Archive for September, 2010

Oh brothers, what a load of twaddle!

“They’re just a pair of big girl’s blouses” muttered Albert as he shook the rain from his ferreting coat. It is a long time since I took an interest in blouses, big or otherwise, and his meaning was lost on me until others joined in the moan and I realised that the brothers Miliband saga is beginning to irritate my pals.

To the newspapers it is a soap opera of Lady Gaga proportions but even by those standards some of the explanations given for David Miliband’s decision not to serve under his young brother beggar belief. Most ludicrous of all is the claim that he wishes to spend more time with his sons, Isaach and Jacob. Does anyone seriously believe that he would have said that had he won? Almost as daft is the stuff about giving his brother space or being embarrassed by their conflicting views on Iraq. The history of Cabinets, shadow or government, contains hundreds of examples of ministers serving together yet retaining individual beliefs. No, the explanation is , we ferreters suspect, a much simpler one.

Older brothers find it impossible to accept their younger sibling, however much loved, as their boss. And who can fail to sympathise? Just imagine the case of the Milibands. David was born into the home of famous Marxist academics who regularly entertained the likes of Tony Benn, Tariq Ali and all. We read that by the time he was ten David was a regular participant in the discourse and it is easy to imagine that the much younger Ed was packed off to bed.

Anyone who has had sons, or is a brother, will know only too well the extent to which an older brother – four years is a chasm in early years – dominates and protects his younger brothers. Often he is asked by Mum or Dad to ‘set an example’ and , equally often, to keep an eye out for him at school or play. Often he enoys the role of playing ‘Mr Superior’ when passing on knowledge. Always there is rivalry and competition for parental approval. In all but disfunctional families there is always an underlying feeling on the part of the older boy of affection mingled with scorn at how relatively little junior knows about cricket. As the years roll by the intellectual gap may narrow but the innate feeling of seniority prevails.

By the time he was in his 20s, David Miliband was part of Tony Blair’s policy circle and it is not hard to imagine that thoughts of his young brother overtaking him in the political heirarchy would never have occurred to him. In fact he almost certainly enjoyed telling him of encounters with the then political elite. And as the boys became men the gap in seniority was maintained. Ed eventually entered parliament in 2005 but by then his brother was almost a household name. Again it is easy to imagine that David provided a good deal of advice on the peculiarities of Westminster.

Loyal by nature David refused to challenge Brown when the chance came but defeat in the general election opened up another opportunity and this time he made his move. Everyone around him would have assured him that his victory was a mere formality. And then his younger brother, his prodigy, announced his candidacy. That would have been a surprise but older brother probably regarded it with equanimity. If young Ed did well it would provide the chance to include in the Shadow Cabinet someone he could trust.

And suddenly the world of David Miliband is turned upside down. The lad whose ear he occasionally clipped had, against all expectation, won. Would he accept him as his boss? Impossible to live with such a notion. David is undoubtedly a man with great self undertstanding. He will quickly have realised that his only route to self pride lay in mounting another challenge in two years time. He could only do that honourably from the backbenches. At no time will he do other than support his younger brother but he must either challenge him or leave politics altogether.

Meantime Ed has his chance. Yes, he is considerably less experienced than David but there is little likelihood of a general election for four years given that the Lib Dems risk annihilation if they bring the coalition down. He has already shown good judgement in replacing the mischievous Nick Brown with Rosie Winterton as chief whip. Her powers of persuasion will help. But he has  a way to go befiore convincing the electorate on his penchant for increased civil liberty, even if his condemnation of Iraq has proved popular.

I may be wrong but I cannot believe that David Miliband will ever be able to reconcile himself to serving under his young brother however much he loves him. If Ed manages to lead well the turbulant ranks of the Labour Party we may well have seen the last of the former Foreign Secretary in a political sense. On the other hand if Ed falters or even if he does well but loses an election we can be sure of two things. David will be back and Ed will be happy to serve under him.

After all that wouldn’t be  a new experience! I suspect that when Wordsworth wrote ’how fast has brother followed brother from sunshine to the sunless land’, he had in mind that the leader would be the older!

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                                                              BANKS ARE UNREPENTANT! 

Today’s report from the Financial Services Authority makes interesting reading. Given their record of abysmal failure one would expect to learn of improvements all round. One would be wrong!

Over the past six months an astonishing 1.3 million complaints have been lodged. The subects include sloppy service, poor advice and the misselling of financial products. State-owned banks such as RBS-Nat West are among the worst offenders in terms of the proportion of complaints upheld.

Nice to know that they are still earning their bonuses isn’t it?

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                                                                         SO MUCH FOR NICK CLEGG’S WORD!

“After Labour’s long assault on civil liberties, we’ve scrapped child dention in the immigration system” boasted Nick Clegg in a letter to supporters attending the Lib Dem conference. Not true!  Almost as delegates found their rooms, two children were reported to be locked up in the infamous Yarl’s Wood centre in Bedfordshire. And Immigration Minister, Damian Green, no longer talks of ending child detention but speaks of ‘minimisng’ it instead.

Get those tee-shirts out. It is Nick’s fault after all !

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ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;  1.  1974    2.  Amnesty International

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  Whio was the author of the 1973 title ‘The Honorary Consul’?  2.  In TV’s ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ whom did Mr Hudson marry in the 1975 showing?

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Clever move by the wily old Fox!

Another day and another leak to the Daily Telegraph which seems to have more moles in Whitehall than we have in our local cricket pitch. It almost has one wondering if there is some ministerial sleight of hand involved. But they wouldn’t do that would they? As they say in Pantomime oh yes they would. At the very least today’s appearance on the front page of the daily leaker will have done the cause of Liam Fox no harm at all. Whatever the slashers and cutters now do to our armed forces he will be seen as the man that warned against it!

In his ‘for your eyes only’ letter to David Cameron, Dr Fox has emphasised that draconian cuts cannot possibly be carried out at a time when we are, rightly or wrongly, engaged in what is going to be a long war in Afghanistan. As he argues such action at a time when our troops are overstretched, and suffering constant fatalities, would lead to a dangerous loss of morale. It would also leave us short of replacements needed to enable the front line men to have vital breaks. Most people probably agree with Ed Miliband’s description of the Iraq invasion as a terrible mistake and many will extend the verdict to Afghanistan but the fact remains we are committed and our armed forces are suffering terrible consequences. To simply accept defeat as we did in Basra would give a hugely dangerous boost to terrorists. We have no option than to battle on. I say we but the battling is down to brave men who had no part in the decisions to go to war. To talk of redundancies would be the most abject betrayal of each and every one of them.

Dr Fox has gone well beyond war in his refusal to accept significnt cuts and he is surely right to do so. We cannot foretell what other emergencies will require the use of troops. He has cited examples such as a strike by firemen, Mumbai -style attacks, the 2012 Olympics, flooding – there is a near endless list of possible emergencies when the use of troops is the only answer. And he has not confined himself to the army.

The proposed reduction in ships would make many of our present commitments in the Falklands, Indian Ocean, Caribbean or Gulf impossible. The loss of amphibious shipping would rule out for ever any special operation such as the one we staged in Sierra Leone. And the defence of our traditional last line of defence, the English Channel would be in jeopardy. In today’s world air is often the biggest factor of defence and Dr Fox has set out the risks involved in reducing our airforce to what some experts are predicting will be its lowest number of aircraft ever. We may no longer be in a position to intercept incomimg ‘rogue’ hi-jacked aircraft, mount air-sea rescues or provide vital back-up in places such as Afghanistan. In other words we will for the first time in our history have inferior forces to those of our potential enemies and will certainly not be in a position to unite with NATO countries in common cause.

It is one thing to talk of cutting Quangos ( always provided it is properly planned) and quite another to even consider divesting ourselves of the nation’s defence. Even if the war in Afghanistan was to end tomorrow the need for fully manned and armed forces would remain. So long as it continues any reductions would spell utter disaster.

Who knows whether the wily old Fox knew anything about the leak of his letter. But if ever a leak has drawn the need for plumbers to the nation’s awareness this is it. Either way the doctor has for once served the nation well.There was always potential for uproar on this but the knowledge that even the Minister regards it as lunacy serves to reinforce the public view that, howver dire our Banker-induced crisis may be, we cannot tolerate the destruction of our national security. 

The American dramatist Tennessee Williams ( Thomas Lanier Williams) wrote in 1953 that “We have to distrust each other. it’s our only defence aginst betrayal”. Good advice. Fortunately for once it is not the hunting enthusiast Cameron who has the fox cornered. The shoe is very much on the other foot!

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                                                           IS MANKIND IN DANGER FROM GLOBAL WARMING? 

