Archive for August, 2011
Easy access to the best available health care is important to we old codgers of the allotments. But our concerns at what Andrew Lansley is proposing to do to the NHS extends far beyond the needs of an ageing group, we all fear that, whatever he says, the underlying intention of his ‘reforms’ is a two tier service in which the rich fair well and everyone else suffers. For some time now most of us have been regular visitors to the ’38 Degrees’ website where the protest organisation has attracted almost one million signatures in support of its petition demanding changes to the proposals. In this ’38 Degrees’ has had backing from the British Medical Association.
A few weeks ago an appeal for funding for a legal study of the plans raised sufficient cash for ’38 Degrees’ to engage two top legal experts to examine the small print of the bill which goes befiore parliament shortly. Yesterday their findings were published and one can only conclude that it is as well we didn’t rely on the apparent safeguards provided by Nick Clegg who, under pressure from the Lib Dem conference, had promised to stop any potentially damaging aspects of Lansley’s bill. It seems that the promise was as reliable as the one Clegg gave on tuition fees!
The two barristers, Stephen Cragg QC and Rebecca Haynes QC, make clear that the bill could pave the way for a shift towards a USA-style health care system where private companies profit at the expense of patient care. They particularly stress the implications of Lansley’s plan to remove his duty to provide our healthcare. A new ‘hands-off clause’ removes the government’s power to oversee local commissioning consortia and to guarantee the same level of service wherever we live. The outcome, warn the Barristers, will be huge increases in ‘postcode lotteries’ and less ways for citizens to hold the government to account.
Even more worrying is their verdict on the clauses concerning competition. The NHS will be subject to UK and EU competition law, and the reach of procurement will extend across all NHS Commissioners. Private health care providers will be entitled to take NHS commissiong groups to court if they don’t win contracts. Scarce public money will be tied up in legal wrangles instead of hospital beds. The door will be open for the private (largely American) healthcare companies to challenge for every NHS service. They will only need to win the volume treatments to render every hospital insolvent.
The third point made by the Barristers is that every UK hospital will be free to increase the number of private beds to whatever level they wish. They will be encouraged to liaise with the private sector with a view to maximising profit. And the more private beds, the fewer public ones and the longer the waiting times to occupy them.
Like the rest of us MPs tend to skip the small print. Like us they have probably been reassured by Cameron and Clegg’s double act of deception. But it is now clear that if they pass this bill the NHS as we know it is finished. Lansley is obsessed with the American model. Yes, he is right to cliam that the private companies there provide excellent and comprehensive treatment, what he doesn’t mention is that for the majority of the population, who cannot afford private insurance or fees, the level of care is appalling.
The NHS has improved immeasurably in recent years. But that is beside the point which is that everyone is entitled to the same level of service and money allocated is not drained off to pay shareholders.
The final death sentence for the NHS now rests in the hands of MPs and hundreds of thousands of emails are winging their way thanks to the facility provided by ’38 Degrees’. If, despite the new legal warnings, they decide to back Cameron, Clegg and Lansley a new dark age will dawn in which your chance of recovery from illness rests entirely on the depth of your pocket or purse!
TEST YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WITH TODAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ!
1. Mica Paris and who replaced Trinny & Susannah on “What Not to Wear”? 2. Which famous survey started in 1086? 3. From which musical does the song ”One” come? 4. Ronald Reagan was in which political party? 5. Which Stephen directed the movie “Billy Elliot”? 6. In the Bible, what was the prophet Elijah carried up to heaven in? 7. What nationality was Casanova? 8. What was Al Jolson’s most famous line? 9. If a substance is oleaginous what does it mainly contain? 10. Which General led the junta in the 1982 seizure of the Falklands?
“The whole world has finally gone stark raving mad” muttered Bob as we cleaned out the mad – as in angry – chickens this morning. Albert, back from his Bank Holiday in soaking Blackpool, inevitably agreed and pronounced it doomed in his best Private Fraser voice. But later, having read what they had read, I found myself joining the chorus.
Steve Jones is a highly respected scientist who some time ago warned that life on our planet had but 150 years to survive given the rate of environmental damage being inflicted by its every growing number of human inhabitants. Yesterday he revised his forecast. He now firmly believes that all life will have been ‘blown away’ within 50 years.
Perhaps, like me, you have tended to dismiss talk of eventual obliteration in a thousand years, it seems too far ahead to worry about. Even Jones’s 150 years sounded incredibly remote. But 50 years? Ye Gods, that is within the lifetime of our grandchildren!
When A S Byatt, the Booker-winning author, spoke at the Edinburgh international book festival last week she referred to the Jones warning and she believes it. She was speaking at the launch of her new book, a retelling of the Norse Ragnarok myth, in which, after a succession of natural disasters, the world ends. She admitted that the story was impelled by a profound sense of gloom about the environment and indeed about all human endeavours. We are, she said, like those stupid Norse gods and “we are destroying the world”.
She went on to talk about her despair at what we are doing despite the terrible predictions of people like Steve Jones. She said that her greatest nightmare was the fact that we have created in the Pacific “an area of plastic as big as Texas, just stuff, dread, semi-translucent, in the middle of the ocean; and no one knows what to do”. She is, she added, extremely pessimistic about politics and the ecology.
I guess we have a choice here. We can either dismiss the scientific evidence or we can begin to panic and, just maybe, act. This is the age of risk-assessment and the new-age experts tell us to plan for the greatest possible risk. That has to be the Steve Jones prediction but what are we actually doing? In a word, nothing.
I find the whole thing really surreal. If you look around in this country what do you see? People worrying about the football transfer deadline, people excitedly discussing the whereabouts of Gaddafi, people fighting for Olympic tickets, politician lying about nearly everything. The latest subject for the worry-beads is the plan to build over most of the green belt. If Jones’s prediction is right those houses will have a limited life!
In other countries the situation is similar, in fact in the gas-guzzling United States many leading lights are dismissing all scientific evidence. Carry on emitting and fear not they say. In the developing economies they see nations like the USA and the UK carrying on regardless and shrug their shoulders. No one believes enough in the danger and no one does anything of significance. If they did world leaders could presuambly at least ban plastic bags instead of leaving the fate of humanity to the management of Tesco et al.
Being an ostrich by nature I, having typed this, will bury my head and choose to believe that my grandchildren’s grandchildren will inherit a world still full of all its wonders and joys. What else can I, or you, do?
Eat drink and be merry. Given the scientific predictions we might as well ignore the latest warnings about half the population being obese in thirty years time. If Jones is right they will still live the longest life available.
Surely the very least the world leaders should do is accelerate meaningful action. In many ways it is of course good that so many nations are now turning to democracy. But in this matter it is an added curse for democracies seldom do anything unless they are convinced of imminent danger as was the case in World War 2. And even that required a uniquely inspiring and forceful leader.
Sorry to disturb your day. I’m going to forget the whole thing for any other course leads to madness!
