Archive for January, 2011
No frost this morning which meant that we were able to turn some soil over. It is good to realise that in just a few weeks time we shall be kicking off our veggie growing season. Hopefully we will enjoy more sunshine than was the case last year for there is nothing better that sitting outside the shed watching the beans grow, at least they appear to be growing after a few glasses of Tom’s home-made wine. The truth is that the allotment is hard work for us chicken men during the winter but, to us at least, a real heaven once the days expand and the temperatures improve. Some things are precious and cannot be measured in money.
Sadly our society is becoming besotted by the religion of the market. If allowed to do so, the marketeers will kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. Maybe old Karl Marx wasn’t so far out when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we thought was safe and solid. “Eevrything solid melts into air”, he said. “All that is holy is profaned”. Of course socialism is long since dead but his words ring true today as the NHS is dismantled and even our forests are to be sold off. They are inevitable victims of a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms, council chambers and committee rooms from which we are ruled these days. Everything has a market value, nothing is sacrosanct they cry. Certainly not human life or peace of mind if the NHS and forests are any indication!
But it is the intended elimination of our libraries ( which gets the fewest headlines) that troubles me above all others. Faced with the need to meet huge budget cuts every council in the land seems happy to close them down. They are not profitable, cry the marketeers. Their value cannot be measured in terms of cash, say I.
I still remember the first library ticket my Mum obtained for me. I stood entranced before a zillion books and agog at the realisation that I could borrow any of them. I quickly developed a love of books that was to last a lifetime. The love of a book is like no other, you can get to know the characters and share their adventures and lives in your imagination. They can help you escape into a unique world, one that only you inhabit. A wonderful space opens up between reader and book. It is a space that opens up each time you pick up the volume, one of fear, excitement, and astonishment. Your own emotions are given back to you clarified, purified and valued. And libraries provide the key to that magical world that never rejects you, always fascinates you.
Of course libraries of today are much more than a repository for books. They provide expert advice on every subject known to man and then some. They provide internet services. Our local library regularly arranges lectures on local history and regular exhibitions covering art, hobbies and basic learning. The librarians are highly qualified and are happy to share their love of reading and learning with anyone who hesitates to develop their own self understanding to the extent of finding their pathway into the written word.
But this government is likely to prove infinitely more dangerous than the last to anything that appears to offer no profit to slake its thirst for enterprise. In its attempt to fob off those who protest at the loss of such things as forests and libraries, it offers a solution. Let charities and volunteers take them over they cry. How in heavens name could that possibly work?.
Is the role of a librarian so empty that anyone can step up and run it in exchange for a thank you and a cup of tea? And are there volunteers who are extremely literate yet whose lives are so empty, have no families to look after, no jobs, no responsibilities, and are so wealthy that they can commit hours of every day to working for nothing? Assuming such people exist they can, the marketeers tell us, bid for money from a central pot. In other words there will be a ‘bidding culture’ which will set one comminity against another. It will be a further step along the road to infecting every aspect of our lives with commercial pressure. Survive or die and if you survive that very act will kill another.
Perhaps none of this is too surprising given that the country is ruled by multi-millionaires whose sole motivation in life is to make even more. It may well be that the likes of Osborne and Cameron mean well but they simply cannot understand anyone who values anything that has no clear bottom line.
The renowned author Philip Pullman said recently that they should leave libraries alone for “they don’t know the value of what they wish to destroy”. Libraries, he insisted, are “too precious to destroy”.
The only hope is that more people value forests, libraries and culture than the marketeers imagine. Should that prove to be the case they might listen, for there is one thing they value as much as money. That cross on voting slips!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand”…Charles M Schulz. “I think I’m a pretty good judge of people, which is why I hate most of them”…Roseanne. ” There are three kinds of people, those who can count and those who cannot”….”George Carlin. “There are two types of people in the world….good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours more”….Woody Allen. “People shouldn’t be treated like objects. They’re not that valuable”….P J O’Rourke. “The average person thinks he isn’t”…..Larry Lorenzoni “The useless piece of flesh at the end of a penis is called a man”…Jo Brand “They act like God Almighty because they’ve got a willy and can mend a fuse”…..Victoria Wood. “How do I know so much about men? Baby, I went to night school”….Mae West “You can tell a lot about a man y the way he handles lost lugagge nd tangled Christmas tree lights”…..Rick Makin. “My ancestors wandered lost in the wilderness for 40 years because even in biblical times, men would not stop to ask for directions”…..Elayne Boosler. “I never panic when I get lost. I just change where it is I want to go”….Rita Rudner. “God created women because sheep can’t type”…..Kenneth Armbrister”I’d rather be a woman than a man. women can cry, wear cute clothes, and be first to be rescued off sinking ships”……Gilda Radner “The reason men say women and children firstis to test the strength of the lifeboats”…..Jean Kerr
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Enterprise 2. Brittany, France
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who played Frank Spencer in a TV hit? 2. In which TV show did Compo feature?
We have noticed a distinct softening in attitudes to villains over the past few years. Not amongst us, mind you, for we constantly have cause to demand retribution as one lout after another decides that it would be fun to climb over the allotment gate and to smash up anything in sight, including the greenhouses. A few weeks ago Tom fixed a cross piece over the gate and included several upturned nails. It wasn’t long before we were advised to take the primitive defence down since should anyone climbing the gate cut themselves they would be able to sue us for injuries incurred! We have since learned that the local church has had to post warning notices about the non-dry paint it uses on its drainpipes to deter those stealing lead from the roof.
It seems to us that the whole justice system has been amended in favour of the criminal. And we are not alone in thinking thus. Last week saw an outburst from a prominent judge. Judge Julian Lambert won quite a few fans here by saying that “we live in soft times now”. He was furious at having to pass nothing more severe that a community service order on a man who terrified home owner Ross Campbell who heard noises in the night and, on coming downstairs, was confronted by a hooded man in his living room who was piling up computer gear, a wallet and DVDs. Can you imagine how you would feel, but heaven help you if you were young and strong enough to give the burglar a hiding! Do that and you would receive more than community service.
The judge was restricted by a probation report that suggested that the intruder should be spared prison. Had the judge taken that course an appeal would have led to the sentence being overturned. Tory MP Philip Hollobone spoke for many when he said that people shoiuld be brought to account for the ridiculous advice on prison sentences. He added that “the message that soft sentencing sends out is that somebody who breaks into someone’s home will only get community service and that’s not a deterrent. More judges should be speaking out about this”.
Victim Support agreed. A spokesman said that many victims feel let down by the criminal justice system and the complexity of sentencing decisions. Burglary can have a very serious impact upon peoples lives”. They are right on all counts. I know an elderly couple whose peace of mind has been shattered whilst their burglar was given a soft community task and has since burgled again. The complexity issue too is real one, it subsequently emerged that another factor determining Judge Lambert’s decision was the fact that the burglar pleaded guilty. So that’s all right then, commit any crime you like and plead guilty. All is then forgiven.
My self understanding reassures me that I am not a ‘flogger and hanger’ but I genuinely believe that the pendulum has swung too far. I hate to be a prophet of doom but the situation is likely to get much worse. Kenneth Clarke is the softest Justice Minister of all time. Incredibly he seems to believe that no one should go to prison because it doesn’t reform. It probably doesn’t, but it makes society a good deal safer and is a deterrent which fooling around in unsupervised community work-groups most certainly isn’t. Please don’t bother telling me that I’m wrong – I’ve worked as a volunteer alongside a group and can honestly say that the only work done was that of the volunteers.
I imagine that this whole drive toward extreme leniency is heavily influenced by the government’s desire to close prisons and thus to save costs. But what price does one put on peace of mind? We now face a situation where the criminals and bullies walk from magistrate’s courts laughing anf feeling quite relaxed about reoffending, sometimes that very day.
Yesterday a local councillor wrote to me seeking support for opposition to local plans to slash police numbers and dispose altogether of their support community officers. I shall sign the petition without any hope of a u-turn by millionnaires with electronic gates and private security cover. And for good measure practice tax avoidance the outcome of which far exceeds the cost of a hundred prisons.
