A man is killed and a woman is injured after a runaway car rolled down a street in Swansea, trapping them underneath. …read more
Manchester City beat Southampton to move into second place and cut Chelsea’s Premier League lead to six points. …read more
The Chinese embassy tells a cross-party group of MPs it will not be able to go ahead with a planned visit to Hong Kong. …read more
Further allegations of corruption during the bidding process to stage the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 are made. …read more
From time to time we codgers enjoy a day off from our allotments routine, and today finds me without a shovel in my hands. As a result I cannot reflect on the daily doughnut conference, which attempts to summarise the views of a cross-section of veterans on the news of the day. My views on their own are not worth repeating so today I am reprinting a poem which has graced the walls of our hut for many a year. It reads:
How do I know my youth is all spent? / Well, my get up and go has got up and went / But in spite of it all I’m able to grin / When I think of where my get up has been.
Old age is golden so I’ve heard said / But sometimes I wonder when I get into bed / With my ear in a drawer and my teeth in a cup / My eyes on the table until I wake up.
As sleep dims my eyes I say to myself / Is there anything else I should lay on the shelf? / But I’m happy to say as I close the door / My friends are the same, perhaps even more.
When I was young my slippers were red / I could kick my heels right over my head / When I grew older my slippers were blue / But I could certainly dance the whole night through.
Now I am old, my slippers are black / I walk to the store and puff my way back / The reason I know my youth is all spent / Is my get up and go has got up and went.
But I don’t mind when I think with a grin / Of all the grand places my get up has been / And since I’ve retired from life’s competition / My schedules all scheduled with great repetition.
I get up each morning and dust off my wits / Pick up the paper and read the obits / If my name is missing I know I’m not dead / So I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.
Bit infantile and hardly Wordsworth. But food for thought!
A minute’s silence is held at the scene of a helicopter crash in Glasgow exactly a year after 10 people lost their lives in the tragedy. …read more
Chancellor George Osborne is to announce an extra £2bn in funding for the health service across the UK in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday. …read more
Only one of our members was sufficiently brave, or daft, enough to head for the big stores yesterday. This morning Alan pleaded guilty but insane, having been caught up in what amounted to a mass brawl. Tesco, Asda and the rest had failed to put extra security measures in place and avarice quickly dispelled the myth about Brits being addicted to orderly queues. There is a section of our society that has no scruples about unprincipled greed – those of us old enough to remember the blitz of WW2 recall looters descending on bombed property and even robbing corpses of jewellery. It seems that their descendants are maintaining the old standards.
As we cleaned out the hens this morning our sympathy extended solely to the police. Despite having promised not to do so the coalition has cut their numbers to the bone, yet they are still expected to ride to the rescue when supermarket bosses behave like irresponsible lunatics. And hardly a day passes but ministers apportion yet more inappropriate tasks to Knacker’s long list. Yesterday our dear leader went to a fork-lift manufacturing factory to announce his new wonder plan to restrict immigration, and included a proposal that migrants will have to report regularly at a police station to prove that they are in regular employment. In our neck of the woods they will struggle to find one that is still open.
That apart, can we seriously contemplate a society operating in the style of the Third Reich? The reality is that the problem caused by the continuing huge growth in migrants is one of capacity. Of course we must welcome needed skilled workers, but our infrastructure and essential services simply cannot cope with an ever increasing population. Sadly it seems that only Ukip recognise this.
Those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first send mad. As we gathered in the hut it seemed that way to us this morning. Yesterday we even had the former Chingford Mauler, Norman Tebbit, crawling out from under his stone to propose a test for citizenship – something to do with whether the new arrival’s ancestors fought the Nazis. it’s not about lineage, it’s about capacity your demented Lordship!
Apart from which we have to suggest that another myth surrounds us. The one about being proud to be British, and we are not about to talk about the obvious exceptions in Scotland, Bradford, Tower H,ills and the rest. Instead take a look at our greatest current examples of heroes who wrap themselves in the Union Jack. Lewis Hamilton is Britain’s first multiple Formula One champion for 41 years, and has spoken with great charm and articulacy this week on platforms as diverse as the Today programme and TalkSport. A true Brit, someone to restore pride in our shattered national consciousness.
Well, not quite. Our hero’s flying visit to Britain this week was an all-too-rare one for the driver who left his country for the tax haven of Switzerland at the tender age of 22. The hypocrisy of Hamilton draping himself in the flag, while escaping his dues to the Exchequer by denying British residence, can stick in the craw. In truth Hamilton is just one of many. Perhaps we codgers are simply too old-fashioned, but we find the concept of true Brits who refuse to pay taxes hard to stomach. It goes without saying that the same applies to our great business leaders who were wheeled on stage during the Scottish referendum to lecture us on the wonder of Britishness.
Perhaps we are losing our sense of what is honest and upright. it would hardly be surprising given the standards set by our leaders, not to mention their obvious disdain for us Plebs, white-van owners and Black Cab drivers. But the worrying aspect is that even those who remain on our codger’s honour list seem to be falling from grace. We say that having read an interview with Kirstie Allsopp who graced the pages of British Airways magazine ‘Highlife’ last month. Asked what she loved most about London she included “a great place in Kensington Church Street called the Lacquer Chest which has an incredible collection of 18th and 19th century glassware and ceramics”.
We would like to believe that only shortage of space prevented true-Brit Kirstie adding that the shop is owned by the parents of her partner, Ben Andersen!
There could be about 10-13,000 victims of slavery in the UK, far more than previous estimates, analysis for the Home Office suggests. …read more
Comedian Lenny Henry and former Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn are among those chosen to guest edit BBC Radio 4’s Today programme over the festive period. …read more
Scotland’s new first minister is to say that smashing to “smithereens” the glass ceiling faced by women is an important part of tackling inequality. …read more
The Bristol landlord wrongly linked to the murder of Joanna Yeates four years ago has spoken of his pain at seeing his arrest recreated for a forthcoming ITV drama after he was invited on to the set by producers during filming.
Retired teacher Christopher Jefferies was arrested when Yeates, who rented a flat from him, was found dead on Christmas Day 2010. He was questioned for two days before being bailed by police and eliminated from the inquiry several months later. Vincent Tabak, who lived next door to Yeates in Bristol, was jailed for life in October 2011 after being convicted of her murder.Continue reading...
Police are called to supermarkets across the UK amid crowd surges as people hunt for “Black Friday” offers. …read more
A speeding driver who killed two women on a pedestrian crossing is jailed for nearly five years and banned from driving for a decade. …read more
A dog is stabbed to death by a police officer during a drugs search in south-east London. …read more
David Cameron urges EU leaders to back his “reasonable” plans to curb welfare benefits for migrants, saying he will “rule nothing out” if they fail. …read more
There was no banter as we cleaned out the hens and collected the eggs this morning. Cricket has always been an important part of our lives, and we codgers had all followed with great interest the exploits of Philip Hughes, the rising Australian batting star. His tragic death has shocked us all. We realise that tragic deaths happen every day but there is a special poignancy here. This likeable, talented young man died not as a result of war or disease but whilst playing the game that we all associate with tranquillity, fair play and, yes, an escape from the dangers and horrors of life. Phil was well known within the cricket fraternity for in addition to his appearances in Australian Test and Shield matches, he had graced several English county teams with his cheerful presence.
We can only imagine the feelings of his family and friends. We can only imagine the feelings of Sean Abbott who delivered the fatal ball. He was merely doing what many fast bowlers have done down the years for the ‘bouncer’ has long been an integral part of the game. It is much to soon to reconsider the implications but in due course this will have to happen. There are already limits to the number of head-high deliveries, and extra runs are conceded if these are exceeded. So the means of eliminating ‘bouncers’ completely already exist. But would Phil have wanted what medical experts describe as a freak blow to bring such a game-changing move?
The options for extending the protection of helmets to cover the neck are limited. But one thing is for sure – many moons will pass before we hear talk of ‘chin music’ again. With or without amended laws none but the most sadistic bowler will feel other than reluctant to bang the ball in hard halfway down the wicket.
For the moment we choose to leave the last word to Nick Compton, team-mate and house-mate to Phil at Middlesex. “He had such an impact on my life and I wish I’d told him. I was a different person for being around him. He made me more confident about things and brought me out of myself”, Nick said yesterday. We all often wish that we too had told those who mean so much just how we treasured them. So often we leave it too late. But of one thing we can be sure – the tragic event has reduced all the issues we discuss every day to the level of trivia.
And under normal circumstances there would have been many such this morning as we gathered in the warm hut. Having rushed through additional powers for Scotland as part of a last-minute bribe aimed at obtaining a no vote in the referendum, our dear leader is now moving at an unprecedented speed to kick Scottish MPs out of Parliament for some votes, thus creating a two-tier Commons. The result of the Scottish concessions is copycat demands for autonomy from every corner of the UK, and the result of that will be chaos followed by yet more layers of administration and bureaucracy. We face a constitutional crisis at a time when none of the three main party leaders is capable of stamping their authority; none of them command universal approval even within their own parties let alone the electorate at large.
Yesterday the Prime Minister tweeted that this is “a good day for the UK”. Quite how any of this can be interpreted as being good for the UK is far from clear. And the same goes for our dear leader’s rushed response to the growing threat of Ukip. In an attempt to be all things for all people he has decided to propose draconian changes to benefit entitlements for EU migrants. Even if he is able to win the battle with Brussels it leaves questions hanging in the air. Could it simply lead to more families in poverty? Will it really deter prospective settlers from impoverished eastern European states? It seems to us that we have to either accept the implications of EU membership or get out. David Cameron is simply feeding ammunition to Nigel Farage, and increasing the prospect of many more of his MPs joining him.
Meantime the ‘Plebgate’ affair has taken another twist. A judge has concluded that in all probability Andrew Mitchell did use the patronising word to police officers attempting to do their job. Add this to last week’s other insults by leading politicians and the picture is complete. Those in the Westminster ‘bubble’ have lost touch with the people they supposedly rule.
But none of it really surprises us does it? And none of it represents more than trivia when compared with the death of an honest and much loved young man whose dreams were suddenly ended by something so everyday and seemingly harmless as a cricket ball.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I am not a touchy-feely sort of person but I hugged him when I dropped him off at Terminal Three. We always hoped that Phil would one day return to play for Middlesex again. That, tragically, with many other dreams, ended yesterday”….Angus Fraser.
A morning of mucky mist reminded us that November is racing toward its end. That fact in turn reminded us that our resolution to forget Christmas until December dawns will soon have run its course. Since its modern commercialised version seems to create more stress than goodwill, we codgers would prefer to postpone all thought of it until December 24th, but we all have grandchildren and will soon need to drag ourselves to the shops lest all those who do so from September onwards strip the shelves. As we ruefully mulled this over this morning only Albert confessed to having even given thought to a present list, but given that he has ordered a new set of ladders for Mrs Albert we concluded that our version of sanity was not entirely misguided.