We knew that it would be wet and dull today, it is a Bank Holiday and old traditions must be observed. That goes back a long way, almost to the days when my old Gran use to regularly declare that laughter is the best medicine. For many years I have regraded that as simply an old adage but today we learn that she was right. Bob brought to the allotment this morning a copy of the Telegraph which carries a report into the findings of research carried out at the University of Maryland. Yesterday Dr Michael Miller reported to the European Society of Cardiology that tests carried out involving the use of comic and serious film clips revealed that reactions to the funny scenes helped the blood vessels of patients to expand, improving circulation and reducing blood pressure. Conversely, watching war films caused blood vessels to constrict – a symptom of mental stress which, in the long term, can lead to heart disease and strokes.
The good doctor told his audience of scientists that proof positive exists that laughter is “great for the heart”. It is, he said, “consistent and similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic exercise or statin use”.
Now that is welcome news for we allotmenteers since we usually read only bad predictions centered around what we do. We smoke, drink, eat chips and chocolate; you name a harmful activity and we do it. Now we realise that our continued ability to breed chickens at the average age of eighty-something is down to belly laughs. And that is another thing that we do!
The ‘revelation’ confirms what ,I guess, most people already knew, we love to laugh. Suddenly it all clicks and explains why in a recent straw poll, conducted during our allotment brew-up, over 90 per cent of my pals named Boris Johnson as the man they would most like to see in Number Ten. It was not a political verdict, it was reward for the fact that Boris is a complete ass and unwittingly gives us more laughs in a single interview than Cameron or Miliband could provide over a full year.
Perhaps the problem for most people is that we all take ourselves too seriouly these days. Give anyone a uniform, just a yellow jacket will do, and expect an immediate transformation to Captain Mainwaring. Give an order of the British Empire (what empire?) to a locale crone and everyone else starts to curtsey in the chip shop queue. Yes, you don’t need to struggle for subject matter if you prefer laughing to NHS pills. And maybe a new potential is about to loom.
The great Tory dream of elected police chiefs is back on the cards despite the fact that Liberal peers caused its temporary rejection. In true Lib Dem fashion those in the Commons are advertising for candidates so the odds are that the great Cameron dream will become reality. The plan is to hold the first elections on the same day as next May’s local elections.
The potential for slapstick comes from the fact that all the candidates are likely to be local political animals. So Tory constituencies will have a right wing police boss hell bent on hammering council estate youths for so much as looking in the direction of posh areas, whilst Labour constituencies will have a left wing gaffer focussed solely on stopping every Mercedes on the road with an incentive offered to officers who can find a reason to prosecute.
I say this because local councillors, from whom the aspiring brass-hats will emerge, tend to be to the extreme left or right of the national parties. Police canteens will serve either chips and pies or caviar and champagne. The potential for cock-ups and corruption will increase tenfold but the potential for ‘Private Eye’ – the bible of every belly-laugher – will double.
From now on I shall treat the need for daily laughter in the way that hitherto I have treated five veggies. In the unlikely event that by evening someone somewhere hasn’t done something completely daft, I shall play Fawlty Towers and watch Manuel in action!
Tomorrow’s medicine is already guaranteed. Albert has headed off for Blackpool for a relaxing day’s sunbathing. provoking him in th worning should be easy!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S SUNDAY QUIZ; 1. Halle Berry 2. Thanksgiving Day 3. Jemma Redgrave 4. Van Gogh 5. A cob 6. I’m Still Waiting 7. Offspring 8. Genesis 9. Leytonstone 10. A juke box
All of our allotment gang grew up in an age of full employment and it is hard for us to imagine the plight of those now in search of work. In fact I, like most of the others, found it hard to come to terms with being unemployed once I had retired at 65! We may not always love our work or those we work for, but having no employment creates a sense of worthlessness, of being of no value to anyone.
The latest unemployment figures this month showed the dole queue has soared to 2.49 million, and grimmest of all is the statistic showing that the number out of work for more two years is soaring. More than 400,000 are now in that sorry state and the worst hit are young job-seekers aged 18 to 24. The real danger here is the longer a youngster remains unemployed the more remote become his or her chances of ever finding work in a fiercely competitive market.
None of which augers well for social harmony. I have spoken to kids in the Burnley area who have given up on seeking job interviews and the constant rejections that they result in. Some have told me that there is little point to their lives, little to break its constant emptiness. These are difficult times but imaginative training or community projects could provide an anchor, but politicians are too preoccupied with their own skins to be imaginative. Right now the jobless see pictures of the Cameron’s on their fourth holiday of the year and of the tax evasion of the super-rich. They may well read of billionaire Philip Green, the Conservative Party Adviser, who has taken up residency in Monaco to avoid paying UK tax. They may well read a hundred articles, all of which demonstrate that we live in a two-tier society and they are in tier two.
The Insitute for Public Policy Research predicts that the sitaution is about to get a good deal worse and its chief economist Tony Dolphin warns that the longer people are out of work, the more they lose motivation and confidence. He has produced a plan aimed at a guarantee of a mininum-wage job to anyone unemployed for more than a year in exchange for a range of undertakings. But who in government will listen, who cares?
The central problem really is that there is no one capable of inspiring young people, of convincing them that anything is possible however hopeless things seem. Name just one politician of any party with whom young people identify. Short list isn’t it. Jobless youths are hardly likley to draw motivation for Old Etonians living on another planet and whose only achievement is to tell enough porkies to win votes.
Yet outside of politics there are such people. Yesterday I watched the final day of the Friends Life t20 competition at Edgbaston. Unfancied Leicestershire beat Lancashire in the semi-final and went on to beat highly fancied Somerset in the final. They didn’t have the skills of the teams they vanquished, they didn’t have the highly paid stars. But they did have Paul Nixon, a 40 year-old who never accepts defeat, who battles on when the game is seemingly lost, who inspires everyone around him into believing that anything is possible. As it proved to be.
Paul Nixon could start a fight in an empty telephone box but he cares, he refuses to ever concede defeat. That is the sort of character that could inspire youngsters to start their own self-help enterprises, to create their own jobs if necessary.
The problem is that he and many like him would baulk at the thought of becoming a politician and they hold the power. Until someone finds a way of putting leadership in the hands of real people, real fighters, schemes such as that of Tony Dolphin have no chance of success. People like Nixon would inspire kids to join, people like Cameron or Miliband would not even register.
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE SUNDAY GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ!
1. Who was the Bond girl in “Die Another Day”? 2. Pumpkin Pie is the traditional dessert on which special American day? 3. Who played Eleanor Bramwell in the TV series of the same name? 4. Who painted “The Starry Night”? 5. Which word can be a swan, a horse, a bread roll and a basket? 6. What was Dianna Ross’s first solo No 1 in the UK? 7. What are progeny? 8. Who had hits with “I Can’t Dance” and “Invisible Touch”?, 9. In which part of East London was David Beckham born? 10. If you heard a John Gabel Entertainer, what would be playing?
