Archive for May, 2010
This seems an odd question to pose on the day after the Cup Final but the annual event raised some worrying issues. One of the contestants is fortunate to be in the hands of a rich and dedicated owner and flinches not an inch at a weekly wage of over £100,000 per week for top players. The team that they defeated were relegated Portsmouth who are in administration and are faced with losing both players and manager. According to the Sunday press a centre-back is likely to be packed off since his weekly wage of £20,000 is too expensive. All credit to their loyal supporters, no credit to those who saddled the club with debt.
The worry for all those who love the game is that the advent of astronomic transfer fees and wages has already created a multi-layered league. At the top end are clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City which are fortunate in being blessed with rich owners whose sole intent is to create a world-beating side. Also there are others such as Manchester United and Liverpool but here one finds doubts amongst supporters about the intent of the owners and the debts they have accrued.
In the middle section lie many good clubs which are feeling the pressure of the high wages they must pay if they are to compete. And the lower section comprises clubs who clearly cannot afford the highest priced players. In their desperation to retain their Premiership status some have gambled and some, Portsmuth being the immediate example, have taken themselves into debt.
The manager of one of the clubs competing for promotion from the Championship remarked this week that he expects to come straight down again but the adventure would be exciting. Even before he arrives this wise manager has recognised that if big money buys success he must expect to fail.
It seems reasonable to assume that the secure and wealthy clubs at the top will continue to use their financial muscle to ‘own’ the most talented players in the world. The equal probability is that some others will try to follow suit and that the rest will settle for the vain hope of developing their own. I use the word vain because the likelihood is that should they discover another Wayne Rooney someone at the top will reach for his or her cheque book.
The most positive outcome over the next decade or less is that the premiership will become a very one-sided affair with the majority outside of the top six simply making up the numbers. Perhaps even the most ardent fan will tire of seeing his or her team winning or losing by huge scores on a regaular basis? The again perhaps not but the big question must be the one of financial viability.
Unless many of the also-rans resign themselves to continual failure on the field many will follow Portsmouth. When weekly wages equal to that of the average earnings by fans over several years are regarded as reasonable the warning bells must start to ring. Throw in the possibility of higher taxes. Then add to the mix many one-sided matches becoming unattractive to armchair viewers and the resulting reduction in TV earnings and the recipe for many insolvencies is complete.
The probable eventual solution will be the formation of a European League of rich clubs. But the supporters who devote so much of their hard earned cash and emotions deserve better. If the obvious power brokers across Europe were to agree a maximum wage and transfer structure, costs would come hurtling down with the added benefit that lower leagues would be adapt their financial behaviour too.
The instant objection is that the players would not accept it. Really? A wage of 250,000 per year as against per week is still very attractive and if the only people able to pay more agreed to accept the ceiling for the greater good of the game where would the players go? Their present wages are totally unrealistic. However good a player, he cannot be worth more in a fortnight than a brain surgeon earns in a year.
What worries me and, I suspect, many fans is that no one will take any initiative. The dream of being the best will prove too heady. But will being the best of a collapsing pack or even a form of isolation in Europe really satisfy anyone?
Hopefully Porstmouth did more that just put on a final brave performance yesterday. The Pompey chimes rang out but so did a warning of things to come!
Tomorrow; An English triumph to lighten the gloom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The small boy of today collects computer games, in my day it was stamps. I still have the well thumbed album and can remember gazing with awe at the colourful images of faraway places like Jamaica. The album has few British stamps since they were seen as boring and repetitive. Of course had I bothered to be patriotic I might well now be worth a bob or two since one good aspect of stamp collecting is the considerable appreciation that can occur over the years.
By the time I discovered the joys of cricket and girls I had lost my zeal for buying packets of stamps from Woollies and it was many years before the desire re-emerged, possibly as the abilility to exploit both cricket and girls had run its heady course. I then decided to start all over but this time to be more selective. It was around that time that British stamps changed. They became colourful and informative.
I remember having dinner with the then head of the Post Office (we supplied vans to them). He told me that their most profitable activity was selling stamps that were never used. I presume that it is still the case for Royal Mail now runs a large organisation at Tallents House in Edinburgh which meets the cravings of every collector. And it is big business. Over the years the number of new stamps has climbed to around twelve per year and most issues have a number of versions. Each commemorates an aspect of our Island’s past.
This week the latest offerings dropped through the letter-box. ‘Brittain Alone’ covers the civilian response to the second World War. There are pictures of Land Girls, Home Guard, evacuees, Air Raid Wardens, women in factories, the Fire Service and a broadcast by the two young Princesses. There are single stamps, miniature sheets, brochures and first day covers. With such coverage each month provides interest and excitement for we sad creatures who enjoy philately.