Scientists continue to warn that man’s time on this planet is limited unless drastic measures are taken to prevent the destruction of the environment. But I continue to draw comfort from the fact that no government shows any real concern and most people still regard issues such as Lady Gaga’s head-covering or Adrian Chile’s demeanour as infinitely more important. As I splash around the flooded allotment my self understanding tells me that I am essentially an ostrich, but even with my head buried I still worry about signs that the boffins just may be right.

Last week provided more food for thought for ostriches. On Monday a typhoon in China poured more than 640mm of rain accompanied by winds up to 123mph. The storm triggered landslides and up to 60 people were killed. Between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning a storm system in the US brought over 75 mm of rain around Minnesota and some places were drenched with over 150mm. Meanwhile on Thursday in Asia , Seoul was hit by torrental downpours and the South Korean capital received its highest rainfall levels since records began in 1908. The Gangseo area had 293mm! At the same time New Zealand suffered winds of 62mph and more than 70 pilot whales became stranded at Spirits Bay, Northland. 

Never mind, we can console ourselves with the fact that politicians are in charge of our destiny!

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A READERS THOUGHT FOR TODAY;  Life’s biggest battles are never seen for they all rest in your head!   With thanks to Bob the Builder.

 

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;   1.  India   2.  Becuse of fuel shortages

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  In which year did Turkey invade northern Cyprus?  2.  Which organisation, founded in Britain, won the 1977 Nobel prize for peace?

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Quangos; the axe is too sharp!

The wheels seem to be coming off the coalition’s cost-saving bandwagon! When ministers announced, within days of the election, the scrapping of Strategic Health Authorities, Primary Care Trusts and Quangos galore the initial reaction from most of my fellow ferret breeders was one of delight. That was when they laboured under the delusion that there were precise plans in place. Now it is a different matter altogether for it is becoming clearer by the day that the headlines we heard were all that there was.

No fewer than 177 quangos perished at a stroke, may of them deservedly for they had bred like rabbits under the last goverment. Who, in a supposed age of localism, needs a central advisory panel on local innovation? Who needs quangos that monitor quangos? And who needs advice from the great, good and friends of ministers that pack these bodies? But those who defend the rights of mentally ill and disabled people do need a champion yet the Public Guardian Board has suffered the same fate as countless others. Most of us have never heard of many of those now resting in Sir Humphrey’s out tray but we have heard of the Audit Commission which represented the only realistic check on just what local authorities are spending our cash on. It too now lies dead. But who or what is going to take on the important role that it played?

Right now there is chaos across the land. Surely someone should have had the wit to examine what each quango actually does before axeing it. Yes, we all dislike the name but even the most vehement critic must acknowledge that at least some of them did something that needs to be done. Leaving all the organisations over which they presided free to spend on the first thing that comes into their heads does not sound very sensible.

In the NHS absolute chaos prevails. Primary Care Trusts have made huge numbers redundant and some have set up joint commissioning panels in anticipation of the inevitable inability of GPs to take over their roles as announced by the hapless Andrew Lansley, who has the doubtful honour of being named by clinicians as the worst ever Secretary of State for Health. He can expect patients to follow suit once they realise that the ad-hoc commissioners are switching services vast distances from their local hospitals! And who will regulate the finances of Foundation Trusts now that Monitor has been diverted on to other tasks? Talk to anyone employed in the NHS and encounter bewilderment on a grand scale!

It doesn’t need Alan Sugar to work out that massive changes such as those triggered by a flurry of hasty announcements need to be planned carefully, and phased in only as the replacements become available. There is every reason to believe that all this is going to sharply increase costs and impair services in the short term And you don’t need to be the sacker of apprentices to know that short term in this context means two to three years!

What is it about the Brits that makes us so incompetent? The Labour government added layer after layer of bureaucracy in almost every field and they employed an army of expensive management consultants to arrange them. The coalition has leapt in the opposite direction but clearly has no overall strategy or understanding of what needs to be done or the consequences of doing it. And they are running a vast enterpise called the United Kingdom.

The popular view seems to be that Lansley, Gove ( who even had to amend his announcement on schools within days), and the rest of them, are merely rearranging the chairs on the decks of the Titanic. Perhaps the time has come to send for the Monster Raving Loony Party!

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                                                                 SAVING IS THE NEW EVIL!

The name of the deputy governor of the Bank of England is Mr Bean, which seems apt. I say that because his statement on saving strikes me as plain barmy. In esssence he has told savers to stop moaning and to start spending. In fact most are now doing just that given the virtual elimination of interest and the total withdrawal of National Savings index-linked certificates.

Of course one can understand the benefit to the economy in the short term but surely the longer term effect will be to render the state liable to fund all nursing and residential home care once the present mass of older people reach the stage of needing it.

And isn’t it also fundamentally unfair? At present the state has to totally support many who have simply not bothered to ‘save for  a rainy day’. Now it seems that the prudent ones, who surely deserve applause, are to be villified for their prudence. Something tells me that Mr Bean hasn’t used his self understanding to think this through!

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                                                                  GOOD ADVICE FOR THE TORY ASSASSINS!

For me the best column of the day is that of Julian Glover. He warns that smearing Labour’s new leader, a decent man, will backfire. They should be testing him instead.

There seems to be evidence that Ed Miliband is not as excitingly adventurous as his brother and may prove vulnerable on detail. But simply attacking him with endless childish abuse will have the effect of endearing him to the public which always swings behind any victim of mindless bullying. One would have thought that the Tories and their press baron friends would have learned a lesson from the dramatic rise of Nick Clegg. Instead of questioning his policies they resorted to a tirade of abuse and millions set up a ‘all Clegg’s fault’ campaign aimed at both defending him and making the bullies look ridiculous.

A glance at today’s polls ought to be a warning. For the first time in three years labour leads the Conservatives!

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YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS;  1.  Londonderry   2.  Uganda

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;   1.  Which country exploded its first nuclear device in 1974?   2.  Why did Britain work a three-day week in 1974?

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Drug companies; our health or their wealth?

It may not surprise you to learn that quite a few of the allotment shed crowd use so called ‘alternative’ medicines. The one most widely used is Saw Palmetto (berry) Extract, a popular remedy with men suffering from prostate problems, a fairly common complaint with older men. Does it work? Because there has been no detailed clinical research no one can be sure but my pals swear by it and regard it with considerably more equanimity than prescribed drugs which carry all sorts of unpleasant side-effects. It is just one example of the dilemma facing people of all ages and genders.

I was prompted to mention this by the latest revelations concerning prescribed drugs. Around 90,000 British diabetes patients have been warned against continuing use of Avandia. Evidence linking the drug to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke has been building since 2007. The pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has imsisted that the drug is safe, yet in July last agreed to pay $460 million in damages to settle claims linking the drug’s use to patients suffering serious medical setbacks. But it is only now that British GPs have been instructed to discontine prescribing following the ruling by the European Medicines Agency that the benefits of the drug do not outweigh its risks. It is perhaps relevant to mention that the Agency had been involved in a three year battle with the drug company.

This, of course, is just one example of what happens on a regular basis and involving all drug manufacturers. All high-powered chemically produced drugs carry significant side-effects. A medical consultant told me recently that he is regularly faced with the problem of other drugs prescribed for other conditions reacting against those prescribed by him. Some elderly patients, he told me, are a walking cocktail of potentially dangerous drugs most of which are beneficial but only if not taken with other drugs.

When you think about it the practice of modern medicine, although a million miles on from that of yesteryear, is now almost entirely dependent on drugs tested and recommended by powerful drug companies whose main concern must be the bottom line of their balance sheets. And they employ an army of salesman to maintain good relations with clinicians, even to the extent of sponsoring events, dinners and all. And however devoted to his oath, the doctor has no option than  to accept the information produced by the companies. But even they may well be unaware of side-effects not detected during even the most painstaking research.

To return to the so-called alternative medicines which fill the health stores across the country, we have to ask ourselves if they are in fact completely safe let alone effective. The honest answer has to be no. Like most people who maintain a daily link with nature many of my allotment pals believe that there are cures for every condition out their  somewhere. But without the financial clout of the giant pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers of alternatives cannot afford research. Even worse, some make what are clearly ludicrous claims for their products.

There is really only one answer to this burgeoning nightmare. Someone has to produce funding to enable at least the most promising, based on anecdotal evudence, natural products to be scientifically tested. At a time like this there is no chance of this coming from the treasury so governments around the world have to be prepared to make some alternative medicine research a condition of their licence to sell.

It sounds far-fetched I know but the stakes are very high. This very day your GP could be prescribing for you a drug with harmful side-effects unknown to him. Even more frustrating, he could be missing an opportunity to let you have treatment based on something both natural and safe. Even the massive research charities such as Cancer Research at present research only manufactured drugs as possible cures or alleviatiors.

My pals will continue to take their Saw Palmetto. The consultant several of them see has said that there does seem to be a beneficial outcome but, in the absence of research, he cannot be sure that it is not down to mind-over-matter. Just how crazy can we get? My self understanding tells me that I enjoy risk-taking but it also reveals an antipathy to unsubstantiated claims. It is hard to know which way to turn.

