Security is too important for political games!

It is Easter, the time for Eggs and torrential rain, and we were all bemused by the sight of sunshine yesterday. But the weathermen have assured us that we can expect a return to normal today, and have added the prospect of the arrival of Storm Katy, so the danger of our feeling bewildered by the unfamiliar has passed. Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury talked of setting a fixed date for Easter – can we suggest July?

But we codgers were in an upbeat mood as we cleaned out the hens. The monsoon had yet to arrive, and we were looking forward to sowing the seeds in the vast array of greenhouse trays. There is something magical about watching the transformation of tiny particles into plants, and the coming weeks will see us behaving like expectant fathers. In a constantly changing world nature remains reassuringly changeless – we never have to puzzle over such mysteries as to why every Premiership game has been abandoned over a peak period simply because England is playing a meaningless friendly match.

We often wonder how the fashion-conscious cope with the newly variable British weather. Our solution is a simple one – we sniff the air and pull on layers of scruffy sweaters. But as the wind began to rattle our new allotment fences we concluded that we were a layer short, and headed for the warm hut. And, as the cake tray emptied and the fug intensified, all was well in out little world. Well, not quite. It sounds ridiculous but several of my pals were uneasy about their families who had headed off to Arndale Centres and such places of habitual delight. Surely, I said, no one in their right minds imagines that what has happened in Brussels and Paris could happen here. Silence.

No one seems reassured by brochures received this week telling us that remaining members of the EU is the only way to guarantee our security, and that of generations to come. Perhaps we hail from the global hierarchy of intelligence, directly between one of those Activa yoghurts women eat to relieve constipation and some moss. There can be no other explanation for our total collective inability to understand the claim. And we are not alone in our bemusement. Yesterday the former head of MI6 suggested that only closed and carefully controlled borders can enable us to protect ourselves. And for good measure he pointed out that our intelligence services are light years ahead of those of our European neighbours, who failed to so much as mention advance knowledge of the Brussels bombers.

And now there is the added threat of Turkish citizens being granted free access to Europe, and anyone with knowledge of today’s Turkey knows only too well that Isis adherents move freely there. There are many advantages to being part of a union with the major European powers, but it cannot surely be logical to list security amongst them given that under the EU’s freedom of movement rules there is next to nothing that politicians can do to restrict access to Britain.

We begin to wonder why it is that our dear leader is so determined to hold his referendum at the earliest possible date despite failing to win the concessions he sought. Could it be that he fears that the security situation will become evermore threatening, or that such as Aunty Merkel will suffer electoral defeat at the hands of increasingly angry and frightened electorates? Certainly it seems to us that the Brussels empire is crumbling, and that security is too important a subject to be left in the hands of those who play political games for reasons of their own.

Until recently we have tended to believe that if the earthly version of the logical Spock agreed to something it must be right, and Gorgeous George has constantly backed claims about Fortress Europe. Sadly that reassurance disappeared a few days ago. Our handsome Chancellor announced further cuts to disability benefits and made clear their logic and rationale. Then Iain Duncan Smith walked out. Staggering, since IDS was dedicated to cutting benefits. One imagined him doing it for fun, even to the extent of using his shed. We imagined his wife knocking on the door in the small hours and imploring him to come to bed, only to hear an assurance that he wouldn’t be long but had to put the finishing touches to a plan for making people in comas attend interviews. And he found Gorgeous George’s proposal too cruel to contemplate! Now George has admitted to an “error of judgement”, so maybe he is equally mistaken about the safety of wandering Jihadists.

We scarcely know where to turn for analysis of all the “Remain and remain safe” propaganda. We had thought of advocating an independent inquiry. But we have just read the conclusion of the one conducted at great expense by the Independent Migration Advisory Committee. It burned gallons of midnight oil investigating the shortage of nurses in the NHS. Its eventual conclusion – it is the result of “minister’s desire to save money”.

Sometimes what appears to be, to quote Basil Fawlty, bleedin’ obvious is just that!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Quitting the EU will help keep us safer from terror” ….Sir Richard Dearlove, Former head of MI6.

A very special Friday !

