Charities gagged and abused by ministers!

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.


The real villains are named at last!

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.

HS2 bosses try a line in bribery!

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.

Never mind, we are still good at dressing up!

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.

Nigel Farage’s new friend in Europe: ‘When women say no, they don’t always mean it’

Korwin-Mikke, the far-right Polish leader whose deal gave Ukip more power in Brussels, reveals his views on Hitler and rape

How Ukip has changed under Nigel Farage’s leadership

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.

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‘Third world’ immigration is the real threat!

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.

Not a real leader in sight!

Whatever its size every organisation needs a leader. Whether it be a team digging holes in the road or a political party responsible for the affairs of state, the absence of a strong decisive leader quickly leads to headless-chicken syndrome with everyone taking independent actions. There are no headless chucks in our little allotments co-operative but there is a leader. No one elected Tom, he simply emerged. But without his quiet coordination the daily routines would disintegrate into chaos. The abrasive Albert would trigger rows, my tendency to constantly change my mind would trigger despair and the other codgers would complain that being responsible for their own brood was all they signed up for. We rarely have to take earth-shattering decisions, but if no one decided where this or that should be stacked the place would now resemble Baldrick’s back garden.

This week has triggered memories of two world wars. Even we ancient ones are not old enough to remember the first of these, but as we munched our doughnuts in the hut we recalled clearly the perilous state of these islands in the second. Yes the people were united in the face of a common threat, but without a respected and forceful leader the outcome would have been very different. Churchill was not infallible, he made mistakes and he had his critics. But he led where others feared to go and he stamped his authority through his inspiring and forceful leadership.

Today the UK, whilst not at war, is in desperate need of such leadership as it faces many serious challenges. Sadly, it resembles the Titanic with the officers rearranging the deckchairs as the iceberg looms. And no consolation can be drawn from a dynamic opposition waiting on the foredeck for the Labour Party is preoccupied with writing the longest suicide note in political history.

Over the past few years we old codgers have derived great amusement from the antics of the man we refer to as our dear leader. Clearly no one at Eton taught him the principle of stopping digging when in a hole, and he continues to lurch from one crisis to another. His tendency to react to every move by his opponents is not that of a true leader. Having decided that the Rochester by-election must be won at all costs, he has visited the constituency six times, and on each occasion has allowed himself to be drawn into making policy on the hoof by reacting to every utterance of the dashing Nigel. His idea of a referendum on EU membership was a shrewd one, now he has raised the bar beyond jumping height by promising to change the EU open border principle, by refusing to pay financial demands (before claiming that paying half is a triumph) and various other impossible dreams.

If, as is widely believed, David Cameron believes in the great EU dream, he should have made that clear and confined himself to rational debate with the caveat that ultimately the people will decide. Instead by attempting to match the rhetoric of Ukip he has divided his own party and left himself open to the suggestion that he agrees with Nigel Farage but lacks the courage of his own convictions. Step forward, says the right-wing press, the man of real courage and Mr Farage obliges before beckoning to the Eurosceptics who would otherwise have waited for the referendum.

Prior to this our dear leader has played a presidential role whilst allowing Lansley to destroy the NHS he professes to love before eventually sacking him. He has allowed himself to be drawn into the Murdoch net. He has sat idly by whilst Ian Duncan Smith has labelled every benefit recipient as a scrounger. He has sat idly by as his Chancellor has failed to challenge tax avoidance on an unprecedented scale.

We do not believe that David Cameron is at heart other than an intelligent and compassionate man, despite his occasional ill-judged rants about dinosaurs and women who happen to challenge him. But a leader he is not. The scene is thus surely set for the return of the Labour Party.

But no. It too lacks a leader capable of winning hearts and minds, or of spelling out and defending its policies on issues such as immigration. Undoubtedly Ed Miliband has been the victim of press persecution about his appearance, but this shouldn’t have mattered – Churchill was a a little fat man but who noticed? Even his oratorical disasters needn’t have mattered – he could have openly confessed that he is not a PR genius and most people would have warmed to that. He has failed to make impact because he too is not a natural leader.

Now his MPs are in panic and are feeding the media with ludicrous stories of a coup. Ludicrous because of the timing, and because of the absence of any alternative. The people’s hero Alan Johnson is unwilling to serve and does anyone in their right mind seriously believe that Andy Burnham or Ed Balls would prove any more effective. Yvette Cooper is the obvious candidate for the long term but right now the Labour Party’s only hope is rally around its leader. It won’t.

We codgers share our books, and over the past couple of weeks most of us have read ‘Sailing With the Wind’, the reminiscences of the ‘Beast of Bolsover’, Dennis Skinner. He has been a highly visible member of the Commons since 1970. Like him or loath him one has to acknowledge that he cares about the underdog and, having long refused to accept any personal honour or reward, is uniquely free of the taint of hypocrisy. In his book he tells the story of David Coupe, a Bolsover farmer who worked hard throughout his life until being struck down with cancer.

He was summoned for an examination by Atos, the French private company appointed by the government to assess claimant’s fitness to work. He was virtually housebound and in great suffering. The private assessors ruled him fit to work and thus ineligible for financial aid. He appealed but before independent assessors could act he died. During his final 11 months he lost his sight and hearing and he and his wife Lyn existed on £70 per week. Skinner raised this with the Prime Minister but nothing was done.

Everyone knows similar stories of victims without a voice. Whatever their political persuasion, a real leader would use such heart-rending examples to insist on the right of everyone to fairness and decent treatment. Countless more will suffer the implications of existing in a leaderless society.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I am proud to be a member of the Labour Party and to be a socialist. I stick to my principles. I know of no other way in politics. My cause is those at the bottom of the pile who deserve better”….Dennis Skinner.

Animal rights – hypocrisy all round!

As we cleaned out the quarrelsome hens this morning we mulled over the possibility of submitting a new word to the editors of the English dictionary. Cleggism. The definition would be ‘the art of publicly condemning a colleague for introducing a policy that he was only able to introduce with your support’. Things have come to a pretty pass when a bunch of illiterate old codgers presume to meddle with the English language, but we can come up with no other reaction to the daily attacks on coalition policies now being launched by Lib Dem ministers. Yesterday Norman Baker attacked Theresa May, today Simon Hughes enters the ring against Chris Grayling. The Tories could be forgiven for asking with friends like this who needs enemies?

But we had little time for such musings this morning for, by the time we reached the warm hut for our daily doughnuts injection, our attention had moved to the subject that is guaranteed to send our pulses racing. Animal rights. To be brutally frank, it is a subject which tears us apart. We tell ourselves that we love animals, and we campaign for their protection yet we eat them and in so doing connive in their slaughter. Whenever we turn to the subject we invariably end up feeling guilty and confused.

This latest bout of heart-searching was triggered by this morning’s news that Tanzania has lost half of its elephant population in the past five years, and two-thirds since 2006, mostly to poaching. Last year alone, Tanzania lost 10,000, or 30 a day. Chinese criminal gangs are conspiring with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic vast quantities of ivory to exploit the rapidly growing trend of the Chinese middle class population’s lust for ivory-made status symbols. When in December 2013 a Chinese naval task force visited Dar es Salaam local dealers proudly boasted of making $50,000 from ivory sales to naval personnel, and pledged to step up production. Production comprises slaughtering the world’s finest beasts.

Of course such barbarity is not confined to Tanzania. Experts estimate that just two decades from now there will be no elephants outside of zoos. They say much the same about tigers and many other wild animals. People who should know better, including members of our royal family, take pleasure in shooting and the growing demands on agriculture are leading to increasing use of pesticides which in turn destroy the sustenance of the world’s bird population. And deforestation is reducing the habitat of many animal species, whilst the great creatures of the oceans are being harpooned whilst their smaller fellow creatures are being fished to extinction.

The harsh truth is that in reality the human race has no belief in animal rights. Of course we occasionally provide token contradictions of that fact, a good example being the outpouring of support when a dog’s home was burnt down in our North West. And only today the animal welfare charity ‘Animal Aid’ has published information on politician’s voting records and views on animal rights with a view to influencing the way we vote. If we want to protect our fellow cteatures, the website says, we should vote for people such as Tracey Crouch (Conservative), Mary Creagh (Labour) and Mark Pritchard ( Conservative) who oppose the reintroduction of hunting, the use of wild animals in circuses, badger culls and so on.

We have no wish to cast aspersions on such worthies but we do pause to wonder if they eat eggs produced in so-called battery-farms or eat the meat of farm animals, some of which are now reared in packed new-age barns which never see the light of nature’s day. Do they ever eat the meat of creatures killed in slaughter houses that still lack the watchful eye of CCTVs?

This is no sermon for if the answer is yes, we codgers too must give the same answer. We don’t need to abet the battery-farms, but we do regularly visit the butcher and enjoy our roast beef whilst refusing to imagine the creature that had to die a traumatic death to produce it. Sadly the only conclusion can be that we are guilty of hypocrisy, of supporting animal rights only when they don’t impinge on our own indulgences.

There is of course a way in which to learn to live with our consciences – we could become vegetarians. But we lack the willpower. So, much though we despise those who find sport or gain in hunting animals we are in no position to throw stones. We shall go to our graves having failed to practice what we preach.

On a brighter note we took real pride in last night’s TV pictures of the UK Ebola centre opened yesterday in Seirra Leone. We often bang on about the massive UK foreign aid budget, much of which ends up in the pockets of corrupt officials. This is very different and if every project we funded was as laudable we would never complain again.

We were less impressed by the stories focussed on the financial benefits of EU immigrants. The figures are selective and calculated to mislead, but either way they miss the point. The real concern is not the cost of benefits payments but the potential impact on our infrastructure and services. Current estimates show that over the next ten years our population will increase by more than the entire population of Scotland. We simply cannot cope. We hold firmly to the view that our dear leader should face the ghastly Juncker head-on. If he fails to do so the dashing Nigel will have no such hesitation!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Imagine a child with my beauty and your brains. – Yes, but what if the child inherits my beauty and your brains?”…Isadore Duncan and George Bernard Shaw.

Mental health – children betrayed!

Such teeth as we have were chattering this morning. Phil, who still jogs and follows every dictat from the health promotion brigade and will therefore presumably live to be 150, danced on the spot as we cleaned out the hens. The rest of us moaned in unison and headed for the hut at the earliest opportunity. The fact that it is November escaped our consciousness.

She-who-must-be-obeyed tells me that I have always been a moaner during the winter months. Since my memories seem to consist solely of Saturday afternoons devoted to the enjoyable pastime of hurling advice to referees on the subject of Specsavers, I find that hard to believe. That apart there does seem to be greater scope for the noble art of moaning in today’s world of the social media. Yaya Toure, the Chelsea soccer wizard, would surely agree.

He was first up on our codger’s gossip list as we warmed up some soup on the glowing hut stove. It seems that he is being subjected to constant racial abuse on Twitter, and we tried to imagine the low life idiots who take pleasure in such a pastime. How can anyone with even a single brain cell believe that the colour of someone’s skin merits comment let alone abuse?

They sound to us like the perfect candidates for the new craze of ‘mindfulness’. The chances are that by now you or someone you know has begun to practice what is really a form of Buddhism lite, that focuses on meditation and “being in the now”. In the past year or so it’s gone from being an eccentric but harmless hobby practised by contemporary hippies to a new and wildly popular pseudo-religion. Led by a veritable army of twenty-year-old ‘consultants’ the mindful include Google, Kensington Council, the European Central Bank, the Royal Marines and a host of others. The NHS is funding mindfulness sessions and there is an all-party mindfulness group in parliament.

There is even a handy app called HeadSpace which enables you to practice on the go with the aid of your smartphone, developed by Andy Puddicombe who, according to the New York Times, is “doing for meditation what Jamie Oliver has done for food”. It is certainly doing for Puddicombe what food did for Jamie Oliver, because he is now worth about £25 million.

It strikes us as a perfect vehicle for making a fortune out of the gullible. We all know that sitting quietly and focussing the mind on a tropical island inhabited by scantily clad maidens induces a sense of calm. At least the island bit does. We also know that living in the Now is the ultimate stress-buster, for nothing can ever happen in the future and the past comprises only smouldering embers. But do we really need experts in the art of what Basil Fawlty called the bleeding obvious, to teach us?

What private companies decide to waste their money on is their affair, but we believe that Jeremy Hunt and his bureaucrats who supposedly run the NHS would be better employed in paying urgent attention to our mental health services, especially those aimed at our children.

And we are not alone. Yesterday the parliamentary Health Select Committee issued a damning assessment of the state of NHS children and adolescents’ mental healthcare. It is, says the report, in a “serious state with deeply ingrained problems”. Following massive cuts to the funding of the service there is now a severe shortage of beds in mental health hospitals and distressed children are regularly taken to facilities many miles from their homes and families.

in fact it is frequently the case that there are no beds at all. In 2012-13 there were 263 instances of children being held in police cells after being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The committee asked how we would feel about children with a physical health problem being locked up in police cells. Good question. It is utterly outrageous. For the sake of the equivalent of the cost of a few days exploratory work on HS2, or the foreign aid which ends up in the pockets of corrupt rulers, we are prepared to treat our children in a way that would provoke outrage if we did the sane to dogs.

It is not often that we codgers find ourselves in agreement with Nick Clegg but on the subject of mental health we are as one with the Lib Dem leader. He has pledged to include in his party’s manifesto a commitment to waiting times and service levels for mental health equivalent to those for physical illnesses. It is time, he tells us, to stop regarding mental health services as a “Cinderella”. He has of course conveniently forgotten that it was his party that allowed Andrew Lansley to destroy the NHS, but on this point he is right.

Children’s doctors told the committee that the “crisis” in children’s mental health has been ignored and has become “a hidden epidemic”. Local NHS organisations, which are under severe financial pressures, have disproportionately cut funding for mental health services, and there has been a sharp fall in both the number of nurses and the number of doctors working in the sector.

Imagine your reaction if your child suddenly develops a frightening psychological condition. Imagine how you would feel if there was no local facility for treatment and he or she had to be taken hundreds of miles to an overcrowded version of bedlam. You would be distraught. Now realise that this fate awaits your family if the worst happens, as it does at some point to one in three.

What is needed is not some half-baked ‘mindfulness’ scheme but a service that guarantees decent support and treatment for children in distress. David Cameron is fond of quoting the care received by his children from the NHS. Does this rich out-of-touch man seriously believe that his experience is equivalent to that of equally devoted parents who have no influence?

