3 May Madeleine disappears from a holiday apartment at the Ocean Club resort in the Algarve village of Praia da Luz, while her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, dine with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant.Continue reading...
The face of a suspect in the investigation of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann has been released to the public by detectives.Continue reading...
I may have inadvertently given the impression that our team of chicken-breeders consists solely of geezers so ancient that they make the Young Mr Grace of ‘Are You Being Served’ fame look like a spring chicken. I say this having been prodded by Tony and Phil, two students who join us each weekend after their weekly stint of part-time work at the Martin Mere Wildlife Centre. Unlike most of my pals, who regard such things as the work of the devil, they read the blog and feel that they deserve a mention.
What they think of us ancient ones is not on record, but it was not difficult to guess this morning they pulled me from the pond when I emulated Albert’s recent misadventure. I was carrying a paving slab and tripped. A near tidal wave followed as I attempted to free my left arm from beneath a submerged rock. I missed the usual gathering for a brew, and dripped home whilst attracting some very strange looks from early joggers.
Today’s thoughts are therefore my own, as I sit in my underpants in front of the lounge electric fire. Not a pretty sight. Neither in my view are the ever increasing number of wind farms in this area. From my bedroom window I can see hordes of the monsters pockmarking and destroying what was a beautiful landscape. If we wish to trim a tree on the allotments we face weeks of negotiation with planning officers, if we wanted to erect a wind-maker the answer would be how soon.
What puzzles me about the enthusiasm for wind farms is the sheer uselessness of the things. In warmer windy months – when least needed – they can produce so much energy that they overload the system. In cold, windless months – when most needed – they can stand as lifeless and useless as asthmatic giraffes. Last winter the contribution of wind turbines to overall energy production in the UK fell to lows of 0.1 per cent.
Yet there is a surge in plans for yet more. Popular? For those seeking quick profit the answer is in the affirmative. No great surprise given that an analysis of the industry’s figures reveals that Britain’s largest energy firms received almost £900m last year through a consumer subsidy added to household bills. The subsidy is worth £200m more than the income generated from the electricity actually produced by wind farms.
SSE, the company that last week announced an 8% hike in energy prices, received £213m in consumer subsidies from its fleet of on and offshore wind farms. Its total income from wind farms was in the region of £373m. With low running costs, the surplus made from operating its wind farms is calculated at £277m. Add up the totals for the ‘big six’ companies and you have a total surplus of £1.1 billion. Wind farms are a licence to print money.
Figures such as these seldom get a hearing as the Lib Dem chattering classes maintain their endless chorus about the environment, seemingly oblivious to the fact that their beloved turbines are contributing little, costing a great deal and destroying the very environment they seek to save. The very same voices rise in volume if anyone dares to mention immigration. Racists, they scream. But worrying about a creaking infrastructure does not make the critic a racist. Racists are repugnant bigots, people who fear the total collapse of every facility and service are simply fearful of what we are allowing to happen.
A new EU report reveals that more than 600,000 unemployed EU migrants are now living in the UK at a cost of £1.5 billion to the NHS alone. The number of “non-active” EU migrants in Britain rose by 42% between 2006 and 2012, and is still rocketing. A major factor is that use of services here is free at the point if delivery. In most EU countries it is dependent on past contributions. In France for example the cost of migrants to the health system is a mere £3.4m, a fraction of the NHS cost.
To make things even worse Laszlo Andor, the socialist EU commissioner in charge of employment and social exclusion, is to bring a court case to make it even easier for EU migrants to claim benefits in Britain. He is to challenge a scheme that makes certain benefits available only to migrants from the EU who are “economically active”. If he succeeds, the Department for Work and Pensions warn, Britain will become even more attractive to people wanting to live off the state.
It would all make even the guests at the Mad Hatter’s tea party foam at the mouth. Yesterday we reported on a ‘secret’ deal being cobbled together by Angela Merkel and David Cameron to protect British bankers and the German car giants. If our dear leader imagines that protection of our bankers will serve to persuade us that EU membership is a dream ticket, he is mistaken. Yes, we need and welcome productive migrants but our borders must become no-entry zones for others.
These stories alone are causing me to wonder about the prospect of politicians controlling the press. Were the press to be at the mercy of politicians would we ever hear the truth about actions that threaten our environment and lifestyles? For me Edward Snowden was a hero, why should the politicos have the power to monitor every aspect of our lives? I have to admit also that the Daily Mail and others nauseate me, but the answer is not to control them in Orwellian style, but to refrain from buying them.
Tomorrow I shall keep well clear of the murky depths of our pond, thus enabling me to reflect the balanced view of others whose views are varied. Its called democracy, something that on a national level is rapidly becoming as rare as hen’s teeth!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “When Ann Widdecombe read out the Ten Commandments at Westminster Abbey it sounded as though she had written them herself!”…Father Michael Seed.
Labour will be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing the benefits bill, Rachel Reeves, the new shadow work and pensions secretary, has insisted in her first interview since winning promotion in Ed Miliband's frontbench reshuffle.
The 34-year-old Reeves, who is seen by many as a possible future party leader, said that under Labour the long-term unemployed would not be able to "linger on benefits" for long periods but would have to take up a guaranteed job offer or lose their state support.Continue reading...
Albert has a new all-weather coat. It is hardly a headline to match those concerning Sally Bercow’s saucy tattoo, but anything remotely unusual on the allotments raises the eyebrows of codgers stuck in a rut deep enough to hide Eric Pickles. The coat is rather large but Albert assures us that he will “grow into it”, unlikely since he is 82 and shrivelling. We were surprised to learn that the garment was made in Germany, even more surprised that our little Englander regards German quality as ahead of ours. Perhaps we should alert the Daily Mail that we have another candidate for its list of people who hate Britain.
But the coat story fades into insignificance when compared to the news that our dear leader has held secret talks with Angela Merkel. Perhaps I should describe them as intended to be secret since the spin-doctors took less than three days to pop behind the bike sheds to spill the beans to reporters from The Times. Apparently the dynamic duo are cooking up a deal to protect the German car industry, and to provide David Cameron with evidence that he has renegotiated British EU membership.
In exchange for supporting the exclusion of German cars from new carbon emission laws, our dear leader will be allowed, by the uncrowned Queen of Europe, to win exclusion from EU law of the British banking sector. Perhaps the noise level behind those bike sheds was too high and someone misheard those whispered asides for concessions for bankers are not the number one priority on the Ukip list!
On one thing we can rely, the British taxpayer will fare badly in whatever eventually emerges. That assumes that there are any taxpayers left, for today we learn that the gap between what Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs should receive annually and what it actually gets now stands at £35 billion. This is revealed in a report from the taxmen who admit that the gap is increasing year on year. The report was released at 4.00pm yesterday and at 4.20pm Margaret Hodge, chairman of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, announced that she will be recalling the head of HMRC to give evidence about the “ridiculous” failure of tax-collectors to collect tax.
Mrs Hodge added that, other than when dealing with chip-shops, our taxmen are “neither assertive or aggressive” and poured fuel on the fire by explaining that the declared gap doesn’t include the tax avoidance of companies like Amazon, Starbucks and Google who run ‘profit shifting schemes’. One expert last night estimated their evasion at around £12 billion which brings the total of uncollected tax to £47 billion.
And the tax avoidance schemes are mounting. The controversial payday lender Wonga is the latest firm to alter its tax structure to reduce UK tax liability. Wonga is now lending to UK customers through its Swiss operation even though it does not offer loans to people in Switzerland. The company denies the move is aimed at tax avoidance. Perhaps its bean-counters simply prefer Swiss chocolate?
To crown a bad week for the ever-shrinking band of Brits who still pay tax, it is now clear that Royal Mail was underpriced in the rushed privatisation. The company’s shares surged 38% yesterday and the signs are that the taxpayer has been robbed of at least £650m. Never mind, today’s Telegraph tells us that the hedge firm which features Gorgeous George Osborne’s best man amongst its stars obtained a £50 million stake in Royal Mail. Last night a spokesman for the Treasury stressed that the chancellor had not been in touch with his buddy Peter Davies. As if he would!
If all this comes across as a gaint moan that is because that is what it is. Yesterday we learned that the Red Cross is to launch a food-aid appeal for the UK, today we learn that the coalition is turning a blind eye to tax avoidance on a scale never before witnessed in this country.
In an attempt to be balanced we grant that this may all be down to incompetence rather than a tendency to favour the rich. Perhaps such a case could cite the badger cull. Environment Minister Paterson has blamed the failure on the difficulty of shooting animals in the dark, and has added that the badgers “shifted the goalposts”. Now he is talking of trying gas, although its ever rocketing cost would make that “expensive”.
As we gloomily munched our Tesco doughnuts this morning we reflected yet again on the need for big men at the top. Send for Pickles, we demand!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Some people get so rich that they lose all respect for humanity. That’s how rich I want to get!”….Rita Rudner
The government sometimes asks outside organisations to check the need for, and potential impact of, a policy it is considering. In this case, the policy on the table is the minimum driving age and the organisation doing the research is the Transport Research Laboratory. Its 178-page report reaches the conclusion that probationary licences should be issued from the age of 18 (they can currently be applied for three months before the applicant turns 17) in order to reduce road accidents. We check the numbers.
The main focus of the report is about how to improve training and education for "novice drivers" - so the introduction briefly sketches out why it is that young drivers in particular need this training. They give three statistics to do this:Continue reading...
Some of the more excitable codgers were agog as we cleaned out the hens this morning. The fearless defender of all things British, the Daily Mail, has devoted a goodly proportion of its front page this morning to a story that will reignite the patriotic fervour that lurks in every heart. Sally Bercow, the wife of the Commons Speaker, has a saucy tattoo. Unless you are a Daily Mail reader I beseech you to remember that you first learned this shocking truth via this blog. Decades from now you will remember where you were when the news first hit you.
Yesterday the world’s leading seeker of the truth focussed on a lesser issue. Its leader article turned its torch of enlightenment on the Guardian. No the fashion editor does not have a tattoo, but the Guardian is now officially “The paper that helps Britain’s enemies”. International organs such as The New York Times lauded the Guardian to high heavens for helping to “Inform the public in framing its thinking about the need to protect the intelligence agencies whilst protecting individual freedom”, but that cuts no ice with Lord Rothermere’s employees. They have reached their verdict – the Guardian has, by publishing the revelations of Snowden, given the Muslim extremists the “gift to evade security and to strike at will”.
Given that the information is freely available across the Middle East, we can only assume that terrorists rely solely on the Guardian for their information. Call us nit-pickers if you must, but we cannot help wondering if this attack has more to do with the Guardian’s attack on the Mail in regard to its defamation of Ralph Miliband. The Mail leader provides a clue in that it returns to the subject of Miliband senior whose ideas, it says, chimed mire with those of Stalin than of Churchill.
Clearly all the studying of saucy tattoos has left little time for history. Ralph Miliband despised Stalin and all his ghastly deeds. It may well be that during the war, in which he served with distinction, he admired Stalin from afar, for that was the sentiment of every besieged UK citizen. I remember well the hero status afforded to the Russian Bear, who was seen as a powerful ally, our biggest hope of Hitler being thwarted. Stalin was not a Marxist, but even if he had been we would still have waved those Hammer and Sickle flags, this man was, to quote Churchill, our shield in times of danger. The Mail should read Churchill’s diaries!
Few of us codgers are Guardian readers, but we do share its concerns at hidden surveillance and the proposal to give to the police powers of arrest and detention based on suspicion. Of course we wish to remove obstacles to acting in the interest of public safety, but what redress is available for those who are entirely innocent? Daniel Kaluuya, an actor who starred in Johnny English Reborn, was dragged from a bus in Camden Town, pinned to the ground by four officers – one placing a boot on his head – and strip-searched at Kentish Town police station. Papers submitted to court allege he “was singled out because of racial stereotyping”. He is now suing the Met but one has to worry about his fate had a court not been part of the process!
Sadly many people now have greater concerns than freedom from false arrest, Ed Miliband’s dad or even Sally Bercow’s tattoo. The free hand being given to the rigged energy suppliers is tipping many hard-working families into spiralling debt. You won’t read of this in the right-wing press, but the situation is now so acute that, for the first time since the second world war the Red Cross will start collecting and distributing food aid in Britain this winter.
More than half a million Brits are now turning to food banks, and the number is rocketing out of control. The Red Cross has put out an appeal to its 30,000 volunteers to join FareShare workers at up to 2,000 Tesco stores on the weekend starting November 29th, where they will appeal to shoppers to donate tinned and packet foods which will then be distributed to charities which are gearing up for a huge increase in food banks.
We all realise that austerity is necessary but the Osborne programme is heavily slanted against the poorest. One doesn’t need to be of left-wing persuasion to recognise that what is happening is unjust
Perhaps the Daily Mail would like to cover the Red Cross intervention. It does seem to us to be rather more important than Sally Burcow’s bum!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “While we fully understand the government’s need to save money, we strongly advise against indiscriminate cuts in public health and social welfare, as it may cost more in the long run!”…..Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross.
The natives were restless this morning. As we cleaned out the hens in the seemingly chilly sunshine there was a good deal of hilarity at the antics of the Halifax, but this soon turned to incredulity at the latest nonsense from Monitor, the so-called NHS regulator.
The Halifax story appeared on last night’s consumer programme on the Beeb. A young mum, clutching her 6 months-old baby, related her experience when she rang the bank to adjust her monthly payment into the infant’s savings account. A member of staff insisted that he could only discuss the matter with the account-holder and insisted on James coming to the phone. James made a few gurgling noises and the official was satisfied. When confronted by Watchdog a PR spokesman said that working to the letter of the laws was sometimes ill-advised!
But the utterances from Monitor, although equally loopy, are rather more serious since the NHS regulator is supposedly responsible for steering our hospital services in the right direction. My own experiences of Monitor were less than reassuring. Time and again the entire Foundation Trust board was summoned to their plush offices in central London to be lectured on various supposed breaches of our numerous targets. The Monitor team invariably included no clinicians and ours found themselves having to explain such matters as why it was not always possible for an ambulance to immediately drive to the hospital with patients who must first be stabilised. As we travelled back the doctors would invariably talk of amateurs in charge.
This morning Monitor has excelled itself. It has announced that vast savings can be made by contracting out services to companies from India and Mexico where minor operations such as cataract surgery are delivered at one sixth of NHS costs. In India a suitably equipped train travels the country performing local ad hoc cataract procedures. There are no hospital costs, wages are low and, frankly, the standards of infection control are iffy. I haven’t been to Mexico but imagine that things there are very similar.
Andy Burnham responded by remarking that such proposals will “send a shiver down many a spine, they confirm the suspicion that the government is softening us up for NHS privatisation”. Ideas as stupid as this hardly merit troubling our spines, but he is right in principle. However he does seem to have forgotten that the Labour government started the trend via Patricia Hewitt who is now a director of a private health care provider.
Her proposal to privatise outpatients service in the North West met with mass protests and was withdrawn. But some services were outsourced, including cataract operations. These were awarded to Netcare, a South African company which used a visiting trailer. That meant a loss of revenue for the hospital, but we were quickly instructed that we must handle complex cases and patients experiencing problems during the operation.