It is always harder to believe than doubt, and many of my allotment pals were in a quiet, reflective mood this morning. As we cleaned out the hens in bright sunshine little was said for, whilst we frequently scorn the politically correct brigade, we do recognise that to question the faith of others is both insensitive and crass.

For countless millions this is a very special Friday. Archaeological discoveries in the seventies finally confirmed that a man called Jesus was crucified at Calvary, near Jerusalem, just over 2000 years ago. So the old arguments about whether that good man ever actually existed have long gone. That leaves the question of belief in the descriptions of what happened handed down in the Gospels. To many there is no doubt – the son of God was crucified and rose again just two days later to spell out a message of hope for a troubled world. Many pose questions, but hesitate in their judgement given that whatever happened was so momentous that to this day the birthday of that victim dictates the calendar of virtually every country on the globe. Yet more find the subject frightening and avoid considering its implications.

Perhaps the strangest thing of all in our little community of friends is that whilst the majority find great comfort and inspiration at the story of the Resurrection, no one any longer regularly attends church. The defence regularly trotted out is that the inspirational stories of Jesus of Nazareth describe a man for whom ceremonial dress and rituals were anathema. To quote the late Robert Morley, one hopes that God does not dislike chanting. But we admire those who do still actively support our religious institutions, particularly such as the Salvation Army, which to this day still follows the Commandments in a very practical way.

But if we codgers are in any way typical of the population at large there does seem to be a mystery here. And we were fascinated by news of a new book outlined by Tom as we munched on our traditional hot cross buns in the hut. ‘The Invisible Church’ is the work of Dr Steve Aisthorpe, and reflects the findings of his survey of 1,300 Scottish Christians. The outcome challenges strongly the assumption that falling attendances at services across the UK are synonymous with the rise of secularism. Christianity in Britain is, it seems, in transition rather than decline.

The vast majority of those surveyed and interviewed still hold to their beliefs, but now follow what the author calls a “churchless faith”. Many now turn to the internet and other less formal surroundings to practice their faith. Many spoke of being nearer to God in gardens and countryside than anywhere else on earth. The evidence is clear – Christians are not deserting God, they are deserting the man-made institutions of religion. That may or may not be good news, but it is certainly very different to the media talk of a a new-age faithless Britain.

‘The Invisible Church’ is due for publication in April and we will be first in the queue. For a long time we have wondered why we are alone in still drawing much comfort and inspiration from the greatest story ever told. It seems that we are far from alone, and that revelation served to make what to us is always a very special Friday even more special!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” There are good reasons why women are more religious than men – they see more of life and death”….Jemima Lewis, Daily Telegraph 25/3/16.

What is truth ?

Some of my fellow hen-keepers regularly begin a comment with the words “to be honest with you”, and I have noticed that many in the outside saner world do likewise. Carrying as it does an implication that many of their other utterances are less than factual it raises the old question of truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – an oath that highly paid barristers spend many an hour in trying to question.

The subject came to mind when we were trying to move the chickens away from the coops whilst we cleaned out – a task akin to herding cats. Several of us maintain a close interest in wildlife, and have long regarded the Sumatran rhino as extinct – yet another victim of poaching, habitat loss and climate change. Yesterday a female of the species was captured in a pit trap in the Kuti Barat area and the ‘sad fact’ that we have often quoted was proved untrue. Of course we hadn’t deliberately lied for forty-odd years, but we had converted an assumption into a truth.

It prompted a lively discussion about truth, and as we headed for our breakfast in the allotments hut we had an example of a different kind. As we entered our version of Trumpton Towers it started to rain. “It never bleedin’ stops”, proclaimed Albert. The truth is that it hasn’t rained for over two weeks, but a mind attuned to looking on the dark side tends to filter out positives.

Then the debate began. I set it going by trotting out for the umpteenth time my contention that no successful business man or woman ever tells the whole truth. As an example I recalled going for lunch with the head of a supplier consortium with whom I had spent the morning negotiating a big long-term contract. John was in his private life a Methodist lay preacher and a man who prided himself on total honesty at all times. He almost choked on his soup when I remarked that we had just devoted three hours to the art of lying. Our eventual settlement was for a discount of 20 per cent, yet he had opened with a ‘final offer’ of 15 and I had responded with a ‘bottom line’ of 25. In truth we both regarded 20 as an acceptable compromise but, like the best of poker players, we played out our prepared strategy. That, insisted John, is different to lying. Maybe, but absolute truth was impossible.

