Ex-soldier who fought Isis criticises ‘harrowing’ police investigation

Joe Robinson no longer on police bail after he was arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences when he returned from Syria

A former soldier who fought against Islamic State in Syria has described the 10 months he spent on police bail after returning to the UK as an “extremely harrowing ordeal”.

Joe Robinson, 23, was arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences at Manchester airport in November last year after fighting alongside Kurdish rebels in Syria.

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Britons might need to pay for permission to visit EU, Rudd confirms

Home secretary says she cannot rule out charge for Britons to visit Europe after Brexit under visa waiver scheme

Britons might have to apply for advance permission to travel to the EU, the home secretary has conceded, warning that the prospect of such restrictions is likely to form part of the negotiations over departure.

In her first significant interview since taking over the post in July, Amber Rudd said the possible need to apply for permission to travel under a visa waiver scheme being considered by the European commission was not the preferred option but could not be discounted.

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Brexit camp abandons £350m-a-week NHS funding pledge

Pressure group of high-profile Brexiters to promise funding for farming, science, universities and poorer regions of UK

Leaders of the cross-party campaign that persuaded the British people to leave the EU have dropped their pre-referendum pledge of a £350m-a-week spending bonanza for the NHS.

Many of those who headed the Vote Leave campaign, including its former chair, Labour MP Gisela Stuart, and Michael Gove, the Tory former justice secretary, are re-forming this weekend, creating a new pressure group called Change Britain.

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Britons may have to apply to visit Europe after Brexit

European commission drawing up plans based on US system, which charges applicants a fee

British citizens may have to apply online and pay to travel to Europe after the UK leaves the EU, under plans being drawn up by the bloc for a visa waiver programme similar to the US system.

The European commission is due to unveil draft legislation for the EU travel information and authorisation system (Etias) later this year as part of a broader response to calls for greater security across the continent following recent terror attacks in France and Belgium.

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Immigration – the sensible solution !

We are seriously considering cancelling our order for newspapers. We are not naive, and have never believed much of what we read as we flick through the pile during our allotments tea breaks. But of late we have wearied of the daily diet of Brexit tales. The two-year long negotiations have not even started, yet every morning brings some new ‘revelation’. Today the Independent devotes its entire front page to the possibility that British citizens may have to apply for visas and pay for travel to Europe. How can this possibly work given that many thousands own properties in such as France and Spain, the ‘experts’ ask. Since the eventual agreement will almost certainly obviate any such plan it is yet another non-story dressed up as an impending crisis. Enough is enough, and in the interests of our sanity we are going to switch to the Beano.

End of rant for we were in a hurry this morning as we cleaned out the hens, since many of us are heading off to Old Trafford to share the lunacy of watching Mourinho and Guardiola glare at each other. Given that both are paid more in a week than most of us earn in a lifetime it seems a poor return for our ticket money, but it is probably no dafter than spending our days discussing the ballroom prospects of Ed Balls. But we did have time for a quick doughnut break in the hut.

The sole topic was the one of immigration. Here again the media is whipping itself into a frenzy. In the Commons this week Yvette Cooper was doing likewise, condemning the sainted Theresa for being secretive about her intentions despite knowing full well that at this point she doesn’t know what they are. Dare we humbly suggest that there are many options.

The main point is that the vast majority of people who voted Leave in the referendum did not propose a ban on immigration. So we can ignore all the hysteria triggered by our departed dear leader about losing the services of skilled people who contribute so much to such as the NHS. What they voted for was the transfer of control from Brussels to Westminster. Clearly their expectation was that the volume of immigration would be brought into line with capacity to absorb it.

More hysteria this week when Mrs May vetoed the idea of an Australian style points system. But this was not an indication of her turning her back of Brexit, merely a statement that she does not believe such a system to be workable. She believes that too many people would meet the criteria and come in. The Australian system bars anyone aged above 50 and favours the under 20s who secure half of the required points simply by virtue of their age. This suits Australia which needs to increase inflow, but the UK challenge is quite different.

The most obvious option is to limit entry to those with a job offer. But the ability to apply for jobs online means that this could be open to abuse and security risks. Another is to apply a quota system to the eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004. People there are now moving to countries with a far higher standard of living – something that does not apply to the original six western European countries with similar standards of living. Another is to move into the European Economic Area where there is no such thing as EEA citizenship.

Of course if the UK opts for a free-trade deal with the EU, there is no logical reason why immigration should be any part of it. Such deals are logically signed because of the economic benefits to both sides rather than because of concessions on border controls. But negotiating with Brussels will not be an entirely logical affair for those who dream of a United States of Europe fear that such an arrangement would spark a mass exodus from their kingdom on the part of many other states.

Perhaps the final option is a “hard Brexit” with no deal on future trading and individual net exporters to Britain such as Germany targeted for unique deals. Under this arrangement people from EU and non-EU countries would be treated equally and every entry application considered on its merits.