That example sums up the NHS hospitals nightmare. They have to incur the cost of all complicated – and therfore expensive – procedures whilst losing the mass of routine ‘profitable’ ones. It is a recipe for disaster presided over by amateurs in medical terms.
The same seems to apply to much being done to education by the dashing Michael Gove. Today we learn that one of his ‘free schools, has exercised its right to appoint teachers who have no teaching qualifications. Pimlico primary in central London has felt obliged to wave goodbye to one such, its 27-year-old headteacher Annaliese Briggs who “was not happy because she couldn’t cope with the workload”. Hopefully Monitor won’t seize on this idea, we do not fancy being operated on by unqualified doctors!
But we can at least give three cheers for the new Help to buy scheme announced by our dear leader. It seems that on a property valued at £600,000, using Help to buy to secure a 95% loan instead of borrowing 90% cuts the deposit from £60,000 to £30,000. Sandy Chen, banking analyst at Cenkos Securities, reports great interest on the part of bankers. “Bankers are speculative types and are attracted to the possibility of making lots of money”, she tells us. Nice to know that the bankers are being cared for!
You can of course ignore all of these bleatings. We codgers have to confess to being old fashioned and set in our ways. We even agree with Jack Wilshere who has incurred the wrath of such modern thinkers as Kevin Pieterson by suggesting that the England soccer team should comprise Englishmen. Like us it seems that Jack is behind the times. As any modernist will tell us, the England team should be a micro version of the United Nations.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ; ” When you give a child a hammer everything becomes a nail!”……Leo Kaplan
The home secretary, Theresa May, has defended plans to create a "hostile environment" for illegal migrants to Britain, as immigration lawyers warned her that a system of identity checks for all, including British citizens, would have to be introduced to enforce the government's moves to curb access to privately rented housing and to tackle alleged health tourists.Continue reading...
Someone has hung a picture of Eric Pickles in our allotments ‘shed’. No one admitted ownership ,and as we enjoyed our morning brew he stared sternly down on our Tesco doughnuts consumption. Presumably the hanger is someone with a sense of humour, which rules out Albert. On the other hand – now here’s a chilling thought – perhaps there is one amongst us who sees the big lad as a rock in uncertain seas.
And we certainly seem to be in uncertain waters. This morning we learn that the new head of MI5, Andrew Parker, is concerned at the publication of the GCHQ files by Edward Snowden. He goes on to warn that the UK is facing its gravest terrorism threat from “several thousand” Islamist extremists who are living here and will use the information as they prepare to attack us. We also learned that our border controls are only operating at half-cock. At this point we decided to move on to more cheerful news.
Sadly we chose the wrong source. The best-selling financial magazine Money Week can usually be relied upon to provide crumbs of comfort, but not this week. It forecasts the “End of Britain”, a conclusion based on the national debt. Two and a half years ago, when the Coalition took over, the previous government handed over a debt of £700 billion. This we already knew since our dear leader constantly reels off the number.
What we didn’t know is that the debt is now approaching £1,400 trillion. So despite all the austerity and tax hikes the current government has taken the national debt to its highest level for 100 years. In reality the Coalition isn’t cutting anything. State spending is going up, our national debt is going up, our interest payments are going up.
Compared to the size of our economy, Britain is now one of the most heavily indebted countries in the Western world. Our total debts stand at more than five times what our entire economy is worth. How all this fits with our story of yesterday about our overtaking Germany is hard to fathom, but one thing is certain. Money Week is renowned for its caution and its conclusion that we are heading for total financial collapse is a teeny bit scary, always assuming that we having been blown to kingdom come in the meantime!
We had almost consumed the bag of weight-watcher’s enemies before we found some good news. In fact it came from ex-banker William who seemed unusually pleased with himself. It seems that he was quick off the mark in obtaining Royal Mail shares at £3.30 per unit. The prediction is that the value will rise to between £3.85 – £4.05 on Royal Mail’s first day as a public company on Friday. William intends to sell at that point and to head off for the dream holiday he and ‘er indoors have long yearned for. There will be no shortage of takers for institutional investors have ordered more than ten times the number of shares available.
Good luck to William, but the story does tend to throw considerable doubt on the claim by Ministers that the great British public is demonstrating its support for the concept of privatisation. In reality it is demonstrating its ability to spot a bargain and to make a handsome profit via a quick punt. Meanwhile the banks and investment companies have noted that Royal Mail is now a very profitable concern, the government having picked up its huge pensions liability.
Of course, unlike water, gas and electricity, the delivery of post can benefit from competition. But there are elements of the process that are necessary evils if viewed solely from the angle of profit. These lie mainly in rural areas where the present Royal Mail is obliged to maintain a six days delivery, and local post offices act as a focal point for communities. 43% of older people in rural areas use their local P.O to access cash. Small businesses in rural areas rely on Royal Mail to handle their outgoing and incoming mail and parcels since existing competitive providers are not interested in low volume routes. Be in no doubt that a privatised company will quickly demand subsidies or else!
In true entrepreneur spirit Moya Green, Royal Mail’s chief executive, has placed a multimillion pound order for shares. Undoubtedly she, like William, is planning a holiday of a lifetime.
Prior to the revelations about the national debt we codgers had grudgingly reached the conclusion that Gorgeous George Osborne was right to force privatisation through. Then we experienced rage that he has underpriced the offer. Now we realise that the £2bn the treasury will receive will be as a drop in the ocean of debt.
But at least we understand the popularity of privatisation better than we did when the sainted Margaret set the ball rolling. It has nothing to do with a yen for public ownership, everything to do with our love of lotteries.
And even the Iron Lady drew the line at privatising the Queen’s head!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “If economists were any good at business, they would be rich men instead of advisers to rich men!”…Kirk Kerkorian
Whilst the rest of the nation was this morning overwhelmed with excitement about the latest hirings and firings of Messrs Cameron and Miliband plus the news that the badger cull has proved a fiasco, we codgers devoted our morning to an argument about brooms. We can debate religion or politics without getting hot under the collar, but any mention of brooms turns our brew-time into a carbon-copy of Prime Minister’s Question Time.
A few weeks ago we decided that sweeping the paths around the hen-runs is taking up a disproportionate amount of our time. Catalogues were pored over as if they were the holy grail, and an order was placed for a dozen ‘Super Sweepers’. Super was not the adjective used by some of my pals when the crate was opened. Too bloody big was the general reaction and, since then, the gang has become divided between those who delight in clearing the width of a path in one stroke and those who bang on endlessly about their arthritis.
Leader of the anti-brigade is Albert. At weekends he leads the local Silver Prize Marching Band with a drum big enough to house Eric Pickles so one can only conclude that those who suffer from what he calls Arthur-it is should turn to drum-therapy. It is all very depressing, perhaps we should call for a judicial review,.
But when it comes to depressive influences brooms trail a long way behind economists. I often wonder what their Christmas parties are like – probably even less fun that a convocation of insurance loss adjusters. I say this having waded through an article in this weeks Spectator under the heading ‘Britannia uber alles’. I was enticed by the introductory blurb which prophesies that the UK economy will one day overtake Germany.
Being weary of attempting to follow the endless arguments put forward by Gorgeous George Osborne and his arch enemy Ed the Balls, I grasped at the apparent reassurance we all earnestly yearn for. It was only when I reached the conclusion that this transformation will only occur after 2050 that my enthusiasm waned somewhat.
Right now, Germany is by far the top European economy with a GDP of $3.6 trillion. France stands at $2.7 trillion, the UK at $2.2 trillion and Italy at $2.1 trillion. The next decade, we are told, will be much better for us. The Italian economy is forecast to shrink and France, with an annual growth rare of only 0.1% looks unlikely to hold on to second place. That leaves the Germans who are very good at making stuff. And there are a lot of them, 82 million compared with 62 million Brits.
Why is Britian expected to seize the crown? Because Germany is forecast to have a sharply declining population that, according to a report last year by the Population Reference Bureau, will be down to 64 million by 2050. By contrast the UK will by then house 80 million and, assuming that the Germans do not achieve miracles in productivity, hey presto we will be the economic giants of the EU.
When economists publish findings based on the equivalent of studying the entrails of sheep for many a month they always expect us to provide a standing ovation. That rarely happens because there are usually points of detail that hit us like a bucket of cold water. In this particular case there are two.
The first is that most if us will be dead before Cameron the younger crows triumphantly before promising an in/out EU referendum. The second is that this amazing change in our national fortunes is dependent on a population explosion capable of making our existing crowded roads and street look empty by comparison. The glorious day will only arrive in 2050, but between now and then we will spend more and more time in traffic jams and NHS waiting rooms. Restful maybe, but hardly conducive to the productivity of an ant colony.
Nothing could match this expert projection for its depressive effect. Well almost nothing, since news that Osborne is now the bookmaker’s favourite to replace our dear leader just about beats it!
Having plumbed the depths of economic stargazing I have concluded that studying brooms is a much happier preoccupation!
QUOTE OF THE DAY; “By 2030 the UK , if it manages to combine faster growth with better demographics, will overtake Germany. Every multinational will want a stake in the British market and migrants will flock here in ever greater numbers. If we do better than our neighbours, one day soon we’ll have something to celebrate!”…..Matthew Lynn.
It was high-fives – or in Albert’s case low ones – all round this morning as the Man Utd fans amongst the hen-cleaners celebrated their team’s victory over Sunderland. For the majority of us it was a matter of little weight, well down our Eric Pickles graph. But we are intrigued by the reaction to the success of 18 year-old Adnan Januzaj who scored two cracking goals on his debut. Intrigued because the media has immediately set about the task of claiming him for the England squad. Call us old-fashioned if you must, but we still favour the apparently outdated idea of nationality being a product of ones country of birth or parentage. It seems that Adnan was born in Belgium to Kosovan-Albanian parents and currently qualifies for three countries, but should he reside in England for five years after reaching his eighteenth birthday that becomes four. Only FIFA, which awarded a world cup to Qatar without looking up its summer temperatures, could have come up with this nonsense.
But if they are loopy the Sunday Telegraph is even more so. Today it fills its pages with claims that the BBC is “Miliband’s mouthpiece”. It produces an analysis of the coverage given to the Daily Mail’s decision to publish a picture of a dead man’s grave, and to falsely accuse him of being a traitor. This was clearly a major national story and it was noticeable that the majority of those condemning the outrage were leading Conservatives. Yes, Ed Miliband did feature, but since the traduced man was the dad he revered that was hardly surprising. But it is reassuring to know that the ‘Torygraph’ is opposed to bias!
Had it wanted to demonstrate its sudden conversion to honest and unbiased reporting it could perhaps have replaced the whole page devoted to the fact that “Nigel Farage is not capable of running tombola” with one revealing the extent to which our troops have been betrayed by successive politicians. The latest evidence is not hard to find, just turn to documents released this week by the US military. Maj-Gen Gregg Sturdevant, who was forced to retire after the notorious Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, has said that the British, who were responsible for all security at the base which houses over 30,000 coalition forces, “screwed up”. The papers prove him right.
That attack in September saw 15 Taliban fighters dressed in American uniforms walk past an unmanned watchtower and on to the airfield, where they opened fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. When the assault was quelled some five hours later two US Marines lay dead, a further 16 soldiers were severely wounded and eight aircraft worth more than $200m had been destroyed.
We learn that urgent military recommendations to strengthen security at Bastion, the main British base in Afghanistan, were made six months earlier. They were rejected by the Ministry of Defence on grounds of cost. It made this decision despite knowing that many iof the watchtowers were unmanned due to troop shortages.
Had it not been for the heroism of service personnel this outcome could have been even worse. RAF Sergeant Roy Geddes, 43, was one of those wounded. He has been awarded the Military Cross for leading a quick reaction force mustered to fight off the intruders. He says that it was “utter chaos”. “It was total darkness and the only thing illuminating the area was the burning aircraft and fuel”, he added.
This is just the latest example of the hypocrisy of politicians. At the Conservative Party conference our dear leader used his speech to praise the bravery of our armed forces and lead a standing ovation to them. Like Blair and Brown before him he forgot to mention that government pen-pushers had been allowed to deny them adequate manpower and equipment. Perhaps he didn’t even know.
The storming of Camp Bastion, the HQ of British forces in Afghanistan, was, by any yardstick, a great propaganda coup for the Taliban. That our troops shouldn’t be there at all is generally acknowledged, but having sent them there successive governments failed to support them.
The memorial stones of those that died that night, and those of all the others that have perished, should have one word added. Betrayed!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Going to war over religion is basically killing each other to see who’s got the better imaginary friend!” …..Richard Jeni
When we lock in the hens at night we no longer do a headcount, the numbers are beyond our maths range. We work on the assumption that every chuck has had the good sense to head for safety, and content ourselves with a cursory sweep of the flash lamps. When we arrived at the allotments this morning we were greeted with the error of our ways, a row of late-night revellers were perched in one of the trees.
No amount of corn-scattering would entice them down, and it was quickly decided that our most agile member should use the ladder. The rest you can guess. Albert was on the ninth rung when the bough snapped. With merely a cry of Geronimo our wee pal returned to earth clinging to the ladder with six squawking hens clinging to him. For all but our hero it was an hilarious start to the day. He refused offers of a lift to our local A & E unit on the grounds that, this being Saturday, he would have recovered long before he would receive attention.
You will gather from that remark that in common with the rest of the country, with the obvious exception of Chipping Norton, our area is not well blessed with medical services at weekends. Such GPs that still practice are pursuing non-medical leisure activities, A & Es are in the hands of less-than-able junior doctors and a call to the 111 service extracts nothing more than a rendering of Beethoven’s unfinished symphony.
Being all too aware of this, we were less than surprised to read of the reception afforded to Blue Peter presenter turned Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt when he reluctantly showed up at the annual conference of GPs at Harrogate yesterday. A few days ago he had warmed the hearts of the Tory faithful by announcing that GP surgeries are to be obliged to open from 8am to 8pm, as well as at weekends.
Dr Peter Deveson, a south London GP, pointed out that such a move would entail GPs working 84-hour weeks which are neither “safe nor sustainable”. Cue an ad-hoc political response which was that 2,000 extra practitioners are in the pipeline. Dr Claire Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, had done her sums and added 8,000 to Mr Hunt’s fag-packet calculation before asking if the pipeline began in outer Mongolia.
She went on to claim that spending on general practice has fallen by £400m in the past three years – representing a 7% cut for every patient. With other costs incurred as a result of the Lansley reforms the actual shortfall is now £1bn. Dr Gerada went on to warn Mr Hunt, who had by now assumed the resigned countenance of someone who has spent many an hour reading old copies of Readers Digest in A & E, that he was at risk of “destabilising the whole NHS”. She urged that “we put politics behind us and start looking for what is best for the NHS and our population”. Since politics is the only occupation known to Hunt and most other leading politicos that sounded a dubious prescription, but we know what she meant.
Several of us codgers spent many years working in the NHS, and we are appalled at the lack of understanding of medicine shown by a succession of Health Secretaries. All seem obsessed by the idea that diagnosis by telephone or email is the solution to our increasingly dysfunctional GP surgeries. Even the most experienced doctor will tell you that patients are often confused about symptoms and pain levels. To simply take them at their word without examination is dangerous in the extreme.