At this point someone mentioned politics. The most plausible view I heard was one that had it that whilst there may be the occasional national politician who sticks to the absolute truth as they see it, they are doomed to spend their lives in political obscurity or electoral failure. Arguably Jeremy Corbyn is a classic example. Those who have known him over thirty years as an MP say that he is honest to his very core. It showed only last week when he declined to condemn “all” of the Budget as misguided. It shows every day as he fails to follow a potentially vote-winning line of attack if he feels it to be based on falsehood. Faced with opponents happy to say anything with popular appeal he is doomed.

In effect he feels an overwhelming desire to say honestly what he believes. But that of course does not necessarily mean that it is factually correct. if we choose to give them the benefit of the doubt, the same can be said of the contributors to a glossy brochure that popped through our letter boxes yesterday. It was from the campaign that contends that “Britain is stronger in Europe”. inside, we are told, are the real facts about Europe.

Foremost amongst them is the ‘fact’ that “Brexit would leave Britain vulnerable to threats of Isil”, a statement attributed to Sir Hugh Orde, former President of the Association of Chief Police officers, plus a galaxy of retired military chiefs. How can this possibly be true given that our intelligence services are light years ahead of those of our EU partners, and we are an island with the ability to control our borders? Here we have a classic example of opinions being portrayed as facts. The truth would be along the lines of none of us can be sure, but that would hardly convince anyone.

Advertisements scarcely merit debate. Everyone knows that at best they are based on exaggeration, at worst are little more than a skilled presentation of lies. To an extent the same can be said of our newspapers whose ‘facts’ are invariably slanted to suit the political inclinations of their owners and the prejudices of their readers. Call us naive if you must, but it often seems to us that only the BBC makes a genuine effort to stick to the truth, and even they are often reliant on the honesty of their sources. When Paxman used to say “Oh come on!” he voiced the doubts we all feel in the new world of ‘spin’.

All of which left us wondering if absolute truth exists. In an attempt to be positive we chose to believe that the answer is yes in intimate relationships. But even here there must surely be a gentle qualification. Some years ago someone with whom I would never be other than totally honest showed me her hard earned new coat and asked if I liked it. I said no and tears followed. Never again – I learned at that moment that honesty is not a virtue if it causes unnecessary distress to others.

So on balance we concluded today that absolute truth does not exist. It is said that if we know ourselves the truth will set us free. But how many of us really know ourselves? Small children do and seldom hesitate to speak their minds without fear or favour. And there it ends.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I think I’m a pretty good judge of people, which is why I hate most of them”….Roseanne.

IFS warns Scottish deficit has become three times greater than UK’s

Forecast from the Institute for Fiscal Studies says a collapse in oil prices has left a growing gap between Scottish spending and tax income

A fresh economic forecast released to coincide with the day Scotland was to become independent has warned the country’s deficit has deepened, projected to be more than three times greater than the UK.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies figures were released as Nicola Sturgeon launched the first phase of the Scottish National party’s campaign for the Holyrood election in May, urging her party’s 129 candidates to fight harder than ever to secure a second successive majority government.

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Ukip suspends Suzanne Evans for disloyalty

Former favourite of Nigel Farage fails to secure court injunction against six-month suspension which she claims is a vendetta

Ukip has suspended one of its highest profile politicians, Suzanne Evans, for six months over suspected disloyalty to the party.

Her suspension by the party’s disciplinary committee, allegedly for a number of specific complaints, comes just weeks after she was sacked as deputy chairwoman and then welfare spokeswoman.

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Turkey is not the answer !

Even though the weather was set fair, the usual air of casual jollity was conspicuous by its absence this morning as we arrived at the allotments. With the obvious exception of Albert, we codgers tend to see the funny side of life, but that is difficult when madmen rejoice in the slaughter of the innocent and in the next breath talk of paradise. The only paradise would be a world without them in it, and on that point at least every sane, rational human being surely agrees.

