Did David Cameron know ?

The rain was back this morning as we cleaned out the hens. Believe it or not we have been waiting for five months for a dry spell long enough for us to do some much needed painting, and the wait goes on. And on. We can only hope that the summer proves better than last year.

Meantime we noted with interest that the training regime for our millionaire Premiership footballing heroes appears to include fighting outside nightclubs at 2.00am. England and Arsenal star Jack Wilshere was yesterday questioned by police in an alleyway after being kicked out of a club after a row. We realise only too well that young men will be young men, but we venture to wonder if those receiving more pay in a week than the average worker receives in a year shouldn’t be advised to show at least as much dedication as those who regularly pay through the nose to watch them. Sadly. to quote Mr MacEnroe, many of them are the pits of the world.

Meantime we have a question. Do we Brits any longer own anything? The saga of the Indian owners of our steel industry was fresh in our minds when we learned the outcome of the latest franchise awards for our railways. Here in the North West we have a rail service that would shame Lagos, with dirty overcrowded two-carriage units perpetually arriving late. And guess what! Arriva has taken over, and Arriva is a subsidiary of the German state-owned Deutsche Bahn. In other words the German government is now the owner of our rail service, and will undoubtedly use the profits out of British commuters to subsidise fares at home. Given the government’s reaction of horror to any suggestion of nationalisation it seems to us the supreme irony that it is happy to surrender control of our network to a nationalised owner, albeit a foreign one. Does it matter? Ask the workers of Port Talbot.

But for us, as we settled in the allotments hut to drown our sorrows in Yorkshire tea, the big story of the day was that concerning the leak of files said to be from secretive Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca. More than 11 million confidential documents have in some way fallen into the hands of investigative journalists, and show how the world’s richest people protect their wealth. We cannot claim to have been shocked at the news that the likes of Valdimir Putin, the King of Saudi Arabia and the President of Azerbaijan have long avoided meeting their tax liabilities. But one name on the list really did shake even our cynical souls.

David Cameron’s father Ian, who died in 2010, is reported to have used Mossack Fonseca to shield his investment fund, Blairmore Holdings Inc, from UK taxes. The leaked papers say his fund was “managed and conducted so it does not become resident in the United Kingdom for taxation purposes”. This is tax evasion on a large scale, the very kind so often condemned by the Prime Minister and his Chancellor when responding to public outrage.

To quote David Cameron tax avoidance is “morally wrong” yet more than half of the 300,000 banks, companies and individuals said to have been used by Mossack Fonseca are registered in British-administered tax havens and many of the names are well know in British business and political circles.

But for us the big question is did Cameron Junior know of his father’s practices? It seems unlikely that he didn’t, but the ‘sins’ of the father cannot reasonably be visited on his children. However, in this case the children include the Prime Minister of the country being robbed of its rightful income. And if he even suspected that the family fortune was based on ill-gotten gains his constant verbal assaults on those who avoid their “moral responsibility” leaves him open to accusations of hypocrisy at best, and aiding and abetting at worst.

Statements from the Downing Street spin-doctors about not commenting about private affairs are unacceptable. Here we have at the very least the possibility that the man ultimately responsible for the nation’s financial affairs has benefited from an inheritance boosted by money that should have been in the hands of the treasury.

We codgers have always held our dear leader in a degree of respect. If he fails to face up to public scrutiny on this, that will no longer be the case.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: “The UK cannot continue to provide cover for the rich and powerful who wish to operate in the shadows.”….Ben Chu, Independent.

Foreign Aid equals spraying money around !

Only a heart of steel would fail to feel sympathy for England cricketer Ben Stokes this morning. England were on the verge of a famous victory in the World Twenty20 final, with the Windies needing 19 off the last six balls. The master of so-called ‘death bowling’ ran in to seal the triumph only to see the first four balls head for the stands. Like life itself, cricket can be a very cruel experience!