But the thing that most astonishes us is the enduring belief that because GPs are well paid they should be able to work extra shifts a la Tesco. A GP already sees up to 15 patients in one session. He or she has ten minutes in which to reach a conclusion as to whether there is a serious underlying condition. Take the easy route of referring patients on and expect a severe chastisement from the chosen specialist. Take the even easier option of prescribing a placebo and risk a life and an appearance before the GMC.
A GP has in many ways the most onerous role in the whole chain. How would you like to wake up each morning knowing that before you return to your bed you will have been responsible for dozens of decisions, any one of which could spell life or death. Throw in an ever increasing number of meetings resulting from the imposition of commissioning and an even greater volume of bureaucracy and the picture is a forbidding one.
Some time ago I attended a talk given by an official from the Department of Health. She displayed charts showing the number of patients seen per hour by a cross-section of London GPs. To the astonishment of her audience she concluded that the “best and most productive” doctors were those who saw the most patients per hour. That belief still exists in the corridors of power, the truth is that they are 100% wrong.
Morale of GPs is sinking fast and it is in all our interests that politicains of every colour ask themselves whether it makes any sense to turn a blind eye to tax avoidance, and to sanction money-guzzling schemes such as HS2, whilst penny-pinching on a service that at one time or another is of paramount importance to every family in the land!
When our moment of crisis comes it matters not one jot who is in 10 Downing Street. Dr Gerada is right, politics should play no part in healthcare.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ; ” GPs are one of the last groups people trust. They don’t trust their politicians, their journalists, their bankers, their priests..in a subconscious way politicians are jealous that we are still held in high regard by society!”…Dr Clare Gerada
We members of EPAS, the Eric Pickles Appreciation Society, munched our way through a bag of Tesco doughnuts as we rested after this morning’s zillionth hen-cleaning expedition. We did note a report released today by Saga which bemoaned the fact that elderly men seem unaware of health risks, but we resolutely follow the example of our hero. We have more than enough to worry about without adding in the possibility of doughnut addiction.
Today the Daily Mail remained a hot favourite for our villain of the week award, but Lord Rothermere may be slightly relieved to know that there is another contender. Living as we do in a less than affluent community we hear many a story of distress caused by the 2013 modern Shylocks, the Payday loan companies.
These conniving parasites have taken of late to extensive TV advertising, in which lovely old ladies are shown rejoicing at the availability of instant loans to enable them to have their fireplaces repaired in anticipation of long cosy winter nights. The reality is somewhat different. Even without reading the statistics we know that the vast majority of users are people desperate to buy food for their families. Desperation leads people into desperate deeds and some we know have grasped a lifeline which quickly becomes a noose. They are encouraged to take out a no-questions-asked loan which, being greater than their next pay-check, quickly becomes an ever-increasing debt fuelled by interest rates of obscene proportions. The debt collectors follow and we have seen examples of their bullying and unprincipled behaviour.
According to StepChange, a charity set up to help people with debt, the average Payday loan client owes £1,657 and has an average net monthly income of £1,379. One doesn’t need to be a Micawber to see the implications of interest rates running into the thousands. Our dear leader bangs on about people making the effort to find work, he fails to mention that so many of the growing number of jobs pay peanuts.
In the newly constituted Financial Control Authority we have at last a regulator with teeth, and many have awaited eagerly their first proposals in regard to the Payday loan sharks. They are disappointing. It proposes limiting lenders power to swipe their money back from borrower’s bank accounts through continuous payment authorities, which give their debts piority over others. It also proposes that no loan can be rolled over more than twice. These rolled-over loans, which attract ever more preposterous rates of interest, are the major source of grief for borrowers – who can see rates over 5000%, and profits of around 50% according to most recent balance sheets.
As an abstract exercise, the FCA proposals seem perfectly rational. They are tough enough, it claims, to drive an estimated 30% of lenders out of the market (and to cut the number of borrowers by the same amount). But the changes will not come into effect for another nine months and they omit the most important reform of all, There must be a cap on interest rates.
The government has made much of its portrayal of people in debt as scroungers and layabouts. The vast majority of those who turn in desperation to Payday loan companies are nothing of the sort. Most are in work which provides an income incapable of coping with energy bills and the rest. They can only survive wih the help of short-term loans but these must be at reasonable rates.
For three weeks politicians have presented their carefully constructed speeches, none of them have addressed this evil in our midst. Leaving the markets to compete sounds logical, leaving desperate people at the mercy of what is in moral terms extreme extortion less so. Wonga and the rest are entitled to make a fair profit, they are not entitled to operate what amounts to an extortion racket. In the name of basic justice these racketeers must be controlled. The Archbishop of Canterbury was right to demand a fairer and more humane method, but it shouldn’t be left to the Church to try to bring this about!
Meanwhile our other candidate for leadership of the villain’s championship, the Daily Mail, continues to appal all decent observers. We now learn that reporters from the Mail on Sunday gained entry to a memorial service for the late Uncle of Ed Miliband and proceeded to question mourners about Ed. The editor has issued an abject apology and has suspended the individuals concerned. But it tells us all we need to know about the culture of the ghastly Rothermere crowd.
Last night David Bumblebee’s Question Time inevitably covered the deeds of the Mail, and the audience reacted strongly against the Daily Mail columnist Quenton Letts. His admission that the paper’s conduct was “clearly indefensible” seemed to satisfy no one. For us codgers the quote of the night came from the Huffington Post’s Mehdi Hasan.
To thunderous applause he said “Who hated Britain more – Ralph Milband, who served in the Royal Navy throughout the war, or the immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay-bashing Daily Mail?”. He added for good measure a contrast between Miliband senior and the newspaper’s founder, Lord Rothermere, whom he accused of siding with the Nazis before the war.
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “It is the wretchedness of being rich that you have to live with rich people!”…..Logan Pearsall Smith
My allotment pals were in a grumpy mood this morning as we swept puddles from the paths surrounding the hen-runs. I tried to cheer them up by pointing out that our dear leader is creating a “land of opportunity”, but they seemed less convinced that his adoring supporters at the Conservative Party conference. They clearly saw handle-less brooms as more important than the new master plan to have the older unemployed report to Jobcentres every half-hour, and the younger element obliged to seek vacancies in the Scilly Isles.
But the mood had lifted somewhat by the time we gathered for our brew, a change partly due to someone having spotted out favourite pie-eater, Eric Pickles looking decidedly threatening as the other 11,999 delegates leapt to their feet to sing hosannas for a speech that seemed decidedly short of content. Pickles for PM we say, at least that would mean the end of the army of experts who lecture us daily on the merits of healthy eating!
Bill had last night attended a function at which he chatted to a local MP. The lady in question mentioned that a pivotal meeting of MPs is due to meet next Wednesday to consider proposals for a press royal charter with a new press regulator to replace the Press Complaints Commission, which has proved as dynamic as a wet lettuce. She went on to say that the mood has changed dramatically, and there is now a real possibility that the proposal cobbled together for self-regulation may well be rejected out-of-hand. She may well be riht for this morning the group content director of the Independent titles and the London Evening Standard, Chris Blackhurst, has said that the behaviour of the Daily Mail over the past few days has “deepened the schism” between politicians and press.
If that is correct we may well be back on course for a legally-binding regulatory body along the lines recommended by Leveson. The irony would be that even that would not prevent newspapers attacking politicians providing that information published had not been obtained illegally. But right now emotions are running high and many parliamentarians are reflecting the mood of their constituents who say that if the Daily Mail is prepared to stoop so low as to publish the picture of a dead man’s grave alongside a pack of lies it will do anything.
One thing is certain, anyone who can succeed in uniting Messr Cameron, Clegg and Miliband is unique. And according to Lord Sugar of YourFired, the Mail Editor, Paul Dacre is unique. Uniquely bad. He demanded that the Daily Mail shareholders should “finally and once and for all, get rid of this man Dacre”. He went on to describe Dacre as a “tyrant who needs to be expelled”.
Perhaps even more surprising is the widespread condemnation of the Mail from leading fugures on the right of political thinking. Lord Moore, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet between 1986 and 1989, said it “beggars belief” that the Mail coiuld impugn the patriotism of Ralph Miliband, who taught him at the London School of Economics. He said that Miliband Senior was “one of the most inspiring and objective teachers I had. Of course w had different political opinions but he never treated me with less than complete courtesy and I had profound respect for his integrity”. In a statement issued to the Press association, Moore added; ” He came here as a fugitive from the Nazis, did his duty by serving in the Royal Navy during the war, became a great academic and raised a good family. I saw him continually and never heard him say one word which was negative about Britain – our country”.
Moore is quite clear that the Daily Mail is “telling lies about a good man”. And so says Lord Haseltine who told The Daily Politiucs on BBC2; “This is carrying politics to an extent that is just frankly demeaning. It is completely wrong. As everybody knows the guy fought for this country”. The attack was maintained by a member if the No 10 policy board, Margot James, MP. She tweeted: “Crass and cruel to condemn Ralph M’band for his Marxist views…deeply misguided maybe but never unpatriotic”.
And this morning the attack goes on. Countless politicians and members of the public are filling letter pages and Twitter with their views on the Daily Mail. Some have pointed out that being a Marxist has nothing whatsoever to do with sympathising with such as Stalin. Others have pointed out that if the Mail really wants to visit the supposed sins of the father on his offspring, it should perhaps examine its own background which features owners who really hated Britain.
I never imagined that I would be moved to quote the thoughts of Charles Moore, the official biographer of Thatcher, but here goes. In this week’s edition of the Spectator he writes that: “The Mail managed to offend against taste and decency on multiple counts – attacking a man for his deceased father’s views, misrepresenting those views, attacking a Jew, attacking a refugee from Hitler”.
We codgers say amen to that. We do hold to our belief that politicians should not be in a position to control the press. Sadly the gutter-press behaviour has made that far more likely!
QUOTE OF THE DAY; “I couldn’t believe it when I picked up my newspaper and read that 82% of men would rather sleep with a goat than with me”…Sarah Ferguson
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For every 100 people in Britain, just 1 will identify themselves as gay or lesbian according to the latest government statistics. The numbers (which include gender, location and age) may come as a surprise - but why?Continue reading...
The term gutter press crops up regularly when we codgers gather for our brewe after cleaning out the hens, and this morning was no exception. Several of our members had taken their daily dip into the Daily Mail with their cornflakes and, unsurprisingly, found their favourite read under heavy attack. To be fair their choice of paper is determined by their better-halves who enjoy the extensive coverage of fashion and other related subjects. Last year I travelled to London with a group of budding economists to be entertained to lunch by the Mail’s city editor, Alex Brummer, and it was only then that I learned that the Mail is unique in having a predominantly female readership. It explains a good deal about the circulation figures.
The current affairs coverage is hardly likely to attract any but the most rabid right-wingers, but to them it must fall as manna from heaven. During my years with the NHS I shared the rage of many at the constant invention, distortion and lies as the Mail attempted to undermine and destroy the service. That the rest of its ‘news’ coverage was slanted was taken as read.
But over the past day or so it has plumbed new depths. As part of its campaign aimed at destroying Ed Miliband it has chosen to launch a vicious attack on his late father, Ralph. Even Jon Steafel, the paper’s deputy editor, felt obliged to admit on Newsnight that the prominent featuring of a picture of Ralph Miliband’s grave was an “error of judgement”. It was good to hear both David Cameron and Nick Clegg expressing support for Ralph’s family, and the younger son in particular.
In fact the only leading politician who refused to condemn this extreme example of the gutter press in action was pompous little Michael Gove, no great surprise given that his wife, Sarah Vine, is a leading columnist at the Mail. No doubt her latest piece entitled “Sarah Vine: Making me Flab-U-Less” has cheered many.
It is not often that we codgers find ourselves in agreement with Alastair Campbell, but the decision of Newsnight to feature him alongside Steaful was a masterstroke. Campbell went crazy with rage. He launched a vicious attack on the widely loathed Paul Dacre, and tore to shreds the assertion that Ralph Miliband “hated Britain”. He recalled that Miliband senior served with distinction in the Royal Navy during the war and at no time ever gave the slightest indication that he “hated” his adopted country. Yes, he was not in favour of the monarchy or the established church, but since when is that an indication of hatred for Britain?
Campbell was not alone in his vitriol. The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith pointed out that the owners of the Mail had been enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis in the 1930s, and said it was “odd for a newspaper to judge a man on the basis of the history of his family when that newspaper is owned by a family that did more to pursue the Nazi cause pre-war than any other publication”. Leo Panitch, who worked alongside Ralph Miliband for 27 years said the Daily Mail article was a “scurrilous piece of extreme right-wing propaganda”. Nick Clegg tweeted that he supported Ed. “Politics”, he said, should be about playing the ball, not the man, certainly not the man’s family”.
When some years ago I was at University studying political history the publications of Ralph Miliband were essential reading. There was never the slightest indication that the author hated Britain. What he hated was the class system of his day, and the part played by such as the Daily Mail in influencing working-class opinion. He was dismayed by the resulting fear often induced in Labour party figures who, rather than standing up to be counted, responded by themselves accommodating of the reproduction of that system. I often found myself disagreeing with Ralph Miliband but never for one moment did I detect a hint of anti-Britishness. Such a suggestion is absurd.
Of course Ed Miliband can expect to be the subject of a continuing campaign of hate from the Mail as the election comes ever closer. Right now it is peddling the claim that his threat to the ‘big-six’ energy companies is a throwback to the old socialist love of nationalisation. Wrong again. What Miliband the younger is posing is an interesting piece of ideology. What do you do when markets do not work?
What do you do when markets do not generate genuine competition, when the consumer is forced to choose between companies offering the same essential services at the same prices. We have yet to hear a convincing answer from any coalition minister.
Much was made last night of the refusal by editor Paul Dacre to appear on Newsnight. We think that we know the reason. The October edition of ‘Tatler’ features a beaming Lady Rothermere, wife of the proprietor of the Daily Mail, throwing an admiring arm around the shoulders of Geordie Greig, editor of the Mail on Sunday, a job he owes to the patronage of milady Rothermere.
The same Greig recently defied an instruction from his editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre, that his sport department should share staff and resourcres with the daily title. And the selfsame Greig is letting it be known that he will be replacing Dacre as editor of the Daily Mail any t ime soon.
Should Dacre’s revolting portrayal of a family grave hit circulation it may happen even sooner!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY “Under capitalism man exploits man. With communism it’s precisely the opposite!”…..J K Galbraith
The part of our allotments dedicated to the chicken project has long been a no-go area for dogs. Most of us codgers own dogs and it is frustrating to have to leave them at home, but sad experience has taught us that letting them loose amongst hordes of hens is akin to permitting Eric Pickles free access to a pie shop. The truth is that, much as we like to see Fido as a canine version of the SAS, few domestic dogs are as well drilled as society requires. And we believe that the scrapping of licences has not helped.
There is one exception to our unwritten rule. Bill lost his sight some years ago but is still a regular visitor thanks to his Labrador guide-dog. His professionally trained companion never leaves Bill’s side. Albert regularly manages to fall into one of the ponds, thanks to ‘Lab’ Bill has never done so. Guide Dog charities always receive generous support from the rest of us who, when reading of the latest outrage committed by out of control canines, can only wonder why someone on high has not considered restoring licences with a requirement for owners to attend an elementary training establishment.