In recent months we have had The House of Stewart, Mammals, Battersea Dogs and Cats home. As I glance back across just a few months I see Kew Gardens, the Olympics, Classic Albums..all of Britain lives in my cupboard in glorious colour. A century from now the collection will be valuable, the only snag being that I will long since have joined the ferret-breeders in the sky.
There is one caveate I feel obliged to make. Many of those drawn to the new world of British stamps proclaim that their principle reason for investing is the social history conveyed. Not a sound reason! Inevitably a collection of inch-square adhesive paper can only tell part of the story and since spectacle and glamour is the aim the real story is subject to a somewhat rosy-tinted hue.
Take this week’s issue for example. The design of the ‘Britain Together’ collection is brilliant, the message conveyed somewhat misleading. Study these and one quickly assumes that the civilian population during the war was united, all pulling together in unstinted sacrifice. Indeed as if to reinforce this image one stamp features a Churchill speech which talked of ‘unconquerable fidelity manifest in us all’. In most perhaps but the low life of today that robs and deceives is not unique to the present age.
The actor who played Major Gowan in Fawlty Towers was in real life a policeman at the time of the blitz. He recalls major problems after air raids when the police tried to prevent looting and the stealing of jewellery from corpses. Mnay other sources tell similar tales. We must not rewrite social history for to do so is to assume that once upon a time our country was a law-abiding paradise.
So my little piece of propaganda for the pleasant pastime of philately is that it is fascinating and rewarding. But a source of true history it is not!
TOMORROW; Is the Premiership doomed?
In a previous piece I wrote of the recent spate of wartime diaries published by the Mass Observation Archive, an organisation set up in 1937 to encourage ordinary folk like you and me to keep a record of their daily lives. One of those I discussed belonged to Nella Last, a Barrow housewife. Although her life, like mine, had no startling headlines her every day account of how life was lived then was full of interest. Nella was a lady of many activities, interests, tears and sorrows. It occurred to me then that we too easily label people.
One only has to look up at the stars on a clear night, or for the more spiritual to consider God, to realise how utterly insignificant we all are. We cannot change that fact but we further diminish each other by assuming that the piece of someone we see or read about is all that there is. And I am guilty of doing this especially in the case of historical figures.
Having studied the history of the second World War I became interested in finding out more about some of the leading figures. I quickly established that Churchill was not simply the man that turned the English language into a weapon but also a warship designer, artist, prolific writer and family man. This you probably know. What may surprise you, as it did me, is to research Neville Chamberlain. Most of us respond to the name by talking of the chap with the rolled up umbrella who came back from Munich waving a worthless piece of paper. That is true but he wasn’t the first person to be deceived by Corporal Hitler.
In fact Chamberlain was neither a dandy nor coward. In 1890 he was summoned from Birmingham to Canada by his father Joe and brother Austen and told to move to a tract of land purchased by his father on a small desert island in the Caribbean Gulf. The soil there was reported to be suitable for growing sisal and his father had invested £50,000 in the expectation of making a family fortune. Brother Austen was already in the House of Commons so Neville obeyed.
The next five years of his life were spent in trying to grow sisal in this lonely spot, swept by hurricanes, living nearly naked, struggling with labour difficulties and every other kind of hardship and obstacle. He built a small harbour, landing stage and tramway. He used every kind of fertilisation known at that time and generally led a primitive and open-air existence. But no sisal! At the end of five years hard labour he earned only a rebuke.
His life took many other hard twists and turns in the years that followed and it was only in the late thirties that he three times visited Hitler in a dogged attempt to avoid war. So the label we apply reflects little of the life labelled.
Of course we don’t all lead such an adventurous life but the story serves to remind us that everyone has many facets to their characters, many experiences, many examples to others of how not to tackle this crisis or that.
Ive left it too late now but find myself wishing that I had kept a diary. My days may be mundane but a century from now people in the space age would find the way we live more fascinating than it seemed to us at the time. And when we look at our own record we will realise that a single label is utterly misleading.
Eric Cameron and Ernie Clegg put on a superb show at No 10 yesterday. I tuned in expecting to be cynical but they wooed me as much as they wooed each other. There is clearly a positive synergy between the two and on the face of it the Coalition couldn’t have got off to a better start. And that is good news for the country as we head into very difficult financial waters. I could be churlish and say that they demonstrated through their humorous dismissal of last week’s insults that politicians are actors. But we knew that anyway.
