Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club for sale – ashes and all

Late comedian’s Manchester club, which features a mosaic of the founder in which his ashes are mixed, put on market by son

Its original owner was not to everyone’s taste and nor is the décor, which features a mosaic of the founder, its grouting mixed with his ashes. But fans of the late comedian Bernard Manning now have a chance to own his World Famous Embassy Club in north Manchester, which includes his grainy remains, after his son put it on the market.

Bernard Manning Junior – forever Young Bernard among the locals of the Harpurhey institution, despite pushing 55 – has decided he has had enough of running the club that his father started 55 years ago.

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Undue influence and the revolving door!

My allotments pals are unashamedly keen that I give them a wide berth, so there is none of the usual pressure to return and lend a hand. A hacking cough can be an asset if you fancy a bit of malingering. Right now I am enjoying the best of both worlds – I’m excused hen-cleaning duties but Albert faithfully delivers eggs to my front door before departing with haste in the manner of someone visiting an Ebola victim. The problem is keeping myself amused within the confines of the house – have you ever actually watched daytime television? It is occasionally evocative to watch again a film that I once queued to see half a century ago, but the novelty quickly wanes.

A few days ago I wrote of The Establishment, the new book from Owen Jones who has devoted a good deal of research into the grip that ‘Thatcherism’ still exerts on all of our mainstream political parties. I found little surprise in his conclusion that every minister and most MPs of the Conservative party are in hock to the wealthy tax-avoiding business leaders. What did mildly surprise me was his belief that the post-Blair Labour party is equally dancing to their tune of self interest. So with time on my hands I decided to do a little research of my own.

The destruction of the NHS being a particular interest of mine, I started there and looked at the leading Labour figures who, during their time as Secretary of State for Health, seemed to look with favour on the involvement of the private sector. An obvious example was Alan Milburn. At the time he surprised ardent opponents of the concept of mixing the profit motive with healthcare. Motive? After he stood down in 2003 for ‘family reasons’ he was paid a consultancy fee worth an annual £30,000 to advise Bridgepoint Capital, a private-equity company with a speciality in private healthcare. Lloyds Pharmacy paid him up to £30,000 each year, and the renal-care company Diaverum did likewise. Even Persico wanted a slice of Milburn, paying him a yearly fee of £25,000.

Patricia Hewitt was another Labour minister who did her bit to set the privatisation bandwagon rolling. In our area we staged mass protests when she attempted to transfer NHS outpatient services to Netcare, a South African private healthcare provider. We now know that she was appointed by Alliance Boots as a ‘special advisor’ at a rate of £300 per hour. The private equity firm Cinven, which bought 25 hospitals from Bupa, hired her as a ‘special advisor’ for £55,000 per annum. She and two other Labour ministerial colleagues were entrapped by the Sunday Times, apparently agreeing to lobby for cash and she resigned. In no time at all she was hired by Bupa as a director.

The privatisation of the NHS has proved to be a depressingly lucrative venture for many British politicians, including members of the party that founded it in the first place. According to a Daily Mirror investigation no fewer than forty peers had a “financial” interest in the concept. That included Lord Warner who declared his support for the Conservative policy, whilst forgetting to add that he works directly for companies such as Xansa and Byorrol which hope to sell services to the NHS.

It would be nice to believe that the NHS is the only area where both government and opposition members are secretly working for, and in the interests of, the ever more wealthy private sector. Sadly that is not the case. Many who still cling to the notion that had David Miliband won the party leadership campaign the clean-cut former foreign secretary would have led a new era in which vested interests lost all undue influence on the legislature. After all, they argue, he demonstrated his standards by joining a charity. Take a closer look!

He is paid handsomely for speeches such as those to tax specialists. Cameron McKenna LLP and Global Arc both paid him over £14,000 for a single speech. Oxford Analytica, which boasts of “advising government executives”, paid him £18,000 for two days work. VantagePoint, an “energy and efficiency investor”, paid him £100,000 for four days work. The United Arab Emirates paid him £64,475 plus expenses for attending an event. On top of his backbencher salary David made around one million pounds between his failed leadership bid and his eventual departure from the Commons.

