Archive for September, 2011
The dying beans and sweet peas are suddenly revived as the warmest sunshine of the year beats down. Even we codgers showed signs of renewed energy as we cleaned out the chickens this morning. Suddenly most grouses are forgotten, the grumpy old men have become Clint Eastwoods wearing basball caps. I say most because one grouse will not melt in the heat, our united hostility to the European Union!
Almost every day brings news of yet another damaging inposition. A few days ago we learned of the EU order to make all agency staff eligible for the benefits bestowed on permanent employees. According to the think tank ‘Open Europe’ the new Agency Worker’s Directive will put 28,000 young worker’s contracts at risk by making them too expensive to keep on. Such a loss will wipe out more than half of the 50,000 new jobs the Coalition has promised to create for unemployed yougsters every year.
Today brings another and even more crushing Directive. The EU has threatened to take legal action against Britain if we fail to introduce new rules on welfare. Their ruling is that EU nationals, including “benefit tourists”, must be entitled to residence-based benefits, employment support allowance, pension credit and income support from the day they arrive irrespective as to whether they intend to stay or not. At present EU arrivals must legally live here for five years before qualifying for state benefits. It means that people who have never worked here or paid any contributions and, regardless of whether they have any previous link with the UK, can arrive as they please and demand instant benefits payments from the British taxpayer.
Chris Grayling, the work minister, has confirmed that the cost to the British economy will be £2.5 billion in the first year, and could well climb sharply as more European unemployed seize the opportunity to draw money from our benefits system. Grayling declares himself to be “disappointed and surprised”. Harsher words have come from Iain Duncan Smith, the Works and Pensions Secretary, who is currently working on plans to simplify and reduce the costs of the UK benefits system.
He complains that the EU is overstepping the mark. The decision, he says, confirms the worry that the EU is “pulling more and more areas of national competence into its fold. And these decisions are taken outsside of national democratic processes by unelected and unaccountable institutions”. In fact it qualifies as one of the most bizaare rulings yet in that it breaks the vital link that should exist between taxpayers and their own government. And to make matters even worse there are further rulings on the way which force the UK to pay benefits to those who have returned to mainland Europe, and who may never have made more than a token payment to UK society.
A succession of ministers have condemned the latest move as an “outrage”. But they have all wrung their hands and sighed “but what can we do?” . Members of yesterday’s BBC Question Time audience were quick to tell them. Pull out of Europe broadly summarises the response and polls tell us that the view is shared by almost 75% of the population.
So for how much longer can David Cameron rule out a referendum. For how much longer can he impose swingeing cuts on every section of our society whilst paying huge sums to Brussels? At the Tory Party conference he is likely to face up to a third of his MPs now determined to force the issue, and many more are known to be opposed to the way that Europe is now shaping. As one Tory MEP put it, yesterday, we refused to join the single currency yet face the prospect of finding amounts greater than those realised by our domestic cuts to bail out countries who did join.
Sources close to Downing Street say that one worry, and one worry alone, prevents Cameron from bowing to the popular demand for a referendum. Nick Clegg is said to have warned that in the event of such a proposal coming before parliament the Lib Dems will bring down the government. Ha ha! If Clegg actually did this there would be a general election and there would be a total eclipse of the Lib Dems.
The point of no return is here. We simply cannot afford to continue to yield powers to Brussels and we certainly cannot afford to meet the ever escalating costs of dancing to its tunes. On instances like the latest one we should at the very least refuse to co-operate and let the bureaucrats take us to their Court. We should then refuse to honour their ruling. What can they do – send a gunboat?
Even David Cameron’s closest friend Rupert Murdoch is opposed to Europe, so it really is hard to understand why such a bellicose orator makes the smallest mouse look intrepid!
QUOTE OF THE DAY; “The housing minister Grant Shapps is just a kid who does not understand how local authorities work. I’m horrified by the naivety of ministers who needed help from the property industry to understand the rights and wrongs of what they are trying to do”. Mike Slade, chief executive of Helical Bar who has advised the Conservatives on the new planning laws and who chairs the Conservative Property Forum which charges £2500 for meetings with senior Conservatives.
The latest uSwitch quality of life index today names Britain as the worst place to live in Europe for quality of life. It seems that we have the second lowest hours of sunshine a year, the fourth highest retirement age, and the third lowest spend on health as a percentage of GDP. We have, according to the report, 5.5 fewer days holiday a year than the European average and endure a below average government spend on education. UK households struggle with a high cost of living, with food and diesel prices the highest in Europe. To complete the tale of woe more than one in ten Britons said they are seriously considering emigration and only 5% questionned are happy.
It may well be that we old codgers of the allotments are in the 5% on lovely sunny days like this, but even we find it hard to find much to applaud. Yesterday I wrote of the efforts by the Hairy Bikers to reintroduce Meals on Wheels for lonely housebound people and several readers commented angrily that Cameron’s endless waffle about the Big Society seems to exclude the less fortunate. Amen to that.
Today we read various reports on the Labour Party conference. Most made the point that Ed Miliband is no orator. So what? We’ve had two orators, both stupid and untrustworthy, and the ration of Blair and Cameron is enough to last us our lifetimes. Having said that it has to be confessed that whilst we all warm to Ed Miliband as a bloke, we find it hard to understand what he is talking about. Our particular interest is the future, or lack of it, of the NHS and on this he seemed to be talking in circles. No clarity either from his shadow health secretary, John Healey. He said that a future Labour administration would block private companies from providing NHS services. Only those with a “social ethos” would be permitted, he added.
Now what on earth does that mean? The whole point of the massive campaign being waged by organisations such as ’38 Degrees’ is that once you introduce the profit motive into healthcare you inevitably damage the trust between patient and clinician. Right now if your doctor tells you to see him every week you do so since there must be just cause. The moment you learn that he is paid bonuses based on the number of repeat consultations you begin to question his or her motives.