Without question this was an historic event. Here we had semingly bitter rivals locked in mutual admiration. In their own ways both men have been brave in the face of widespread hostility from sections of their respective Parties not to mention, in Mr Cameron’s case, claims that he conceded far more than he need.
Sadly the honeymoon will not last long given that the Conservative plan to make major ‘front-end’ cuts is to proceed albeit under a Lib Dem Minister. Encouraged by Gordon Brown, a respected financial expert, to believe that cuts at this stage will impair the fragile recovery, the Trades Unions will react violently to the announcements as they come. Already there is dark talk of a national strike. It may be that the new Prime Minister believes that the presence of the Lib Dems will be a moderating influence. If so he will be disappointed for it is reasonable to assume that any influence lies with the Labour Party which is hardly likely to attempt a rescue as their bedrock supporters suffer
But let us be positive and assume that the new Liberal Conservative- even the title seems a huge concession -succeeds in the face of major unrest and distress and a year from now is seen to be very much in control of the economy. Let us not consider the alternative lest we enter the weekend as depressed as ferrets deprived of a race.
And this is where the ‘Wither’ bit comes into play. Inevitably we will by then be in to bye-elections (MPs don’t just play with expenses they sometimes die). By that time the revitalised Labour Party under a new leader will be making its pitch. In fact it will be the only alternative to the coalition. It is als0 likely that by then the spotlight will focus mainly on the Prime Minister. So the electorate will have a straight choice.
Of course there are many angry Conservative voters who will realise that Mr Cameron has seized the opportunity to move the Party to the centre ground. But they still only have the choice of voting for the coalition. However Mr Clegg may have a much bigger problem. A poll has shown that the vast majority of his vote came from electors who ranked Labour as their second choice. In other words they saw the Lib Dems as an anti-Tory vote.
So he will face a huge desertion at the ballot box. Could this be compounded by traditional Lib Dem supporters feeling that the best way to keep Labour out is to vote for the senior partners in the coalition? Perhaps I am missing something but right now I cannot see why any but the diehard Liberals would vote for Nick Clegg.
Of course none of this may happen if disaster strikes and the coalition is split assunder but the signs at yesterday’s love-in suggested that this won’t happen. But even if it did is there not a risk that Lib Dem supporters with an anti-Tory bent will see a vote for Nick as a vote for the enemy as they see it. Certain it is that the Labour spin-doctors will campaign appropriately!
Incidentally there is to be a bye-election in two week’s time as a result of the death of a candidate. Eric and Ernie mentioned this and joked that they would travel to it in the same car. And they will metaphorically. It will be interesting to see how even at this early stage the electors cope with the identity crisis.
Who am I to question the strategy of Nick Clegg who has pulled off an amazing coup. But does he have another cunning plan for the future of his Party. Or is he thinking of emulating Churchill who eventually crossed the floor of the house?
If so his future is assured but right now many Lib Dem voters feel that their Party may perish and only some echo the mantra that it is for the good of the country.
One imagines that the joy of being an historian lies in the fact that he or she only passes judgement after the total event. By way of a bonus the history is often written after those involved are long gone and thus in no position to complain at inaccuracies. One day someone will sit down to write the story of Nick Clegg and I cannot resist the temptation to guess at the verdict.
Of course some of the story is already known to us. In August 1997 Mr Clegg was on holiday in Spain. Among his fellow guests was a senior adviser to Tony Blair. Mr Clegg let it be known that he was to stand as a Lib Dem MEP. He was asked why someone as bright as he would want to join the Lib Dems, why not join Labour? Mr Clegg was very clear that he wanted to be a Liberal Democrat. He couldn’t relate to the Labour tradition.
According to colleagues he proved to have a laser-like focus. He earned respect as a negotiator in Europe. It is said that he never lost his sense of humour and however dry the meeting showed vision and determination. He was an MEP from 1999-2004 before being elected for the Sheffield Hallam seat in 2005. His rise to the leadership of his Party was stratospheric. And now he is Deputy Prime Minister.
Nick Clegg began the election campaign just ended as a near unknown to the British public. A star performance in the first televised debate led to massive speculation and there was a widespread view that a three-party system had emerged. In the event the traditional squeeze encoraged by a vitriolic hate campaign by the Tory press saw the Lib Dems increase their vote by a mere 1 per cent and with fewer seats. So villified was Mr Clegg that a national web site developed along the lines of ‘all Nick Clegg’s fault’.