A friend of ours is a mental health nurse. He talks of despair within the service. It was, he says, never good but now has virtually disintegrated. We asked him to give us words with which to end this piece. He gave us three.

Enough is enough!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Due to budgetary constraints, the light at the end of the tunnel will be turned off until further notice”….Rosemarie Jarski.

“Climate catastrophe” – who cares?

Our love affair with nature has withstood the pressure of changing times, and as we codgers trooped on to the allotments this morning we delighted once again at its sense of recurring permanence. The spiders have been busy again in the greenhouses, a hedgehog was dormant within the log pile, the begonias were standing defiant in anticipation of the first frost, and the birds were scratching amongst the autumn leaves in search of an early breakfast. All was quiet, all is well with the natural world.

But a metaphorical dark cloud marred the blue sky and early sun. The UN body charged with formulating expert advice for governments around the world on climate change has released its “final warning”. Time is running out if the world wants to avoid catastrophe. Human emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history and concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are the highest in at least 800,000 years. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, snow and ice has diminished and sea levels are rising. If the use of fossil fuels are not significantly scaled back in the coming decades little of what we now regard as nature and human existence will still be here in 2100. Just 86 years away!

But who is listening, who cares? Across the globe madmen are waging wars in the name of imaginary Gods, and in every nation politicians are playing their games of deception and short-term power. Long-term salvation is not for them, the thought of future generations is blotted out by the need to hoodwink the present one. The UK is amongst the most environmentally aware but even here our dear leader shows little concern for what happens after he joins the Old Etonians that rule heaven.

If the scientists are right Armageddon beckons but the mornings headlines show a different focus. Even the EU faces long-term obliteration but it is more concerned with announcing hefty fines on member states, such as ours, who fail to pay supplements to their already astronomic membership bills. Ukip has surged once again in the opinion polls. Aunty Merkel has deserted her favourite nephew, who is finding the prospect of half of Eastern Europe settling in his crowded island hard to sell to an increasingly crotchety nation. Home Office Minister Norman Baker has suddenly discovered that he can’t stand working with Theresa May, and expects us to believe that it has nothing to do with the need for his Lib Dem party to be seen to be at odds with the Tory masters it has served so faithfully for over four years.

Oh yes – and Manchester is to get an elected mayor, untold wealth and yet another layer of bureaucracy. Tomorrow there will be more such headlines and more such trivia as the new age of constant news updates gasps for more. It is almost as if we have come to believe that the only item of real news can be buried and wiped from our collective consciousness.

The UN report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that warming of the climate system is “unequivocal”. If catastrophe is to be avoided we have to restrict its extent to 2C. To do this emissions must drop by 40 to 70 per cent globally between 2010 and 2050, and fall to zero or below by 2100.

Right now the prospects of that happening look as likely as Nigel Farage giving up smoking. All nations will be represented at a gathering in Paris in December but global agreement on concerted action will require a greater sense of unity and unselfish commitment by the major powers than has been evident to date. If we are honest we have to acknowledge that human nature is uncomfortable with sacrifice that produces no benefits during our lifetimes.

What conclusion will those who still inhabit what remains of our planet a century from now draw? As things stand it will not be a flattering one.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Either heaven or hell will have continuous background music. Which one you think it will be says a lot about you!” ….Bill Vaughan.

Will Cornick named and jailed: the boy who murdered his teacher

Judge imposes indeterminate sentence on ‘highly dangerous’ boy who showed no emotion as he carried out classroom attack on Ann Maguire

The teenage killer of Ann Maguire winked at a friend as he walked over to the Spanish teacher’s desk, where he stabbed her seven times and returned to his seat “as if nothing happened”, a court heard .

William Cornick, known as Will, was 15 when he killed Maguire in front of terrified pupils during a lesson at Corpus Christi Catholic college in Leeds on 28 April, having talked about an attack on her for three years. Full details of the murder and his motivation can now be revealed for the first time.

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Will Cornick: a model student who planned murder for three years

Once described as a delightful and pleasant pupil, Ann Maguire’s killer has never shown remorse for his actions

Ann Maguire’s killer was just 15 when he walked up behind the Spanish teacher in a classroom at Corpus Christi Catholic college and stabbed her to death.

The court heard Will Cornick had been planning the murder for three years, but neither his teachers nor his parents saw it coming. The weekend before the killing he attended his grandmother’s birthday party and was “polite and apparently happy”, Paul Greaney QC, prosecuting, told Leeds crown court on Monday. His cheerful demeanour was, said the barrister, “one of the many extraordinary features of the case”.

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The family silver has almost gone!

We codgers cleaned out the hens under clear blue skies this morning, but it was cold enough to emasculate a brass monkey. In no time at all we were gathered in the warm hut to review the Man City v Man Utd derby. None of us were other than very poor soccer amateurs, but we prefer to forget that as we pontificate about the tactics of the stars. At £50 per visit we rarely attend matches, and our lingering hope is that Sky will decide to create a panel of older experts. What has Alan Shearer got that we haven’t other than knowledge?

But our attention span is a short one as befits our advancing years and we quickly turned to the morning papers, several of which have pictures of Aunty Merkel waving goodbye to someone off camera. It seems it is us, for she has now made it clear that she will accept our exit from Europe if our dear leader refuses to back down on migrants. She probably feels that she has little alternative to pinning her favourite nephew against the wall whilst insisting on our doors remaining open, lest the entire population of Eastern Europe decides to move into Germany instead. But will her bluff work? Even Dave the king of U-turns is going to struggle on this one.

But you never know, our politicians have an impressive record when it comes to selling Britain short. We codgers still remember when the sainted Margaret introduced us to the “exciting new share-owning democracy”. She made a start by selling off the public utilities – gas, electricity and water – and declared that this was the new age of Britishness, all we had to do was send our cheques to Sid.

Fast forward to now and what do you have? EDF is owned by French electricity, EON is owned by Germans, Scottish Power is owned by Spain’s Iberdrola, Npower is owned by the German company RWE. Anglican Water has gone to Canada, Thames Water is owned by the Germans. Orange and T-Mobile? France and Germany. Cellnet and O2? Spain. Arriva Buses? The German Deutsche Bank. Gatwick? South Korea. Cadbury’s? United States. The M6 toll road? Australia’s Macquarie Bank.

The list rolls on and on. The French government owns its own railways and most of ours…I will stop now, secure in the thought that you have grasped the point we are trying to make. internationalism is fine, but our so-called leaders have translated it into a one-way ticket. The family silver has gone and we own next to nothing.

Last week several of us attended a conference in Manchester. One of the speakers expressed the view that our only hope for the future lies in full integration into the EU and private sector ownership of our services. The first question from the floor was “Why will we still need Westminster?”. The panel member dismissed it as “silly”. To us it seemed extremely sensible.

Perhaps we should draw comfort from the news that every taxpayer is to receive a statement from the tax men setting out the way in which our money is used. This, boomed the spin-doctors, is proof positive that we now have open and transparent government. That being so can we also expect an analysis of all the foreign owned ‘British’ companies tax payments? Unsurprisingly the answer is no.

At this point we began to reflect on last night’s BBC2 expose on Afghanistan and the unbelievably incompetent leadership of the Helmand mission which led to the loss and mutilation of so many brave young men and women. But an apoplectic Mrs Albert arrived and we decided to leave that for another day.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” If Kitchener was not a great man, he was at least a great poster!”…Margot Asquith.

Things are seldom what they seem!

Yesterday we positively gushed with praise for Bert the weather God. This morning we hurled curses towards the heavens as we arrived at the allotments to find roof panels scattered around like confetti. It seems that whilst we snored, high winds decided to test our our temporary repairs at the fiefdom of Albert’s chickens. In truth we are waiting for the arrival of O’Reilly the builder, but it seems that his advertised 24/7 rescue service is confined to the delivery of bricks rather than the act of cementing them together. As we surveyed the re-creation of the Somme we reflected, not for the first time, that things are seldom what they seem.

The theme stayed with us as we tidied up and cleaned out the hens. Several of us have savings accounts with NatWest, money tucked away over a lifetime of working in anticipation of treats that our pensions wouldn’t cover. As a result we were intrigued by zillion pound ads over the past week heralding a new age of simpler, fairer banking no more than a NatWest branch away. Yesterday we received glossy brochures telling us that life is about to become less complicated at the “Helpful Bank”. All savings accounts are to be merged into one. It sounded sensible until you read the small print. The new overall interest rate is 0.75% which represents a 50% cut. Spare us the lies NatWest the “Unhelpful Bank”!

The truth of course is that thanks to ‘quantitative easing’ the Banks no longer need our investments. Given the availability of cash from Threadneedle Street at a very low rate they can fund all the bonuses and loans without our help. The Banks, which caused the financial mess, can now laugh all the way to the, er, Bank. Mind you even they are not quite as misleading in their spin as our dear leader. A brochure landed on our mats this week carrying a banner headline “Securing a better future for Britain”. It claims that the ‘deficit’ has been reduced by over a third. In truth the national debt has rocketed and is out of control. And the claim that we now have thousands of additional doctors and nurses is straight from Baldrick’s book of facts.

If the claim about nurses was true it would make very strange indeed information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Over the past 12 months the NHS has spent £1.3 billion on agency staff. That represents expenditure two-and-a-half-times more that the budgeted £523m and was unavoidable “given cuts to staffing”. And agencies charge significantly more than the cost of a full-time NHS nurse or doctor.

But it is not only in the murky worlds of banking and politics that things are seldom what they seem. Facebook, that paragon of decency and good taste, has taken down images a mother had posted of herself breastfeeding her tiny premature baby because they “breached decency rules”. Apparently, a nipple is more offensive on Facebook than a decapitated head. It seems that our modern moral guardians at Facebook are also somewhat ingenuous in their posturing.

But surely some things are exactly what they seem? Take the T-shirts now covering the chests of even such worthies as Harriet Harman bearing the revelation that “This is what a feminist looks like”. Quite right too, it is high time people in high places exposed the exploitation of women. Unfortunately the Fawcett Society, the charity organising the revolution didn’t check the origin of its visual aid. It turns out that the T-shirts were made in Mauritius by women coerced into working in a sweatshop for 62p an hour.

Even individuals in high places seem to be practising the art of two-facedness. Tom Parker Bowles has been busy promoting his cookery book. During his press launches he choose to claim that one of the masters at his prep school had joined the boys in the showers. Nothing to do with cooking but everything to do with attracting attention. Mr Parker Bowles added that whilst he will continue to publish wonderful advice on kitchen craft he will not be sending his children to boarding school, since he is a “good old pleb”. He forgot to mention that his mother Camilla married her long-standing lover Prince Charles. People who describe themselves as plebs seldom are.

By the time we reached our second doughnuts in the hut we had decided that we were being somewhat harsh in our selection of examples of things not being what they seem. instead we began to list those ads, politicians and celebs whose proclamations have the ring of truth.

We had no need of a second sheet of paper!
QUOTES FOR TODAY; ” All commercials cost a fortune. Some commercials look as if they cost twice as much as you think. They’re the ones that cost five times as much as you think!”….Clive James./ “Promoting orange juice as ‘cholesterol-free’ is like saying ‘Fly United Airlines – it’s dandruff free”…..Leslie Savan.
ce on cooking

This ridiculous charade must end !

November is here once again. But this morning brought no sign of the weather we know awaits us, in fact it felt positively springlike as we codgers arrived at the allotments. Blue skies, bright sunshine lighting up the begonias and a temperature akin to that in Bacup in mid-summer sent our ancient pulses racing as we cleaned out the hens. Even they are confused – several are broody, a maternal instinct that irritates Albert who, being midget-like, has the responsibility for lifting them from their nest-boxes. Given his language whilst doing so it seems likely that if we were within the authority of the FA he would now be sitting alongside Rio Ferdinand on the spectator benches.

As we settled in the hut for our undeserved break we allowed ourselves a brief moment of satisfaction at yesterday’s vindication in regard to our views on the Woolf fiasco, before turning our attention to the news that the extra £1.7 billion demanded by the EU bureaucrats is not the first additional demand made this year. It seems that we have already handed over a supplement of £2 billion. The justification? We have recovered too successfully from the recession as the EU, Germany included, stagnates in the East. To add insult to injury we now learn that our net contribution to the Brussels gravy train had already doubled over the past few years to an eye-watering £11 billion.

For most of us, angry but helpless which is the taxpayers’ lot these days, one question keeps rearing its head: is there any point at all at which our dear leader will tell the crawling Foreign Office to shove its servile advice and shout from the door of Downing Street; “That’s it. We Brits have had enough”. The Prime Minister has 190 days to win us back or lose us. Or does he really think we were put on this planet to be shoved around and pushed from pillar to post by the Barrosos and Junckers of this world?

It is perhaps no surprise that today’s polls shows Ukip in a massive lead in the impending Rochester by-election. Many years ago another capitulator Neville Chamberlain rose to speak in the Commons. From behind him his own backbencher Leo Amery called out: “Speak for Britain.” Those three words were probably the beginning of the end for Chamberlain. David Cameron is getting perilously near to his Leo Amery moment. And the irony is that his coalition partners and the massed ranks of Labour have already had theirs.

Even more ridiculous are the attempts of all three parties to suddenly appear tough on immigration. They might as well pop down to Rome and ask the Pope to abandon the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, there is no possibility of the Brussels crowd varying the treaty on this. We must either accept swamping or resign themselves to more and more people moving into the loving arms of the dashing Nigel. And here lurks another irony. Polls show that 80 per cent of Ukip policies are supported by 90 per cent of Tory voters yet the silly slanging match continues.

We codgers originally embraced the ‘common market’ of Edward Heath. It involved only partners of roughly equal economic strength and the UK had no special appeal as a place to move to. But now it has become a vast bureaucracy involving a vast number of countries. We are left with the choice of obeying all the laws, decrees and channelling hard-earned British money into the EU’s bottomless pockets or politically disentangling ourselves. But, cry the Lib Dems and Labour, where would we go? To us the answer is clear. There are now moves to establish a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area. Already the USA, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland are committed to the concept of a free trade but self-governing alliance also linked with the world’s merging economies. Such a bloc would be bigger, richer and much more democratic than the bullies of Brussels.