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                                                       BIASED NEWSPAPERS ARE PLUMBING THE DEPTHS!

Our national newspapers have always shown a degree of bias but never to the extent of those adorning our breakfast tables now. Today is no exception!

Take just three. The Telegraph has devoted its headline to the theme of ‘New Labour is dead’, a blatant attempt to both whip up those faithful souls who still mourn the passing of Tony Blair and to frighten the middle classes with the image of Ed Miliband as someone to the left of Karl Marx.  By way of back-up the middle pages raise the issue of his issues. One already here and another on the way and both born out of wedlock. That hardly sounds a telling point in today’s world but in the absence of skeletons it is better than nothing by way of a start to a campaign to denegrate the younger Miliband. Interestingly there is no mention at all of tonight’s Panorama programme which was, before being mysteriously withdrawn at the last minute, claimed to expose tax avoidance on the part of Lord Ashcroft, the outgoing Tory deputy chairman and biggest donor.

The Daily Mail leads with ‘Last rites for New Labour. It seems that Ed Miliband is a pretty dastardly chap for he is accused of failing to condemn unions over strike threats, of backing higher taxes, of curbing top pay and of sounding a death knell. Just in case we haven’t got the message, the Max Hastings column is headed ‘Labour has climbed into its coffin and is nailing down the lid’. Oh yes and there is a piece claiming electoral ‘ballot shambles. With so much to report on young Ed the Mail too was unable to fit in anything on the Lord Ashcroft story.  

By contrast The Guardian front page not only covers the Lord Ashcroft story but tells us that Ed Miliband will lead from the front, a sort of version of General Booth and his Salvation Army.

I could go on but the point is that every paper now not only pursues a political agenda but happily resorts to selective coverage. Remember the uited attempt to destroy Nick Clegg when he first appeared as a threat to the Conservtive prospects? Over a million people subscribed to a web site entitled ‘All Clegg’s fault’ and added such revelations as his being the lookout on the Titanic. I suspect we are heading for a repeat performance with young Miliband cast as the world’s greatest villain. Perhaps it is not just the saga of MP’s expenses that has brought politics so low in the public esteem! And in view of the original intention and subsequent u-turn of Panorama the likelihood is that, as I type, the knives are being freshly sharpened in Downing Street. Our only source of objective truth is under threat as never before! 

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YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1.  1971   2.  They visited Communist China

TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which city ws the scene of Bloody Sunday in 1972?   2.  From which country in Africa were many Asians expelled in 1972?

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Can Ed Miliband restore Labour’s battered reputation?

It would be good to report that as the allotment folk arrived this morning by car or bike, they were agog at the news of Ed Miliband’s election. It would be good but untrue for hardly a soul mentioned it. A visitor from outer space would have assumed that the main issues facing mankind are Chelsea’s defeat at Maine Road, a loopy referee at Fulham and Lady Gaga wearing a steak on her head, in roughly that order. Despite the impression the little green man might have gained from the media, we Brits are not terribly interested in politicians!

But the appointment of a leader of her Majesty’s opposition is an important event, not least because a democracy needs one. The absence of such can prove disastrous, if proof is needed just cast your mind back to the autocratic days of Blair! But to be effective an opposition needs to be united and here is the first challenge for the younger Miliband. He starts off wth a handicap, having been elected on the strength of his trade union support. The unions no longer command vast respect even amongst their traditional followers. The thought, should the government fall at the hands of rebel Lib Dems, of their taking beer and sandwiches at No 10 is not likley to be a popular one.

Of course the first hurdle is for Ed to get his older brother on board. During the campaign he spoke of his love for David but so far there has been no reciprocation. Both men are likely to have politics running through their veins if background is any criteria for their father Ralph was one of Britain’s leading Marxist intellectuals. When, as a post-graduate at University studying Social History, I had to endure endless lectures on the Miliband approach not to mention various publications all of which had little good to say of capitalism. The other trait that the brothers may well have inherited is toughness and self understanding for both Ralph and his acdemic wife Marion Kozak were survivors of the Holocaust. Some pundits worry that the relationship between the brothers could match that of Blair and Grumpy Gordon but that seems unlikley for Ed has made clear his dislike of the constant rows, many of which he defused in the role of Brown’s go-between.

At 40 Ed is four years younger than David and he has only been an MP since 2005 when he won the seat of Doncaster North. He was quickly spotted by Brown and became one of his closest confidants, and chairman of the Treasury’s Council of Economic advisers. He is widely seen as a maths genius which may give him a head start in his clashes with David Cameron. He is unlikley to feel at ease with the Prime Minister in the way that Nick Clegg does for his background is very different and decidedly less priviledged.

One advantage Ed Miliband does have in battling to win back the affection of the great British public is that he was not an MP at the time of Iraq and has lost no time in describing Blair’s decision as a ‘tragic error’, a position on which he contrasts with his brother who was very much a Blair-man. He has also positioned himself firmly to the left of David’s views in advocating a ‘living wage’ higher than the minimum, a High Commission to limit top salaries and the permanent retention of the 50% tax rate. Yes, there sounds a good deal of the socialist about Ed Miliband and the support he received from his fathers old friend Tony Benn surprised no one.

And therein lies his greatest challenge. Clearly Ed Miliband’s instincts and ideology call him to move sharply back to the policies of Old Labour but he musn’t move too far for if Blair got anything right it was in believing that without the middle-class vote Labour was unelectable. Then again anything he does to create clear political water between his party and the Conservatives may restore some much needed interest in politics. When the electorate can spot no difference between government and opposition apathy flourishes. And perhaps the good news is that distinctions may well serve to draw back into the Labour fold the millions who deserted it to the Lib Dems who have now become indistinguishable from the Tories.

The next couple of years will decide whether the arrival of a new young leader will revitalise Labour. And one suspects that the line pursued on the econmy will play a major part. If, as some leading commentators believe, Ed Miliband pursues his belief that the coalition’s plans for cuts are too draconian, and likely to tip the economy back into recession, he will have a fertile populist tune to play. And every section of society will identify with attacks on proposals that threaten them. We have already heard much from him about fairness and compassion and, if the economic winds blow favourably, the new leader will score heavily. Throw in his declared aim to win over Lib Dem MPs and voters and the Old Etonians may struggle. However, should the economy respond well to the harsh medicine of the coalition he will struggle.

At the very least we should all rejoice that the opposition will now concentrate on the government rather than on each other. We should rejoice but if my pals are any indication we will continue to focus on such vital matters as Manchester City and Lady Gaga. Funny old lot aren’t we?

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                                                  LAND OF SOAP AND GLORY!

The nation may be verging on bankruptcy but it seems that nothing can prevent us from indulging in the unique British pastime of inventing posh titles and dressing up in ermine robes.

Remember Sue Nye, who was blamed for landing Gordon Brown with the ‘bigoted woman’ of Oldham? She is now Baroness Nye of Lambeth. If this is the standard, every soldier in Afghanistan should get a knighthood at least!

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                                                         THE FRIGHTENING POWER OF THE DRUG COMPANIES!

Just as soon as the noise in the Shed diminishes I would like to debate this with you. The latest revelations about the side-effects of a drug being prescribed for Diabetes reminds us of the influence that the giant drug companies exercise over our GPs and, indeed, our hopes of staying alive. Are we all the victims of a system that puts profit before wellbeing? Would love to hear from you!

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YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1.  Muliple Independently Targetable Re-entry  vehicles  2.  In 1977

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  In which year did the UK introduce decimal currency; 1971, 1975 or 1979?  2.  The US table tennis team started a thaw in international relations in 1971. How?

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Cameron is out of touch re Police!

One of the joys of allotment life is that one works alogside people of all political persuasions or none. There are those who see David Cameron as a real gent whilst some see him as an upper class twit. The former Lib Dems are edging towards the latter view having read his two-page spread in today’s Telegraph where he talks of the Tories and Liberals having ‘bonded together’, a report hardly likely to help the beleaguered Nick Clegg. But the comment that seemed to unite everyone in condemnation was the one regarding the police force. The Prime Minister dismisses its concerns about funding by describing the force as just one of ‘every special interest group in the land, from actors to the police’. They must all put up with it!

Before he finally concludes that the police are no more indispensible than actors Mr Cameron should perhaps turn to the front page of another of his press supporters, the Express. Hounded to death is not an unusual headline these days and in this case the story covers Jenny Ward, an 80 year old, who has been constantly targeted by youths who congregated outside her house drinking and causing trouble. Neighbours claim that police have failed to deal with numerous episodes of anti-social behaviour. Thus emboldened, yobs eventually set a deliberate trap by removing a manhole cover. On the night she fell into it, Mrs Ward, whose husband is in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, failed to spot that the cover was missing. She was trapped for several hours until her cries for help were heard. She was taken to hospital but never fully recovered.