We now have a roof over our heads on the allotments. Every member now has a base to stage the annual veggie competition and to gather for the sale of seeds and plants in readiness for the Spring or, in the case of greenhouse owners, for early germination. Just like the allotments featured on last night’s ‘Gardener’s World’, our community is a close knit and, usually, happy one. We particularly welcome newcomers and bombard them with advice. To avoid givng the impression that they have joined a geriatric mad-hatters tea party we hen-keepers confine that to matters agricultural. Were it otherwise we would today have been having a rant about the EU!
Whilst we are all delighted to learn of the fall of Gaddafi there are many amongst us still puzzled at our role in his downfall. Only yesterday the RAF were continuing to bombard his supporters and the loss of civilian life is mounting horrendously. And why only Libya given the situation in Syria? But we are told that Cameron has been brave. Ignoring the question as to how bravery can be achieved sitting behind a desk, we tend to ask just when he is going to show equal bravery in standing up to the EU.
Yesterday featured an outpouring of rage against the National Trust by the minister for planning, Greg Clark. The NT has had the timerity to question his claim that every village in the land must concede the right of developers to build more and more housing estates. Never mind the preservation of rural England, we desperately need millions of extra houses to cope with the rocketing population cries the minister. He misses the point that we also need more roads, hospitals and social services to cope. In truth we are a small overcrowded island near to breaking point. We simply cannot continue to allow millions of eastern Europeans to come here. The EU demand that they must be granted automatic entry will destroy not only our heritage but our infrastructure too!
Meantime, the EU has delivered another massive blow to our 4.8 million small businesses. If the present abysmal economic growth chart is ever to recover they are the people who must deliver. That becomes even less likely given the Agency Workers Directive drawn up in Brussels. This will grant temporary agency employees the same employment rights and conditions as permanent workers, including paid holiday entitlement and maternity leave. Right now the use of agencies is keeping many small employers afloat, this new law will make it impossible for them to resort to temporary staff, it will destroy them.
If the government is serious about developing a strategy for growth, it should tell the European Commission that it is suspending all directives that are harmful to job creation. But it wont because, as ministers warned yesterday, this would see us in trouble with the European Court. So Cameron et al will bend the knee and allow another nail to be hammered into the coffin of enterprise. As this blog reported yesterday, Qunago bosses are being pampered and cared for by the coalition. Our business sector is being left to the mercy of unelected big-wigs sitting in ivory palaces.
We chicken-man are far from unanimous in our scepticism about our prime minister. But we are united in one belief. Bombing Libya is not our highest national priority, resurrecting our economy and preserving our heritage most certainly are. And that means taking back the right to run our own affairs.
Come the next election the people will give little thought to Libya and a great deal of thought to the state of our nation. David Cameron is busy digging Colonel Gaddafi’s grave, in conceding the right to rule to Brussels he is also digging his own!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR A SPECIAL SUNDAY QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A relative of George, one of my fellow chicken-fanatics, has for many years worked in the South of England as a mental health social worker. He has just been made redundant from a service that was already struggling to cope with the care of people suffering mental health problems. Over the years we have often heard of the degree of dedication, long hours and sheer frustration of a vital role which would tax the toughest. But the local authority has run out of cash as a result of funding cuts and more staff have to walk the plank. And to crown the nightmare the staff have been told that their redundancy pay will be the absolute minimum, in the case of George’s nephew under £10,000.
Sad and unfair, but we are all in this nightmare together. Wrong! There are two versions of redundancy; the fate of people regarded by the coalition government as dross and the magnificent rewards being handed out to their fat-cat friends. You don’t believe that? Then examine what is happening to the people involved with Quangos such as the Regional Development Agencies created by the last government. Described by the coalition as wasteful and bureaucratic, these bodies are being scrapped. Rightly so for it is hard to find any evidence that they achieved anything that could not have been achieved by the already bloated structure of local government. But despite their uselessness big slices of public money are being handed over.
The Quango chiefs are making a fortune out of their dismissals. As each discredited agency is wound up the leading figures are walking away with at least £250,000. And it isn’t only the top dogs who are smiling. To date 15 officials have trousered over £100,000 and the amount handed to 799 staff totals around £24 million.
Many officials have leapt at the chance of voluntary redundancy. At ‘One North East’ the director of communications, Stacy Hall, received £120,890. At ‘South West RDA’ the enterprise director, Stephen Peacock, landed £113,701. At ‘ Advantage West Midlands’ corporate director Tim Gebbels received £109,512 and an as yet unnamed official carried off over £200,000. The list goes on and on but one thing is clear; it is not the value of your job to society or your dedication that counts, it is the old truism of who you know rather than what!
Small wonder that John Redwood and others yesterday demanded that the government halted the hand-outs and insisted instead on transfers to other public sector vacancies. It all adds up, said Mr Redwood, to “a nasty leaving present from a group of organisations which, in many parts of the country, did not do any good and represented poor value for money”.
But of course the government will do no such thing. They must look after their own and the probability is that right now plans to dish out gongs to the departing fat-cats are well under way. As for people like social workers; wrong class of people old boy!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. In the blood 2. Potato 3. UB40 4. Chinese 5. Stephen Fry 6. Will Young 7. Portsmouth (2005-06) 8. Dukes of Bedford 9. A fruit 10. Clockwise
Another golden, sunny morning. Someone up there must know that the roof of our new allotment building is still incomplete and the race is on to complete the job before the monsoons reach us. Even the hens seems unsettled by the chaos, egg production has plummeted faster than George Osborne’s economic recovery graph.
As often reported, we have a significant number of crciket buffs in our midst. And the mood at the end of the Test series against India is subdued. Yes, we are deighted that at last England is rated at the top of the world’s Test league, but we are worried that the whole future of Test cricket is in serious jeopardy. Frankly, the Indian matches were a farce. Yes, it was good to watch Ian Bell’s fluent batting performance, but it was hard to escape the conclusion that the Indian bowling attack would provide little challenge to any good club line-up. Worse still, with the honourable exception of Rahul Dravid, the vistors looked weary and totally disinterested. Like Sri Lanka before them, they posed no serious threat to a much improved England team and Test cricket is meant to be a, er, test.
With the exception of England and Australia, most of the Test-playing countries have become obsessed with the shorter form of the game, especially the Twenty20 version. India is a nation besotted by cricket but its massive following has fallen in love with the one-day game to the extent that Test matches are now a mere add-on. The players likewise, there are serious fortunes to be made in the Indian IPL quick-fire tournament and it has become for many spectators and players alike, the number one attraction.
Test matches in the West Indies now attract miniscule attendances, Pakistan can only play away from home, New Zealand attendances have plummeted and in Australia the unusual spectacle of a team incapable of beating a Co-Op egg has disenchanted thousands so used to watching conquering heroes. Even in South Africa there are clear signs of a drift away from five-day cricket.