All that I can really do is leave my front door open. It may well be an offence in Clarke’s new world not to leave a snack for the burglar but I draw the line at this even if I am infringing the criminal’s human rights!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “When I date a guy, I think, is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with”….Rita Rudner ” I’ve been chased by women before but never when I was awake”….Bob Hope. “I like only two types of men – domestic and foreign”….Mae West. ” When I finally met Mr Right, I had no idea his first name was Always”……Rita Rudner “I’ve been on so many blind dates, I should get a free dog” ….Wendy Liebman. “Two out of five Irish women prefer alcohol to sex and its just my luck to have gone out with both of them”…Joseph O’Connor “The only place men want women to have depth is in their decolletage”…Zsa Zsa Gabor “I was dating this girl for two years, and then the nagging starts, ‘I wanna know your name’…..Mike Binder. “I’m single by choice. Not my choice”…..Orny Adams “There are ways out of everything, apart from Birmingham’s one-way system”….Jasper Carrott. “Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out of it alive”…..Elbert Hubbard “If you want people to think you’re wise, just agree with them”….Leo Rosten “At the unemployment exchange my dad gave his occupation as an astronaut but not prepared to travel”….Roy Chubby Brown.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. John Walker (New Zealand) 2. George Davis
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What was the name of the first US space shuttle? 2. The sinking of the ‘Amoco Cadiz’ caused an oil pollution disaster on which coast?
We had a sharp reminder this morning that winter isn’t over yet. Everything was frozen solid and the long-discarded blow-torch was back in action. There are several supporters for the save the world from climate change lobby but Albert is not one of them. On mornings such as this he delights in reminding us of the predictions that Blackpool beach will become too hot to venture on. I have to admit that it is sometimes easier to believe in global cooling! Of course none of us was sufficiently savvy to climb aboard the biggest racket this country has ever known – and that’s saying something- which is Private Finance Initiatives (PFI). Had we done so, we would be lounging on some distant beach, and I don’t mean Blackpool.
One plus point for the coalition is that it has quickly identified the biggest waste of public money this country has ever known. PFIs were introduced by the last Conservative government and were used throughout the whole of the Blair and Brown years. With the honourable exception of Private Eye they received little publicity and were clearly seen by both Tory and Labour ministers as an easy way to build hospitals and schools without incurring a debit on the national balance sheet.
And private companies have made billions of pounds at the taxpayer’s expense. Under the schemes private enterprises meet the upfront costs of building and then operate them, recouping the money from the taxpayer over many years. Sounds good in theory but the implementation was scandalous. For example, Treasury figures show that taxpayers will spend £229 billion on projects that cost the contractor only £56 billion. The biggest single PFI contractor was ‘Innisfree’, which employs just 14 people but now owns, or co-owns, 28 NHS hospitals and 269 schools.
Its chief executive has built a personal fortune of more than £50 million since founding the company in 1995. Yesterday Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, said that many of the deals done were “ghastly”. He added that “many of the contracts we have discovered were unacceptable and the people on the other side must have been laughing all the way to the bank”.
Many hospitals and schools now have a millstone around their necks. In some cases the buildings will be obsolete long before the debt has been paid off. And to make things even worse the contractors control all maintenance and charge astronomic fees for rectifying even the smallest fault. Many of the original contracts have been sub-contracted and it is now extremely difficult to identify the many snouts gathered around the publicly funded trough.
A campaign being led by Jesse Norman, a Tory bankbencher, is calling for PFI firms to pay a £500 million rebate to the exchequer. He is entirely justified but the chances of it happening are remote. The tuck shop has been closed and the profiteers are heading for sunlit tax havens.
There is probably reason to suspect that even the process of awarding such enormously generous deals was itself corrupt. Either way, successive governments literally gave away more billions than the current national deficit. And yet no one complained, no one questionned what was going on, except for Ian Hislop’s magazine which constantly attempted to blow the whistle on the scandal of our age.
Suddenly everyone can read of a massive contribution to the financial mess that now engulfs us. Suddenly we realise, if we didn’t already know, that politicians of all parties are not to be trusted. Yes the Banks were the prime contributors to our fate but the successive chancellors who went along with this massive racket also played a major part!
So if you are redundant, or in any way a victim of the Osborne cuts, you may be forgiven for thinking that the very people who now assure you that we are all in this together were part of the structure that allowed this daylight robbery to occur!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “Women might start a rumour, but not a war”….Marga Gomez “Smart girls know how to play tennis, piano and dumb”….Lynn Redgrave “Wild horses wouldn’t drag a secret out of most women; however, women seldom have lunch with wild horses”….Ivern Boyett “No woman ever shot her husband while he was doing the dishes”……George Coote “I am all for women’s rights – and for their lefts too”….Groucho Marx “It is noticeable that in all the discussion about the femininity of God, the masculainity of the Devil goes unchallenged”….Christopher Russell “If you think women are the weaker sex just try pulling the blankets over to your side”……Stuart Turner “When they told me that in 2100 women will rule the world my reply was ‘Still?’….Winston Churchill “I look like the girl next door, if you happen to live next to an amusement park”…..Dolly Parton “To attract men I use a perfume called ‘New Car Interior’ “…..Rita Rudner “Men aren’t attracted to me by my mind. They’re attracted by what I don’t mind”…..Gypsy Rose Lee “My wife and I have Olympic sex. Once every four years!”…..Rodney Dangerfield
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Maurice Chevalier 2. Chess
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who was the first to run a mile in under 3min 50sec? 2 In whose name was a cricket pitch dug up and daubed with graffiti?
We saw the sun this morning if only for a moment, not enough to bring to mind images of Blackpool sands bathed in the stuff. But it did tend to remind us that we spend a great deal of our lives under clouds, not a cheering thought given that experts yesterday warned us that the effect of global warming will be for more cloud than we have ever experienced. Now that’s something to look forward to remarked Bill as he collected the eggs. Bill has undertaken this role, my pals having agreed to a little delegation. Mind you it won’t be many days before they begin to interfere in regard to washing, marking or boxing. In truth we are not as good at delegating as we like to imagine.
Neither it seems is big Eric Pickles, the communities secretary. A few months ago he won the approval of this site when he said that central government was going to “get out of the hair of local government and let councils take their own decisions”. It sounded a great idea although the more cynical amongst us suspected that it was a very handy way of handing down the blame when the cuts bite.
But already the new won freedom has been somewhat eroded. Yesterday Mr Pickles told local authorities that they must protect bin services for fear of “an army of angry middle England”. He told the New Local Govrnment Network conference that “we need to remember that rubbish is the most visible and most frontline service of all in return for what they pay in council tax”. No ifs, no buts, no passing reference to carer services, children’s services or even libraries. Most of those, the big man assumes, are used by the working classes whose vote has been lost anyway.
So despite all the promises to delegate decisions to local Trumpton Towers, big Eric is going to call the shots when political expediency demands it. The new localism appears to have had as short a life as a mosquito. And it also tells us something about the extent to which Westminster is out of touch with real life. Where we live the bin collection for domestic waste is fortnightly and seems to work well with recycling material collected alternately. It is certainly not the service that makes people angry.
Folk in these parts are far more concerned with plans to close down libraries, discontinue home care for the elderly sick and services for vulnerable children. Even meals-on-wheels has been chopped and we are told that there is much more bad news to come as a result of the massive reductions in government funding.
We may not be middle England as Mr Pickles defines it. We do not have long drives leading to posh houses or three BMWs per family. But we do have enough nous to work out just what the real priorities are. And if we have to choose between care visitors for dementia sufferers and having our wheelie bins weighing the equivalent of five elephants we will risk the hernia.
So come on big fellow. We have been numbered amongst your fans so far but suddenly we wonder if you may be as daft as the rest of the coalition folk who come from planet Zog. Either leave the councils to run their shows (and answer to the moans) or take back the control that you so recently surrendered to a smattering of applause. You can’t have it both ways!
SAVE FORESTS CAMPAIGN GATHERS MOMENTUM!
The coalition’s plan to sell off the forests presently controlled by the Forestry Commission has caused public outrage and the campaign being conducted by ’38 Degrees’ has already attracted 250,000 objectors to their on-line petition. If you go on to the website you will also notice that we are urged to approach our MPs. I did just that.
I had an immediate reply from Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. He is “deeply concerned by the plan”. Lindsay makes the point that if passed, the Bill could result in restricted access to our forests at a time when people are becoming more urbanised and rely on access to our open spaces. As a result the Deputy Speaker does not believe that woodlands should be privatised. As Deputy Speaker Lindsay will not be voting but he will be chairing the debates and will ensure that the government is held to account. He has already written to Secretary of State Caroline Spellman.
This lunacy will at best save £15m. We are not even selling the family silver, we are giving it away!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “It’s a pity more men are not bastards by birth instead of vocation”….Katherine Whitehorn “Men are those creatures with two legs and eight hands”….Jayne Mansfield ”Men hate to lose. I once beat my husband at tennis. I asked him if we were ever going to have sex again. He replied yes but not with each other!”….Rita Rudner “If they ever invent a vibrator that can open pickle jars, men have had it”….Jeff Green “Men do cry but only when assembling furniture”….Rita Rudner “Men are like car alarms – they both make a lot of noise no one listens to”…..Diane Jordon “It’s not the men in your life that counts – it’s the life in your men!”….Mae West “Where would men be today if it weren’t for women? In the Garden of Eden eating watermelon and taking it easy”….C Kennedy “He may have hair on his chest but sister so did Lassie”….Cole Porter
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. The Irish Republic 2, Uri Geller
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. A French actor, known for his suave style and tilted straw hats , died in 1974. Name? 2. In 1971 Fischer beat Petrosian – playing what?