Victor Granda, 46, had known Mrs Ward for many years. he said that “teenagers were making her life a misery. They were throwing stones at her , shouting at her, taunting her. She swas staying out later and later each night for fear of them”. Mr Cameron may be surprised to know that such behaviour is commonplace in less salubrious areas than his own. If he lived in those areas now ruled by the unruly he might revise his view that the police rae merely a special interest group!

None of which suggests that the police should be left to their own devices for they are failing to offer many communities protection and reassurance. Not my view but that of Sir Denis O’Connpor, the Chief |Inspector of  Constabulary, who reported this week. He described the behaviour of yobs as a “disease that has been allowed to fester because police have retreated from the streets”. Which does suggest that what is desperately needed is not cuts but an entirely new approach to the role of the beat bobby. A few weeks ago I wrote of an ex-Met police officer who has emigrated to Canada. He reported that his role there as a policeman on the beat was very different to the one he had in London. His full 8-hour turn was out on the streets and he had vitually no paperwork to consume his time.

Apart from freeing up the mass of bureacracy imposed on British police officers by the last government, Mr Cameron should perhaps give thought to what they are supposed to do with louts in the unlikely event that they make an arrest. His colleague Ken Clarke, an unlikely Justice Minister if ever there was one, seems to believe that they shouldn’t be punished at all which is perhaps another reason for the very low number of arrests made. But a deterrent is needed if many more elderly ladies are not to be hounded to their deaths.

By chance I am currently reading a book written by Steven McLaughlin, who recently served in the army for several years. In ‘Squaddie; a Soldier’s Story’ he describes his basic training for the Marines. “The weeks flew by in a blur of frenetic activity. We were screamed at, pushed around, flogged round the gym, and forced to iron kit and polish boots into the early hours. It was hell on earth and stretched very fibre of my body to breaking point – but at the same time it was deeply satisfying. It was special because it was tough”. For countless years people have suggested that youth camps be created and used for short community punishments. They need not carry a crimnal record and would certainly provide an experience that tormentors of the elderly would not wish to experience again.

Whenever leading politicians have been publicly confronted with an idea of this sort they have dismissed it as an infringement of human rights. Presumably troops have human rights too as do the elderly and vulnerable!

Perhaps what is needed is a Home Secretary who has lived on a difficult estate and who is also tough enough to force the police to get their act together. Clearly what we don’t need is one like Ms May whose self understanding should tell her that she  has probably never met a yob in her priviledged life and who is inclined to regard those who need the police as ‘service users’. It is not a service, it is supposed to be a force that strikes fear into the bullies.

Many of our allotment fraternity who have suffered their share of drunken louts suggested, on reading the Telegraph’s lauding of Mr Cameron, that someone should write across the PM’s forehead the words ‘The police are not merely a special interest group’. He would need a big head to accomodate it but given the constant worship of Mr Clegg he will soon be able to manage it. That sounds childish I know, but people are crying enough is enough!

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                                                        GOOD NEWS FOR DICK FRANCIS FANS! 

   Some people collect classic reading material, I collect Dick Francis books of which there have been over 40 best sellers. She-who-must-be-obeyed has never had to wrack her brains to decide on my Christmas presents and it has always been a joy to curl up with the latest tale of crime amongst the stables. Sadly Dick died in February of this year.

The good news is that his half-written ‘Crossfire’ has been completed by his son Felix – the books have always been something of  a family effort - and will hit the shops shortly. The bad news is that after that the pen of a much loved master writer will be stilled for ever.

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                                                      MORE HELP NEEDED FOR SMALL CLUBS!

Many small football clubs will today be battling it out in the 2nd Qulaifying round of the F.A.Cup. Wembley is a long way away but the incentive to win is very real for today’s victors will pocket £4000. Such a sum will save many from extinction. In today’s world where almost all sponsorship money is gobbled up by the Premiership millionnaires more and more little clubs are going to the wall despite constant fund-raising on the part of their small band of loyal fans.

Their plight could be eased by  redistribution of the cash paid by commercial companies to sponsor the world’s most famous trophy. Would billionnaires like Mr Abramovich really miss the money?

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YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS;  1.  Mars   2.  1972

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  MIRVs were fitted to intercontinental missiles in the 70s. What are they?  2. In which year did the Orient Express complete its last run between Paris and Istanbul?

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Self understanding; a poem that helps!

In today’s frantic society many seek ways of increasing their self understanding. But it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, particularly when the ageing process kicks in. However, much as we would like to be as Peter Pan, it happens and reader and friend Bob Ponting ( Bob the Builder) has sent in a poem which reflects his encounter with that inner voice which many seek but few find. He has called his poem ‘REFLECTIONS;

I woke up this morning – a habit I like         I looked in the mirror – by heck what a sight!

The face that I saw there just looked back at me           I asked “Do I know you?”   It said “Ee lad, t’is thee”

I looked hard and said “But I’m only a lad”           It said “That’s delusion, so terribly sad

Look closely my friend, take note what you see         It’s time for those younger to take on from thee”

“Hand on to others? But what do they know?        How will they manage when I go below?     The way that they manage will make you despair       For things that are history they say are hot air!”

“I know that their attitude makes you feel sad       The world has moved on since you were a lad 

So give up the reins and take a back seat        And let the young people discover their feet

But keep up your writing of words to be read        It’s those things that linger long after we’er dead”

I looked at the mirror and said ” Tell me then       What am I? Who am I? What have I done?”

The face looked straight back, then gave in reply      “You’re part of our history on which we rely    Sooner or later your face will be gone      But all that you’ve written will still linger on     To guide and encourage, to give them a way       To look to their future, to plan every day”

Many thanks to Bob. One of the aims of the site is to exchange views and to help each other through the benefit of experience, both good or bad. Today’s offering may provoke your mind, it certainly has set my whirring!

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                                                               CRICKET; HERE WE GO YET AGAIN! 

It was inevitable that the easy victory for England in the final one-day international would provoke yet more speculation about run-outs – there were two at a crucial stage – and other apparent mishaps. For heavens sake, can we not accept that the explanation for the easiest win of the series was a simple one. England were vastly superior in the batting department.

Sadly this disgraceful tour has done untold damage to cricket’s integrity and the sooner it is forgotten the better. Until the authorities deal with the varioius allegations adequately England should refuse to play Pakistan again! Meantime they can focus on beating the Aussies. It will be tough but they can at least focus solely on the cricket!

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                                              PARTY CONFERENCES; POINTLESS AND EXPENSIVE!

The party conference season is in full flow and the three performers are busy spending the money raised from members who were urged to dig deep to save the country. The only thing they saved were endless expensive treats for those whose devotion knows no limit.

If ever there is a perfect example of preaching to the converted these bean-feasts are surely it. The big three Cameron, Clegg and one of the Millibands will have their two-hour ovation and the faithful will retire to their canapes satisfied that the nation is saved. They may well be allowed a rebellion or two but the executive will totally ignore the outcome. The Lib Dems voted overhelmingly aginst the coalition’s schools plan which will go ahead anyway!

I wonder if any will raise the question of MP’s expenses? Perish the thought, it was all an invention of the press! Even less likely are questions about the value to business sponsors who will be very much in evidence!

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ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;  1.  Black Arrow   2.  1975

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  Which planet did Mariner 9 orbit in 1971?   2.  In which year were pocket calculators first available?

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People in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones!

It is a pity that there is no gold medal at the Commonwealth Games for sounding superior for we would be guaranteed to win it. The not unexpected problems in Delhi have brought out the very worst in our athletes and administrators who have been sounding off about the standard of the competitor’s accomodation and health and safety.

The former is the easier to deal with. One leading ‘star’ said that reports indicated that the accomodation is ‘little better than a youth hostel’. And what is wrong with that? The athletes seem to have caught the Premiership disease, they will only be there for a short time and ought to be able to cope without gold taps or whatever other supposed deprivation awaits them. They should perhaps reflect on the fate of the people whose homes were bulldozed to make way for the buildings. They were given two hours notice of eviction and many lived on the pavement for several weeks before being directed to a bit of land outside the city. Few could afford to rebuild their homes and the poorest now live beneath plastic sheets draped over a framework of sticks.

One such is Parviti, a mother in her forties. She is on record as saying that “we were told that palaces would be built there for foreigners and the slums would have to be destroyed”. She too is now at the new site, having slept rough for weeks and has so little money that she is watering down such food as she can procure to make it stretch to the whole family. Perhaps palaces represents an overstatement but everything is relative. As far as accomodation is concerned our pampered competitors should get down from their high horses.