One could think up a dozen better examples,but I’m sure you get my drift. The simple fact is that, as shown by the uSwitch report, our spending on health is low and the NHS does an excellent job given the sharp rise in elderly patients. The government has applied passive cuts and is now planning changes in line with the American model. The result will be a huge lengthening of waiting lists, fewer hospitals, and the growth of private treatment for those who can afford it. The result will be the end of the NHS which has cared for so many for so long without the question of income even arising.
And what does the official opposition propose? To vet private companies in some mysterious ‘ethos test’. In an interview Ed Miliband went to great lengths to deny that he is ‘left-wing’. If wanting to protect the vulnerable and maintain a service that has served us all so well for so long is left-wing, then we codgers plead guilty. If loathing the cuts imposed on the poorest in society by multi-millionaires is left,we plead guilty.
Posssibly for the first time in our lives we have become apolitical. We have nothing but contempt for the Conservative rich-boys club, we see the Lib Dems as a joke, and we haven’t the faintest idea what Labour stands for.
Perhaps the Raving Monster Loony Party is our only hope!
AND ANOTHER THING;
In his column Tory MP Jesse Norman has condemned the fact that the average salary for a FTSE chief executive has more than doubled to £2.5 million since 1999, and now represents a pay packet 88 times greater than an ordinary UK employee.
“There is no justification for these pay awards” rages Norman. Perhaps he should be careful for his boss has a few friends amongst those with deep pockets.
Amongst them is one Rupert Murdoch whose pay at News Corporation rose 47% to $33million this year. And didn’t his organisation suffer some criticism?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Dance 2. Gunpowder 3. Nebuchadnezzar 4. Sioux 5. Golf 6. James 1 7. Violin 8. In loco parentis 9. Dublin 10. Jersey.
Where has this fantastic weather come from? We’ve been decorating all day and couldn’t believe that the strange light casting shadows through the windows was sunshine. We resisted the temptation to ascribe it to the Labour Party Conference and argued about global warming. But who cares, just for once this summer we were able to sprawl out on the lawn and survey the hens from their own height. Albert, whose Blackpool holiday was washed out, is back off there tomorrow, Mrs Biggins has vacancies.
There was a lot of chat about the Hairy Bikers today. The two northern lads regularly tour the country and pause now and again to give cooking lessons. It is not a programme I normally watch since my involvement in cooking is limited to eating whatever she-who-must-be-obeyed puts before me. But right now the hairy ones are compulsory viewing in our house and that of most of my mates. We believe that they are doing a wonderful job, they are attempting to resurrect the ‘Meals-on-Wheels’ service that once did so much to brighten the days of lonely, elderly folk.
Already they have had success and several local services have started up. Yes, we realise that the ease with which they have attracted volunteers is in part due to their own celebrity status, but most of our so-called TV stars would baulk at getting their hands so dirty. They have gathered people around them, taught them how to prepare low-cost meals using fresh ingredients, persuaded some to be fund-raisers, helped volunteer drivers to work out routes and emphasised the importance of a lonely soul seeing a cheerful face.
We gather that across the country people are coming forward to take up the challenge. Like us, they have probably been shocked into action by learning of so many frail and elderly folk who often go for days without seeing a single person. And many are either physically incapable of preparing a decent meal, or simply lack the motivation to do so.
What a sad reflection on our society. To make it even more damning, many areas once ran an excellent service thanks to organisations like the WRVS. But most now do what our soul-less county council does, they offer to deliver a week’s supply of frozen food. The old sense of community has gone and the many housebound are prisoners in their own homes with only an occasional visit from a social worker or district nurse to break the mind-numbing, depressing loneliness.
Using the Hairy Biker’s model we learn that a superb scheme can be run given enough voulunteers prepared to give up no more than an hour each week. And many of those interviewed said that popping in with good food to a lonely soul has made their day.
Forget all the rubbish from politicians about Big Societies or ‘inter-personal action’, whatever that may be. Thanks to a couple of overweight, jolly, entertaining motor-cyclists we all have an example to follow. And we don’t need visits from MPs looking for photo opportunities!
The easiest part of the Biker’s campaign has been finding folk willing to receive a call. There are a lot of lonely people out there who have long concluded that no one cares a hoot about them, that all we want of them is that they die.
Together we can prove them wrong. Right across the country we can dig deep and restore that generosity of spirit that once existed in every town and village. We can show our poncing leaders that action speaks a million times louder that words!
COME BACK IN A COUPLE OF HOURS FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!
HERE IT IS..GOOD LUCK! 1. In Cuba what is a habanera? 2. Which black powder is the oldest known explosive? 3. Who condemned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to the Fiery Furnace? 4. Which tribe did Sitting Bull belong to? 5. Sam Snead found fame in which sport? 6. Who was king at the time of the Gunpowder Plot? 7. Which musical instrument did Jack Benny play? 8. Which Latin phrase means “in place of parents”? 9. Dun Laoghaire is a port and suburb of where? 10. Gerald Durrell was a director of which zoo?
Whilst I was perched up the ladder today someone suggested that it was a perfect photo opportunity. The constant nonsense talked by politicians and their minders is beginning to burrow its way into everyday humour. Frankly they are all becoming as ridiculous as Albert’s knotted hankie. Who wanted to see pictures of Ed Balls playing football, Ed Miliband carrying his youngster or David Cameron pretending to be on the edge of his seat in Warnock-style at the QPR match? Does any of this win them a single vote? Wouldn’t it be better if they attempted to make a better job of what they do?