The suggestion of frost hung in the air this morning and we retired to the shed as quickly as possible. We had company because a robin has taken up residence. Robins have a touch of the Andy Gray about them and are certainly not the friendly creatures depicted on a zillion cards. This one, having decided that a heated room complete with sacks of corn represents good digs, regularly attempts to drive us out and is not averse to a flying attack. But today we were too preoccupied with Tom’s story to pay too much notice. He was on the warpath for a local garage which, he claims, failed to tighten his wheelnuts on service. The result was that one of them overtook him as he drove down Headley Way. We did make the point that it is always prudent to check such things personally lest some apprentice was hungover.
It prompted me to wonder if the coalition is aware of the dangers of wheels coming off. I am no economist but it is hard to escape the worry that the economy is heading that way. A lot of finance wizards are set against the idea of cutting at the speed of light whilst trying to create growth. Yesterday we learned that the UK growth has ground to a halt and George Osborne’s explanation of too much snow sounded suspiciously like straw-clutching.
Indeed there were various other statistics guaranteed to have us reaching for the worry beads. Inflation is up to 5 per cent and climbing, as is unemployment. Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, issued a warning that wages will continue to fall sharply in real terms, and every day brings fresh politically damaging stories of people who are falling into the poverty trap and beyond. Right now even the rosiest spectacles show only dark clouds.
Perhaps most worrying of all is the fact that the worst in curbing spending, such as the hike in VAT has yet to have its impact, and many within the coalition’s MPs are now calling for a coherent review with a view to examining the speed of the deficit-reduction plans set out back in June. But Osborne, backed by Cameron, is not for turning and is prepared to stake the future of the government on his high speed programme. The wheels are wobbling but he is driving on.
The nightmare for the rest of us is that by the time it becomes apparent that a double-dip recession is on the cards, it will be too late for anyone to do anything except rebel against the government, And there are already worrying signs that we heading for a summer of discontent. Such police as are spared the axe would be well advised to swat up on ‘kettling’ techniques!
Given his apparent indifference to the Channel Four cliams that he is avoiding personal tax to the extent of over a million pounds one can only assume that Osborne is either crass or arrogant. Then again I guess that if I was a multi-millionnaire I too might be slightly disinclined to worry about the rising cost of tinned beans.
To be fair we may find by the autumn that the worries of various experts including Ed Balls and Vince Cable were groundless. But the wheels are definitely wobbling and a pause to check the nuts might be wise!
WISHING OUR LIVES AWAY!
I stood in a queue yesterday and began to wonder if I would be there for life. When I eventually reached the counter I realised that people had been choosing Christmas cards. They were reduced in price but discussions about Aunty Ethel liking snow scenes took time. Are they all mad?
From there I went to a supermarket where I found a shelf laden with Easter Eggs. These were not reduced in price but there were people discussing their respective merits before wheeling their trolleys to the cashout. Are they all mad too?
Perhaps it is just me being a grump but I can’t help wondering if we are wishing our lives away. Or if these folk can find nothing better to do. After all there are vast numbers of voluntary groups crying out for help.
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” I still miss me ex, but my aim is improving”….Woody Woodbury. ” I never even approved of divorce until I got married”….Diane Ford “I’m not upset about my divorce. I’m only uposet I’m not a widow”….Roseanne. “My husband and I divorced over religious reasons. He thought he was God, and I didn’t”…..Vera Foster. “I come from a wealthy divorced family. My Mums wealthy, my Dad’s divorced”…..Pauley Shore ” I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back”….Zsa Zsa Gabor. “I was so horrified when I read about the harmful effects of smoking that I gave up reading”….Henny Youngman. “If smoking is not permitted in heaven I won’t go”…Mark Twain.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. John Ford 2. The cello.TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Of which country was Sean Lemass (died 1971) a former leader? 2. Who became famous for mysteriously bending spoons? ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
The famous theory that there is a heaven and we are in it seemed even less plausible this morning when we began to dig out the old fish pond. We sank into the mud up to our knees and we were not wearing waders. Albert made an attempt at singing ‘mud, glorious mud’ but it did little to boost the morale of either us or the frogs who were leaping about in rage at the disruption. But we are only weeks from spawning time so it had to be done. One consolation was that this is not a complicated task which may be just as well because I have been trying in vain to understand what Andrew Lansley is talking about.
I had hoped that yesterday,s first session of parliamentary health questions would explain all about the massive – I think – reforms that the rather strange Mr Lansley is touting around. After all, I reasoned, MPs, being by nature simple creatures, are pretty good at asking simple questions. They did that but understanding the answers was another matter altogether. Most of the questions were about the distinct possibility of constituents dying as a result of the Lansley plan. They didn’t actually use those words but that was the gist of the often petulant enqiries. Sadly they were each given a dose of gobbledegook.
A typical example was the reply given to Mark Lancaster ( Milton Keynes). He wanted to be sure that doctors were going to receive sufficent funds with which to reconstruct a service that actually seems to be working well. Mr Lansley spoke at length about a ‘pathfinder consortium’. But, others wanted to know, doesn’t the word pathfinder infer a trial of a vague idea? It seems not, for there are apparently to be hundreds of pathfinders but the explanation as to how they will avoid producing hundreds of different schemes was so oblique that, despite having chaired two NHS Trust, I was totally bamboozled.
So confusing was the dialogue that Stephen Dorrell rushed to the aid of his mentor. He assured those MPs still awake that there would be ” improved core delivery of the efficiency challenge …reinforcing the interface”. So that’s all right then, these Lansleyites know what they are talking about. The problem is that no one else does and the stakes are very high!
Simon Hoggard of the Guardian ventures the view that the NHS reform plan was dreamed up by Andrew Lansley in his bedroom. He goes on to suggest that it is not so much a reform as a sellotape and string construction in the old British tradition of mad machines. Rowland Emett used to draw wonderful trains powered by kettles, weird collections of scrap which would make you a cup of tea, hit a golf ball or play dominoes. More recently Wallace and Gromit created devices to get you out of bed, pull your trousers up and make the toast. Or there is the Mousetrap game where the crank turns a lever, which hits a boot, which kicks a bucket, which makes a ball-bearing fall on to a seesaw. In the end the mouse is caught in a net. Or, more often, not.
Lansley’s reforms seem to be based on the same kid of connections and reactions. In theory they could just work but the worry is that quite a few people who should,know say that they won’t. Doctors, the British Medical Association, the independent Kings Fund and others see the plan as doomed, yesterday one gained the impression that most MPs on all sides feel the same. Of course they probably haven’t allowed for the ‘reinforcement of the interface’.
Certain it is that members were determined to be difficult. Some even went so far as to ask why none of this was in the manifesto or coalition statement of intent. Others wanted to know how GPs could find time to take on a zillion commissioning tasks whilst continuing to see their patients. Yet more were concernmed about postcode medicine. To all of them the answer was the same, reinforcing the interface would solve all problems.
As someone who regards the NHS as crucial for every family in the land I worry about all this. I realise that Lansley’s intention is to privatise the service but he doesn’t even seem to have a workable plan for that. In fact I came to a slightly worrying conclusion yesterday.
Perhaps the plan is as daft as everyone claims and suppose that Lansley, Dorrell and all are simply loopy. It would explain a lot but its implications are less than reassuring aren’t they?
IRAQ INQUIRY; THE PLOT THICKENS!
The Iraq inquiry rolls on and on and we all know the outcome anyway. But some of the revelations really are intriguing.
Yesterday it was the turn of former cabinet secretaries to give evidence. Predictably they claimed that Blair was economical with the truth only last week. Lord Turnbull said that no key papers were presented to the cabinet and Mr Blair was wrong to claim that ministers knew what was going on. When asked if there were proper cabinet decisions in the run-up to war, Lord Wilson answered ‘emphatically not’. In fact the cabinet was not asked to approve going to war until three days before the troops landed. Asked what the cabinet could have done Lord Turnbull replied that ‘they were pretty much imprisoned’. In fact the only option they had was to remove Blair. The final condemnation was reserved for the ministers who, with the exception of Gordon Brown and Robin Cook, didn’t seem to mind being left out’.