Having cleaned out the squabbling hens we retired from the near-darkness into the brightly lit hut and settled for our daily tribute to our patron Saint Pickles. We noted without too much surprise that the head of the Government’s immigration watchdog, John Vine, has warned MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that the blessed Theresa has been busy burying news. Apparently various reports revealing that the flood is now running at twice the Government’s target have disappeared into the Home Secretary’s drawers – those on her desk we hasten to add given that this is a family blog. Since every other minister behaves in the same way we cannot find it in our hearts to condemn her.
That may well be because our entire capacity for condemning politicians is constantly exhausted by Tony Blair. He left Downing Street many moons ago, but scarcely a day passes but the headlines tell us of his latest exploits and resulting bank balance. This morning we are treated to two such. Given his supposed preoccupation with Godly matters we cannot avoid praying that he takes a vow of silence.
Perhaps unsurprisingly most of his edicts pour forth via his beloved USA. Today he has chosen the ‘Wall Street Journal’ to warn that leaving the EU would be “an act of suicide”. He goes on to advise Ed Miliband to focus on the “middle ground” and to “combine the politics of aspiration with the politics of compassion”. So far removed from reality has George W Bush’s pal become that he genuinely believes that ignoring the working classes and allowing our public services to be swamped is the secret to success. And compassion? Perhaps he has in mind the thousands of families now bereaved as the result of a war justified by lies.
Meantime our fallen hero has addressed the world from a New York podium. “Throughout all human history, never has been extinguished that relentless, unquenchable desire to do good”, he asserted. Which must be why he signed his notorious filthy-lucre deal to advise the vicious regime in Kazakhstan. But we should never underestimate the number of influential people who still swoon at his every pronouncement. Of course they include the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. But close behind him come the decision-makers at Save the Children, the charity that enjoys so much of our fund-raising capacity. Mr Blair was speaking at a bash modestly called the Illumination Gala, at which the charity awarded him a gong and the impressive title of Peace Envoy for the Middle East.
It is, we presume, sheer coincidence that the chief executive of Save the Children UK is Justin Forsyth, who for three years was a trusted henchman of our former Prime Minister. Either way, two hundred of the charity’s staff have signed a letter calling for it to take back the gong. The award, says the letter, is a betrayal of Save the Children’s founding principles. Meantime an online petition criticising the award has quickly attracted over 100,000 signatures.
The Save the Children staff say that the award “endangers our credibility globally”. In fact – apart from perhaps, arms-dealing and autocracy – is there any cause that wouldn’t be damaged by association with Tony Blair who had he, rather than Harold Wilson, been PM in the 1960s would undoubtedly have committed British troops to Vietnam ?
There are those who believe that if the Chilcot report – also hidden in someone’s drawers – ever sees the light of day Mr Blair may face trial for war crimes. Who knows. But one thing is for sure – the consequences for what he did threaten public safety to this day and those who, like one of our allotments gang, lost loved ones in Iraq will never forgive him.
Many who believe in forgiveness take a different view, but until he shuts up even they remain hostile to the hero of Save the Children.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” If Thomas Edison had gone to business school, we would all be reading by bigger candles”…..Mark McCormack.
By a strange quirk of fate Albert and I share the same birthday, although not the same birth year. Neither of us was in a celebratory mood this morning, but we did agree on one thing. From now on we will deduct one year from our age on each birthday, meaning that ten years from now we will be only 82 and 84 respectively. Meantime we did remind each other that today we are the youngest we will ever be. And we did appreciate the generosity of our fellow codgers who had upgraded our morning snack from doughnuts to Chorley cakes. Michael Foot was right when he remarked that old age is not all it’s cracked up to be, but it has its high points!
Having cleaned out the hens in the nearest we get in these parts to a monsoon we retired to our warm hut and paid homage to our earthly God, Eric Pickles, by consuming several of the currant delights. it was at this point that Tom suggested we introduce a new feature to our daily masterpieces in the form of a Twit of the Week award. After due consideration the judges – those who had finished eating – nominated two possible candidates. Since we like to remain politically neutral it as fortunate that the two main parties contributed equally.
Emily Thornberry ran David Mellor close. Her delight at finding a house bedecked with flags and, by way of a bonus, a white van in the drive, led her to publish an internet photo for the benefit of all those who had little awareness of the lifestyle of plebs. Unfortunately she didn’t complete her education by actually meeting White Van Dan the cage-fighter, for by the time The Sun drove him to her £3m pad Ed Miliband had fired her into outer space.
it was in fact The Sun that influenced our eventual choice of this week’s victor. Using the slightly unusual headline of ‘Shut up you stupid sweaty little Git’ it pushed David Mellor to the front. So once again it was The Sun wot won it. Rupert is undoubtedly pleased with such eloquence, but whether Mr Mellor is remains open to doubt. It’s accuracy was perhaps open to question, for we find it hard to accept as a “Tory grandee” someone who didn’t spend his childhood shooting grouse. But perhaps having been once photographed by the News of the World whilst wearing a football shirt in a compromising situation is a recognised alternative.
Either way our award winner was partaking in a trip to Buckingham Palace with his partner, Lady Penelope Cobham who had a date with Prince Charles who was handing out honours to the great and sometimes good. A proper gent, such as Sherlock Holmes, would have tapped on the glass partition of his cab and said “Big Ears Palace and not a moment to lose – there’s a sovereign for you driver, if we make it in time”. But Mr Mellor became abusive when his navigational instructions were ignored. Brian’s recording of what followed has included a recap of Mr Mellor’s CV, albeit one introduced with the added description of the Black Cab man as a little guy who should learn to “shut the f..k up”.
Mr Mellor reminded Brian that he is not only a QC, but a former cabinet minister and award-winning broadcaster. He might have mentioned the large fortune he made in business in the Middle East but modesty forbade. He did however ask if the driver imagined that his experiences were “anything compared to mine” before ordering him to shut up, and added the line now immortalised on the front page of every road-digger’s bible.
Of course David Mellor is a braggart and a bully. But that in itself would not have landed our award. If fate rewards you with a companion with a name such as Lady Penelope you should surely buy a pink Rolls-Royce and hire a chauffeur called Parker, and so avoid the potential for black cabs driven by common people who have not been educated in the art of forelock touching. For this lack of planning and his unintended reminder that John Major wasn’t 100 per cent accurate when he claimed that we now have a “classless society”, Mr Mellor is crowned Twit of the Week.
There were those amongst us who favoured the selection of health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who yesterday revealed that he contributed to the A & E crisis by taking his children along. But they were shouted down on the grounds that getting to see a GP is now the equivalent of reaching Mars with Richard the Virgin. They did attempt to point out that Mr Hunt was responsible for the destruction of GP practices, but by now the cake tray was empty and most of the codgers had drifted away.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Who discovered we could get milk from cows, and what did he think he was doing at the time?…Billy Connolly.
Blue skies, a nip in the air, a carpet of leaves scrunching under our feet, the sun paying its last courtesies to the surviving geraniums – it is well into November and the weather was as it should be. All seemed well with our little world this morning as we cleaned out the hens and disinfected the greenhouses where only echoes of a frantic season remain. For all of us codgers the allotments represent an escape, and today it ticked all of the boxes.
Escape from what? in Albert’s case the answer is Mrs Albert. For most if us it is less specific. An escape back into a world when the pace of life was more relaxed perhaps. An escape to nature, and the reminder that we polluters are not the only creatures inhabiting this planet. An escape from the new age of instant communication of news that is so often dominated by man’s inhumanity to man in the name of a God that they confuse with Satan. But our reflective mood faded as we reached the warm hut and poured tea into our stained mugs. We have read that tea is beneficial to health – if that is true we will all live to receive a telegram from King Charles.
Ah yes -Charles. Once again he is in the news for all the wrong reasons, and it worries us. Nine years after his so-called “black spider” memos, written to Labour ministers, were first requested by a journalist, the latest attempt to force publication is being heard in the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal ruled earlier this year that Dominic Grieve QC had had “no good reason” to prevent the letters being made public when, as Attorney General, he blocked an order from three judges ordering their release. But at yesterday’s hearing the current Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC, argued that Parliament had reserved for ministers the ultimate say in deciding when information can be released in the public interest.
It is clearly a complex legal argument. We codgers hope that the Grieve decision will be upheld, not because we warm to the idea of an “inveterate interferer and meddler”, which is the description of himself by the Prince. Our concern is that publication will inevitably expose criticisms of political policies and provide the anti-monarchist brigade with the opportunity to label the future monarch with political leanings of one sort or another, something the Queen has studiously avoided over a long reign. We accept all the usual guff about Royals being privileged and unelected, but we see them as a significantly better alternative to seeing dishonest and self-seeking politicians on that historic balcony.
In many ways we sympathise with Charles who holds strong opinions on such things as the environment, architecture and fox hunting and wishes to air them. But to do so is dangerous. On the latter in particular he risks not only a political trap, but also the alienation of millions who loathe the activity.
There is of course a great deal of hypocrisy on the part of the Prince’s detractors. Do they really expect us to believe that being ‘elected’ gives someone a divine right to decide. Four years or so ago both Conservative and Lib Dem parties gave categoric assurances that there would be no top-down reform of the NHS. Without any meaningful public consultation they proceeded to do just that. Did Blair have any public mandate for the war with Iraq? True democracy is an illusion.
Then there are those who bang on about privilege and wealth. Do they really expect us to believe that these features are unique to the House of Windsor? Both of our main parties include many a multi-millionaire within their cabinets real or prospective. Many of the leading figures from the worlds of commerce and publication – who pull their strings – are infinitely more influential and wealthy than Charles will ever be.
But the fact remains that those who favour a republic will see the eventual emergence of King Charles as the perfect opportunity to renew their assault. And frustrating and unfair though it may be he has to learn to at the very least stop writing letters and confine his opinions to meetings held in confidence. We have no wish to live in a Britain whose nominal head is a politician and slimy traducer who automatically divides the nation every time he or she opens their mouths.
Talking of hypocrisy we later pointed our doughnuts at Tristam Hunt, the shadow education secretary. He yesterday launched a full-frontal attack on fee-paying private schools. Many will agree with his insistence that they have to be dragged screaming into helping less privileged children. What is hypocritical about that? Mr Hunt himself enjoyed the privileges of a private education.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” All I ask is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy”….Spike Milligan. “I declare this thing open – whatever it is”….Prince Philip/ “Buckingham Palace isn’t ours. It’s a tied cottage”…..Prince Philip/ “Our greatest gift is what we prevent”….Prince Philip.