Regular readers may sigh since we fogeys of the allotments are a cynical bunch and have long since lost any respect for any of the parties in whose hands our destinies rest. The latest party conference has done little to change our stance. The role of her Majesty’s opposition is to dissect and present an alternative view where appropriate. For well over a year now the Labour Party has turned a dozen circles in an attempt to defend the record of the Blair and Brown administrations. To add to the non-stop hand-wringing various ex-ministers have published claims about this misdeed or that, demonstrating that making money is to them rather more important than the interests of the country.
The truth is that any government that runs for over a decade does many good things and many bad ones, and it ill behoves the coalition to continue to bang on about the latter. Its gone, the present crisis requires clear thinking, not points-scoring. Of course the reason they have been able to do this is mainly the result of Labour failing to act as a dynamic opposition.
It truly is incredaible that they have only a miniscule lead over the Conservatives in the polls when one recaps on the almost endless cock-ups that have pockmarked their reign. The NHS is tottering under David Cameron’s great marketing re-disorganisation, costing £2 billion and probably more. Duncan Smith’s universal credit is at the top of the Treasury risk list, with its costly new IT system in peril, while £18 billion is cut from benefits – the disabled and children hit hardest.
The new planning laws are about to join a catalogue of policy failures, written by the property developer donors to the Tory party. Quangos have been abolished at high redundancy cost, only to be resurrected. Civil servants have been fired only for new ones to be hired and trained.The true cost of free schools, financed by cash stripped from local school budgets, will become a growing scandal as the details of the real subsidies emerge. Forests and school sports had to be rescued, and what of the fortune being spent of police commissioners, who risk turning politically explosive. Oh yes, we shouldn’t miss from our list the decidedly dodgy involvement of top ministers with the Murdochs.
Yet the opposition says little about any of these issues and continues to apologise in Uriah Heap style. It needs to return to Westminster determined to question and to propose. It could for instance propose a new approach to undertaxed wealth, something this government will never contemplate. Some original thought just might capture the public attention.
No government is all bad but one unchallenged will come close to it! And when it is at last acting as a real opposition the Labour Party of today should stop feeling embarrassed about the trades unions. The dynosaurs have long gone and the unions of today comprise nurses and essential service workers. They are not a threat but they do deserve a fair deal.
I am not optimistic. I suspect that one year from today the opposition will still be trying to defend Blair. Forget him, he is indefensible!
Some of you, accustomed as you are to reading this blog during working hours, will be asking where that lazy old git has got to. Have your violins at the ready, this old git has been anything but lazy. A few weeks ago I vanished for a week as we built our new clubhouse which serves all the allotment members and not just we chicken-keepers. We are now in the process of decorating it and, having run out of excuses, I have landed the job of papering, an art I learned some sixty years ago and have been lumbered with ever since. It is more stressful than you might think, mis-match a single section and expect Albert to point it out on every evening for the next century.
Of course there was plenty of opportunity to chat. No one seemed inclined to focus on the Labour Party Conference, or indeed any of the other shindigs of its kind. As Tom put it, they all comprise politicians blaming other politicians and posing for pictures with their offspring in an attempt to show just what thoroughly decent people they all are. Hmm! Of one thing we can be sure. They will devote their time to the art of deception.
One example hit the headlines today. When we and the French decided to intervene in defence of the Libyan rebels, not to mention improve the image of the two smarmy ones in charge of our two nations, we were told that the cost would be no greater than “tens of millions”. Later the estimate was changed to £260 million. It is hard to tell whether that was an attempt at deception or just plain incompetence, but either way we now know that the cost to date is nudging £1.75 billion. Yes, billion!
This is based on research conducted by Francis Tusa, editor of ‘Defence Analysis’. He has used data provided in answers to parliamentary questions. To make things even worse Tusa did not take account io the heavy bombing undertaken by the RAF in the past week or the cost of flying Tornados from the UK to Italy. Oh yes, and there is also the cost of Eddie Stobart trucks and trailers, the army’s drivers having been made redundant, which were hired to ferry heavy equipment.
Estimates of the number of civilians killed or injured by the British and French air strikes vary according to the source. No one weeps for Gaddafi, other than maybe Tony Blair who met him six times, the last meeting being only last year, but since our supposed remit is to protect civilians it is odd that we are only doing so for those on ‘our side’. Yes, our side, for we are now well and truly entrenched in this civil war.
But the point of this discourse is to expose the cost. And the cost is likely to continue to rocket for David Cameron is now identified with Libya and its rebel army. As with Iraq we must now take responsibility for what happens next. We have destroyed much of the infrastructure (power, water, communications) and these must be rebuilt and restored. Then we face the issue of establishing a stable government. Already there are siugns of deep schisms amongst the rebels. Already they have been implicated in acts almost as horrific as those of Gaddafi. Already there is a real possibility of our needing to send troops to maintain order and civil servants to advise on administration.
We leapt in as the Americans leapt out and we are popular with some as a result. Pull back now from what we have created and expect odium. But it will cost a good deal of money which we haven’t got.
The government is trying to offset the cost by making service personnel redundant and by cutting their pensions. But it will take a great deal more than that if Libya isn’t to become the rationale for closing more services for the vulnerable here.
Yes we are all glad that Gaddafi has fallen, but should we really have taken his comeuppance into our hands alone, bar the French. And we all understand their president’s motives!
When David Cameron offered soothing words to the National Trust and other objectors to the proposed new planning laws, few amongst our allotment gang believed a word of it. But then we are a cynical bunch, a product of a lifetime of listening to politician’s words and then observing their actions. I confess that my blog on the subject of the financial links between the big developers and the Conservative Party fuelled the doubts and, in a perverse way, I am relieved that today’s news suggests that our green belt and areas of natural beauty are in great danger.