So we now know that there weren’t any discussions. Surprise, surprise! No surprise really but it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that Mr Blair should be tried for war crimes! Certain it is that Mr Cameron’s infatuation with him becomes stranger by the day!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY;” They say movies should be more like life. I think life should be more like movies”…..Myrna Loy. “Shakespeare wrote ‘ kill all the lawyers’. That was before Agents!”….Robin Williams. “I never go to movies where the hero’s bust is bigger than the heroines”….Groucho Marx. ” Night watchmen have a life expectancy in horror movies of 12 seconds”….Sam Waas. “Table for Five would be an ideal movie to watch on a plane. At least they provide free sick-bags”…..Simon Rose. “Watching a musical is like doing your own root canal work”…..Don Black “Very few pwople go to the doctor when they have a cold, they go to the theatre”…James Agate ” Nudity on stage is disgusting. But if I were 21 with a great body it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive religious experience”…..Shelley Winters.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Jack Hawkins 2. Sally Bowles
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. He directed ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘The Quiet Man’. he died in 1973. Who was he? 2. The musician Pablo Casals died in 1973. What was his instrument?
A mini-monsoon greeted us this morning. We splashed about whilst the hens gathered in a large crowd rather like those we so often join at the Old Trafford cricket as we wait for the heavens to relent. Why in such dire straits the hens don’t retire to their coops, or we cricket buffs to the bar, remains one of the mysteries of life. An even greater one is why TV commentators cannot learn to keep their opinions to themselves!
Andy Gray and Richard Keys have established themselves as the anchor-men of Sky football and, given the sheer volume of it, seemed to be set for life in a job that many a soccer devotee would do for nothing given the chance. They have performed well but one always suspected that Andy Gray in particular was what we used to call ‘blokish’, the sort of guy who for so many years voted to keep women out of the Old Trafford membership. It is of course utterly irrational, a referee or assistant can be brilliant, average, or useless but their quality has nothing whatsover to do with gender. I hope they do survive but doubt if they will, either way I hope that the episode will bring them to their senses. Surely their self understanding should tell them that beliefs of the kind they revealed went out with the ark and if they can’t see how daft they are they should take up residence on one.
But stupid though all that was it made little impression on my rage-meter by comparison with the news about Dementia patients. Cuts in care services are expected to force as many as 50,000 sufferers out of their homes and into residential care. That will cost the taxpayer a fortune and is inhumane.
Many thousands of carers have struggled for years to look after their aged relatives in their own homes, and have just about managed to cope given support. This has been largely cut and now many patients are left bedridden, in unchanged incontinence pads and are malnourished. The carers in turn are at risk of stress, depression and other serious illnesses.
Chief Executive of the Alzheimers Society, Jeremy Hughes, has lambasted the government. It is, he says, “an absolute travesty that so many people with dementia are being forced to struggle without the care and support they need. The consequencies of this represent an unacceptable human and financial cost”. Amen to that.
Incredibly the care services minister, Paul Burstow, agreed and commented that many carers feel let down. What he is doing here is to shift the blame on to local authorities who have been forced by massive cuts in funding to slash services. It is hypocrisy, it is disgraceful.
We all know that Osborne and Cameron are determined to cut every public service to the bone. The wisdom of that is now widely disputed even by people such as Sir Richard Lambert of the CBI who yesterday launched a savage attack. But the economic argument apart, are the multi-millionnaires proud of what they have done to thousands of vulnerable people?
Proud to be British? Not when we allow callous cruelty of this kind whilst protecting tax dodgers!
CAMERON HAS OFFENDED THE NURSES!
One of our pals has been in hospital since before Christmas and for a time we were all worried about him. However, he is now back at home and is recovering from his operation.
When we called today with his eggs he was singing the praises of the nurses on the ward that became his home for nearly five weeks. Nothing was too much trouble, the place was spotless and the clinical care “brilliant”. But Alf’s report on the nurse’s morale is a different matter.
The so called ‘efficiency savings’ imposed by the coalition have led to enormous pressures and the nursing staff are near to breaking point. And they are angry at the talk of the ‘private sector taking over’ since they know only too well that the profit makers will certainly not be willing to become involved in acute medicine. But the final straw came a few days before Alf bade them all a grateful farewell.
The nurses that he came to admire were extremely angry at Cameron’s remark about the NHS staff being ‘second rate’. Any chance of a positive relationship between the coalition and those on whom we depend totally when trouble strikes has gone for ever!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “When we win an Olympic medal we’re English ; when we riot and throw petrol bombs, we’re West Indian”….Winston Price “Continental people have sex lives, the English have hot-water bottles”…George Mikes “The English aren’t really interested in talking to you unless you’ve been to school or to bed with them”…..Lady Nancy Keith “I would like to live in Manchester, England. The transaction between Manchester and death would be unnoticeable”……Mark Twain “Brighton has the perennial air of being in a position to help the police with their inquiries”…..Keith Waterhouse
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1.Washington 2. Emmerdale Farm
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1 Which film actor, who died in 1973, played the lead role in ‘The Cruel Sea’? 2. What part did Liza Minnelli play in ‘Cabaret’ ?
A mild morning for chicken-men but there was a palpable air of disappointment in the air this morning. A lot of the folk are cricket buffs and just weeks ago there was great rejoicing as England proved once and for all that the Australians can be beaten, hammered in fact. But yesterday they thrashed England for the third time in a week at the form of the game that many now favour. With the World Cup just around the corner England suddenly look like the gang of losers that we had come to know for so long. One reason may well be the incredibly long and taxing schedule. Who agreed to this, who really runs cricket these days? It is easier to say what runs it. Greed, that’s what.
But who runs Britain? Until recent times that was an easy one. The establishment comprised the government and its circle of contacts, the BBC heirarchy, the Church, the Bank of England, Royalty, big business, trade unions et al. But all that has changed and now there is a new power in the land, the press. One only has to note the muted reaction of every top politician to the Coulson affair to realise that something is not quite right. Up to now the pattern has been the usual Westminster one when it comes to scandals. The scandal itself, the uncovering, the refusal to resign, the resignation, the closure. At least that seems to be the hope.
But this time there should be no closure. Because the practice of often illegal surveillance by hacking into phones, using eavesdropping technologies and stealing documents continues. This isn’t just about Coulson, or the News of the World, or even Murdoch. Many other newspapers have been doing the same. Shrewd editors pass off the really dirty stuff to self-employed dirt diggers but they are happy to buy and publish the results. And politicians are running scared, the power of the press to influence the electorate has reached a peak.
Columnist Jackie Ashley tells of meeting someone recently who talked of good police contacts and offered to get hold of bank records of someone she was curious about. When she refused she gained the impression that her contact thought her unnecessarily fastidious.
But although others are also guilty, the chance of exposure of the new rotten world of press methods and resulting influence has arisen around the Murdoch empire. But who, if anyone, is sufficiently independent to really force through a total investigation? Certainly not the political establishment. Take a look at the guest list for any of Murdoch’s summer parties and who do you find? At the Orangery in Kensington or the Oxo tower you will have no difficulty in spotting Cameron of course but it is the other names that cause an intake of beath. Lord Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, both Miliband brothers, Ken Livingstone, Nick Clegg, George Osborne..not too much chance of any of them being over eager to bite the hand that feeds them.
These are merely examples of the close ties woven between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, when they were prime ministers, and Cameron now, and the Murdoch camp. There have been, and still are, private meetings and dinners, calls and much talk of mutual interests. The government of this country is in hock to the press, in terror almost.
Of course given indications of massive power, influence and dubious methods we would normally turn to the police. But as John Prescott is currently complaining they were remarkably reluctant to do anything when the news of phone hacking broke, in fact they didn’t so much as inform those whose phones were known to be hacked. Either the police themselves are now drawn into the web or they fear the leading politicians that are. Either way it is bad news for democracy.
We have moved into a digital age of exposure, most of it driven by the press. The time has come to shine a light on the one profession that has for so long been able to work quietly in the shadows. At one time press scrutiny was the only safeguard we had against corruption, now the press itself appears to be the major influence and yet escapes the full disclosure and scrutiny that it demands of those it decides to investigate according to its political leanings and ambitions.
Who is brave enough to stand up for democracy?
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “There are two types of people; those who walk into a room and say ‘Well, here I am’ and those who walk into a room and say ‘Ah, there you are”….Frederick Collins. “Is your husband religious? Oh yes, he thinks he’s God almighty”….Mrs David Frost. “He was a cock who thought the sun had come up to hear him crow”…..George Eliot. “But enough of me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”…Bette Midler. “Do you think you’ve learned from your mistakes? What mistakes”…..Leslie Caron “My greatest regret in the theatre was that I could never sit in the audience and watch me”…..John Barrymore. “He’s a self made man who worships his creator”….William Cowper…”Don’t be so humble. You’re not that great”….Golda Meir. “The nice thing about egoists is that they don’t talk about other people”…Lucille C Harper.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. India 2. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which US city was the Watergate building? 2. In which TV serial did Annie Sugden feature as a character?