Of course health and safety – how we love that phrase – is another matter. Conveniently ignoring the fact that the components that failed, and led to the collapse of a bridge, were British-made our media has had a field day. Who cares about the native population, one of our stars might get covered in dust! One editorial proclaimed that we are sensitive because we are the pioneers of health and safety. Really? A report from inspectors, obtained under the freedom of information act, has shown that serious safety problems were exposed recently at a Cumbria dockyard that makes nuclear submarines. An exercise based on a nuclear submarine accident found that members of the rescue team were prevented from getting to the scene of an imagined reactor failure for 15 minutes because they first had to fill in forms about radiation risk. Co-ordinators failed to account for people evacuated from the danger zone, the handling of casualties was ‘poor’. The summary says that “this was an exercise that went badly wrong because of lack of planning and emergency preparedness. It revealed a mismatch in resources, gross failures in communication, and cock-ups throughout”. It could have added Lord help us all had it been a real emergency. Sounds rather more serious than the collapse of a small bridge!

For me the last straw was the pompous tone struck by a whole range of people including minsters and officials. We, they claimed, are a caring society and the welfare of those who represent us is the number one priority. I admit that my knee-jerk cynicism was the result of reading of the fate of a terminal cancer sufferer in Bristol. War veteran Bernard Warren has been given two months to live but has been denied nursing care because, according to NHS Bristol officials, he “does not tick all the boxes”. It seems that our concern for the welfare of representatives does not extend to those who once represented us in rather more serious arenas!

You may well contend that the Games should not have been awarded to Delhi but that is another matter. The fact remains that they have been, and thousands of local people have had their misery compounded by the construction of a Games site. Whatever hardships this event may cause, we can be sure that our people will not bear the brunt of them. Provided that security against terrorists is assured, we should go there and stop sounding like colonial masters.

As my old Gran liked to regularly remind me, people that live in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones. My headline is dedicated to her and her devotion to an adage that should still guide us today.

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                                                                IF ONLY UNCLE VINCE WAS IN CHARGE!

Vince Cable should be preserved for the nation. He tells it as it is and dares to say what most of us think. I have heard the description ‘spivs’ used in many a bar and allotment shed when the subject of bankers came up, but here we had a minister happily roaring it out.

Of course there is now outrage on the part of the City set, bankers and those who specialise in trading company assets without thought for the economy or employees. But Vince has spoken for many in suggesting they increase their self understanding by looking into a mirror.

Sadly, dear old Uncle Vince has no real clout and little good will come from his attack. The obscene bonuses will still pour forth. But at least he has shown to whom the Lib Dems should turn once Clegg finally joins the Conservative Party. And an election fought under Vince just might give the Liberals a chance of real power!  

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ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;   1.  The sun, especially the solar wind.  2.  Helicopters

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  Which British rocket launched the Prospero satellite?  2.  In which year was the first oil pumped from Britain’s North Sea fields?

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THE health and social crisis of the 21st century!

Dementia is without doubt the biggest health and social crisis facing society as we move into the early part of the new century. The long awaited World Alzheimer Report 2010 estimates that the worldwide cost of dementia this year will be £388 billion in social care, unpaid care by relatives and medical costs. This equates to more than 1% of global GDP. If dementia care were a country it would be the world’s 18th largest economy, and if it were a company it would be the largest in the world by annual revenue, outstripping Walmart (£267bn) and Exxon Mobile (£200 bn).

The report was commissioned by Alzheimers Disease International, an umbrella organisation of 73 associations. It suggests that there are no fewer than 35.6 million people with dementia worldwide.Worse still, it forecasts that this figure will grow to 65.7 million by 2030 and 115.4 million by 2050. Meantime a report for the Alzheimers Research Trust  suggests that thre are 820,00 people with dementia in the UK costing the economy £23 billion per year. That, it says, is nearly twice the £12 billion for cancer and three times that for heart disease.

Yet government and charitable research into dimentia came to a twelth of that into cancer and less than a third of that into heart disease. The chief executive of the Trust said yesterday “we must invest proportionately in dementia research or we risk abandoning the millions worldwide who live with the truama of dementia today , and many more tomorrow”. It is, she added, the greatest medical challenge of our times and the sooner we realise this and act the better”.

Of course the rocketing number of those suffering from this dreadful condition is due to the increased life span that we now enjoy. Ironically, the advances in other aspects of clinical care are creating a huge additional potential for the one development that is least understood, dementia. Any chronic and debilitating illness is devastating but none compare to dementia in emotional trauma and utter despair. Some years ago, and before the acceleration, I was taken on a hospital tour by a Nurse Director. After we had visited the coronary unit I commented that my fear of such a condition was great. She replied that if I wanted something really terrible to worry about I should focus instead on dementia!

In her book ‘The Keeper’ author Andrea Gillies gives a heartbreaking account of the experience of caring for her mother-in-law, Nancy. Little by little it invaded the brain, made its slow and devastating progress and robbed someone much loved of the ability to remember, to reason, to think, to decide, imagine. Together with her husband, Andrea bought a new house big enough, she believed, to make care at home possible. She believed that constant love would be enough to cushion the progress of Alzheimers. In fact the house became the worst possible environment as Nancy’s brain damage turned her into somene new, someone afraid and often hostile.

Good dementia care requires well trained staff, a secure environment and sufficient staff to provide round-the-clock attention. For all but the wealthy such facilities do not exist in this country and many have written in anger of the totally inadequate care that exists. I recently met John Walsh whose book ‘Who Will Sing the Old Songs?’ details his experiences in caring for his Dad. He describes eighteen months of social services, doctors, care homes and frustration. There was, he says, ” no chance of a happy ending, absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel. Just darkness and injustice”. It is esay to understand the anger of someone condemned to watch a parent suffer and to feel impotence. It is then inevitable that a relative turns to the blame game but the reality is that such services as exist are swamped, totally unable to cope however hard they try.

Jack used to be a regular at our allotment shed. Now we seldom see him and, when we do, we grieve at what caring for his once kind and caring wife of 50 years has done to him. He first noticed a problem two Christmases ago when Else began to hide the food. At first he pulled her leg about having become stingy but within months she lost her self understanding, became violent and incoherent. Now he devotes his life to her in the way that she has always devoted hers to him. But she knows him not and his despair is overwhelming.

The Department of Health makes much of the fact that it is working on a programme for early detection. It will achieve nothing for, unlike cancer and heart problems, there is no potential for recovery as a result of early intervention. That leaves care and research as the two possible routes. On care we currently lack even the basic provisions and the government must surely recognise that this is one area where talk of cuts is inhumane. What is essential is expansion. Yesterday the Lib Dems, now part of goverrement, spent many hours debating the question of transvestite marriages. Once again they demonstrated that they are unfit for government, they lack any sort of sense of priorities.

The biggest need of all is a huge increase in research. Many leading clinicians believe that there may be an answer to the brain deterioration that triggers this descent into hell. Around 20% of those reaching eighty are likely to fall victim and we all owe it to each other to at the very least ensure that every possible effort has been made to establish preventive measures.

Back to Andrea Gillies for the final word. “You are losing the person while they are still alive” sums up perfectly where we are today, a day when athletes heading for India made the idea of sharing a loo sound like the height of deprivation! 

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                                                           CRICKET; ROLL UP FOR THE GREAT COMEDY SHOW!

There has been a late rush for tickets for this afternoon’s final one-day international against Pakistan at the Rose Bowl. No great surprise there for the tourists have suddenly moved from a team that couldn’t manage to muster a hundred runs to one that is near unbeatable. Throw in a few extra attractions such as a fight in the nets and a claim from the Pakistan chairman that it is England that is match-fixing, not to mention various police investigations, and you have the perfect recipe for an afternoon of fun and speculation.

Whatever happens almost the entire crowd will speculate as to whether it was deliberate or otherwise and whoever loses will be accused of throwing the match.

In other words the warning of Micheal Vaughan about continuing the series has proved valid. In just a few weeks cricket has been turned into a laughing stock, a sort of wrestling contest in disguise. Unless the International Cricket Council really clamps down the future of the game that so many love looks bleak indeed!

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YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS;   1.  Angels  2.  Quentin Crisp

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  What was studied by the Helios 1 probe launched in 1974?    2. Jolly Green Giants helped in the 1975 evacuation of Saigon. What were they?

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Blair is back but he’s now called Clegg!

Those of us in the allotment shed that give attention to such things watched the Clegg performance at the Lib Dem conference. In Doctor Who the death of the Time Lord always happens in a blaze of sparkling lights and as they dim we meet the new all conquering hero. If it hadn’t been for the fact that former Doctors never return, it would have been a perfect metaphor for what happened at Liverpool. On to the stage strode Jacks’-the-Lad Nick and, as the polite applause at the end of his turn rippled, off went Tony Blair. The reincarnation was splendidly staged, so much so that Albert, surely the last living member of the TB fan club, chortled with delight. He lives, he lives cried our colleague.