A disturbing feature of this government is that it invariably implements its proposals long before parliament has endorsed them. We have seen it with the so-called NHS Reforms, and today there is clear evidence that the same is true of the hotly disputed planning framing stitch-up between developers and ministers. For the purpose of this piece we can ignore the Lib Dems who, as on so many issues, have pledged to cry stop but in reality will simply do as they are told by their dominant partners.
The hard fact is that developers are already using the draft reforms to appeal against any refusal by local authorities to grant planning permssion for estates on green land, this despite the fact that there are sufficient ‘brownfield’ sites to accomodate housing needs for the next decade.
In Oakham, Rutland, planning inspectors have overruled the county council’s decision to reject an application to build 96 houses on a site designated an Area of Particularly Attractive Countryside. In his written rejection of the Council’s decision, the inspector quoted the draft planning laws on seven occasions! In North Norfolk the district council were ‘strongly advised’ to take the draft framework into account when they granted permission for a lorry park and silo to be built on a meadow on the outskirts of Great Ryburgh, Fakenham. In Redditch an application to build 171 houses on an area of green belt was approved on appeal after another reference to the framework. In Malmesbury, Wiltshire, developer Gleeson has made extensive reference to the framework as part of its application to build 200 houses on green fields to the north of the town.
In every instance the Planning Inspectorate has said that the draft framework can be considered in decisions on developments as it gave a “clear indication of the Government’s direction of travel in planning policy”. In other words, the developers can do broadly what they wish to do since the framework rules that decisions must favour development.
Yesterday the National Trust warned campaigners that current decisions give a strong indication of how the guidelines will be applied when they are adopted. Paul Miner, the senior planning officer of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said; “It is worrying that the new framework is already being implemented despite being out for consultation..local protection for rural areas will be lost”.
God bless organisations like the National Trust for they mean well and care about our heritage. But they are incredibly naive. Knowing that the majority of the various societies membership are of Tory persuasion, Cameron rushed in with his usual earnest “I love it too” blather. And they believed him for a few days at least. Did they really imagine that he was prepared to ditch the bill which has brought the bulldozer-men rushing to Downing Street with their cheque books at the ready. Like his mentor Tony Blair, David Cameron knows a backhander when he sees one.
Few people actually like or trust developers, but this situation goes far beyond that.This is already a crowded island and its one redeeming feature is its countryside, its restful green spaces. Its urban areas are pockmarked with decaying ex-industrial sites crying out for development. But the work involved is less profitable than simply starting on a virgin field.
And who will stop this corrupt and destructive new law which developers drafted? Only the voice of the people for the official opposition are still cowering in their bunkers as more and more revelations about the blatent corruption of the Blair years emerge. In theory power is being delegated to local communities, in practice David Cameron is pointing a rude sign in their direction!
THE ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. A small rock plant 2. Chrissie Watts 3. The Old Man of the Sea 4. Nothing 5. Jemini 6. A nap 7. Harlequins 8. Baz Luhrmann 9. Billy Joel 10. Greenland
The remaining Lib Dems apart, are there any EU fans still out there? I must admit that there have never been many amongst our allotment gang, but for many years it has felt as if we were the outnumbered Luddites as people like Kenneth Clarke talked of the joys to be had if only we would all become true Europeans and forget all the rule Britannia nonsense. Now even he seems remarkably subdued on the subject.
Back in 1997, William Hague predicted that being in the Euro would be like ” being trapped in a burning building with no exits”. He was derided then, but suddenly seems like a prophet to beat them all. Every news bulletin brings dire warnings that unless the Euro crisis is resolved quickly the world economy will sink. But every day also brings evidence that Europe is not the united entity it is cracked up to be. In reality only Germany has the financial clout to rescue the sinking ship but it is a role that the German people are reluctant to adopt. Even if they did, the resulting increase in political power for Germany would be way beyond what many of the other member states are willing to stomach.
The truth is that Brussels is a bureaucratic facade hiding an empty interior. There is no single authority mandated or able to take charge. Yes, there has been much talk of sovereignty but what does that actually mean? At the time of the Euro’s launch Chris Patten, former Tory chairman and now chairman of the BBC, said that sovereignty ” in the sense of unfettered freedom of action, is a nonsense”. He added that; “A man naked, hungry and alone in the middle of the Sahara desert is free in the sense that no one can tell him what to do. He is sovereign then. But he is also doomed”. Having defined sovereignty in this way, Patten was then easily able to prove that it was a useless concept, not something for Eurosceptics to worry about. He has been proved right in this instance but what many people feared was a sovereignty in which institutions and politicians have absolute authority to act. In the new Europe who is Caesar?. No one, there is an expensive talking shop attended by member states, all of whom are determined to retain their identity and right to run their own affairs.
Unfortunately they are now all part of one currency, a marriage of unequals if ever there was one. There is only one body capable of making progress, something called a troika. It comprises the European Commission, the European Central bank and the International Monetary Fund. But this unwieldly group has no central authority, no ability to take and enact urgent decisions. And as George Osborne has rightly pointed out, time is running out for Greece, Italy, Spain and others.
As someone who believes that leaving the EU would be a plus for these islands, I can hardly pretend to shed tears but we will not be immune from the fall-out of the looming disaster. However, one cannot help noticing that, despite the final proof that the good ship EU is sinking and has no captain, the bureaucrats are continuing to pour cash into senseless self-glorification.
Brussels is about to open a £15.5 million “parliamentarium” which shows the daily lives of MEPs. It also plans a £90 million “European House of History” to be built by 2014. Small wonder that Marta Andreasen, a Ukip MEP, has attacked the continuing “shambolic waste of money driven by vanity”.
The truth is that MEPs have no real powers to deal with real crises such as the monetary one. If we had no representation we would lose little and gain a lot. Of course it is distinctly possible that the whole edifice will come tumbling down and our leaders will be able to drop the various excuses they continually trot out for refusing the British people a referendum!
WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. What is saxifrage? 2. In Eastenders which character killed ‘Dirty Den’ in February 2006.? 3. Who hoisted himself on to Sinbad the Sailor’s shoulders? 4. How much are you paid if you hold an honorary post? 5. Which UK act first scored the dreaded “nul points” in the European Song Contest? 6. What can be a five-card game, a smooth, woolly surface or a sheep? 7. Which club did Will Carling play for? 8. Which Australian movie director links “Romeo and Juliet” and “Strictly Ballroom”? 9. Whose music albums have included “An Innocent Man”? 10. “Englander” is an anagram of which country?
Albert is far less concerned about the deepening financial crisis than the rest of us allotment geezers. Believe it or not, our crotchety old pal has withdrawn his savings and now sleeps just inches above what we reckon to be a fair sum. Sheer madness? Maybe, but at least he no longer frets, as the rest of us do, about the banks going into meltdown and the ATMs drying up.
If only we could believe that the politicans would get a grip on the crisis escalating in the eurozone! Yesterday David Cameron warned that we are staring down the face of a barrel (ever since his ‘conquest’ of Gaddafi he has taken to those well-worn Western terms). But he is spitting into the wind, for the euro venture was always doomed to failure once it came to the point where national leaders are supposed to convince their countrymen that they must sacrifice to save other more reckless partners. Churchill’s words from a different era were made for today’s European bigwigs. He talked of politicians who are “resolved to be irresolute, adament for drift, solid for fluidity and all-powerful for impotence”. Some things never change.
But the latest financial crisis will undoubtedly pass, and we will eventually return to an age of massive banker’s bonuses and an inability on the part of the est of us to distinguish between needs and wants. Meantime we should perhaps thank heavens that we are not immersed in the Lib Dem dream of full membership of the European monetary union. I must confess that the whole business of economics baffles me, a condition not helped by the even more baffling nightly explanations from Robert Peston.
Perhaps my concentration is not what it should be. If so I put it down to the fact that I am becoming increasingly obsessed by what is happening to the NHS. There is increasing evidence that by the time we all return our attention to it, it will have passed the point of no return. Despite all the waffle about the Bill before parliament, Andrew Lansley has already pressed ahead with implementation. The commissioning agents, the Primary Care Trusts, have been largely dismantled and vast amounts of redundancy packets handed out. A few of the new GP-led commissioning consortia have been formed and links with American healthcare providers set in concrete. According to their location, hospitals are receiving either no guidance at all, or are being told to open up their services to private bids.
Throughout the service there is total confusion compounded by massive cuts in funding and the increasing militancy of clinicians who continue to warn that patients are being put at risk by dramatic extensions to waiting times. The response from Lansley is a series of giant smoke screens, all aimed at proving that the last government left the service in a ruinous state. The latest story hit yesterday’s headlines when he announced that 22 hospitals with Private Finance Initiative (PFI) debts are now financially bankrupt. Given that this government is also using PFI to fund new building projects it was an odd tale and, when examined in detail, it turns out to be a huge lie.
When the health secretary said that the trusts were “on the brink of collapse because they have been landed with PFI deals they simply couldn’t afford by the Labour government” he caused quite a stir, not least on the part of the trusts that he mentioned. Amongst them was the North Bristol NHS Trust which voiced “puzzlement”. It has a £374 m PFI deal to build its new Southmead Hospital but pointed out that the repayments are “less than 7% of income and are factored into our long-term financial plans and are entirely affordable”.
Within hours of the Bristol reaction, the Department of Health’s own latest quarterly assessment emerged. A quick check revealed that 17 of the 22 named by Lansley have the top rating for financial stability. Of the remaining five, four were deemed as “underperforming” financially although the issue is not deemed to be PFI-related.
Leading figures were quick to attack Lansley’s claim. Lord Crisp, former head of the NHS, pointed out that the cost of repayments under PFI deals amounted to “only about 1% of the entire services annual budget”. Professor John Appleby, chief economist of the influential King’s Fund health thinktank, said it was “wrong to argue that the NHS finacial problems were cause by such deals”. He added that “to simply blame PFI is simply misleading at best”.
Which of course is excatly what Lansley intended it to be. The new financial crisis in the NHS is almost entirely due to the largest cuts ever imposed combined with an ever increasing demand caused by increased longevity. Throw in the chaos caused by changes that no one understands, or seems able to cope with, and you have the truth.
Perhaps realising that he has been caught out yet again the spin-doctor, who rules over the real ones, has launched into a tirade about the NHS computer programme. He is absolutely right to condemn this as an expensive fiasco and hopefully will realise that whilst Lbaour ministers were undoubtedly negligent, those even more so were the civil servants still in his department who advised them, and the auditors who failed to post warnings. Since he is looking for cuts his own office might be the right place to start! But the funding came from central government and has not impacted on individual Trusts.
Cameron and Clegg are past masters in the art of rhetoric and acting. But what we desperately need is some down-to-earth honesty. If they must proceed with privatisation they should say so, if they must cut funding so massively they should say so. And, above all else, they should instruct their health secretary to stop telling lies!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE WEEKEND QUIZ ??????????????????
I remember holding a straw-poll just after the general election. It was a fine day and a fair number of allotment holders had gathered in the ‘shed’, there was much talk about the negotiations being carried out by the Lib Dems with both Cameron and Grumpy Gordon. Over a third of us had voted Lib Dem and there was a good deal of speculation as to what Clegg – who had bewitched many of us with his TV debate performances – would do.
The course of action favoured by most of his new disciples was that he should opt for allowing the Conservatives to form a minority government with the promise of support so long as its policies were acceptable to the Lib Dems. This would enable the risen stars to act in the national interest whilst leaving them free to maintain their own identity. Even better, they would have retained the right to force a general election on any issue on which they had widespread public support. The result could easily have been a triumph and the first Liberal government in living memory.