No need for hand-warmers this morning, despite forecasts of frost it was relatively warm as we release the hens. As they scuttle out I often wonder what it is they are so eager to get on with. Albert suggests that they need a copy of the Sun to uplift their spirits but having seen the lethargy of the local council workers, for whom a rolled-up copy seems mandatory, I rather doubt it. Maybe they spend their time being thankful for not living as their battery-sisters do, they after all don’t have four visits per day from old geezers bearing a constant supply of lettuces, boiled spuds and spinach leaves. And they have freedom to wander amongst the trees and, if the mood takes them, to fly up into them.
Come to think about it trees play an important part in all our lives. Of course they play a key role in offsetting the effect of carbon emissions, but they also provide us with places of beauty and solace for the soul. Perhaps we should make the best of them for their massacre at the hands of money-grabbing developers is about to accelerate thanks to the bizaare plan of the coalition to sell off the Forestry Commission which owns 20 per cent of all the woods and forests in Britain.
On January 6th I revealed the campaign being run by ’38 Degrees’. Since then thousands have signed up on-line to register their opposition to this wanton destruction. Today one hundred top celebrities have added their names to the fight. The names include Judi Dench, Dr Rowan Williams, Annie Lennox, Joanna Trollope, Bill Bryson, Richard Briers and a host of others. All their signatures appear at the foot of a letter published in this morning’s papers.
It states “We, who love and use the English forests, believe that such a sale would be misjudged and shortsighted. It is our national heritage. We are an island nation yet more people escape to the forests than to the seaside. Our forests nurture countless species of native plants and wildlife. We have relied upon them since time immemorial yet we are only a heartbeat in their history.”
Last week saw the publication of a poll on the proposal. Over 75 per cent are totally opposed to the government’s plan. People from all walks of life are angry and bemused. Some visit the forests regularly and there have been mass protests in such as The Forest of Dean. Some remember with affection the visits they once made as a child and many others still take their children to enjoy the wonder of nature at its best. If Cameron rides roughshod over the view of the vast majority of Brits he will be making a lot of enemies, for once the sale is made there is no going back, the bulldozers will be revving their engines.
The most amazing aspect of all this is that even the most favourable sale is only expected to raise £100 million. Compare that to the £15 billion we are happy to plough into the Olympics or the £130 billion that is lost to the exchequer each year via tax avoidance. The truth is that money is not the motivation, it is ideology, the obsessive right-wing belief that everything must be privately owned even if that leads to its destruction.
If you too feel that the forests that belong to us all, and are part of what Britain is, should be left alone for future generations to treasure why not go on to the ’38 Degrees’ website and sign the petition. Politicians will only listen if they feel that their votes are at risk so numbers count!
OSBORNE ACCUSED OF TAX DODGING!
Channel 4 has claimed to have evidence that George Osborne is avoiding the payment of tax. It says that he employs accountants to find loopholes which help him avoid payments of up to £1.6 million. The pressure group ’38 Degrees’ is running an online petition demanding that he end this practice and, so great has been the response, it is running an advertisng campaign portraying the Chancellor as ‘the artful Dodger’.
Like you I have no idea as to the truth of these accusations but it seems unlikely that broadcasts and public campaigns would have been launched without firm evidence. And I have heard no refutals by Mr Osborne.
The government has been reluctant to tackle tax avoidance which is believed to account for losses far in excess of the total value of the cuts now hitting many poorer families. Why? Perhaps this story gives us a clue! Can it possibly be that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is using tax avoidance?
If so it might be prudent for the millionaires running this country to stop banging on about us all being in this together!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “If we tread on a mine, Sir, what is the procedure? Normal procedure Lieutenant, is to jump 200 feet in the air and scatter oneself over a wide area”…..Captain Blackadder “The best defence against the atom bomb is not to be there when it goes off”…Winston Churchill “War doesn’t determine who’s right – only who’s left”….Bertrand Russell “We are not retreating; we are advancing in another direction”….General Douglas MacArthur “They still haven’t found Osama Bin Laden. Why don’t they give his name to the Child Support Agency, they’ll find him”….Roy Chubby Brown ” Peace is when nobody’s shooting. A ‘just peace’ is when your side gets what it wants”……Bill Mauldin “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”……Winston Churchill.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Andrei Sakharov 2. Richard Nixon
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who refused to play South Africa in a Davis Cup Final? 2. Which orchestra did Sir George Solti once conduct in London?
Everything is relative. Had it not been for the appalling spell of wea ther that we faced in December we allotmenteers would now be moaning about the frost and hard ground. As it is, we regard mornings like today as relatively mild! Using our fingers to break the ice on the hen’s water was kids-play compared with the blowlamp which now stands unwanted in the corner of the shed. In fact the weather was not even mentioned today, instead several members were talking about nuclear war. It makes a change from global warming but is certainly not more reassuring.
Tony Blair’s much heralded reappearance before the Chilcott committee went much as expected. His style of government - with critical voices and civil servants cut out of decision making so the then prime minister could commit Britain to the Bush invasion – was left looking distinctly shabby and threadbare. What Blair did leaves an indelible stain on a Labour government which did much to improve the lives of people both here and abroad, for it is now clear that he had committed to war almost a year before he pretended to be attempting to avoid it.
But we shouldn’t perhaps forget that others had the opportunity to stop him and failed to do so. With the honourable exception of the late Robin Cook no cabinet minister resigned. Had they done so Blair’s position would have become untenable. And no one in the Conservative Party made any protest either, in fact the Tories voted for the invasion. Only the Lib Dems opposed what he was doing.
The invasion of Iraq was to prove a terrible foreign policy mistake, one for which vast numbers paid with their lives or limbs. Blair lied and betrayed us. But that does not mean that everything he now says should simply be labelled lies and thrown aside. For he chose his Inquiry appearance to issue a sombre warning on Iran and this time around there is substantial evidence to suggest that he is right.
The former prime minister said that the West must be prepared to face down the “looming challenge” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He accused Iran of funding terror in the Middle East and doing everything it can to stop the region developing peacefully. He called on Europe and the USA to drop its “wretched posture of apology” and to get on to the front foot. We are not responsible for what Iran is doing and should stop believing that in some way we are. Iran is close to having a nuclear weapon and Mr Blair, who now spends a good deal of time in the region, believes that unless they are met by “resolute determination and, if necessary, force” they will reach the point where madmen have a finger on a deadly button.
Without doubt the Iraq fiasco has created a climate, both here and in the United States, of refusal to contemplate any further conflict once the exit strategy for Afghanistan is enacted. But the situation in Iran is quite different. The United Nations knows that nuclear developments are at an advanced stage and every major power has expressed alarm. Is it too fanciful to imagine that once he has a bomb at his disposal, Ahmadinejad will not launch it against Israel. Or that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike!
In view of all the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan it is entirely understandable that we are all opposed to hostilities whatever the cause. But Blair is not alone in believing that the alternative may be much worse.
Surely we should be pressing the United Nations to act before it is too late. Even countries like Russia and China have everything to lose if madmen in Iran trigger a nuclear holocaust. And a final warning from all the great powers acting in concert just might save the day. If not they have the collective power to intervene effectively.
It is terrible to think that, a century from now, history might record that the world committed two disastrous acts in regard to Tony Blair. First it allowed him to launch a war for personal political gain, secondly it ignored his factual warning and allowed the world to plunge into a new dark age.
ANOTHER HEADLINE-MAKING RESIGNATION!
As the story behind the resignation of Alan Johnson becomes clear, even clearer is our impression of a decent man whose loss to public life is immense. Whil st he could never have matched Ed Balls in the field of economics, he had the great advantage of the common touch, he knew what ordinary people felt and could bear.
Now we have the expected resignation of the Cameron spin-doctor, Andy Coulson. Inevitably questions about Cameron’s judgement will multiply. He continued to stand by someone who clearly was going to be continually harrassed about affairs at the News of the World of which he was one time editor.
But the fascinating aspect of the farewell letters and interviews is the one picked on by the BBC’s Nick Robinson. He said that the real advantage to Cameron, and his cabinet, of Coulson was that, like Johnson, he understood how ordinary people felt and lived. Cameron’s self understanding tells him that his set live an elitist life born of a privileged background. They needed someone who could link them with the ‘real’ world.
It all sounds very much as though our main parties are run by people from the planet Zog. Which explains a good deal doesn’t it!