As with the majority, being an MP and a minister was for David Miliband merely a launchpad. We should treasure such as Dennis Skinner. No interests other than the cause of justice and fairness. But he and his kind are a dying breed.

However it may appear on the surface the British parliament is under the influence and control of the wealthy. Unlike the rest of the population they have, to quote Harold MacMillan, never had it so good!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” When a man tells you he has got rich by hard work, ask him whose”……George Bernard Shaw.

This isn’t brain surgery! Time for action!

I imagine that I’m in the stage that the medical professions likes to label ‘Watch and Wait’, which broadly translates as we haven’t a clue as to what is wrong so lets see how things turn out. So this morning I entered into the spirit of things by rising like Lazarus and wandering round to the allotments to check on my hens. If they were pleased to see me they gave no sign of it, but that may have been due to their being in need of stilts. Sunday is Albert’s confession morning so he was absent, and I can only assume that his sins of omission list included a failure to dig over and aerate muddy patches. I shall return later to wield the fork, but must tread with care both literally and metaphorically for my grumpy colleague is a member of the ‘if you are well enough to do this you can do the rest as well’ school of thinking.

No warm hut and doughnuts for me. I was soon back in my front room which is now being aired in readiness for its annual occupation. Having no newspapers to hand other than the bible of she-who-must-be-obeyed, the Sunday Torygraph. if its content is any guide the whole country is devoting its day to studying pictures of the infant George, clad in a medieval romper suit. To a pleb’s eye one baby looks much like another but this one, we are reminded, is a future king. If my mathematics are correct he will be older than I am now before he assumes that role so the three wise men have no need for haste.

But the Telegraph is a strange mixture of sickening sycophancy and social campaigning and it deserves credit for the launch of its ‘Justice For The Elderly’ campaign. Triggered by the revelations about appalling neglect of vulnerable dementia patients at the Merok Park Nursing Home in Surrey, the paper has decided that enough is enough. The home was closed down by the police at the request of the Care Quality Commission and the residents suffered the final humiliation of being carried from their beds in their nightclothes into the cold evening air. It has quickly become apparent that Merok is not alone in neglect that would shame a third-world society.

The campaign will call for the proper training of care workers, properly licensed and paid care workers, better regulation of care services and a new, national, highly publicised care advice service. It is surely right – in a country where hairdressers and bouncers require licences to work it is incredible that those given the role of looking after the most vulnerable should be subject to no background checks and no formal training.

Many years ago I was part of the Care Homes inspection team employed by the old Health Authority. We were led by a wonderful lady who was a long-retired hospital sister. The first smell of urine triggered her cry of neglect and the management was immediately served notice of a repeat visit within 48 hours. The bedridden were checked for signs of bedsores and the skills of the carers – then often nurses – were observed and assessed. Above all Sister Vera checked for what she called ‘patient consideration’, and even the sight of two carers talking to each other whilst making the bed of a recumbent resident would trigger a fierce rebuke.

Since those long-gone days standards have descended into the gutter. As part of the so-called austerity measures contracts have been awarded to the lowest bidders and the cowboys have taken over. Of course there remain some kindly dedicated carers but for employers on the make anyone prepared to work long hours for very low pay is acceptable, no questions asked and no training given.

We all know that what has happened has little to do with austerity and everything to do with transferring power to the private sector. Given that both the Conservative Party and the post-Blair Labour party are committed to the ethos of Thatcherism there is little any campaign can do to change that. But that should not mean that rigid standards should not apply. Elderly people with dementia have no political champion. Society at large should fill that void, this new campaign should be its weapon.

Only when there is a new and valued qualification called Approved Care Worker, and homes owned by other than large faceless quick-buck groups, will we be entitled to sit back and reflect that people who once cared for us but now themselves require 24/7 care are safe and well-cared for.