But a hung parliament emerged and he seized his chance. The old negotiating skills seemed to come to the fore as he created a pressure on David Cameron so intense that one concession followed another in an attempt to reach a coalition that would enable the man who had described Mr Clegg as a game-show host to achieve his ambition.
When Mr Clegg convinced Gordon Brown that a Labour coalition was an option the Prime Minister announced his intention to stand aside to allow negotiations to begin. In reality there was little chance of this given the hostility of leading Labour figures but the Conservative team swallowed the bait. Policies were swept aside, cabinet places offered and finally a referendum on Alternative Voting promised. No small concession this for if AV had been in place for this election the Lib Dems would have gained 79 seats, Labour 262 and Tory 280.
Gordon Brown now sensed that the time had come to stand down and did so with great grace. The attitude of the Lib Dems and Tories was less accepting but the deal was through and Cameron’s dream was realised.
And there end the facts. The rest can only be speculation for history is still in the making. The Tories will presumably do what they threatened. There will be massive cuts. The Trade Unions are already talking in terms of a General Strike. The government will quickly lose popularity. The Lib Dems will share the blame and many who voted for them as an anti-Tory option to Labour are already disgruntled.
As the tumult grows it is easy to imagine an early end to the honeymoon within the coalition. The last one was in 1940 and that held together but the threat was external and potentially lethal. This time many will remember the Brown argument against early cuts. They will also increasingly realise that grumpy though he was Gordon was a financial wizard.
Let us imagine that at some moment the coalition fragments and falls. By now the Labour Party has a new leader and campaigns on being the only progressive alternative to the Conservatives. Voters might well see the Lib Dems as part of the latter. Their support could easily all but vanish.
Today’s Daily Mirror says that ‘there is a clock on this unworkable government. It is ticking. We will be willing its hands to turn faster to bring this farcical, unseemly period to a swift conclusion’.
If it is right Nick Clegg will be judged in history as having taken his party into the cabinet for the first time in anyone’s lifetime only to ultimately destroy it for all time.
There are more than a few red faces at the Ferret Breeders Club. Some weeks ago we described the chances of the England cricketers surviving even the first round of the Twenty20 World Cup as equivalent to those of Nick Clegg reaching the Cabinet. We were gloriously wrong on the first part anyway, and even on the second if the used car salesmen continue to offer inducements.
Neew Zealand were the latest opponents to experience the new dynamic England who had already accounted for Pakistan and South Africa. With six points out of six our heroes -like politicians we change our views at regular intervals- are through to the semi-finals and the likelihood is that they will account for either West Indies or Pakistan then. On to the Final that not a single ferret-owner expected them to reach. There we might well meet the Aussies. We shall edge our bets on that one but even the runners-up spot is a fantasic prospect for a team who had looked for some time as one that couldn’t win a raffle.
Every aspect of Englnd’s game has been transformed. Eoin Morgan -thank God for Ireland- and Kevin Peterson -ditto for South Africa- have batted with a ferocity long missing. And the fielding of players like Lumb, Wright and Broad has been a revelation. Clearly shredded wheat for breakfast does work wonders.
So we ferret men are joyful and even our ferrets are less spiteful. Of course we cannot totally wipe from our minds the machinations of the politicians. We all have a deep respect for grumpy Gordon who has always seemed the one with true integrity even if his temper is sometimes angry-ferret like. Now we watch and wait.
The suggestion that his last act of setting up a coalition would be undemocratic strikes us as odd since the Labour and Lib Dem combined vote far exceeded that of desperate Dave.
Go for it we cry. If England can be in with a chance of winning the World Cup you can work wonders too. Of course we ferret men are biased. We don’t trust Old Etonians and have long banned such from our alotment shed.
The official ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day rekindled a lot of memories. I was a 12 year old schooboy and remember clearly the party held in a taxi-firm’s garage. As young boys do I watched with interest the reaction of the adults as I munched on my Spam sandwiches. Some wore party hats, some didn’t. Some wept tears of joy, others of deep sorrow.
For some there was little to celebrate. Many of the men -as we lads saw them- who just a few years before had taken part in our street football would never do so again. Others would and their folk seemed to stifle their elation, overtaken by a sense of guilt at being ‘the lucky ones’. For years the street had seemed a place of hope amidst the raids and deprivation. Suddenly it felt hollow, a place of echoing memories.
In fact there never were the universally riotous celebrations written about by historians. For on that day not only were many facing a life without their breadwinners but others were anxiously awaiting news from the Far East and were later to hear tales of atrocities too terrible to bear.
