Archive for June, 2011

Quangos; someone has doused the bonfire!

There was a time when bonfires were a regular feature on the allotments but, as inhabitants of a smokeless zone, we have had to forego the convenience of burning the piles of waste and the pleasure of roasting spuds whilst dancing round the flames in the manner of Hopalong Cassidy’s enemies. Well, I made the last bit up but the rest is true. Now we obediently fill our wheelie bins in the vague hope that someone will actually collect them before internal combustion makes that unnecessary.

And it seems that we are not the only people who have given up on bonfires. David Cameron and his motley crew were elected on the promise of a bonfire of all the Quangos created during the Blair years. Of course none of us expect politicians to keep to their word but we did at least expect a reduction. A check on the listings shows that the total has increased. And yesterday Ed Milband listed a whole list of new gossip shops manned by the great and good of the chattering classes.

For young Ed to score a point in his weekly tussle with the balding Dave is a rare event, but in yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time he did just that. He pulled off the old trick of asking a question to which he knew the answer but suspected that ‘Dave’ didn’t. How many new Quangos will the NHS reforms require, he asked. Not having a clue – although maybe making a mental note of the possibility of Sam chairing one – Dave blustered. Everyone in the land loves the NHS reforms sums up what he said, and the dreaded Lansley nodded vigorously.

Mr Miliband, of the Ed variety, then provided the answer and even Ken Clarke woke up with a jolt. It seems that the present number of 163 will rise to an astonishing 521. By now the Speaker was getting tetchy, having already warned both contestants about time wasting, and young Ed settled for rattling off as many as he could remember without consulting his briefing papers from the spin doctors. “Pathfinder consortia, health and well-being boards, shadow commissioning groups, a national commissioning board, PCT clusters, FHA clusters, clinical networks, clinical senates” he intoned before the Speaker intervened again. Ye Gods. Will anyone ever have time to practice medicine? But it will provide some nice little earners.

In fact Mr Miliband was unusually well armed. For good measure he announced that the redundancy payments for NHS staff fired by the Lansley brainstorm would add up to £852 million. Could the prime minister guarantee that none of those people would be re-employed by the NHS? For some reason Dave began to rant about strikes and at this point the Speaker announced that “We’re very grateful”, John Bercow speak for “Shut up sunshine”.

However I digress, a shock reaction to young Ed scoring twice. The bit of the broadcast that staggered me was the number of new Quangos that are planned. I am of course assuming that Ed didn’t make it up since even Dave would surely have recognised that. Having once been on a couple of Quangos I confess to having a low opinion of them. The ones I joined seemed to be packed with busybodies with time on their hands, little grasp of the subject and with obsessions with taking notes and enjoying large lunches. And that was only the chairpersons as they insisted on being addressed!

There is of course a brighter side to all this. Those who fear the decimation of the NHS need worry no more. Quangos never make decisions and always blur the edges. My medical pals can rest easy. Nothing will ever really happen, other than the expenditure of taxpayers money, and with the Libyan adventure now heading for the one billion pounds mark that will be small beer.

I am not displeased at all this. Quangos do provide pleasure for thousands of middle-class ladies and gentlemen of a certain age, and once again my conviction that one must expect the opposite of what politicians promise has been vindicated.

And young Ed, looking more than ever like a Panda, undoubtedly headed off to buy a drink for his researchers. Dave has the more pressing matter of working out how he can lay claim to Andy Murray, given the certainty that Alex Salmond will do  likewise.                                             OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO                           

ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ;   1.  Thaw   2.  Florin   3.  Smokie 4.  Chris Evans   5. 1980   6.  Bluto  7.  Yes   8. Liverpool   9.  Portugese  10.  Culkin


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Do as we say, not as we do!

Albert’s hearing aid has been found. It was discovered during this morning’s cleaning-out and the clear evidence was that it ‘passed through’ one of the hens. The good news was that it was still emitting a whistling sound, the bad news being that our excitable pal then emersed it in a bucket of hot water. It is now as dead as a Dodo. Albert has asked me to mention it in the blog to enable him to present a copy to the NHS hearing aid clinic. I fear the worst for the cash-strapped service is struggling to cope with the Lansley cuts and is unlikely to be swayed by such a bizaare explanation. The odds are that the God of hearing aids will ignore the fact that one of her colleagues lost hers down the loo, and will cry do as we say, not as we do!

If so she will be in noble company. Over the past few days a series of politicians including Messrs Cameron, Gove, Pimm and Miliband have lined up to condemn the public sector workers planning a mass walk-out in defence of their pensions. Given that many of them are in line for no more thn £6000 per year it is hard not to sympathise, particularly in the light of the responsible and stressful jobs they carry out. But the fact remains that unless something is done the pension pot will run out in the years ahead given the change in demography. Unless Lansley’s plan for the NHS succeeds in reversing the trend to live longer we are heading for a black-hole big enough to swallow the lot of us. And we are all in this together!

Wrong! Perhaps few realise that the one group of public servants immune from pension cuts are our parliamentarians. On Monday’s Newsnight, Conservative Nick Boles affected a reasonable tone ahead of tomorrow’s strikes. He wondered aloud to Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers whether anyone else got as good a deal as teachers, asking “is there anybody out there who gets 13.5% from their employer?”.

Had Ms Bousted been properly briefed she could have answered look in the mirror. In 2009 the government actuaries deemed it required a taxpayer contribution of not 13.5% but 31.6% for the largesse dished out to our politicians. There have been tweeks since but costs are still at 20%. Without digging into the detail – partly because I find it hard to fathom – I can headline it by confirming that just 20 years service at Westminster secures an index-linked retirement income of half final pay. Set lump sums aside and MPs are clocking up rights at twice the rate of teachers!

And that is far from all. If an MP falls ill he or she need not worry about hard-faced men from healthcare company Atos refusing incapacity benefits. He or she must merely satisfy fellow MPs, who serve as trustees, that they are no longer up to lolling on the green benches. He or she will then get full pension at once – topped up on the assumption that the voters would have continued to elect him or her until they reached the age of 65.

Even more generous than the parliamentary scheme is the provision for the premiership, speakership and lord chancellorship. Just one days service in any of these offices affords an immediate whole-life annuity, worth several million to people in middle-age.

There have been various promises of reform but the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority says it can do nothing until the leader of the Commons commences powers legislated for before the election but not yet “switched on”. In any case, it says, it will take much time to collate evidence and consult with MPs. You can bet your life on that!

This really sums up the greatest frustration felt by all those being hit by cuts of various kinds. If we were really all in the same boat it would at least seem fair. But we all know that the rich and corporate are evading tax to the tune of £120 billion. Now we know that the very people who fail to tackle that iniquity are also keeping generous pensions whilst lecturing teachers, nurses etc about the need for change.