QUOTES FOR TODAY; “I play Cinderella tennis, that is, I don’t quite get to the ball”….Larry Adler “Anybody can win, unless there happens to be a second entry”….George Ade “When I play golf I don’t rent a cart. I don’t need one. When I hit the ball I need public transport”…..Gene Perret “When you are putting well, you are a good putter; when your opponent is putting well, he has a good putter”…..John D Sheridan “Seve Ballesteros hits the ball further than I go on my holidays”………..Lee Trevino
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Valerie Barlow 2. Bruce Forsyth
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which famous Russian scientist won worldwide admiration and the 1975 Nobel peace prize for promoting peace? 2. Which US president said “the title of peacemaker is the greatest honour history can bestow?
A lovely sunny morning offset by brass monkey temperatures greeted us this morning. Like us, the cabbages have turned white, unlike us they will return to their natural colour in due course. Meantime the chooks are devoiuring the lettuces in the big greenhouse so they are far from deprived. We half noticed all this as we worked but so used to the routine are we that we chat as we work, what posh people call multi-tasking I believe. And the chat today was about Alan Johnson.
There is a healthy contempt for most top politicians on the allotment but Alan Johnson was the exception. Several of us met him during his stint at the Department of Health and we liked him. He was almost unique amongst the posh people that run the country. He didn’t go to Eton or Oxbridge and he once had an ordinary job just like the rest of us. He related to ordinary folk and they to him. In the Commons during his brief period as shadow chancellor he was constantly patronised by the Old Etonian set. Had Cameron told me that I couldn’t count and didn’t count I would have been inclined to do a Prescott, but to Alan it was as water is to a duck’s back.
No one knows what the personal problems that led him to resign are, doubtless the gutter press will either dig up or invent something. He can expect no mercy from the Murdoch press. But whatever they invent it will not diminish the man for he stood out amongst the two front benches which are packed with people who went straight into politics from university, and have no real idea of what the life of an ordinary family is like.
One thing is certain in all this. Cameron et al will find it a good deal harder to patronise Ed Balls who is widely regarded at Westminster as having the sharpest economic brain. I spent an hour with him when he was in charge of Education and I liked him. But I also gained the distinct impression that tangling with him would not be a pleasant experience, especially if the subject was finance. When Ed Miliband originally appointed Alan Johnson the relief on George Osborne’s face was there for all to see, whatever he pretends he will not be relishing the idea of combat with Balls on his own subject.
But there is something depressing about it all isn’t there. Any prime minister must select his or her ministers from a total of around 300, and many of those will be too old or too daft. And he will know that the best brains in the country are all somewhere else, earning more and working more sociable hours. The result is that a PM tends to play it safe by selecting from within his own social class. The result is that we have people such as Osborne or Lansley responsible for huge organisations within which, if they were free to apply, they would command no better than a middle-management position.
Like them Alan Johnson was no genius, but he did have one big thing going for him. He had self understanding and common sense. He knew what the people out there really think and he knew how much they would take. Had he been chancellor you can be sure that he would have understood precisely which cuts were beyond the pale.
The interesting feature now will be how much Balls reins in his passionate belief in Keynes, in the concept of boosting an economy before extracting the wherewithal to balance the books. Ed Miliband tends to the view that some heavy cuts at the front end are needed, Balls does not. He believes that the economy is being driven over a massive cliff and many economists believe that he is right.
And Ed Balls does not take kindly to patronising posh people. Be sure that when he addresses ministers as my honourable friend he doesn’t mean one word of it!
WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE MURDOCH BID?
Most people appear reluctant to see even more media power pass into the hands of one man, Rupert Murdoch. That explains some of the popularity enjoyed by Vince Cable during the election. Since then he has rather fallen from grace and his faux pas about Murdoch gave the prime minister the perfect opportunity to take the responsibility for scrutinising the bid for BSkyB away from him and to hand it to a Murdoch devotee, Jeremy Hunt.
Now no one believes other than that a stitch-up is underway. And no one was surprised to learn that over the holiday Cameron visited Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, and her husband at their Oxfordshire home. Ironically news of the visit coincided with news of pressure mounting over allegations of phone-tapping at the News of the World, the former editor of which was, until today, Cameron’s communications director.
The reaction from the opposition has been hostile. Shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis described Cameron’s visit as ” extrordinary”. He claimed that “the prime minister may be in breach of his own ministerial code”. There is, claimed Mr Lewis, ” an arrogance about this prime minister that is slowly coming to the surface”.
Sadly the critics can huff and puff all they wish, the deal is as good as done!
SOME THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “I’ve decided to take up a life of crime but I can’t decide which party to join”…Roy Chubby Brown “The reason there are so few female politicians is that it is too much trouble to put make-up on two faces”….Maureen Murphy ” A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country”….Texas Guinan “A politician never believes anything he says, so he is always amazed when you do”….Charles de Gaulle “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it wrongly and applying unsuitbke remedies”….Grouch Marx “Being in politics is like being a soccer manager. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think its important”……Eugene McCarthy “Reagan won because he ran against Jimmy Carter. Had Reagan run unopposed he would have lost”…….Mort Sahl
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. James Callaghan 2. Basil Hume
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which character in ‘Coronation Street electrocuted herself? 2. Who was the first presenter of the TV show’ The Generation Game’?
For the first time since that December spell we needed boiling water to thaw out the hen’s water this morning. But we cheered ourselves with the thought that we are now well into January which means that somewhere beneath the hard surface of the flower plots, the daffodil bulbs are gently preparing to send up shoots of greeting in a couple of months time. We shouldn’t wish our lives away but on cold mornings such as this we do!
And we had some extra help this morning. Alf’s grandson has taken to coming down for want of something better to do. His story is typical of many and it is worrying. Peter left school last July having decided that academia is not his thing. He is, as they say, good with his hands and wishes to learn a trade. He has filled in what feels like a zillion forms and attended various interviews. But he has had no luck and is demoralised. Even the most basic supermarket vacancies have attracted hundreds of applications. Of course he isn’t going to starve since he lives at home, and this or that government scheme provides a small income, but the concept of work is beginning to seem like a fantasy and there is no incentive to get him out of bed.
And Peter’s story is now repeated across the country. One young person in five has no job and the position continues to worsen. Why the government believes that the private sector will suddenly produce vast numbers of jobs born of expansion remains a mystery for all enterprises are driven by customer demand and that continues to fall as consumers ’draw their horns in’. Inflation on food is nudging 5 per cent and the effect of increases in VAT and fuel bills is beginning to bite hard.
To make things even worse the public sector is shedding jobs at an astonishing rate thus creating yet more competition for such employment as is available. And the number now having to accept part-time working has climbed, the latest statistics show that around 1.16 million are now having to settle for the only option there is. Another statistic that adds to the gloom is the one concerning older people forced into early retirement.There are now 1.56 million people under the age of 65 who have been obliged to end their working life.
David Cameron has described the latest increases in unemployment as a matter for ‘huge concern’ and, predictably, devotes the rest of his comments to a diatribe about Grumpy Gordon. People engaged in the soul-destroying daily search for work are simply not interested in political point-scoring, they want work. At least the older ones do and herein lies the biggest worry, vast numbers of youngsters have given up and a generation unused to the disciplines and incentives that regular employment brings is disillusioned and restless.
Some economists are now openly predicting that youth unemployment could rise to almost 50 per cent. It doesn’t bear thinking about does it? Whether you view the prospect in terms of idle hands causing mischief or simply mourn the death of ambition for half of a whole generation it is a worrying scenario. Faced with such a calamity the government must do more than blame its predecessors. It must reconsider the sheer pace at which it is cutting back. The much maligned Gordon Brown insisted that the elimination of the deficit arising from the banking collapse must be gradual for fear of triggering mass unemployment. There are worrying signs that he may have been right.
Anyone who has been unemployed knows that the effect of constant rejection goes far deeper than income. Slowly but surely resentemnt takes over. And the constant news of massive payouts for bankers, local authority executives and leading business chiefs fuels an understandable feeling of rebellion, a mood intensified by clear indications that tax avoidance by the richest is commonplace and unchallenged.
Unless something is done quickly, society will reap a whirlwind and Cameron may yet regret the decision to axe thousands of policemen, something that was attracting many signatures last weekend in our local town centre. That is his problem but the demoralisation of our young people concerns everyone who cares and hopes that the next generation will prove better custodians of planet earth than ours has.
There is an old saying about fiddling whilst Rome burns. It is apt, for right now the entire country is obsessing about the madness of Lansley’s NHS destruction which will produce no savings whatsoever. Instead every person of goodwill in the land should be focussed on the task of getting our youngsters into work and out of alienation and despair.
Wake up Cameron et al, before it is too late!
CONSULTATION; YOU MUST BE JOKING!