A poll published yesterday suggested that we codgers are not alone in wondering if our politicians have finally lost touch with reality. Interviewees were asked ‘Do you believe that politicians are acting in your best interest?”. Only 20 per cent answered yes for Westminster and even fewer for the EU. It is time, to quote the late Ena Sharples, to think on! It is time for the ridiculous charade to end.

Meantime we have been keeping a close eye on the progress of little Ashya King, who was dying of a brain tumour when his desperate parents removed him from Southampton hospital to try the new proton beam therapy in the Czech Republic. We pray that it has worked, and the early signs are encouraging. If that proves to be the case the authorities here face questions. Why were his parents treated like criminals and why does the NHS not offer the same therapy. The answer that we cannot afford it will cut little ice with millions watching in horror as we pour money into Brussels.

But at uncertain times such as this we must retain our sanity-saving sense of humour. And finally kicking the politically correct brigade into touch would be a good start. Mike Read composed a calypso and sang it with a cod Jamaica accent. All hell let loose. It was, cried the chattering classes, the worst form of racism. It was nothing of the sort. My best friend hails from Barbados and we often enjoy “taking the mickey” out of each others accents. Perhaps PC stands for Pathetic Clots?
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Don’t worry about the world ending today: it’s already tomorrow in Australia!”….Steven Wright.

Woolf farce – abuse victims deserve better!

Tomorrow brings November yet we codgers were in shirt-sleeve order as we cleaned out the hens this morning. Global warming? Heaven knows, but we are not complaining. Not about the weather anyway – there was a good deal of complaining on other issues, not least from those amongst us who still admit to affection for the Labour Party. A new poll out today has rattled their cage. It seems that the SNP is on course to take over 50 per cent of the vote north of the border come the general election. Should this be accurate Labour would lose 37 seats and the Lib Dems all but one of theirs. And the chance of young Ed picking the curtains for Number Ten would be dashed, for without its 40 plus Scottish seats Labour would be unlikely to do more than match the Conservative vote.

Cue for the wandering millionaire Tony Blair. He has hit the headlines with his ‘expert’ advice to the party he first rescued and then destroyed. All it needs to do, he cries, is rebut all that Ukip has to say on EU and immigration. A more modest observer might conclude that what it has to do is reconnect with the working classes that once provided its foundation. No, we no longer have large manufacturing complexes but over half of the population is struggling financially and it lacks a champion. I have just read Dennis Skinner’s autobiography which pulls no punches on the widening gap between the privileged and those who have little. The ‘Beast of Bolsover’ may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he is worth listening to. Socialism may be an unfashionable concept now, but a little passion on behalf of the exploited and oppressed would not come amiss. Instead the phrase ‘they are all the same’ echoes across the land.

As we settled in the hut for our undeserved break someone mentioned that Channel Four is making a spoof film based on a scenario in which Nigel Farage is installed in Number Ten, a possibility that seems less unlikely as each week passes. The mind boggles, not least about C4’s search for someone to play the part of the dashing Nige. By the time we had reached our second doughnuts we had our man. Jeremy Clarkson is off-stage a pleasant, quiet guy. Once the cameras roll he plays to perfection the role of a half-crazed courter of controversy. Perfect match!

Great stuff for it is better to laugh than cry. But out there in the real world there is much to cry about. Every decent soul is appalled at the growing evidence of child abuse on a massive scale, and the proposed inquiry presents a last chance to examine the evidence and to come up with an honest salvation for our millions of vulnerable victims of shameless exploiters and perverts who for too long have, unchallenged, destroyed an age of innocence. But even the task of setting up the crucial investigation is proving beyond our out-of-touch establishment.

Clearly the choice of the person to lead this is crucial, equally clearly that individual must be seen as someone without taint, someone without the remotest connection with any of the people or bodies that seemingly failed to heed the many cries for help. For the second time an inappropriate nomination has caused outrage. This time we have Fiona Woolf. The first choice, Baroness Butler-Sloss, had to resign over a conflict of interest. Now it has emerged that Mrs Woolf had links with Lord Brittan, who as Leon Brittan served as a Cabinet minister in the eighties. It has been claimed that Lord Brittan was handed a file – now mysteriously lost – in late 1983 which allegedly detailed child abuse at the highest levels of Westminster.

Yesterday Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, claimed that facts about Mrs Woolf’s contacts with Lord and Lady Brittan appeared to have been “amended”. His conclusion was based on the admission that her first letter of explanation was drafted by lawyers working for the abuse inquiry, and was subsequently rewritten by Home Office officials no fewer than six times. Anyone reading the various versions can only conclude that a good deal of ‘watering down’ has taken place in an attempted cover-up around the closeness of the proposed inquiry head and the former key member of government, at a time when stories circulated about the involvement in an abuse scandal of at last one Tory grandee.

Frankly if the inquiry is to have any credibility with past and present abuse victims a third attempt must now be made to find a head with no past establishment links. We are sure that either of the ladies proposed would have acted impartially but justice must be seen to be done. That apart, the role of the Home Office in trying to cover-up and distort will have alienated and frightened essential witnesses.

We are in the last-chance saloon on this crucial issue and it is hard to understand why the government has not opted for a team similar to that employed during the Leveson inquiry. Mind you the government didn’t act on their conclusions, but that is another sordid story of influence, no name no Murdochs.

It was the establishment that presided over a shameful and scandalous period of our history. The establishment cannot be seen to be investigating itself.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” In the business world, an executive knows something about everything, a technician knows everything about something, and the switchboard operator or secretary knows everything!”….Harold Coffin.

Child abuse – social workers need resources!

“Wish I was Boris”, muttered Albert as we skidded about in the allotment mud this morning. It has to be admitted that this was a dank and dismal start to the day, but why a pint-sized grump should be moved to wish for transformation into a portly comedian was a potential mystery. But it turns out that Albert covets the £250,000 dished out each week to the wannabe Prime Minister for a column which he dashes off in an hour. How even such a giant intellect can justify such largesse is hard to fathom, particularly since the Daily Torygraph is planning to axe 10 percent of its editorial staff. As is so often the case Private Eye has offered an explanation – the Barclay brother owners “need access to the mayor regarding their other property interests in the capital”. So that’s all right then.

But as we thankfully settled in the hut for our undeserved break Tom pointed out that Boris is far from the only one to exploit his work for the newspapers. Barry Hearn is a new columnist for the sports pages of the Sun. His 18 October column urges readers not to miss snooker’s Champion of Champions Cup “returning to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena on November 3”. He forgot to mention that the event’s promoter is Matchroom Sports, a company owned by, er, one B Hearn. Elsewhere on the page he licked his lips at the prospect of “Britain’s most successful amateur boxer fighting for his first professional title”. Campbell is a client of Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn.

But it would be unfair to conclude that the old pals act is confined to the media. We have noticed that a seating plan for the Conservative Black and White fundraising ball, tickets £1,000 per head, shows Andrew Leadsome, treasury minister and former investment banker, his brother-in-law Peter De Putron, owner of a Guernsey-based hedge fund, and the Jersey finance minister Philip Ozouf sitting next to health minister Jeremy Hunt. In Hunt’s drastically opened-up health service, private companies financed by offshore private equity and hedge funds who strip out profits rather than invest in services pose a grave danger to the future of the NHS. A good example is Hinchingbrooke hospital, now owned by Circle Holdings plc. They are registered in Jersey and owned by a mixture of offshore hedge funds and Leadsome’s most recent former employer, Invesco Perpetual. It labours under huge debts kept down by unusual “off balance sheet” financing arrangements run through Jersey. Perhaps the offshore money men assured Hunt there is nothing to worry about.

But perish the thought that our politicians are open to influence. That is certainly not the case in respect of our hard pressed social workers who have no offshore banker to plead their case. Today we learn that Councils were last year alerted to the welfare of nearly two million children believed to be the subject of abuse or neglect. Alan Wood, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said in a speech yesterday that abuse or neglect referrals continue to rise as a result of poverty and welfare reform. At the same time an inquiry led by Ann Coffey reported that sexual exploitation of children has become “normal” on some streets in Manchester.

The reaction from Home Secretary Theresa May was predictable. All this, she said, highlights unacceptable failings by local authorities ” to ensure the protection of children”. In other words it is all down to the failings of social workers. She clearly has forgotten that reductions in local authority budgets have led to a reduction of 25 percent of social workers. Those that remain are besieged and totally swamped by referrals. To add to their nightmare they are now subjected to paperwork that has increased year by year.

Laura Eden has spent five years working with children and families and seven years managing a child-protection team. Today she has told the Independent that the “recording has gone completely crazy”. The case records of one child in care can easily fill 25 files. Of course there have to be records but, Laura says, the bureaucracy has “gone completely overboard”. “You don’t do the job for the money but because you believe in making children’s lives better”, she adds. But given the resources available and the excessive amount of clerical work our social workers have no chance of coping.

There is a straight choice here. As a society we have to decide whether projects such as HS2 – largely driven by those who expect to make fortunes – take precedence over the protection of our children and the vulnerable. If the answer is yes than we should at least stop vilifying social workers when things go wrong. As they assuredly will.

Come to think about it, Albert was right. Were I Boris I could fund ten social workers for a year by just an hour at the laptop.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Had his brain been constructed of silk, he would have been hard put to find sufficient material to make a canary a pair of cami-knickers”….. P G Woodhouse.

What a mess!

A recent visitor to our allotments complained that that this daily blog gives the impression of a tidy, well ordered place akin to a heavenly oasis so often portrayed in the old Bob Hope ‘Road’ movies. In reality, he observed, it is an unholy mess. As we codgers surveyed the scene this morning we had to concede that he was right. Piles of damaged roof panels, wheel-less barrows, bricks and empty sacks threaten to overwhelm us and the situation was worsened today by the reminder provided by the first overnight frost that the unheated greenhouse is still packed with vulnerable cacti.

But we Brits love a mess for it brings out our greatest strength – the art of extricating ourselves from one. It would of course be better to avoid getting in one in the first place, but such forethought is not a part of our nature. So this morning saw us scuttling around in the manner of demented hamsters and the arrival of a large skip is awaited, and the cacti have been belatedly loaded into Albert’s van. Having worked off enough calories to convert Eric Pickles into Peter Crouch, we eventually devoured a tray load of doughnuts awaiting our attention in the warm hut without even noticing that it too is in a state of chaos.

We consoled ourselves with the thought that mightier beings are also presiding over a mess, and the one that they have created has rather more serious implications. First up is inevitably the Home Office. When, some years ago, John Reid took over the place he declared it unfit for purpose and his various successors have maintained the tradition. We already knew about the Border Agency, the circumventing of which would scarcely challenge Baldrick on an off-day. Today we learn that there is a backlog of 10,000 asylum seekers still waiting for a decision after seven years in the UK. Even more astonishing is the news that they are merely the tip of a threatening iceberg. Over 175,000 whose claims were rejected have “gone missing”.

Yesterday the Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchard, visited Westminster to complain about the thousands of migrants causing havoc in her once peaceful domain, all “prepared to die to come to England”. We are, she declared a ” soft touch”, given our “much more favourable benefits system”. And she is weary of funding a constant security battle to prevent the ever-growing horde of wannabe Brits pouring in from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq. She now realises that our benefits system is not the only attraction – once over the channel all they have to do is fill in an asylum application before disappearing to the nearest large town or city.

Once there they can seek employment from dubious employers who regard the minimum wage as the lowest they can get away with, find lodging with exploitive landlords who regard a cupboard as upmarket accommodation and check in to an NHS A & E department for medical aid. To describe the situation as an inhumane mess is to flatter it.

And of course talk of a mess takes you quickly into a glance at the biggest mess of them all. The NHS is, as a result of the madness of Andrew Lansley and his equally mad successor Jeremy Blue-Peter Hunt, now in the mother of all messes. A huge top-down ‘reform’ has left it in total confusion laced liberally with layer after layer of bureaucracy. So called ‘efficiency savings’ of £20 billion, a sharp reduction in nurse numbers and a dramatic rise in patient volumes have demoralised once dedicated staff and created a situation in many inner city hospitals of Dickensian proportions.

This morning’s Daily Torygraph carries the banner headline “NHS failing every single generation”. In reality the headline is back to front, it is every generation that has failed the NHS by averting their gaze whilst meddling politicians have wrought their mindless destruction.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, has reported on complaints made between April and June of this year. it is damning in the extreme. Patients discharged prematurely, left in pain and unfed, left on trolleys in corridors, left waiting for hours in ambulances. Visit any overcrowded A & E unit or ward and you need look no further for the explanation. Too few nurses, too few beds and too many non-clinical managers. We have all allowed our once diligent clinicians to be put into a situation with which they simply cannot cope. Even now for a fraction of the cost of the unnecessary high speed rail fantasy this could be rectified.

Long established wisdom has it that when you are in a hole you should stop digging. But no, today ministers will announce the creation of centres to measure the impact of policies on people’s happiness. The plan is that by next spring the new ‘What Works for Wellbeing’ centres will be up and running under yet another quango under the leadership of a Lord.

We codgers venture to suggest that a few chats with what our dear leader likes to call ordinary people would tell politicians all they need to know. The country is in one hell of a mess, and people are becoming very angry.

It doesn’t surprise us in the least that in droves they are turning to Ukip. Do we seriously believe the dashing Nigel can solve our problems? Of course not but he represents an opportunity to say enough is enough.

What is really needed are CEFMAS. CEntres For Mess Avoidance!
QUOTES FOR TODAY: ” A politician will double-cross a bridge when he comes to it”…Oscar Levant. ” The voters have spoken – the bastards”….Richard Nixon.

Cut the cackle – the economy is in deep trouble!

Someone once famously said that the truth can set you free. I say famously although I am struggling to remember who it was and asking my fellow codgers, as we cleaned out the hens this morning, proved of little help. Their suggestions ranged from Arsene Wenger to Lady Gaga, at which point I gave up since my mention of truth had been intended to spark serious reflection rather than an allotments version of The Weakest Link. Mind you a visit from Ann Robinson…there we go again and I really do want to explore a profound question.

Which, sadly, is unanswerable. If you think about it you will realise that everything we believe is based on what someone has told us. The bible, historians, news bulletins, economists, scientists, researchers..the list of the sources that shape the background of everything we accept as fact is a long one. We praise, criticise or carp but we seldom pause to ask if the accepted basic facts are other than a distortion, fabrication or the product of imaginative reporting.