The Westminster brigade should be thankful that we Brits are different to the Greeks. Riot? Nah, we are too busy wondering if Murray can really make it this time!


TODAY’S NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ;     1.  Which John married actress Sheila Hancock?   2.  Which pre-decimal coin had the value of two shillings?  3.  Which group revived a previous hit in the 90s with the help of Roy “Chubby” Brown?  4.  Which TV presenter’s shows have had Toothbrush and Breakfast in their titles?  5.  Were the Olympic games last held in Russia in 1960, 1980 or 1988?   6.  Who is Popeye’s rival ?   7.  Was Sir Walter Scott Scottish?  8.  Which English soccer side was managed by the late Bob Paisley?  9.  What is the main language in Brazil?   10.  Which Macaulay starred in the cartoon and live action film “The Pagemaster”?


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Trust; Doctors 88% v Politicians 14%!

One of the joys of life on the allotment is the degree of trust. Most of us have worked together for a very long time and there is  a great spirit of togetherness and trust. That doesn’t mark us down as generally trusting people for a regular comment on this or that personality is that we wouldn’t trust them as far as we could throw them, and our throwing arms are not what they were!

It was therefore with great interest that we read the latest findings of Ipsos Mori on national trust levels. Who do the great British public trust? Top of the list at 88% come doctors. Next come teachers at 81% followed by the clergy at 68%. Down at the bottom of the pile come bankers on 29% ahead of journalists who manage just 19%. And guess who came rank bottom? That’s right, politicians in whom a mere 14% have faith. It really says it all about the depths in public respect to which those who supposedly run the country have sunk. As our resident Aussie, Harry, puts it, they are seen as lower than a snake’s belly! 

There was a time when Army officers topped the list with bank managers close behind but both have fallen from grace, the former perhaps because most of them have been fired for disagreeing with Cameron, the latter because their latter-day successors managed to bankrupt the country. But doctors have always been there or there abouts.

In fact trust between doctor and patient is a very important part of medicine. Long may it continue, the question is will it? I ask this in the light of the bizaare Lansley plan to incentivise GPs to operate at below budget levels. As the new commissioners they will be given a substantial part of any below-budget expenditure. If that becomes reality, for the first time patients will begin to suspect the motives for any refusal to prescribe or to refer on to consultants. It is a recipe for the breakdown of a trust that has existed ever since the NHS was formed.

Fortunately the doctors leaders have realised this. Yesterday Dr Hamish Meldrum, the chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), warned that the plan would lead to allegations that doctors were witholding treatment. The BMA, its chairman said, has great reservations about Lansley’s proposals even after they have been watered down. He said; “If patients even suspected that their GP might be rewarded for how well they do, and particularly how well they do financially in terms of commissioning, it would inevitably lead to suggestions such as ‘You may not be referring me, you may not be investigating me, you may not be prescribing for me because that actually means money in your pocket’. That would seriously damage trust”.

Apparently the relationship between patients and GPs is to be a central theme when the BMA resumes its negotiations with the government. We can only hope that for all our sakes the clinicians dig their heels in. There are encouraging signs, for yesterday’s statement on the eve of the BMA’s annual meeting, in Cardiff, also included a strong view that ; “The public is not prepared to gamble with the future of the NHS, and doctors are not prepared to see this happen or to see trust abused by government policies that could undermine the value of doctor-patient relationships”.

Slowly but surely the reaction to Lansley’s plans is gathering momentum. It is often said that if there were a planned revolution in Britain no one would bother to turn up. But this is a huge issue that will affect every family in the land. Whatever your politics, it is dangerous to go along with the belief that privatisation and the profit motive will in some way improve our health care. What it will actually do is turn patient against doctor. Money can be the root of all evil, in this instance it certainly would be.

I like to imagine that David Cameron is, behind that smug exterior, a man of great self understanding. If so he should look at the Mori poll and ponder. Why has the standing of politicians sunk so low? Could it be the revelations of the expenses scandal? Could it be the realisation that they are not merely egotists but believers in one God, money.

He could take one giant step to improve the dangerously low opinion of the public by hurling Lansley and his madness into the nearest bin!

                             ANSWER TO YESTERDAY’S RIDDLE.

Matt and Pete were the first to come up with the answer which was ‘NOTHING’.     95% of graduates at Stanford University were unable to solve the riddle so…WELL DONE!



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Public sector workers deserve support!

Albert has often talked about capitalists exploiting the sweat of his brow but before this morning I remained unconvinced that such a thing existed. Today he was dripping as he chased his hens. He was also crotchety. Our pal was, before he retired a thousand years ago, one of the army of public sector workers now being subjected to all the inuendos and spin that the establishment can throw at it. Albert always retains his old loyalties and always resents the inference that everyone employed by the state is well able to light their cigars with rolled up tenners. It just ain’t so!

With the possibility of strike action looming over pensions the spin-doctors wheeled out every minister and ex-minister they could muster. Micheal Gove suggested that parents should take over the schools, only he could have come up with something quite this ridiculous. Ed Miliband made clear that he is opposed to Union action, presumably a lie aimed at winning support from Daily Mail readers. Tony Blair had the gall to enter the fray by urging the Unions to enter the real world, presumably he believes that lectures at £100,000 per go are available to everyone. Only dear old Uncle Vince urged more negotiations.

It so happens that we allotmenteers do know a few of the supposedly priviledged public sector employees. One friend of a friend is a teacher in a state secondary school in London. She is paid £32,000 per year and is still paying off her student loan. Her pension contributions will rise from 6.4% to 9.6%. Given the costs of living in the capital she already struggles to pay her present contributions of £200 per month and now realises that she will be required to continue teaching until her 68th birthday. She fears that the energy levels she requires to handle large classes of sometimes unruly pupils will have withered long before then.

Another friend is a case worker for the Crown Prosecution Service. He is paid £19,000 per year and will have to find another £60 per month and work six extra years to earn a pension of £6000. Meantime he is under great pressure, the departmental strength having been reduced considerably. Finally there is a 36 year old lady who works for the Revenue and Customs. She is paid £14,000 and will have to find an extra £37 per month. She already buys supermarket brands to keep costs down and is near the end of her tether.

I am sure there are many more examples which show that the Fat Cats label does not fit the mass of public sector employees. Interestingly all of those we spoke to mentioned the ‘tax gap’ of £120 billion. This covers the massive tax avoidance practices of the rich and the large corporations. Not surprisingly Osborne is not prepared to tackle his friends, more surprisingly the opposition shows little inclination to do so either. Clearly the influence of the Blairites lingers on.

We all hope that a fair setllement can be reached but we shouldn’t hold our collective breath. Many public sector people do difficult and stressful jobs, social services being an obvious example. This government has gone to great lengths to discredit them, yet without them many vulnerable people would be in a very sorry state. We need them.