As we cleaned out the hens on a cloudy Monday morning all other news stories were driven from our minds. Putin’s secret tax evasion, Leicester City’s miracle, the fact that the government didn’t know how many people the NHS actually employs, sports stars accused of doping…the stories vanished as the image of one man kneeling in despair on a sweltering Kolkata night dominated our consciousness. Do we blame or sympathise? The jury was still out as we settled in the allotments hut to increase our blood sugar levels.

But all nightmares fade as harsh reality dawns, and having pontificated about the art of a skill none of us ever mastered we eventually turned our attention to a scandal so outrageous that it transcends all others in its ability to put our minds into overdrive. Yesterday the Sunday Torygraph led with a report covering the provision of Foreign Aid to Tanzania, where the government stands accused of rigging elections, revelations which caused the United States to cancel ongoing aid. Our response? We will continue to pour the millions in.

But that was a mere taster for the lead story in the Mail on Sunday. It revealed that Britain overspent its Foreign Aid budget by £200 million last year, this being over and above the massive £513 million rise to our all-time record budget of £12.2 billion. We have the dubious distinction of being the world’s leading provider of aid, and are equally unique in having a fixed target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income. Last night Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “There can be no more graphic example of the idiocy of setting such a fixed target. This overspend will anger taxpayers who do not want their money frittered away on politician’s vanity”.

He is surely right. The result of having a fixed target is that government departments cast around looking for recipients, and in the absence of evidence of genuine distress simply spray money in any direction. If you consider that a harsh conclusion just take a look at some of the destinies for your cash.

More than £700m was spent on education in Pakistan where officials have creamed off enormous sums by creating fake schools and teaching jobs and being paid for them. Over £90m was spent on “reviving” the Nigerian tanning industry, despite evidence of significant fraud. Around £18,000 went to jailed Palestinian terrorists who stabbed a British woman and murdered her friend. Over £1m was donated to a South African land-speed record attempt. Many of the countries selected do have genuine poverty but time and again it becomes evident that aid money is being syphoned off by corrupt ministers and officials. We gave South Africa £17m – its President Jacob Zuma splurged £17.5m on doing up his rural retreat. We gave Rwanda £90m – its President Paul Kagame bought two private jets and innumerable Rolexes valued at £45m. Congo’s president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, received more than £100m and used it to build up a multi-million property portfolio in Paris. The list goes on and on.

Because Foreign Aid has a target civil servants are paid a bonus for target-achievement. The money has to be spent and there is little time or resource to verify that the bids are valid and corruption-proof. A recent investigation by the Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs into the effectiveness of aid heard devastating testimony about “fungibility”, including claims that more than 60 per cent of all aid to Africa is “diverted to other objectives”. One expert told the committee that: “Aid encourages military spending. Since aid is fungible, it helps recipient governments to free up resources for military purposes that would otherwise be spent on such as roads and education”. He quoted Ugandan dictator who diverted £70m aid money to fund a top-of-the-range Gulfstream jet.

Let’s all learn Foreign Aid-ese. The noun Fungibility means: ” When a nation given vast amounts of our cash can then afford to divert its own resources to buy private jets, weapons and fabulous residences”

An online petition calling for Foreign Aid to be reassessed attracted over 150,000 signatures in a matter of hours last week. Like us people look at our shortage of nurses, closing libraries, inadequate mental health services, dreadful elderly care services and the rest and ask if we have gone completely mad.

It seems a fair question.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” We give Pakistan £700 million each year towards education – yet its supremo is being probed over 5,000 schools that don’t exist”…. Gethin Chamberlain.

‘In St Ives, we’re facing the financial cleansing of the town’s people’

As St Ives prepares to vote in a groundbreaking referendum to restrict second homes, there’s a surge of support for the change on the cosmopolitan harbourside

“Doesn’t that look wonderful, that little glimpse you can see? Doesn’t that look gorgeous?”

Linda Taylor is marching down a narrow cobbled street towards the harbour in the picture-postcard Cornish town of St Ives. She pauses at the end of the street to look across the water. Boats bob in the sunshine, children dig in the sand and visitors jostle along the front, on what feels like the first day of summer.