We had earlier been reassured that Mr Cameron had approved the text but we had no hint as to who wrote it. Perhaps script-writers transfer in the way of Premiership footballers. Or perhaps they plagiarise. Either way the same phrases were there, the same persuasive grin, the same jokes and the same references to living creatures. The latter was if anything one up on Blair for young Nick managed to mention Carp, Ostrich and Duck within two sentences. Hopefully the political equivalent to the International Cricket Council will be checking out bets placed with bookmakers!

There too were the many references to our souls. Alistair Campbell once ruled that ‘we do not do God’ but he isn’t around now and Tony/Nick did his best to have us dwell on the eternal, which is probably the time it will take for the national debt to be cleared despite his promise of five years, a forecast strangely at odds with those of the Governor of the Bank of England. And then we had ‘stick with me and create a better society’, change the word better to safer and you have the Iraq approach to perfection.

Even great and reincarnated men make mistakes and Tony/Nick dropped a clanger loud enough to rock the Liver Birds when he roared that another five years of Labour would have finished Britain off. Surely it was him, or the Nick part of him, that made so much effort to persuade Grumpy Gordon and the Milliband family to join him in a coalition. Then again the advantage of being born again is that you can disown those bits of your former life that no longer resonate. Perhaps the other mistake came under the ‘ sins of omission’ category.

The cuts will be tough but people will thank us said our man. Not the redunadant masses in Liverpool surely? But he failed to mention the revelation that no fewer than 9000 public sector employees earn more than the Prime Minister. Since the PM is in effect the chief executive something needs to be done. Had Nick/Tony announced that all of them will, at a stroke, receive pay cuts down to PM level we all might have applauded. But he contented himself with promising that debt collectors will use lie-detectors to ensure that they pay their taxes. Sadly, as with many of his utterances, our hero failed to explain how this will actually be organised and we were left with images of cybermen marching them off to the back of the nearest Oxfam shop where a concealed mobile torture chamber will await.

Stick with me and save your souls boomed – piped really – Tony /Nick. A lot of the Lib Dems are renowned for their hearing problems and none more so than Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock. He spoiled the party somewhat by claiming that ‘the leadership is ignoring the wider party and creating a dictatorship’. How else does he imagine that important people such as the head of Ambrosia Council are going to be persuaded to have wires attached to their vital parts? Even worse the whole conferenec voted overwhelmingly against the coalition plan for ‘free’ schools. Anxious not to incur the wrath of Dad Cameron Tony/Nick made no mention of that considerable rebuff.

As we switched the set off and returned to our ferrets we wondered how this peculiar tale will end. Perhaps there will be another reincarnation at which Tony/Nick will morph into Cameron. It would be logical for therein surely lies the only possible destination of the once proud Liberals.

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                                                              WHAT NEXT FOR CRICKET? 

It was obvious that Pakistan were making a real effort in yesterday’s penultimate one day international against England. When they concentrate on cricket they are a very good team, a good deal better than England. In fairness it may well have been the case that England went on to the field somewhat unnerved.

Just a hour before they did so there had been a brawl in the nets, something Strauss and company probably lack expertise in. And they had considered long and hard the option of refusing to play after the Pakistan chairman accused them of deliberately cheating in the previous game, a claim that he apparently based on the word of Indian bookmakers.

In truth the whole series has descended into terrible farce and no one believes anything they see out on the field. The very least England should do is demand absolute proof that the visitors have cleaned up their act and establised self understanding  before they ever agree to play them again. Meantime they are going to sue them for defamation so the farce is not over yet!

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ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;  1.  A meteorite  2.  Moorgate

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  In which TV series did Fiona Fullerton play a trainee nurse?  2.  Whose autobiography was called ‘The Naked Civil Servant’?

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BBC; once gone, it will be lost for ever!

Together with many of my pals in the allotment shed, I view this government with deep suspicion in regard to the future of the BBC. Diane Abbott, one of the Labour leadership contenders, probably summed us up perfectly when she remarked that “Tory activists hate the BBC but most voters love it!”. That certainly seems to be the case for hardly a week passes but Cameron or one of his friends launches a new attack on the supposed excesses of the state broadcaster. And it has to be admitted that there are excesses, not least of which is the ludicrous salaries paid to supposed stars such as Jonathan Ross, but that merely points to a need to force better governance not to abolish the institution itself.

When I visited Television House recently I was struck by the obvious impartiality of people such as Robert Peston. They wouldn’t survive for ten minutes in a commercial organisation such as Sky where there is a clear, if covert, political stance. In fact I would go so far as to say that given the enormous growth in the Murdoch influence the Beeb is the only impartial voice left to us, particularly since the broadsheet press has itself succumbed to political influence. Do we really want to lose that, do we really want to plunge to the depths of many countries where what is broadcast is at the behest of government or, in our case, its cronies. It is surely no coincidence that both the Labour and Tory governments have constantly protested that the BBC is biased aginst them. What they really mean of course is that it is not prepared to simply report what and how they tell it to.

There is another, albeit more mundane, factor. Do you, like me,  find it impossible to relax and enjoy drama on commercial channels? I recently counted four advert breaks during a one-hour play. Ads are intrusive and repetitive and, for me at least, ruin anything screened. In the case of sport it is less so since at, for example, soccer half-time one can turn the sound down and wander off to make tea. No such escape from dramas or documentaries, the Meercat appears again and again.

Unless the British public takes a firm stand on this there is little doubt as to where it will all end. Sky is already massive, its marketing budget is bigger than ITV’s entire programming cost. Its subscription revenue at £4.8 billion dwarfs that of all other commercial companies put together. It has reached the point where the only obstacle to its total dominance of what we see or hear is the Beeb. And the Beeb’s fate rests in the hands of politicians who at each election go cap-in-hand to Rupert Murdoch seeking his endorsement. Blair did it and so did Cameron. The last thing they have in mind is impartiality or even the quality of BBC programming.

It may sound twee but I love the part that the BBC has always played in our national life, I love the feeling that someone like Paxman has freedom to rough up evasive or dishonest politicians. I passionately believe that we, the people, should not stand idly by as the death of one of our favourite institutions is planned. This was never mentioned in any manifesto and I hope that you will, like a group of us from the Shed, lobby your MP. There should be a referendum offering a range of options. No decision of this magnitude should even be contemplated without real and democratic consultation.

I trust the BBC, I distrust all politicians and doubt if many disagree with that sentiment. In his recent MacTaggart lecture, the BBC’s Director general, Mark Thompson, said that a pound out of the commissioning budget of the corporation is a pound out of the UK creative economy and once gone it will be lost for ever. He went on to ask which organisation do viewers most value, and which better serves the public good, the BBC or BSkyB’s parent company.

Perhaps the reason for the reluctance on the part of government to ask us that question is their fear of the answer. They must choose between offending their media cronies or offending us!

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         FULL MARKS FOR THE POPE!

With three exceptions there are no Catholics in our allotment gang, but everyone had nothing but praise for the way in which the Pope conducted his four-day visit. He came across as a very kindly man and he made some telling points. 

Not least among these was the reminder that this is still very much a Christian society and governments should stop pandering to the politically correct brigade. He particularly mentioned Christmas and the bizarre practice of many local authorities of banning celebrations for fear of giving offence. Offence to whom? If any minority objects to Christams it has the right to ignore it, what it does not have is the right to object to it.

Last evening the Beeb screened a number of programmes aimed at celebrating the Battle of Britain. We were reminded of the Few who gave everything to preserve our freedom. And freedom should not be taken away by faceless bureacrats!

I cannot in all  honesty claim to be a churchgoer but I have to confess that the Pope has prompted me to ask my self understanding why. I can think of many less positive influences than a vibrant Christian church whatever its denomination!

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CRICKET; THE ICC SHOULD ACT NOW! 

Another day and another nail in the coffin of international cricket. There have been more tabloid allegations of so-called spot fixing by the Pakistan tourists and now their leading official has chosen to allege that England deliberately forfeited the last match.

The International Cricket Council is not renowned for action but it is high time that they stepped in!

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ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;    1.  Teddy Knox  2.  On the way out of the underground  garage of the House of Commons 

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;    1.  What fell on Scarborough in 1975?  2.  At which tube station in London did 35 people die in a crash?

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Shouldn’t charity begin at home?

Every few minutes the allotment shed door bursts open and in steps someone looking for all the world as if he has just returned from Scott’s last journey. Then follows a chorus of Larry Grayson-like ‘shut that door’ and a great shaking of drops which cause the stove to hiss angrily. Another day and another monsoon, England in the autumn is not always what it’s cracked up to be. The inevitable outcome is that few are feeling remotely charitable. It is the perfect cue for those who complain about the fact that the foreign aid budget has been excluded from the Osborne massacre.