If ministers go down the road of taking further legal steps to ban the only outlet that exists for their pent-up frustration they may be in for a shock. They claim that the public are behind them, I have seen little evidence of that!


A REAL TEASER FOR YOU!  A reader tells me that only 5% of Stanford University graduates managed it!! 

Can you answer all 7 of these questions with the same 7 letter word?????

1. The word has 7 letters    2. It preceded God   3.  It is greater than God   4.  It is more evil than the devil  5. All poor people have it  6.  Wealthy people need it  7.  If you eat it you will die.

????????????????????????????ANSWER TOMORROW??????????????????????????

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Cricket; threat of Indian takeover!

A hot and sunny morning on the allotments! We wandered about in a daze for this was a very rare experience, the sort of day when Blackpool beach sounds like a treat rather than the equivalent of Scott’s last journey. It was also the sort of day to trigger thoughts of cricket. Right now those are not positive thoughts, and I am not referring solely to yesterday’s bizaare Twenty20 between England and Sri Lanka. Pieterson and Morgan apart, this England side couldn’t have beaten a Co-op egg! Why players such as Bell are excluded is one of the great mysteries of the age!

But far more worrying is the gradual takeover of the administration of world cricket by India. The International Cricket Council (ICC) is cricket’s equivalent of football’s Fifa. In every sense! The ICC is already heavily influenced by the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), its present chairman is the former head of the BCCI, Sharad Pawar. Under the present rules there is a fixed term for ICC presidents and no one country can hold the office for two consecutive periods. At today’s ICC annual meeting in Hong Kong, India is proposing that once appointed a president can rule for life! Now that is even worse than Blatter at Fifa, he at least stages the occasional election, albeit a corrupt one of course.

Ridiculous, it simply can’t happen. Oh yes it can! As in the case of football many of the countries that vote scarcely play cricket. How can Argentina, Afghanistan etc be allowed to decide Test match schedules? But hovering in the background is Narayanswamy Srinivasan, the power in Indian cricket, the owner of Chennai Super Kings and the chief executive of India’s board. What he wants he gets. Remember the plan to reduce the next world cup to the top ten teams to eliminate all the one-sided and meaningless games that marred the last one? During a recent tea-break at a meeting in Singapore, the man of power talked to the various chief excutives who had just ratified the decision. When the meeting resumed the majority reversed the decision and the next world cup will be just as tedious as the last.     

How is this overwhelming influence obtained? Geoffrey Boycott has no doubts. “Many countries that play cricket are frightened to death of India’s financial power. You’ve got TV stations queuing up in India to beam the coverage of their tours in to India and they pay a lot of money for that” says the outspoken Yorkshireman. He is clearly right, India has a vast audience for cricket and filming rights produce a bonanza for authorities often reduced to counting the piggy-bank.

So the odds are that this week will see a new order at the ICC with an Indian president taking the top job on a permanent basis. Two outcomes are obvious. The new umpires’ Decision Review System will be scrapped. It has proved popular with the fans but India has already refused to use it on the forthcoming tour of England. Of greater importance, there will be an eight week period each year when no international cricket will be allowed. This will give free rein to the Indian Premier League. That will be a financial body-blow to England. But even more important than that is the threat to good governance.

We all know from the scandal surrounding last year’s Test series with Pakistan that a cancer of corruption is spreading within the game. This emanates from Indian bookmakers who make fortunes, often in distinctly unethical ways. Millions of pounds change hands daily on such obscure things as the number of ‘no-balls’. The only body that can even attempt to keep this under control is the ICC. Need I say more?

The complex game of cricket is open to corruption like no other. It is already losing its reputation for fair play and a strong incorruptable ICC is the only hope. The idea that any single country should hold sway on a permanent basis is appalling, the idea of that being India, the home of cricket manipulation, even more so.

If this goes through Fifa will look a paragon of virtue by comparison. The English, Australian, New Zealand and South African delegations should walk out if necessary. That may only account for four votes but world cricket without the four would be less of a money spinner to say the least. India may hold all the power but matches played against Afghanistan and Argentina would soon show where the pulling power really rests!


ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ;  1.  Germany   2.  Italy   3.  Alan Titchmarsh  4.  Gennell    5.  Ernie Wise   6.  China   7.  Westlife   8.  Potter   9.  Holly   10.  Colin Farrell.



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Fancy a nice little earner?

There was a time when our allotment co-operative was an indulgence, an interest, a way of keeping active. For quite a number it has now become a means of reducing household costs. A regular supply of eggs and veggies helps to offset the seemingly endless increases in power bills, not to mention the constant rise in the cost of nearly everything. We are all on pensions of one sort of another but, since none of us worked for banks, they leave little to spare.

The changed, and in some cases straitened, circumstances lead to regular discussions about finding a nice little earner involving minimum effort. But the only one that comes to mind, given our lack of qualifications and energy, is that of an MEP. Since the general public pays little attention to the European elections, and has no real idea as to what members of the European Parliament actually do, it is conceivable that an old fogey standing as candidate for the Chicken Party would sail through.

The idea was prompted by the news  that MEPs have refused to release audits on expenses. We already know that they are paid far more than Westminster MPs who have had their expenses wings well cut. But all we know about the Brussels brigade is that they spend expenses worth more than £300,000 each per year. And that’s it. Despite an EU court ruling that it is in the public interest the European Parliament is still refusing to reveal all. The argument is that internal audit reports are administrative documents for internal use only. It all sounds very similar to Fifa doesn’t it? Even MEPs outside the “bureau” of 20 senior European deputies, are not allowed to see the reports.

In the recent court case which followed legal action by Ciaran Toland, an Irish lawyer, the parliament’s lawyers fought off his demand for transparency by saying that “The use members make of the allowances available to them is a sensitive matter followed with great interest by the media”. So keeping it all under wraps is alright then!

Just occasionally the media has been able to shine a light into the murky Brussels gravy train. An example was the investigation by the Telegraph which forced the resignation of Den Dover, a Tory MEP, who was asked to pay back more than £345,000 in “misused” staffing expenses. But by and large the train stands undisturbed and silent in the sidings.

And what our MEPs do is an equal mystery to most of us. Our Westminster lot hold surgeries and deal with vast amounts of complaints and mail. They are whipped into attendance at the House and seem to attend more local functions than the Mayors. Have you ever heard of your MEP doing such? Do you even know who he or she is? Nor do I.

All of this may explain the hoo-hah now developing about the Brussels budget. David Cameron is doing his best to block the proposed huge increase but don’t hold your breath. The prime minister also had a rant yesterday about the planned £280 million headquarters. The plans were unveiled by the EU president, Herman Van Rompuy. He described the new building as a “jewel box”, it will be a “humane gathering place” containing a “diversity carpet”. Ye Gods, small wonder that Cameron said that the present building is perfectly acceptable. Not for the power builders, it isn’t. Be in no doubt, the leading lights in Brussels are still hell-bent on centralised control of almost every aspect of our lives.