As regular readers will have realised by now the web service which carries our daily blog went into a giant sulk this morning. After helping my fellow codgers to clean out the hens, I switched on the laptop and pressed the right buttons. Zilch. It remained thus until I was obliged to head for Darwen and the Debt Advice Foundation, where as its chairman I was due to meet reporters from The Guardian who are writing a piece about our school’s Debt Education programme.
Even reaching sunny Darwen involved obstacles normally associated with reaching the south pole. On at least four roads leading to the M65 workmen were busy excavating for gold, a process that seems to involve temporary traffic lights that only change every ten minutes and some dedicated Sun reading.
All of which is disappointing since we had intended to cover our weekend visit to the ExCel.centre in London for the world Scrabble finals. Since our vocabulary makes Robbie Savage look like Shakespeare by comparison we were not there to compete, but to admire the ability of people like Craig Beevers who became Britain’s first world Scrabble champion in 21 years.
There is no time now to enthral you, suffice to say that the 33-year-old Craig eventually won thanks to a 42-pointer in the form of ‘talaq’, the term for a Muslim divorce. Earlier he came up with 24 points for ‘gleet’, the medical term for an unpleasant discharge. These and many of his other choices were totally unknown to us, and any thoughts we ever entertained about being literate quickly melted away.
We had also planned to respond to a reader’s letter asking why we never mention the Green Party. The honest answer is that we strive to be objective, and since the Greens aims match our own more closely than those of any other political party we fear accusations of bias. Now the secret is out and readers should perhaps view anything we say on the subject with the same level of suspicion that they apply to stories about not-so-red Ed Miliband in the Telegraph, Sun or Daily Mail.
Looking forward to being back in your company tomorrow!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Things could be much worse. I could be one of my creditors”…..Henny Youngman.
All was quiet on the allotments this morning. The air was still, not so much as a breeze troubled Albert’s forlorn England flag. The other factor was the absence of the man himself – Albert had gone to church to confess his sins – a process that one imagines may take quite a time. The result was that we cleaned out the hens in less time than it takes Eric Pickles to pull on his trousers, and we were soon enjoying our brew in the warm shed. It has to be said that our tendency to spend more time resting than working demonstrates our habit of not practising what we preach, for we have for several days banged on about roadworks on the nearby main road where reading the Sun seems to take priority over digging holes.
But something that really worries, rather than irritates, us is the continuing decline in the performance of our local ambulance service. 56-year-old Joseph McIntosh suffered a stroke at home and, in desperation at the failure of an ambulance response, his family called the police. When, despite repeated calls, no ambulance appeared after an hour officers used window blinds from the home as an improvised stretcher and took Mr McIntosh to hospital in the back of a police van. He died, the victim of a once proud and efficient service.
The incident is one of a series now being scrutinised by Simon Cole, the Leicestershire chief constable, on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers. The organisation is concerned at the growing number of instances where patrol cars and other police vehicles are being used to transport emergency patients to hospital. In some cases officers are even having to administer rudimentary first aid to patients at the scene, a task for which they have no training or expertise.
The reasons for this frightening situation are not hard to find. In common with the rest of the NHS the ambulance service has been subjected to the infamous Lansley ‘reforms’ and ‘efficiency savings’. Some regions have been privatised, and most regions lose the use of crews as they queue outside of besieged A & E departments. Pay for highly trained paramedics has been frozen and is abysmally low, and vacancies remain just that for long periods. What the coalition has done to the NHS is unforgivable and lives are being lost.
We codgers drew a crumb of comfort from an announcement made by the Labour Party yesterday. It involved a plan to sell off the Queen Elizabeth conference centre in central London. Two of us were until a few years ago non-executive members of NHS Trust boards, and were regularly summoned there for ‘conferences’. Each regular event cost the taxpayer over £600,000 given the astronomic cost of the lavish centre itself, and the travelling and accommodation costs of 650 people from all corners of the country. The reason for the location? To enable ministers to “pop across from parliament”. The value of the orchestrated affairs? Zero.
It is just one example of the money being poured down the drain whilst life-saving facilities such as ambulances and A & E units are being denuded of funding and staff. Do we believe that a change of government would save the day? Only if it is prepared to examine priorities afresh. Are cash-gobbling fantasies such as HS2 really more important than saving lives? Does the NHS really have to be run in a top-down bureaucratic and ill-informed way?
The rest of this morning’s news provided little cause for optimism that pressures on essential public services will ease. The Social Security Advisory Council has published a report today. It predicts a continuing rise in immigration, with eastern EU citizens being attracted by the UK economic recovery and job prospects. It warns that plans to remove benefits will “inevitably” lead to rising social problems such as sleeping rough, crime and “costs to the NHS”. Mr Farage will increasingly sound like the one remaining voice of sanity as the main parties dither on.
We realise that it is easy to simply carp, but we ancient ones increasingly wonder if any of them really understand what is going on. This morning Khalid Mahmood, the MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, has claimed that the number of British jihadists fighting for Isil is four times that of the government estimate. His estimate, based on his knowledge of a constituency with a significant number of Muslims, is that around 20 British jihadists are passing through our porous borders each week.
But the deckchairs on the sinking deck will be neatly rearranged in time for the general election.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Many people believe they are attracted by God, or by Nature, when they are only repelled by man”…..W.R.Inge.
A tattered England flag still hangs above Albert’s hen-run, a reminder of the World Cup that, he once insisted, we were odds-on to win. So familiar has it become that we had forgotten it was there. This morning we warned him that he had been within a hairs breath of featuring on Emily Thornberry’s Twitter account. Proud to be working class was his response. There was no great reaction to that since none of us any longer know what that is.
Some years ago ‘two-Jags’ Prescott announced that we are “all middle class now”. Given that the factory gates through which most of us scuttled each evening have long since been padlocked, it sounded right at the time. But according to the new breed of marketing gurus, despite an economic shift from manual to intellectual labour, quite a lot of the population can still be described as working class: around 40 per cent. About a third of those are, say the statisticians, skilled manual workers. They are plumbers, scaffolders, electricians, plasterers and roofers. They drive vans – white vans. According to a recent Lord Ashcroft poll, only 10 per cent of the White Van Men ( now classified as C2s) now vote Tory, and 23 per cent Labour. So what does White Van Man do with his vote? It seems that the majority now vote for Ukip, the party once characterised as disaffected Tories from the Home Counties.
We cleaned out the hens in the rain before retiring to the hut looking like drowned rats. As the steam rose and the doughnut jam revealed itself we had to confess that the apparent redefinition of the working class bewilders us, not least because we codgers are neither working or classy. But it seems that we are of a different category – the elderly. When our arthritis allows us to get to the polling station it seems that we tend to vote as we always did. Sadly for the Labour Party it appears that they assumed the same for our White Van successors.
Opening Britain’s borders in 2004 to new EU members meant competition for work from equally qualified but significantly cheaper eastern Europeans. But it was only after the 2007 financial crisis that the C2s started to feel the pinch. Politicians did not, as some suggest, ignore growing concerns about immigration. Michael Howard led the Conservatives into the 2005 election telling voters: “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration”. Gordon Brown promised “British jobs for British workers”. David Cameron pledged in 2010 to cut net immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Yet immigration kept rising, not least because if the arrival of EU nationals whose home economies were struggling.
Ukip’s analysis of Britain – a country exposed to unlimited immigration by an untrustworthy political elite that keeps us in the EU – started to resonate. And the response from C2s was not confined to immigration. The flags on Dan Ware’s house were of England, not the UK. Scotland and Wales both enjoy devolved powers and higher public spending. In 2012-13, spending was £8,529 per head in England. In Scotland it was £10,152, and in Wales, £9,709. During the Scottish referendum campaign the main parties promised Scotland more power and public money.
But how can it be that politicians in Westminster were so seemingly unaware of the growing alienation of the ‘new’ working class? Look at the imagery of the dashing Farage and all is clear. It is no coincidence that his every TV appearance is based in a pub. Trust me, I’m and ordinary geezer prepared to speak up, and act, for the hard-working English families rings a chord with those who see Westminster as another planet. And he is planting in fertile soil. According to the House of Commons Library, in 1979 98 MPs were former manual workers. By 2010 the number was 24.
All three main parties are led by Oxbridge graduates whose working lives have been spent in career politics. 54 per cent of Conservative MPs and 40 per cent of Lib Dems attended fee-paying schools, and Labour were not far behind. Of the population at large only 6 per cent enjoyed this privilege, and none of those drive White vans. Bluntly today’s politicians are not the sort of people who drive vans or fly flags. Emily Thornberry took a picture of a man’s house. Mark Reckless suggested the Europeans might be expelled. Ms Thornberry lost her job. Mr Reckless won re-election.
Traditional older supporters will not be sufficient to ensure an overall majority for either Dave or Ed. But they inhabit a different world to White Van man. If they continue to patronise or ignore him they must expect to see a great deal more of his supposed saviour. ‘Onest Nigel has demonstrated that being posh is no barrier, being remote most certainly is.
if the antics of some of their MPs is any criteria they will struggle. Geoffrey Cox, the Tory MP for Torridge and West Devon, is one such. At the same time as earning £67,000 per year plus expenses as an MP, he has made nearly £500,000 after spending more than a thousand hours working as a barrister. Mr Cox’s earnings average at almost £35,000 per month on top of his MP’s salary. He is far from alone in representing people who are still seeing no benefit from the much lauded economic recovery.
Never mind, the health promotion brigade have just performed their latest about-face. Today they have announced that saturated fat in meat, butter and cheese is not dangerous after all. We disciples of the Eric Pickles school of nourishment are vindicated!
QUOTES FOR TODAY: ” One can never be too thin or too rich”….Wallis Simpson/ “I’m filthy stinking rich – well, two out of three ain’t bad”…..James Baldwin.
The days are getting shorter and, as we cleaned out the hens this morning, we found ourselves wondering just what it feels like to be a chicken. The coop doors are slammed to by 5.00pm and, unlike us, they haven’t the option of whiling the long evening away in the pub, or watching meerkats on Sky. Since David Attenborough never studies the humble chook we will never know. They probably feel much like the Lib Dem candidate in the Rochester by-election – the 349 votes gathered represents the party’s lowest support of all time in a by-election.
Mind you, our dear leader won’t be feeling too happy either. Ukip won what it had regarded as his 271st winnable seat despite the PM spending more time in Rochester than he allocates to Rebekah’s gift horse. Now he faces more defections as the dashing Nigel demonstrates the art of building an MP base – simply persuade the resident MP to switch sides. But he will have drawn some comfort from the determination of shadow ministers to match his every gaffe. Yesterday young Ed booted out Emily Thornberry who thought it appropriate to publish a tweet disparaging the plebs of Rochester.
The popular theory is that at the heart of all this lies the issue of immigration. Viewed from the rapid swamping of our public services and infrastructure that is plausible, but it was noticeable that all of the prospective Ukip voters interviewed on TV remarked that the reason for their switch was disillusion with the main parties. Asked to elucidate they variously quoted broken promises, inaction and unending cock-ups.
