniest problem in the education world – the poor reading standard of boys. Only those who do their reading through ebooks improve their reading performance to match that of girls. How did any of us cope with Desperate Dan and Dan Dare in an age when online referred to Mum’s washing line? Like most research it is pure unadulterated twaddle – and we even know how to spell that.
But this being Monday, the day when memories of slouching back to school after two days of freedom still haunts our restless minds, we didn’t focus for long on such intellectual debate. Even the news that Gorgeous George’s pledge to protect police funding did not include the branch that covers our railways, ports and airports only held our attention briefly. As we thawed out around the hut fire we returned to our old worry about the fate of the Beeb. With The Times now part of the Murdoch propaganda machine, it seems to us the only source of honest, objective news coverage. It is certainly creative. It is free of stupid and repetitive ads. It rightly resists the strident call of politicians for favoured coverage. Unlike any other broadcaster it is respected across the world.
So why are we worried? Up until now that has been down to repeated threats from our dear leader and his pal Jeremy Hunt to cut the licence fee and to narrow its focus. What we hadn’t realised is that they have been for some considerable time locked in a conspiracy with the Murdoch empire, whose dream of domination of broadcasting and the media will only be realised if and when the BBC ceases to exist as a competitor. Now we know, thanks to the new book ‘Hack Attack’ by the Guardian reporter Nick Davies.
His exhaustive study of the rumours of phone hacking ultimately led to the closure of the News of the World, but only after constant denials by News International and the police, who it numbered amongst its paid retainers. We already knew that it was the Milly Dowler affair that opened the floodgates of revelations of criminal activity and bullying on an unprecedented scale. What we hadn’t grasped was that woven within this web of deceit and skulduggery was a plot to undermine the BBC intertwined with a pay back to any political allies in the form of massive media support led by The Sun. And that support would involve a concentrated attack on their political opponents.
In the summer of 2009, with an election due within twelve months, James Murdoch was already leading an attack on the BBC, culminating in his MacTaggart lecture on 28 August 2009. But sections of the ruling Labour Party were proving less than helpful. So the question was would News International be content to let Gordon Brown stay in Downing Street. Although Gordon Brown had managed to maintain a relationship with Rupert Murdoch, his relationship with James was fraught. David Cameron moved in quickly. At key moments during 2009, he and his spokesmen simply picked up signals from James Murdoch’s camp and played them back.
In March they picked up the very loud call about the BBC licence fee, declaring in a speech that it should be frozen, adding the seductive note that it would be difficult to keep the licence fee at all if the BBC did not make changes. The Sun responded with the story that “Mr Cameron wants to curb the BBC’s bloated bureaucracy and waste of cash”. It then listed the amounts which, they claimed, the corporation had spent on taxis and high salaries, Then followed a series of attacks about “recklessness…total failure…and abysmal record” of the BBC Trust. Seven weeks later Jeremy Hunt announced that a Conservative government would “abolish the BBC Trust because it had allowed the BBC to crush media opposition”.
The manoeuvring continued apace. Jeremy Hunt travelled to New York where, according to the Commons register of interests, he had meetings with representatives of News Corp. Cameron meantime had a ready connection with his friend and neighbour Rebekah Brooks. On the evening of 10 September 2009 James Murdoch met David Cameron at the exclusive George Club in Mayfair. There he told him that he had held discussions with his father and Rebekah Brooks and, as a result, was able to confirm that Britain’s biggest-selling paper would be supporting the Conservatives at the next general election.
Nearly three weeks later the announcement was made to coincide with a major Labour Party launch at the Grand Hotel in Brighton where delegates were handed the first edition of the next day’s Sun with its headline of “Labour’s lost it!”. Now the partners had to ensure that those willing to emasculate the BBC achieved power. From that pivotal moment the Murdoch papers ran an almost non-stop character assassination on Prime Minister Brown disguised as news. Every new death in Helmand province was his personal fault. A hand-written letter that he sent to a mother of a fallen soldier contained a spelling mistake, proof of his callous uncaring nature. He failed to bow his head properly at the Cenotaph – a charge much later repeated against Jeremy Corbyn. The diatribe went on and on and we all know the eventual outcome. Amongst many others Brown’s private messages and personal records were hacked, and the medical condition of his son revealed.
Initial payback was denied when with Jeremy Hunt poised to nod through the acquisition of BSkyB the hacking scandal erupted. But the relationship continues, and now that the Conservative ministers are rid of the questioning Lib Dems, the BBC is the payback. Deliver or Nigel Farage will become the favoured son – we, not Nick Davies, say that on the assumption that with the Murdoch greatest enemy Tom Watson as deputy leader, the Labour Party is hardly likely to benefit.
In a piece such as this we cannot possibly cover the exhaustive evidence provided by Davies. But from now on we will watch like a hawk the moves made by the government in regard to the BBC. We presume to recommend you do the same. Even better, buy ‘Hack Attack’ at £9.99.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Hack Attack is the most important book of the year!”….Tom Stoppard.
The UK’s health service is working with Tinder to persuade more young people to donate organs after death. …read more
Scotland’s First Minister is to tell David Cameron that agreeing the framework for the devolution of more powers on tax and welfare is “crucial”. …read more
Edinburgh Airport’s boss calls for Scotland to “rethink” its relationship with London’s airports, after a decision on expansion is delayed. …read more
Council social services in England which are found to be failing vulnerable children will face tough new measures, the PM is set to announce. …read more
England and Northampton prop Alex Corbisiero will take a one-year break from rugby at the end of the season. …read more
Bournemouth’s Harry Arter dedicates Saturday’s win over Manchester United to his family after the death of his daughter. …read more
Royal Bank of Scotland says it will reimburse some 4,500 customers after it wrongly told them that they did not hold a dormant RBS account. …read more
The UK is “absolutely committed” to the Paris climate deal and will be “making sure we deliver on it”, says Energy Secretary Amber Rudd. …read more
The UK’s last Guantanamo Bay detainee, released in October after being held for 14 years, calls on extremists to “get the hell out” of the country. …read more