Sadly that is about as likely as Gorgeous George Osborne’s promised surplus. Yesterday he received a standing ovation from the Tory faithful who seemed unaware that right now he can only claim to have increased the deficit. Even by mad political standards, to applaud someone for merely promising an unlikely achievement in ten years time is going some. But it isn’t the succession of pie-in-the-sky utterances at party conferences that worries us, our growing concern is the absence of any references to the real threat to these islands, the enemy within.
As a nation we are now so brainwashed in the art of political correctness that every one of us hesitates to mention the name Muslim in the same breath as terrorism. In one sense this is understandable since most Muslims are as peace loving as the next man or woman, but the fact remains that British citizens are taking an active part in atrocities being committed in a growing number of countries.
In Syria thirteen of the brigades within the so called Freedom fighters have formed a new alliance that excludes the rapidly growing al-Qaida-linked group. Jihadi groups have rolled into town across northern and eastern Syria, and intense clashes have broken out as those fighting to rid the county of Assad have come to realise that their supposed allies have a quite different agenda and are prepared to indulge in the most appalling violence to achieve a Islamist state.
In their midst are some of our fellow countrymen who have been radicalised by madmen allowed their human rights to stay in this country, and to preach propaganda the like of which we haven’t heard since the birth and death of the third Reich. Having completed their insane ‘missions’ they return to the UK free to recruit more naïve and impressionable young men. Sharia law they cry, and we avert our eyes.
Anyone prepared to simply shrug and rationalise by suggesting that it is not for us to criticise young man willing to stand up for what they believe in should read this weeks edition of The Spectator. It contains a long account of the experience of a survivor of the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya, an atrocity believed to have been led in part at least by British citizens.
Simon and Amanda Belcher were on their way to a cinema at he Mall when they heard the sound of gunfire. Within minutes they were hidden under parked cars. Gunmen approached and – standing feet away – announced in perfect English that; “We have come to kill you Christians and Kenyans because you have been killing our women and children in Somalia. Any Muslims can go”. “I’m a Muslim!” shouted one man with children, and he was allowed to go. The gunmen then shot everyone else.
Suddenly the terrorists spotted the Belchers. Their eyes, the Belchers recall, were not crazed, they were cold and unemotional. They shot the hiding pair who feigned death and are are now being treated in hospital. Their recollections are chilling in the extreme, they are dominated by groups of gunmen walking the building searching for men, women and children to kill.
This all sounds very much like a story about some distant conflict which we Brits can observe with horror from the safety of distance. To an extent it is ,but the fact of the matter is that increasingly people who live amongst us are involved and it is only a matter of time before atrocities occur here.
It is time to abandon all the academic niceties about human rights, all the innocent potential victims have human rights too!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “During the last few days hundreds have died in al-Qa’eda attacks in Nigeria, Pakistan and Iraq. In some strange way Kenya was attacked because it is an important modern country, with a booming economy and a bright future”….Aidan Hartley
The nightly ritual of locking in the hens was somewhat delayed last night. We had not allowed for the Conservative Party conference when we went to Manchester for a charity event, and we found ourselves caught up in a howling mob. Not the one inside the conference centre but the one massing outside it. According to the police there were over 50,000 protestors, it felt to us like the whole world and his banner-bearing wife.
If the banners were any indication the grievances were many, ranging from NHS cuts and Rupert Murdoch through to warning bells for cats. The overall impression we gained as we were jostled around was that our dear leader is not generally held in the affection which we codgers bestow on a daily basis. The result was that we were too late for our event and, to make things worse, had to wait for what seemed a lifetime for a train home from Oxford Road due to cancellations caused by an escaped puma on the line at Wigan. At least I think that was what the garbled announcement said, it was hard to be sure given that the massed ranks of the beneficiaries of private enterprise were chanting slogans.
At the time we were less than sure as to why Murdoch featured amongst the placards. Given this morning’s headlines it may be that the bearers knew something we didn’t – not a difficult achievement. It seems that our dear leader stands accused of misleading Leveson on his friendship with Rebekah Brooks. Leading journalist Matthew D’Ancona has timed the publication of his new book, ‘In It Together’, to coincide with the gathering of the Tory great and good, and claims that David Cameron misled the Leveson inquiry when he said that his friendship with Rebekah developed only after her marriage to his Eton contemporary and confidante Charlie Brooks.
According to D’Ancona, a journalist with close links to 10 Downing Street, it was Rebekah who brought Cameron closer to Charlie, not the other way round. Brooks, says D’Ancona, got very close to the PM by a “mixture of charm and persuasion”. Her charm, he reports, enabled her to “break through Cameron’s armour”. Given that Ms Brooks faces trial in October, and that no action has been taken on implementation of Leveson, the coming month may well prove a troublesome one for our hero!
In fact a quick scan of this morning’s papers suggests that the Gods that descended on Manchester yesterday are troubled indeed. Several organs report that the decision to bring forward the Help to Buy scheme was only made when Miliband the younger announced his package of measures aimed at curbing the cost of living. Every economist quoted contends that there is a real chance these subsidised mortgages will create another boom-bust, and it is interesting to note that Gorgeous George Osborne has included in the small print an arrangement allowing the Bank of England the right to call a halt should house prices start to rocket. That is a huge political gamble given that the new Governor Mark Carney, although hand-picked by Osborne, is nobody’s fool or poodle!
There is less political risk in Osborne’s other wheeze, the one involving the long-term unemployed reporting daily to job centres. This will be applauded by many but not by the already hard-pressed centre staff, whose numbers have already been cut. The likelihood is that those reporting will find them selves permanently encamped in the queues which, even now, move at the pace of Eric Pickles in a sack-race.
Amongst Conservative activists the mere mention of the Lib Dems brings extra furrows to troubled brows, and there was apparently a good deal of off-stage chatter about the possibility of coming to an agreement with Ukip. The plan being touted by even some ministers is a repeat of the deal Ramsay MacDonald struck with Lloyd George many moons ago. The Labour Party was given a clear run in seats that they could win in exchange for their not contesting Liberal potential gains. But we all know what happened to MacDonald!
Arguably the greatest worry amongst the Cameroons is that of image. They desperately wish to dispel the idea that the party is dominated by the better-heeled. They probably feel somewhat troubled by the much vaunted Aussie humour of their new PR guru, Lynton Crosby. At a well publicised pre-conference briefing for MPs, Mr Crosby said that he had been startled by the expensive jewellery when he attended a fund-raising dinner in the prime minister’s seat of Witney/Chipping Norton. “if just one of the ladies had sold just one earring we could have funded the Tory party for three months”, he said.
With friends like that who needs enemies, even if they do come in batches of fifty thousand?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “We ought never do wrong when people are looking!”…Mark Twain
It is said that laughter is the best medicine. That may explain why our bunch of old codgers continues to defy the grim reaper and devotes its time to rearing chickens, creatures so dim-witted that they reinforce our delusion of being the most intelligent beings still walking this earth. Hobbling really, but you know what I mean.
Many of our abilities have drifted away with the years, but one has if anything improved – the ability to find humour in almost everything. There was a time when most of the population seemed to share this tendency but today many seem to take themselves, and life itself, very seriously. Every pronouncement from on high is mulled over, analysed and stored away ,and it never seems to occur to folk that the speakers or writers may simply be, to quote our dear leader in an article published this morning, simply “nuts”.
That was his considered view of Ed Miliband’s policies, and we love him for it. Not because his intellectual summary applies more to his opponent than himself, but because he can be relied upon to keep our shoulders heaving as he proceeds from one scrape to another. In fact David Cameron is known affectionately on the allotments as Bunter, a reference to the one and only Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School whose constant misfortunes enlivened those long-gone days of our misspent youth.
Like our hero the Prime Minister does seem to lead a life of scrapes. In the manner of his namesake ‘Dave’ delights us by puffing out his cheeks, and regretting his self-inflicted misfortunes before moving on to another hole which he invariably fails to spot.
Today is no exception. Our dear leader became a national hero with some when he forced through the concept of gay marriage. It was, he proudly told us, a matter of principle and justice. Today he takes a rather different view. It clearly didn’t occur to him that the reaction of a large swathe of his party members would react by joining Ukip. Now he seems to have forgotten the principle and justice bit and announces that had he realised “what it was going to be like I wouldn’t have done it”. Oh dear!
So it is with the NHS. Reports confirm that Gorgeous George Osborne is genuinely furious that Mr Cameron forgot to tell him of the Lansley plan to put £80 billion of public money into the hands of GPs. He is particularly upset at the fact that what has happened directly contradicts the line he, as campaign co-ordinator, took at the general election and even more troubled by the enormous costs involved, not to mention the political hubris. Sources close to the PM say that it slipped his mind during his regular meetings with his Chancellor.
Clearly a few other ‘small’ issues have enjoyed less forethought than Bunter should have allocated to them. He has only just realised that the plans for HS2 are based on the concept of separate stations situated miles from existing ones. Too late. Bunter has already launched his claim that the £50 billion venture will transform life for northerners. It will – they will lose their existing London service and have to spend the time saved by high-speed on walking for a half-hour or so. If only he’d known he could have announced the new HS2 fitness feature.
Meantime the global warming hole looms. Sadly Bunter is already in it up to his ears. The wizard wheeze of pockmarking our landscape with giant windmills is proving less than popular and the announcement of financial support being withdrawn does seem a little late. Perhaps Bunter should stay in that hole for a while since a bigger one looms.
Housing. Thousands of acres of post-industrial sites and infill land, in the South as well as the North, are lying idle. They offer a clear opportunity to avoid the political fall out from rural communities faced with conversion into suburban sprawls. Too late our dear leader’s close friends have described the government’s ubiquitous “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, defined merely as profitable, as “the most philistine concept in planning history”.
But all of these mishaps will seem as nought if rumours of an impending publication proves correct. Apparently Natalie Rowe, the dominatrix once, memorably, pictured with Osborne is about to tell all. She is said to be prepared to name names. “It’s time the truth was told about some men who run the country”, she says. “Men who have been on all fours before me, taking massive drugs…as I whip them senseless”. Crikey again!
Never mind, Life is never dull when Bunter Mark2 is at the helm!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Old age is like waiting in the departure lounge of life. Fortunately, we are in England and the train is bound to be late!”….Milton Shulman
It seems that Mrs Albert was not pleased with our gift of a power drill to mark her beloved’s birthday. According to the great – miniscule actually – man she still holds stubbornly to the outdated sexist view that men should look after house maintenance. As we cleaned out the hens on this sunny morning he rather soured the equally sunny mood by banging on about rough justice, and despite our tendency to ignore his every word the term struck a chord.
Our eye was caught by the story in the Independent about the collapse of a series of leading barrister’s chambers. Michael Mansfield QC, whose clients have included the family of Stephen Lawrence and the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, is one such sufferer. It is, he tells us, the result of the government’s reforms of legal aid. Those who can’t afford to hire legal representation will in future have to fend for themselves and the caseload of barristers will collapse. Mr Mansfield believes that the government is trying to undermine the independence of the bar and “its ability to challenge government decisions”. Whilst we instinctively have little sympathy for barristers, we certainly see this as yet another example of what Mansfield describes as “one rule for the poor, another for the rich”.
The Sun has devoted its page 3 to ‘Tina Headturner’ and the rest of the comic to the news that Alan Lewis, a Tory vice-chairman appointed by our dear leader, has been arrested over an alleged rape of a teenage girl 1n the late 1960s. He has been bailed pending “further inquiries”, and no charges have been brought before a court. Why then have the police decided to splash the news? We are always concerned about allegations regarding something that allegedly happened fifty years ago, we are aghast at the police acting as judge and jury.
Another illustration of rough justice lies at the heart of a story featured in most papers. The focus is on a Nottingham hospital where nurses have been “reduced to tears” by their workload and openly tell of patients being left hungry and dehydrated. Down the road at Kings Mill Hospital in Sutton-in-Ashfield nurses are telling a similar story. They this week told inspectors that; “We cannot go on, it’s terrible, nurses are crying because care is so bad”.
Since the coalition took office 5,500 nurses have been axed, and former Blue Peter presenter Jeremy Hunt has openly admitted that many hospitals are “not staffed to safe levels”. It is rough justice for patients and nurses alike. Right now politicians are falling over themselves to promise improvements in everything known to mankind, it is high time that they committed to rectifying the mess they have made of the NHS. Despite what the unworldly Lansley believes, most people cannot afford private healthcare and the wards available to us are being turned into a nightmare.
The Daily Torygraph does little to stimulate hope of action. According to its lead story Messrs Cameron and Clegg are immersed in negotiations aimed at continuing their heavenly partnership after the 2015 election. How that fits with stories in other papers about a secret pact being forged between Cameron and Farage is less than clear. It does all suggest that our dear leader is not as convinced that “Milband couldn’t win an egg ‘n spoon race”, as he makes out.
But just as we wre concluding that its rough justice all round, a dashing Robin Hood character comes riding to the rescue. Well, Friar Tuck really for it is none other than our favourite pie-eater Eric Pickles. He wants to ban parking spy cameras being used by “overzealous” local authorities to maximise income from parking fines.
In an ever increasingly unjust society the man is a national treasure. he could become our version of Chairman Mao. The rest of them deserve to be eaten alive!
THOUGHTY FOR TODAY; “You know what I hate most about being a public figure? The public!”….Howard Stern
A sunny morning marked Albert’s birthday. It didn’t seem entirely appropriate for someone of a less than sunny disposition, but the nearest thing on earth to the late lamented Compo is our national treasure and we presented him with a new anorak and a power drill for the long-suffering Mrs Albert. Speaking personally I would miss the wee man very much, he provides a sense of balance since some of my eternally cheerful allotment pals always make me wonder just what it is I am missing.
Having said that I have to report that the ex-servicemen are less than cheerful this morning. They have read with incredulity the paper produced by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) thinktank obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act. It seems that the ministry is concerned at the adverse reaction of the public to its plans to blow up Syria and has been devoting time to dreaming up ways of ‘selling’ war. Yes, even the Generals are now besotted with the art of spin!
The paper focuses on ways of convincing us that war is not in fact a gruesome thing. It recommends that the practice of staging “repatriation ceremonies” be quietly abandoned, a clear reference to the processions of hearses carrying coffins draped in the union flag that have been driven thorough Royal Wootton Bassett and, more recently, Carterton.
There is a need, the paper contends, to “reduce public sensitivity to the penalties inherent in military operations”. It also urges that the public should be given a “clear explanation of the reasons for going to war”. It suggests that, when we are unconvinced of the relevance of a campaign we become “acutely sensitive to the level of casualties incurred”. For good measure it suggests greater use of mercenaries and the SAS which, it contends, enjoy less sympathy and attention.
The paper specifically mentions the level of public support for the Falklands conflict, and seems puzzled at the more recent reactions to Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps we can help here. The Falklands affair had a straight forward objective and was called for by a population comprising British citizens. The invasion of Iraq was based on an invented threat to these islands from weapons of mass destruction which could hit the UK within 45 minutes. And even Baldrick could work out that there was no possible end result other than a resentful culture which we simply do not understand.