Claims by governments of all colours regarding consultation have always been ludicrous but local government ministers Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps are going even further in bringing the word into disrepute.
They are rushing through what they describe as the most radical reforms of social housing for a generation. The changes include allowing social landlords to offer fixed-term tenancies and charge much higher rents to new tenants, and changing the homelessness legislation so that homeless families can be forced to accept homes in the private rental sector. The reforms did not appear in the Tory or Lib Dem manifestos.
The ministers published a white paper at the end of November and invited responses by this week. That gave anyone concerned just eight weeks to protest yet the government’s code of practice says consultations should run for at least 12 weeks, and for longer when they include bank holidays.
For anyone who managed to register concern there are further obstacles. The second reading of the bill will take place on the very day that the consultation period expires and the summary of responses is promised for three months time by which point the committee stage of the bill could be safely out of the way.
Why not just be honest and announce that because we, the ministers, know best there will be no consultation whatsover!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ”I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people that annoy me”…..Fred Allen “My doctor asked me if I ever got breathless after ecercise. I said no, never, because I never exercise”….John Mortimer “My gran started walking 5 miles per day when she was 60. She’s 97 today and we don’t know where the hell she is”…..Ellen DeGeneres “I go running when I have to. When the ice-cream van is doing 60″…Wendy Liebman “I go to bed early because my favourite dream comes on at nine”…Eddie Izzard
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Liberal Party 2. Women
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who succeeded Harold Wilson as prime minister in 1976? 2. Who became Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster in 1976?
A bright, dry morning with no more than a hint of frost had everyone in good humour this morning. Presumably the hens felt the same way for egg production is up and our flock of Columbian Black Tails seemed perky. Perhaps they had heard about the £20 million being handed over for Darren Bent and, being creatures of self understanding, decided that since they can head a lettuce further than he can manage with a ball justice is heading their way at last. Anyway, whatever the reasons, everyone and everything seemed happy. And it certainly wasn’t the result of watching last night’s Beeb documentary on the Banks!
I switched on with some trepidation since the piece of one’s brain that interprets finance is missing from mine. But I needn’t have worried for the presenter was Robert Peston who is adept at reducing a complicated story into one that even the simplest citiuzen can follow. And he is consistent. I say that because some weeks ago I visited him in his London office and, during the hour-long chat, asked him to sum up in a word what the Banks were guilty of. His answer was greed and that was the conclusion to be drawn last night.
It bothered me to learn that the system of money management practiced by my Gran was superior to that used in all those gleaming towers. She kept a tin on the mantlepiece and regularly put aside cash to cover all known eventualities such as the coalman. She slept easy in the knowledge that no demand could tip her into debt. It may astonish you but I have to confess that before yesterday I hadn’t realised that the Banks only retain around 8 per cent of the deposits they receive. The rest they invest, often to high risk ventures. In other words if every depositor arrived on one day to claim their money the Banks would be insolvent! Yes, just like Northern Rock to mention but one.
Amongst others Robert spoke to Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England. He commented that of all the ways of organising Banks the present one is the worst! Various experts in the world of bean-counting followed but what they said amounted to one thing, the Banks must increase their capital. Some added that even today they are still engaged in a remorseless pusuit of high salaries and bonuses and that leads them to take major risks for the best returns are always the least assured.
Inevitably there was much reflection on how the Banks led the world to near-disaster. The conclusion can best be summed up by looking back to Alan Greenspan, thhe great US Treasury chief. He once said that governments should leave the Banks alone to get on with what they were doing so well, making us all richer and richer. That of course was before it suddenly became apparent that the only people likely to remain rich were the bankers themselves.
They were the subject of questions Robert put to the head of RBS. He replied that, yes, rewards for most bankers are far too high, there are real stars but the majority are merely labelled thus in a culture out-of-control.
The great fear expressed was that the banks are getting bigger by the year, and should there be another crash they will be so big that no government will be capable of bailing them out. So another crash will be armageddon. But what, if anything, are the politicians doing to rein the Banks in? Vince Cable said that they have to be split down into smaller, and more manageable, units. It sounded right but will it ever happen?
The only hopeful note I pickd up on is the creation in the UK of a Banking Commission which is charged with finding a solution, a guarantee against another crash. It seems that one of the options it is consideing is an undertaking by the Banks to give a choice to everyone handing their cash to them for safe keeping. They would be obliged to ask “Do you wish us to keep your money or to invest it?” and to set interest rates accordingly. Were that to happen the cautious amongst us could sleep as soundly as my old Gran once did!
One was left with the impression that agreement of how much capital Banks must hold is way off, an impression heightened by revelations that even the oft-lauded Bank profits are mainly ‘paper ‘ ones arrived at via technical processes that I couldn’t grasp ( even the experts admitted them to be highly complex ).
There are some obvious safeguards such as never deposit all your eggs in one basket. But I’m digging a box out of the attic. Since I get vitually no interest and since I now know that, once paid into to my Bank, I may never see my pennies again I might as well slide it under the bed! Sometime the old practices are the best ones!
NHS; WE NEED AN INQUIRY NOW!
Most developed countries hold an Inquiry either before finally initiating action or immediately after it. Here we do things the other way round and the result is that we have only just competed an inquiry into things like the London security plans and the response of troops during Derry’s Bloody Sunday. And of course the Iraq Inquiry rumbles on still. We take so long about it that lessons are learned too late and those deserving praise or blame get neither since they are invariably no longer in office.
Right now the nation is in turmoil having listened to countless warnings about what appear to be half-baked plans to dismantle the NHS. Already we learn of rationing of such as eye operations to one eye onlyand we fear the worst.
In the view of many the NHS is doomed, victim of Cameron and Lansley. And even they are unsure of their facts or ability to do what they say they want to do. Of one thing we can be sure, ten years from now a public inquiry will be investigating tha loss of our most important institution back in 2011. People like Cameron, Lansley, Osborne and a parade of ageing doctors and nurses will appear before Chilcott mark 11. They will all blame others and the panel will say that it is too late to name and shame people who have long-since retired. Why should the Inquiry not take place now?
And it needn’t be one that drags on for ever. A public inquiry should be a surrogate court of law. It should be crisp, cetain in its justice, allocating praise and blame, as a punishment or a deterrent. It should not be a dilatory mechanism for postponing judgement and diffusing blame on to underlings.
An Inquiry along these proper lines into the NHS would do much good. Either people like me who passionately believe that Cameron and Lansley are destroying something special would be reassured, or the madcap planners would be stopped in their tracks before it is too late.
As things stand all is chaos and we shall soon see the police ‘kettling’ thousands of consultants and doctors just off Whitehall. There has to be a better way!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ”The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are usually the same people”…G K Chesteron “Housework is what a woman does that nobdy notices unless she hasn’t done it”…..Evan Esar “If your children write their names in the dust on the furniture don’t let them put the year”….Phyllis Diller “It takes only four men to paper a room but you have to slice them thinly”….Jo Brand ” Husbands are like fires, they go out when unattended” ….Zsa Zsa Gabor “The man who marries his mistress creats a vacancy in that position”….James Goldsmith
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Marlon Brando 2. Louis Armstrong
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which party did Clement Freud represent when he was an MP? 2. Whom did five Oxford colleges agree to accept for the first time in 1972?
No rain, no ice this morning so we cleaned out and fed the hens without so much as a curse. But we did have a mild argument on the subject of honesty, that of politicians to be precise. It was triggered by today’s headlines about the Iraq Inquiry and the sudden implication by the former attorney general that Blair lied on his previous appearance. It was Tom who argued that it is impossible to be a leading politician and to avoid telling porkies. Perhaps the rest of us are as naive as Tom suggested, but it still seems a sad state of affairs.
In support of his case Tom cited Mr Cameron’s press conference of yesterday when he was accused by the BBC’s Nick Robinson of duplicity, having failed to mention his intention to smash up the NHS during his election camapign. Of course the truth is, said Tom, that he deliberately witheld the intention for fear of losing votes but he could hardly tell that truth yesterday could he? Eventually the argument petered out which, one imagines, is what Blair is praying will happen with the Iraq Inquiry. But will it?
Our former prime minister is due to reappear before Chilcott’s team on Friday and it will take all of his evasive charm to handle the fact that Lord Goldsmith, his most senior legal adviser at the time of the invasion, has alleged that his public statements about the invasion contradicted the legal advice he had been given. He said that Blair’s words made him “uncomfortable” and described how he was cut out of discussions over the drafting of the UN resolution used as cover for the invasion of March 2003. He insisted that had he been consulted he would have seriously altered the wording of the resolution. On Friday the greatest spin-doctor of them all will be asked why he made definitive statements disputed by Lord Goldsmith!