By the time we reached the welcoming cosiness of the hut I had managed to gain the attention of my fellow chicken keepers, with the exception of Albert who had gone off to have a row with the bin-men. I reminded them that for many a month we have argued the toss about the economic miracle brought about by Gorgeous George Osborne. We have praised or, according to our political inclinations, attempted to denigrate his declarations of victory over Ed Balls, the IMF and all the others who warned that his austerity measures would throw Britain back into recession. Slowly the doubting Thomas’s have fallen silent as employment has climbed, businesses have recovered and inflation has fallen back.

But what if the real story of the economy is a very different one? What if the UK economy, whilst seemingly the fastest-growing of any developed country, is in reality taking a dramatic turn for the worse? What if the image of a strong recovery is an illusion, and we are heading for a calamity capable of making the Great Depression look like the best of all Christmases?

One doesn’t need to be an accountant to know that a household capable of paying its way only thanks to significant borrowing is heading for a fall. Superficially all is well; the larder is well stocked, the new Sky TV installed, the new car is parked outside and the central heating is piping hot. But the amount owing to lenders is up again and soon interest payments will reduce disposable income to the point where repayments cannot be maintained and the debt is called in. Initially the family can exercise cuts and austerity, but the situation is out of control and bankruptcy beckons.

A slightly childish analogy I know, but the hard fact is that the much lauded UK economy is in exactly that situation. Unmentioned by the Chancellor the national debt, already at an horrendous level when Grumpy Gordon packed his bags, stands at £1,450 billion – an increase of £475 billion. And it is rising rapidly, between April and September the Chancellor borrowed £58 billion – £5.4 billion more than during the same period last year.

If the Conservatives want to go into the next election as the party of financial competence – and they are sunk if they do not – the Chancellor is going to have to convince us that he is serious about reducing spending and collecting taxes. At the moment he is using verbal tricks – saying he will “deal with the debt” – whilst increasing the debt at the rate of £3,000 per second. Every day of delay means permanently higher national debt, which in turn means saddling the next generation with massively higher taxes.

The truth is hidden as many, rightly, protest about Osborne’s vicious cuts aimed at the poorest members of society. But those are political play-acting rather than significant savings. In reality he is not an austerity Chancellor. He is no 1940s housewife eking out the ration stamps. He is more like a footballer’s wife who feels smug at ‘saving’ herself a few hundred pounds buying clothes in a sale that she goes out and blows on a slap-up dinner. This is no iron chancellor, more like a child peeling off a plaster slowly so as to minimise the pain. Osborne has now given himself eight years to cut state spending by just 3.9 per cent. Denis Healey, when under pressure from the IMF in 1976, cut it by that in one year.

But the biggest nightmare of all is falling revenue from taxes. New jobs are being created but the vast majority are low paid and provide virtually no tax revenue. Meantime the majority of our big companies and wealthier citizens follow tax-avoidance schemes with impunity. The thought of Dennis Skinner as Chancellor is not a comfortable one but you could be sure of one thing – tax revenue would rocket to the stars. But no serious candidate for 11 Downing Street has the political courage to tackle the establishment head on. Even the bankers who triggered the financial disaster attract only mild rebukes as they continue to pay themselves eye-watering bonuses.

To compound this catastrophic situation the Chancellor continues to support the UK role as the leading provider of foreign aid and the entirely unnecessary HS2. We cannot in all sanity plough on with such massive expenditure when we will have to borrow every last penny to fund them.

The truth is never a comfortable companion. No one will welcome this example for we all feel the need to be part of a financially stable country, and to confine our economic chat to debating various political options. Indeed many of us prefer not to think about it all, leaving the room when Robert Peston appears on the box with his complicated prophesies of doom.

But the fact remains that we are stony broke and until politicians have the guts to forget their antics and tackle the problem head-on in a fair way the position will continue to worsen. The international pawn shop beckons for tomorrow’s world!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” I handed one of my creditors an IOU and thought thank heavens that’s settled!”…..Richard Sheridan.

Don’t apologise – swamping was the right word!

We codgers admit to being as scientific as the late president of the Flat Earth Society, so it is less than surprising that we find the latest pronouncements about the effect of global warming beyond our understanding. When the warnings about an ever warming planet first hit the headlines we those of us still possessing choppers took comfort in the thought that the days of their chattering on the allotments would soon be a distant memory. Today a report published in Nature Geoscience reveals that whilst the summers will indeed get hotter, the UK winters will head in the opposite direction.

Apparently the loss of floating Arctic sea ice in the Barents and Kara seas north of Scandinavia can affect the global circulation of air currents and lead to bitterly cold winds blowing for extended periods in winter over Central Asia and Europe, including the UK. Small consolation – the Japanese scientists have added that the cooling effect in unlikely to last “beyond this century”. It is time to buy shares in Long Johns Ltd.

It wasn’t a happy note on which to start another week on the allotments. Being ostrich like by nature we quickly turned our attention to other news, as we cleaned out the hens. Richard Carter, from Anglesey, is out selling poppies again this year and has said that his efforts are aimed at funding the expensive prosthetic limbs required for the lads who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Richard is 100 years-old. Perhaps if Mr Blair reads of this inspiring example he will donate the odd million from his fortune.

Even the news that Russell Brand is to seek election as London Mayor once Boris has departed to seek election as Prime Minister couldn’t deflect our attention from the end of the Afghan mission. In addition to all those now dependent on the efforts of such as Richard Carter, many families, both here and in the United States, now mourn the loss of sons and daughters and the death toll in Afghanistan itself is beyond contemplation. As a result we hesitate to join the chorus of those who claim that the whole venture was doomed from its bloody outset. But the signs from both Iraq and Afghanistan are ominous and it is difficult to foresee other than both countries returning to the grips of madmen. Once again we have intervened in cultures that we do not understand, once again politicians seeking self-glory have destroyed the lives of many brave and innocent people.

By the time we reached the allotments hut for our undeserved break my pals had shifted their attention to less weighty issues. And they don’t come less weighty than the new brand of Police Commissioners introduced by the coalition. When the idea was first muted we welcomed the idea of the police being held to account by respected pillars of society, but we predicted that the scheme would be hijacked by politicians. We were right for once. Following the belated resignation of the Labour PCC Shaun Wright in South Yorkshire, the new candidates are seeking votes. It is, the press tells us, a battle royal between Ukip and the Labour Party. Congratulations are due to our dear leader – he has now managed to politicise the police. Expect another farcically low turn-out from an outraged public.

Even news of the latest stage in David Cameron’s divorce from Aunty Merkel could not keep the supposed gaffe by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon from today’s front pages. Speaking to Sky News Mr Fallon said that towns up and down the UK are being “swamped” by immigrant workers. Many communities, he said, feel themselves to be “under siege from EU migrants”. Within hours Downing Street criticised the minister. He should, said the duty spin-doctor, learn to “chose his words better”. Rubbish.

Whatever the politically-correct brigade chose to believe Fallon was reflecting the views of millions. A friend lives in a community in the south of England and tells us that at first incomers were welcomed. Then the trickle turned into a flood and they began to feel like strangers in their own patch. The sheer weight of numbers led to tensions, now the smallest incidents turn into major hostility. Local services have been “swamped” and bigots are drawing attention that they could once only have dreamed of. Migrants pour in but, at a time of widespread funding cuts, services already creaking at the seams are reaching breaking point.

This has nothing to do with racism, everything to do with finite capacity. On last night’s BBC news a Labour shadow minister gleefully pointed out that “Cameron is backing into a corner from which he can only recommend leaving the EU”. True, but does he really believe that such a stance will be a vote-loser?

And now for the day’s biggest headline. The health promotion division of the chattering classes has announced that Cocoa is the secret to a long life. How we codgers have reached our late eighties without consuming the foul stuff remains a mystery!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” He’s on the mend, sitting up in bed blowing the froth off his medicine!” …Flann O’Brien.

The great tax rip-off!

As befits his rebellious spirit Albert didn’t adjust his clock last night. Since his long-gone retirement form MI5, or whatever strange organisation that provided him with employment, he has “lived with nature” by basing his activities on the sun. Throw in the fact that we seldom see it and you have a recipe for confusion since he never arrives at the allotments at the same time as the rest of us. This morning he appeared as we were taking our break, having cleaned out his hens. Perhaps we are the crazy ones.

The odds are that many of our fellow citizens spent Sunday morning in bed, at church or rummaging around in search of lost socks. We spent at least part of ours trying to work out just what our dear leader’s aims are on Europe. He is under siege from an assortment of Ukip, his own backbenchers and, according to the polls, 70 per cent of the electorate who are hell-bent on waving goodbye to Aunty Merkel, Junckers and all. Until recently we had assumed that he was engaged in his usual practice of playing for time and vaguely hoping that all will turn out for the best. But now he has raised the bar to an height that even someone trained on the playing fields of Eton will find impossible to clear.

In the space of just a few days he has made clear that the abolition of open-borders are a pre-condition to his recommending an ‘in’ vote in his 2017 referendum, and he has angrily dismissed any thought of handing over another £1.7 billion. His assorted horde of Eurosceptic pursuers is unlikely to shut up if he attempts any U-turn from the corner he has created for himself. So our chubby-cheeked hero is doomed?

Not necessarily, for his rival has spent his last few days alienating the Scottish Labour Party, without whose 40 plus Westminster seats he will struggle to obtain a majority. It seems that Ed Miliband forgot to tell the leader that he was about to change her team, and she has flounced off complaining at Scottish affairs being treated as item ten on the shadow cabinet agenda. Cue whoops of delight from the SNP, and its rise in the polls to astronomic levels. Even worse for young Ed there is a chorus of demands for Grumpy Gordon, who rescued the referendum no vote, to assume the mantle of Scottish Labour leader. Clearly Ed is more than capable of matching any mess-up by Dave with one of his own!

But before they relax reassured by the thought that their cock-ups balance out leaving the voters with a simple choice of the least loopy of two nincompoops, we trust that they have noticed the findings of a new poll published today. Asked whether, given the possibility of success, they would vote for the motley Farage army almost 40 per cent said yes. If the so-called main parties don’t quickly get their act together the anti alcohol, smoking and pub pies brigade could, like many Premiership managers, be feeling as sick as parrots come next May.

But we quickly let such fantasies slip from our minds this morning as, over our second doughnuts, we turned our attention to the spiralling national debt. Gorgeous George Osborne continues to appear in a hard-hat on building sites to tell us that his economic miracle is coming to pass. He always forgets to mention that the national debt is increasing at the rate of £3,000 a second, and now stands at £1,450 billion against £975 billion when he took office. We are now paying more in interest than it would cost to solve the financial plight of the NHS for a decade. And the biggest factor is falling tax revenues.

And here we come to the greatest mystery of our time. Figures obtained by the Sunday Torygraph show that the number of informants reporting suspected tax-dodging activities to HM Revenue & Customs has risen by thousands in just two years. Last year a record £400,000 was paid out to people using the taxman’s hotline, as part of a rewards scheme offered by HMRC. Informants can demand cash payments for supplying details of hidden offshore bank accounts or a second income never declared on tax returns. Ex-partners, former employees and neighbours are playing the new tell-and-get scheme with enthusiasm.

No great mystery here, spite and greed are part of the human condition and the ‘victims’ deserve to be caught. But here comes the mystery – given the frenzied hunt for every small-time tax dodger in the land why is no attempt being made to confront the big-volume evaders who account for an estimated £17 billion annual loss to the treasury?

Their activities are well known yet the few that have been challenged have been allowed to reach derisory settlements. The biggest tax dodgers of all establish an office in, say, Luxembourg and via the simple device of routing their invoices through it avoid almost all UK corporation tax. Amazon, to mention but one, are allowed to do just that despite having captured a huge slice of the profitable UK publishing market at the expense of companies that did pay tax.

The same goes for the majority of the wealthy, even members of the cabinet are known to be using tax avoidance schemes. All are legal but why are our political parties silent and seemingly committed to doing nothing.

So long as this state of affairs is condoned whilst the petty dodgers are hounded and vilified we can only conclude that there are two distinctly different rules for our society. Unto him that hath shall be given, the rest shall be punished even if they are innocent.
QUOTE FOR TODAY ” If someone says, ‘It’s not the money, it’s the principle,’ it’s the money!”….Kin Hubbard.

Clubbed with the EU lead piping!

When asked how it can be that a group of old codgers with an average age of 84 run a chicken-farm we invariably ascribe it to luck. We have lost far too many friends and acquaintances deserving of a tick in every box of the busybody health adviser’s check list to believe otherwise. But this morning we had reason to wonder.

Not every Sun reader subscribes to the ‘Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin’, but Tom does and he brought the latest issue with him to the allotments this morning. It carries the findings of Elena Martinescu of the University of Groningen who, after a study lasting five hundred years, has concluded that the secret to a long and carefree life is gossip. Hearing positive and negative chatter about others apparently improves self reflection and well being, particularly the latter which creates the belief that the gasbag is a superior being. So our secret is revealed. We spend more time gossiping than working, and we devote countless hours to politicians.

So it was with light hearts that we gathered in the hut after the ritual of cleaning out the hens. We plan to send a copy of the Martinescu report to Jeremy Hunt. GPs can expect their zillionth order any time now, and they will be in line for £57 for every patient converted to the art of non-stop scandalmongering. Given his penchant for building keep-em-out-of-hospital centres you can confidently expect to see an NHS Gossip Centre in your local high street before the general election.

It would after all be no more surprising than this morning’s news that violent criminals are being let out of jail to take driving lessons. Figures released in Parliament to a Labour backbencher have disclosed that 190 inmates were permitted to leave jail for lessons last year. The total included 29 serving sentences for robbery, 89 for violent assaults and 51 for drug trafficking. What happened to MOT examiners who issued failed notices is unknown. But the Ministry of Justice emphasised that the offenders were only let out on “temporary release”. So that’s all right then.

Another, and rather more welcome, initiative is also revealed today. Culture Secretary Sajid Javid is on the warpath and has in his sights the sales and marketing companies that devote their time to bombarding the population with unwanted calls and texts. Almost every home receives these idiotic, and sometimes menacing, nuisance calls. Sometimes the calls are automated using a computer delayed reaction technique which frighten the elderly and excite members of the heavy-breathing brigade, sometimes they come from call centre operators who follow a verbal version of the once notorious foot-in-the-door Mormons.