So it isn’t a display of relief and flag-waving that I recall. But there was pride. I heard many sing the familiar ditty about ‘It wasn’t the Yanks that won the war, the Oxford and Bucks got there before’. Everyone seemed determined to avoid any recognition that the Americans had, after their late entry into the conflict, swung the balance. Strangely enough I remember but two lauded heroes being toasted that night. They were Churchill and Stalin. Yes, Stalin. This weekend’s TV pictures of the Welsh Guards marching in Red Square would have pleased those who believed that it was the might of Russia that saved us. Few probably realised that it lost 3 million souls in doing so.
I find myself wondering what those young men that never returned woiuld make of today’s ‘home fit for heroes’ to which they never returned. My guess is that they would look askance at the present machinations of our three would-be leaders. Two of them would definitely not have had their approval for there seemed then an innate distrust of ‘toffs’. Even Gordon Brown would be seen as a pale-pink socialist. The men and women who swept Attlee into power in 1945 were, by today’s standards ‘hard left’.
And what they would think of the Europe they had shed blood to conquer now being our effective master doesn’t bear contemplation.
Even for those who survived, the dream faded within years. The Labour government of ’45 was a reforming one and many social changes took place , not least the birth of the NHS. But the need to give priority to the starving masses in Europe led to austerity at home and by 1951 the dream of a better life, a better world, was fading fast. In frustration the people turned back to Churchill but the magic of those war years no longer encircled him.
Perhaps the best we can say in retrospect is that we survived to fight another day. The dream that carried so many brave men across Europe and lightened the days of endurance at home was just that, a dream. And history tells us that the outcome of wars is invariably negative and eventually yet more early deaths of young men and women told to dream of a better tomorrow.
As I type, the eternal triangle continues to negotiate, having suddenly discovered that they do like each other after all. But if I hear once more that their only interest lies in putting the nation first I shall hurl my fiercest ferret in their direction. Just how gullible do they believe us to be? In the case of Messrs Cameron and Brown their only interest lies in occupying the nation’s most prestigeous address. Mr Clegg is interested only in securing a more democratic voting system which one day could see him warming the leather chairs.
As if to raise my ferret arm higher a leading figure said that we face our worst crisis since 1939 and a coalition is the only answer. Clearly they do not really believe that, if they did the three parties would come together in a real coalition to operate until such time as the crisis was resolved. That is exactly what happened during WW2 and we had the seemingly odd experience of having Churchill and Attlee as PM and Deputy. And it worked!
What is being toyed with today is not a coalition but a means of grabbing power whilst at the same time squeezing the pips out of the junior Party. For that is exactly what will happen to the young Mr Clegg if he swallows the bait. The fortunes of his lot will become inextricably linked with whichever Party gobbles him up. If the gobbler succeeds it will get the credit, if it fails the Lib Dems will be condemned for taking the side of failure.
Having said all that I would be terrified if in his situation. Yes, his Party’s performance stumbled in the face of the most orchestrated campaign of hate ever perpetrated by the press but the fact remains that it still increased it’s share of the vote. Almost 7 million people placed their cross behind it and that represents 23 per cent of the electorate. Yet it produced only 57 seats. Hardly democratic is it? Looked at another way the claim from David Cameron to have been democratically elected is nonsense, in fact the combined Labour and Lib Dem vote was 15.4m compared to his 10.7m. So it is hard not to sympathise with Mr Clegg seeing this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the system to one that truly reflects the vote in terms of elected representatives.
The only hope he has of grasping this moment lies with grumpy Gordon . Proportional Representation would make harder the Conservative task at future elections and Turkeys do not vote for Christmas. On the other hand Mr Brown is offering something along those lines but the reputation of Labour in honouring promises of referenda is not good.
It is of course easy to come up with solutions from the safety of an allotment shed but I do venture one. Clegg should decline to enter a so-called coalition with either Party but he should grasp the chance of a new voting system. Having obtained this he should guarantee support on key bills over a two year period. There are other equally promising permutations.
But one thing above all others should be to the fore as the saga rumbles on. They should all stop wrapping their Machiavellian plans in a cloak of patriotism. Even Ferrets have a greater sense of honour than that!
Dictionaries give various definitions of the term vocation but all include reference to an overriding sense of duty. The inference is that the cause is more important than reward. That rules out most of the roles we describe as vocations or callings including such as the legal profession where money is all. In fact the more you think about it the smaller becomes the list and mine ended with but two, Nursing and religion. Doctors almost squeezed in but I couldn’t shake off the suspicion that money is a driving force there too.
