UK astronaut Tim Peake thanks the thousands of well-wishers who sent him a good luck message, as he spends his first weekend in space. …read more
A march is taking place to mark the closure of Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, and with it the end of British deep coal mining. …read more
Our resolve to leave our Christmas shopping until the last moment is beginning to unnerve us. Just six days to go and we haven’t darkened a supermarket door, and the clock is ticking. Worse still, apart from Albert who has ordered a cement-mixer for his beloved, we have no ideas about what to buy. It begins to feel as though Christmas is stressful whichever way you approach it. Certain it is that the hens seemed calmer than us as we cleaned them out this morning.
Presumably those who pass for Gods in our society have long since received their deliveries from Harrods. Perhaps they delegate such chores to their special advisers? It would be understandable for they have clearly been busy. Our dear leader has, it seems, negotiated an attractive deal with his fellow EU bigwigs, although it seems unlikely to include progress in regard to the only subject that most people care about – immigration. Meantime he has announced that subsidies for solar panels are to be cut by 65 per cent, which seems a strange first move toward implementation of the “ground-breaking” Paris agreement to cut carbon emissions.
Gorgeous George Osborne has been even busier. On Thursday the treasury quietly slipped out the news that he has met five times since the general election with representatives of the major banks, whilst his City Minister, Harriett Baldwin, has held 23 meetings with them. Robert Jenkins, a former member of the Bank of England’s Financial Committee, says that there are worrying signs of a return to the pre-financial crash days of unhealthy banking influence – it seems that he may well be right. Ditto for the Murdoch dynasty. It also emerges that the Chancellor has held a series of clandestine meetings with Rupert Murdoch. One of those preceded the announcement of the Government’s plans to force the BBC to reduce its coverage and output.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that wealth inequality is growing, with the richest 10th of our society seeing its wealth grow 21 per cent since 2012, compared to just 6 per cent for the rest. We now hold the dubious distinction of being the most unequal country outside of the developing world. It seems that the rising value of property combined with slow wage growth is leaving people on low incomes frozen out of the property market so even the consolation of widespread home ownership has gone. Of course it may be that all those cosy meetings with the bankers were aimed at narrowing the gap. And pigs may fly.
As we settled in the allotments hut Tom remarked that for a bunch of supposedly apolitical codgers we spend a good deal of time criticising leading Conservatives. But that is only because theirs is the party in power. The disdain felt for Her Majesty’s opposition is even greater. Jeremy Corbyn was elected by the Labour Party membership, and from that point the MPs have fought amongst themselves like ferrets in a sack. Those opposed to the bearded one seem particularly angry because they’ve received abuse from members of the public. They line up to tell the cameras that schoolboys yell “pillock” as they pass by and attribute it to “Jeremy”. Those still wedded to Blair issue slogans such as “If your heart tells you to support Jeremy, get a new heart”. Former shadow cabinet stars such as Caroline Flint insist that what is needed is a leader who can “reach out”, implying that the derisory attendances of 5,000 at his public meetings are dwarfed by her own ability to pack the O2 arena.
Still more have expressed outrage that the man attended a Stop the War Christmas dinner. Surely if he had any decency he’d behave like a proper MP and go to dinner with arms traders or offshore bankers instead. Yet more rant about the new leader’s alleged support for President Assad, seemingly oblivious of the fact that their beloved Blair invited Assad on a state visit at which the visitor spoke glowingly of his “warm, personal relations” with their departed role model.
The fury rolls on. One Labour MP responded to the Paris massacre by complaining to camera about what he thought Corbyn might say about it. It is all like watching someone trying to put up a tent, while someone is treading on it, pulling out the pegs and setting it on fire, before running to the BBC News to say: “This bloke’s an idiot, he can’t even put up a tent”.
At the recent bye-election Corbyn won by an increased majority. Could it just be that it is his MPs who are out of touch? Either way, they have succeeded in reducing a once proud party to an unelectable rabble.
One final thought. A jihadist who was “inspired” by an Isis fatwa to plot a Lee Rigby style terrorist attack on Remembrance Day has been jailed. He was filmed stamping symbolically on a poppy. The case coincided with the return of the last British prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. He said: “If they hate this country so much why don’t they get the hell out of it?”. Good question.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: “Freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom”….Benjamin Cardozo.