Here in England there is still a passion for Test cricket but, given that every other side has declined so much, one cannot help wondering for how long people will pay good money to watch the sort of one-sided rubbish witnessed over the past few months.
One would like to believe that the international cricket authorities are giving all this a good deal of thought. But one doesn’t, because even there the powerful influence of the new age of quick bashes is taking on a stranglehold. We have already reached the point where Test series are being fitted in around one-dayers and twenty over games. We have already reached the point where players are jaded as a result of two much cricket. We have already reached the point where in an age of shortened attention spans the fans are voting with their feet.
Like most cricket fans I enjoy the Twenty20 matches and will certainly be glued to my seat come Saturday when the UK tournament reaches its climax at Edgbaston. But I constnatly remind myself that the stars would not be stars given no Test matches or County Championship games. If those go we will be into an age of sloggers and defensive bowlers and will have lost for ever the sheer beauty of beautiful strokes and brilliantly aggressive fast and spin bowling.
At its best Test cricket is an enthralling experience but already we are reduced to fleeting glances. Watching Anderson and Swann battling it out with Tendulkar on the final day of the fourth Test was pure theatre, with every ball and every nuance looming large. Sadly that was the exception rather than the rule in what was billed as the clash of the giants.
Interest in Test cricket can only be revived by top class teams and given that playing for ones country has now become a second priority for many international players that means less one-day cricket and more time spent on honing skills. Frankly I doubt if the will for that exists in an age when the quick buck is God.
But the demise of the longer form of the game is in no ones interest. Have we really forgotten so quickly those memorable Ashes, those heated battles with teams from the sub-continent? I fear so for asked to name the Test stars of today most fans would struggle for more than a dozen names having listed the entire England team.
Unless the International Cricket Council recognises that without the firm foundation of Test cricket the odds are that the game itself would wither and die, the future for the greatest sport of all looks very grim indeed!
TODAY’S GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ..TEST YOURSELF! 1. Where is fibrin found in your body? 2. What is the vegetable common to the Indian dishes of Aloo Gobi and Aloo Palak? 3. Which group had hits including “Homely Girl” and “Kingston Town”? 4. The word “ketchup” comes from which language? 5. Who presented “The secret life of the Manic Depressive”? 6. Who first took the much-covered song “Light my Fire” to No. 1? 7. With 7 goals, Lua-Lua was top scorer for which Premiership side? 8. Woburn Abbey is the home of which family? 9. What is a durian? 10. Which film starred John Cleese as an under-pressure headmaster?
Another lovely sunlit morning. Just as well for the roof of the new ‘shed’ is still awaiting the final touches which is Albert-speak for it has a flipping great hole in it. Our joiner has yet to arrive but hopefully will do so before the monsoons arrive. Being able to predict the weather merely by glancing upwards, whilst typing on a keyboard, is not a calming experience!
A lot of this morning’s chat has been about Gaddafi who has no admirers here, although there are still those who believe that the part we have played as the RAF of the so called rebels was both expensive and dubious. But most of the gang have picked up on the astonishing revelation that Coulson was effectively in the pay of the Murdochs whilst acting as Cameron’s leading advisor in 2007 and beyond.
The Robert Peston revelation broke during the intensive media cover of Libya but its significance is just beginning to register. At the very time that Coulson was steering the Cameron PR output he was clearly in a position to promote the Murdoch bid for BSkyB and the inevitable suspicion is that some of the vicious attacks made by Cameron on the BBC were the product of that.
In the two years after Coulson joined the Cameroons there were various occasions when his new boss advanced arguments that could have benefited Rupert Murdoch’s company. A perfect example is an article which appeared in The Sun in October 2008. The author was none other than David Cameron.
He criticised the BBC for being “bloated with many of the executives overpaid”. He accused the public broadcaster of being “oversized”, signalling for the first time that the principle competitor to News Corp and BSkyB was likely to be “scaled back” under a Conservative administration. Take the time to read the many examples of the line taken by Cameron and Coulson and you will conclude that had the ‘hacking’ affair not torpedoed the Murdoch bid Cameron was already prepared to nod the bid through. It is a serious condemnation of the to-be prime minister’s integrity.
And it is hard to imagine that Cameron was not aware of the fact that his closeest advisor was literally in the pay of Murdoch. We now know that Coulson was just a little too indiscreet, telling a handful of colleagues at Conservative campaign headquarters that he was still receiving substantial severance payments (plus perks such as his car and NI contributions) from News International months after he became Cameron’s aide and the party’s director of communications.
Someone has now recalled the knowledge and has leaked it to Robert Peston. Are we really expected to believe that no one thought to tell their leader?
The only reasonable conclusion seems to be that when after reaching Downing Street, David Cameron made great play of the inclusion in government of Andy Coulson, he knew two things. He knew that the man he consistantly described as his “close friend” was under obligation to Murdoch, and he knew that the great man had delivered on his part of the bargain to assist the election victory of the coalition.
We will never know whether Cameron would have honoured his part of the bargain but the probability is that he was planning to do so as he studiously courted his friends in News Corp, Ms Brooks et al.
There is clearly much to emerge yet. But as each day passes the smell of corruption pollutes the atmosphere of government. Yes, Blair was equally involved with News Corp but he has gone. It is an unhappy thought that the man now occupying the seat of power is not quite the bland innocent he would have us believe!
I have not joined the noble hen-keepers up yonder, my longer than planned absence has been due to our building project taking rather longer than expected. Should have known that old habits die hard for our resident ex-builders proved overly optimistic about the time it would take to replace our old allotment shed. But it is nearing completion now and next winter should be a somewhat warmer experince.
Most of us have been acting as labourers whilst Albert (Joinery), Charlie ( Bricklaying) and Tom (Planning) have been demonstrating their arts. Albert has tended to fall behind schedule in the afternoons when he has been known to sink the occasional bottle of Guinness. On one occasion he broke off to chase a hen that had made good its escape and, as I watched his zig-zag antics, I wondered if being drunk whilst in charge of a chicken is an offence.
The other reason for our delay was the decision to take the mini-bus down to Porthmadog for a day. We have a number of steam train enthusiasts in our midst and we were keen to travel the 25-mile length of the now completed Welsh Highland Railway, the longest of its kind in the country. It is well worth a visit whether preserved trains are your thing or not. This is a perfect example of the re-creation of an age long gone and as you rattle along with steam enveloping the carriages it is easy to imagine those for whom this was the only means of travel a century or so ago.
Most people will at some time have visited Snowdonia so it needs no words from me to emphasise the sheer beauty of the area. Now you can view it in an entirely new way for the WHR runs from Caernarfon to Porthmadog. It has been a massive construction project and the final stage into Porthmadog’s Ffestiniog Railway involved laying track across the main streets of this bustling Welsh town. The journey takes just over two hours, and it is impossible not to be awestruck. The line was closed in the 1930s but now every station has been rebuilt, every tunnel reclaimed for geenerations of walkers (who have the compensation of newly constructed pathways through the Aberglaslyn Pass, a place recently voted by the National Trust membership as having the most beautiful scenery in Britain). This is now a fully restored passenger service and you can of course board at any station. We left at Bedgellert before catching a later train back to our bus in Portmadog.