The exposure of this document serves to remind us of two repulsive realities. At the highest levels of government there lurks a conviction that public opinion can be manipulated by the art of ‘spin’ first introduced by Blair, Mandelson and their motley crew. Secondly, politicians have no concern for lives sacrificed for actions that they calculate will enhance their own reputations.
Unsurprisingly families of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have reacted with fury at the MOD’s suggestions. Deborah Allbutt, whose husband was killed in Iraq, described the proposals as ” brushing deaths under the carpet”. She was not alone. And it was not only bereaved families that reacted bitterly, large numbers of people supported the view that war is never justified unless this country or its subjects are under direct threat.
Yesterday was a black one for the MOD and government. It was also revealed that thousands of British soldiers are being put at increased risk of psychosis and suicide because the authorities refuse to stop using a controversial anti-malaria drug that has been banned in the USA. Our troops are still being given Lariam – a drug described as a modern-day “agent orange” by doctors because if its toxicity. Lt-Col Ashley Croft, who served for more than 25 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps said yesterday that; “For the past 12 years I was saying that this is a potentially dangerous drug, but my warnings fell on deaf ears”.
Thankfully the Syrian reaction has demonstrated that the British public is no longer prepared to support the idea of sending young men and women to die in wars between madmen fighting over which has the best imaginary God.
The callous disregard for the welfare and lives of our service personnel tells us all we need to know about our deceitful and callous new-age politicians.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “How do wars start? Politicians tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read!”……Karl Klaus
THOUGHT FOR TODAY;
Today’s heading is not an indication that we codgers have seen the light and are setting forth as missionaries to darkest Wigan. The old biblical adage seemed a perfect summary of today’s news and since, unlike the tabloid sub-editors, we don’t have a prize for the cleverest headline, we decided to use it as a tribute to Gorgeous George Osborne and other stories that demonstrate that our society is divided between those who hath and those who are, as the cockneys say, brassic lint.
Of course those in the latter category do not include our GPs. Almost 700 of them now earn more than £200,000 a year, of those 160 are trousering over £250,000. Many of them have been able to boost their income by serving on the 211 clinical commissioning boards set up by Andrew Lansley, and whose executives are mainly those handed handsome redundancy packages when the old Primary Care Trusts were abolished. Some of us were naïve enough to believe that GPs were actually going to run the new creations, the reality is that the only effect of GPs attending endless meetings is that getting an appointment is now more elusive that a dinner party with Dave and Sam.
Another story that caught our cynical eyes was the one concerning the Green MP Caroline Lucas. She is to appear in court charged with obstructing the police. What she actually did was to join hundreds of others in a peaceful protest against fracking. Sadly for her she is neither wealthy nor a member of the establishment. Do you really imagine that a Conservative MP would have been singled out by Knacker?
But the big story of the day is the one of the Chancellor rushing to the rescue of our beloved bankers. The EU doesn’t pass many useful laws, but most of us probably gave it two cheers for proposing that banker’s bonuses be capped. Mr Osborne has rushed to their defence and plans to spend taxpayer’s money on a court action aimed at allowing bigger bonuses to continue! In fact our leading bean-counter had a bad-hair day yesterday.
He led the chorus of right-wing rage at the preposterous proposal by Ed Miliband to take money from the energy firms cartel. It is, the chorus had it, the equivalent to summoning the ghost of Lenin. Most of us beg to differ, we are tired of being ripped-off by monopolistic firms happy to greet rises in wholesale prices by jacking up household bills, yet almost never dropping them when prices fall. One of their spokesmen yesterday let it be known that they will fight. You bet they will, nothing must be allowed to slow down their rocketing profits.
Poll;s tell us that we codgers are typical in having lost any sense of political affiliation. But we are pleased by the range of policies announced by Miliband the younger. We don’t agree with some of them but at least it will now be possible to distinguish between the major parties. No surprise that the Prince of Darkness, now known as the Lord Mandelson, has condemned them – he stood at Blair’s right hand as the Labour Party moved to the right of Genghis Khan .
It is indeed a funny old world when Osborne’s multimillion bung to housebuilders and estate agents, otherwise known as Help to Buy, is described as capitalism whilst any move against excessive profiteering at the expense of consumers is regarded by the establishment as a red revolution. Mandelson, Osborne and their pals display an ignorance of economic terms such as “market failure” and” imperfect competition”.
Privatisation is a positive step but only if it results in competition that drives prices down by empowering consumers. It is a thoroughly bad thing when it hands monopolistic control of an essential service with the customer having no real alternative source of supply. Water is a classic example. It is even worse when driven by the old boys network.
So, despite our reservations, we applaud the assault on the excessive profit makers and tax evaders by pale pink Ed. For too many years the hath-nots have felt the need for a champion. It is just possible that they have now found one!
The jury is out but we need no lectures from Mandelson who is no more a democratic socialist than I am a Charles Dickens. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “big business is the art of extracting money from another man’s pocket without resorting to violence!”…..Max Amsterdam
There was a ripple of ironic applause when I appeared on the allotments this morning. My frequent absence for hen-cleaning of late has left me as popular as a boil on a boundary rider’s bum, but hopefully a few weeks of regular attendance will restore my reputation. My explanation does not sound plausible but it is true – I have attended umpteen NHS clinics for investigation of the ‘shadow’ on my lung shown by XRay which has proved to be the result of a plastic cash card in my shirt pocket. Perhaps I should have claimed that I was indulging in trysts with Zsa Zsa Gabor.
But the codgers soon switched their attention to a somewhat younger target. Almost everyone had watched the performance of Ed Miliband at the Labour Party conference and, inevitably, people whose memories now resemble colanders were full of praise for his ability to memorise a one hour speech. How will our dear leader beat this? He could try performing whilst standing on his head, but that would serve only to turn his face even ruddier and who will want to vote for a beetroot?
Predictably the predominantly right-wing papers are wheeling out the Red Ed taunt. Hardly. For those of us whose early years were dominated by such as Nye Bevan he is at best pale pink. But he is shrewd. Although the polls show that the county as a whole is less than impressed with the idea of the two Eds being in charge of the bean-counting, the reading in marginal seats is somewhat different. There the Labour Party leads the Tories by 44% to 33%, and these are the seats that Miliband needs to win to gain the right to select the number 10 curtains. And the policies rattled off will have gone down well there.
Not least amongst these was the attack on the utilities. The announcement of a proposed freeze on prices will in reality draw few critics from any household. Prices have been rising at around 9% annually for several years and it has long been apparent that the big six are operating what is effectively a cartel. British Gas owner Centrica, EDF, Npower, SSE, E.on and Scottish Power have raised bills quickly when wholesale prices have risen yet shown a united reluctance to reduce them when they fall. Over the same time, multibillion -pound profits have soared as have dividends and bonuses.
Of course Miliband is playing the populist card, but he has chosen a good one. Most of the companies on whom we rely for our power are foreign-owned, and their commitment to the people of this county is minimal. The system is bust, there is no real competition. The tycoons will of course threaten blackouts and plague. The answer to that is to introduce new truly competitive suppliers plus real regulation.
Please don’t interpret this endorsement of the thoughts of Ed the geek as an indication of total endorsement. We were concerned at things he didn’t mention. The destruction of the NHS, HS2 and Europe were hardly mentioned and that worries us. Maybe our new stage star reasons that such things are best left to Ukip, who could do Labour a power of good in constituencies held by the coalition? But if we codgers are any guide failure to address these momentous issues will lose Ed a lot of votes amongst those who once voted Labour.
Having said all that we must express delight at the discomfort of all those who described Ed Miliband as weak and non-confrontational. He certainly demonstrated that he is not so, he even lashed out on the Murdoch-Cameron link. He also made clear his determination to be master in his own house and it was amusing to see John Prescott looking as happy as a walrus with a gastric problem. Mind you, we couldn’t help noticing the carefully placed ranks of young and televisual persons who appeared to be transfixed with the delight once associated with a Tom Jones concert.
Funniest of all were the coalition stooges who appeared on last night’s Newsnight. Miliband, they sneered, looks anything but a Prime Minister. Do we conclude from that that they believe that Mssrs Cameron and Clegg do?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” If, one morning, I walked over the River Thames, the headline that afternoon would read ‘Prime Minister Can’t Swim!”…..Margaret Thatcher
Regular readers will have noticed that I am rather late with my masterpiece. Why? Because I was excused hen-cleaning this morning to attend an NHS outpatients clinic. Delays are no ones fault since specialists are often called away to emergencies, and I have no grounds for complaint. In fact for students of human nature, or even nosey old codgers like me, waiting rooms full of Brits are fascinating.
Lock a load of Italians in a waiting room and in no time at all people are making new friends and swapping recipes. Do the same with Brits and observe serried rows of people seemingly absorbed in ten-year old copies of Readers Digest. To my great relief a copy of this weeks edition of Private Eye lay on the table.
It is too late for me to attempt a supposedly reasoned comment so I shall indulge in a little plagiarism. Suffice to say the Eye has carried out, in conjunction with the BBC’s Panorama, a very detailed undercover investigation. The outcome is, to say the least, staggering. The investigation shows that the coalition’s frequent claim to be clamping down on corporate tax avoidance is a sham, a lie.
Over the past two years, through a series of committees comprising notorious tax avoiders including Vodafone, Tesco and HSBC, the most important British corporate tax laws – those governing how multinationals’ overseas profits are taxed – have been reviewed. In parliament David Gauke, deputy to Gorgeous George Osborne, stressed that the rules would continue to “protect the UK tax base from the artificial diversion of profits”.
In cover discussions the investigators have discovered that this assurance was entirely misleading. The coalition has in fact created the opportunity for the biggest companies to slash billions of pounds from their UK tax bills. It knew it was doing so, but pretended otherwise to parliament and the British public.
The Eye and Panorama have an excellent track record in investigative journalism, and this report levels very serious charges against the government. We all realised that its links with the powerful were strong but this is breath-taking deceit on a grand scale.
It all begins to add up. We already knew that HMRC has a mountain of evidence of tax evasion using the offshore accounts favoured by the richest tax evaders. But only one offshore dodger has been prosecuted. Last November, the department’s new head of tax, former City lawyer Edward Troup, told the already sceptical Commons Accounts Committee that the single prosecution masked “another dozen criminal ones in train” following the HSBC disclosure.
Yet inquiries to the Crown Prosecution Service, which takes on the cases as soon as criminal proceedings are “in train”, reveal that there are actually, er, zero further prosecutions of offshore dodgers lined up. By contrast more that 600 less wealthy tax evaders, including builders, plumbers and doctors, were nailed last year for cooking their books.
The establishment will not rush to discuss these serious charges of collusion, But from now on we should treat with great suspicion anything said by politicians about austerity and all being in this mess together. We are being hoodwinked.
To quote Private Eye, for the world’s richest people Britain is now the world’s premier tax haven . Rather than prance and preen at their conferencs Mssrs Cameron and Clegg should answer the most damning accusations ever levelled at their stewardship, and Mr Miliband should start asking questions!
If politics were conducted in the manner of Premiership football, we codgers would be urging the owners of Team UK, whoever they may be, to make a record bid for Angela Merkel. Here we have a leader whose acting skills would rule her out of one of those turgid B movies of old, who has no truck with spin-doctors and is a stranger to make-up in any interpretation of the term. She is just what she appears, honest and down to earth.
As we cleaned out the hens this morning we played the game of ‘what if”. What if Mutti was running Britain. We wouldn’t have to discount almost everything our leader said, we wouldn’t have to suffer endless reckless cock-ups, we wouldn’t have to endure endless revelations about highly questionable links with leading business and media tycoons.
But we are where we are, and that is not a place encased in an air of calming caution. For some time now we have banged on about the privatisation of the NHS and today brings the frst indication that the wheels are coming off the Lansley bandwagon.
Briton’s biggest private hospital group, BMI Healthcare, is one of the supposed saviours of the NHS. As a result of the so-called reforms one in three of its 276,000 patients, at its 64 hospitals, are paid for by the NHS which has been forced to outsource. Five years ago the group’s patients included only 3% from the health service, now the total stands at 33%. And the Competition Commission is extremely concerned at the Group’s dominance in the market, a monopolistic situation looms. Worse still the group is now under huge financial pressure as it stands accused of extracting excessive profits from insurance firms and patients.
Since the failure of nursing home group Southern Cross two years ago, regulators have become increasingly concerned about the impact on vital services of aggressively financed private providers loaded with unsustainable rent or debt commitments. BMI are likely to be obliged to reduce its market dominance by selling off some of its largest hospitals, but even this may not be enough. The financial liabilities now exceed £2 billion and ownership of most of the BMI hospital buildings will next month transfer to lenders, who will act as landlord to the rump operating company, which will continue to trade as BMI Healthcare.
Without boring the pants off every reader let us sum up in simplistic style, a touch iof the Merkels if you like. Companies now being given work previously carried out in NHS hospitals are seeking capital from backers whose motive is, understandably, to maximise their return. The result is that their own profits are severely curtailed and work undertaken must be confined to the easy, more profitable treatments. This in turn leaves NHS hospitals with only the more complex, and therefore least ‘profitable, clinical work. This in turn leads to demands from Jeremy Hunt and his motley crew to merge NHS hospitals, meaning that there is no capacity to take back services transferred to the private sector.
Once profit-making is introduced to healthcare there can only be one outcome – disaster for those who depend on the service, and that means all of us at one time or another. Already services such as the vital cancer network are being scrapped, many more will follow. Most people are less than surprised, this is what one had to expect from a Conservative party obsessed with the supposed power of market forces, what is really depressing is the reluctance of the opposition to take issue with it.
Since this is our Merkel day, it is perhaps also worth wondering if she would have allowed so much money to be committed to a project such as HS2 without proper cost analysis. And what about the result of ill-spent money on such services as libraries? Already 347 libraries have closed their doors snce the coalition took over. The 1964 Libraries Act rules that very authority must provide a “comprehensive and efficient’library service”, but cuts to local authority budgets have led to councils turning a blind eye to their responsibilities.
The children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman, has rightly pointed out that the result of the library massacre will be that literacy will become “the province of a lucky few”. We hear much of discrimination in its various forms, we should add to the list the loss of an equaliser that allows every child, regardless of family circumstances, access to books, storytelling sessions, homework clubs and warm and safe environments within which to discover and explore the world of literature.
It is not in our nature to envy things German, but today as we observe the pointless posing at the various party conferences it is impossible to avoid doing so. It is said that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. In our case the strategy of the Gods is clearly to land us with leaders whose only experience is more appropriate to the stage!
Perhaps we could borrow ‘Angie’ on a job swap with Eric Pickles?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “I’ve decided to take up a life of crime, but I can’t decide which political party to join!”…..Roy Chubby Brown
It was good, as we cleaned out the hens, to look up to see a beautiful blue sky this morning. Only a few white wispy clouds spoiled a perfect ceiling and the sun was already promising a warm day. The origins of the term Indian summer are much disputed but, whatever the truth of the matter, we appear to be about to enjoy one.
It was much in evidence yesterday afternoon when a number of us went along to a garden party in aid of the Rosemere Cancer Foundation. The garden in question lies at the back of a semi-detached bungalow. It is the most brilliant garden we have ever visited and we came away almost green with envy. No ‘ideal’ plot shown on TV matches this, the garden consists of a series of ‘rooms’ separated by low stone walls and trees and shrubs of every kind. Every plant spoke of diligent and loving care, and here and there collected curios caught the fascinated eye. There were even ivy-clad stone wall buildings containing log fires and restful chairs.