Perhaps they had the situation with our railways in mind. For several years now there has been regular ideological argument between the major parties about state ownership. Our dear leader and his Etonian chums have waxed lyrical about the wonders of the private sector. What neither seems to have realised is that we now have state-ownership, the problem being that the state is not ours.
Our research reveals that 20 of our national train lines are now run or owned by foreign state-owned or controlled companies. Only last month the ScotRail franchise was offloaded to Holland’s state-owned Abellio, which already owns Greater Anglia, Northern, and Merseyrail. Through ‘Keolis’ the French government owns Gatwick Express, London Midland, Southern, South Eastern, Thameslink Gt Northern and TransPennine. The Germans are also prominent with their stable including Chiltern, Cross Country, Grand Central, London Overground, Wales & Borders.
In fact swathes of Britain’s transport, energy and utility networks are now run by companies owned by other European governments – meaning foreign exchequers reap the dividends while UK customers struggle with increasing fares and bills. In the past 24 months alone, overseas taxpayers have taken dividends exceeding £1 billion from companies who make their profits from UK households and passengers. Meanwhile, British firms have almost no presence in overseas utilities markets and, since the takeover of Arriva by Germany’s state-owned Deutsche Bahn, a tiny share of global public transport.
This a situation of Baldrick proportions. State-owned companies in foreign countries can bid for our rail services but UK ones can’t. It is specifically banned by law for the likes of Transport for London or a Directly Operated Railway to bid for UK rail contracts. Since the Lib Dems allowed the coalition to create this astonishing mess it is perhaps reasonable to wonder about the sanity of the 349 souls who yesterday voted for them.
But fear not, some things never change. Another piece of codger research reveals that the commodity dealers in our major banks can look forward to 41 per cent average rises to their bonuses come the year end. The big winners will be the securitisation teams – the traders who buy and sell bundles of assets such as mortgages. Their market was held largely to blame for the banking crisis that engulfed us in 2008. No matter – they are on track to trouser an average bonus of £268,000. Their bosses of course will enjoy awards running into the millions. Oh yes, and basic salaries have been doubled in anticipation of an EU cap.
So could the rise of Ukip be about far more than our porous borders? Could well be. But given yesterday’s news of arrests of madmen planning public beheadings we hope the border issue will not be completely ignored when the SNP/Ukip coalition takes over.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” When I’m on a train why do I always end up sitting next to the woman who’s eating the individual fruit pie by sucking the filling out through the hole in the middle?”….Victoria Wood.
Senior Labour MP Emily Thornberry has resigned from Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet after being accused of snobbery when she tweeted a picture of a house decked out in St George’s flags.
The shadow attorney general, who represents Islington South and Finsbury, initially defended posting the picture, which she took while out campaigning in the Rochester and Strood byelection. She later posted a message apologising if she had caused offence.Continue reading...
If the voters in Rochester woke as late as I did this morning the most striking feature of the result could well be a record low turnout. Having long boasted to my fellow codgers about my ability to regain consciousness without the aid of an alarm clock, I had a hang-dog air as I arrived at the allotments just as Albert and the rest were completing the hen-cleaning. I felt as guilty as Eric Pickles must feel when he suddenly realises that he has cleared the cabinet biscuit plate.
When I made my belated appearance my pals were indeed talking about Rochester. The general feeling seemed to be that both the Ukip and Conservative candidates have plumbed new depths of absurdity in attempting to prove just how tough they are on the subject of EU migrants. Yes there is a huge problem of capacity and, yes, something has to be done to stem the flood before our infrastructure finally collapses. But to talk of repatriation of hard-working families already settled here is ridiculous. When the bus is full you stop more people climbing on board, you don’t eject those who have already earned their place. Unless perhaps it is the new ‘poo bus’ launched today, the new 40-seater Bio-Bus in Bristol, which is powered by human waste. It seems that someone in the west country is taking the need to reduce carbon emissions seriously. Well done them.
When we reached the cosy hut my conscience, rather than a sudden conversion to healthy eating, obliged me to refrain from reaching for a doughnut. Instead I watched as Phil’s beard turned raspberry red as he triggered thoughts on the latest indications that deep within the Palace of Westminster lie some very dark secrets. Jackie Malton, the retired detective who provided the inspiration behind Dame Helen Mirren’s character in the ITV series ‘Prime Suspect’, has said that the investigation into Vishal Mehrotra’s death in 1981 could have been compromised by the “power of politicians” at the time.
Vishal, nine, was abducted as he walked home to Putney, south-west London, after watching the marriage procession of the Prince and Princess of Wales. He disappeared less than a mile from the notorious Elm Guest House in Barnes. His bones were found in a Sussex field six months later. A new inquiry has been opened after an alleged victim came forward claiming to have witnessed three boys being killed, including one allegedly strangled by a Conservative MP during a depraved sex game. Earlier this week, Vishal’s father, a retired magistrate, claimed he had recorded a mystery caller saying his son may have been taken to the Elm Guest House. He took the recording to the police at the time but claims they refused to investigate an allegation implicating “judges and politicians”
Ms Malton believes Mr Mehrotra. There was, she recalls, “clear evidence that something was happening at that guesthouse”. She remembers officers being “highly passionate” about the case but nothing ensued. It is entirely possible, she says, that high-profile political figures were involved in a VIP paedophile ring and subsequent cover up. She remembers the influence of Westminster being felt throughout Scotland Yard during the 1980s. There was then a situation where the “politicians were very much in power, and the police officer’s voices often could not be heard”.
Nick Clegg yesterday described the allegations as “grotesque” and echoed Mr Mehrotra’s call for a proper investigation. In the wake of the Savile revelations victims are more prepared to come forward and one hopes that they will do so now. If the growing suspicions are well-founded there are still people out there – possibly still in Westminster itself – who are feeling distinctly uneasy this morning. This possible core of so much of the hidden evil of the eighties must be exposed, and we can only hope that the Home Secretary will ensure that this time around the police are allowed free access to do what they are paid to do.
it was with almost a sense of relief that we turned our thoughts once again to the seemingly endless debate about NHS privatisation. Like Lansley before him Jeremy Hunt continues to deny any such intention. But today we can reveal that at a recent meeting hosted by the new quango NHS England a number of private companies were represented in talks about a £1 billion contract to take over GP support services in England. Amongst those present were the American defence giant Lockheed Martin, G4S, KPMG and the US law firm DLA. No potential NHS internal bidders were invited.
London GP Dr Louise Irvine said today that it was “shocking that ministers would consider awarding a major NHS contract to an arms firm, and even more shocking that no NHS organisation was allowed to bid”. Dr Mark Porter, chair of the BMA, said the tender was “another worrying example of the creeping privatisation of the NHS”.
Having warned of this for so long, we codgers cannot claim to be surprised. The nation is sleepwalking into a new world in which profit will displace saving lives as the NHS top priority.
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOQUOTE FOR TODAY: ” During my time in the police there was a feeling of misuse of power. There were powerful people saying, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ “….Jackie Malton.
When Prince Charles becomes king, will he be able to stop his compulsive ‘meddling’? And if he can’t, what will it mean for the monarchy and the United Kingdom?
On 15 September, while President Obama was meeting with his advisers in the White House and deciding how to unleash the world’s most powerful military machine on the Islamic State in Iraq, his ambassador to Britain, Matthew Barzun, was spending the day in a field in Gloucestershire, learning about nitrogen-fixing plants and the dangers of sub-clinical mastitis in cows’ udders. The reason was simple: Barzun was visiting Prince Charles’s organic Home Farm. Wearing boxfresh Hunter wellies, Barzun picked his way around some cowpats to take a close look at a field of organic red clover. He snapped a photo on his smartphone.
For the past 34 years, the farm has been one of Charles’s chief passions. It has become the agricultural embodiment of his beliefs about everything from the natural world to the globalised economy. On winter weekends, he can be found – wearing his patched-up tweed farm coat – laying some of the farm’s hedges to keep alive one of his beloved traditional farming techniques. (Charles is such an enthusiast that he hosted the National Hedgelaying Championships here in 2005.) The farm closely reflects Charles’s likes and dislikes. In one field, there is a herd of Ayrshire cattle. Charles bought them after he declared that he didn’t want yet more common “black and whites”.Continue reading...
One of our members, the ever cheerful Barbados-born Vernon, is poorly and we are all rooting for him. Unfortunately he is now a victim of what politicians have done to the NHS. So acute is the bed shortage at our local hospital that he is regularly moved from one ward to another, an unsettling experience if you are ill and even more so when it happens in the middle of the night. After a recent inspection the Care Quality Commission criticised the practice, but praised the understaffed medical staff for handling the situation in the most compassionate way possible. In the unlikely event that there were honest politicians they would now be confronting the public with a straight choice – either accept increased national insurance payments or the descent of our once competent service into total chaos.
Local MP Andy Burnham has launched a campaign to prevent the privatisation of the NHS, conveniently forgetting that his government started it with the attempt by Patricia Hewitt to transfer our outpatient services to Netcare, a South African private healthcare provider. That sparked local reactions so furious that the proposal was dropped, but not before £5m of taxpayer’s money was handed over by way of compensation. But the will to fight what is happening now has faded, and everyone seems resigned to the inevitable. In our fury we cast around for targets and first up are the Lib Dems. They allowed Lansley to proceed with his madness at a time when only they could have stopped it.
By the time we had cleaned out the hens and settled in the comfortingly warm hut we had tired of mulling over yet again the ludicrous ‘reforms’ that have smothered healthcare in layers of bureaucracy, targets, ‘efficiency savings’ and schoolboy-like initiatives such as bonuses for diagnosing dementia. By way of light relief we turned to the hilarious outcome of a covert study by the Independent of the reaction of Tory MPs to an order from our dear leader aimed at avoiding defeat by Ukip in tomorrow’s Rochester by-election. Every one of them is under instruction to visit the constituency three times to preach of the iniquities of the dashing Nigel.
Reporters recorded the arrival and departure of Dave’s army. Of the 20 or so that arrived yesterday none stayed for longer than two hours. Leader of the House William Hague arrived at 11.00am and by 12.20 was back at Rochester station buying a sausage butty. Jake Berry arrived at 11.20 with the recently promoted minister for civil society Rob Wilson. Within an hour they were back. Cabinet minister and Cameron confident Oliver Letwin arrived at 1.15pm but was back in good time to catch the 2.50pm train to London Victoria. It seems that whilst Number 10 specified that everyone should go, it forgot to indicate that they should linger for a while. One leading light who didn’t appear at all was Boris, an absence probably connected with the fact that he wishes to convert the constituency into a giant airport. Tomorrow we will learn the result of all this frenzied train travel – if Ukip win the Tory MPs in constituencies targeted by Ukip may become even more reckless than Reckless.