Specialists in this idiotic field are Tetrus Telecoms. In 2012 the joint owners, Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish were fined £300,000 and £140,000 respectively for millions of spam texts. They successfully appealed, with the court ruling that the messages did not cause “substantial distress”. Now Mr Javid plans to make illegal any call or message that is simply “annoying” or “inconvenient”. All strength to his elbow. Meantime we will continue to use the Albert technique which comprises an invitation to perform a physically impossible act.

Perhaps our dear leader should have taken the wee grump with him to Brussels yesterday, where he was made to feel like “someone who has been clubbed with the lead piping in the library”. Few of us have our own libraries, but we share David Cameron’s outrage at being told to cough up an extra £1.7 billion to the EU, and to do it quickly. Aunty Merkel backed the new president Jean-Claude Juncker after he accused the Prime Minister of cowardice over the “surcharge”. Mrs Merkel is to receive a reduction to her nation’s contribution.

It is hard to even visualise £1.7 billion. But Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has attempted it. It would, he tells us, allow us to hire 60,000 extra nurses and fund their pensions for life. It represents an additional £65 for every UK family – on top of the £525 they are already paying to Brussels. Our gross contribution in 2013 was £17.2 billion – big enough to give the entire country a two thirds rebate on council tax; bigger than the entire Home Office budget; enough to host an Olympics Games every year.

Some money is allocated back but not on projects selected by us, but we continue to incur a massive net annual membership fee. Brussels has, says Mr Hannan, become a racket. Interest groups profit, bureaucracy and waste flourish, our nation is always penalised. Add to that the fact that because we are a net food importer with a relatively efficient farming sector, we are doubly clobbered by the Common Agricultural Policy. And if you don’t believe Mr Hannan try listening to Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, who yesterday said that the latest demands will lead voters to rightly see the commission as “technocrats without a heart or soul”.

We codgers thought that David Cameron did well to respond as he did. But in due course he will have to pay up. The dashing Nigel Farage was less polite. He told Junckers that he is quite relaxed since we will soon enjoy waving goodbye to him and his bureaucratic, power-mad army.

The Ukip band wagon has been gifted another push.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The bill is a lethal weapon that will convince the British public that EU leaders have no “heart and soul” and drive them towards leaving the EU. It certainly doesn’t help the chances of Britain remaining in the EU after the in/out referendum”….David Cameron

Suddenly deportation is the in-word!

Sadly, dear reader, you will find that once you enter your eighties the excitement menu has narrowed somewhat come 10.30 on dark October Thursday nights. Which perhaps explains why we allotments codgers were last night drawn to David Bumblebee’s Question Time on the Beeb. As always this morning we passed the time whilst cleaning out the hens by wondering if politicians ever answer a question with other than snide remarks about their opponents. Last night they went one stage further, they included the population at large in their condemnation.

As befits the new paranoia gripping the political establishment about Ukip the rest of the panel united in belittling the unfortunate representative of Saint Farage. She had the temerity to suggest that her party believes that a life sentence for murderers should mean just that or worse, but preferred the option of a referendum before finally deciding. The snorts of derision could have been heard in Bacup. Seeking the views of the people is clearly seen as the ultimate lunacy. When we reached our cosy hut we pledged to never watch the charade again, a pledge that we will of course conveniently forget come next Thursday.

Back in the real world the bureaucrats of Brussels were making the headlines. They have proposed an increase to our membership fee of £1.7 billion. Europe is in a state of near financial collapse, and everywhere you look the natives are rebelling against cuts in public services and an ever increasing flood of regulations. But the EU gravy train rolls on. Are we really prepared to continue to pour good money after bad? Yesterday our favourite idiot Jeremy Hunt said that finding the extra £8 billion pounds needed by 2020 to save the NHS would be “very tough”. Since that represents a mere fraction of the annual amount we spend on membership of a club that offers little in return and overseas aid to corrupt states, it shouldn’t be beyond even his limited wits.

But our anti-hero has other things on his mind. Yesterday he talked wistfully of a Britain in which smoking is a criminal offence and taking communal exercise a mandatory civic duty. As each day passes our politicos head ever closer to the thoughts of Chairman Mao. But they may find the people less inclined to daily reading of a little red book. In fact they may come to realise that the vast majority of the public desire above all else to see every politician deported to China.

Oh yes – deportation. Yesterday Ed Miliband used the word for the first time, and repeated it three times to underline the fact that it is not only Ukip that can talk tough on immigration policy. If he gets to choose the velvet curtains for Number 10 everyone will have to clock in or out when they enter or leave Britain, he told us. His party will include an Immigration Reform Bill in its first Queen’s Speech and illegal immigrants will be sent packing. Criminals will be the first to go, and no blather about human rights will be so much as listened to. Tony Blair must have tossed and turned in his four-poster bed at the prospect of all his benevolence being sullied.

Of course we don’t believe a word of it having listened to the same song from Theresa May, someone rather more politically inclined to indulge in a little deportation. Our ruling elite has shown it has no concept of our real interests, no desire to protect the public and no wish to uphold our national integrity. Obsessed with cultural diversity it has failed in its duty to make our borders secure and our streets safe. The scale of the failure has been dramatically illustrated this week by a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

The report reveals that over the past four years the authorities have lost track of 760 of the 4,200 foreign offenders who were released from jail pending deportation. Of these 58 are said to be highly dangerous. Scathingly the NAO points out that the police failed to check with the European criminal record system in 70 per cent of the cases when they detained a foreigner.

For all the tough talk from Mother Theresa the number of foreign criminals in British jails has actually gone up since the coalition came to power, totalling 10,649 as at last month. Similarly the number of deportations has fallen. In all, the NAO reports, the cost of dealing with foreign criminals has risen to £1 billion, an appalling misuse of taxpayer’s money at a time of supposed austerity.

The NAO report is a devastating indictment of the warped priorities and chronic ineptitude at the heart of the British state. Led by the shambolic Home Office the very institutions that should be guarding our society are exposing us to lethal danger. The consequences of their failure were demonstrated by the murder of London schoolgirl Alice Gross, a crime for which the prime suspect was Latvian builder Arnis Zalkalns, who was later found hanged. He was able to enter this country despite having served seven years in his native land for the murder of his wife. Even after his arrest for indecent assault in 2009 he was still allowed to stay here.

There are many such examples, including that of Amy Houston, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Blackburn by Ado Mohammed Ibrahim, a Kurdish failed asylum seeker who had been disqualified from driving. Typically he was not deported on leaving prison because he had fathered two children here.

The NAO report demonstrates that management at the Home Office is “dismal”. Absurdly prison service staff have to use fax machines to send the Home Office details about foreign prisoners because the two computer systems are incompatible. Communications are chaotic, there is a total reluctance to focus on the issue of foreign criminals. And the usual tale of staff cuts does not apply. Since 2006 the number of Home Office employees has increased almost tenfold, from 100 to more than 900.

The truth is that staff in the justice system are working in an ideologically driven culture, one more concerned with political correctness than with meeting the needs of the public. It is the same destructive dynamic that led to the horrors of the abuse scandal in Rotherham, where Pakistani gangs targeted vulnerable girls while the authorities did nothing.

Promises from politicians will remain worthless until there is a general acceptance that criminals are criminals and political correctness is history!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Democracy is the name we give the people whenever we need them!”…Marquis de Flers.
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Prizes and targets destroy trust!

The howling gale has departed and the builders have arrived. We codgers decided yesterday that repairs needed as a result of Tuesday’s devastation were beyond us, and we sent for O’Reilly and Sons. In no time at all a lorry load of bricks arrived. They now stand in a heap, whether they will be cemented together this time of Easter is open to question. Perhaps the hens understand this, they have already shown a willingness to head for their coops when the heavens open.

Meantime we had food for thought when we settled in the allotments hut for our break, and I am not referring to the doughnuts. The political poodle, Simon Stevens, who rejoices in the title of NHS chief executive, has hit the headlines with a master plan to save the health service. Employers are to be encouraged to provide incentives such as shopping vouchers or prizes for staff who join Weight Watchers and emerge a shadow of their former selves. It sounds like yet another brainwave from the man pulling the strings, Jeremy Hunt. Having once been a Blue Peter presenter the Health Secretary clearly still believes that the entire nation comprises children prepared to make battleships out of bog rolls, but only if given a lolly-pop for doing so.

We spent a few moments wondering if Eric Pickles supported the wheeze, but then moved on to reflect on the fact that the NHS England and Monitor quangos, both of whom have issued sermons this morning, are not the solution but part of the problem. Cost savings should begin with them. They and the other new layers of NHS bureaucracy cost a fortune and compound that by issuing an unending stream of new targets and new forms to fill.

Were the NHS and social services to be merged under an independent – free from political controls – national trust with the reintroduction of the small regional offices which once successfully ran the NHS, supported by a clinical inspection team, overhead costs would be significantly reduced. Even more importantly the constant stream of vote-seeking initiatives and accompanying box-ticking and regime of rewards and punishments could be consigned to the dustbin. Revolutionary? Not really, for the only hope for the future lies in the restoration of trust in professionals and patients alike.

Trust me, I’m a doctor used to be a popular catchphrase. No longer. The doctors mistrust the politicians, the patients mistrust the doctors. Take just one of many available examples; GP practices are in a state of siege and every week brings new edicts from on high. Even worse, each carries measurement leading to rewards or punishments both of which spell out again that GPs are not to be relied upon to behave in the professional way that was once the hallmark of family doctors.

Today diagnosing dementia is the latest ‘little earner’ with every diagnosis bringing in £57. Now worried patients will worry even more when they head for the surgery. If it is in the doctor’s interest to reach only one conclusion will he or she make an unbiased assessment? The same goes for blood pressure, obesity, flu jabs and a host of other reward-driven ‘initiatives’. For their part the already well paid clinicians feel untrusted and degraded.

Any professional feels under-valued when offered extra goodies for doing their job. Targets in public services are sensible if they give focus to serious problems. But – and this is a legacy of the Blair years – the target culture in the NHS has become endemic. But even the necessary ones should not be distorted by childlike rewards.

In the final analysis trust is all we have. Yes, it can sometimes be betrayed – even today’s mountain of bureaucracy would not have exposed Shipman. But the only way forward is to give our clinicians and social workers the resources they need and to trust them to perform as professionals should. The problem is that so long as politicians are involved trust is not.

Evidence? Look at today’s analysis published by the IPPR think tank. The economic analysts have examined the spending cuts and tax rises said by all three main parties to be needed after the general election. Their conclusion is that all are aimed at misleading the public, none of the figures represent reality and all are deliberately slanted to attract votes.

And it is not only numbers that are slanted. The dialogue on immigration, a major factor in any attempt to save our crumbling public services, is misleading in the extreme. Our dear leader is claiming that, if re-elected, he will solve the EU open borders nightmare. Yesterday Jean-Claude Juncker, the new EU president, made clear that he has no chance. The Labour Party talks of quotas, knowing full well that it could never introduce them in the EU it is determined to embrace. The Lib Dems talk about the value of migrants to the NHS, knowing full well that, barring bigots, no one is suggesting that the needed workers be blocked at our borders.

Sadly we can expect an escalation in the lies and skulduggery. Insiders tell me that the corridors of the Westminster bubble are awash with talk of the “Ukip factor”. Yes, the creation of Farage is attracting protest votes but the protest is nigh unstoppable, the people have lost all faith in the established order.

A further by-election loss in Rochester could be the signal for mass desertions of MPs and public alike. This morning’s poll by ComRes shows Ukip on 43% with Conservatives on 30%, Labour 21% and LibDems 3% !
QUOTES FOR TODAY: ” We ought never do wrong when people are looking!”…Mark Twain/ “Vouchsafe O Lord, to keep us this day without being found out!”….Samuel Butler.

Young politicians at the mercy of old(er) voters!

Many a bald head was scratched this morning as we codgers surveyed the wrecked hen-runs. We did some ad-hoc repairs yesterday, but the final attack by the ex-hurricane winds undid those and, for good measure, sent most of the remaining roof panels into outer space, or Wigan as it is known in these parts. We are up there when it comes to DIY but this looks like a job for professional builders. The problem with that is their tendency to arrive only to vanish in the manner of Lord Lucan, so the hens may well come to wish that they were ducks. We have, according to Albert, just experienced our ‘Big Bang’.

The wee grump has a poor memory so we could only assume that he watched the latest BBC offering from the ever smiling Professor Brian Cox last night. Fascinating. The great man was addressing the question of whether we are the only intelligent life form in the galaxy. Unfortunately he doesn’t know either, and could only leave us with the possibility that there we are but one of zillions of identical planets. So there could just be a zillion Eric Pickles and, worse still, a zillion Alberts out there. The good news is that since such worthies could be spinning in different universes we will never find out. Seriously though, the Prof has reminded us of one central truth – we self-important humans are a mere speck of minute unimportance.

As if to underline that reality, we codgers staged a heated argument in the shed about the verdict handed down to Oscar Pistorius. There are no juries in South Africa and the judge, who bore a remarkable resemblance to my Gran, assumed the role favoured by Davros in Dr Who. She found the former blade-runner not guilty of murder, but sent him down for five years for shooting four times through a bathroom door at what he, she had concluded, had believed to be a burglar. Had the victim turned out to be an intruder would she still have jailed him? Sadly my Gran is no longer with us so the tragic case remains a mystery.

As does a consumer survey published this morning. It seems that young people are giving frozen food the cold shoulder, leaving freezers neglected, under-used and under-appreciated. A big majority of under 35s reported that they use their freezers only to store “unwanted food gifts” or meat close to its use-by-date. However, an equally large number complained that they had insufficient room in their freezers. Perhaps Professor Cox should make this the subject of his next study?

We would have suggested that Chris Grayling turns his giant intellect to the mystery, but he is clearly focussed exclusively on the subject of ‘trolls’, the decidedly odd people who spend their nights sending insulting or threatening tweets. The Justice Secretary plans to provide them with a two year break at her Majesty’s pleasure. This worries us, and not merely because prisoners are now allowed internet access as part of their ‘human rights’. Surely there is a real risk that politicians will see this an opportunity to define those who express rage at them as unacceptable. Yes those who send vile threats, always assuming that they are not mentally ill, deserve whatever comes their way. But this is in our view a reason to be thankful that, unlike in South Africa, verdicts are reached by juries.

No morning tea and doughnuts session would be complete without discussion about the collapsing NHS. Today we learn that the budget for the use of private ambulances leapt by 82 per cent last year. In London spending on private paramedic services rose by 1,000 per cent (£796,000 grew to £8.8 million). This is all a direct result of the Lansley ‘modernisation’ of ambulance services, yet another example of redundancies being used as a rationale for privatisation. Or perhaps there is another explanation – the man is barking mad.