Plans to allow fire and rescue services in England to be overseen by police and crime commissioners are described as “dangerous” by the Fire Brigades Union. …read more
A deal to buy a Banksy mural on a house near GCHQ and place it in “safe hands” is being negotiated by a local council. …read more
Should you rent your Christmas tree? …read more
Emergency funding is being made available for sports clubs hit by Storm Desmond. …read more
A firearms officer has been arrested over the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Jermaine Baker in London last week. …read more
A British man has been stabbed to death in Peru after taking the hallucinogenic drink ayahuasca, police say. …read more
Lost asylum seekers, more spin doctors, ministerial car costs – just some of the news from “take out the trash day”. …read more
The insurance bill for the floods in Cumbria and the North earlier this month is likely to hit £520m, the industry believes. …read more
What some of my allotment pals will find to discuss now is anyone’s guess. The Special One has gone, armed only with a few million pounds by way of consolation. As stories go it would take some beating. A Russian owner who changes his managers as regularly as he changes his yachts. A Portugese manager as daft as a brush and a bunch of foreign mega-stars disinclined to make any great effort in exchange for their weekly £100,000 a week pay packets. Oh yes, and hordes of adoring Chelsea fans prepared to devote their entire earnings to the cause. By next week they will be chanting the name of a Dutch saviour, but not too loudly for an Italian version will take over in the Spring. Meantime Jose will have taken over at Real Madrid. Never in the field of human conflict have so many been conned by so few. With our dear leader occupied in grovelling to assorted European leaders it is hard to avoid the thought that we Brits are heading for oblivion.
But, we reflected as we cleaned out the hens this morning, the one remaining British figure of towering proportions at least has a private army of his own. Yesterday the Government admitted that David Cameron now has over 100 special advisers, or SPADS as they are known in the Westminster bubble. During the final months of the coalition he had a mere 20. The cost to the taxpayer is £8 million, even now that Andy Coulson has slithered away. What they all do is something of a mystery. Perhaps some of them drafted this weeks press release confirming that pay growth looks set to fall back next year for all but the bankers? Some will certainly have devoted time to that gorgeous Christmas card featuring the Cameron family, so they are earning their corn by contrast with the one SPAD allotted to the bearded one who settled for a picture of an old bike.
By the time we reached our allotment hut for undeserved refreshment our thoughts had moved on from Russian oligarchs and dashing Prime Ministers to something which puzzles us greatly. We hear a great deal from Gorgeous George Osborne about Britain aiming for a “budget surplus”, but never a squeak about the national debt. Yet in the unlikely event that enough public services are closed down to take the budget from red to blue, the national debt will still stand at a record £1.71 trillion. As a nation we are over-borrowing at unsustainable levels. To make things even worse the office of Budget Responsibility forecasts that average household debt will rise from 145 per cent of annual income to 163 per cent by 2020.
What the Chancellor does mention a great deal is that we are planning to spend more on capital investment. We will, he tells us, spend more on infrastructure leading to a lower proportion of national income being spent on welfare. In fact he can claim to be spending more only because his comparison is with the drastically reduced levels to which he reduced spending on infrastructure in his first five years as Chancellor. In 2009/10 public investment under Grumpy Gordon was 4.9 per cent of gross domestic product, next year it will be 3.4 per cent.
This minimal commitment to public investment forces critical infrastructure into the hands of the Chinese and PFI companies. It is the ultimate false economy, but it enables Osborne to predict a budget surplus before he makes the move next door. And economics apart it seems reasonable to ask whether we really want to bow ever lower to such as the Chinese whose bullying ‘might is right’ approach to their neighbours and repression at home is less than endearing.
By now your eyes are beginning to droop – yes, financial stuff is boring. But those who steer our national economy exploit that fact. Better by far for the ambitions of Gorgeous George to infer that utopia lies in creating a ‘budget’ and beating it. That way it is easier to gloss over the growing divide between the have mores and the have less and to emerge seemingly triumphant.
Sorry to be spoilsports but we feel compelled to report again that the national debt is £1.71 trillion and rising. It will take far more than closing libraries to avoid national bankruptcy. A Chancellor not intent on personal ambition would face up to telling us that we cannot afford HS2, Trident and the rest, neither can we continue to tolerate tax avoidance on a breathtaking scale.
And that number is in trillions, not billions!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Far from moving Britain into the black, the Chancellor’s plans depend on taking it deeper into the red, but on everyone else’s books rather than his own”….Private Eye, 11-18 December, 2015.
PM David Cameron says “really good progress” has been made at a EU summit in Brussels but talks on renegotiating UK membership will be “very difficult”. …read more
The government’s immigration cap is “counter-productive” and has had no effect on bringing down net migration, a committee of MPs say. …read more
What happens to people’s pets when their homes are flooded? …read more
IPCC head Cindy Butts says officer who shot Jermaine Baker dead on 11 December in north London has been arrested and interviewed
Scotland Yard was rocked on Thursday by the arrest of a police marksman who shot a suspect dead near a London court.
Jermaine Baker, 28, died last Friday morning after a single bullet struck him in the neck as he sat in a car 100 yards from Wood Green crown court in north London.Continue reading...
UK experts back a call for flour to be fortified with folic acid, which they say would have prevented around 2,000 cases of serious birth defects since 1998. …read more
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.