But say what you will about Nigel Farage, he has certainly warmed up the immigration debate. Yesterday even the hitherto silent Yvette Cooper announced plans to ban arrivals from EU countries from claiming benefits in less than two years. Of course Brussels will never agree to this, but one has to say something when a loopy fags and beer geezer threatens your prospect of a ministerial car.
You might by now have concluded that we old codgers have it in for everyone in high office. Not so – we have a hero. The new Governor of the Bank of England has endeared himself to us with his honest and apolitical approach to those really responsible for our rocketing national debt. Yesterday he demanded that Banker’s fixed pay as well as their bonuses be cut if they behave badly. He was speaking in the week following news that six of the major Banks have been busy rigging the £3 trillion a day foreign exchange market. Clearly they were undeterred by the massive fines already imposed after the Libor and PPI scandals.
Mr – no ermine as yet – Carney favours proposals that bankers be paid in “performance bonds”. That would see banker’s bonuses and part of their salaries paid in bonds of the company with fines taken directly from that rather than the Bank’s reserves. This would mean offending staff, not shareholders or taxpayers, would suffer when they were caught in what amount to criminal activities.
Good behaviour bonds sound to us a good idea, as is the governor’s demand for a total change to “the Bank’s institutional culture”. Even better was his recognition that: “It is untenable to argue that the problem is one of a few bad apples. The issue is with the barrels in which they are stored!”.
it has taken a non-politico to recognise the truth behind the nation’s dilemma. Our leading Banks are a total disgrace.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Money isn’t the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money”…..Jackie Mason./ “If you would know what the Lord God thinks of money, you have only to look at those to whom he gives it”…..Maurice Baring, Banker.
TV viewing figures suggest that the art of Cooking is now gripping the attention of the nation. Even here on the allotments scarcely a day passes but one or other of the codgers is prattling on about Masterchef or the Great British Bake Off. Geezers who, to the best of my knowledge, have always regarded their kitchens as the exclusive domain of she-who-must-be-obeyed now speak of such stars as Mary Berry and Tom Kerridge in tones they once reserved for bender Beckham. The hills around here are alive to the sound of sizzling.
Just what has led us to this new obsession is hard to fathom. Almost the same level of madness has occurred in regard to dancing, I cannot imagine any of my ancient pals having danced the light fantastic even when they were able to move unaided, but they still follow the fate of Mrs Murray with the fanatical devotion they once gave her son. And this morning Albert and Tom both brought in cakes they claim to have made yesterday. Cakes! We have always taken our lead from the God of Doughnuts, the great Eric Pickles, now it seems that we are going up market. What next! Any day now we’ll be having napkins in the hut, and our self image of tough sons of the soil and chicken muck will be destroyed for ever.
But it seems that the new high profile art of cooking is not confined to fairy cakes and shepherd pies. This morning’s headlines tell us that some of our leading institutions have moved up a stage to cooking the books. The explanation for this is easier to work out. In their haste to demonstrate their own brand of brilliance, ministers have taken to introducing targets for every activity known to man, and then some. The police and taxmen, being experts in the art of self preservation, have switched their attention to the compilation of statistics, and have taken a leaf out of the the Mary Berry Christmas Guide – they have cooked them.
For some time now we have been reminded by our dear leader of the wonders he has wrought in regard to crime. Farage in all his glory could not compare with such as this, he has chanted whilst pointing to having halved the number of bobbies on the beat and slashing crime at the same time. He won’t be beaming this morning as he reads the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. It reports that the crime statistics are “routinely fiddled”, and describes police performance as “inexcusably poor”. Following the largest investigation ever conducted into crime-recording, the watchdog concluded that one in five of all offences reported to the police are simply discounted.
The failure to pursue more serious offences was even more dramatic, with 26 per cent of sexual offences, including rape, and 33 per cent of violent crime omitted from the statistics. During the year-long inquiry, investigators identified many rapes that were not classified as reportable crime. The report concluded that failure to record crime is “indefensible”, and even Home Secretary Theresa May was moved to talk of “unacceptable failings in the way that our police forces have recorded crime”. In mitigation the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, said that “setting targets can distort behaviour”. No one mentioned the hapless victims.
And it seems that Inspector Knacker is not alone in his book cooking. Officials at Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs department have come under attack from the Commons Public Accounts Committee which was less than pleased to find that officials have wrongly calculated their own performance to make it look like they had recouped over £2 billion more in unpaid taxes than they actually had. The committee went on to list umpteen criticism of the performance of HMRC, but given the impossibility of believing any of the performance statistics found it difficult to be more specific.
Having read all this we codgers were somewhat sceptical about today’s other big story – the new assessment ratings of our GP services. Surely the members of the medical profession are not indulging in a little cooking? Oh yes they are. Last week I talked to a friend’s son who happens to be a GP in the south of England. They share with eight other practices a locum on standby each Wednesday – all inspections are on a set day – at a centre in a neighbouring town. All receptionists are instructed to offer an immediate appointment with him should they look possible ‘mystery shoppers”.
Never mind, the good old C of E has decided to appoint women bishops. Hopefully the auditors in heaven will double check the number claimed over the next twelve months.
QUOTES FOR TODAY: ” What luck for the rulers that men do not think”….Adolf Hitler/ “The average attention span is that of a ferret on a double espresso”…..Dennis Miller/ “Had his brain been constructed of silk, he would have been hard put to it to find sufficient material to make a canary a pair of cami-knickers”….P G Wodehouse.
Just one year ago we had never heard of the so-called Islamic State, now their insanity poisons every conversation. As we arrived on the allotments this morning the latest evidence of their being less than human triggered yet another outburst of incredulity – how can anyone even remotely imagine that beheading an innocent is in some way a homage to a God? Of course there is no such God, and they are gripped in the sort of mass insanity that carried Hitler to power. Of course we triggered the conditions that led to this development. Of course we are being far too tolerant of our British born killers. This morning there is a great hoo-hah about Mirza Tariq Ali who has fled the country, despite having his passport confiscated. In our view his departure is good news, in fact we favour allowing all of his compatriots to leave. The vigilance we need is not to prevent their going but to ensure that they never set foot on British soil again.
By the time we had settled in the hut, having cleaned out the quarrelsome hens, our attention had switched to saner issues. Hopefully saner anyway. We were trying to understand the significance of the much mentioned but seldom explained EU-US trade pact. Yesterday our dear leader promised to fire “rocket boosters” under it and claimed that it could deliver deals worth £10 billion to the British economy, enough to offset the effect of tax avoidance by our super-rich. But we are suspicious. According to critics the scheme, launched by Barack Obama and the then EU President Jose Barroso in June 2103, the plan is being driven by US corporations. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is, they claim, a vehicle via which US healthcare giants can gobble up the NHS in deals that would be legally irrevocable. David Cameron’s response that it would still remain free at the point of delivery is less than reassuring.
But then again we, in common with most people, have reached the point where we suspect every move made by the political classes. When an electorate translates every assurance into meaning the exact opposite democracy is close to lying in the dust of memories. And the sight of the party of government tearing itself apart merely serves to add to the national incredulity. The Conservatives are digging their own graves.
The latest polls suggest that on Thursday, despite endless visits by our dear leader, the voters of Rochester will present the dashing Nigel with his second MP. And Downing Street openly acknowledges that more defections may follow. As the grave-digging gathers momentum David Cameron continues to up the anti-EU rhetoric in an attempt to assuage his rebels, and in so doing alienates his equally large core of moderates. The irony is that polls now show that support for leaving the EU is weakening, and that the majority think that Brussels is far too bossy and migration too high, but favour a significant repatriation of powers rather than a total farewell. This probably reflects a Ukip effect. Leaving the EU has become increasingly associated with Ukip and this makes the proposal toxic to many who once toyed with the idea.
In a few weeks time Cameron will make his long-awaited speech on immigration. It seems possible that he plans to build on John Major’s proposal of only a temporary closure of our borders. If he does the chances are that a significant number of Tory MPs in seats being targeted by Ukip will cross the floor of the House. If he sticks to his unrealistic pledge to opt out of the Brussels free-movement principle his Europhiles will rebel. Either way the Conservatives face going into a general election looking like a Sunday school party after the buns ran out. Their only consolation is that whilst given their abysmal record in government they should logically be trailing the Labour Party in the polls, that party too is losing its public appeal as it ruminates endlessly about its leadership.
With all eyes on the immigration debate and the pictures of Ed Miliband emulating Mr Bean, little attention is being paid to Scotland. That is another miscalculation. All the signs point to a massive surge on the part of the SNP. If, as is currently predicted, the haggis-eaters show their contempt for being treated as a distant offshoot of Westminster by transferring over 40 Labour-held seats to Ms Sturgeon there can only be one outcome – another coalition, but one minus the star-struck Nick Clegg.
If that happens Mr Cameron will return to his Chipping Norton friends – no names no Rebekahs – and we face the less than reassuring prospect of being in the hands of Eric Pickles – no grave is big enough to accommodate him – and Alex Salmond with the possible addition of Nigel Farage. If that happens we will have no need to agonise about leaving the EU, it will pre-empt us.
Perhaps the grave diggers of both main parties should pause from their self-destructive labours!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” In heaven when the blessed use the telephone they will say what they have to say and not a word besides”….Somerset Maugham.
Long and sad experience has taught us to regard anything we read in our morning papers with a good deal of scepticism. We were therefore unsurprised to read this morning that detailed research has shown that, without exception, the shortest men make the best husbands. Albert is short enough to be welcomed into the ranks of the last pigmy tribe in the Congo, but Mrs Albert was quick to let us know that best is not the summation that comes to her mind. She looks down on him in every sense of the term.
But he was not in evidence this morning. His good lady rang to report that he has a heavy cold, her usual description for a hangover. Insiders tell us that he was last seen outside the Red Lion in the small hours performing a Highland dance. If past experience is anything to go by the allotments will be a quieter place for the next couple of days.
The immediate outcome when we settled in the hut for our Sunday morning doughnuts was a quieter and more reflective mood than is usually the case. There was even a more sympathetic view of Ed Miliband, the usual target for the sole survivor of the Keir Hardie appreciation society. Tom too is, as he puts it, ‘of the left’ but he is sufficiently realistic to accept that the announcement of a revolution in Britain would draw little support, especially if Man Utd was featuring on Sky. His view of not-so-Red Ed is that the poor chap is the victim of character assassination by the press. This morning he pointed to pictures published in the Sun of leading figures at last weeks Cenotaph service. The main depiction includes David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and even squeezed in Tony Blair and John Major but of Ed there was no sign. The same paper carried an attack on Nigel Farage who complained about not being invited. Wreath-laying should not be a subject for political posturing thundered Ed’s censors.