Virtually all the materials came free, having been made available by demolition contractors. This little Eden sent us home brimming with ideas and on returning to the allotments we felt a compulsion to launch a vicious attack on the weeds surrounding our pond. By way of a bonus we were presented with a book on chickens, that too demonstrated that we are never too old to learn!
We also met a lot of nice down-to-earth people. Quite a number of them have faced cancer and all were fulsome in their praise of the services at Rosemere. That centre of love and excellence is a classic example of just how far the NHS has come in its battle with man’s greatest enemy. How tragic it is that meddling politicians such as Lansley and Hunt are creating confusion and near despair.
We were amused to see in this morning’s papers claims by opponents of Ed Miliband that he is reverting to socialism. Neither he nor his critics seem to have any concept of what socialism is. Rightly or wrongly people such as Nye Bevan created the NHS and welfare state in the belief that all men are equal, and that any introduction of the profit motive would mitigate against the task of turning that belief into reality. Announcing the abolition of the so-called bedroom tax is hardly the start of a return to a just society.
In fact the quickest of glances at the Sunday press suggests that we are in danger of drowning in a sea of lies. Pride of place must go to the right-wing media who have consumed more column inches that Eric Pickles waistline on the revelations of the Brown versus Blair feuding and plotting. How, they ask, can any political party behave in this way. Clearly they have forgotten the treatment meted out to Margaret Thatcher. The truth is that both major parties are riddled with internal rivalries, smear campaigns and skulduggery. The whole bunch of them are dishonest and insincere. To even suggest that they may return to the passion and unswerving beliefs of the likes of Bevan is laughable.
Another lie featured heavily this morning is the slanted interpretation of the latest opinion poll. The Conservatives, scream the headlines, have an 18 points lead over Labour in regard to trust in economic policies. Since the top rating is 38%, one should logically look at the highest reading, which is that 72% no longer trust the government, and 80% distrust the opposition. That sounds much more in line with the comments one hears every day.
Then we have Chris Grayling, a minister who has brought a whole new meaning to the term low profile, prattling on about the dangers of Labour “clobbering the rich”. They, plus the Lib Dems, will, he says, drive the job creators out of the country if they return the top tax level to 50%. Since virtually none of the large companies at the heart of job-creation pay UK taxes, and none of the parties shows any inclination to offend them, that seems less than likely.
And today’s tidal wave of fibs is not confined to politicians. Today’s Sunday Torygraph devotes a lot of space to claims that global warming is an invention, that the ice-caps are not melting. In fact Christopher Booker goes so far as to condemn such frivolities as “useless windmills”, a very convenient argument for a government rapidly abandoning its supposed green tendency.
Call me naïve if you must but I am inclined to believe the evidence presentd by David Attenborough and the like, and I cannot bring myself to believe that their regular screening of films recorded from above are falsified. Do we believe media political flunkeys or Attenborough? Quite.
Anyway enough of lies, I’m off to have a pub lunch with a policeman friend. I shall ask him if the Home Secretary is telling the truth when she says that police targets have been abolished, and that the funding cuts have not affected front-line policing. I think I know what his expletive pockmarked reply will be!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Nixon was a typical politician who would cut down a redwood tree, and then mount the stump and make a speech on conservation!”…Adlai Stevenson
Hidden cameras on the walls of the exclusive Wafi shopping mall in Dubai captured, in 2007, two Audi S8s smashing through its glass doors. The first – white with silver wheels – crashes through in reverse, while the second – a black car with a woman at the wheel – drives head on. The white car pauses briefly as a man in a black bodysuit and balaclava jumps out before the driver hits the gas again. You have to imagine the screeching of tyres as they speed on through the public atrium and reverse the car into the door of the Graff jewellery store.
The man in black runs into the shop and another joins him; both are carrying revolvers in one hand and small pickaxes in the other, and have pouches attached to their bodies. The store attendants run for their lives and the men calmly, systematically, start to break through display cases. At each one they seem to smash the glass and grab the jewels in one smooth move. You assume they have done this before.Continue reading...
Weeding is said to be therapeutic. That being the case we codgers will soon rank amongst the sanest in the kingdom since many of the allotment plots would now provide an ideal location for a Tarzan production. The recent spell of constant rain has deterred even the most ardent weeders and, the hen-run area apart, our haunt has a neglected appearance. The arrival of the weekend usually promises sport, fell-walking and lounging around. We have all agreed that this one will involve renewing our relationships with our hoes.
Given that Bert the God of weather is apparently planning to switch Phoebus on we – with the exception of Albert who will undoubtedly develop a headache – will restore our beloved place to the standard of Eric Pickle’s larder, neat but empty. The mere thought of it has triggered latent grumpiness about the tendency of things we don’t want outgrowing the things we do.
Having cleaned out the hens and, during the tedious process, having made our resolution we gathered for our morning brew. It was then that our thoughts turned to the news of the day. We noted with interest that Digby Jones, the former head of the CBI, is due to speak today at the Ukip annual conference. As is the norm these days his speech has been released to the media in advance, a strange practice since it tends to make actually attending as pointless as a Sunderland Premiership match. Anyway, we know that our Digby intends to demand an EU referendum now on the grounds that our dear leader has as much chance of renegotiating our membership as we have of travelling on the next moon trip. For good measure he will mention that we pay billions in agricultural subsidies for France. It is perhaps fortunate that the former CBI star has already landed his peerage!
We also mulled over the increasingly ridiculous debate about use of face veils by Muslim doctors. We presume that this is true although we have never, during a lifetime of wandering NHS corridors, seen anyone so attired. But if such dressers do exist they should perhaps be asked how they would feel about having an intimate discussion with someone hidden from their sight.
But it was the talk of doctors that really fired us up. Not the real ones whose numbers are reducing drastically as part of the Hunt plan to improve clinical services, but those of the spin variety. It was the Blairites who introduced this new art, and the likes of Campbell and Mandelson who bewildered us by proudly announcing that they had mastered it. We will put a spin on the facts always seemed to us another way of saying that we will lie to you. And now no self-respecting political leader would even consider existence without a highly paid team of professional liars.
One such has hit this morning’s headlines. Damian McBride was ‘press secretary’ to Gordon Brown and the serialisation of his memoir, Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin, begins today. The book details how McBride attacked Brown’s rivals by briefing about their sexual affairs, alcoholism or internal political rivalries. He accepts that at times he became “a cruel vindictive and thoughtless bastard”. For good measure the Blair camp, via its own ‘spinner’, Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, released counter attacks, in one of which they described McBride as “Damian McPrickface”. What emerges is that little attention was being paid to running the country whilst a great deal was invested in internal abuse and lies. Hardly surprising then that when they did find time to address the public they were, to say the least, economical with the truth.
This sort of behaviour is now at the centre of both Conservative and Labour parties. My first awareness of it came some years ago when a senior associate of Tony Blair told me that they had commissioned a major study of Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, who had published a number of damaging revelations. Their friends at the tabloids had even checked through his dustbins, Sadly, said my informant, the man had no skeletons they could expose.
Today such practices are common. Today one of the spin merchants has spread the story that, as a boy, Nigel Farage sang ‘Hitler songs’. We codgers are relieved that they are not researching us since the songs we sang as boys would have made even Adolf cringe.
It all adds weight to yesterday’s piece in which we reflected on the collapse in public confidence in politicians. Political parties are, we argued, heading for extinction. We should have added thank heavens for that!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “We ought never do wrong when people are looking!”….Mark Twain
It was still dark as I drove along the M6 this morning. Dark, wet and depressing. I had promised to be back for the hen-cleaning, and felt frustrated by the vast range of trucks and cars impeding my progress. How strange it is that so many of us have to rush around at ungodly hours, just how important is the work that draws us from our warm beds? I do know various people who would use the local trains if only they were remotely reliable. How will HS2 help them?
Such random thinking always seems to emerge in traffic-jams, and this morning I made a conscious effort to focus on rather more momentous issues. Given that the radio was replaying the oratory of slick Nick Clegg I had to settle for that. In effect he was peddling the idea that coalition government is here to stay, and that the Lib Dems will forever serve as a brake on the mad people of the right and left. It is a clever ploy, one that just might see Master Clegg permanently entitled to all the trappings of power without troubling responsibility.
But it seems to me that the king of U-turners is right in one respect at least, politicians are going to have to get used to loss of absolute power. This is well illustrated by the ludicrous annual conferences. A decade os so ago they were meaningful in that the attendees were party members determined to have their say. In 1953 the Conservatives had 2.8 million members and the Labour Party 1 million. Today those numbers have shrunk to miniscule levels. The website ConservativeHome (which now stages its own conferences) suggests that the total party membership is below 100,000 – less that half the number when Cameron was elected leader. Labour’s number is harder to calculate given that the trades unions affiliate people without asking them, but the number becoming members by choice is probably even lower that the Conservative total.
The result is that the annual conferences are merely PR functions aimed at maximum TV coverage for political Oliviers. Policies are conceived and honed by a small coterie of aides in London and their masters are simply charged with the task of selling them.
What has happened is that the old concept of society being divided into a party of property and one of workers is dead. It was perhaps the advent of ‘New’ Labour that drove the final nail into the old order, that and the progressive elimination of the labour-intensive factory floors. In truth there is now little significant difference between the parties. Fiscal policy? Osborne now borrows more than even Grumpy Gordon proposed. There simply is no divide in opinion obvious enough and large enough to suggest why half the country should want to be on one side and the other half on the other.
Political affiliations are fading because the population is becoming less and less tribal. A few days ago we reported on the national attitudes survey which demonstrates that only a small percentage of the population now identifies with one political party. Just because we don’t think an air strike on Libya is a good idea doesn’t mean that we think free schools a bad one. Yet every election asks us to choose between baskets of policies. The political system offers us only fixed menus when most of us really want to go a la carte..
People have not lost interest in politics, merely in political parties. The success of groups like TaxPayers’ Alliance and 38 Degrees shows there is plenty of interest in political issues. But so many of these do not fit neatly into party labels. The result is a growing proliferation of minor parties. Ukip is an interesting example. Its founder, Alan Sked, has left because he believes that it is attracting members who are racist or anti-intellectual. He now wants to start up a new anti-EU party, this time one that opposes the so-called bedroom tax and seeks to nationalise the railways.
He is likely to be unhappy in any party for long. But then most if us in our hearts are Skeds; we find ourselves with a range of opinions which straddle the manifestos of all the major parties, and many of the minor ones too. The next election will see the birth of many more of the minor category. The Save the NHS party will field over a hundred doctors, does anyone disagree? But if elected under the present system the doctors would have to produce policies on many other issues.
Let me end with the future scenario as seen by a bunch of old codgers. The public has made it clear that it sees the idea of political parties as dead. But how do we kill them off? We are destined to trundle along being governed by two and a half parties which have ever fewer members, and no doubt end up being propped up with taxpayer’s money. But MPs are sensing the national mood and are likely to become far less responsive to the whips. Syria will be but the first of many ‘rebellions’.
In due course existing conventions will crumble. The Prime Minister and the main offices of state will be directly elected, encouraging more and more independent candidates to come forward. Every policy will have to command support in the Commons on its merits. Then the country could simultaneously vote for both welfare reform and a mansion tax without considering supposed party loyalties.
Yes it will be messy in a sense, a PM would be forced to work with people he or she had not chosen to work with. But that would resemble real life – what business is run along tribal lines, with two slates of executives constantly trying to do each other down?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “The public has decided that the future of democracy lies elsewhere: in popular protest, single issues and so on!”…Ross Clark
This morning was not one to send the spirits soaring. The clouds were so low that one could imagine a pole-vaulter clearing them, the rain relentless. Had Voyager 1 carried a film of the scene on the allotments it would have puzzled the aliens expected in 40,000 years to watch a message from Jimmy ‘Peanut’ Carter. They would assume that the great sporting activity of the by then extinct human race was mad old blokes chasing equally mad feathered creatures through miniature lakes.
But back here on planet Earth we have more immediate issues to ponder than a version of our beloved Star Trek. As the staged-managed Party conference season gets underway we plan to focus on the omissions, the failures that the snake-oil salesmen will conveniently forget to mention. High on our list will be the banks and brewers, who are cheerfully carrying on as before having persuaded their friends in government to sheath their claws.
Five years to the day after Lloyds bought HBOS – thus sealing its fate as one of the biggest basket cases in banking history – Gorgeous George Osborne announced that he had managed to sell a slice of the mortgage lender back to the private sector. The critics contend that he could have held out for a bit longer, got a higher price and netted more than its £60m profit – but that would have denied the history graduate at No 11 his chance to inscribe a punctuation mark in Britain’s contemporary economic history.
In the Osborne narrative, the great aberration in recent history came in the latter days of Labour when Blair and Grumpy Gordon took it in turns to blow up the economy. No word here about sub-prime or Lehmans or the Conservative part in unleashing finance. He even claimed yesterday that Labour had “forced” taxpayers to bail out the banks. But no record exists of the Conservatives begging Alastair Darling not to nationalise Lloyds or RBS.
At the time Mervyn King said, in a diplomatic US cable, that “Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron have a tendency to think about issues only in terms of politics and how they might affect Tory electorability”. He was right. Before they came to office the dynamic duo opposed quantitative easing, only to immediately after the election encourage the Bank of England in its £375 billion QE programme. It is a sign of how feeble Labour’s fighting machine is that the party could not manage a strong rebuttal.
The new government also promised a reform of the real villains, the Banks. What do we see at Lloyds today? Another housing bubble pumped up by lending recklessly and paying themselves vast sums for doing so. A chief executive, Antonio Horta-Osorio, whose bonus is pegged to the bank’s share price – the ultimate incentive for short-termism. A bank boasting about offering 95% of house prices and, as the nation’s biggest property lender, doing very nicely out if Osborne’s Help to Buy scheme. An institution still embroiled in the PPI mis-selling scandal. The ‘normalisation of Lloyds is a sign of how little progress the government has made in reforming the banks.
The brewers have been equally successful in their lobbying. We codgers know Newcastle well, but similar tales could be told of every major city. At the Newcastle Freeman hospital, consultant hepatologist Dr Steven Masson points to a massive increase in liver failure amongst young patients. The council is so alarmed at both that trend and the nightly scenes of mayhem in the city centre that it is imposing a clamp-down on extended bar opening. Bars and clubs that stay open after midnight will pay fees, tied to the rateable value of premises. Money raised will be used to fund policing and cleaning-up.
The licensed trade is aghast arguing that the government’s failure to impose minimum prices for alcohol sold by supermarkets is at the heart if the problem. That failure is down to the Coalition, the decision to open the way to 24-hour opening was made by Labour. The situation in Newcastle, and many other places, is out of control and politicians have created it.
But pop in to any of the conferences and you will find major sponsors from banks and breweries. A long-gone Prime Minister once remarked that he wondered who was actually running Britain. He added that “it certainly isn’t us!”.