But the lure of high office took Clegg along another path. He entered into a marriage of non-equals, and the latest Mori poll tells us that should an election take place now, almost two-thirds of those who voted Lib Dem would no longer do so. In fact a straw poll on the allotments yesterday showed no one willing to contemplate any alternative to the two traditional giants. Tim Farron, the president, said at the Lib Dem conference that “without the Lib Dem influence the Conservative dominated government would have been a “nightmare”. He missed the point which is that without the Lib Dems there would be no Tory-led government.
In reality the Lib Dems have excercised little restraint. The Tories’ ideological prescription for down-sizing the state and pushing ahead with its neoliberal agenda means that the NHS and the welfare state are seriously at risk. The Tories are using the opportunity of the financial crisis to transfer taxpayer’s money from the state to the private sector, not because it is more effective, but because that is what their ideology demands. The Lib Dems have made it possible for the Tories to do pretty much everything they dreamed of doing, with just a little bit of tweaking at the edges as a sop to their junior partners.
On the NHS for example, every expert in the land is warning of its imminent demise and privatisation. The concessions supposedly wrung out of Lansley by the Lib Dems make no difference whatsoever to the thrust of the bill. Had the Lib Dems retained an independent status it would never have seen the light of day.
It is difficult to see how the party that, for a few short weeks, Nick Clegg took to the brink of electoral success can survive at all from the mess that he has created. If, as we all hope, the government succeeds in its economic policy, the credit will go to Cameron and Osborne. Should it fail, the blame will almost certainly be placed at the hands of people such as Alexander and Cable.
In fact any successes will not be shared. Cameron has reasonably claimed success over the intervention in Libya. Do you recall any of his TV appearances on this ever including a mention of Clegg? On Europe, Cameron has undoubtedly been grateful for the option to point at Lib Dem opposition to demands from the right of his party for a referendum and a withdrawal from the Human Rights Act. He is able to tell his right-wing supporters what they want to hear without actually doing anything, thus avoiding a damaging split with the pro-European Tory wing.
Nick Clegg likes to invoke as a comparison the coalition that served the country so well in World War 11. It is pure nonsense. The marriage then was one of equals and so great was the external threat that the nation recoiled from political dogma. There were no ideological debates to be had, Corporal Hitler saw to that.
Nick Clegg’s big address at the Lib Dem conference was every bit as well acted as we have come to expect. He was reading ftrom an autocue and yet still managed to convey the impression of someone sincerely pausing for thought, of someone reaching into his very soul to find the truth. But even in that he did make one huge error.
He chose to launch the bitterest possible personalised attack on Miliband, Ball and others. He publicly burned his boats so far as any possible liaison with Labour is concerned should there be another hung parliament. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, since the possibility of one becomes more remote by the day.
Who knows who will emerge from the next election for both Conservative and Labour parties are less than impressive. But the odds are that one of them will. People will regard a vote for the Lib Dems as one for the Tories. The inevitable outcome will surely be a total redistribution of that impressive Lib Dem vote on a pro or anti Conservative basis.
I take no pleasure in believing this. Just for a fleeting time I, and millions like me, thought we were witnessing the birth of a new age in British politics. We were transfixed by the relatively unknown Clegg. Alas, he lives in cloud-cuckoo land!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Hertfordshire 2. A miller 3. Frank Morgan 4. Andy 5. Rome 6. Canada 7. Michael Bentine 8. Nijinsky 9. Grass 10. As a Tomato
On various occasions we allotmenteers have needed the help of the local constabulary to deal with break-ins and vandalism. The response has always been excellent and our confidence in the police, especially before the government cuts caused the loss of our beat-Bobby, has always been high. It worries us that national confidence is slipping badly for, be it locally or nationally, a stable society is very dependent on the belief that law and order rests in efficient and impartial hands.
Polls suggest that public confidence took a massive blow with revelations of police officers at the Met feeding information to the Murdoch empire. Then came the chaotic resonse on the first day of the London riots. Since then there have been a catologue of headlines suggesting that senior officers are not as bright as they should be.
One such story involved the astonishing decision by the Metropolitan Police to go to the courts in an attempt to force the Guardian to reveal confidential sources for articles disclosing that the murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked on behalf of the News of the World. It was an incredibly stupid move given that without the Guardian the scandal would not have been exposed, there is also the point that reporter confidentiality is protected by law.
The move led to national outrage in the media, even the Murdoch papers joined in the chorus of rage. Letter columns have been inundated, several that I read took great exception to the police claim that the Guardian exposures ‘were not in the public interest’. Readers make the point that were it not for the exposure the cosy relations between Murdoch and the Met would have remained hidden. For me the most telling letter came from a Mr Robert Baker. He remarked that the Guardian surely didn’t expect to expose the corruption, incompetence and moral vacuum at the heart of London’s ‘biggest gang’ without getting a good kicking!
To crown all this it later emerged that the Crown Prosecution Service had not been consulted! Scotland Yard has now gone into full retreat and has issued a statement saying that; “There was no appreciation for the wider consequences. In hindsight the view is that certain things that should have been done were not done, and that is regrettable”. Apparently the decision to proceed with the ludicrous claim that the Guardian reporter, Amelia Hill, could have incited a source to break the Official Secrets Act, was taken by junior officers. Either way the Met has now acknowledged that “it’s off the agenda”.
As if this wasn’t daft enough, we have seen nightly bulletins featuring Rebecca Leighton who was held on remand for six weeks on suspicion that she was responsible for the deaths of hospital patients at Stepping Hill hospital. The police have now dropped all charges and anyone watching the interviews with her doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to realise that the police jumped to the wrong conclusions and arrested the wrong person. In doing so they laid her open to threats from the sort of people who delight in intimidation and mindless abuse.
