Bullies come in all shapes and sizes!

We used to have a resident bully on the allotments. He was always right and, in his eyes, we were always wrong. His modus operandi was a simple one. He would shout and rant until the rest of us who desired nothing more than a quiet life gave in. Thankfully he eventually tired of playing God in a silent heaven and moved on to harass others. But from that time on we codgers have retained a deep dislike for bullying in any form. Sadly there is, as they say, a lot of it about. And bullies come in all shapes and sizes.

How did it come about that we were chatting about the art of Flashman as we cleaned out the squabbling hens this morning? First prompt was the sight of one of them maintaining its lead in the pecking order. Second was the poor example set by our dear leader yesterday. Having thus far campaigned in statesmanlike fashion to win support for his Syrian airstrike campaign, he suddenly resorted to bullying. Corbyn, he yelled, is a terrorist sympathiser. However misguided the bearded one may or may not be he certainly isn’t that. But he has persisted in asking what the long-term strategy is and the Prime Minister could stand it no longer. So he resorted to the basics of bullying by shouting and accusing his required victim of cowardice or worse.

As we gathered in the warm hut my pals continued to pursue the bullying theme. Next up was Prince Charles who, it seems, is not averse to practising the art when it comes to dealing with the media. He has imposed what the Independent describes as a “North Korean-style” set of preconditions for interviews. Questions must be approved by him in advance, his staff must have the right to oversee editing and to block a broadcast. In addition broadcasters must sign a 15-page contract allowing his staff total control over content. This degree of censorship led to the cancellation of an interview due to be conducted by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News on Sunday. The broadcaster made clear that it was not prepared to submit to bullying which threatened their editorial control.

Of course some bullies come in more violent and repugnant form than our Prime Minister or heir to the throne. The classic example is of course the madmen of Isis. They wish to impose a social system so far removed from reality that it is breathtaking. What sort of God would impose the slaughter of millions of innocents is beyond human contemplation. And their method of imposition is to exert their insane beliefs via bullying of the most venal kind. Sooner or later the nations of the earth will have to stand up to them – it seems unlikely that the bullying tactic of dropping bombs from on high will suffice.

Of course the bullying that stains our society is of a less extreme form. But it is there. If you doubt that ask the grieving parents of Elliott Johnson. So severe was the bullying of that young member of the Conservative Party that he took his own life. Various leading lights within the Party have resigned or been sacked, but the revelations of what took place are shocking by any standards. Blackmail was just one feature of the conduct of people who sought supremacy over others.

Bullying is also a feature of our education system. Over 1,000 children are forced to move schools every month because of it. The legacy of childhood bullying can mark a person’s adulthood. For many it shows itself in a lack of confidence, for some in a lifetime of mental health problems. And adult bullying grows by the year. During the oast year alone Acas has taken over 20,000 calls about bullying and harassment in the workplace. Many callers said that the experience had caused them to self-harm or consider suicide. Many said that they felt too afraid to name names for fear of even worse treatment.

Bullying in this country is an epidemic. It destroys lives and sometimes cuts them short. From the bully-boy culture of Westminster to the intimidation of ‘whistle-blowers’ and the jeering of the tabloid press it is socially acceptable to mock, deride, and intimidate others. Until that changes nothing will.

In many ways the treatment of Jeremy Corbyn is a classic example. It is one thing to disagree with him, quite another to accuse him of every mortal sin known to man, as the Daily Torygraph has done day after day. He appears to be one of those rare characters who can handle it with equanimity, but few of us are so mentally strong. Now the Prime Minister who should, above all others, be a stalwart of opposition to all forms of abuse and intimidation labels him a terrorist.

We believe that the vast majority of Brits loath bullying in all its forms. But who amongst us has the courage to cry enough is enough? I must go – my phone is ringing and the probability is that call-centre bully-boys are on the line.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” For me, a survivor of childhood bullying, it shows itself in a hidden lack of confidence”… Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, Independent, 1/12/2015.

Northern Ireland police appeal for information on covert British army unit

PSNI legacy branch investigates 1972 shootings and other actions of Military Reconnaissance Force during Troubles

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has appealed for information about a secret undercover British Army unit that operated at the start of the Troubles and was responsible for killing two men in Belfast.

Detectives from the PSNI’s legacy branch – the specialist police unit tasked with investigating unsolved murders and other crimes from the Northern Ireland conflict – confirmed on Wednesday that it was investigating incidents involving the Military Reconnaissance Force, also known as the Military Reaction Force.

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Life can be a very cruel experience!