Perhaps we should be thankful that Tony Blair went when he did. Only the intervention of Grumpy Gordon prevented his taking us into the Euro. Sadly he had already signed away a good deal else. Yes, like it or not, we are all part of the integrated Europe dream!   

The old adage has it that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So come the next elections do remember to put a cross against the name with a chicken symbol alongside! Which of us it will be has yet to be decided but one salary plus the exes divided 20 ways will keep us all solvent. And there will still be plenty of time for the elected to look after his chooks!


TODAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ;   GENERAL KNOWLEDGE;   1.  In which country were BMWs first made?   2.  St Francis of Assisi is patron saint of which country?   3.  Which Alan presented the TV programme “How to be a Gardener”?   4. Which Sally was British women’s team captain in the 1966 Olympics?   5.  Which late comedian was the one with the “short, fat hairy legs”?   6.  Which country was once called Cathay?   7.  Which boy band had a No 1 with their version of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”?   8.  Which Dennis created “The Singing Detective”?   9.  Which Buddy did Alvin Stardust sing about?   10.  Which Irishman Colin starred in the movie “Phone Booth”?


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Obama;politics are more important than lives!

There was an air of disappointment on the allotments this morning. It emanated from the significant number amongst us who have been staunch fans of President Obama. Here, my pals liked to say, was an honourable man who would always put what was right before any political considerations. Perhaps distance does lend enchantment for the comparisons made between him and our lot have always been favourable. Suddenly, at a stroke, the American hero of the chicken-keepers has fallen from grace.

The feeling that maybe this, after all, is just a politician on the make like every other, has been triggered by the President’s announcement of the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, plus the remainder of the 33,000 “surge” troops by September 2012, smacks of political calculation rather than military judgement, indeed the US Generals have been quick to distance themselves from the decision.

Of course it reflects Mr Obama’s ambivalence about the Afghan strategy that he unveiled at West Point in December, 2009, after months of agonising about what to do following General Stanley McChrystal’s stark assessment that the United States was on course for defeat. On that point there was probably widespread sympathy for the man who had inherited a war that few believe can be won. But to now announce withdrawal dates is astonishing. To have them as secret targets for the military is one thing, to tell the enemy with whom negotiations are the only realistic hope is another.

The effect may well be to leave the 70,000 troops in Afghanistan to fight and to be killed without any prospect of achieveing anything because they lack the “force density” required for a counter-insurgency offensive. The withdrawal of all the “surge” troops announced at West Point risks a reversal of the fragile gains they have made, leaving the Taliban  to slip back into areas being relinquished.

And above all else it will surely shatter any hopes for the talks now under way with Mullah Omar’s Quetta shura faction of the Taliban. Omar was clearly under great pressure from the “surge” but will surely now ask himself why he should negotiate. All he needs to do is wait for the American troops to leave. And for ordinary Afghans, why side with Nato forces or their indigenous allies if the Taliban will soon return?

Ultimately, Mr Obama will be judged not on how quickly he pulled the troops out but what kind of Afghanistan they left behind. For all its political adroitness, the President’s decision could lead to escalating chaos and civil war and the country could once again become a base for Islamist enemies of the West. We can all undertsand his reluctance to be in Afghanistan, not least because it is an unpopular war with the American public and an election is due next year. But what we cannot understand is what amounts to the torpedoing of the only real hope of securing a better Afghanistan; negotiations, for no one really believes that the corrupt and incompetent government forces will be ready to beat off the Taliban in the short term.

So it would appear that yet another major politician has feet of clay. Needless to say the Italians, French and Germans have been quick to follow suit. Britain? But of course. In fact William Hague went to great lengths yesterday to strees that we will not be involved in conflict at all from 2015. Again he is right with the decision but wrong to tell the enemy. It is almost like Churchill having told Hitler we will not battle on beyond 1945!

Without changing one iota of their intent Mr Obama and the other leaders could have said that they will not ease back until the Taliban sit down to agree terms. At least that way they would have retained a strong bargaining position for the next six months, and that just might have been enough. We surely owed at least an attempt at a face-saving formula to all those who have died in this futile, misguided conflict born of Bush and Blair. 

Now they have ensured failure and further jeopardised the morale and safety of all the Nato troops. But then given a choice between their own political skins and those of the troops we are not surprised at their choice are we?  


ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ;   1.  Lancashire   2.  L.B    3.  Kent   4.  Rum   5.  Locum   6.  Argentina   7.  Dog    8.  Northamptonshire   9.  D H Lawrence   10.  Apple


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Chief Red Face strikes back!

Some of my pals on the allotment have renamed their former hero, Nick Clegg, Big Chief Red Face. Given to using names from long past Westerns, they used to call him New Way but now that they realise that should an election take place his MPs could hold their meetings in a telephone kiosk the mood of the born-again Liberals has changed. For my part I see reason to believe their despair a little premature for young Nick is hitting back at his Old Etonian gaolers. Today’s wheeze has hit the headlines and sounds good to me, albeit slightly impractical.

Clegg has let it be known that were the Lib Dems in power the soft treatment of the Banks by the Conservatives would be a thing of the past. Meantime he is advocating a giveaway of government-owned shares in RBS and Lloyds, worth hundreds of pounds to British taxpayers. Such a move would create 46 million shareholders and allow a form of collective ownership of the Banks. In practice no one is likely to sell their loot in the short term since the bank’s share prices have not yet recovered.

Clegg is aiming at good psychology here. Such a move would demonstrate that the British public, which funded the saving of the Banks, has not been overlooked or ignored. Their money has been used to the tune of billions and billions yet at present they have absolutely no say at all in what happens when normality is achieved. Under the Clegg plan everyone on the electoral register would recieve an estimated 1450 shares in RBS and 450 in Lloyds. Such parcels would be worth £770 on the basis of the current share prices and holders would be free to sell when, and if, the level of the government’s rescue purchase price was reached.

Meantime the theory is that, at last, the public would be in a position to stop the appalling extravagence and greed demonstrated by those who led the Banks to destruction. How a collective voice could appear from 46 million shareholders is less clear, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that some bright spark would come up with a mass transfer of proxies for annual meetings. If they did the disgraceful sight of executives paying themselves millions at the public expense would come to a glorious end.

I may be in a minority of one here on the muddy plot, but I believe Nick Clegg deserves credit for at least trying something new and for recognising that most people are sick to the back teeth of suffering hardship, whilst the incompetent fat-cats that caused the disaster continue to line their already deep pockets.