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Time to ring the bell on Boxing ?

That spell of sunshine was tantalisingly short, and this morning we missed its reassuring presence. Our sentiment was probably similar to those of the Falkland islanders who woke up yesterday to discover that the Royal Navy had withdrawn its destroyer on the grounds that it no longer has any. Come to think about it their plight is the greater – they have the Argentinians, we have merely collar-soaking drizzle.

How they will respond to their loss is hard to imagine, but ours was more predictable. In less time than it takes Eric Pickles to eat his breakfast we were inside the allotments hut devouring ours. Inevitably the plight of our Indian-owned steel plants was the first focus. Having revealed earlier this week that the principle reason for the industry’s collapse was the failure of the EU to emulate the Americans in applying huge import tariffs on state-subsidised Chinese steel we were somewhat surprised to learn that the UK government led the veto on action by Brussels. Clearly we regard appeasing our new ‘best friends’ as more important than the interests of British workers.

But yesterday the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, followed in the footsteps of the bearded one and called to reassure the victims that everything possible is being done. But he did emphasise that short-term nationalisation is out of the question. It seems that such action is reserved for those who produce essential goods, such as hedge funds and executive bonuses. Rescue steel? Do that and even libraries would be seeking help and then where would we be? The next thing you knew they would be irresponsibly lending books to people who live round the corner so they can read and entertain their kids.

But the confinement of state-aid to bankers tends to rile us, and this being Saturday we quickly shifted our attention to that which sets our pulses racing for all the right reasons -sport. Lots of excitement all round – Leicester City proving that you don’t have to employ millionaires to lead the Premiership and England reaching the final of the World T20 cup right at the top of the list. But a dark cloud quickly emerged – boxing.

Last weekend, after a boxing match for the British middleweight title, Nick Blackwell was in an induced coma with bleeding to the brain. Things would have been a lot worse if his opponent, Chris Eubank Junior, had not been told by his corner to stop hitting Blackwell on the head and confine himself to body blows. Eubank’s father and trainer, Chris, was recalling the night in 1991 when his own fight against Michael Watson ended with Watson brain-damaged and disabled.

Boxing has slid down the sporting agenda in recent years, but at the top it is still big business. But in an age when Premiership referees stop the game immediately for ‘head injuries’, and any player suffering even a moment’s unconsciousness is withdrawn as a precautionary measure, it is amazing that it survives at all. Of course all sport involves risk of injury, but boxing is the only one in which that is the intention.

The ultimate achievement in boxing – like hitting a six, taking a wicket, scoring a goal or try, serving an ace, passing the post first – is to knock someone out. That is to say, to risk inflicting permanent brain damage. Harley Street specialist Dr Peter Harvey has concluded that there are two kinds of brain damage in boxing. One comes in traumatic circumstances, sometimes from a single blow; the other is subtle and cumulative and comes from repeated blows. Boxing, says Dr Harvey, is a contest in which the winner seems often to be the one who produces more brain damage on his opponent than he himself sustains.

Defenders of the sport will point to such precautionary measures as gloves and headguards. But gloves do not protect the person being hit. Quite the opposite: the padding protects the fist from damage and lets you hit much harder. Headguards are used only in amateur bouts and sparring. But in any case they make the target area larger and exaggerate the torsional effect of a glancing blow.

We codgers love sport above all else. But over the years we have found it increasingly difficult to see boxing as other than an anti-sport. Accidents happen in every sport, in every walk of life. But when the objective is to cause harm, sometimes life-changing harm, boxing is for us a no-no.

We are not spoilsports but for us this is not a sport. We fear that the time has come for the last bell on long-distance professional boxing.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: Question by boxing correspondent Ed Schuyler to Sugar Ray Leonard; “What would you do if your son wanted to box as you did?” Leonard: “I’d lock him up!”.

April Fools Day! Did Boris really say this ?