I kid you not, this is an experience you will never forget, and I am not referring solely to the excellent on-board refreshment service!
Until our gang is back to its normal routine I am reluctant to return to everyday affairs in our beleaguered land. Why? Because my daily comments are based on the views of a large circle of geezers of all political persuasions and none. The theory is that I am thus reflecting a cross-section view.
That doesn’t stop me from wondering outloud if David Cameron has finally flipped. Having pressured the courts to dish out lengthy custodial sentences to anyone remotely connected to the riots, he has suddenly realised that his prison closure programme means that he has nowhere to house them. Perhaps he is preoccuppied with the further revelations about his friend Coulson who, we now learn, was still in the pay of Murdoch whilst acting as Cameron’s closest advisor.
But it is easy to forget such rubbish, not to mention building delays, when you take the new magical branch line back to an age when politicians scarcely featured in the lives of ordinary folk.
I have been asked to give publicity to a very special event being organised in support of the Rosemere Cancer Foundation, a charity which gives enormous support to cancer services in the North West. Many a victim of man’s greatest scourge has reason to be thankful for Rosemere.
The event will be held at Preston Guild Hall at 7.30 pm on Saturday, September 10th. The evening is called ‘ SIGN OUT WITH BRASS’ and will feature the famous Fairey (Geneva) Brass Band, together with the award winning Rossendale Male Voice Choir and Ladies Choir. There will be music to suit every taste and then some!
You can reserve tickets by ringing the Guild Hall box office on 0708 733892!!!!!!!!!
At least we now know that the looters and pillagers are not gardeners. Several top policemen have commented that the constant rain has been a big help, it seems that even the temptation of looting Dixons is not enough to tempt the scumbags from their play stations. Meanwhile we sons of the soil – but one of our many self-delusions – continue to splash about and curse a climate capable of inducing depression in the Chuckle Brothers!
Yesterday brought the recall of parliament. What it achieved is less than obvious. One imagines that the many decent people in deprived areas will have seen it as a bunch of very posh, less than trustworthy, luminaries banging on about punishment without so much as a glance in the direction of the social conditions they have created. As all parties were quick to point out nothing justifies the disgraceful scenes we have witnessed, nothing justifies the death of good people, nothing justifies the destruction of local businesses built up by hard work. But, sooner or later, someone up there has to recognise that after the punishment must come a real effort to stimulate morale in places of little hope.
As I listened to Cameron droning on I almost came to believe that everything was the fault of the police. Perhaps it was they who carried out the mindless attacks, arson and robbery. Certainly he did nothing to suggest that positive action is planned to help the force become effective. Cuts in numbers are to go ahead and publicly elected police commissioners will be introduced. Since the likely candidates will undoubtedly be local politicians that hardly generates confidence does it? And is the government seriously suggesting that responsibilty for public order and protection can actually be delegated? It was noticeable that amongst the MPs attacking this notion were Lib Dems.
Central to any constructive response to the horror of the past few days is the need for the public to trust its leaders. Sadly there is little prospect of that. David Cameron is a spin-doctor supreme and yesterday he sounded like his hero, Tony Blair, who did calm, firm and resolute as easily as Ken Dodd does funny. At one stage he earned a rebuke from the Speaker who told him to “rise to the level of events”. Some chance, he has his skin to preserve. Other politicians likewise, Hazel Blears said that the effect of the police performance had been “devastating for public confidence”. Like claiming £13,000 too much in parliamentary expenses perhaps.
But right now the biggest short-term problem appears to be the chasm that is opening up between the government and police. Paul McKeever, president of the Police federation, said that Cameron’s stance on police cuts was “indefensible”. “He is like a scientist who has a pet theory which has been completely debunked by exposure to reality”.
One of the most senior police officers in the land is on record thsi morning in most papers. He says that “Cameron blamed the police for not having a crystal ball and not anticipating the most serious set of circumstances ever seen”. He goes on to state that “The confidence of the police leadership in the government is at an all-time low. Cameron dumps on the police when it suits him, to deflect blame from himself”.
Of course we heard much talk yesterday of the tracking down and punishment of the criminals. Predictably the punishment is not quite as severe as promised, many have been before the courts and are back out on the streets. There was no talk from either government or opposition of the need for detention centres.
Neither was there any recognition of the fact that there is not a single minister that the lawful deprived, the only hope of a change to the culture of areas such as Tottenham and Salford, would identify with. It was left to David Lammy, a black Labour MP, to urge that there be recognition that a generation of people have been “bred apart”.
He went on to say; “Those lashing out – randomly, cruelly and violently – feel they have nothing to lose. They do not feel bound by the moral code of the rest of us because they do not feel part of the rest of society. We cannot live peacefully in a society where the banks and bankers are ‘too big to fail’ but whole neighbourhoods are allowed to sink without trace. The polarisation is not between black and white. It is between those who have a stake in society and those who do not”.
Once a period of calm is established, the political party that best answers this challenge and improves and motivates the police to become part of the solution, will secure a huge prize!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Wink 2. Robert Redford 3. Arizona 4. Lundy 5. Stereophonics 6. The Titanic sank 7. Peter Schmeichel 8. Harp 9. Madonna 10. Samaritans
A combination of two day’s continual rain plus the anger created by scenes of our country’s reputation being dragged into the gutter have combined to reduce spirits on the allotments more than somewhat. This morning we had to collect a load of gravel to avoid the chickens developing webbed feet, perhaps we should switch to ducks.
There is however some good news. For the moment the rioters seem to have been brought under control even though many smaller towns have suffered disturbances at the hands of local criminals anxious to seize the opportunity to loot with relative impunity, the local police forces having been denuded to bolster the Metropolitan Police. One would have imagined that politicians would take the opportunity provided by a lull to begin the task of planning prevention, of taking away the fear that still haunts the streets. Instead the Prime Minister chose to give a lecture about our “sick society” and to confirm again his determinatiion to reduce police numbers by 16,000 officers. To say that most people are astonished and outraged could qualify as the under-statement of the year! Brave young men have been murdered whilst attempting to compensate for the lack of police protection!
It has quickly become apparent that David Cameron has misjudged the public mood. People did not need to read of the latest developments in the Murdoch affair to realise that there is much that needs to be done to improve the leadership of the police, but the fact remains that whatever new leadership emerges will need more officers at their disposal than is currently the case, let alone thousands fewer. For once Boris Johnson captured the public mood when he remarked that “this is not a time to think about making substantial cuts in police numbers”.
He immediately received backing from senior police officers. Their association made clear that the idea of water cannons being shipped over from Northern Ireland was an “ineffectual one”, and added that their unanimous fear was that they would not be able to handle similar outbreaks of civil distubances in future with “thousands of fewer officers”. Both opposition and government MPs have echoed support.