The erratic behaviour of the weather has long convinced us that global warming is a reality, and the sight of an unprecedented number of world leaders assembled for the Paris summit has reassured us that we are not alone. Whether they will actually achieve anything is of course open to question. And TV pictures of the extinction of cattle in countries that rely on them for survival suggest that in any case it is too late. Yesterday Barack Obama warned that this threat exceeds in its gravity any of the others facing mankind. But world leaders are politicians, and their willingness to face up to issues unlikely to impact within their term of office is perhaps the greatest threat of all.

This fact dominated our conversation this morning as we once again herded the hens away from the runs to enable us to hurl sand on to the miniature lakes – no mean task since the response of hens to “Shoo” is to take two steps before taking root. We are great fans of Sweden, an innovative nation when it comes to politics and the problems confronting society if ever there was one. Last year it appointed Kristina Persson, a cheerful 70-year-old with a long and varied record in public service, to the post of Minister for the Future. Her remit is to force politicians to confront long-term issues facing their nation rather than focusing on short-term problems, driven by electoral calculations.

She is already making an impact. She has set up working parties of experts to examine such challenges as the threat to jobs of new technology, the transition to a green economy and the impact of globalisation. Ministers are being compelled to think about, and plan for, issues that stretch far beyond their likely term of office. The concept offers hope that government is not simply blundering from one crisis to another, and could well help to restore faith in politics. It seems to us an idea that would help us. A glance at this morning’s comics reinforces that belief. Corbyn has buckled they cry, now we can “bomb the Isis heartland” – was our dear leader referring to Belgium? But no mention of what happens then. Unlike the Argentinians who landed on the Falklands, Isis are not going to disappear from sight. A Minister for the Future would be knocking on Philip Hammond’s door right now.

So it would be in the case of the NHS. Like the bearded one, Jeremy Hunt is said to have keeled over in regard to his half-witted attempt to bully the Junior Doctors. But what is the future plan for our health service? How is it going to be afforded in the long-term? Indeed there are innumerable issues that cannot be solved on an ad-hoc basis.

By the time we reached the warm hut our appetite for politics had been replaced by one of a more immediate nature. As we defied the harbingers of doom in the matter of sugar intake and washed our guilt-laden doughnuts down with Yorkshire tea, we turned to the subject nearest to our hearts – books. The latest one being passed from one arthritic hand to another is ‘Dad’s War’ by Chris Tarrant. After his beloved dad Basil died the Game Show host opened his desk, many of which drawers had stayed locked for more than forty years. As he sorted through the mess of papers, he found a diary; an old diary dating back to World War 11. And he found a Military Cross.

What Chris read inspired him to begin research into the wartime experiences of the other man that he had for so long loved and revered – a humorous, kindly man who had for so long kept in touch with old comrades who shared his reluctance to talk about what happened. At the outbreak of war in 1939 Basil Tarrant said goodbye to his family and his home town of Reading and set off for the front lines of World War 11. He played an heroic part in the desperate defence of the troops trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. In due course he was back on mainland Europe on the beaches of Normandy and the battlefield of Arnhem.

Basil was in the infantry, and in due course became a commissioned officer. As such he led his men into every battle. Former colleagues recall a fearless leader whose tears were reserved for others who fell, who defied the odds as he led hundreds of assaults on an enemy which, after the revelations of the appalling brutality of the SS, he grew to hate with an all-consuming passion. The sheer exposure of infantry officers meant that they suffered a horrifying mortality rate and the young Basil quickly rose through the ranks. The deeds he performed and the daring courage he exhibited earned him the highest military honours, and in a tragic twist of fate he was seriously injured just as the allied armies entered the heart of Nazi Germany.

So why today’s headline? Because this fearless, brave man who never talked about his years of hell-on-earth was not afforded the defiant death his unflinching character deserved. After a long life of happy family life and a successful business career he was reduced, as so many of us are, to helplessness and dependence on others. He was fortunate in having a devoted family, but one can only imagine how the man who unflinchingly stormed machine-gun emplacements must have felt as at 86 he lay powerless and frightened perhaps for the first time in his life.

We owe more than we can imagine to people like Basil Tarrant. His son Chris has produced a wonderful book, a lasting tribute to a dad whose courage, he readily acknowledges, was almost beyond his comprehension, despite his personal fame. From now on whenever we see Chris Tarrant on TV we will picture the unique man that created him. No son could ask for more.