It would be ridiculous for us to pretend to know the answer. Since the previous prime minister and cabinet made no contingency plans at all it is also ridiculous to expect the new one to leap before thinking. People ask what is Brexit. It was about regaining control of who enters the United Kingdom. That has been achieved.

Whether our politicians are up to the task remains to be seen.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Too many have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity”…Albert Camus.

A Zero life !

We sometimes wonder if some technological innovations serve any purpose other than to demonstrate that the user is ‘with it’. I mention this having been to our local surgery this morning where the usual lady on reception confirmed my appointment before directing me to a terminal where one now has to register ones presence. Even for the computer literate this is testing, and the rest of us require the help of a new member of staff who provides guidance. Having logged in my date of birth, ethnicity and sexual orientation (I was there to discuss my wonky knee) I sat to wait for my name to appear on a new screen which entertains the audience. The whole ‘innovation’ has increased staffing costs and as far as I could make out achieved nothing.

But whilst I was waiting I did enjoy the diversion of learning the reason for my fellow patient’s visit. Even better were the news updates. I was surprised to see the Chinese government in the headlines again after our piece of yesterday about organ harvesting. Air China provides its passengers with an in-flight magazine, and the latest edition provides advice to travellers heading for Heathrow. They are warned to take great care when going out at night, particularly when entering “areas populated by Indians, Pakistanis or black people”. The inevitable apology includes an explanation that the editors erred – perhaps they are now in line for a loss of organs?

But as we settled in the hut for our customary Yorkshire tea and doughnuts we reflected on our own national lunacy. It seems that demand for NHS services has soared to record levels. A report from the King’s Fund reveals that in the first quarter of 2016-17 the number of patients attending A & E departments rose by 54,000 each month over the same period last year. Bed occupancy rates exceeded 90 per cent, well above the threshold at which risk of hospital-acquired infections magnifies significantly. A combination of drastic cuts to the number of beds, a rapidly rising population and an ageing one have – surprise, surprise – led to an overcrowded and unsafe service.

The response from the Department of Health? “We are committed to delivering a seven-day NHS”. Master Hunt and his henchmen have lost touch with reality. I was recently stunned to learn that the top advisers believe that the consultants in the private sector represent extra capacity – in fact they are one and the same. But the greater reality is that we need a grown-up public discussion on NHS funding. Increased National Insurance contributions including the over-65s, HS2, Foreign Aid …there are many options. But the simple fact remains that unless we increase funding to match that of countries such as Germany and France when measured in terms of percentage of GNP our healthcare services will collapse.

Of course the PC brigade are not happy that we mention population growth – or immigration as it is known in Blackburn. So we will stay tight-lipped other than to observe that right now the capacity of our public services is incapable of matching demand. And already the lives of millions are being affected adversely. Even in the field of employment the eagerness of employers to engage cheap labour is lending impetus to so-called zero-hours contracts.

Over the past 12 months the number of workers on this wretched arrangement has risen by a fifth. The Office for National Statistics has revealed that 3 per cent of British workers are now employed in this way, and the trend is in an upward direction. Under these contracts workers do not know how many hours they will work from week to week. This makes the task of balancing a family budget almost impossible, and to compound the nightmare a typical worker on a zero-hours contract earns 50 per cent less an hour than the typical employee. The median rate is £7.25 compared with a national average for all employees of £11.05.

The benefit to employers such as Sports Direct is obvious – only employ staff at peak times, restrict their rights and minimise their pay. And only recruit accordingly. But it is hell for those in need of full employment. New legislation will remove the exclusivity rule but that simply provides the worker with the opportunity to work for more than one employer – a daunting prospect if you have no idea of commitments in terms of hours.

Most of us simply shrug. But how would we like to live in this uncertain poverty stricken way? And it doesn’t even make economic sense. Economies only flourish if consumer spending rises, and the greater the number of people employed on zero-hours contracts the less likely that is.

Never mind, we are all off to Manchester tomorrow to watch the Manchester Premiership derby. Many of the performers may hail from humble backgrounds, but we can be sure of one thing. None of them will become victims of zero-hours contracts any time soon.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Zero-hours workers earn less money and have fewer rights than people with permanent jobs. It is very easy for politicians and employers to talk about the ‘flexibility’ these contracts offer, but they are not the ones living at the sharp end of the labour market”….Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary.

Unite union gave Len McCluskey £400,000 ‘loan’ to buy London flat

Union insider says there will be ‘much disquiet’ over payment of £417,000 for leader’s apartment under equity share deal

Unite the union has contributed more than £400,000 towards the purchase of a £700,000 central London flat for its leader, Len McCluskey, Land Registry documents show.

McCluskey, who has been described as Labour’s kingmaker, became the owner of the two-bedroom apartment near Borough market just south of the river Thames in February this year.