Nothing has changed!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Advertising is the rattle of a stick inside a swill bucket!”….George Orwell
Eskimo Nell would have felt very much at home had she joined us this morning for the daily ritual of hen-cleaning. The teeth of those codgers that still possess such things were chattering, and provided a timely reminder that those long days of gloriously warming sun are over. The serried ranks of once-blooming runner beans now flap tattered and weary, a description that can be applied equally to every codger who drags himself through the gates soon after dawn.
But we draw consolation from the various wildlife habitats that we created during the summer, we draw comfort from the thought that we have done our bit to conserve creatures which, unlike us, cannot look forward to slumping in warm rooms when nature does its worst. Call us alarmists if you must, but we do worry about global warming or, more specifically, the attempts by vested interests to deny its very existence.
Nowhere is this more evident than at Westminster where opponents of the UK’s Climate Change Act are doing everything possible to deride the findings of scientists who continue to warn of the end-result of greenhouse gases. We should perhaps never underestimate the willingness of powerful people to ignore the evidence they find inconvenient. Never underestimate their willingness to appease industrial lobbyists by repeating the nonsense they generate. Never underestimate their readiness to sacrifice the common interests of humankind for the sake of a belief they refuse to abandon.
Let me illustrate this by focussing on the debate in the Commons triggered by a Conservative MP named David TC Davies. He used his speech to produce a long list of conspiracy theories and zombie myths; claims that have been repeatedly debunked but keep resurfacing at the behest of lobbyists. Here are a couple.
“It is not proven”, Davies said, “that the carbon dioxide that has entered the atmosphere is responsible for warming”. Well, of course it isn’t proven – nothing is until it happens. But the scientific evidence is impressive. Is he unaware of the mountain of scientific work on the subject, investigating the likely contribution of sunspots, volcanoes and other natural causes, and measuring the amount of radiation reflected back to the Earth’s surface by greenhouse gases. These detailed studies attribute most of the warming of the past few decades to us. Davies sounds like a man who refuses to stop smoking until he has proof of its harmful effect – by the time he has proof it is too late.
Davies insisted that “in the 1970s everyone was predicting a forthcoming ice age and it hasn’t happened”. But if you study the peer-reviewed literature on climate change published between 1965 and 1979 you will find just seven articles suggesting that the world might be cooling, and 44 proposing that it was likely to get warmer.
Most misleading of all was Davies’s claim that according to a parliamentary answer he had received, “every person in the country will be paying between £4,700 and £5,3oo a year towards the government’s climate change policies. The figures he was given say nothing of the kind. The figures cover the average cost per person for all energy costs including cars, trains, planes, power stations, boilers and insulation. Climate change policies account for a very small part of the total.
Other speakers rushed to give their own invented or distorted views. Labour MP Graham Stringer claimed that the Met Office’s research department had been discredited by an inquiry led by Lord Oxburgh. In fact that inquiry was concerned with a completely different body, the University of East Anglia’s climatic research unit. As Stringer was a member of a parallel Commons inquiry into the unit one can only assume that he was being deliberately ingenuous.
It was cheering to see a Minister, Greg Barker, mount a robust defence of the science, especially as his colleague, the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has now decided to side with the fossil fuel lobbyists.
It is, I know, all potentially as boring as watching paint dry. But it is an important issue. Perhaps some of the Flat Earthers will only realise just how important when the Thames floods Westminster. Surely even the pawns of the lobbyists must be aware of the melting ice-fields.
Then again perhaps not, perhaps their perks earned in the now outweigh any thought of tomorrow’s legacy?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Evidence of manmade climate change is proving inconvenient for an appeasing Commons besieged by fuel lobbyists”….George Monbiot
Bert the Weather God must be as angry as a Sunderland supporter or a pie-less Eric Pickles if this morning’s precipitation is any indication. We codgers have never served on one of those tossing trawlers so often portrayed on TV, but we felt empathy as we splashed about in our oilskins this morning. Cleaning out the hundred or so chickens was not a calming experience and their determination to leap on to every tray of muck made it even less so.
But even in our grumpier than usual mood we were probably ahead of slick Nick Clegg in the happiness league table. This morning a YouGov survey reveals that 59% of all those who voted Lib Dem at the last election believe that the party has got worse, with only 9% seeing it as having improved. To add to the young actor’s woes over a third of Labour voters say they will only contemplate a coalition if he is replaced as Lib Dem leader.
Throw in the fact that Uncle Vince Cable is making clear his distaste for what he sees as Clegg’s “phoney” economic debate at the annual conference, and the picture is near complete. Clearly there are those who are less than enamoured with the idea of jumping into bed with the most handsome opponent and to hell with principles. Not too surprising given that LibDems have traditionally been hostile to nuclear power, ‘unfair’ voting, badger culls , EU referendums, student fees and the user of state power to infringe personal liberty on porn or sexuality.
But another poll out today does offer a crumb of comfort for Mr Clegg. The Resolution Foundation asked people to choose the issue that they see as the one most likely to influence the way they vote. The majority chose a reduction in household bills as a means of improving living standards. At first glance the outcome is not overly reassuring for the party of Lloyd George, who must be spinning in his Welsh grave. Only 3% see the Lib Dems as having any worthwhile ideas. But a second glance reveals that only 7% and 5%% see the Tories or Labour respectively as having a clue either.
The other key question asked which party has the best ideas to bring wages into line with economic growth. Again the Lib Dems came last with only 4%, but again the Tories and Labour fared little better with 6% and 11%.
Some weeks ago we reported on the annual national attitude survey. This suggested a sharp reduction in the number of people identifying with any political party. Today we see this writ large. It is not just slick Nick and his disparate crew that have lost the trust of the people, to a considerable extent they all have with the possible exception of Ukip who seem to be spared the searching lights of the pollsters.
Despite the view of some experts that the Lib Dems will hang on to the seats they hold and thus be able to flash their garters at eager suitors, we still predict that after the election Nick will be able to hold his conferences in a telephone kiosk. That would leave us at the mercy of posh Dave or shy Ed. Not a thrilling prospect is it?
Perhaps it is time for Lib Dem President Tim Farron and Uncle Vince to make their move. The former has let it be known that he likes shy Ed, the latter is the only senior politician on offer who has worked as others work.
But they shouldn’t hide in the shadows for too long, for right now it looks very much as if the imaginary ballot paper box headed none of the above will be a clear winner!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle!”….Winston Churchill
We were relieved to be able to clean out the hens this morning without the rain and howling wind predicted by the weathermen. But the word is that Hurricane Wigan is on its way and the grandson of one members headed off to the Great North Run in apparel normally associated with Atlantic fishermen.
All of which put us in a somewhat gloomy mood when we gathered for our brew. It was soon made even gloomier when the latest revelations about HS2 were relayed by Tom, whose brother lives in Lancaster. HS2 will not serve Lancaster, Penrith or Carlise, leaving them reliant on a slowed-down service on the old line. Lancaster’s direct London service will be cut from 18 trains a day to eight – which will go via Manchester adding about an hour to the journey.
Elsewhere Wakefield’s London service will be reduced from 34 trains a day to 16, and direct trains from Bradford will be axed. Stoke, Stafford, Wolverhampton, Coventry and Rugby will all lose their fast trains to the capital. Our bewilderment about the most expensive project ever undertaken deepens by the day. To add to the mystery Network Rail has raised the possibility of even more drastic cuts. One option, it says, is to change the network north of London into a “hub and spoke” operation with almost all non-HS2 long-distance services axed and passengers not on the new route forced to change on to HS2 at hubs. Since many of the hubs are up to ten miles from central existing city stations this would entail what could be a “difficult interchange”. Ye Gods!
So it increasingly looks as though the supposed benefits of HS2 will be available only to less than half of northern passengers. But now comes another revelation to stoke the feeling that the £60 billion is not being well-spent. Lord Berkeley, the chairman of the Rail Freight Group, has warned that the plan is not based on timetables which would demonstrate that it will disrupt freight traffic to the point where conveying freight by road will be the only option.
It seems that we codgers are not alone in believing that, to quote Berkeley, the government is bulldozing through a “badly-designed project that doesn’t link up properly with the existing transport network”. To the noble Lord and us you can add the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Committee who have predicted a lengthy, costly project leading to a “capacity crunch” in parts of the system.
Today brings news that the ‘Stop HS2’ campaign is about to transform itself into a political party which will field candidates in marginal affected constituencies at the general election. This will attract considerable support from MPs such as John Baron, Tory MP for Basildon and Billericay, who leads an influential group opposed to the latest cuts to army numbers. Yesterday he said that it comes down to financial priorities; “We can either fund white elephants such as HS2, or ensure the defence of the realm”.
The only remotely sensible justification for the project is that it will enable businessmen to spend more time in their London offices. The price we are all going to pay for that is massive and takes many forms. And will wizards still travel to London in 23 years time? Given the rate at which technology is developing the likelihood is that real-time conferencing will have made redundant our present methods of communications.
It is all a complete mystery to us. But just to prove that our minds are not of the, er, single-track variety can we mention another one that swirls around us. Some of our allotmenteers are of the Muslim faith, and they seem just as mystified as the rest of us at the unending argument about the use of niqabs . To us the covering of the face is bound to make positive relationships more difficult. But in specific cases such as court appearances, schools and hospitals it creates an impossible situation.
Nick Clegg says that he is uneasy about telling people how to dress. So are we, but the concealment of the face is a step too far. On this David Cameron is right. The practice has no religious justification and if it is appropriate to ban the wearing of crosses, as many employers do, it is doubly appropriate to do the same with niqabs.
But enough of mysteries and on with Sunday, hurricanes permitting. Perhaps, dear reader, you understand all that happens, perhaps it is only in aged minds that our well-ordered society seems to become increasingly stupid. Perhaps we should seek clarity from our favourite possessor of all knowledge, Eric Pickles?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Hegel set out his philosophy with so much obscurity that people thought it must be profound!”….Bertrand Russell
The mist hanging low over the fields reflected perfectly our state of mind as we codgers gathered on the allotments this morning. Most of us had been to a late-night party, and were more in need of the hair of a dog than the feather of a chicken. Albert, who imbibed rather more than the rest of us, complained that the hens looked as big as Eric Pickles, to my bleary eye they appeared more like Wee Georgie Wood. It was fortunate that we were not scheduled to play in a Premiership match, though I imagine that the incentive of earning £200,000 a week would have enlivened us.
It was only when we gathered for black coffee that Jack reminded us that the party conference season has arrived. Not news to set the pulses racing. It doesn’t seem to have made much impact on MPs either, since 38 per cent of Tory members have let it be known that they are giving their event a wide berth. They are instead attending a private conference at a Chipping Norton hotel for a series of ‘motivational’ lecture by the likes of Lynton Crosby and, presumably, such leading Chipping stars as Rebekah Brooks and Jeremy Clarkson.
The talks will doubtless include presentation skills, an art form now regarded amongst the politicos as infinitely more important than policies. Meantime our dear leader will head off to the MP-less Party Conference to stride the stage in true Olivier fashion. It is said that bullshit baffles brains. Maybe, but for us brainless ones it merely irritates.
Two of our three national leaders devote a great deal of time to the noble art of acting. Messrs Cameron and Clegg are reaching heights normally exclusive to the Palladium. The third, young ED, hasn’t quite mastered the art and is currently performing at the level of a nervous beginner at the local Rep. We sceptical ones are left wondering why British politics is so obsessed with so-called charisma.
We wonder if anyone has noticed that the highest trust rating recorded by any UK politician is 28 per cent, in other words more than 70 per cent listen to their role-playing and disbelieve every word. If so they may also have noticed that there is, not too far from these shores, a political leader with a rating of 80 plus. And she has not been coached in the art of charisma.
In fact Angela Merkel’s public speaking style is as inspiring as the Eurozone quarterly growth figures. Europe’s most powerful leader is, er, boring, snoring. She’s so cautious that she has the exact same jacket in at least 70 unadventurous shades and wears an identical outfit (one of the jackets with dark trousers) every day. If she was a British politician and appeared on Newsnight there would have to be another BBC inquiry, this time into allegedly sending the audience to sleep before bedtime.
A German election looms. Even there they have PR ‘experts’ and one such seized on Mrs Merkel’s habit of placing her hands together, fingers pointing downwards to create the shape of a diamond. He produced a poster featuring “The hands of power”, and was quickly rebuked. It means nothing, said the lady, “I do it because I never know what to do with my arms!”.
I report all this not to condemn Angela Merkel, but to praise her. She has few critics and even those who oppose her admit that she is honest and not easily deflected from what she believes to be right. The German people know only too well the dangers involved in ‘charismatic’ leaders and they have grown to love ‘Mutti’ (mummy) not least because she is utterly charisma-free.
Arguably the most trusted Prime Minister ever to choose the Downing Street curtains was Clem ‘the clam’ Attlee. By his standards Mrs Merkel is as exciting as James Bond. But he was trusted and respected. Sadly the new British penchant for televised debates would have destroyed him.
We codgers have a sneaking admiration for Ed Miliband. Our reservation is based on the fact that he seems decidedly short of policies. Our worry is that he too has become caught up in the phoney fever about charisma. If only he would settle for being boring and combine it with clear policies there would, we believe, be hope for the post-Blair Labour Party.
So no we won’t be following the Party Conferences. If we feel the need for make-believe scripts and polished acting we will go to the local 6-screen Vue cinema!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” I always knew that if all else failed I could become an actor – and all else failed!”….David Niven
Regular readers will known that we codgers are ‘Trekkies’, fans of Star Trek. For sheer escapism there is nothing to beat being transported into outer space and meeting up with the creatures that supposedly exist there. No truck with ridiculous prejudices about the colour of ones skin, no Old Etonians, no politicians more concerned with their expenses than our problems. And today we are agog at the news that the two Voyager probes have reached interstellar space, not thanks to Captain Kirk, but for real.
The twins were launched in 1977 on a tour of the solar system. After beaming back images of Jupiter’s giant red spot and Saturn’s shimmering rings, Voyager 2 moved to Uranus and Neptune, Voyager 1 used Saturn as a gravitational slingshot to power past Pluto. Now the scientists monitoring it have received clear evidence that it has passed through the heliopause, which is the long-hypothesized boundary between the solar plasma and the interstellar plasma. Now we really have gone where no man has gone before.
Voyager 1 is the size of a small car and carries evidence of what humanity looked like in 1977. it carries a gold-plated copper disc with sounds, images and data from that year which scientists hope intelligent life forms will be able to access. If they succeed, they will uncover 116 images and natural sounds, including surf, wind, thunder and the songs of birds and whales as well as greetings in 56 languages and printed messages from US president Jimmy Carter and the then UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim. Music on the disc includes Beethoven, Mozart and Chuck Berry.
Equipped with an eight-track tape recorder, computers with 240,000 times less memory than an iPhone and a nuclear reactor, the leading probe is moving at 11 miles per second. It will remain in contact with earth until at least 2025 and is now 11,625 miles away, a fraction of its possible journey. In about 40,000 years time, both Voyagers will approach stars for the first time.
Given that the human mind cannot cope with the concept of unending space, none of us can possibly make a judgement about alien beings. But the fact that the first representative of Earth they will meet some 40,000 years from now will be peanut farmer Jimmy Carter is disconcerting. They may indeed conclude that humans were a puny race, if their leader was any indication.