Come to think about it we favour the latter. And it could be extended to all of the political leaders. As you have probably noticed almost every promise being churned out in the attempt to gain votes in May, 2015, is aimed at young people. Many of the policies make good sense – nursery fees, paternity leave, apprenticeships etc – but the legion of young spin-doctors and their young party leaders are missing a key point. The ‘grey’ vote is rapidly heading toward 50 per cent of the total electorate and polls reveal that older people – defined as over-50s – are far more likely to vote. They also tell us that over half of them have changed which party they vote for more than once in their lifetimes.

Particularly revealing are the findings of a survey published today by ‘High Fifty’. It confirms that the old days of lifetime party loyalty are over, the old ‘uns are becoming swing-voters. No fewer than 67 per cent said that changes to inheritance tax are of no interest since they favour spending their wealth rather than saving it for their children. Their concerns are focussed more on immigration, pensions, security and the NHS. Hardly praiseworthy perhaps but a danger signal no less for wannabe MPs.

The other interesting finding is that 40 per cent are “happier now than ever before” as they abandon caution and live life for the moment. In fact the profile that emerges sounds remarkably like the superficial image portrayed by the dashing Nigel Farage. The youthful Labour Party strategists would be well advised to pay more attention to the Ukip threat.

Of course we 80 plus codgers are too old to be covered by a survey aimed at ‘swing voters’, for the amount of swinging we do these days is limited to the task of swinging our legs out of bed. Our get up and go has got up and gone. But we do identify with the central thrust of the findings. No party can any longer rely on our votes, we are sick of the lot of them.

Beer, fags, immigration controls, saving billions by leaving the EU to fund the NHS and social care – it has to be admitted that ‘Nige’ has an eye-catching appeal for fogeys.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” – The trouble with England is it’s being governed by idiots. – Quite frankly old man there are a lot of idiots in England, and they deserve representation!”….Rex Harrison and unnamed MP.

Man found guilty of attempted murder over London hammer attack

Philip Spence bludgeoned three female tourists before robbing them and leaving them for dead at Cumberland hotel

A man who savagely beat three sisters in a “sustained and vicious” hammer attack as they slept with their young children in a luxury London hotel has been found guilty of attempted murder.

Philip Spence, 32, bludgeoned the three female tourists from the United Arab Emirates in the four-star Cumberland hotel and left them for dead.

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Where does our foreign aid actually go?

Seeing to the hens was not a calming experience this morning. When we codgers arrived at the allotments we were greeted with the sight of a scene of destruction – roof panels lay in heaps reminiscent of a winning prize in the Turner art competition, and yesterday’s neatly stacked pile of pallets had departed for Manchester airport. As we battled to restore order in the teeth of what felt like a 70 mph gale Albert was in danger of joining them, and even those of us of Eric Pickles proportions were relieved to reach the protection of our warm hut.

It was only then that conversation was possible. First up was the report from Phil whose wife found herself under the weather yesterday and attempted to make an appointment with the family GP. She was told that the first available appointment was two weeks away. By that point she was feeling extremely unwell, and Phil had no alternative to taking her to the A & E department at the local hospital. Some five hours later they emerged reassured and armed with the necessary prescription. Jeremy Hunt should acquaint himself with the real world where the NHS is collapsing into a chaotic heap. Successive governments have closed their eyes to the truth – yes the administration of the health service does need a shake up but the central fact is that it needs a siginificant injection of additional funding if it is it survive. Right now the 25 per cent cut to GP practices and social services, and the lack of adequate medical staffing in our nursing homes are combining to increase the flood of patients arrving at our hospitals, most of which now have fewer spare beds than the Dorchester when George Osborne stages one of his parties.

All of which immediately provokes the question of where the extra cash can come from. Politicians of all colours shy away from the obvious solution of inviting the nation to pay a few pounds more in National Insurance contributions and instead prattle about mansion taxes, G4S, voluntary organisations and other delusional fantasies. We dare to question the one potential source that none of them seem prepared to consider – foreign aid, the cost of which could solve the NHS crisis at a stroke and, since our massive aid programme is an ongoing annual cost, for many years to come.

We are not talking here about contributions to the fight against Ebola, where Britain has rightly put the rest of Europe to shame. We are referring to the billions handed to such as India, which is able to fund its own space programme, and Paistan where corruption leads to British taxpayer’s money ending up in the backpockets of the already affluent. Don’t take our word for this, listen instead to the words of Imran Khan, former cricketing hero turned political campaigner.

Yesterday he said loud and clear that fat cats in Pakistan are using British aid money to fund lavish lifestyles that “make a mockery of the UK’s pledge to wipe out poverty in the troubled country”. He went on to say that greedy politicains are “getting rich off the hundreds of millions handed over each year by the Department of International Development (DFID)”. The government is, says Imran, a corrupt one which makes fortunes through ‘kickbacks’ and whose members consitently abuse public funds. The money handed over so casually by DFID never reaches its intended destinations.

The Taxpayers Aliance is calling for funds to Pakistan, and a long list of other allegedly corrupt states, to be cut off until such time as rigorous audit establishes just what happens to our largesse. But MPs are right now enshrining into law a commitment to allocate each year to DFID the equivalent of one third of the national income consumed by the NHS. And the reputation of DFID is very much in line with any the cavalier attitude of any quango handed oodles of public money.

Meantime the good old UK has been privileged to receive a visit from the outgoing EU president, who posed outside Downing Street to warn us that our dear leader’s plan to restrict the flow of immigrants from Eastern Europe would be illegal and that departure from the Union would leave us isolated and unloved by leading European countries. The latter state is one we have been in before Mr President. The former is a matter of necessity and if that leads to our EU exit so be it!

The truth is that the European Union is a failed 20th Century idea, a spectacular flop like communism and fascism. The EU isn’t working and the economic straitjacket of the Euro keeps the poorer countries poor, and understandably makes Britain an attractive option.

Of course we must continue to welcome decent, hard-working immigrants but we still have to reclaim our borders. The UK is an island and we do not have an endless supply of houses, hospital beds, school places and GP appointments. Apart from a few demented Cleggites few believe other than that we are at bursting point.

But we Brits have a tendency to adopt thr ostrich position. It is so much pleasanter to ‘worry’ about Strictly or even the latest adventures of Jeremy Clarkson. Now he is revealed to have a speeding conviction. So have millions of us.. come on folks let’s focus on real problems, however painful an alternative that may be. Otherwise you may find yourself moving in to A & E with more time than it takes to read Strictly and Top Gear updates!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” There’s one more terrifying thing about old people: I’m going to be one in due course!”…P J O’Rourke.

Traitors? No ifs, no buts!

Monday morning! For people of our generation the very thought of it lowers the spirits. It can only be down to old habits dying hard for we are no longer faced with a return to school or work after a weekend on the tiles and we no longer have mothers who, for reasons that elude us, used to spend Mondays with their arms immersed in soap suds. And even were they alive today the day-long chore would be reduced to pressing a few buttons.

The thing I remember most clearly was arriving home from school and examining the billowing clothes line. It was the late additions that commanded my attention, specifically the pudding cloths. Their colours revealed which suet pudding awaited us – red for blackberry and apple and calling us in for tea produced an instant response. The adults of that age were, in families like mine, as poor as church mice yet they seemed happy, unstressed and free. Of course if we now judge them by the standards demanded by Janet Street-Porter, in her weekend Independent column, they were all in need of retribution. They smoked, they drank alcohol and the amount of suet and sugar they consumed probably raised the cholesterol levels they didn’t know they had to heights that would make Eric Pickles the hero of today’s chattering busybodies. We know that technically the likes of J S-P are right but being constantly stigmatised by the state has destroyed that glorious feeling of being free to choose.

We cleaned out the hens and retired to our cosy hut where we woofed our doughnuts with new-age guilt that eroded the pleasure. As we did so we mulled over the great irony lying behind all this. Everyday-to-day activity is now judged in black and white terms. But on huge social issues that in those long-gone days were so judged there is now a shade of dithering grey. Lord Haw-Haw, a British citizen, could be heard on our primitive radios inciting his British audience to kill their leaders. No ifs or buts – he was a traitor deserving of the most extreme punishment – a suspended sentence in the literal sense of the words.

Fast forward to now and you could have spent the entire weekend reading or viewing a fierce debate about the legal position of British citizens who have sworn allegiance to Isis, and devote their time to beheadings abroad and plots to do likewise on the streets of our capital city. Those speaking in their defence talk of the government failing to ‘reach out’ to them, and the United Nations wonders whether they have committed war crimes. For heavens sake, they are both murderers and traitors. Whether they are black, green or white, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Mormons is irrelevant. Hanging is too good for them, and as for allowing them to return …we must stop here before the politically correct brigade stage dawn raids on the allotments.

We realise that, to quote our dear leaders description of Dennis Skinner, we are antiques deserving of incarceration in the Ashmolean museum. But in our befuddled state we do see treachery and beheading as higher up the crime scale than smoking in Hyde Park. But then we do hold distinctly un-modern views on many aspects of today’s society. We even dislike spin-doctors, who now outnumber the real ones. One such is David Cameron’s ‘communications chief’ Craig Oliver. A few days ago he labelled The Telegraph’s political commentator Peter Oborne “tired and emotional”, a reference to the phrase first coined by Private Eye to describe George Brown whose appearances as Foreign Secretary when sober were as rare as hen’s teeth.

Oborne’s offence? He dared on Newsnight to question our dear leader’s instant plan to bring in “English votes for English laws”. When Oborne protested at the slur Mr Oliver offered to help a man who was in reality “as jober as a sudge”. Clearly character assassination and bullying are key parts of roles funded by the taxpayer. And if Oliver will do this to a leading member of The Torygraph heaven knows what he conjures up for journalists less inclined to toe the party line. No honours for them, probably no employment if even half of the stories of about the intimidation of major companies are any indication.

But it seems that at least some of the features of a freer, more sociable and essentially more decent age are being dusted down and restored. In an attempt to ease its housing crisis Lewisham council is planning to create temporary housing on brown field sites. The plan involves the return of what we once called ‘prefabs’. The cosy easy-to-erect homes had gardens, plenty of space and affordable rents. They lent themselves to community togetherness and people loved them. The contrast with tower blocks and clusters of boxes resembling prison camps was considerable. Full marks to Lewisham who dare to lead the way by dispensing with hair-brained architects who noticeably never live in the ghastly, claustrophobic hutches they create.

Must go now – she-who-must-be-obeyed knows a thing or two about suet puddings!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” The ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination”….Voltaire.

Does propaganda really work?

According to research published this morning our nature and moods are dictated by the season in which we are born. The authors tell us we cannot help being like Mary Berry or Roy Keane, the decision was made for us at the time of our conception. Since we codgers have no great wish to be like either of them we read on with interest. Of particular note was the Mary Berry claim. It seems that having been born in the spring she has a “hyperthymic” temperament, one that carries a tendency to be “excessively positive”. Our cynicism took over at this point since Albert’s birthday is within three days of the Bake Off Queen, and an overload of positivism is not one of his redeeming features.

As we cleaned out the hens we concluded that Professor Gonda would be better employed studying the entrails of ferrets which, come to think of it, are consistently spiteful and moody irrespective of when they were born.

By the time we retired to the hut our giant intellects had turned to weightier matters. The treasury select committee is, it seems, somewhat concerned by the fact that, unlike our American friends, the UK is showing a remarkable reluctance to sanction Qatari terror financiers. Following an exposure in the Telegraph the government has at last moved against Abd al-Rahmin bin Umayr al-Nuaymi, whose history of monthly million pound donations to Isis is even longer than his name. He was blacklisted in American back in December 2013 but we have only now moved to freeze his assets and to prevent British banks from dealing with him. But that leaves a long list of others who divide their considerable wealth between investing in London property – you must have noticed The Shard – and the madmen whose dream is to kill everyone who walks the nearby streets.

We believe we can save the committee time by pointing to the explanation. The multi-millionaire Lord Deighton is the commercial secretary to the Treasury and has a dual role. He oversees the sanctions regime, and he also leads the efforts to attract investment from sovereign wealth funds in Qatar and Kuwait. We are not alone in noticing this. Yesterday Dr Sarah Wollaston, Tory MP for Totnes, issued a statement: “Vastly wealthy individuals from the Gulf cannot look both ways on terrorism and be allowed to continue to do business in the UK. Why should taxpayers support the fight against Isis when commercial interests are allowed to to continue to make a profit for it?”. Why indeed.

The Sunday Telegraph continues to do sterling work in exposing the pathetically weak approach of the government to pro-terrorism activities. This morning it highlights not only the case of al-Nuaymi, but also the setting up in Birmingham of a private academy by leading lights in the so-called Trojan Horse conspiracy. Teachers sacked for their part in the plot to indoctrinate our children with their gospel of hatred are back in business. Meantime the hapless Nicky Morgan, who replaced Michael Gove when he began to turn the screw on those promising to “Islamise” our schools, prattles on about real progress. Peter Clarke, who carried out the initial investigation into Trojan Horse, replies that she is choosing to look at only the tip of “an ugly iceberg”.

The Telegraph is a strange newspaper. It out performs any other paper in shining a light into the darkest corners. Remember the MP’s expenses scandal? But as an election looms, it adopts another role. Today our dear leader is featured as a ‘commentator’ and publishes what amounts to a page of party political propaganda. If re-elected, he tells us, his party will create a land “where your destiny in life is not decided by wealth or where you’re from”. All men will be equal in a wealthy, healthy paradise.

On other pages there are various articles warning us of the end of life as we know it if Red Ed moves into Downing Street. Britain will be plunged into eternal darkness punctuated only by the cigarette ends of Nigel Farage, the villain responsible for undermining the faith of once-faithful Etonians and bankers.

We codgers, who value the Telegraph for its campaigning on terror and its excellent sports coverage, despair of its split personality. One moment a penetrating seeker after the truth, the next a propaganda comic. But the question that really intrigues us is does such blatant propaganda work? Is it not a case of the already converted agreeing and everyone else snorting?

We wish we knew the answer – we could perhaps save all the political parties a fortune invested in spin-doctors and transparent lies. Does anyone – other than a mad geezer in Bacup – vote this way or that because the Barclay Brothers or Rupert Murdoch tell them to?