The attorney general’s evidence also suggests that Mr Blair may have misled Parliament over the legality of the war. Lord Goldsmith called into question some of the arguments used by Mr Blair during a crucial speech to MPs on 15 January 2003, as he attempted to convince them of the need to deal with Saddam Hussein. Amongst other things he said that “there are circumstances in which a UN resolution is not necessary, because it is necessary to be able to say in circumstances where an unreasonable veto is put down that we would still act”. This despite the fact that only a day before, Lord Goldsmith had told Mr Blair that the current UN resolution dealing with Saddam “could not be used to justify an invasion”.
Asked by Chilcott whether “the prime minister’s words were compatible with the advice” he had been given, Lord Goldsmith replied No. It is clear that both men cannot be telling the truth!. Interestingly the top legal adviser reiterated that “my views were nor sought in the perod between my meeting with the prime minister on 22 October 2002 and my telephone call with Jack Straw on 7 November 2002 when “the text of the resolution was all but agreed and during the period of my exclusion important changes occurred”.
If Lord Goldsmith’s evidence is open to debate it is less likely that new evidence from Jack Straw is. Yesterday the Inquiry released a secret memo form Mr Straw which, on March 25 2002, warned the prime minister of the “high” risks of his visit to George W Bush. It said that “a legal justification is necessary but is far from sufficient precondition for military action. And what will action achieve? Iraq has no history of democracy so no one has this habit or experience”. Yet more explaining for Mr Blair to do for many of us knew that the talk of free elections was hot-air!
The establishment looks after its own and few expect other than a whitewash. But yesterday has upped the stakes and it is perhaps not unfanciful to imagine that the summary could be that parliament and the nation was deliberately misled and many good people died.
Tom may be right in contending that politicians have to lie to survive but maybe, just maybe, we are about to learn that there is such a thing as a lie too far!
DESTRUCTION OF THE NHS IS UNDERWAY!
A major part of David Cameron’s defence of the sweeping NHS reforms was that he is following in the steps of Tony Blair. Perhaps no one has explained to him that Blair ain’t as popular as he once was! But having listened to him, the most eminent clinicians in the land made clear that “Approve or disapprove, this policy marks the end of the NHS”. And some one a little nearer to home had some cutting remarks to make.
Sarah Wollaston is in the unique position of being both a Tory MP and a GP. She said that the reforms are the equivalent to “tossing a grenade under the health service”. Dr Wollaston is a member of the parliamentary Health Select Committee and its overall verdict was equally hostile. MPs said they were surprised by the “significant policy shift” between what the coalition promised to do in May and what it is now proposing. There was “uncertainty compounded by apparently inconsistent messages”
Back in May, Cameron must have known he was planning the biggest reorganisation in the history of the NHS and its privatisation. He chose not to be honest and his defence that he is merely continuing along the path set by Blair is less that reassuring. And even now he is surely lying when he says that hospitals that fail to compete will be left to go into bankruptcy. No government could contemplate a large conurbation denied medical care. Or could it?
TAX AVOIDERS MAY BE REVEALED!
Are some of our super-rich tax avoiders about to come under the sort of spotlight reserved of late for MPs?
Yesterday the former banker Rudolf Elmer, who is due to appear in a Zurich court charged with breaking secrecy laws, handed to Wikileaks documents said to contain details of more than 2000 account holders who had used offshore tax havens to keep money out of the hands of the taxman.
The next fireworks night may come a little early this year!
A FEW THOUGHTS ON IT…..“Computers are like humans – they do everything but think”…John Von Neumann. “Bill Gates declared to the world, ‘I am Microsoft’. Mrs Gates had no comment”…..Whoopi Goldberg. “”A computer once beat me at chess but it was no match for me at kickboxing”….Emo Philips “The Internet is so big and so pointless that for some people it is a complete substitute for life”……Andrew Brown
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. It fell from 7.9 million to just under 7.4 million. 2. 1975
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who played the male lead in ‘Last Tango in Paris’? 2. Which much-loved jazz trumpeter died in 1971?
Almost every book on hen-keeping stresses the importance of keeping chooks off wet ground. None explain how this is to be achieved and, after a lifetime of the hobby, I am still none the wiser. I would defy anyone to find fault with the care we allotmenteers bestow on our many broods, but even we find impossible the task of keeping the runs free of mud in conditions like those of recent days. We’ve tried gravel, sand, and even yelling but nothing works. It all illustrates the difference between theory and practice! And that is the trap that David Cameron has fallen into in backing Lansley’s mad plans for NHS reform.
There are many things to admire about the prime minister but his tendency to prove his NHS credentials by harping on about his gratitude for what it did for members of his family is not one of them. Countless families across the land could tell similar stories but it doesn’t follow that they would wish to support its demolition at the hands of a complete fool. And if you feel that is harsh on Lansley just look carefully at the horrendous errors of judgement he made over swine flu. Children and adults alike have died as a result of his arrogance.
Not surprisingly the coalition is under attack from the British Medical Association over its reform plans. They are not alone for a host of Conservative MPs plus ex-ministers such as Stephen Dorrell have expressed great concern at the speed at which major change is being imposed together with £20 billion worth of cuts. The abolition of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) was well merited but the switch to a new commissioning method needed careful planning. It also needed to be free of ideological change such as privatisation.
Today the prime minister has assured us that GPs are ready to take over the role. They are not and never will be given that practising family doctors have neither the time nor expertise. What has happened is that a number of areas have offered to set up commissiong organisations run by private health care providers, most of whom are from the USA. They in turn have links straight in to private medical services prepared to invest in buildings and the provision of non-specialist diagnoses and treatments.
The idea is not dissimilar to that tried by Patricia Hewitt. She wished to set up a trial in the North West which would involve a private company opening outpatients clinics near large hospitals. They would employ junior doctors from overseas and would offer a ‘one-stop-shop’ within which patients would be seen, diagnosed and, if the condition was trivial, treated wthin one day. It was only when it was revealed that the loss of income from ’easy’ medicine would effectively bankrupt the hospitals that a major public uprising began. The cost structure of the NHS is such that surpluses from routine work subsidise the cost of cancer, coronary and other acute medical procedures.
I have nothing against private enterprise competing with state service providers but there must be a level playing field. If the private sector is to be allowed by commissioners to compete it must offer the total range of services and not ‘cherry-pick’. And it will not do that for the simple reason that all the potential profit lies in the straightforward work.
The Hewitt proposals were ditched at the eleventh hour and the one-stop-shop is now operated by the NHS in Lancashire with great success. I know because I, together with deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, led the campaign. I also know something else.
Lansley’s plans were on the verge of being ditched a la Hewitt. If David Cameron’s intervention saves the day for Lansley there will be several outcomes. In the short term we will see waiting times doubled with the result that those with deep pockets will jump the diagnosis queues. In the medium term many hospitals will close with the result that patients and visitors will be obliged to travel big distances. And the quality of care will deteriorate as patients are seen by less experienced clinicians.
We all empathise with Mr Cameron’s personal tragedies and problems. But by his own admission they were handled well by the NHS. If he continues down the Lansley road other families will not have the same quality of care.
Yes the NHS has improved enormously but, yes, it can improve further. But the profit motive and life or death decisions are uneasy bedfellows and, if Cameron really cares as much as he claims to, he will apply the brake of caution to the madman at the controls.
ALASTAIR CAMPBELL CONTINUES TO SELL SECRETS!
The Alastair Campbell Diaries Volume two will be published on January 20th and already some cash is being raked in by newspaper serialisation. This edition will cost £25 which ensures another big pay day for the former Labour spin-doctor.
Just reading today’s revelations in the Guardian turned my stomach. Intimate details concerning the Royal family, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are all featured. And I have read all I want to read of this political version of kiss and tell.
Call me a stick-in-the-mud if you must, but I find the making of money out of confidence-breaking sickening. Of course Mr Campbell didn’t sign the Official Secrets Act and is not committing a crime. But one wonders if at the time he warned people that he was noting down their every comment with a view to revealing all for cash at a later date.
If my ire causes just one reader to keep their twenty-five quid in their pocket I shall feel glad to have spoken out!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “I’m a wonderful housekeeper. Every btime I get a divorce I get to keep the house”…Zsa Zsa Gabor. “A neighbour is someone who has just run out of something”….Robert Benchley. “Our terraced house was so small the mice walked about on their back feet”….Les Dawson. “I hate housework. You make the beds, do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again”…..Joan Rivers. “I’m years behind with my ironing. It’s no good doing it now, it doesn’t fit anyone I know”…..Phyllis Diller
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Watergate 2. Horatio
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Did the population of London rise or fall between 1961 and 1971? 2. What year were the British people asked to vote yes or no to stay in the EU?