Of course the more fascinating question is whether the human race will exist at all when that Southern drawl is first listened to by little, or maybe big, green men. If scientists dealing with the more mundane issue of global warming are to be believed our planet will by then be empty with not so much as an Ikea remaining.
It’s a sobering thought isn’t it? Every day mankind stages wars, invents ever more sophisticated technology and breeds more mouths to feed from ever-reducing resources. Every day each and everyone of us, bar Wayne Rooney, worries about what is going to happen tomorrow. Yet 40,000 years from now, when Chuck Berry gives his first rendering to a galactic audience, all traces of man may be only whistling in the wind.
The whole affair brings a real sense of perspective. Perhaps it isn’t worth getting hot under our human collars about today’s news that our Westminster pack have discovered another way to milk their taxpayer hand-outs. In 40,000 years it won’t matter. Mind you if the suspicions that Eric Pickles is from outer space is correct, he may be out there still fretting.
A final thought. When I was a boy we sang about heaven up above the bright blue sky. Will Jimmy Carter reach it?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on thee, and I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me!”…..Robert Frost
Old codgers such as us often play the if-I-had-my-time-again game. After cleaning out the hens in a soaking drizzle this morning we returned to the fantasy as we gathered for our brew. Given that we were by then wetter than Edward Heath, we quickly dismissed the option of being farmers. Albert would, at the second time of choosing, have been a compere in a Strip Club, whilst several would opt for Banking or Football. They seemed to have missed the point that back in those days Tom Finney earned little more than the average wage, whilst bankers were honest and relatively poor.
I said that I would have become an Estate Agent. It is a profession I often envied during my forty years in the motor industry. If you survived the endless back-stabbing and abuse you eventually saved up enough readies to buy a house, and that entailed an encounter with people who, it always seemed to me, earned a small fortune by putting out an advertisement in exchange for an extortionate percentage of the resulting sale. I’m sure I could quickly have learned the art of describing a miniscule lounge as surprisingly compact. Had I taken the plunge I am sure that by now I would be rich enough to pay for dinners with Dave and Sam.
Clearly I was not alone in my unfulfilled dream, for today we learn that 77,000 have joined the army of noble agents in the past twelve months. The Office for National Statistics tell us that there are now 562,000 engaged in the art of extracting cash from people desperate to own what Pete Seager called a little box made of ticky-tacky.
The number employed in the house flog-it business is now at the highest level since records of such things began. Danny Gabay, director of economics consultancy Fathom, tells us that “We’re no longer a nation of shopkeepers – we’re becoming a nation of estate agents”. Slightly odd isn’t it. Gabay volunteers an explanation; “Yes the economy has turned a corner, but my concern is how sustainable this recovery will be, given that it is based on using government subsidies to encourage already over-extended households to take on even more debt to finance their consumption”. No knighthood for Mr Gabay!
And he will not be alone in incurring the wrath of gorgeous George Osborne. “If you wanted any clearer signal of the hollowness of the so-called economic recovery, you couldn’t make it up”, says Andrew Simms, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation think tank. As if to reinforce these doubters, Barratt Development yesterday announced a 74% increase in pre-tax profits, whilst the construction industry revealed that the number of additional jobs created in the construction industry was only 1,000 over the past twelve months. In other words rising house prices are at the heart of the ‘recovery’.
Even Uncle Vince Cable is beginning to worry. Yesterday he called for an urgent rethink of Osborne’s flagship Help to Buy scheme, which aims to provide government guarantees for low-deposit mortgages from next January. He believes that there are signs of “serious housing inflationary pressures”, and fears the advent of a new “housing bubble”. But Gorgeous George has an election to win, and has made it clear that the various schemes making obtaining a deposit easier, and subsidising the banks to lend, will continue. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed that the new Governor of the Bank of England has warned of interest rate hikes once the unemployment rate falls to 7%, a target that looks likely over the next year given that the huge increases in estate agents are playing a significant part.
We have been here before, albeit not to this extent. House prices will continue to soar until the bubble bursts and millions find themselves with negative equity. To a considerable extent the economy is not recovering, what we are seeing is a false dawn based on the understandable desire of people to find a home at a time when demand exceeds supply. And from January taxpayer money will be poured into further subsidies for people interested in buying house valued at up to £600,000, which sounds suspiciously like an invitation to speculators to fuel price rises even faster.
Meantime we learn that Royal Mail is to be privatised. The proceeds from that, as foreign investors pour in, will certainly help the Chancellor to improve the balance sheet before the election but, that apart, what are the benefits of selling off an essential service that even Maggie felt was a step too far? It will, we are told, lead to the tremendous improvements in pricing which followed the sale of Gas, Electricity and Water.
I sometimes wonder if the claims by government are drafted by estate agents!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” If things get worse, I’ll have to ask you to stop helping me!”….Roseanne
We codgers love telling world leaders that they are wrong, it is so much easier to pontificate from an armchair than to actually face the heat of the kitchen. We had to admit to this when, having cleaned out the squabbling hens this morning, we gathered for our brew. It was the dilemma facing Barack Obama that triggered our contrition.
Clearly the Russians have a vested interest in ensuring that Assad’s chemical arsenal does not fall into the hands of Jihadists, and he must know that they have offered him an escape route from the nightmare of failing to win support from Congress. But implementation of the plan to place the weapons in UN hands will prove extremely difficult and prolonged. Wait for too long and the very people now poised to accuse him of pointless additional slaughter will accuse him of weakness.
As in most things we find ourselves seeking refuge in the creed of Spock of Star Trek fame. We try to apply logic. In this case it suggests that he maintains pressure by announcing a specific date by which a UN team is safely installed, with unlimited access provided by a ceasefire. It also suggests that he confine his strategy to chemical weapons for, whilst to believe that deaths of innocents by chemical bombardment are the only ones that matter is illogical, involvement in the Syrian civil war is even more so since that could only end in another Iraq or Afghanistan.
We may be wrong, but it does seem to us that only cold logic can penetrate the fog of emotion and madness as warring factions slaughter each other in the name of imaginary Gods. However the logic test works more easily when applied to domestic issues, ours being a society that at least has a reasonably rational membership.
A case in point is surely the so-called bedroom tax. At present we have the mother of all emotional arguments. Conservatives trot out the seemingly logical case that other taxpayers should not be expected to subsidise accommodation that is larger than the occupant requires. Labour counter this with talk of victims being moved away from their familiar community, and quote various examples of spare rooms being needed for storage of medical equipment.
To add to the mayhem a UN investigator, Raquel Rolnik, yesterday reported that she was disturbed by the extent of unhappiness caused by the tax and was struck by how heavily the policy was affecting “the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the people who are on the fringes of coping with everyday life”. The situation, she claimed, is as urgent as similar human rights situations in Rwanda and Kazakhstan. Cue the emotional responses – the government cries rubbish, the opposition yells we told you so.
Now slap on a large dollop of logic. In most areas the local authorities admit that they have no vacant affordable housing, no way of providing one or two bedroom accommodation. It follows that logical though the idea of people with excessive space downsizing to make way for larger families, it is incapable of implementation. Therefore forget the emotional arguments and abandon an idea – good or otherwise – that cannot be proceeded with. Save your collective breath and work on something that can see the light of day.
As you will gather we codgers love the game of logic. Every day brings examples to play with. The BBC bosses have destroyed their own credibility by handing out vast sums of taxpayer’s money to redundant executives without so much as a thought about the need to do so or the public reaction when, inevitably, the facts emerge. The police and CPS have serious amounts of egg on their faces as a result of a TV star being acquitted of charges publicised heavily by them over two years. Did it not occur to them that maintaining a discreet silence until such time as a trial would have been a more sensible and fairer approach?
And one could fill a roll of wallpaper with logical questions about High Speed Rail. If its aim is to free up capacity why not simply expand the existing network? If its aim is to provide a working environment for entrepreneurs does anyone know whether some thirty years from now they will still be whizzing about on trains rather than using real-time technology?
We codgers are still sane enough to realise that Spock was a fictional character. But whoever wrote the script was on to something big. We don’t need risk-assessments, spin-doctors or point-scoring politicians. We need logic, oodles of the stuff!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Many have brains like Einstein – dead since 1955!”….Gene Perrit
A sunny morning always lifts the mood as we clean out the hens and collect the eggs. It is at times like this that I notice the change in attitudes to the news, something less evident on wet mornings when words are few and cusses many. I find myself remembering times when most discussions were based on an apparent acceptance that what we read was what was. No longer.
If our group is in any way typical we have become more individual, liberal and cynical. To an extent this is due to the constant drip-feed of opinion polls which tell us that we are no longer as gullible as was once the case. A good example is the case of the Union barons response to Ed Miliband’s proposed reforms to the relationship of Unite and the rest with the Labour Party. Disgraceful they cried, this will torpedo his plans to choose the curtains at Number Ten.
Within days a poll revealed that over 60 per cent of Union members believe that young Ed is spot on, and the proposed changes will make a significant number more likely to support him come the election. Just a decade ago the unionised workers accepted the word from the dynosaurs on high as gospel and kept their thoughts to themselves. Now they draw strength from the knowledge that many others think exactly as they do.
A similar example can be found in the case of Syria. The British people, boomed our dear leader, demand action. He lost the Commons vote since many MPs had been made aware by YouGov that the vast majority of the people demanded exactly the opposite. Then we have Gorgeous George Osborne’s claim that the economic recovery is underway. We quickly learn that the majority believe otherwise.
It would of course be foolish to attribute the discernible change in public attitudes solely to polls but they must be a major factor. In the new age of mass communications people feel liberated as individuals, able to establish what others think and to dip into the vast reservoir of thinking and debate.
Yesterday my theory received a boost with the publication of a study by NatCen Social Research, which surveys a representative sample of more than 3,000 people annually. It found that the nation has changed beyond recognition in the three decades since it first began examining society. People are now much less bound by class, gender and sexuality. I venture to suggest that increasing knowledge of what others really feel has played its part.
The researchers found a recent shift towards a “more sympathetic stance on benefits and recipients”. Osborne and his pals talk of scroungers imagining they are tapping into the public mood, they are wrong. Perhaps this is partly explained by the fact that only 20% now trust government to put the nation’s needs above those of a political party. In fact trust in Westminster has all but collapsed.
No great surprise then that the chasm between what most politicians advocate on Europe and what people feel is enormous. A record 67% want either to leave or to remain only if the EU becomes less powerful. The Lib Dems and Labour party are completely out of step with what the electorate demands.
One of the biggest changes in attitude relates to homosexuality. In 1883 only 41% thought it “acceptable for a homosexual person to be a teacher in a school”. Now 83% think it acceptable. This may well reflect the fact that in 1983 most people identified with a religion, now only around half do so.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest change relates to the Banks. Back in 1983, 90% thought that Banks were well run, now just 19% believe that. Almost as predictable is the fall in public esteem of newspapers. Less than half of the 53% that thought them honest and well run in 1983 now believe that. Rupert Murdoch et al are losing their power to influence.
Wherever you look in this fascinating insight into what we really think you find one common thread. The old order of Britain, where the traditional pillars of society were respected, has suffered a huge loss of public trust. Even the monarchy is down to 45%.
To me the most interesting finding of all is that a large majority believs that it can now influence what politicians do. It will become increasingly hard for MPs to toe a party line that they know is deeply unpopular with their constituents. No longer will they be able to merely ask their inner circle of activists and choose to believe that they are a reliable guide.
The same pattern probably applies in the United States. Barack Obama cannot lightly dismiss from his thoughts on Syria the fact that over 70% of his countrymen oppose any involvement. Polls there, as here, have given the silent majority a voice.
There are of course those who belong to the Doubting-Thomas school of thinking. Our own Albert believes nothing and no one. It follows that he doesn’t believe the findings of any survey or poll . But he is, to quote Bob, spitting into the wind!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “ Public opinion, at least partly, reflects the behaviour of the people and institutions in question – whether they be politicians, journalists or bankers. So their future public standing lies to a large extent within their own hands”…..NatCen Social Research survey.
Take a tip from me – if you are considering joining the national rush to have chickens in your garden give it some thought. I say this after yesterday’s experience when Albert – who else – left the gate to the outer hen-run open. A hundred or so hens on the rampage can do a lot of damage in one afternoon. Bang went Bob’s dream of glory in the annual show, only a demented judge would award marrows pocked-marked with what look like bullet holes. And his potentially prize-winning sweet-peas are no longer sweet.
In fact the whole allotments area looked like a war zone when we trooped on last night to lock up. Appropriate really since our chat over a brew this morning, once we had concluded our shouting-match with the world’s leading mishandler of gate-bolts, was about the plans being made for the WW1 centenary ‘celebrations’. Never slow to climb aboard any bandwagon our dear leader has spoken with his usual apparent excitement about a “truly national celebration’. Plans are afoot for an educational programme, an overhaul of the Imperial War Museum and marches by the bucket-load. The committee responsible seems convinced that the only potential pitfall is the risk of offending Angela Merkel.
They are wrong. The pitfall lies in having any celebration, in reality there was no “glorious conflict”. If you believe otherwise I can only recommend that you get hold of a copy of the recent best-selling book, Forgotten Voices of the Great War, written by historian Max Arthur. It comprises simple transcripts of soldiers remembering what happened to them, and includes long-fiorgotten interviews with both British and German troops who served on the front line, a place of sheer hell.
We all knew that neither side advanced more than a mile or so, and became literally entrenched. Chinless wonders many miles behind the action ordered charge and counter-charge, and every command of ‘over the top’ resulted in massacres as men stumbled through the mud toward the waiting machine-gun emplacements. The trenches invariably filled with water with which bodies and excrement vied to produce disease.
The recorded descriptions defy human understanding. Even through the rose-tinted glasses of history no one can read this book and find even the remotest justification of the word glorious. The battles were insane, descriptions of a fate worse than death, a state many of the interviewees saw as not only inevitable but an escape from a living nightmare.
A whole generation was slaughtered and it was only the arrival of large American battalions that finally ended the carnage. Many a shell-shocked combatant’s mind lost any sense of reality and execution was the reward for months of bravery and endurance over and above the line of duty.
Of course we should remember all those who fell, and those who lived to tell the raw truth of what happened when, on both sides, lions led by donkeys were slaughtered. Comments about “only a few thousand deaths” on daily bulletins tell us clearly that politicians and generals alike lost all sense of perspective and humanity.
There are occasions when war is the only defence of one homeland. But if politicians have ever encountered the vile reality of war they will know that it has to be the very last resort.
Several of my pals have seen active service, and to a man they recoil with horror at any suggestion of celebrations to mark the greatest example of the folly of man. They believe that any events staged to mark the centenary of WW1 should feature the revelations of Max Arthur.
Today we have wars between madmen who are prepared to kill or die as part of a debate over who has the finest imaginary God. Perhaps sanity is beyond their grasp but Blair, Cameron and all those who advocate Western intervention should study the reality, not the glorious illusion, of what really happened one hundred years ago!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Those of us involved are concerned that war will be presented as something glorious and part of our national heritage, when it isn’t. It was a total disaster that was unnecessary and destroyed a generation!”…Brian Eno, supported by Jude Law, Alan Rickman and Carol Ann Duffy in the “No Glory” campaign.