If he has any breath left after this sudden and unexpected kicking-over of the traces, Clegg might well cast a glance in the direction of Network Rail. It also relies on the taxpayer for its funding and received £3.7 billion last year from the Department of Transport. Its chief executive, Iain Coucher, stepped dwon last year after a controversial 3-year reign. The period was peppered with complaints regarding performance, and even allegations of the misuse of public funds. A review concluded that “Network Rail has insulated itself from real-time economics and political concerns leading to criticisms that it is arrogant or out-of-touch with the reality for the industry, passengers, government and taxpayers”. Anyone using our unpunctual, dirty and overcrowded trains will say amen to that, although given the botched up privatisation of the railways it is almost impossible for the long-suffering passengers to know who to blame.

But one thing is for sure. They will not be impressed by today’s announcement of a £1 million payoff for Coucher. Even the Transport secretary, Philip Hammond, was moved to say that this will “stick in the gullet” of taxpayers and fare payers who have just suffered further huge increases in fares. Perhaps the only surprise is that Coucher was not included in the honours list in the way that Stagecoach boss Brian Souter was. In the week he was knighted thousands of commuters were stranded for hours on South West Trains routes out of Waterloo and communication was so poor that many broke out of stranded trains. Oh yes, he also took the Department of Transport to court, winning tens of millions in extra subsidy payments.

The truth is that under the coalition the rich and privileged, and often contributors to the Conservative Party, have flourished whilst the rest of the nation has been hammered. I at least draw some comfort from the sight of Nick Clegg at last speaking out for the man in the street.

Who knows, my pals may one day dig their ‘I agree with Nick’ sweaters out of the attic!


TODAY’S NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ;   GENERAL KNOWLEDGE;   1.  Mike Atherton played for which county cricket club?   2.  Which were the initials of US President Jonnson?   3. In which county is Ashford International station?   4.  Does a Pina Colada contain rum or gin?   5.  Which word for a duty doctor is a Latin name for place holder?   6.  Which country’s Rugby Union side are the Pumas?   7.  Is a Dandy Dimmont a dog, a cat or a horse?   8.  In which county is the stately home of Althorp?   9.  Which controversial author used the initials for his first names David Herbert?   10.  What sort of fruit flavour does Calvados have?


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Death of a tenacious man!

Hardly a day passes on the allotment when someone doesn’t speak of the need for protest. There are quite a number of causes right now including Libya, Afghanistan, the Defence cuts, the NHS massacre, Immigration, Law and Order and Benefits to name but a few. But the truth is that none of us have the guts to really protest, contenting ourselves instead with a letter to an MP. That is probably inept given that if the parliamentarian is of the government he or she will do little, if in opposition he or she can do nothing.

Brain Haw, who has died after a battle with lung cancer, was an example to us all. Over the years when visiting London I have often passed by his ramshackle campaign camp in Parliament Square. Initially I tended to dismiss him as some sort of weirdo, later I developed a great admiration for his resolute determination and zeal. It was ten years ago that he travelled from his home in Redditch, moved to protest at the effect on the children of Iraq of the sanctions being imposed. Soon, he was no longer protesting about sanctions, but against the build-up to the war in Iraq, then the war itself, and the occupation that followed it. When illness finally forced him from the pavement in March of this year, he was still warning onlookers and passers-by of the effects of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Haw’s father was one of the first troops to enter the Bergen-Belsen camp after it was liberated and his experiences were partly, Haw said, what led him to take his own life when his son was only 13. Haw himself joined the merchant navy and saw the Suez Canal and Bombay. He liked to recall that the children he saw there would have seen his large patch of pavement as luxury.

His camp at Westminster varied in size over the years and was labelled both an eyesore and an integral patch of democracy. Day after day he survived in a harsh landscape of exhaust fumes and police scrutiny. Over the years thousands of supporters and detractors passed by and many stood silently looking at his display of children killed in Iraq. His efforts were not lost on the artist Mark Wallinger who won the 2007 Turner prize with a piece entitled State Britain, a recreation of Haw’s work.

But he was intensely disliked by the establishment. His shouted (via megaphone) slogan of “45 minutes, Mr B-liar’ so angered MPs that Westminster city council was prevailed upon to attempt eviction. His biggest challenge came when, in 2005, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act was passed. This banned any protest within one kilometre of Parliamnet Square. The police prepared to move in but Haw won an application for a judicial review. He won and gained Court permission to stay , subject to the size of his display.

Haw had little respect for the 100,000 who marched through the capital as Blair’s clear determination to go along with George Bush emerged. He argues that had such a multitude been prepared to peacefully occupy the Square for just one week the war would have  been averted. Think about it. He was probably right.

Haw will be remembered by millions as a man of both friendliness and bloody-mindedness. He will certainly be mourned by the many who admired his insistence that it was not impossible to be heard, to challenge courts, to remind those in power of the consequences of their actions. He will certainly be seen as a true prophet of what was to befall the children of Iraq and Afghanistan and the eventual evidence that Blair lied. 

In a strange way Brian Haw summed up we Brits perfectly. We admire anyone prepared to make a stand but few of us, including me, have the will or courage to do it ourselves. A leader such as Tony Blair would have faced rioting in the streets in many countries. Here our troops have died, and thousands of innocents with them, but the most violent protests have been letters to The Times.

In 2002 , during an interview, Haws was asked if he feared the mice that appear in the Square around dusk. He replied that “It’s the rats over there that we have to look out for”. He was pointing in the direction of parliament.



I have been asked by the Rosemere Cancer Foundation to publicise a very special effort being made to boost the fight against cancer. The Rosemere charity is leading the battle on behalf of patients in the North West and has an enviable record of funding the latest cancer fighting equipment. Slowly but surely the battle is being won but the charity needs your help.

The Great North Run takes place on September 18th, an event described as the most iconic half marathon on the planet. Rosemere is desperately seeking entrants prepared to raise a minimum sponsorship of £400. Details can be obtained form Anne Sweeney who can be contacted on either 01772 522913 or by email on ‘’.

Do you know anyone who would fancy the challenge to test their own fitness and to join the crucial fight to save lives?


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Mental health services are crumbling!

Ask any cross section of society about health concerns and you will probably get a variety of answers. There will be those who never give it a thought, those who count their greens, those who spend a large part of every waking moment worrying about symptoms. So it is with our allotment gang. It always strikes me as illogical that people well into their seventies – even eighties in some cases- should devote time to worrying about their health, after all we will all be done for within the next decade or so. But traits do not seem to fade with age and some of my pals are forever fretting about this twinge or that. I always tell them that if they really must worry they should forget cancer and coronary problems and focus instead on mental health.

The reason for that is the appalling state of our psychiatric wards. No one wants to be ill, but in the case of physical problems the likelihood is that you will find yourself in a reasonable hospital environment. Fall prey to mental illness – and one in three of us will to a greater or lesser extent – and you are almost certain to find yourself on an overcrowded and understaffed ward, fearful for your safety and unlikely to recover quickly. Indeed the evidence is that such is the state of our mental health services, you are likely to further deteriorate.