A few days ago I wrote about the high life lived by executives at the Commonwealth Development Corporation, people who clearly believe that the first call on the vast amounts of taxpayer’s money they are responsible for is their own lavish lifestyle. But that is only the tip of an ugly iceberg. This year the Department for International Development has spent a staggering £9.1 billion on aid, funding 90 different countries. Immediately pictures of wide-eyed starving children comes to mind and we all rightly conclude that however great our sacrifice, it is justified. But sadly little of our largesse reaches the deserving poor and distressed.

Some money does go to nations in desperate need such as impoverished African states on the brink of famine. The nightmare here is that millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money leaks into the pockets of corrupt officials and warlords. Our self indulgent overseers are too busy indulging themselves to ensure that the cash reaches those for which it is intended. In other cases however, Britain is paying huge amounts in aid of projects of questionable worth.

In South America, for example, we indirectly fund an organisation which represents sex workers called RedTraSex which refers to itself as ‘a movement in high heels’. Then there is China. Last year we paid no less than £32 million to the superpower which is now officially clssified by the World Bank as a middle-income country and is on course to become the biggest economic power in the world within five years. Yes there is poverty in China but should we really be enabling the wealthy state to stand back from its own responsibilities? And then there is India, the single largest recipient of UK overseas aid. It has already received £1 billion in aid and two years ago Gordon Brown agreed to hand over another £825 million by 2011.

Over the past ten years British aid has almost trebled. This despite the fact that the Indian economy is ranked 11th in the world and is pedicted to overtake the Britsh economy as the world’s fifth largest by 2015. Of course India has millions of poor people but why are we shielding an increasingly prosperous administration from its own moral responsibility? To add to the paradox, the Indian government now refuses to allow our aid administrators to work directly with local Indian charities, insisting instead that the funding be processed through official channels. The result is that, according to a select committee there is ‘difficulty in tracking money trails or their outcomes’. According to India’s Auditor General almost £14 million has been spent on such things as cars and luxuries for officials, one even used aid money to buy four luxury beds at a cost of £17,754!

All that said, around half of our huge gifts do go to the African continent. An example is Malawi where we have spent £312 million, despite evidence of widespread corruption. Indeed, a commission has recommended prosecution in 118 caes of aid fruad whilst a parliamentary select committtee has expressed concern at £23 million being spent on surplus fertiliser at peak prices! Vast sums have gone to Ghana where we subsidise security payments and £800 million has been pledged to Egypt and others to support ‘clean technology investment’. In all such cases there is little evidence of monitoring the cash trail. In many cases there is substantial evidence of corruption.

In Afghanistan we have increased aid to a whopping £700 million despite concerns expressed by the charity Christian Aid that much of the money will be diverted by warlords. Small wonder that MPs have put down a motion urging ‘greater tansparency and better monitoring of all projects. Meantime the cash continues to flow out of the British economy.

Research doesn’t need to be too exhausting before it shows clearly that little of our generous aid reaches those in real need nor that we are enabling states whose economies are sounder than our own to duck out of their responsibilities to their own citizens. In most cases we are still acting as if we are still a major colonial power, and our officials are living out an indulgent fantasy within which we hand over fortunes safe in the knowledge that the recipients are in any case governed by British officials in feathered hats.

It all adds up to a conclusion that we should only provide aid where we have irrefutable proof that it reaches those whose plight touches even the hardest heart. We should surely not be slashing services here to our housebound infirm and vital security services to provide warlords with the wherewithal to maintain their corrupt and inhumane practices.

So the message from the shed on this dark and dreary Sunday is that charity should begin at home unless the government can get its aid supervision in order. And if recipient nations refuse us the right to check we should refuse them gifts without strings!

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                                                                  BROWN AND BLAIR RE-UNITED!

Surely the funniest picture in today’s papers is the one of our two ex-leaders sitting together in the presence of the Pope. Grumpy Gordon looks grumpy and Blair has that hideous leer we came to know only too well. Both were listening to the Pope’s sermon. It was hard to follow exactly what he was saying but one hopes that he chose as his text ‘and ye shall love one another’.

After all, miracles do happen. Anyway all credit to GB whose self understanding forbade him to pretend!

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YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS;  1.  Mamie   2.  Gene Hackman

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  Jimmy Nervo died in 1975. Who was his partner in the ‘Crazy Gang’?   2.  Airey Neave was killed by a car bomb in 1979. Where did it happen?

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Scandal of the great British cover-up!

The credit crunch is about to hit every family in the land and everyone agrees that the pain we are to suffer is down to the Bankers. Indeed even the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, echoed the sentiment when I met him this week. But why has there been no pubic inquiry into its roots? Already the calamitous consequences have been one million lost jobs and the nationalisation of large swathes of the banking system and yet none of us is really any the wiser as to the arch-villains.

What we do know is that those leading bankers named in the media as to blame have all found gainful empoyment at the usual high salaries we associate with the industry that brought us down. Adam Applegarth, the former boss of Northern Rock, is now working in a new role in finance. Andy Hornby, who it was alleged brought HBS to its knees, is now running Boots. The much criticised Sir Fred ‘the shred’ Goodwin, who presided over £28 billion of losses at RBS, is back in a top role. So presumably they were all guiltless which poses the question as to who caused the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. If the Government lacks knowledge of what went wrong, and who failed, how can they possibly ensure that it doesn’t happen again? It can hardly settle for leaving crucial matters in the hands of people with the self understanding of rapacious rattlesnakes.

In the United States there has been a ‘Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’. This was established by the President and is now beavering away. It has already collected millions of pages of internal documents from the banks and is taking daily testaments , under oath, from all those concerned with what happened. What is taking place is a forensic examination of the most intense kind. By the time the work is completed the White House will have prescise guidance as to blame and to what has to be done. Far from big bonuses there are likely to be big dismissals!

What makes the absence of a British inquiry even more puzzling is the fact that we did hold an equivalent to what Obama is forcing right now in respect of the closure of the bank of Credit and Commerce International in 1991 and the failure of Barings in 1995. These official inquiries established the causes of the debacles, apportioned blame, brought to justice those responsible and set out an action plan to ensure there would be no repetition. And yet neither of those mini-crises even began to match the seriousness of today’s financial meltdown!

Of course the British government could not be held accountable for the sub-prime mortgage lending in the American housing market but what is indisputable is that Britain’s soft-touch regulation meant that some of the worst excesses occurred at institutions based in London. The American International group , which provided insurance for the ‘toxic loans’, devised this fateful product in its London offices because it would never have been approved by U.S regulators. The authorities did nothing to prevent the Royal Bank of Scotland paying £48 billion for the disastrous merger with the Dutch bank ABN Amro. And the government actually encouraged Lloyds TSB into a merger with HBOS. The Britsh contribution to the disaster was huge but all those concerned are still sipping bubbly whilst ordinary people pay with their jobs and taxes.

Last week both Mervyn King and Robert Peston told our group of visitors to their offices that people are entitled to be angry for what has happened is grossly unfair. All the more reason then to hold an independent judicial inquiry or tribunal. This could examine City grandees and policymakers and review the trail of evidence. Only then will the public feel that justice has been done and safer systems devised.

Frankly bankers are currently running rings around politicians and regulators. The grotesque bonus culture has re-emerged and they are back to their troughs and to hell with their victims. The choice of Bob Diamond, Britain’s highest paid banker, to be the next chief executive of Barclays, is clear evidence of the contempt in which bankers hold the politicians. We may feel that way too but government is the only hope we have of getting this mess under control. There is no logic whatsoever in imposing draconian cuts without establishing why they are necessary and how the need for another round in a few years time can be prevented.

As Alex Brummer, respected City Editor, has remarked, we are at the second anniversary of the most searing catastrophe of modern times and we look to our leaders to begin, albeit belatedly, to take responsibility for the credit crisis which THEY allowed to happen!

If they continue to refuse a public enquiry along the lines of the American one we can only presume that there is a reason. Either they are in cahoots with the bankers or they have something to hide!

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                                                                  THE ULTIMATE DISGRACE OF A PREMIERSHIP PLAYER! 

Tabloid newspapers have alleged that there is within the Premiership a player who has neither slept with another player’s wife or with prostitutes. They have not named the individual who has issued a statement via his solicitor. It says that he utterly rejects this appalling allegation and wil take penal legal action against anyone who dares to smear his name in this way.

The allegation also includes claims that he takes his holdiays with his wife and family. If true the story could destroy the public image of the Premiership!

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                                                             CRICKET; IN HEAVENS NAME GO HOME! 

Pakistan performed better at the Oval yesterday and comfortably beat England in the latest one-day-international. But the game had hardly ended when it emerged that ECB officials were examining overs from the game in the light of information received. At least one national paper claims that they were horrified to see incidents predicted before the match started.

Who knows what is true? Most of us have given up on trying to follow the increasingly shabby story. I do not even know whether the tourists are sinners or sinned against but I share the view of fellow ferreter Albert that the sooner they go the better.