Oh sun where art thou? Phoebus was conspicuous by its absence this morning as we cleaned out the hens, and our mood dropped in the manner of holidaymakers waking to find that the beachwear can stay in the drawer. Never mind, it seems that we codgers are not to be the latest targets of the chattering classes who have moved on from their hammering of smokers, drinkers and sugar-swallowers to focus on those not qualified for the front page of ‘Body Beautiful’. We now, they tell us, inhabit a Fat Planet in which one in five will be obese by 2025. Will these supreme beings ever leave the rest of us in peace?

We mulled this over as we guiltily consumed our doughnuts in the shed. It occurred to us that the health fanatics need to lighten up a bit. Perhaps compulsory sessions watching recordings of the Two Ronnies might help. They certainly help us when things are not going well – a quick dose of the ‘Four Candles’ and nothing seems worth worrying about. We were immensely saddened by the news of the wee man’s passing. We like to think that the two stars are leaning on an heavenly gate rejoicing in having discovered that infinity does not end at Wapping ring-road.

Meantime another master in the art of making us laugh appears to have gone completely loopy, and I am not talking about Donald Trump. Boris has sparked outrage among conservationists with a secret plan to tarmac over Britain’s canals to create a nationwide “cycle superhighway” if he becomes prime minister. Building the superhighway would involve filling in all 2,000 miles of Britain’s canal network. The superhighway would have slow, middle and fast lanes to accommodate “Lycra-wearers, middling types and the kind of cyclists you see in Holland, going at a leisurely pace on often chunky steeds”. One branch would link London with “Boris Island”, a new airport in the Thames estuary.

The plan is for a grand opening featuring Boris and Sir Bradley Wiggins and a background of “semi-naked women playing beach volleyball in the middle of the old Grand Union Canal, glistening like wet otters”.

Whoa! There is something distinctly odd about this widely publicised story. Boris may be eccentric, but he is also highly intelligent. He would know perfectly well that such a declaration would trigger widespread outrage by the millions that use or walk the canal network – as it already has. He would also know that the cost would be astronomic, and the time taken to do it so long that he and Sir Bradley would be on Zimmer frames and far beyond flirting with glistening otters.

Boris has been quick to deny the whole tale, describing it as “an inverted pyramid of piffle”. According to the media the plan was leaked by “his closest allies”, but in the best Fleet Street practice they refuse to reveal the actual source. The whole thing sounds to us like a concocted tale – note the childlike references to cycling, semi-naked girls and ‘Boris Island’, all well known to be amongst his foibles.

Is it really a coincidence that this ‘revelation’ occurred within days of a poll revealing that the London Mayor is far ahead of Gorgeous George Osborne in the public’s preference for the next prime minister? Is it really a coincidence that he is spearheading the EU ‘Leave’ campaign, the result of which could trigger a vacancy at Number Ten in just a few months time?

Without doubt the incredibly silly story has damaged the nation’s favourite politician. Is it possible that the spin-doctors have taken literally our dear leader’s instruction that in the pursuit of victory anything goes?

One thing is for sure. Whoever concocted this Enid Blyton-like fantasy is in need of a humour transplant. The Two Ronnies must be splitting their sides! They at least will not have forgotten that today is April Fools Day!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Tarmacking over our canal network would be illegal under EU Regulation 01/04/2016″….William Fish, chairman of Canal and River Preservation.

UK accused of leading efforts to block limits to Chinese steel dumping

Britain acted as ringleader in preventing increased tarrifs on cheap imports to EU, according to European Steel Association

Britain acted as the ringleader in blocking attempts to regulate cheap Chinese steel entering Europe, despite warnings that the continent’s steel industry was in crisis, the European Steel Association (Eurofer) has said.

Charles de Lusignan, a spokesman for Eurofer, which represents steel production in the European Union, said the organisation had argued for the lifting of the lesser duty rule, which prevents increased tariffs being placed on cheap imports to the EU from China.

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