Religion in the shape of missionary work is an obvious calling. However my knowledge is limited to the portrayal by Robert Morley in ‘The African Queen’ so I shall say no more. But for many years I have worked alongside nurses and have never failed to be impressed by the devotion of the vast majority to their patients. I have met many who literally mourn the loss of a patient who had become their constant friend.
Today I made a new discovery. Even after they retire nurses continue to think as nurses, continue to promote the cause of the patients of today. I was at the Royal Preston Hospital where I accepted an invitation to attend the annual meeting of the Preston Royal Infirmary League of Nurses 1929-1970. So packed was the hall that my first task was to help with hunting for extra chairs.
I sat at the back and listened with awe as the discussions centred around the nursing of yesteryear. And the old commitments and discipline still apply, indeed the rules make clear that any member known to be guilty of unprofessional conduct can be removed from the Register of the League. Not that those who still care so much that they regularly meet with former cclleagues, and who do all they can to help those overtaken by the passage of time, are likely to break a code of conduct that long since became a way of life.
The League is not just a social body, it works to help important medical causes. Today the President handed over a cheque for £4,400 to the Rosemere Cancer Foundation, a charity at the forefront of the fight against the greatest scourge of mankind. The cash was the result of a calendar produced for 2010. It features a series of archived photographs showing how it was so many years ago.
It is social history at its best. A journey through this magnificent production takes one back through the Preston hospital of yesteryear and shows clearly the enormous progress that has been made in health care. The pictures show the key players in all that has happened-the nurses. I am sure that many of the ladies present still retain a deserved pride in all that they did, indeed some are to be seen in the sepia prints from a time when Matron was the boss and nurses wore hats that impress even in today’s more casual age.
As we mingled later old friends met up again and many a memory was shared. These are the people who made our health service what it is today. And they recall it with pride. No one mentions pay or conditions, they all have one thing in common a sense of duty and a joy in carrying it out.
I found the whole experience humbling. In 40 years in industry I never met a group of people so commited. And only nursing could inspire such a sense of commitment decades after the last patient was treated and comforted.
Nursing is indeed a true vocation, arguably the only one that stands the test of time.
I have to confess that our Ferret Club is on occasions rent asunder by administrative errors- or cock-ups as we tend to call them-at the time of the elections for such prestigeous post as King Ferret Breeder. It has been known for the Secretary to write up an inadequate number of ballot papers and for the caretaker to insist on locking the doors before we have either made up our minds or managed to find a pencil.
We always console ourselves with the thought that this is the way of Brits. We tend to be below par when it comes to planning. Many of us recall the occasions during the war when it was found that the fire hydrants across the country had differing securing screws thus making the task of fire units switched to London somewhat tricky. Then there were the ration books missing coupons . I won’t go on because we did make it in the end.
There is of course the other defence which is that we are all amateurs when it comes to paperwork. And far from being paid to do it we pay subs.
Perhaps the time has come to apply the same system in the case of Council Chief Executives. General Elections are held every five years so it wouldn’t seem unreasonable to expect that enough ballot papers are available, enough polling stations chosen and for staffing to comprise more than two ladies one of whom has to go home to feed the cat. To be fair, things ran well in our neck of the woods but that is what happened last night in other parts of the country. The result was that thousands were unable to vote.
Even Baldrick could have done better. Had the scenes that we witnessed on TV happened in Lagos, or any of the other places that we keep our expert eye on, we would by now be demanding a full investigation by the United Nations. Yet unlike the affairs of the Ferret folk these disgraceful lapses occurred under the control of Returning Officers most of which are highly paid Council chiefs. In defence of their salaries, which can range from £140,000 to double that, it is usually argued that they could earn that much in industry.
I try to remember what happened to people in industry who messed up in an equivalent way. But I cannot for they quickly vanished never to be seen again. The eyes of the world were on us last night and observers must have been somewhat surpised at the antics of the Mother of Democracy.
Talking of which should young Nick Clegg decide to throw in his lot with the Old Etonians there is a real risk of his finding a ferret up his trousers.
Those who follow cricket will recall the long and merciless battle between Michael Atherton and South Africa’s Alan Donald. For hour after hour Atherton absorbed a full scale assault that would have had most men back in the pavilion. But he held on to both bat and temper and eventually proved that given determination, and the comfort of knowing that the majority are on your side, a crisis can be played through to the point where it withers.
Doubless readers will point me to other examples but this one will serve to illustrate my thoughts on what may happen in the aftermath of the election. The politicians have studiously avoided setting out in detail their proposed cuts and experts believe that the facts will send shock waves amongst even the stoical Brits. So severe are these likely to be that it is not an overstatement to fear a reaction akin to that in Spain albiet a British version consisting of strikes and demonstrations. But such things can get out of hand as we learned in the Poll Tax riots.