I knew this from various inspections, but yesterday the outgoing president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Professor Dinesh Bhugra, spoke out officially. He talked of widespread failures in inpatient care for mentally ill people. There are, he said, many hospital wards that do not meet acceptable standards and which discharge back into society sick people who remained a risk to themselves and others.

The Professor blamed the problem partly on a ” dangerous vacuum” created because British doctors are not training as psychiatrists, while visa restrictions mean doctors friom abroad can no longer be appointed to fill the gap. A survey by the Royal College has found that 15 per cent of the 544 consultants’ posts in the UK are unfilled. In addition some 209 consultants are due to retire or resign. Even in times when all the posts were filled the service was inadequate, now it scarcely functions. A study to be published next week shows that over half of patients – mostly women – report feeling unsafe. Average bed occupancy are in some hospitals running at over 100 per cent and daily one-to-one contact with nursing staff is less than that deemed conducive to recovery.

Professor Bhugra warns that very high bed occupancy militates against quality and safety. Given the continued reduction in beds as a result of the failed care in the community regime, only the most disturbed, distressed and unwell are actually admitted to a ward. For such people the ward becomes their home but in many instances there are no seperate sleeping and toilet facilities for men and women, and there are few activities during evenings or weekends.

Mental Health charities such as Rethink claim the high number of suicides are a direct result of psychiatric wards failing to provide a therapeutic environment. Rethink spokeswoman Rachel Whitehead says that many people tell them that they feel unsafe and have little support or therapy. Supervision, she says, is also a problem, largely due to overstretched staff and wards which are overcrowded.

There are some good hospitals but I have visited some which have scarcely moved on from the time of Dickens. The problem is a simple one; too few beds, outdated wards, inadequate staff and an ever reducing number of specialist doctors. Those of us who so far have been fortunate enough to not need the service should surely demand that something be done. We are little better than a third-world country in our attitude and approach to mental health and the time has come for the people to demand action.

Sadly we do it with little confidence. New polls out today show all three of our political leaders with a negative rating. Hostility to the coalition has grown sharply with only 35% having trust in it. But the opposition fares little better. Of course the daily U-turns have destroyed faith – today’s relates to the proposal to cut prison sentences – but the problem is deeper than that. Few now trust politicians.

But that is where we must look for realisation that mental illness is man’s greatest affliction and demands as much attention and resource as any physical condition. Perhaps Lansley could redeem himself here although his beloved private sector will provide little help.

Churchill used to talk of ‘action this day’. Oh for a Churchill could well be cry of the tortured inmates of our degrading mental health wards!


ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ;   1. Eagle  2.  Wales   3.  Stairway to Heaven   4.  Faraday   5.  Paint   6.  Lyon    7.  Yorkshire   8.  Bell shaped   9.  Hair salon   10.  Hood


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Opening the door to terrorism!

We used to enjoy welcoming our Beat Bobbie to the allotment. He would call most days, share a brew and gather any useful information we had gleaned through our various family circles. It seemed very much the way to go, the perfect formula for building up a vast network of ears and eyes. Now he has gone, now we once again feel remote from the police. But the coalition is determined to cut the costs of security by 20 per cent.

Now we realise that it is more serious than losing officers on the Beat, however valuable they were. The same axe is being wielded to the counter-terrorism police! One of the country’s most senior counter-terrorism officers is being made redundant and he is just one of many. The head of the West Midlands team is Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Sawers, and he will leave in two weeks time as part of a £40 million cut.

Sawers is an experienced counter-terrorism officer who has run the West Midlands unit since it was formed seven years ago. He was at its helm during the high-profile investigation to foil a plot to kidnap and behead a British soldier. He also ran the operation which led to nine men being charged six months ago with conspiracy to cause explosions and engage in acts of terrorism.

Sawers is among 175 officers being obliged to leave the West Midlands force. The police authority have invoked regulation A19, requiring officers with 30 years or more service to retire even if they are well under retirement age. The result is that the most experienced are departing. Across the country the number of officers is to fall by 12,000 plus 16,000 civilian posts. The result is that suddenly the close watch on suspected terrorists will be reduced. The government has broken its promises on public safety and the outcome could be grave.

You may respond by pointing out that there have to be sacrifices. My contention is that we have our priorities wrong. Yesterday Danny Alexander admitted in a TV interview that the cost of our involvement in Libya may incur costs of over £1 billion. Yesterday we learned that the French/British attacks are leading to the death of innocent civilians, including children. Since our supposed mission is to protect civilians it is hard to understand why we are continuing to crank up the bombing in spite of the Americans, Germans , Arab League, Russians and others having distanced themselves from what now looks suspiciously like involvement in a ciuvilian war.

But the real question is why we see Libya as a higher priority than security at home. The costs already incurred in Libya are greater than the savings being made from the sacking of Matt Sawers and his many colleagues. It simply doesn’t make sense.

There would appear to be a probable outcome to this lunacy. Libya will end in a stalemate and we will be drawn into restructure. In the UK the likelihood of atrocities by the ‘enemies within’ will multiply and something horrendous will happen.

David Cameron has spent time over the past few days on lambasting fathers, and trying to browbeat NHS staff. His time would have been better spent considering the first duty of every occupant of 10 Downing Street, the Defence of the Realm!


TODAYS NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ;  GENERAL KNOWLEDGE;   1. Which comic did Dan Dare first appear in ?   2.  Golfer Ian Woosnam comes from which country?  3.  Which song links Rolf Harris and Lead Zeppelin?   4.  Which inventor Michael appeared on a £20 note?    5.  Gouache is a type of what?    6.  The notorious Klaus Barbie was the Butcher of where in France?   7.  Which county do the Arctic Monkeys come from?  8.  What shape is something if it is campanulate?   9.  Was ‘Cutting it’ set in a butcher’s, a hair salon or a hospital?  10.  Which Robin was the spoof film ‘Men in Tights’ about?


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Disabled people are not some inferior species!

Several of our allotment holders are disabled, some more so than others. But all earn great respect amongst the fraternity given the way they determinedly tackle tasks that come easily to those of us lucky enough to have no significant disability. It would never occur to us that they have less rights than the rest of us, indeed we would identify anyone who feels that way to be akin to regimes that have nursed such odious beliefs, Adolf Hitler comes readily to mind!

It follows that all of us, disabled or otherwise, were appalled at the story surrounding the Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies. He has sparked outrage by suggesting that disabled people could be paid less than the miminum wage. He told the Commons that disabled people were “less productive” than others and employers should be allowed to pay rates below the legal minimum. Such people, he claimed, can’t be as productive as someone who hasn’t got a disability and it was inevitable that employers were going to take on the person who was “going to be more productive and less of a risk”. He particularly highlighted those with learning difficulties.