The Prime Minister cited lack of funding as his rationale. Yet we continue to spend almost the equivalent amount on the Libyan bombing. Today we learn that hundreds of civilians have died at the hands of air attacks, we also learn that the country is heading for stalemate. It is not our concern, the loss of control of our own cities most certainly is.
It has become apparent that a good deal of the initial destruction in London was sparked by the poor relationship between the police and black youths. What followed was pure opportunism by criminal elements of every age and colour, many centered around gangs which have been allowed to thrive in the interests of political correctness.
This morning I listened to an inerview on Radio Four with one young black man who has not allowed himself to become involved with the mindless masses. What he said provides food for thought. He reports having been repeatedly stopped and searched when going to and from his work and of suffering a good deal of heavy-handed physical and racial abuse. None of which justifies lawlessness but does, he said, create a “tinderbox of burning resentment”. and of course the cuttng of local youth services has not helped.
All of which suggests that the police need a stronger leadership in both a strategic and disciplinary sense. But even having achieved this the fact remains that cutting numbers will leave officers vulnerable to being outnumbered and attacked. If Cameron wins this argument the criminals will doubtless toast him in champagne, stolen of course.
Yes, there is a lot to be considered and acted upon once the apprehended villians are sentenced and temporary normality is restored. But no one I have spoken to- and that includes many Conservative supporters – regards Cameron’s statement as other than crass stupidity, the view of a man totally out of touch with reality. It will not cost his party support given that Ed Miliband seems incapable of saying anything constructive, but it may well be almost the straw that breaks the Cameron back.
One can only hope that his judgement on other issues is sounder. But having read this morning that NHS waitng times have trebled that too seems open to debate!
TODAY’S NEW GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ; 1. If you nicitate at someone, what do you do? 2. Who offered Demi Moore a million dollars in “Indecent Proposal”? 3. Monument Valley is in which American state? 4. Which island off the north Devon coast is named after the Norse for puffin? 5. Who had 2005 hits with “Devil” and “Superman”? 6. On 14 April 1912, what occurred off Newfoundland? 7. Which “Strictly Come dancing” star kept goal for both Man Utd and City? 8. Which instrument was played by David in the Bible? 9. Who is taller, Madonna or Dawn French? 10. Which organisation was founded in 1953 by Reverend Chad Varah?
I never thought I would live to hear my fellow chicken-keepers singing the praises of Millwall supporters, but that is exactly what happened this morning. Searching for some comfort in the depressing images of broken Britain, my pals loved the report of a huge contingent of the fans of the soccer club of ill-repute forming a protective ring around shops in Eltham. One said that little thugs are not welcome, we await their arrival with eager anticipation. Needless to say the cowardly mob of criminals turned back. Right across the country similar groups are forming up, people have no confidence in the government or police and they will no longer stand idly by and watched businesses built by hard-working locals destroyed. The fight back is under way but what a terrible indictment of the establishment that is!
Those of us in the north have now had our first taste of the thuggery and mayhem. Manchester police were yesterday obliged to add 100 of their most highly trained officers to the vast convoy of police buses heading for London. The result was that when the entirely predictable riots broke out last night the local constabulary was ill-resourced and lost control. The same story applied across all of our region. The prime minister eventually returned from his holiday and immediately ordered that London must be protected, the result was that other cities were not. Even he must surely now realise just how mistaken his policy of reducing police numbers is.
Any suggestion that what we are seeing is the direct result of cuts or perceived corruption at the heart of government or police has become untenable. Yes, the decisions to cut youth facilities and the lack of any attempt to deal with conditions or unemployment in deprived areas are factors but you do not make your neighbourhood a better place by burning down your neighbour’s house. You can’t scream about social injustice whilst walking away from looted stores with TVs. You do not make this society a fairer one by terrorising ordinary men, women and children, or by setting fire to their streets, or by destroying businesses that have served communities and provided jobs for over a hundrd years. The riots have no moral authority whatsoever.
The fact of the matter is that the hoodlums who are out on our streets robbing, burning, throwing bottles and putting people on the mininum wage out of a job are self pitying scumbags. The vast majority of ordinary folk themselves have problems, but they work hard and always do their best for their families. Now they are forced to run for their lives as leering looters destroy or steal their possessions and peace of mind.
Whilst not all the pictures are of black youths, the great majority are. Those images of black youths looting and pillaging will not soon fade from the national consciousness. They have set race relations back in this country by 30 years. And appeals to parents are a waste of tiem, in many cases parents have been involved alongside their violent kids.
And in their pathetic swaggering we see the limits of society’s attempts to be soft, to be compassionate. In the end – softened up with their human rights, pampered with a benefits system that was meant to protect the vulnerable – we get this shabby shower. Listen to one of them droning on about unemployment and you are left wondering who on earth would employ them.
There have been many moving pictures of innocents caught up in the reign of terror by marauding thugs. None more so that the ones featuring a miidle-aged man who was beaten unconscious in full site of a single policemen who could only watch and wait for reinforcements. When they came they had to literally fight their way through to help the victim. He is not expected to live. If the situation continues more deaths are inevitable.
No one can deny that there are major social issues to address. But right now the priority is to reclaim control of the streets. Any talk of police cuts must be abandoned and all city constabularies must be allowed to expand. There are other imaginative moves to consider if only the out-of-touch politicians will listen. In one of todays papers, a group of ex officers, both police and military, have proposed the creation of a national reserve comprising experienced, fit, retirees operating as a sort of police TA and ready to return to take over all desk work at a moments notice. And another idea caught my eye.
Hundreds of arrest have been made and already some of the accused are being released on bail. This is ludicrous but the problem is that there are no empty cells. Someone has suggested the creation of a holding area to meet the immediate need to get the leading offenders off the streets. This to be backed up by detention camps created on former military sites still owned by the state. The scene is then set for lengthy sentences that may deter but will certainly protect the rest of us.
Draconian? Not really when you consider what is happening under cover of mass disorder. One example was the incident in which yobs invaded a shop and carried away the owner’s baby which she was nursing. Had that happened in normal times it would have carried a huge sentence. There should be no difference in law.
Perhaps the other pressing issue is that there is no fear of the police. Some of this is of course down to the attitudes police themselves have portrayed, but a good deal of it is down to the police impotence born of fear that even laying a hand on a villain may result in suspension. For the time being all thoughts of human rights should be banished by temporary law using, if necessary, The Riot Act.
After all the vast majority of decent law-abidng people are being deprived of their human rights! Meantime we must retain our sense of humour. We ferret-men were much cheered by a comment you will find attached to yesterday’s blog. Send the fat bloke from the TV ad about ‘Confused dot com’ on to the streets, he suggests, that would bore them into submission!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR A VERY SPECIAL QUIZ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In every part of the country there are probably people like us who are scanning the headlines in near disbelief tinged with not a little fear. Now that the tinderbox has been ignited where will the conflagration reach, how will a nation so utterly unprotected cope? Hopefully the violent criminality will either fizzle out or be brought under control. But every angry deprived area has seen the spectacle of unchallenged looting and there are many who will be eager to grasp the opportunity to enrich themselves and to settle what they see as grievancies. If the rioting escalates and spreads there will be only one option; to call out the troops, always assuming that we have any to spare given our obsession with playing the role of world policeman.