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Organ harvesting – the abuse that China hides!

Several of our members went to Old Trafford yesterday to watch the long awaited T20 showdown with Pakistan. It proved to be a depressing affair, and not merely because England were thrashed in humiliating fashion. The flags were at half-mast to mark the death of Ken Higgs, the excellent Lancashire swing bowler. He took 71 wickets in his 15 Tests at only 20 runs each, and deserved to play far more, even in the era of John Snow. At the age of 49 Ken, when coaching Leicestershire, was still strong and accurate enough to make a comeback and take 5 wickets in a championship game. Even at today’s academies they do not make such lion-hearted sturdy physiques any more!

Others amongst us, including yours truly, attended a business conference at Manchester’s Events Centre, led by Simon Callow. He provided welcome relief from a succession of financial experts who talked about the implications of Brexit. All agreed on one thing which is that the reaction of the markets has been surprisingly favourable, but uncertainty lies ahead. Over lunch I asked my neighbour what he thought. He replied that he is sick and tired of the endless focus on something yet to be negotiated, and the BBC’s daily diatribe of questions about Mrs May’s intentions. Given that her predecessor left without having prepared any contingency plans it is hardly surprising that there are as yet no plans to reveal.

One ‘positive’ that was mentioned was the increasing interest being shown by China in investing in the UK. China now has 596 dollar billionaires – more even than the United States – and Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion have already gone into Chinese ownership. And all the signs are that many more top football clubs are heading in the same direction. In the world of business and property the same trend is developing, despite the sudden uncertainty about Hinckley Point. So why do we choose to put the word positive in quotes?

We mulled this over as we refreshed ourselves in the hut, having cleaned out the hens under skies that looked blacker than Albert’s shirt. In short we have nothing against the Chinese people, but we do hold serious reservations about the Chinese Communist party and its human rights abuses. And our feelings are reinforced today by a new film (‘The Bleeding Edge’) produced by Anastasia Lin, the Chinese born Miss World Canada. In response to an invitation from the Speaker she is due to screen it to MPs and peers at Westminster next week. It tells the story of organ harvesting.

Organ transplants are sometimes necessary – in China as everywhere else – but donation runs contrary to Chinese culture. “The Chinese see the body as something given by a mother and father – that we come in one piece and we go in one piece,” she says. “So in China, there is no donation of organs, and each transplant performed means an organ has been taken from someone forcefully, or bought.” Following investigations by foreign media, the Chinese government has had to concede that it has been using organs from prisoners on death row. But those numbers do not explain the ability of Chinese hospitals to schedule transplant operations weeks in advance.

Lin suspects that the answer lies in China’s practice of harvesting organs from “the people who are considered subhuman by the Chinese Communist party: Tibetans, the Uighurs, Christians, Falun Gong practitioners. She says that prisoners from these groups report being subjected to strange, intensive tests. “Many of those I interviewed for the film had their corneas checked, their lungs inspected and their blood examined,” she says. Some campaigners have speculated that prisoners are executed to order, as and when organs are required.

Certain it is that the Chinese government has gone to great lengths to prevent Lin expressing her suspicions – this film follows “Red Lions”, which covered abuses of other kinds against Tibetans, Buddhists and Christians. So does Lin, now living in Toronto, believe her fellow countrymen are barbaric? No. “The human rights abuse is Communist – it’s not China, not the Chinese people. It could happen in any country where people are submitted into that kind of system. I was one of them too”.

It will be interesting to see how our politicians react to Lin and her film. In the eyes of the departed Osborne the Chinese government could do no wrong, and merited a state visit and much fawning. And yes we need new trade agreements. But can we really turn a blind eye to reports such as this and continue to sleep with a clear conscience?
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Lin was shocked to discover that, contra to schoolbook propaganda, “Tibetans were not evil people, and nor was Falun Gong a cult that kills people”. And she also learned about the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the protesters who dared to defy the state”….Lara Prendergast, The Spectator.

Emergency socks

As British Vogue magazine marks its 100th anniversary the so-called fashion bible has opened its doors to the BBC, granting unprecedented access to cover stars, designers, and those who run it. …read more  

Thoughts for today !

“I have derived continued benefit from criticism at all periods of my life, and I do not remember any time when I was ever short of it”….Winston Churchill, Nobel Prize 1953.

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions”…..Naguib Mahfouz, Nobel Prize 1988.

“A wise man gets wiser by suffering. A person wIthout any wisdom may suffer for a hundred years and die a fool”…..Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel Prize 1978.

“The fool is silent because he has nothing to say. But the wise man is silent because he has too much to say”…..Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize 1986.

“Think like a wise man but express yourself like the common people”…..William Butler Yeats, Nobel Prize 1923.

“A home from which you can be ejected at any time is no true home”…..Shmuel Agnon, Nobel Prize 1966.