It will need a cool Atherton-like approach on the part of whoever is in the seat of power. However some experts argue that any government representing less that half of the population will reap a whirwind. And there lies the answer to those who claim that a coalition would lead to disaster. Logic suggests the exact opposite.
If the Prime Minister facing the music is seen to have been elected by say 60 per cent of those that voted he is likely to be supported in whatever he does by the majority of the country. The reverse of that looks ominous. Let us assume that David Cameron wins the key to No 10 with say 35%. He faces widespread hostility from the majority which will feel free to rebel having voted against him.
Of course the same goes for Gordon Brown although he has one advantage in that those likely to head up demands for industrial action are theoretically at least on his side. But as we have seen recently this is no guarantee that they will not encourage disputes. And in the case of mass job losses their rhetoric would not need to be overly persuasive.
It would take a cleverer bloke than me to forecast the election outcome but I see nothing but trouble if when the victors announce draconian measures previously hidden, they do so without the goodwill of the vast majority that in a three-horse race can only come from a coalition.
Given that, an Atherton air of calm determination could save the day plus a few plate windows. Come to think about it perhaps they such ask Mike to teach them how!
Our Ferret Breeders club held a meeting today in the allotment hut and, inevitably, the unending election campaign came up. The general sentiment seemed to be thank the Lord its over, they can all stop pretending that they actually enjoy talking to us proles. Then someone suggested we choose a Prime Minister.
It proved more difficult than I imagined. On a show of heads- holding a ferret with one hand is not to be recommended if you wish to continue spin bowling- a motion condemning all three of the aspirants was passed unanimously. Dave was too smug, Gordon too grumpy and Nick too young (in fairness it must be admitted that our idea of young is under 70). At this point Albert suggested we must make a recommendation to her Majesty lest she has to decide to invite someone to form her government.
Albert Junior made a proposal which had every head nodding. Bumble is the man, he declared. Accrington deserves to provide a PM and no one could think of a thing to say against the motion. Bumble, or David Lloyd to the uninitiated, is our favourite cricket commentator. The ex England and Lancashre star is a star turn in every way. He can make us laugh even when the rain is falling and that takes some doing.
As we talked our conviction that Bumble is the man grew. He would replace all the stuffy Commons terms with cries such as ‘start the car’ when the debate went on beyond human endurance. He would certainly set an example to wasteful MPs, any man who climbs over fences to pocket old cricket balls is hardly likely to tolerate Duck Houses. Neither is he likely to bore the pants off us with 3 hour budget speeches. A quick glance at the back of a fag packet and Bumble would tell all in a couple of minutes.
Even more important he would help us to see the funny side of things, an ability that may be essential in the years ahead. And he wouldn’t do it in an overly posh accent. Hopefully Bumble is not an Old Etonian in which case we could find no fault with him.
So an email is on the way to Buck House making clear that the Ferret men of the North back Bumble. Of course should HM follow our advice Bumble will owe us one. We merely ask that the Queens Speech includes two Bills. The first would make weekly attendance at a cricket match compulsory during the months of May to September. The second would make Duckworth/Lewis and Lady Gaga standard subjects in the education sylabus
I must stop now. Typing whilst holding an angry ferret is building my stress levels.
The only subject being debated by the would-be Prime Ministers that I know anything about is the NHS. I can only say that if all their other blah on other subjects is as inaccurate the nation is being treated to lies or misinformation galore.
Both Brown and Cameron have fallen over themselves to declare that there will be no cuts. Huge slashing has already taken place with many hospitals being given ludicrously reduced budgets for the year now under way. To describe them as efficiency targets is nonsense, most hospitals are already down to the bare minimum and almost every major hospital is working at nurse levels far below the point where time can be given to patients in a truly caring way.
We are told that hospitals must cut beds. At the time of the last Conservative government there were 299,000 beds, today there are 170,000. Any further scope for reduction depends on social services having a much larger budget to enable them to relocate elderly patients once their treatment is complete. Ah, but we are told more minor surgery must be carried out in the community. In the areas I know well there are no facilities whatsover to facilitate this and there is no money available let alone GPs with time to spare even if they had the specialised skills.
But in my frustration I digress. The big lie is the constant inference that hospitals are the NHS and are its sole cash-burner. With the honourable exception of Nick Clegg no one has referred to the huge cost of the layers of unnecessary bureaucracy which employs countless thousands of highly paid executives who impose targets, tick boxes and serve to frustrate and slow down front line services. Mr Clegg said that he would scrap Strategic Health Authorities. He is right and I can give him several equally expensive and pointless organisations to drop into the same waste bin.