Which slightly silly discussion triggered memories of the Leveson inquiry. It cost a great deal of public money, and showed the press to be, to put it mildly, in need of reform. Predictably it now lies in very long grass. Having asked Rupert, Rebekah and all, our dear leader has clearly decided that silence is golden. Instead we have the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso). Chair of its Code of Practice Committee is none other other than Paul Dacre, the editor of the Mail. The lunatics have truly taken over the asylum.
The Daily Mail was among the tabloids to welcome the court decision allowing 16-year-old Will Cornick, the murderer of Leeds teacher Ann Maguire, to be publicly named, and the court’s rejection of human right’s arguments put on his behalf. But the Mail, having devoted three quarters of a page to the decision, didn’t manage to find space for the concluding words of Mr Justice Coulson’s ruling.
“it is appropriate to record one matter in the Judgement by way of footnote,” said the judge. “As I made clear during the hearing on November 3 2014, the conduct of the Press outside Leeds Crown Court prior to the hearing was shameful. This included journalists and photographers jumping on to the car bringing the Maguire family to court. Experienced court officials were deeply shocked at the treatment of the victim’s family. I made clear that I expected to be kept informed if there were any similar scenes involving the Cornick family, either outside court or later, and I said that I would regard any such behaviour as a contempt of court”.
It was yet another example of the depths to which the tabloid press has plunged. Innocent people are hounded, lives are destroyed, lies are told. A small example of the latter is provided by the Mail on Sunday. “The only interview he’s ever given” it roared when publishing the reheated account by Kate Kray of her meeting with the recently paroled police killer Harry Roberts. “I am the only person ever to have interviewed Harry Roberts”, said the star of the media. Clearly the Mail forgot Nick Davies’s interview with him for the Guardian in 1993. Or the one the Evening Standard conducted in 1995. Or the interview in the Daily Mirror in 1996. Or the interview given to Jason Bennetto of the Independent in 2004. Or the one in 2008 with Terry Payne reprinted in the Radio Times only last month.
Enough said? We codgers grew up in an age when the newspapers were relatively honest and took pride in telling (mostly) the truth and nothing but the truth. Now most if them are political puppets dancing to the tune of power mad tycoons.
We naively imagined that the Leveson inquiry would lead to change. We should have know better!
QUOTES FOR TODAY: ” Everything you read in the newspapers is true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge which is absolutely false”…..Erwin Knoll/ ” Most of what you read in the papers is lies. I should know. A lot of the lies are mine”…Max Clifford/ “An editor should have a pimp for a brother so he’d have someone to look up to”…..Gene Fowler/ “Journalism is survival of the vulgarest”….Oscar Wilde.
We decided against an attempt at the world record for the number of times someone can fall into a pond as part of our Children in Need effort, and staged a bonfire party instead. I say we but to be truthful Albert decided and, he already being the unofficial world champion pond-faller, that settled it. Anyway we ended up raising a goodly amount for a wonderful cause. We hope that the minister who last week suggested that volunteers should “stick to knitting” watched some of the poignant film-shots on TV of the children for whom Children in Need means so much and hung his head in shame!
But maybe not, for the Westminster ‘bubble’ contains some very strange people. This morning we learn that the George Osborne Austerity League (GOAL) has issued its latest edict. To save the cost of employing sweepers all leaves have been cut from the lime trees below the tower of Big Ben. It did of course involve the employment of a cutter (Annabel Honeybun) and her stepladder but we shouldn’t carp. When it comes to innovation and sacrifice our chosen ones are without equal.
The same could be said of the latest Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond. His speeches can empty the House at the speed of light, but his ingenuity is startling. Yesterday he joined the Conservative army fighting to repel the Farage one hell-bent on capturing Rochester. If the flood of EU immigrants is to continue, he said, Brussels must pay for all the extra schools, houses and hospitals that will be required. But somehow that may prove to have less appeal than the uncomplicated Ukip plan of closing the doors.
But we mere mortals have no understanding of the plans and secrets that stalk the corridors of power. Having seen the resulting output, we have long decided that our ignorance is no great loss. But suddenly the hidden scene has, in our mind’s eye, turned a darker shade. Gone was all thought of moat houses and second homes when Tom Watson used parliamentary privilege to allege that a file of evidence used to convict Peter Righton, a government adviser on child protection, of importing child pornography in 1992 contained “clear intelligence” of a sex abuse gang.
The MP went on to claim that there had been a paedophile ring with links to No 10. At this point alleged victims began to speak out, one claiming in a BBC interview that: ” They were very powerful people and they controlled my life for nine years. You didn’t question what they wanted, you did as they asked or the punishments were very severe. Some of them were quite open about who they were. They had no fear of being caught, it didn’t cross their minds”. The allegation is that between 15 and 20 children were regularly picked up in cars and taken to hotels or apartments where they were physically and sexually abused.
Scotland Yard launched ‘Operation Fairbank’ two years ago to examine suggestions that high-profile political figures had been involved in organised child sex abuse in the Seventies and Eighties. Following the Watson claims a new strand of the inquiry, named ‘Operation Midland’, has been set up and has already received information about alleged murders that may have been connected to the paedophiles.
The implications are horrendous. If it is true, who with links to Downing Street were involved? Why were their allegedly overt activities not observed? Was there a cover-up? Does this suggest that no action was taken on child abuse at such as the BBC and hospitals because the then famous personalities involved had friends in high places? We now know that parliamentarians such as Cyril Smith abused with impunity – were they protected from on high?
Over the past few months we have all become increasingly aware that just twenty of thirty years ago our society contained a cesspit of child abuse, a society in which the authorities seemed blissfully unaware of the terrible plight of so many innocent children. We have tended to rationalise the horror by assuming that the establishment was not then alert to such possibilities. Now we begin to wonder if it was much, much more sinister. Were parts of the establishment involved and was it sufficiently powerful to deter questions by others?
This certainly isn’t going to go away. Given the publicity it is probable that other victims will come forward. The Home Secretary should ensure that the police receive all the resources they need to ensure that once and for all our society is purged of evil men, however important they may be.
Suddenly the words Children in Need assume a different meaning!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Detectives investigating allegations of a paedophile ring with links to Westminster are examining connections to a possible murder”….Metropolitan Police.
Scotland Yard has launched a criminal investigation into claims a child was killed by a paedophile ring alleged to have high-level connections to the establishment.
Detectives were already investigating allegations of historic child sexual abuse from more than 30 years ago. But officers said in recent weeks they had received fresh allegations of a possible homicide which they have decided to fully investigate, despite the passage of decades since the alleged death.Continue reading...
It was dark and wet this morning, and I am not referring to Albert’s tea. Mornings such as this bring out the worst in us codgers – both keepers and hens act as if they would sooner be in their beds and the happy chat and lively spirits of those seemingly long-gone sunny summer mornings are but a distant memory. Amazingly hen production is still high, clearly our Columbian Blacktails have have not read the expert publications which devote many a page to explaining why the dark days before Christmas serve to switch off reproduction genes. We grumpy humans need no such enlightenment for ours malfunctioned back when Blair descended from heaven to dwell amongst us.
On mornings such as this the ‘hut’ represents our version of heaven, and as we dried out around the glowing fire our spirits lifted. It was time for our daily scan of the morning papers. We were intrigued by the Daily Mail which demands to know: “How many more murky deals is this grasping hypocrite keeping from us”. The saintly Mail is apoplectic at the “latest revelation of Tony Blair’s readiness to exploit past public office for private gain” in the form of a Saudi consultancy. Perhaps we can help. Our erstwhile leader has been contracted to be the keynote speaker at Mining Indaba, described as the world’s largest mining investment conference. His talk will cover “his vast experience as a global leader”. Mining Indaba’s ultimate owner is undoubtedly pleased by its coup in the hypocrisy stakes. Its name is the Daily Mail & General Trust.
Then again it has to be admitted that our daily news providers are all inclined to mislead us. A few days ago the Daily Torygraph paid much attention to the “first photographs” of a suspicious “Russian-made” cargo plane, an An26 , which had been intercepted and escorted into Stansted airport by RAF fighters. Alas! The picture was not of an An26, or of any other cargo plane, or indeed of the supposed incident. The aircraft pictured was a Russian Tupolev bomber being intercepted many moons ago. So far the editor has not managed to find space in the letter columns for the many corrections sent in.
Never mind, none of us is perfect. Not even the once proud leader of the British banks, Barclays. Yesterday the ringing of the telephone had me scuttling downstairs only to discover that I was the recipient of one of those intrusive automated calls extolling the virtues of, er, Barclays. Given that they are now once again up to their necks in scandal it is surprising that they have the time for such unsolicited pestering. Their latest offence involves manipulating the foreign exchange markets.
Almost four years have passed since Bob Diamond sat in the Commons and told MPs : “There was a period of remorse and apology for Banks. I think that period needs to be over”. Diamond was the king-pin of Barclays but stood down when it was found to have rigged the Libor rate. His punishment? Zilch. His bonuses that easily totalled £100 million are safely stashed away, he’s launched a new African banking venture, and his daughter’s recent wedding in the South of France was eye-popping in its opulence.
Barclays, and many of the other Banks, were the prime factors in the financial crash yet have continued to mis-sell and fiddle the markets. Unabashed, they have also continued to hand out massive salaries and bonuses to their so-called experts whilst reducing their rewards to savers to pitiful levels thanks to the oodles of public money poured their way via ‘quantitive easing’. Despite all the revelations of criminal fraud on a grand scale no banker has gone to jail. Contrast that with the retribution rightly dished out to people found guilty of benefit fraud.
This government is fond of appointing quangos led by ‘czars’. Perhaps it is time to do the same for the Banks. The obvious choice would be Sebb Blatter, a paragon of virtue by comparison with the new breed of Bank leaders.
Then again it might consider Jeremy Hunt. The disadvantage would be that he is honest, but he does share the financial sector’s tendency to be clueless. Yesterday he staked his claim by trumping his wheeze to pay GPs a bonus for diagnosing dementia by announcing that the GP and A & E crises are down to people queuing up to seek treatment for colds. Can even he really believe this?
Call us as daft as Edwina Curry if you must, but we codgers still harbour a secret admiration for John Major. Yesterday he uttered more sense on our inability to cope with immigration than the rest of our less-than-esteemed leaders have managed in the past four years. With him back in charge and Blatter overseeing the Banks what would we have to fear?
QUOTES FOR TODAY; ” If an Englishman gets run down by a truck he apologises to the truck”….Jackie Mason/ “An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one”….George Mikes/ “An Englishman’s mind works best when it is almost too late”….Lord D’Abernon/ “The Englishman has all the qualities of a poker except its occasional warmth”….Daniel O’Connell/ “The English have an extraordinary ability for flying into a great calm”….Alexander Woolcott.