Yesterday we received almost 500 comments to this site, no doubt today’s postbag will include some enlightenment. We need it for we have yet to meet anyone who believes anything that any politician says!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” I think the Prime Minister wants to govern Britain. – Well, stop him, Bernard”….Bernard Woolley and Sir Humphrey Appleby in ‘Yes,Minister’.

Anyone have a cure for cynicism?

Saturday morning is no time for cynicism – with the prospect of football on the box and a visit to our favourite local haunt, ‘Bygone Times’ where relics hunt for relics, we codgers should have been bursting with enthusiasm as we cleaned out the rebellious hens this morning. But not for the first time there was enough cynicism in the air to constitute a danger to aircraft heading for Blackpool airport had the new owners Balfour Beatty not closed it down this week.

Surprise surprise, my pals were for the umpteenth time up in arms about the treachery of politicians in regard to the service that means so much to so many – the NHS. The attempts at privatisation initiated by Patricia Hewitt on behalf of the Blair government were seized on with enthusiasm by Andrew Lansley whose ‘reforms’ (never mentioned in the manifesto) cost £3 billion, and were this week described by ministers as “the biggest mistake we have made in government”. Concealed within that demoralising mish-mash were the seeds of the privatisation programme, the existence of which is the subject of endless spin.

Now with an election looming we can expect puckered brows and denial to feature in every donor-funded broadcast and leaflet. You can certainly be sure that there will be no references to the first full-scale hospital privatisation. Hinchingbrooke NHS hospital is now owned scalpel, bandage and nurse by Circle Healthcare. In no time at all they have become headline-makers in the black book of the Care Quality Commission, which is overwhelmingly unimpressed by the deterioration in patient care.

The private health company itself is less than happy, its latest financial results show hefty losses in the first half of the year (£10m). It is impossible to be unsympathetic since costings for such as surgery are inevitably subject to wild fluctuations, and with no option to discontinue the service can ruin any budget forecasts. But it seems that the new owners are still excited by the opportunities that lie ahead.

The company report refers to “talks with the NHS as to its commissioning and contract intentions”. This perhaps explains its recruitment of Lord John Hutton, a former Labour health minister. During his reign the current boss of NHS England, Simon Stevens, was a special adviser to Labour health secretaries from 1997 to 1999 and Tony Blair’s health policy adviser from 2001 to 2004. So cosy negotiations lie ahead.

Tellingly Circle isn’t too hopeful of winning more hospitals yet because, it says candidly, “leading up to an election…the desire of government is to avoid significant attention on NHS services”. In other words our dear leader will not let more NHS control go to a company actually controlled by Tory-donating hedge funds including Odey Asset Management and Lansdowne partners at a time when the troublesome Mr Burnham might make it an election issue.

But those hell-bent othen transferring the NHS into private hands need only exercise a little patience. In its report the company reassures investors that “any effect of political uncertainty is likely to be a short-term trend. Whichever party or coalition is in power from next year…a provider remains an attractive service provider for the NHS”.

A feature of all the official pronouncements on the NHS is that they invariably come from non-clinicians. Even the General Medical Council, once the voice of medical practitioners, now has at the head of its so-called GP revalidation procedure a lady who two years ago worked for the Traffic Penalty Tribunal as an appeals manager. Small wonder that GPs are less than happy at Ms Lindsey Westwood being in charge of a paper-creating politically driven exercise to check their fitness to practice.

So what do the real doctors think? We turned to Dr Max Pemberton, a consultant in mental health. He refers to the admissions by cabinet ministers that the Lansley ‘reforms’ were a huge mistake. He likens the current attitude to that fact as akin to a surgeon splaying open a patient and then walking away with a nonchalant shrug. He regards the introduction of the private sector as leading to an explosion of expensive bureaucracy. The more providers the more duplication, confusion and misunderstanding there is.

He reports that entire departments have sprung up in hospitals of managers writing bids and business cases to ensure that their department can ‘compete’. The amount of time spent by clinical staff on collecting or checking data now accounts for more than one third of their working week. Dr Pemberton frequently feels that he is “drowning in forms that demand to be completed, statistics that need to be gathered and boxes that need to be ticked”. His nurses, he says, are now buried beneath an avalanche of forms to be filled. The time they spend on non-essential paperwork has doubled since 2008, with 2.5 million hours lost a week.

What is needed, he says, is a clear out of Lansley-generated bureaucracy and the introduction of an evidence-based healthcare system. What we don’t need is either an internal or external market. What we do need is a simplified based solely on patient needs.

The infuriating aspect of all this is that all the parties choose to pretend that the first stage of NHS market-led privatisation is not under way. Our cynicism would melt if they put the case to the electorate and allowed it to choose. Several of us have spent many years of involvement in NHS administration and we passionately believe that healthcare and shareholder dividends are dangerous bedfellows. But we make no claim to total wisdom, all we ask is that the patients of today and tomorrow are given the truth and the opportunity to decide.

That would be the perfect cure for our cynicism. Sadly we fear that the condition will only be dispelled by the Grim Reaper, and we are not referring to Nigel Farage!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Women are like tea bags – you never know how strong they are until they are in hot water!”….Eleanor Roosevelt.
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Farage shouts jump, they all ask ‘how high’ !

“Never fear what other people think of you”. We codgers were struck by the advice dished out by Sian Lloyd yesterday when she visited her old school in Wales. The TV personality and meteorologist went on to describe the “apartheid” of private education and the privileges it buys, so whilst we may complain about her weather forecasts we clearly have much in common with the lass from Neath. Since most locals have long concluded that we who devote so much time to chickens are three pence short of a shilling we long since realised that skins as thick as those of Rhinos are an essential part of growing old. Our get up and go has yet to convert to get up and gone, and our late love affair with birds of the feathered variety has served us well.

By the time we reached the warm hut this morning our thoughts had turned to our other form of escapism – football. England having completed their games against teams that would struggle to beat Bacup United, our Premiership clubs will be soon be back in action. And we who constantly complain about take overs by Russian oligarchs and Arab sheiks will be able to resume our optical advice to referees. And we are cheered by a promise from the Labour Party to impose “the biggest shake-up in the history of the game”. It plans legislation to allow supporter’s trusts to appoint up to 25 per cent of club’s boards and to enjoy the right to protect supporter’s interests. If elected they will of course forget all about it but the very fact that someone up there has spotted the exploitation of fans is reassuring.

But by the time our tray of Eric Pickles doughnuts arrived our mighty intellects had turned to other things. There are days when we suspect that our near-obsessive aversion to the privatisation of the NHS is not shared by the population at large. But we imagine that there are now some in Somerset who feel as we do. The Royal National Institute of Blind People has issued a warning about the safety of patients treated by the private sector: “The government is handing out more and more of the NHS to private companies and safeguards are not always in place”.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that 37 of 62 cataract patients sent to surgeons working for Vanguard Health Solutions in Somerset suffered complications. Some suffered burns, six lost iris pigment and four were left with shards of metal in their eyes. One elderly patient was left blind, many suffered pain not normally associated with what is usually a routine operation. This is far from an isolated example and one imagines that even the imaginative Jeremy Hunt will struggle to explain this.

But our prime subject this Friday morning was the growing evidence of panic in the political hierarchy on the subject of immigration. The dashing Nigel Farage has won a by-election and shouted jump. The response from those who hitherto insisted that immigration was not perceived by the public as an election issue has been a thundering “How high?”.

Our dear leader has promised to make the question of border controls for EU citizens a succeed-or-fail feature of his negotiations and subsequent in/out referendum. The Labour leadership has turned full-turtle to talk of quotas, and even the Lib Dems who usually profess to welcoming the idea of the whole of Bulgaria moving to Wapping, are now talking about careful reconsideration.

We hate to admit it but it begins to look as if the much maligned Ukip is acting as the voice of the people. How the head of the ‘people’s army’ will cope with the 10 Downing Street smoking ban is of course still open to question.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” There is nothing like a solemn oath. People always think you mean it!”….Norman Douglas.

How we see others- two versions!

Regular readers could be forgiven for believing that we codgers are obsessed by misgivings about privatisation, and I have to admit that the subject was first up when we arrived at the allotments this morning. But that is not the case, for we understand perfectly well the importance of competition and financial return in the world of commerce where unprofitable lines or activities must be weeded out and the productivity and number of employees must be carefully controlled. Our beef is that when you apply these concepts to the care of people disaster follows.

The latest example popped up its ugly head yesterday when an Inspector’s report made public what we already knew about one of our local prisons. It highlights gang warfare, bullying, rape and a whole range of other disturbing features that inevitably occur when a mixture of dangerous criminals and fresh-faced offenders are supervised by untrained staff, whose numbers are in any case far below necessary levels. G4S, the company that failed to turn up for the Olympics, are once again in the headlines. The persisting belief on the part of this government that bottom line profit is the best format for an essential service beggars belief.

But any objective observer will have long since concluded that politicians straight from university invariably apply unselective ideology to everything that passes through their grubby fingers. Subjective observers such as Albert see them all as “useless lying tossers”, but they merit rather more reasoned condemnation. That involves recognition of their selective memories. Ed Miliband has rightly been slated for forgetting to mention the economy during his conference speech, and any day now someone will realise that our dear leader forgot to mention the national debt which has trebled during his premiership.

Yesterday saw the two of them once again pretending to fight like ferrets in a sack. Young Ed had come into possession of a recording of Lord – one of the better than the rest of you grandees – Freud. It seems that he is the Welfare Reform minister, but sees the welfare of the disabled in a rather different way to that of the rest of us. What this nincompoop was trying to address was the need to find ways of persuading employers to employ victims of disability. What he revealed was an inner belief that they are inferior beings. How can David Cameron delay in sacking such an obnoxious imbecile from a position that makes him responsible for the welfare of every member of society?

The reason for our choice of today’s headline now becomes apparent for, as we munched our way through a tray of doughnuts in our cosy hut after cleaning out the chickens, we raised our glasses – mucky mugs actually – to the winner of the Booker prize, Richard Flanagan. By a cruel twist of fate Richard’s father, whose story inspired the writing of ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’, died at 98 on the day that the novel was completed.

The harrowing yet enthralling story is based on the gruelling internment “on the line” of prisoner 335 (Richard’s father) in a Japanese PoW camp where 14,000 died. Flanagan also draws on his own anguish: “I felt I carried something with me as a consequence of growing up as a child of the death railway. People come back from cosmic trauma but the wound does not end with them . It passes on to others”.

Writing the book wasn’t an easy process. It took the Australian author 12 years and five different drafts, and for six months he recreated the anguish of solitary confinement by living alone in a shack on an island off Tasmania. He also sought out the commander at his father’s camp – he proved to be a “gentle, gracious old man”.

Everything that eventually emerged in Richard’s masterpiece was shaped and influenced by his father’s attitude to others: “He brought us up not to hate, never to judge. He had no hate for the Japanese. What my father took out of the camps was this extraordinary sense that everything is an illusion except for what you are like with other people, and to never think other people are in any any lesser than you”.

Perhaps our dear dithering leader should send for a copy of this remarkable book. Then read it. Then send his noble Lordship back to whence he came!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” All politics are based on the indifference of the majority!” ….James Reston.

George Orwell was spot-on!

Another Wednesday morning and another brain-sizzler from the ever smiling Professor Brian Cox to mull over. As we codgers cleaned out the hens this morning the latest offering by our hero was on everyone’s lips. Using the analogy of cricket in which the faintest edge can spell goodbye for even the Godlike Pieterson, TV’s newest star demonstrated that glancing minimal blows led to the creation of the universe. Man exists as the result of a fluke, he contended. For good measure he speculated on the probability of there being an infinitesimal number of planets such as ours, each featuring carbon copies of each of us. Our feeble minds being unable to contemplate the ‘nothingness’ that preceded the Cox ‘big bang’, we codgers contented ourselves with picturing zillions of Alberts, all sending grunts and grumbles into the stratosphere.

The problem here is that each and every one of those diminutive creatures will have a pipe clamped between their Zog equivalents of NHS dentures. If they too have a chattering class such a practice is about to become a criminal offence – yes the kind of society predicted by George Orwell draws ever closer on planet earth. We all acknowledge the inherent dangers of tobacco but we find yesterday’s announcement of plans to ban smoking from every public open-air space deeply disturbing. Likewise the idea of banning the consumption of alcohol in our parks and meadows.

In our neck of the woods we already have a little man with a hat the size of those worn by Russian generals who rejoices under the title of Public Enforcement Officer. Right now he devotes his time to chewing gum and litter, but he is perhaps merely the forerunner to armies of Orwellian-like police with powers to examine the contents of bottles and pipe-bowls. If Orwell was right the next step will be the thought police, and this morning we spotted an early move in that direction.

When we gathered in the hut, exhausted by the task of chasing hens around, Tom drew our attention to charges being brought against Rio Ferdinand by the Football Association. It seems that the official now responsible for vetting the pronouncements of footballers on twitter has spotted his use of the word ‘sket’ in an otherwise incomprehensible tweet. The word means promiscuous woman. We support absolutely the need to clamp down on so-called trolling but isn’t this a sinister step too far? Slowly but surely the State is assuming powers to monitor our every word and deed.

Government in a democracy is supposed to be primarily charged with the protection of freedoms, ours is now heading rapidly in the opposite direction. The irony is that it seems totally incapable of self-organisation. Yesterday saw a huge bust-up in the Commons between Grumpy Gordon and the former infant phenomenon little William Hague. The latter has miraculously rewritten the 300 year-old constitution in his tea break with a view to resolving the ‘English votes for English MPs’ pledge which our dear leader rashly announced in the wake of the Scottish referendum. For once we are with Grumpy. Surely the only way to avoid a two-tier parliament is to have an English counterpart to the Scottish and Welsh assemblies, all overseen by a parliament of all the people.

But we don’t know either, and such a evolutionary change merits detailed study. The dismissal of such a concept by the Conservatives suggests that either they are even more clueless than we imagined or, since they have only one Scottish MP, are attempting to handicap every non-Tory government elected over the next 300 years. Either way it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that their time could be better spent on major issues of state than lathering at the mouth about pipes, politically incorrect words and the amount of veggies to be consumed on a daily basis.