Understandably, the mental health charity Mind was outraged. Its director of external relations, Sophie Corlett, said that it was “preposterous to suggest that someone who has a mental health problem should be prepared to accept less than a minimum wage to get their foot in the door with an employer”. Labour’s Anne Begg, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said that these remarks were “utterly outrageous and unacceptable”. She probably spoke for the vast majority when she said that to suggest disabled people should be treated as “second class citizens” was shocking. It showed, she claimed, that some Tories inhabit a ” warped world”.

As I understand it there are now laws that ensure that large suppliers employ disabled people. That apart many such as Tesco see it as a moral responsibility. No one chooses to have a disability and all those brave and determined enough to hold down a job have an absolute right to be treated in the same way as everyone else. They are neither inferior nor superior, they are simply people no different to the rest us in all respects bar the fact that they suffer more.

The horrible aspect of Mr Davies’ outburst is that it lifts again the lid on what many members of his party feel about what they call the underprivileged. Mr Davies is a senior member of the powerful Tory backbench 1922 committee, so it seems reasonable to assume that he is not alone in feeling this way.

What leading Consetrvatives feel is hard to guage but no one hurried to rebuke the MP. We do know that David Cameron had immense respect for his father who overcame huge disabilities to reach the top of his profession. Indeed, the prime minister has dedicated a newspaper article marking Fathers Day to  emphasise this again. And he is right to remember his dad as an inspiring and determined man.

But the worry is that he may conclude from this that any disabled person who doesn’t match what his Dad did is lacking in some way. This doesn’t follow at all. Not everyone has the intellect or connections to follow what is a good example. Many simply do not have the physical ability to perform every task.

Of course we all know those whose disabilities are hard to spot yet are always parked in the special parking bays. We all know some who, to quote the old Army term, swing the lead. And we all know able-bodied people who do likewise! But to generalise is dangerous and hurtful to the vast number of genuinely disabled who desire only to be treated as equals and accepted for what they are, fellow travellers on this path we call life.

At the very least the opinion of influential people like Philip Davies could lead to employers viewing the disabled as a source of cheap labour. Even worse it could damage the self-respect of many brave and proud people. Logically they know that the only difference between him and them is that he was born lucky and stayed that way. But when life is hard, when even the simplest task is something of an ordeal, logic is often buried in a feeling of humiliation, pent-up outrage even. And especially so when even their democratic representative is keen to abuse them

Mr Davies and his kind should keep their obnoxious, patronising thoughts to themselves


ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ;   1.  London Eye   2.  Horse racing    3.  Beginning   4.  Nursery    5.  Air Miles   6.  Monday   7.  Green   8.  French   9.  Blue    10.  Norfolk.


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Our troops queue up for redundancy!

Once we have cleaned out and fed the animals we always gather in the allotment shed/committee room for a brew and a chat. In Albert’s case add in a puff on his pipe- his response to the anti-smokers amongst us is that he fought a war against Hitler and has no intention of bowing the knee to the new breed. He also often points to the fact that we have become the binge-drinking capital of Europe with more deaths from liver disease amongst young people than the rest of the dreaded EU put together.

Of course the fanatics that continue to bang on about smoking include many who see booze as a safe alternative. It is not, and it is also decidedly more anti-social. Don’t agree? You would had you been at Ascot where a mass brawl of drunks showed the Queen that there is now more to racegoing than horses. Or you could visit any of our big city centres tonight or even Test Matches which will soon earn an X-rating for obscenities and general mayhem. These are not the pious words of a bunch of priggish toffs for we too enjoy a drink, but we prefer not to impose the outcome on the rest of the community.

However, our big discussion point today was the Army with which many of us have either past connections or relatives now serving. Some weeks ago this blog spluttered in outrage when redundancy notices were issued to soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan. What we hadn’t anticipated was the glee with which the opportunity to leave would be greeted.

Nearly 1000 of the next generation of military leaders have already applied for voluntary redundancy. According to today’s Telegraph the total embraces many of the brightest officers and soldiers. The number includes several future battalion leaders and officers who had been singled out as potential generals. And more applications are flooding in from all levels. Military chiefs asked for 25 colonels to volunteer but 52 wish to do so. Six brigadiers have applied and 48 majors with an average of 16 years’ experinece between them. The Army is literally inundated with request from senior NCOs, who provide the “backbone” of discipline in the field. So concerned are the authorities that Gen Sir Peter Wall, the head of the Army, is said to be holding informal meetings in an attempt to persuade the more talented individuals to stay.

But morale is at an all time low. One decorated officer, who has commanded a battalion with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan, is on record as saying that “when you know the amount that has to be cut and the inevitable impact of that on the Army, what’s the point of staying?”. Like many of his fellow commanders, he has handed in his request to leave. One infantry commander, as yet undecided, told a reporter that he has “never known morale quite so shocking. people see the way its going”. Another officer based at Army Land Command said that “the erosion of the force’s package is having an effect. There are many heading for redundancy who are pretty impressive players, operations have produced some exceptional leaders but we are about to lose them all”.

The first reaction of most of us is incredulity that we are continuing to take part in wars that have little to do with us whilst at the same time reducing numbers to dangerous levels. But there is more to it than that. There is a chronic lack of funding for training units deployed to Helmund. Several infantry batallions have been given just 100 rifle rounds to train with for each soldier. And we have all heard, often at first hand, of the lack of equipment and protection for those under fire every day. Yesterday another two soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

I read in some recent memoirs of the loathing the troops feel for politicians who fly in for photo-opportunities. None have seen active service themselves, all are happy to sacrifice young lives in a war that the men on the ground know can never be won.

Yes, the country is in a financial mess and there have to be cuts. But the decimation of our Army and Navy has already gone too far. We now have to withdraw from all external conflicts or perform another U-turn, this time on the Defence Review.

The alterantive is to continue to play the role of world policeman with small and totally demoralised forces. Last week the prime minister summoned to Downing Street the head of the Royal Navy who had spoken out. He would have been better employed summoning, for an explanation of the shambles, the wives and parents of those who are losing their lives.

But that would involve bravery, not spin!


TODAY’S NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ;   HOBBIES AND LEISURE;    1.  Which part of the body names a millenium feature on the London skyline?   2.  Which sport would you watch at Aintree?   3.  Are there more chairs at the start or end of a game of musical chairs?  4.  What links a novice’s ski slope and a garden centre?   5.  What name is given to the promotional scheme to save points for cheaper plane travel?   6.  In the year 2005 most Bank Holidays fell on which day of the week?   7.  What colour would a Sloane Ranger’s wellies be?  8.  The initials RSVP come from a request in which language?   9.  What colour are most road signs on UK motorways?   10.  In which UK county might you holiday on the Broads?