Our allotments hut will soon have a very special feature. We codgers have purchased one of the ceramic poppies that have produced such a beautiful tribute to the fallen at the London Tower moat. Several of us remember the horrendous loss of family members during the second world war, and of hearing stories of earlier ones cut down in the insane slaughter of the first. Our poppy will serve to constantly remind us of the sacrifice made to thwart threats to the freedom of these islands.
To one of our number memories are tinged with bitterness. He lost a son in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict, and he finds no consolation in thoughts of a valiant defence. Like many others his loss was the result of the political ambition of one man, who lied to the nation and triggered an un-winnable war that achieved nothing and, far from defending our nation, put it at greater risk from madmen serving an imaginary and merciless God. It was perhaps significant that the Lib Dem party was the only one that opposed Blair. At the time its leading figures included several such as Ashdown and Campbell who had witnessed at first hand the senseless brutality of armed conflict. To Blair and our present leaders a war zone represents nothing more that a PR opportunity, a place to visit accompanied by armed guards and TV cameras.
With memories of yesterday’s two-minute silence fresh in our minds we were in a sombre mood when we retired to the hut this morning. At such moments we still draw inspiration from the leadership of Winston Churchill. Here was a man who had already experienced the horrors to which he was directing others. In his embrace of Stalin be knew only too well that it was better to sup with the devil than fight him if he could help in keeping a common foe from our shores. Contrast that with David Cameron’s constant verbal assaults on Vladimir Putin. Does a lamb constantly provoke a wolf if it represents no direct threat?
A stupid unthinking one does. But we can forgive that, coming as it does from politicians whose entire experience of life comprises university followed by politics. What we find harder to forgive is the abuse and intimidation of our charities, without which many of our ex-servicemen and women would struggle to survive. A few weeks ago Brooks Newmark, then minister for civil society, reacted to several charities that had spoken out about poverty by declaring that they should “stay out of the realms of politics and stick to their knitting”. Conservative MP Conor Burns reported Oxfam to the Charity Commission for campaigning on poverty in Britain, and Iain Duncan Smith warned the Trussell Trust that it could be “shut down” for highlighting food banks.
It is increasingly the case that controversial policy decisions are being left unchallenged by charities which fear retribution from ministers. One of Britain’s most respected charity figures, the disability activist Sir Bert Massie, has said that; “The government is doing its utmost to ensure that the right of the voluntary sector to campaign against harmful policies is increasingly diminished”. In a report released by the Civil Exchange think-tank, he said that ministers “have introduced many policies without consultation, ignoring an agreement for 12-week consultations to allow charities to make a serious contribution to the debate”. “It is hard to believe that the bedroom tax would have been introduced had expert voluntary organisations been allowed to offer advice”, he added.
All but the most daring of our major charities are falling silent. Nearly 40 per cent of their income now comes from government, and the threat of losing it is being unleashed the moment any charity implies criticism of government policy. Ministers conveniently forget two things. The reduction in charitable donations reflects the fact that millions are now trapped in the ‘prison’ of low pay, and the funding provided by government is our money.
Most disheartening of all is the attitude of the rich boys to the millions of volunteers who devote so much time and effort to supporting charities. Were they all to accept he advice to “stick to their knitting” this country would find itself in a very sorry state indeed. When Churchill inspired millions to volunteer for duties on the home front he did so not out of the kindness of his heart but because he knew that, when motivated, the people can be a powerful force for good.
In our neck of the woods charities such as the British Legion and Help for Heroes provide essential support for ex-servicemen and women. We all know what Save the Children achieves. Local voluntary groups provide massive support for the NHS, which only yesterday was described by Health Minister Norman Lamb as “nearing total collapse”. Countless other charities marshal their armies of volunteers to work for essential backing for every troubled sector of society. Without them the inadequacies of government would be far more visible.
Even more importantly charities involve, and are involved with, millions of people of all walks of life. They are in a position to act as a sounding-board. Had they been consulted on the half-baked scheme to transfer £2 billion of NHS funding to create a ‘Better Care’ community scheme in a bid to reduce hospital admissions it could have been based on real options. Instead the National Audit Office has branded it a “shambles” and a “total waste of public money”. Local charity members could have pointed to potential sites and opportunities and identified pitfalls.
All of the main parties in the Westminster bubble have lost touch with the people and, in so doing, have lost their trust and respect. Our voluntary sector is not a threat, it could provide a vital link with reality. Only fools would dismiss it as a knitting circle. But sadly the fools are running the country.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The public say they are getting cynical about politicians. They should hear how politicians talk about them!”….George Walden.
Encouraged by the spate of autobiographies flooding the bookshelves, we codgers were prompted this morning to wonder whether we too should set down our life stories before we join the celestial band of chicken-keepers. It took all of five minutes to conclude that the answer is in the negative given that reading about all that we have done would be well below watching paint dry on the reader interest scale. A record for future social historians might be useful, but greater ambition than that has been snuffed out by the memoirs of Paddy Ashdown which have just finished the rounds in our unofficial library.
Apart from putting our own mundane existence into perspective, the former Liberal leader’s story also exposes the lack of experience of real life on the part of our present bunch of political leaders. As a child Ashdown was moved around the globe by his restless parents, had extra curriculum maths lessons from a lady who taught him a great deal more about taking down than adding up. He excelled at sport, had numerous jobs and eventually joined the Marines and went on to take part in SAS-style forays, before becoming a spy of whom 007 would have been proud. He eventually ended up in politics where one imagines he was rather more in touch with reality than Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.
But it is they, who have never heard a shot fired in anger, who now rule the roost. Up until yesterday we sometimes wondered if our contempt for them was a tad unfair. This morning, as we bit into our doughnuts in the hut, we concluded that we were spot-on. Not only are they inexperienced but you can extend the label to include crooked as corkscrews.
We cannot recall a Speaker of the Commons ever before warning ministers that the public would view their lack of “straight dealing” with “utter contempt”. But that is what little John Bercow was moved to say yesterday when our dear leader and his Home Secretary, the sainted Theresa, reneged on a promise to give MPs a vote on a contentious European issue. The Prime Minister had promised that MPs were going to be given a vote on whether to opt in to a package of 35 EU justice and home affairs measures favoured by ministers. But when the Commons order paper was published, it emerged that they would only be asked to approve 11 of the 35 – and the big issue of the European arrest warrant was conspicuous by its absence.
There was uproar with Tory MPs lining up to echo the words of Sir Bill Cash who spoke of a “travesty of our parliamentary proceedings”. Typical of the unleashed venom was the claim from Sir Richard Shepherd that “the government seemed “sly” and had provided “further proof that the growth of executive arrogance is unsupportable”. The Speaker returned to the attack by accusing ministers of “trying to slip things through via some sort of artifice”. In an attempt to calm tensions, Ms May offered to regard the vote outcome as applying to all 35 measures, a suggestion that brought Jacob Rees-Mogg to his feet. This, he thundered, is a “total procedural absurdity”.
To an even greater extent than ever before we saw Westminster in its true light. It wasn’t the opposition that branded the government dishonest and untrustworthy, it was its own MPs. And later many of them openly supported the new Ukip MP when he faced the TV cameras to declare that it is impossible “to believe anything that the Prime Minister says”. It was a black day for democracy.
As we mulled all this over it occurred to us that it is the self same people that have time and again told us that the financial crisis was down to Grumpy Gordon and Alistair Campbell. In so doing they have consistently deflected blame from where it should rest – the Banks. Yesterday – at last – someone in high office put the record straight. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, announced new rules involving bigger capital buffers against failure to ensure that “never again do taxpayers have to bail out Banks.” Speaking in his capacity of head of the global Financial Stability Board, Mr Carney remarked that the Banks have worked on a “heads we win tails you lose” basis for far too long.
The new rules requiring Banks to hold capital equivalent to 25 per cent of their risk-weighted assets will mean that they will have to pay less both in bonuses and dividends. The gravy train is about to come to a shuddering halt, and should Banks again have to pay out millions for mis-selling or other scandals they will pay the ultimate price.
The truth is that the previous government was too lax in its monitoring of the Banks, but the collapse was entirely due to the incompetence and greed of the Banks, which to this day show a total contempt for their customers.
But the truth is a discarded concept for those devoted to rearranging the deckchairs on the decks of the good ship Britain as it heads for the iceberg. As if to prove that, Ms May last night told the BBC that David Cameron didn’t promise to curb immigration, he was simply mentioning the possibility!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “The first rule of business is: do other men for they would do you!” ….Charles Dickens.
I missed the hen-cleaning this morning, having had to pop over to Leeds. But popping is a tricky task in our neck of the woods, especially at breakfast time. If the motorway notices that warn of congestion ahead are not flashing one wonders if the operator has dozed off since that is the norm. As I sat this morning studying the backside of an Eddie Stobart truck – definitely not as cute as Pippa’s – I heard an announcement on the radio of plans to be announced by our dear leader for a £15bn road upgrade programme to come into effect if he and Sam are still picking the Number Ten curtains come next May. Great, I grunted as Eddie inched forward a few metres.
But then came the punch-line. According to the commentator the initial projects will “alleviate traffic congestion around key constituencies the Tories need to hold or win at the next election”. The announcement, on the same day that a new report reveals Britain will miss its carbon reduction targets, will anger green groups and it will certainly anger those who spend a goodly proportion of their weekdays sitting in traffic. We can only hope that our constituencies are amongst those our hero wishes to hold or win. Sadly we suspect that is not the case, perhaps we should migrate to join the madrigal singers south of Surbiton?
But should we do so we won’t be going by train since we old codgers have developed something of a phobia about the modern version of those puffing billies, the numbers of which we once religiously recorded in purloined school exercise books. To a considerable extent it is down to late arrivals, overcrowding and filthy carriages which suggest that privatisation is not all it’s cracked up to be. But it is the HS2 saga that has finally crystallised our allergy. For some time now we have struggled to understand how lopping a half-hour off the time taken to London will “transform the economy”, not least because by 2023 most businessmen will probably be using high-tech instant communication. We have also become increasingly aware of the use being made of public money to buy off anyone brave enough to question the collective wisdom of all three main political parties.
Take a tour of the House of Commons and pause outside Committee room 5. It is filled with computer screens and maps that will remain for the next few months while the select committee on the High Speed Rail Bill does its work. True democracy at last? Not really, for the committee has powers only to suggest more tunnels, deeper embankments, thicker tree barriers to reduce noise. But any changes that result will of course reduce profit margins of the companies rubbing their hands with glee, and could conceivably open up the whole pipe-dream to yet more scrutiny.
If you are unfortunate enough to be living in the proposed path of nation’s salvation – you are safe in Liverpool which has been excluded from salvation – you probably knew this anyway. What you probably didn’t know is that people planning to appeal to the committee are being bribed (using taxpayer’s money) by HS2 bosses. Agree to withdraw your appeal and hold forth your wallet. There have been many recorded sightings of witnesses in huddles with HS2 representatives outside room 5, coming to ‘financial settlements’, then telling one of the 120 civil servants allocated to the project that they did not want to appear after all.