I remember how close we came to that at the time of the riots triggered by Toxteth. I was then involved in negotiations with the Ministry of Defence over the supply of vehicles. At a working lunch one of the Generals said that he was awaiting the call with dread. If troops are employed, he said, we are then just a hairs breath away from their using arms, we are on the verge of revolution.
Who knows what the next few days will bring. What we do know is that right now many areas in London are beyond the control of the police. As one injured officer put it they are outnumbered, outmanoeuvered and exhausted. Units from across the country are being rushed to the capital from areas that may well need them, and all leave has been cancelled. But there are simply not enough officers to cover what is happening. The determination of this government to reduce police strength by 25 per cent stands exposed as the ultimate folly alongside its willingness to spent billions on Libya and Afghanistan, not to mention millions on aid for rich countries such as India.
But even if there were sufficient numbers there is still the question of leadership. Someone yesterday referred to what is happening as the second Battle of Britain. But it is a good deal worse in many respects. Then the enemy was an external one, our leadership was experienced and inspiring and there was unity of purpose. Today we have out-of-touch leaders in Downing Street, police chiefs who are more concerned with management speak and whole communities that are alienated, see the police as enemies and who have suffered from cuts to the few services of hope available to them.
Around the world there has been constant reporting of London’s slide into chaos. The New York Times front page today features a picture of a burned out store in Tottenham. A long piece included this summary; “Frustration in this impoverished neighbourhood, as in many other parts of Britain, has mounted as the government’s austerity budget has forced deep cuts in social services. At the same time , a widely held disdain for law enforcement here, where a large Afro-Caribbean population has felt singled out by the police for abuse, has only intensified through the drumbeat of scandal that has racked Scotland Yard in recent weeks”.
It is often said that the onlooker sees most of the game and, if we are honest, the piece sums up pretty accurately the situation that has developed. What we are seeing now has little to do with the protest that triggered it, woefully though that was handled by the authorities, it is a combination of pent up rage combined with criminality of the most violent kind.
Clearly the first task for the Prime Minister, who has at last abandoned his holiday, is the restoration of order and the prosecution of those arrested. But a wise government would recognise that actions based on what has happened are needed urgently. What should these be?
Firstly the plan to reduce police numbers further must be abandoned, in fact numbers must be increased significantly, meantime coverage of sporting events should be suspended. Cameron has announced that 16,000 officers will be on the streets tonight. That is totally inadequate especially since many of them have been bussed in from areas as far away as South Wales and will now be quite rightly entitled to rest days. Secondly, an imaginative leader for the Metropolitan Police must be found. Thirdly, the whole method of policing must be changed. Not one of the hundreds of officers rushed into Tottenham actually lives there. The concept of local policemen of a community living within it must be restored. Dialogue and mutual respect requires local presence and local knowledge.
And an immediate programme of local employment training initiatives must be introduced. Young alienated people must be engaged and involved in meaningful employment even if, initially, it only comprises work on improving the local environment. The funding? Discontinue our ruinous military operations abroad and confine aid to countries of real poverty. And the final action should surely be to open up youth detention centres, there have to be clear messages about real punishment.
Meantime a wise government would ensure that police and magistrates combine to produce early sentences for those already arrested. Our local paper reports that last week a man was jailed after threatening a shopkeeper and stealing goods. Each and every one of the low life now rioting is guilty of just that!
Even as I type it is becoming clear that what started as a protest in Tottenham is triggering looting and mayhem across the land. Gangs of louts are meeting up to attack and loot shops and to attack anyone who dares to obstruct them. They have received a loud and clear message; the police will not intervene and even should you be caught sentences are derisory.
Oh for the old and wise Churchill. He would have ordered ‘action this day’. But he is long gone and we should all pray that, just for once, the muppets in charge get it right. In 2009 David Cameron as opposition leader claimed that Britain was “broken”. It wasn’t right then, it isnt entirely right now but we are getting there for trust in politicians and the police has all but vanished.
Few of my pals on the allotment agree with what I have written. But they tend to be influenced by Albert, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Cpl Jones of Dad’s Army. His solution is to reform the Home Guard and issue bayonets. Somehow I prefer my own possible reactions.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Kennedy 2. France 3. UK & Ireland 4. The Romanovs 5. Eton 6. Crimean War 7. Edmund Hilary 8. Hitler 9. 17 10. Ronald Reagan
Our mood this morning matched the weather, it was gloomy and overcast. Many of us still remember the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots and all the copycat versions that followed. PC Keith Blacklock was hacked to death, properties were gutted and looters ran amok. Suddenly, we who never venture into such areas realise that little has changed over a quarter of a century.
As was the case then, the Tottenham riot was triggered by a death involving the police. This time the same kind of incident has sparked mayhem. Admittedly the world has changed dramatically since those long-gone days, yet the same underlying hatred clearly lingers on. In 1985 the Metropolitan police was unashamedly racist, now a single racist remark can end an officer’s career. Then incitement to join in the street warfare was largely by word of mouth, now the criminals can recruit more trouble-makers with a single tweet. But two elements are constant – the incompetence of the police and the inclination of a section of a deprived community to behave like wild animals.
Inevitably politicians on the left have rushed to blame government cuts. To an extent they are right for there have been massive cuts (75 per cent) in youth services, the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance and unemployment amongst local young people at record levels. But none of these justify the appalling violence which has already caused serious injury to dozens of police officers.
The actual incident which triggered this is of course still shrouded in confusion. But it is not difficult to understand the scepticism which has greeted explanations. The Metropolitan Police accounts of deaths at its hands are inevitably treated as untrustworthy until proved otherwise. The force repeatedly misled the public over the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell, and Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper vendor struck to the ground in an unprovoked police attack during the G20 demonstration. The Met’s firearms squad, which was involved in the Duggan operation which triggered yesterday’s affair, kills proportionately far more of its targets than the firearms squads of any other force.
And once again its incompetence has been displayed for all to see. When the silent vigil for the dead man took place no senior officer had the wit to meet and talk to the peaceful demonstrators. And the supposed backstop, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, did little to help defuse the situation given that it took almost 48 hours to make clear statements of its intent to investigate. But the fact remains that when a police force cannot control the streets, democracy itself is threatened.