And one doesn’t need to go back many days to read that for the third time in as many weeks the police have arrested on suspicion of murder a householder who, during a tussle with a burglar carrying a knife, killed him with his own weapon. As with the previous cases the politicians are creating mayhem and the prosecutors are indicating that the man has no case to answer. One would have thought that even the dimmest Inspector Knacker would have realised that a hat-trick of overrules was not a good idea. He should also have grasped that tbe public and ministers alike are in no mood to side with those who arm themselves and break into other people’s property.
Sadly all this has provided ammunition for those campaigning for the introduction of local police commissioners. Yes, changes are urgently needed but why they imagine that local councillors elected by a tiny fraction of the electorate will do other than bring political influence to bear and create postcode law enforcement, is hard to fathom.
A minister recently remarked on the radio that he was perturbed by the spectacle of inarticulate and not-too-bright police chiefs interviewed for television. It is easy to understand why he said it, the contrast with senior army chiefs is very noticeable. What is needed surely is the setting of significantly higher educational and man-management levels for Chief Constables.
Perhaps we fogeys are wrong, but we are sure about one thing. When the police service is so badly led that it resembles a Christmas pantomime, the only people who feel pleasure are the criminals!
YOUR MIDWEEK GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ; 1. Hemel Hempstead and St Albans are in which county? 2. Who would use a quern? 3. Who played the title role in the film ” The Wizard of Oz”? 4. Whom did Ricky Gervais paly in “Extras”? 5. The Spanish Steps are in which European city? 6. Cars with the international vehicle registration CDN come from where? 7. Which zany comedian devised the TV show “It’s a Square World”? 8. Which Russian-sounding horse won the 2000-Guineas, St Leger and the Derby in 1970? 9. What kind of a plant is fescue? 10. When Judi Dench was dressed as a lobster for Film Four, how was Ewan McGregor dressed?
In his ‘A Time for Greatness’, the American poet and writer Herbert Agar wrote in 1942 of the “truth that makes man free”. But he went on to add that the truth is something that “men prefer not to hear”. I sometimes wonder if our politicians are his latter-day disciples for they give every apearance of fearing the outcome of setting us free and, to a man, continue to feed us speeches comprising platitudes laced with a fair mixture of downright lies.
Yesterday it was the turn of Uncle Vince Cable. We are, intoned our hero, in the economic equivalent of a war. He proceeded to tell us that only grey skies lie ahead and drew a comparison with that previous coalition. It was somewhat misleading given that the nation was united then, and Churchill told us the grim truth but always ended with a rallying cry. In other words the then leader seperated the truth from the pure rhetoric. Now the two are mixed and few can distinguish between the two.
A good example was the usual Cable onslaught on the fat-cats and bankers. On the former the Business Secretary declared that pay and bonuses will in future be restrained by employees serving on remuneration committees. He forgot to mention that there is no earthly chance of this actually becoming law and that, even if it did, the pension and investment bodies hold at least 80% of the controls of all large public companies.
He went on to announce his plans to implement the Vickers recommendation that a ‘firewall’ be built between the banking and ‘casino’ arms of our big banks. He forgot to mention that the government has made clear that implementation will not take place before 2018, by which time any new crisis will have arrived. He also beat the drum on the need to be resolute and not change the Osborne austerity package.
On this one he was subsequently contradicted by his wife! Interviewed on air, together with other delegates to the Lib Dem conference, she remarked that many government departments had wrongly front-loaded all cuts into the first year. They should, she insisted, have been spread over the five years of the coalition’s life thus avoiding the present crash in consumer purchasing. Clearly that is the real truth, and had he said that his credibility would have been enhanced. Meantime, the Cable family breakfast may have been a little fraught.
But it would be unfair to lable Cable as the one peddlar in falsehoods for they all do it. Only last week Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Minister, made great play of the fact that most of those charged in connection with the recent riots were already known to the police. Proof positive, he claimed, that prison does not work for they have already been there. Pure nonsense. The fact that those arrested as a result of CCTV pictures were mainly known to the police was clearly due to the fact that they are the people most likely to be recognised by the team of officers matching faces to records of convicted criminals. Who is the police most likely to recognise on a video? Yes, someone who is a previous offender. The truth is that only a tiny percentage of those involved have been caught and no one has the faintest idea as to the identity of the unapprehended majority.
Since coalition ministers are so keen on drawing a comparison between themselves and the World War 11 version they should perhaps resolve to begin to emulate its practices. When revealing all was not in the national interest Churchill, Attlee and the rest told us so. Otherwise they told the truth.
The big difference to today is illustrated by the fact that Osborne, Uncle Vince and all insist that we are all in this new ‘war’ together. However by their reluctance to penalise the rich to the same extent as the poor they constantly demonstrate that even they don’t believe it to be true.
Of course the biggest overriding problem today is that even were all the parties to sack their armies of spin-doctors and to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth we still wouldn’t believe them. Habits die hard and no one expects the truth. The challenge facing this government, and its successors ,is that the deeds of Blair over Iraq, Cameron over the Murdochs, and MPs over expenses, has bred cynicism thoughout the land.
Short of the return of a mass of independents wearing white suits and answering to the name of Martin Bell it is hard to imagine how this state of the nation will ever change. The truth is indeed as rare as hens teeth and we chicken-men can assure you that they simply do not exist!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Political friends and foes alike will have been saddened by the news that Philip Gould, Labour’s leading polling adviser and strategist for the past two decades, has lost his fight with cancer and has been told that he has just three months to live. He has been fighting cancer for two years and was thought to have been in remission, but his doctor, Professor David Cunningham, head of the gastrointestinal unit at Royal Marsden hospital, recently told him that he had but a short time left.