Private Eye reveals that one petitioner, Mrs Gillian Stockdale from Staffordshire, was made of sterner stuff. She told the committee she had been visited by HS2 Ltd executives, including Daisy Benson, David McCann and David Orr-Ewing. She said: “I would like to quote some words from the visit to my home. They said: “We want to buy you off to prevent your appearing before the select committee and will continue trying to do so right up to the door of room 5”. Mrs Stockdale added that it was “fair enough” for the money to have been offered. It’s only public money, huh?
Perhaps we are being naive in seeing what is happening to push through a £50 billion project as corrupt. Perhaps we should simply rely on the integrity of our parliamentarians. South Dorset Tory MP Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernie-Eric-Drax would certainly believe so. A few days ago saw the second reading of the Recall Bill which , reacting to the expenses scandal, could allow voters to sack MPs mid-term.
“What we need to restore”, said Mr Drax, is “honour”. “We do not need legislation for that..if someone commits an offence, it is a matter of honour and an hon member should resign”. Opposing the bill he ended his speech with a rallying cry for “honour! honour! Honour!, not legislation, legislation, legislation”.
Now we know why the place is known as the Westminster Bubble.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” All politics are based on the indifference of the majority “….James Reston.
Want to live to 120? The Sunday headline caught our attention as we trooped on to the allotments this morning. Since even the youngest amongst us is 82 we tend to regard surviving to receive King William’s telegram as our final target, so the idea of thwarting the grim reaper for another 20 years has a certain appeal. But when we read the outcome of the study of cell divisions the appeal diminished somewhat. It seems that to be guaranteed to be still breeding hens on our 120th birthday we must commit to fasting on alternate days, abstain from alcohol and tobacco, do a daily work-out, eat cabbage by the barrow load and maintain a sylphlike body shape. By the time we had cleaned out the hens and reached the hut we had decided that maybe quality is to be preferred to quantity. Of the whole gang Albert has the advantage since he weighs in at 9 stone soaking wet, but even he has been known to indulge in the art of keeping the breweries solvent.
That apart, we reflected, as the jam from our doughnuts trickled down our chins, that we are not sure that we want to witness the Britain of c2050. Today is Remembrance Sunday and for fear of attack by our fellow citizens it will be necessary to enclose our revered annual tribute to the fallen with a ring of steel. Down the road lies High Wycombe, a town I remember as a haven of peace, which has been renamed by some as Jihad Central. Early last month Omar Hussain, the so-called supermarket jihadist from Wycombe, appeared in a video urging British Muslims to “rise up” and “cause terror right from within”. That incendiary message from Syria appears to have found an echo last week in the town where Hussain left his job at Morrisons. A police swoop has hopefully prevented an immediate disaster.
Today’s Sunday Torygraph provides chapter and verse on hate preachers infiltrating schools, universities and even scout groups on an unprecedented scale. In Wycombe and far beyond it seems that ‘workshops’ aimed at radicalising impressionable young Muslims are booming. Figures compiled by Student Rights for 2013 show that there were a total of 233 events “of concern” promoted to students via social media. Why the lunatic preachers are still at large is a mystery. The time for twaddle about political correctness and human rights has gone, we face a rapidly escalating crisis.
Meantime, even closer to the Cenotaph, lies Tower Hamlets. Our hero Eric Pickles yesterday described it as a “rotten borough infected by a culture of cronyism and ruled over by a medieval monarch”. He was referring to Lutfur Rahman whose supposed support at the polls is now the subject of legal challenge to the election which was marred by widespread claims of intimidation and fraud. Meantime Mr Rahman’s functions were taken over last week by government commissioners after an official report found he had presided over serious abuses of public money and property. Enough said.
As if all this was not enough Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that the world is on the brink of a new Cold War. The man that brought down the Berlin Wall was speaking at the 25th anniversary of its demolition. He warned that Europe is becoming “an area of political upheaval likely to end in military conflict”. Almost as if to give credence to his words Theresa May warned that it was in Britain’s interest to stay in the EU only if it became “more outward looking and open to global trade”. Gorgeous George Osborne supported her and added that the EU “is not offering value for money”. So the EU seems to be viewed with concern from supposed friends and foes alike. Ed Miliband warned that an EU exit would spell disaster, as would border controls, but possibly unnerved by his latest poll ratings, forget to explain why.
But never mind, we Brits still lead the world when it comes to dressing up. And should we codgers become the equivalent of Trappist monks and opt for the 2050 departure date we can be sure of at least one aspect of our national life that will still be in evidence. This week the papers carried large pictures of Karren – now Baroness – Brady dressed in ermine robes. Lord Sugar’s confidante in The Apprentice is the latest addition to the packed benches of the House of Lords. As well as running Birmingham City and West Ham football clubs Brady is a supporter of the Conservative Party and will take the party whip in the Lords.
Who elected her to this high office? Not you or us – the process makes Tower Hamlets look respectable. And isn’t it a teeny bit medieval to go on spending public money on fancy dress for supposedly superior beings at a time when the state over which they rule is disintegrating?
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” My favourite machine at the gym is the vending machine”….Caroline Rhea./ “I bought all those celeb exercise videos. I love to sit and eat cookies and watch them”…Dolly Parton.
Korwin-Mikke, the far-right Polish leader whose deal gave Ukip more power in Brussels, reveals his views on Hitler and rape
Dapper in bow tie and blazer, Nigel Farage’s new European ally likes to welcome a woman to his grey-walled, grey-carpeted Brussels office by stooping to kiss her hand. There is a danger, though, that he will follow up this display of old-fashioned courtesy by sharing some old-fashioned views about her inferiority.
Janusz Korwin-Mikke is the eccentric head of Poland’s Congress of the New Right. With his agreement, a member of the party, Robert Iwaszkiewicz, has just joined Ukip’s parliamentary alliance, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), pushing it over a threshold of 25 parliamentarians from seven countries and thus securing more than £1m in funding for Ukip alone.Continue reading...
We had unwelcome visitors to the allotments last night. The CCTV camera revealed that two foxes spent time prowling around the hen-runs. Fortunately our defences proved up to the task, but the sighting rekindled our disdain for the Chris Packham gang obsession with the “exciting growth in the urban fox population”. These creatures are dangerous, and if you doubt that take note of this morning’s story from South London where a fox climbed into a family home through a cat flap and attacked a two-year-old boy as he slept. The boy was taken to hospital with puncture wounds, and his parents are giving thanks for having heard his screams.
We codgers bow to no one in our defence of animal rights, but passionately believe that people who put out food to entice foxes are barking mad. Would they do the same for rats? And the twaddle about the food chain is just that – had those creatures gained entry to our chickens they would have slaughtered the lot. We certainly don’t believe that the answer is to dress up in red coats and stage bloodthirsty spectacles, but we do believe that it is time for the remit of Pest Control Officers to be extended.
Having cleaned out the hens we codgers retired to the warm hut and proceeded to satisfy our doughnuts addiction. There was much speculation about the triumph claimed by Gorgeous George Osborne in apparently halving the £1.7 billion bill from the EU bureaucrats. So far as we can gather what he actually did was to borrow from our projected rebate to offset the amount due. Clever, but the net result is that we still end up paying the same amount whilst Germany and France still receive a handsome repayment. Are we seriously suggesting that our esteemed chancellor and our scrupulously honest European brethren have connived to deceive us? You bet we are.
But money is just money, and security another matter entirely and once again our conversation became focussed on the issue that will really determine the nation’s attitude to EU membership – immigration. Yesterday Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had this to say: ” Our officers face challenges not only because of the speed of influx, but because of language barriers, and the fact that migrants may have negative views of authority”. Hardly had the words been spoken before news came of four suspected Islamist terrorists being arrested by police investigating a possible Remembrance Sunday attack.
It seems that the suspects were planning a gun attack in a public place tomorrow on service-men and civilians gathering to pay tribute to those who fell during Britain’s armed conflicts. Security for the service at the London Cenotaph has been significantly tightened lest there are other undetected British madmen planning acts of violence at the supposed behest of an imaginary God.
All of which prompted us to wonder if the focus of the immigration debate on EU citizens misses the real danger. Yes we are surely right to be concerned about the effect on our services and infrastructure of uncontrolled numbers but few people mention the ‘third world’. Fear of being branded racist means that it is the issue rarely mentioned. Yet the countries from which mass immigration is causing real threats are all third-world countries: Bangladesh, Pakistan and Somalia, for instance.
Today it is almost impossible to find anyone, even of the left, who thinks that transplanting whole Kashmir villages to the north of England in the 1960s was a good idea. Brought in to do low-paid, low skilled jobs which then disappeared, their children don’t even have their parent’s opportunities. Stuck in areas with few prospects, the religion their parents often sought to escape becomes – predictably enough – the dominating factor in their lives. Experts discuss immigration solely as a fiscal issue. But it isn’t. It is also a societal one and a moral one. Nobody doubts most Somalis are better off here, but are our lives better for having them here?
We pretend that Somalis from one of the most dangerous and lawless countries on the planet become secular democrats once they are in Acton. And we like to say that the vast influx of families from the Indian subcontinent simply make East London more ‘diverse’. Sure. But it has also brought Bangladesh-style political corruption and Pakistan’s religious wars to areas such as Tower Hamlets where only this week the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has had to intervene legally.
It is the easiest thing in the world to say who should come to Britain and why. There are those, like Uncle Vince Cable, who like to pretend that immigrants consist solely of technology entrepreneurs. In reality no one is opposed to letting in skilled workers. But the question that must surely be faced is who shouldn’t be coming. The Canadian and Australian ‘points-based system’ we often hear about is really cover-speak for “who we want to let in”. But that is a good deal more sensible than our chaotic approach.
In the years after 1681 Britain took in 50,000 Huguenots. That is equal to a normal six weeks of immigration in 21st-century Britain. Perhaps this will all turn out beautifully. Perhaps everyone will integrate every six weeks as well as those French Protestants did over centuries. Or perhaps they won’t. The gamble we are taking is a colossal one and the omens are threatening.
The irony is that our toughest response is to refugees. Very few people who demand stricter border controls object to genuine asylum seekers being given sanctuary. One reason France may take in twice as many asylum seekers as the UK each year is that France takes in less than a quarter of the net economic migrants each year that we do. We have got it terribly wrong.
Every rational person abhors racism and delights in the decline of lunatic organisations such as the BNP. But any government has a dual obligation. The defence of the realm and the capacity to provide essential and uncongested services.
Failure on both counts looms as the ranks of police and troops treble around the Cenotaph.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: “What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expect generally happens”….Benjamin Disraeli.