Already many are displaying their gift of hindsight by pointing to the failure of intelligence services in mainland Europe. There would appear to be truth in that, but the fact remains that maintaining absolute security in public places is impossible. Others have been quick to claim that Brexit would enable an island such as ours to tighten security, but that would do little to obviate the need for the Foreign Office to issue warnings against visiting our nearest neighbours. Desperate situations call for desperate measures and there seems no alternative to all EU countries reintroducing their own border controls. As President Hollande has rightly claimed this is war, and during wars it is the height of folly to allow people to wander in and out of ones land at will.

Here in the UK we also need to think the unthinkable. Human rights and the freedom of the individual are laudable principles in time of peace, but right now our beleaguered security forces need all the help they can get. Yesterday afternoon I had occasion to visit Manchester airport to meet friends returning from holiday. There was evidence of increased security, but one couldn’t avoid noticing a significant number of people dressed in such a way that face recognition was impossible. I am sure that there are sound religious reasons for this, but in the present climate it is unacceptable. We all have to make personal sacrifices and dress code and luggage alike are far less sacrosanct than the lives of innocents. Our dear leader was quick to issue a condemnation of the Brussels Isis murderers, but statements of the obvious are a poor substitute for tough action.

Meantime distraught refugees are still arriving at the Greek islands, many of them driven from their homes by the so-called Islamic State fanatics. And we, having considerable knowledge of the situation in the Turkey of today, are appalled at the naivety of EU leaders who believe that the answer to the migrant crisis lies with that God-forsaken nation. The deal thrashed out and hailed as a breakthrough involves Turkey shutting down the people-smugglers and taking back any refugee crossing to Greece. For every refugee returned, another will be resettled by Turkey to another EU member state. The EU will sweeten the deal with six million euros and grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel to Europe. The practicalities are daunting, but far more worrying is Turkey’s willingness, let alone capacity, to keep its side of the bargain.

This morning we were joined for our undeserved break in the shed by a friend who has just returned after a two-year period in Istanbul. He talked about the suburb of Aksaray, the makeshift centre of the smuggling trade. Here the language is Arabic and the restaurants are Syrian. The town square serves as a hub for migration brokers, and each night, hordes of Syrians fill the area, their lives on their backs, preparing for the dangerous journey ahead. There are dozens of money-exchange offices. These are fronts for the ‘deposit banks’ where migrants leave their money after closing a deal. The payment is handed over if the refugee reaches European shores. If they can’t find a deal in Aksaray, offers abound on the internet.

Our friend told us that he checked one out. The offered prices was $500 for a seat on the ‘boat’ and $10,000 for a fake EU passport. He was told that if and when the Lesbos crossing is no longer available the smugglers will organise alternative routes to Italy or across the Black Sea, at higher prices. And of course involving even greater danger.

There is no police presence in Aksaray, and the smugglers are almost exclusively Turks. They organise everything, including coordinating with the police and coastguards. It is an industry enmeshed in the offices of state, and the prospects of a President such as Erdogan ending his policy of ‘blind eye’ is remote. Earlier this month he seized control of Turkey’s leading opposition newspaper, Zaman. This week he reignited a war with Kurdish militants in the south-east, forcing thousands of Kurds to flee their homes and head for the smugglers. Turkey is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention but her responsibilities are limited to those fleeing Europe. Refugees fleeing the war-torn Middle East have no legal status and no rights. And most ominously of all there is a very strong Isis presence in Turkey.

Aykan Erdemir is an acknowledged expert on the Turkey of today. He is now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies in Washington. What he had to say yesterday added weight to what our friend told us: “Human smugglers will outsmart the Turkish authorities just as they have outsmarted the EU authorities. Turkey has made promises in Brussels that it can’t and won’t deliver”.

In its frantic search for a solution the EU has blundered. On this at least our dear leader was right – there is only one humane and workable solution. All the money now being poured into Turkey should instead by poured into modern, decent refugee camps in such as Syria, supervised and protected by the United Nations.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The Turkey-EU deal will do nothing to fix the migration crisis. Just ask the people-smugglers of Istanbul”…Yvo Fitzherbert, Spectator.