But it seems that the appetite for interfering in the lives of the plebs is insatiable. This morning we learn that legislation about high energy drinks is in the offing. Parents, it seems, cannot be trusted to act given public health information. What next? Our money is on legislation aimed at mums and dads who read bedtime stories from old Enid Blyton books which contain words now deemed non-PC. To the Tower with the lot of them, or if that is not punishment enough let them be sentenced to listening to a William Hague speech.

Is it a coincidence that Orwell’s real name was Blair? Either way we often wish that he had become a weather forecaster!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them!” ….George Orwell.

Is someone pulling the Beeb’s strings?

We codgers had not realised that we have our very own tsar. So having learned, from this morning’s papers, that someone called Ros Altmann is the Government’s older people’s modern equivalent of those long-gone Russian benign rulers we felt ten feet tall – except for Albert who settled for six – as we assembled our hen-cleaning equipment. Ms Altmann has today let it be known that, as a result of the Chancellor’s flagship pension reforms, pensioners will soon be able to use their accrued money as a bank account, free to spend on whatever takes their fancy. It does sound to us like a recipe for penury by the time they reach their three score years and ten, but we decided to cast aside our glass half-empty tendency and rejoice in having someone up there whose entire young life is dedicated to fogeys such as us.

But by the time we reached the warm hut for our Eric Pickles tea-break we had dispensed with irony. We were very concerned at reports of trouble in some English cities. We codgers have long warned of the building sense of rage at swingeing cuts at a time when the highly paid are trousering massive pay increases, and it is hard to avoid the worry that hardened criminals may start to exploit this to incite mindless violence. Either way our constant complaints about the drastic reductions in police numbers may well be vindicated.

And that was not the only overnight development that soured the taste of our doughnuts. We have noticed with growing concern the increasing number of Conservative backbenchers calling for the inclusion in the party’s manifesto of a commitment to reduce significantly the BBC’s licence fee. We have also noted the pledge by the new director general to counter this. Up until last night our hope was that he would succeed, for we dread the day when our favourite programmes are continually punctuated by ridiculous ads featuring meerkats and fat idiots with waxed moustaches. But last night we watched Panorama.

For some time now what was once a classic example of balanced reporting has appeared to be degenerating into a tabloid-style hatchet job. Last night it plumbed new depths. Are we being paranoid or was this a character assassination attempt aimed at placating hostile politicians? Billed as the true story about the Farage ‘earthquake’ the programme hurled venom at the Ukip leader, and ‘revealed’ a stream of ‘dark secrets’ hitherto unknown by a gullible public. As one piece of trivia after another was detailed we sat transfixed expecting a final exposure of the fact that Mr Farage had at one time murdered Bank of England guards before escaping with the nations entire stock of gold bullion. But there was no punchline, no charge that couldn’t be levelled against every other politician in the land.

The Ukip leader was shown using and praising an e-cigarette just months after the manufacturers had donated to his party. He was shown being rude to the EU president. Two former colleagues sacked by Ukip were filmed claiming that the leader was inclined to stab his officials in the back. Ukip’s published accounts were pored over to reveal that the leader’s constituency received favoured treatment during the European elections. An attack by a Dutch MEP on Mr Farage was portrayed in dramatic fashion, and much was made of his reluctance to be interviewed by specific reporters. The underlying claim was that here we have a man whose cheerful fag-smoking exterior conceals secrets darker than those of Stalin.

Now sit quietly for a moment and ask yourself if any of these ‘sins’ can even remotely be claimed to be unique to Mr Farage. Only yesterday we reported on a £1,000 per head get- together with our dear leader by wealthy donors. Anyone watching PM’s Question Time will laugh at the idea that rudeness is unique to the Ukip leader. And the backbenches of all parties are packed with former ministers whose backs have been punctured. Everyone knows perfectly well that every party has spin-doctors who steer their leaders away from potentially troublesome reporters. And are we seriously supposed to believe that both Blair and Cameron were not in the pockets of the Murdoch clan?

We are not attempting here to mount a defence of Nigel Farage, who is probably tarred with the same brush as all the other political leaders. What we are attempting to do is to question the motives of the BBC in attempting to portray him as uniquely evil. We have always regarded the corporation of Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys and Robin Day as a fearless unbiased seeker after the truth. It is surely no coincidence that all political parties have regularly accused the Beeb of bias as it spoke unpalatable truths.

Suddenly in just thirty minutes our rose-tinted image of the BBC was shattered. At best this was pathetic sensationalised reporting. At worst it tells us that someone is pulling its strings, and if that is the case the cause of democracy has been struck a fatal blow.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” A journalist is somebody who possesses himself of a fantasy and lures the truth towards it!”….Arnold Wesker.

A reluctant leader who could restore sanity!

One would imagine that the subject of death was just about the last one to set our new week on the allotments off to a positive start, but several of my fellow codgers thought otherwise this morning. They had watched last nights BBC programme ‘Sacred Rivers’, presented by the incomparable Simon Reeves. He provided an enlightening exploration of the Ganges, a river regarded by millions of Indians as sacred. It was the attitude to death that transfixed by pals. There were no hushed tones, no talk of tragedy, no fear. Death, said many of those who talked to Reeves, is simply an inevitability and a next step on our onward journey. Like me, you are probably shuddering at such talk of an event that we secretly choose to imagine can never happen to us, but would we not benefit psychologically to opening our minds to a concept that clearly enriches the lives of millions, many of whom have little material reason to live in a state of contentment?

Of course there are many aspects of the Indian way of life that bewilder us. Viewers were taken to a holy statue of Sachin Tendulkar, a cricketing maestro who has become a Living God. It is hard to imagine even the great Jack Hobbs achieving such status here, but there is perhaps just a possibility that our preoccupation with stiff upper lips and cynicism closes our minds to a different and decidedly more tranquil way of life.

But we and our Indian friends do have at least one thing in common, we both suffer from incompetent government. Their version fails to address corruption, the appalling pollution of the sacred river, the slaughtering of sacred cows for financial gain and rampant poverty in a booming economy. Ours is equally corrupt in a posh sort of way, destroys our most treasured institutions and services, sells off the family silver and bullies professionals such as teachers and clinicians for political gain.

This morning’s headlines provide two perfect examples. Our dear leader has spoken of planning to “purge headteachers”, his ministers have announced their latest privatisation wheeze – Eurostar.

We all support the notion of developing high standard schools, we all recognise the importance of the next generation. But we often forget that many of our schools are already excellent and that the vast majority of our teachers are both professional and dedicated. Does it really make sense to create headlines which talk of a “purge”, and of ” 1,500 new super teachers standing by to be parachuted in” ? Does it really make sense to talk in general terms of “failing headteachers” and of Governors and heads facing dismissal? Of course not, such blunderbuss ranting demoralises and alienates every successful teacher. Such comments should be reserved for schools identified as failures, and even those may well respond more positively if approached initially in a positive way. David Cameron is playing politics and, if we codgers are any indication, he creates only despair.

The government currently holds a 40 per cent interest in Eurostar, a national strategic asset if ever there was one. Gorgeous George Osborne has announced his intention to sell off the British interest, claiming that the probable proceeds of around £300 million will help Britain to “tackle our debts”. It makes no economical sense given that the channel link is set to grow and already returns handsome profits to the treasury. It makes no political sense since handing total control to foreign investors surrenders our ability to protect a key service. And the disgraceful handling of the Royal Mail sell-off demonstrated the incompetence of government departments – what other description can one use to describe underpricing of over £1 billion?

To crown such stupidities the growing sense of unfairness has this morning been heightened by a report from Income Data Services that reveals that the pay of senior FTSE executives surged by 21 per cent last year. Line that up alongside clear evidence that low pay is forcing millions into debt and you have only one logical conclusion – government is pursuing policies that are rapidly widening the gap between the haves and the have nots. And today’s revelations of a £1,000 per head gathering of Conservative ministers and donors with a combined wealth of £22 billion will have done little to dispel the notion.

It increasingly looks likely that the 2015 election will end in stalemate, with a series of polls showing the two main parties on around 30 per cent. Clearly neither are trusted by the majority of the electorate, and whilst our dear leader is the least unpopular even he registers minus in the league table. The result could be a constitutional crisis if a potential coalition depends on a shotgun marriage with an assortment of Ukip, Lib Dems and Nationalists.

The most worrying feature of what the pollsters tell us is the total lack of trust and sense of disillusion on the part of the public. Not one individual at the top of either main party is trusted. And this morning’s announcements that the Labour Party is after all in favour of Boris’s quota scheme for immigrants will have done nothing to dispel the belief that reactive politics made up on the hoof now dominate the Westminster bubble.

Yet there is one backbencher who is respected by people of all political persuasions and none. In a desperate throw of the dice Ed Miliband yesterday asked Alan Johnson to return to a frontline general election role to help Labour to “reach out to disaffected voters”. That is not the answer, Johnson should be the leader. Take a moment to contrast him with Miliband, Cameron or Clegg. That’s right – suddenly there is the option of a sincere no-frills bloke who has experienced just about every hard knock that life can provide, who has worked for many years in a job that everyone can identify with and who, via self education, eventually rose to be a Health Secretary who won the respect of every clinician in the land.

Alan has just published his second book (‘Please, Mr Postman’) which deals with his many years of work for what we used to call the GPO. His sense of humour and compassion lightens every page, as does his honesty. Looking back he recalls occasions when he resorted to “bullshit”, and his story of his five attempts to pass the driving test should be mandatory reading for every politician unversed in the art of self-effacement.

is first book covered his childhood in London’s east end. His father vanished and his mother struggled to raise two children. When she died Linda, Alan’s 16 year-old sister, fought tooth and nail to keep the pair of them independent and healthy. No one need lecture Alan Johnson about poverty, and he is very aware of those who take the lazy way out. Above all he believes in fairness irrespective of any phoney political ideology.

But the return of arguably the only man capable of restoring trust in government is as likely as my learning to type with more than one finger. Such is his sense of humour that he is on record in Hansard as saying that he intended to buy me off with a cup of tea. I thought then that sooner or later the straight-from-university posh and cliquey establishment would combine to freeze him out once Grumpy Gordon had packed his bags.

And, I am sure, there he will remain – happy in deep freeze, the leader that will never be.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” When Ann Widdecombe read out the Ten Commandments at Westminster Cathedral it sounded as though she had written them herself!”…Father Michael Seed.

Britain soft-pedals on terrorists!

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Brighton bombing and as we cleaned out the hens on the allotments this morning there was a good deal of sympathy for the views expressed by the former ‘Chingford Polecat’, Lord Tebbit. To this day his wife Margaret is paralysed and her suffering is unrelieved. Norman Tebbitt himself is seldom without pain. He finds it impossible to forgive the “creature” who planted the bomb – Patrick Magee who was jailed for life. But in terrorist-friendly Britain life sentences mean anything but, and the unrepentant Magee was released under the terms of the so-called Good Friday Agreement.

As we codgers gathered in the hut on this crisp and sunny autumn Sunday morning, we found ourselves wondering if our British tradition of forgive and forget is really the endearing characteristic we so often imagine. The same can be said for our much lauded tolerance. The sad truth is that, intentionally or otherwise, we soft-pedal on terrorism and stand accused of aiding and abetting the rise of creatures that made today’s memorial service for Alan Henning necessary.

Yesterday a significant number of Conservative MPs accused ministers of becoming too close to a Gulf state that is blamed for funding terrorists in Syria and Iraq. There is now significant evidence that Qatar is the leading financial backer of Isis, and a US Treasury blacklist of designated terrorists contains at least twenty extremists with connections within Qatar, many involving the country’s Ministry of Interior civil defence department. In contrast the UK Treasury list contains just one name. Stephen Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire, suggests that it begs the question of why the UK authorities are “setting a higher threshold and deem business with such individuals acceptable”.

Of course the MPs know the answer to their own questions. Our dear leader and his rich colleagues have gone to great lengths to woo the even richer Qatar investors to come to Britain. The Qatar Investment Authority was persuaded to buy Harrods for a reported £1.5 billion and went on to acquire numerous other London landmarks including the Shard, Europe’s tallest skyscraper. It has also acquired significant stakes in many other major British businesses.

It is not merely Tory MPs who are becoming concerned at the thought of British trade providing succour to unspeakable scum. Harrods is now facing a boycott. Mark Lewis, the solicitor who represented the family of Millie Dowler, is leading it. Yesterday he said: “We can stand back and do nothing, but when we do, we are paying for terror….people need to know where their money is going”. He has strong support from the likes of Baroness Cox who says that Qatar should not be supporting “barbaric acts of terrorism” by making money in our country and “basking in the credibility of such a prestigious place”. The campaign will aim at ensuring that Harrods customers, plus those of other Qatar-owned businesses, know that the money they spend “ultimately ends up in the hands of a regime that funds terrorism”.

Meantime the man appointed to investigate the so-called Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham has warned that the scandal is merely the “tip of an iceberg”. Peter Clarke spoke amid indications that the plot, where hard-line Muslims hounded out secular head teachers in order to “Islamise state schools, is flaring up again and broadening its reach. Six police vehicles were called last week to a Handsworth school when a large crowd jostled the head teacher, Jamie Barry, who has reintroduced an equalities and diversity agenda which includes a challenge to homophobia.

Mr Clarke has exposed a plot involving the banishment of non-Muslim teachers, the describing of gay people as “satanic animals”, the description of a woman’s role as “in the kitchen”, and the glorification of anti-Christian crusades. Local authorities continue to deny that there is a problem.

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intent and, on the assumption that our political leaders have good intentions, we can only assume that they are too busy to consider the destination that they are ensuring for us all.

Certainly William Hague is. Yesterday he announced with due gravitas that the Labour Party has until November 30th to agree his solution to English votes for English laws. With the help of a few fellow Conservatives and a pile of fag-packets the former infant-phenomenon has rewritten the British constitution in just four weeks.

Maybe, like us, he is becoming unhinged by the looming threat of Nigel Farage. One poll now predicts that Ukip will win 25 seats in May, with Labour and the Tories reaching no higher than 30 per cent if the vote. Mr Farage is an expert in fag-packets and probably believes that he could teach William a thing or two. But Saint Nige yesterday ruled out any thought of a coalition: “To sell out so that one or two people can have ministerial positions is not what Ukip is about. I don’t trust David Cameron. I don’t believe a word he says and it would be fruitless to enter into any negotiations with him”.

The wheels are coming off. Qataris and William Hague alike will not be pleased at the thought of a Ukip emergence.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul”…George Bernard Shaw.