In that regard the most appalling spectacle of all was the systematic looting of stores at the nearby Tottenham retail park. Police made no attempt to intervene as windows were smashed and looters formed queues to take turns at selecting goods from a sports shop, a clothing store, a computer distributor and a mobile phone dealer. Pictures of adults trying on sports shoes before calmly carrying them away adorn the front page of many of this morning’s papers. Photographers were there in numbers but where were the police? What wsa happening here had no connection with protest, this was gleeful criminals allowed to do whatever they pleased, an horrific precedent and the inevitable copycat disorders are now under way
I am not being wise after the event when I say that the police are grossly undermanned, references to police cuts of 25% in an earlier blog will show that I forecast disaster given that a period of austerity would trigger the criminal element to latch on to any excuse to undermine law and order. Far from reducing officer numbers the government should have increased them. After all, we can afford to spend a billion on policing Libya and umpteen times that on Afghanistan. This is a government with no sense of piorities. And that is not political point-scoring for the Labour government clearly achieved nothing in areas known to be potential flash-points.
But simply increasing the officers on the front line will only pay dividends given good and intelligent leadership. The fall-out from the Murdoch affair alone has shown that right now we have anything but. In many walks of life we see impressive leaders, what we see in the police is corruption and sheer incompetence. Given adequate manning, intelligent leaders would have identified and protected the likely target areas in and around Tottenham. Given adequate manning, intelligent leaders would have systemised beat patrols in places like Tottenham. Intimate involvement in the community increases public confidence and builds bonds of mutual understanding.
A run of episodes such as this will create an atmosphere in which the latent criminal element will believe that law and order is for the birds. Action is needed right now. Perhaps Mr Cameron should stop focussing on a trumped up incident involving the tip he didn’t give to a waitress, and get back here to provide at least some indication that those supposedly in charge of our national security share the concern of the vast majority of law-abiding citizens!
TODAY’S QUIZ FOCUS IS ON PEOPLE AND PLACES; 1. Which US President’s father was a former Ambassador in the UK? 2. Edith Cresson was which country’s PM from 1991-92? 3. The Downing Street Declaration in 1993 involved the Prime Ministers of which two countries? 4. Which family died at Ekaterinburg in 1918? 5. Which school provided the UK with 19 Prime Ministers before 2000? 6. In which war did British soldiers first wear balaclava helmets? 7. Which mountaineer was the first person since Scott to reach the South Pole overland in 1958? 8. The “Bomb Plot” of 1944 failed to assassinate whom? 9. What was the minimum age for joining the UK Home Guard in WW11? 10. Which former US President was a distant relative of Princess Diana?
It is perhaps hardly surprising that we allotmenteers are regular readers of ‘The Countryman’, a monthly magazine dedicated to the celebration of Britain’s countryside. I confess that we do little for its circulation since Alan’s copy is passed from one codger to another. But we delight in so many articles about our rural heritage, and the folk that once inhabited it. Sadly, the August edition is doing more warning than celebrating.
In his regular feature ‘Country Diary’, Paul Jackson expresses great concern that England’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are under threat as never before. They are, it seems, under seige from damaging and inappropriate developments at a time when the Government’s policy risks further weakening the protection of our countryside. So worried is the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) that it has published a map showing many of the threats to some of England’s most treasured landscapes and is fighting proposals that would blight valued areas.
Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive says ; “CPRE branches across the ocuntry are on the frontline of the battle to protect our countryside, but the range of threats they face is frightening. Left unchallenged these proposed developments will have a lasting and detrimental effect on these areas. If the planning system no longer protects AONBs – iconic landscapes such as Dedham Vale, the Forest of Bowland, the Cornwall coast and many others – it should be strengthened. However, we are deeply concerned that far from strengthening the planning system, the Goivernment is proposing to make “yes” the default answer to development proposals”.
So preoccupied have most of us been with Murdoch, the economy and the like that few had even noticed that the coalition is quietly subjecting the planning system to its biggest shake-up for over sixty years. The National Planning Framework is, according to conservationalists, a recipe for an irreversible environmental disaster and a financial bonanza for developers. At first glance it appears good news for all those who have suffered huge frustration at the hands of town hall planning departments for rules and regulations have been slashed. But when you focus in one change hits more than any other. There will in future be a new presumption in favour of building. In other words from here on the onus will be placed on objectors alone. Forget green belts, environmental issues and the like, if a developer proposes any sort of programme it happens unless someone can prove real resulting problems. And Inspectors hearing objections must say yes unless there are overwhelming factors against.
The front line of this new approach will be our countryside. The current target requiring most new homes (to cope with immigration) to be built on brownfield land (waste ground, old factories and the like) is abolished. In 2009, 80 per cent of all new homes were on brownfield sites, now green belt areas are up for grabs. A developer’s paradise dawns!
The minister in charge of the reforms is Greg Clark and he has made his position clear. “The idea that every blade of grass outside our cities is sacrosanct, and that urban spaces should be preserved betrays a degree of inhumanity to poeple who may not live in the countryside” he says. In other words the plan is to spread developments right across areas we all treasure, whether we live in cities, towns or villages.
Of course it is not just organisations such as CPRE that are taking up arms. As with the fiasco on Forests, the most vocal opposition will come from the Tory heartlands. An early example is provided in north Essex. Not long before the election Grant Shapps, the then shadow housing minister, visited the villages of Elsenham and Henham. The gentle landscape familiar to viewers of the BBC’s ‘Lovejoy’ was threatened by plans of the Labour government to build 5000 houses there. No lover of half-timbered houses and antique shops, Gordon Brown was hellbent on creating a large “eco-town”. Mr Shapps arrived to reassure local people that a Conservative government would not allow such vandalism to take place. Already the then defeated developers (there was a large Conservative sponsored protest) are sounding perky. Stephen Biart, the land director of the developer Fairfield says that ; “I am really encouraged by the new policy. The possibility of sustainable development is here”. He could have added “and lots of glorious profit”.
The now defunct protest groups are reforming. Mr Baker, of ‘Save our Villages’ says ; “We’re a Tory area here, but when people realise what this government has done there will be real anger”. A similar story applies right across the country as those determined to protect our heritage prepare to fight. Tory will fight Tory and blood will flow.
Not surprisingly, the developers are moving quickly in many areas. In Cambridgeshire plans for 4,800 houses on greenfield land at Northstowe are near completion. In fact plans emerging nationwide already total 135,000 houses and that is merely the tip of a very large iceberg. And developments within cities and towns will also mushroom. The new plan rules that planners should not attempt to impose “architectural styles or tastes”. Chester, Bath and York are but some of those already expressing fears!
So why is a predominantly Conservative government embarking on the rape of Britains heritage. The prime motive is to promote economic growth, the secondary one to give free rein to their powerful friends in the development and finance sectors. But there is a huge political risk in that the communities most likely to rebel are of their own kind. And remember that they were promised localism, the power to make planning decisions in their own backyards.
But we should all be worried. Our green and pleasant land is heading for a concrete jungle!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. Whiskey 2. Amanda Barrie 3. The Pope 4. Tuberculosis 5. On the bridge 6. Cabaret 7. JD Fortune 8. Fennel 9. Deep Purple 10. Monkey Bread