Apprenticeships are the missing link !

We ‘allotmenteers’ are a mixed bunch. Several earned university degrees and went on to successful careers in medicine, law and science. But just as many “served their time” as apprentices in such as plumbing, joinery, electrics, engineering and bricklaying, and to this day derive great satisfaction from the constant demands that are still made for their skills. As young people we all had different aptitudes, and the opportunity for those not of an academic bent meant that everyone had the opportunity to exploit theirs and to lead lives in which self-esteem was a given.

Around the time of the Thatcher years a strange attitude to careers involving getting ones hand dirty emerged. Suddenly manual work was downgraded in career rhetoric, manufacturing was all but eliminated, and such dubious arts as public relations and marketing were pronounced as more desirable end-goals than skills that were, and always will be, in constant demand by every household in the land. Now should you need a plumber or electrician the odds are that you will be visited by someone of Eastern European origin.

Two news stories triggered this contemplation on another fine morning as we cleaned out the squabbling hens. The first was the news that the Government’s drive to get more young people into apprenticeships is “failing to deliver” for the under-24s, with numbers taking up the schemes “flatlining” since 2010. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has warned that the nature of apprenticeships on offer is failing to give young people a strong enough foundation or a “genuine route to success”. The commission also found that most apprentices are not taking a “step up” beyond A-levels. In other words, few are being attracted and even fewer are becoming inspired to persist.

The second story concerned remarks made by the defence in the trial of the ghastly Clayton Williams, whose reckless disregard for others led to the tragic death of PC Dave Philips. Nothing could mitigate what this ghastly product of our education system did, but inevitably we heard yet again the well worn tale of young people brought up in poverty and deprived of any stimulus or opportunity. The likelihood is that nothing would have diverted this tearaway from a life of crime, but there are many other potential Clayton Williams who may well have within them the potential skills to become not just good citizens, but highly valued ones too.

The commission has recommended the creation of a Ucas-style body to give young people better information about which apprenticeships are available. Whether this is the answer we don’t know, but it sounds a step in the right direction. All I know is that I constantly envy one of my pals, Vinny, who is a highly skilled cabinet maker. He can create something of great beauty at his workshop bench, not to mention what he regards as routine jobs such as making furniture to order. My degree in ancient history gives me one-fifth of the pleasure that Vinny derives from his trade. Yet had he failed to take up an apprenticeship he would have led a far less satisfying and rewarding working life.

Something needs to be done, not just for the sake of so many young people who are being unwisely pushed in the direction of universities in the mistaken belief that they represent the only route to success but also for society. I recently suffered a major electrical problem and rang HomeServe, the emergency ‘insurance’ to which we subscribe. They could offer nothing earlier than a visit in 24-hours time. I happen to know a local electrician, someone as rare these days as hen’s teeth. He came right away and saved the day. He is nearing retirement and tells me that we will all soon be at the mercy of such as HomeServe who, unlike the power companies of old, do not offer apprenticeships.

As we settled in the hut for our unearned breakfast the last word fell to Albert, a joiner without whose skills we would be utterly incapable of maintaining this co-operative. He is of course extremely qualified in the art of pessimism and took little time in predicting the death of all skills. His reasoning was that the people at the top of governments are all “posh, rich and obsessed with the supposed wonders of academia”. Come to think about it, it does seem a long time since a cabinet table included people of traditional skills.

Perhaps that is why they seem so devoid of any down-to-earth common sense? The Budget fiasco says it all. The Chancellor announces cuts to disability benefits, the minister in charge flounces out, the government then announces that it will not be applying the cuts after all, and the Prime Minister heaps praise on the departed for fear of his party descending into open warfare.

For “ordinary folk” such as us who yearn for nothing more that imaginative action to provide tomorrow’s generation with a well-directed sense of purpose, it doesn’t augur well. And having a captain who believes that yelling loudly about one-nation conservatism is the answer to everything is the last straw.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I wish him goodnight and tell him how much I love and miss him. The tears follow, as I cry myself to sleep every night. Never in my entire life have I ever hated someone …until now”…Jen Philips, widow of PC Dave Williams.