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Whose life is it anyway?

We were busy this morning battening down the chicken-hatches in anticipation of fierce wind and torrential rain. Not that unusual for June in this country, but the sort of spell that makes predictions that holidays abroad are losing their appeal look wide of the mark. I’ve noticed over the years that our topic of conversation tends to reflect the mood of the weather, it certainly did today because several of my pals were mulling over the Terry Pratchett documentray ‘Choosing to Die’.

In the programme the 63-year old writer, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, went to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to see Peter Smedley, who has motor neurone disease, take a lethal dose of barbiturates. Asked why he wanted to make the film, Pratchett said that he was appalled at the present situation. Assisted dying is practised in the United States and at least three countries in Europe but our governments have always turned their backs on the possibility of adopting the same practice here. Pratchett is a patron of ‘Dignity in Dying’, which campaigns for a change in the law to allow assisted dying. Its chief executive says that it is about choice and protection..”People suffer at the end of life, and therefore people take difficult decisions about their own deaths. We need to face up to reality”.

Most of us that work daily on the allotments are of advanced years, and perhaps that is why the programme aroused so much emotion. Opinions were divided. Several shared my view that my life belongs to me and I have the right to end it if existence has become unbearable. I can easily identify with Terry Pratchett’s view of a disease such as Alzheimer’s.

But I ended up sitting rather uncomfortably on the fence because the case argued by Albert, Tom and others is that were assisted dying to be legalised a lot of elderly and infirm people might well be persuaded that they owed it to their carers to agree to end it all. Relatives wouldn’t do that would they? Oh yes they would, or at least some would. I have regularly encountered problems with relatives blocking the discharge of an elderly patient from an acute hospital ward to a nursing home. I was shocked at first but came to accept that the number one priority for such people was money not the quality of life of their parent.

Yet – here I go again swinging to and fro on the issue – I can see no earthly reason why someone who is rational, and capable of making their own decision, should be obliged to exist on when they wish otherwise. Perhaps the compromise should be a certification by a senior doctor that an applicant for assisted dying is terminally ill, is of sound mind,, has self understanding and is capable of making his or her own decision irrespective of the views of others. Under such a scheme no other applicants would be considered. The doctor would not be asked whether the decision was the right one, that judgement can surely only rest with the individual.

Michael Nazir-Ali, the popular retired Bishop of Rochester had no doubts. This was, he said, “science fiction”. The organisation ‘Care Not Killing’ said it was “a recipe for elder abuse and also a threat to vulnerable people”. Itts director, Dr Peter Saunders, accused the BBC of constantly portraying suicide in a positive light. The BBC itself received 898 complaints.

It is indeed a complex and emotional issue. Clearly there would have to be safeguards but I cannot shake off the conviction that someone like Terry Pratchett has the absolute right to end his life at the point where it is becoming, for him, unbearable. It is, after all, his life and his alone.

I have given this a lot of thought and can only conclude that there is no simple answer. Certain it is that I can’t imagine forgoing even one more day to see all that is beautiful in life. What do you think?


ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ;    1.Queen Elizabeth 11   2.  Wales    3.  The species    4.  England   5.  Jailhouse Rock   6.  Hair   7.  Cleo Laine  8.  The Teletubbies   9.  Shaken but not stirred   10.  Hadlee


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PFI; Brown’s disastrous legacy!

The sun has vanished and our spirits with it. And the rain is on the way just in time to ruin the Test Match. In situations like this we allotmenteers tend to focus on the bad news and there was plenty of that yesterday. We read to our surprise that Michael ‘Tarzan’ Hazletene was on the rampage in the Lords. His mission seemed to be to torpedo the government’s proposals for referenda whenever British sovereignty is threatened by the EU. Our surprise was not at Tarzan’s stance but the fact that he has not gone to that great jungle in the sky. He lives and doubtless delights in the news that Germany is insisting that the UK makes a substantial further payment to prop up the Greek economy.

Meantime Alan Milburn caused a stir by describing the amended NHS reforms as a “car  crash”. One hopes not, since the plan involves closing half of the country’s Accident & Emergency departments. But all is not doom on the health front for down in Hertfordshire the NHS Trust has issued a final warning to nurses who show too much cleavage. It claims that patients are very upset by such a sight. Clearly all major problems have been resolved and it is good to know that should Albert be admitted whilst on holiday in Herfordshire he will not suffer a heart attack. But I shouldn’t mock for at least one consulatnt had the good sense to throw the posturing Cameron off his ward!

But if you really want a story to match today’s gloomy weather you need look no further than the revelations about Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs). These were the brainchild of Blair and Brown who saw the advantage in being able to boast of new schools and hospitals without the cost appearing in the Chancellor’s balance sheet. As is the habit of all politicians they forgot to read the small print and now hundreds of schools, hospitals, prisons, motorways and government buildings are owned by private entrepeneurs and are saddled with massive repayments. By the time the private owners are paid off the taxpayer will have incurred costs six times than he/she would have done had the state funded the building.

Britain’s biggest PFI contractor is Innisfree which owns or co-owns 28 NHS hospitals, 269 schools, the Whitehall HQ of the Ministry of Defence, a Scottish motorway and a Welsh jail. It employs only 20 people and is headed up by David Metter, who received pay and dividends worth £8.6 million last year, and has built a personal fortune of £60 million from PFI contracts. He appeared before the public accounts committee yesterday and, for good measure, added that as a “non-dom” he does not even pay full UK taxes. 

When the hospital trust of which I was chair became a Foundation Trust it received an early visit from the head of Monitor. As we walked round the site he commented on the number of new buildings. I explained that all had been funded by the Department of Health. “Be thankful” he said, ” those with huge PFI debts to repay will struggle to survive”. How right he was.

This is yet another example of politicians doing ‘clever’ things that we either are not aware of or don’t understand. Within years they are telling us that many of our schools and hospitals etc have built masssive debts and need to become more efficient. In most cases they are in debt as a result of decisions imposed on them!

We all tend to bang on about whoever is in charge of the paddle-ship UK. Frankly we would be better off if Eddie the Eagle took over!


TODAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ;  GENERAL KNOWLEDGE;    1.  Who described 1992 as an ‘annus horribilis?   2.  In which country would you see the Great and Little Orme?   3. According to Rudyard Kipling the female of what is deadlier than the male?   4.  Which country hosted soccer’s 1966 World Cup?    5.  Which ‘Jailhouse’ song gave Elvis another No. 1 in 2005?   6.  What falls out if you have alopecia?   7.  Which singer is Mrs Johnny Dankworth?    8.  Who lives at Home Hill?   9.  How does James Bond like his Martini served?   10.  Which Richard was the first knighted New Zealand  cricketer?

In a national competition the highest score was 8..can you match that???????? 

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