All that is needed is a return to what once was. Put the Departent of Health in charge and have clinical inspectors. Save several billion and increase efficiency, the perfect prescription.
But it isnt just on these issues that we are being misled. Whether the money-men like it or not we are all living longer and in old age our medical needs accelerate. The legitimate demand for hospital intervention will continue to climb and pretending otherwise will not make that irrefutable fact go away.
It is time for someone who seems to have a vague idea of the real scope for cutting costs without affecting patient care to be given the chance to force action. Despite all their faults the Labour Party has achieved enormous improvements in hospital care over the past decade. But they have a blind spot on the tremendously wasteful army of pen-pushers.
Perhaps if we have a hung parliament they could do worse that listen to Mr Clegg. His solution is the only one that makes sense.
I am sure that Messrs Duckworth and Lewis are first class mathematicians but they can give you ulcers. For the unitiated DL is a realtively new formula used to ensure a result in rain-affected games. In such august tournaments as the Cricket World Cup the old ending of ‘abandoned as a no-result’ with the sides sharing the points has gone. When that happened we used to shake our fists at the sky. now we do so at Sky Sports and the commentators who admit to being unable to explain the calculations.
What brought this up all of a sudden? Last nights match between England and the West Indies, thats what. For years England’s batting in one-day cricket has been less exciting than the proverbial drying of paint. But suddenly we saw a superb display and, by England’s standards an incredible 191 in twenty overs. At last. This time they can’t lose. Then came the rain.
By the time someone up there switched off the tap and the umpires had studied the pitch much as a pathologist observes a departed there was insufficient time to bowl the full number of overs. And our tormentors Duckworth and his mate took centre stage. Only 60 runs was required for victory and given that West Indies already had 30 on the board they had the easy task of scoring another 30 off 28 balls. Surprise surprise they hit them, being able to play without the caution that comes with facing a full innings.
The mathematicians amongst you will tell me that the figure was based on logical projections, whatever they may be. But they take no account of the attitudinal change that a small target brings. It is one thing to bowl four overs, quite another to bowl one when a single boundary can mean sudden death.
Of course life itself isn’t fair for much of the time. But cricket is supposed to be the greatest example of equity. Either someone should look at the formula again or we should return to the days of moaning about the weather. At least that way Englnad would have felt aggrieved, today they must feel cheated.
As someone whose involvement in art was confined to drawing on Mrs Biggin’s wall I am scarcely qualified to play the role of critic. But I have long been fascinated by the work of Andy Warhol who died at the tragically young age of 58. I have never been able to fathom out what he was saying through his work but am convinced that there are messages there. My belief is that even the pictures of soup tins were more than they seemed to those who saw them simply as an easy way for a very collectable artist to make a few quid.
In many ways AW redifined the role of the artist. He asked questions, not least why should art be confined to paintings. He regularly focussed on modern society and, I suspect, equally regularly pointed the finger at much of it. I may of course be missing the point entirely but I choose to believe that he was highlighting the repetition and the obsession with celebrity. The media decides that a star is born and repeats his or her picture until our swamped minds agree. And of course TV ads are a perfect example of the supposed power of repetition.
In my mind at least the great man also raised the question of change. Do we really want to eat the same soup for ever? If we are told often enough to do so our subconscious will insist that we do. So what is the definition of change? AW seemed to show through images of non-change what it isn’t thus enabling us to at least question claims of change.
Inspired by a recent Tv prograame on the work of Warhol I found myself applying what I suspect his message to be to the current election. Cameron claims to be change personified. Is he? All I see is a posh, middle aged, upper-class bloke using almost the same words as his predecessors. And judging from the vicious attacks his media masters have orchestrated against the upstart Clegg he is as likely to change anything as is a rattle snake to be popular in a lucky dip.
And largely the same goes for every other seeker of power. What would be real change? I guess someone who choose a new location from which to lead, didn’t wear suits and make-up and proposed a regular referendum on major issues, the outcome of which would be binding in law. Impractical you say? Then you are dismissing the option of change rather than proposing another way of changing the old order that never changes, merely rotates.
My theory may be absolute nonsense and a completely false interpretation of what Andy Warhol was saying. But the very fact that his work triggers agonising is surely a tribute in itself.
I love gazing at a Constable painting. But it has never caused me to search for a message merely an oak which is invariably there somewhere in a scene that seems to say all is well for nothing changes.