A final issue raised by the paper that reinforces the prejudices of the chattering classes concerns the extent to which the dreaded Blair did or didn’t know about CIA torture. George W Bush gladly admits to knowing so it is inconceivable that his best mate didn’t. The man is not God. However powerful his establishment connections it is time to remove the kid gloves. Tony Blair should be obliged, under oath, to tell the truth. It will be a whole new experience for both him and his millions of victims.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” One lives and learns, doesn’t one? That is certainly one of the more prevalent delusions”….George Bernard Shaw.

What is ‘The Establishment’ ?

Saturday morning loses its usual sense of eager anticipation without the prospect of a get-together with my allotments pals followed by an afternoon of providing advice to referees. What passes for excitement at the moment will be confined to sitting up in bed to advise others on where to get a Christmas tree and how to locate it – a poor alternative.

On such occasions escapism is the best option and for me that means a book. And the one I have settled on is spellbinding. Owen Jones latest is ‘The Establishment’, and if like me you imagined that you knew exactly what the British Establishment is I can recommend it, even if you haven’t been laid low by the accursed winter virus. It is of course impossible to sum up 350 carefully researched pages in a few paragraphs, but I will attempt to give you a taster.

It may well be that, like me, you have often paid heed to the utterances of the plethora of ‘think-tanks’ regularly quoted in the news media. One whose opinions have always drawn my naive attention is the Taxpayer’s Alliance. It sounds like the voice of the taxpayer when it condemns the latest example of waste or incompetence on the part of this or that public service. On the face of it the agenda is to save hard-working taxpayer’s money, the real agenda is to hammer home again and again the benefits of private enterprise.

The so-called Taxpayer’s Alliance receives much of its funding from a shadowy organisation called the Midlands Industrial Council, which has also donated £1.5 million to the Conservative Party, as well as donating to a fund that helped get key Conservative candidates elected in marginal seats in the general election. Key members of the Council include leading right-wing businessmen such as Sir Anthony Bamford, Malcolm McAlpine and the betting magnate Stuart Wheeler. Here are powerful people who want to shrink the state and reduce the amount of tax they pay, and who are using their considerable wealth to undermine confidence in public expenditure. Through a ‘think-tank’ they are able to achieve this while largely remaining hidden from view, or without having to front a campaign.

A similar story emerges about most of the other ‘think tanks’. ‘Policy Exchange’, on closer examination, proves to be little more than a conclave of Conservative tycoons and bankers with a vested interest in so-called free-market economies. Hedge-fund manager George Robinson has handed over at least a quarter of a million to the Conservatives. The CEO of Next, and former advisor to George Osborne, Simon Woolfson, has given £383,350. Theodore Agnew, an insurance executive appointed by Michael Gove as a non-executive member of the Department of Education board, has donated £134,000.

An interesting case study is ‘Reform’, the think-tank that specialises in “objective” thought on the privatisation of public services. Its donors include corporate giants such as the General Healthcare Group, BMI Healthcare and Bupa Healthcare. Nick Seddon, the think-tank’s former director, was head of communications at Circle Partnerships, which describes itself as “Europe’s largest healthcare partnership”. Circle has now taken over Hinchingbrooke Hospital, the first NHS hospital to be privatised.

What is really surprising is that the Labour Party, once the bastion of state ownership and worker’s rights, is now enmeshed in this extremely complex and deliberately deceptive Establishment. In 2002 Margaret Thatcher told a meeting of her still vociferous followers that “our greatest achievement was Tony Blair”. As Blair continued the agenda of privatisation and dalliance with the wealthy he stifled all dissent by turning the party conference into a US-style political rally, and ignored the usual socialist resolutions. He sought to end the party’s dependence on trade-union funding and to replace it by the financial backing of wealthy individuals. In effect there is now little difference between the parties. When in 2007 Blair was interviewed by the police over the so-called ‘cash for honours’ scandal, it was the first time a serving prime minister had ever been so near to prosecution.