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ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ;  1. Mary Pickford   2.  Stevie Smith

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  Dwight D Eisenhower’s widow died in 1979. What was her name?  2.  Who played the lead role in ‘The French Connection’? 

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The Pope is right; greed and selfishness have ruined us!

I was in Lomdon yesterday and as we headed home I read a transcript of the Pope’s speech in Edinburgh. My eye was particularly caught by his reference to the Christian message having been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years. He went on to say that “your forefather’s respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from  a faith that continues to be a mighty force for good in your kingdom, to the benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike”. It took my mind back immediately to the visits we had made that day when the cause of the financial collapse was ascribed to selfish greed.

I was in the capital as a representative of the Debt Advice Foundation, a registered charity committed to the task of promoting education in money management amongst tomorrow’s generation. I was there with pupils and staff of Southlands High School, a Lancashire school which, with the financial backing of the Foundation has taken a series of unique initiatives. A series of beautifully produced ‘Money Diaries’ has been written and illustrated by pupils and these are now in use as text books across the region. And a Money Education Centre has been built. This is now in use and senior pupils are being taught the key issues surrounding the successful handing of money and debt avoidance by a lecturer from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. They in turn will go on to teach fellow pupils and local community groups. Many of us old ‘uns simply do not understand the fundamentals of household and personal budgeting, nor the perils of such modern innovations as credit cards and the task of learning together is underway in at least one UK school.

All of this has won deserved applause from those at the top of the financial world and representive pupils were invited to call at the offices of City Editor Alex Brummer, the Beeb’s own Robert Peston, and last, but by no means least, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King. All three men expressed great support for what the charity and Southlands have pioneered and all talked at length to the pupils who had a lot of questions. Inevitably the cause of the crisis was right up there. Interestingly all three, albeit approaching the crisis from different angles, named greed and selfishness. They tended to trace the seeds of ruin back to the eighties, up to when the authorisation of debt had been subject to tight controls. Suddenly the shackles came off, the Banks began to develop ‘casino’- like tendencies and those in the investment arms began to make personal fortunes by taking risks. At the same time the public, all of us, began a frenzy of ‘spend today’ built on instant gratification and the illusion that everything was available at the production of a piece of plastic.

The whole crazy charade came to its devastating climax on August 8th 2007. That was, Mervyn King told us, the most difficult moment of all. The Bank of England had little alternative to bailing out/nationalising several major Banks for had they not done so the whole Banking system and the economy would have collapsed. The problem now is not whether the supported Banks pay the Bank of England back – indeed one has already done so – since any Bank failing to do that would cease to exist. The problem is the biggest national deficit in our history, one that the Governor believes could take up to ten years to eliminate. And that means a new age of austerity and of acceptance that we cannot have everything we want at the drop of hat.

I thought that Robert Peston put it well when he said that we have to move from instant gratification to patience, an awareness that non-essentials have to be saved for and that the needs of others must become once again part of our culture. If I may digress for a moment I came away from the Television Centre fearing even more the possibility of this government emasculating the BBC in favour of commercial companies with vested interests. I particularly noticed that everything Robert said was clearly objective and at no time did he give the slightest indication of political bias. During what are going to be difficult times this independence in thought and words is going to be our greatest asset for no one trusts the politicians in the way that they still trust the state broadcaster.

For a school to be granted lengthy audiences in such august quarters is really astonishing and shows just how inportant all three men see the need to eduacte tomorrow’s citizens in the way that no one attempted to teach the one that has failed so disastrously – ours. Also remarkable was the recognition that what the Banks have triggered is going to prove grossly unfair to the youngsters now growing up. We all aided and abetted the Banks in what they did for they could not have lent irresponsibly if we had not been so keen to borrow beyond our means. Tomorrow’s generation has to pick up the pieces of the wreck we created and to suffer the consquences.

Let us hope that, unlike us, they heed the Popes reminder about Christian ethics, whether they be Christians or not. A good start might be the old commandment about loving our neighbors as ourselves for there wasn’t too much of that in the wasteful times before the bubble burst. And the wastefulness of our society is in evidence everywhere.

As we crawled through the London traffic I noticed a vast number of huge signs proclaiming an ‘emission zone’. It never happened but that didn’t deter the authorities from pouring millions into the production and erection of thousands of signs.

Perhaps a better idea would have been some warning of the dangers of living beyond ones means! But the lessons are not yet imprinted on the psyche of the ‘casino men’. We saw hundreds gathered outside the hostelries they favour and all the well suited crowds had glasses in their hands. Being bowed in shame would be more appropriate!

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                              GOVERNMENT POLICIES HAVE RENDERED US VULNERABLE!

Wherever you go in London you encounter evidence of the general nervousness about security. Yesterday’s warnings from Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, will have done nothing to calm frayed nerves. He said that his officers are engaged in an intense struggle against Muslim radicals and Irish nationalists. It is, in the Director’s view, only a matter of time before Britain is the victim of an attack from extremists .

Mr Green warned the government not to abandon control orders, the measure under which terrorist suspects are tagged and put under house arrest. It seems that the Lib Dems have promised to scrap the measures.

Perhaps the first thing Cameron should do is to ignore them. Yapping on about human rights may appeal to bleeding hearts but they will be the first to wail when murderous madmen unleash their hatred! The second thing he should surely reconsider is the barmy plan of Thersa May to reduce police numbers!

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                                                                           FAREWELL FEARLESS FRED! 

We knew it was coming but the announcement of Freddie Flintoff’s retirement is still a blow to all cricket fans. The big man often kicked over the traces but he never gave less than his best in battle and few will ever forget some of his Ashes triumphs when he pulverised the old enemy and then knelt to comfort them when their luck ran out.

Michael Vuaghan has attributed most of his successes as captain of England to Fred who always refused to treat the propsect of defeat with other than disdain. He will be sorely missed or, as they say in the ferret-shed, they don’t make ‘em like that any more!

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ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ: 1.  Jimmy Carter   2.  Zaire

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  America’s Sweetheart died in 1979. What was her name?  2.  The author of ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ died in 1971. Who was she?

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The big Inland Revenue mess-up!

Heaven help the citizen who makes a mistake on his or her tax return but it appears that the Inland Revenue has fouled-up in a far greater way than any of its long-suffering victims ever has.  Over the next few weeks thousands of tax-payers will receive demand notices for unpaid taxes incurred as a result of computer errors at the home of the tax-collectors. How can this possibly be?

Research suggests that the big PAYE fiasco is largely down to the failuire of the Capgemini computer system for which it has been paid billions of taxpayer’ cash. The company leads the “Aspire” consortium which includes Fujitsu and BT and which took over the tax office’s IT in 2004 from EDS. Within a year the deal had won an ‘outsourcing gold award’ – whatever that is – from the Management Consultancies Association. Capgemini had, the judges said, created “a global system of technology partners as a means of facilitating greater access to innovation”. Sounds impressive but since then the National Audit Office found that costs have tripled – to more than £8billion – as Aspire sold extra services to the tax authority.

The problem about to rebound on thousands, if not millions, of taxpayers apparently stem from a failure to merge national insurance and pay-as-you-earn records proper;ly , one of the seamless changes promised by the computer partners. But that hasn’t stopped the tax collectors consulting with them on another overhaul, under which it, rather than employers, would deduct PAYE from wages, with pay slips becoming a thing of the past. Given the present fiasco the mind can only boggle!

Alarmingly, Aspire has already won a three year contract extension. In 2007 the deal, originally fixed until 2014, was extended to 2017 on the promise of annual savings. These, it has emerged, will take the form of 600 job losses. Meantime ‘Private Eye’  (issue 1224) has exposed the legendary junketing of the Revenue’s IT boss, Steve Lamey, by the Aspire companies, including a night at the opera and dinners at top London restuarants.

Considering that vast numbers are now to be asked to stump up money they have long since spent, none of this is overly impressive or reassuring is it? Never mind, as my old Gran used to say, we all make mistakes. The problem is that some are much bigger than others! 

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                                                               GUESS WHO IS IN LONDON TODAY? 

No, not Eddie the Eagle but his understudy – me. Traffic jams permitting, by the time you read this I will be in Boris Johnson land and heading for the Bank of England. There a party of pupils from Southlands High School in Lancashire is to update the Governor, Mervyn King, on the unique development of a Money Education Centre at the school together with an impressive series of Money Diaries’ produced by pupils and now being used as text books in many other schools.

The funding for this ground-breaking scheme has come from The Debt Advice Foundation which is based in Darwen and is a registered charity committed to the task of education on money mangement and the avoidance of bad debt. Few topics are more topical.

The youngsters are also to call at the BBC to meet Robert Peston, so there may be no time left to pay homage to the mighty Boris.

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YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS;  1.  Arkle   2.  Laurence Olivier

TODAY’S QUESTIONS;  1.  Who defeated Gerald Ford in the US presidential election of 1976?  2.  Of which country was General Mobuto president?

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