Do pop along to your local library before the government closes it. You will be uplifted by this book, but you will end up concluding, as we did, that ultimately life is a very cruel experience.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” My dad was my closest friend. We had the same strong sense of humour, we played sport together,I loved him and admired him for nearly sixty years – but, after he died, I realised that I hardly knew him at all”….Chris Tarrant.

Syria airstrikes: everything you need to know

On Wednesday MPs will vote on whether to extend the UK’s air campaign against Isis to Syria. Here are the issues that should inform their decision

As Jeremy Corbyn offers his party a free vote over military action in Syria what are the arguments for and against the UK extending its air campaign against Islamic State militants?

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Honesty is not seen as a virtue!

Monday mornings, especially those as dark and wet as today, usually trigger an outbreak of gloom amongst my fellow codgers. But this morning all was sweetness and light as we cleaned out the squabbling hens. Even we are not old enough to remember the last time GB won the world tennis most prestigious trophy, the Davis Cup. Yesterday we did just that. Of course we realise that it was really Team Murray, but others played their part in battling through the earlier rounds. After years of humiliation for British teams in every sporting field it feels quite something. Perhaps, just perhaps, the triumph in Belgium will arrest the inexorable slide in national confidence, one that has taken us to the point where foreign coaches are considered the only safe bet for our top sides in almost every field.

We may no longer have armed forces capable of defending the Isle of Wight, and our influence on the world stage is now akin to that of Greece, but we now have world champions in tennis and boxing and maybe the resulting sense of pride will trigger a national renaissance. Maybe not, but it is an unusually pleasant thought. Of course this being Britain there is an immediate clamour for hero Andy to be knighted. Can we not just for once recognise that supreme achievement is honour enough? Are we not brave enough to herald a new age without feeling the need for tawdry titles smacking of a bygone time which the rest of the world has long since spurned?

As we settled in the dry, warm hut we mulled that thought over. Our conclusion was that politicians are the driving force for our outdated top honours system. Partly because they award them to each other, partly because such patronage is a very handy way of persuading potential party donors to reach for their cheque books. Are we really suggesting that our political system now stinks to high heaven? You bet!

With the morning comics in our hands we didn’t have far to turn for justification. In September Elliott Johnson, 21, was found dead on a railway line and left a note accusing a leading member of the Conservative Party of bullying. Former party chairman, Grant Shapps, has resigned his ministerial post and the person at the centre of the allegations, Mark Clarke, has had his party membership cancelled for life. Now Lord Feldman, lifelong friend and tennis partner of David Cameron who hand-picked him to be party chairman, is under pressure to resign as the media devotes countless column inches to stories of institutionalised bullying, blackmail and sex scandals all involving the party’s youth wing. And by way of a bonus a new row centres around a £2,000 watch presented by a Saudi sheik to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

It is at times like this that we feel a degree of sympathy for the fated Jeremy Corbyn. A few days ago he sent an email to members of the Labour Party seeking their views on his unbending opposition to air strikes in Syria. As at yesterday he had received more than 70,000 expressions of support. And yesterday Unite, the country’s biggest union which represents millions of ‘white-collar’ workers, warned that it will oppose Labour MPs who seek to unseat the leader elected overwhelmingly by their own party’s members.

But the great British public takes a different view. A large section of it bases its opinions on the guidance of such unbiased sources as the Murdoch press and the Daily Torygraph. When asked for their view of the bearded one in yesterday’s BBC piece on the forthcoming bye-election sundry elderly folk described him as cowardly, undemocratic and anti-British. Whatever the man may be it is not any of those things. Driven on by a media character assassination like no other, few seem to pause and consider what he is actually saying about Syria. The main thrust is what will even more bombing on its own actually achieve, and exactly what is the plan to defeat Isis. They seem to us to be questions worth asking. The Cameron Syria plan seems to be to get himself worked up, throw a few more bombs at the baddies, and hope for the best.

What strange people we Brits are. We spend years moaning that our politicians are cynical opportunists who don’t stand for anything – they are “all the same”. Then along comes an opposition leader who has principles – and appears to stick by them even when it makes him unpopular – and he is dismissed as a joke or worse.

We accept that Jeremy Corbyn – who has been saying the same things from the backbenches for 30 years – has less chance than a snowdrop in hell of winning a general election. But honesty is still a virtue in our book. Unfortunately for him it is a virtue without reward. We probably wouldn’t vote for him, but he does at least seem more honourable than the rest.

Sadly that isn’t saying much.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” If you look at Corbyn’s actual words on terrorism, his response has been sensible, cautious and moral”….Freddy Gray, The Spectator 28/11/2015.