Two final points. When the Cameron government slashed the top rate of tax, polls showed that the majority of the electorate opposed such a move. The party admitted that there were few votes to be had by doing this, but for those who “fund the party it is important”. Prior to that Blair’s right-hand man Peter Mandelson was filmed holidaying on the yacht of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, together with someone revealed as George Osborne.

You need to read the book to comprehend the magnitude of its expose. In essence it is telling us that our two main parties are in a corrupt embrace with the wealthy and powerful. Not a happy thought!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Owen Jones displays a powerful combination of cool analysis and fiery anger in this dissection of the profoundly sickening corrupt state that is present-day Britain. He is a fine writer and this is a truly necessary book”…..Philip Pullman.

Stories that shame us all!

There is something strangely reassuring about sharing a sick-bed with someone similarly afflicted. She-who-must-be-obeyed and I hacked the night away, and at one point I wondered if this is how Chris Packham and his lot compile the soundtracks for those ‘Autumn Watch’ recordings of the rutting Highland stags. On second thoughts perhaps we had here the basics for a new Lloyd Webber musical. One thing is certain – all thought of the allotments was far from my mind as the sky lightened behind the curtains.

Having said that I did reflect with some surprise on the findings of scientists who yesterday published the outcome of a four year study into DNA aimed at establishing which of today’s creatures must closely resemble the feathered dinosaurs. It is the chickens. So Albert and his charges have more in common that we bargained for. But my restless mind lingered but briefly on the findings, which seem as useful as a boil on a boundary riders bum. It fluttered instead on to Nigel Farage who, if he knew of my existence, would probably be intrigued.

I am intrigued by the inexorable march of the Ukip machine. Hardly a day passes but some new gaffe or damaging revelation graces the front pages of the Tory press, but the party’s ratings continue to rocket. I have a theory. The majority of people are disillusioned with mainstream politicians as never before, they neither trust nor respect them. No mud sticks to the Farage army, in fact it adds to the sense of disorder and difference. The public is receptive to the idea of cocking a snoop at the pompous and boring clique of the posh and the oh so good.

And above all else it seems to love the concept of a chaotic and unorthodox challenge led by someone who resembles everyone’s favourite jolly uncle – the rakish one who could light up a dismal family gathering before disappearing in an open-top sports car. What we are seeing is something unique in our political history. Ukip from Farage down is an organisation built upon protest and individualism, a latter day equivalent to the Wimbledon “Crazy Gang”.

The rumpled leader who loves a pint and a cheeky fag and his followers are rewriting the political rule book. The other party leaders and their oh so well-behaved members and armies of spin-doctors can only watch and despair. Where will it all end? I’ll need another theory for that!

Meanwhile in more serious mode two stories emerge this morning that should shame us all. The ever-widening circle of appalling sexual abuse revelations has now embraced the Scout Association. Where were we all when this orgy of vile behaviour went on? How could we as parents have delivered our children so naively into the filthy hands of predators? At a time when family life was more compact how could we not have known what was going on? Were the authorities themselves asleep or, worse still, involved in a giant cover-up which went right to the heart of government?.

The only consolation is that the continued outpourings and convictions will surely lead to a new age of awareness and determination that this must never happen again. Hopefully. The hesitant note is triggered by today’s other shameful story, one that is happening right now. The abuse of our older citizens.

On Tuesday police officers assisted with the immediate closure of Merok Park Nursing Home in Banstead, Surrey. The 29-bed home cared for elderly patients with dementia and physical disability for which it charged up to £580 per week. Inspections revealed that some residents had not been receiving the help they needed to eat and drink and many had been placed in inappropriate beds. The place reeked of urine. Staff had not been checked for criminal records and were working ridiculously long hours. Residents were being washed in cold water and often left stranded upstairs for weeks on end.

Why did it take an inspection to reveal this cruelty? Is this an isolated instance? Dream on!

Small wonder that in this society of institutionalised abuse of the vulnerable, both young and old, many find the zany Ukip show a pleasant distraction.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious sect”….Rita Rudner.