Typical of the man is his acceptance of the fact and his determination to experience fully this”most extraordinary time of my life, certainly the most important time of my life”. In a BBC interview he described himself as “being in the death zone, something which is so intense”. Philip went on to talk of the “intensity” of the presence of his wife, of his family and said that his home is the “natural place to be, the right place and the final place”.
In recent months Philip has published a reworked version of his highly acclaimed view of ‘New Labour, The Unfinished Revolution’, and a book about his struggle with cancer. In the first of the two he urges the Miliband brothers to rediscover friendship between “two real brothers”, so ending a cycle of difficult relationships that began with two Labour “near brothers”, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
His most telling reflections concern the problems of pragmatism in a politician. He believes that Blair’s private Christianity and spirituality made him a very pragmatic political leader, to the extent that he lacked purpose at times. This, he believes, was a failure. He believes that leadership depends on purpose, and politics depends on purpose. The world is so chaotic and so disordered, without purpose, you are lost. Purpose and political beliefs are an essential part of leadership and, Philip believes, Blair lacked them and consequently didn’t perform “absolutely perfectly”.
Philip Gould describes now looking through the window and feeling intensity, the like of which he has never before experienced. His summary of his years in politics are therefore both clear and important. And they say much that our present leaders would do well to note.
It has been clear from the outset of his premiership that David Cameron lacks a clear political belief or purpose. The result is that he bears a striking resemblance to Tony Blair. His constant U-turns and self-contradictions reveal a man unsure as to what he really believes in. Like Ramsay MacDonald so many years ago he faces allegations, to quote the old jingo, of doing anything, anything, just to get in. MacDonald tried to be everything to all men and he ended up alienated from all.
Not that Philip Gould would wish to help David Cameron. But he does offer advice to the current Labour leader, Ed Miliband. He tells him to be tougher, to nail down responsibility and to stand by what he believes in, come what may. It is good advice for right now Miliband looks suspiciously like Nick Clegg, a chamelion who changes his apparent convictions as regularly as most of us go to bed.
Philip Gould is leaving this world with sound advice for all who aspire to lead our troubled country. Margaret Thatcher was loved by some, loathed by others but one thing marked her as a different animal to those who have followed. She knew exactly what she believed in and would not turn. We, the electorate, knew what she stood for and what she would do if we cast our vote for her. Today, the three leading politicians seem to have no real convictions of any kind. On an issue like Europe they twist and turn as more and more MP’s demand a referendum and we have no idea whether they are in favour or not. In their obsession with popularity they have lost their sense of purpose and become evasive wheeler-dealers.
No one could ever accuse Philip Gould of doing that. His self understanding was, and is, absolute. He tells us that he was born under a Labour government and is determined to die under one. His sense of humour is still as strong as ever for he comments that; ” They’ll obviously have to get a move on”. But he ended his interview with a typical Gould punchline; “I suppose my message is have faith and try to change the world”.
Amen to that.
We buried a hen this morning. Known as the ‘roof-dweller’ given his liking for flying up to the roof of the coop, the egg-layer supreme has laid its last. We were all quite sad, perhaps an illogical reaction given that most hen-keepers kill their charges for table. But we don’t, we mad old buzzards come to see them as friends, even though it has to be admitted that the relationship is often a love/hate one. At least the ‘roof-dweller’ was spared this morning’s rant. Today the subject was wind farms.
Yesterday David Cameron launched a new campaign, presumably aimed at replacing the Big Society. He plans to put the ‘Great’ back into Great Britain. It occurred to us that he might start by accepting that it would be reasonable for something, anything, to be British owned. There are various views amongst us on wind farms, but none of us had realised that two-thirds of them are owned by foreign governments or companies. Why? It seems that the answer is that this is another venture that our governments have turned into an incompetent financial bonanza.
Let us start with the ownership. A large number of overseas speculators and governments have been clamouring to win a share of the action. They include energy companies in Japan, the USA, Norway, Sweden, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. One example is Fred Olsen, the Nowegian company that also runs cruise ships. They now own four of our wind farms and earn a taxpayer subsidy of £34 million. Another is DONG, a Danish company, which has a large stake in three offshore farms that earn a subsidy of £98 million. Spanish -owned Scottish power has 21 farms earning a subsidy of £80 million, and the Swedish state-owned Vattenfall and Norwegian state-owned Statkraft rake in £86 million.
The list is a very long one and often illustrates the handing of British taxpayer’s cash to other international governments. And it is not just the farm-owners who do the trousering. Cameron’s father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield, owns land occupied by Luxembourg-based Ridge Wind Holdings who receive £2 million in subsidies. So whilst most of the overly generous subsidies leave these shores it is nice to know that at least one British family benefits!
One Danish company owns or part-owns three offshore wind farms that receive no less than £100 million from the Britsh taxpayer. Like all the others, they decided to invest here given the sheer generosity of the taxpayer who subsidises the equally generous rates paid by the National Grid for electricity generated. So why has no one spoken out on this?
They have. Former chancellor Nigel Lawson had this to say; ” If it were a sensible policy then I would have no concern. But it is absolutely pointless, extremely expensive and damaging both for the British economy and for British consumers – to have so many foreign companies creaming off the subsidy merely adds insult to injury”.
And the pay-outs to foreign companies doesn’t end there. Last week the National Grid asked Fred Olsen Renewables to shut down its Crystal Rig 11 wind farm for eight hours amid fears that the electricity network would become overloaded. The Norwegian company was paid more than £1 million compensation which is ten times more than it would have received for generating. Eleven farms were closed down for short periods last week and the total pay-out was £2.6 million. The cost of this regular fiasco will be added to household bills and paid for by UK consumers.
Last night Tory MP Tim Yeo, chairman of the energy and climate change select committee, called for an urgent enquiry. “The very principle of paying wind farm owners for not producing is offensive”, he said and added that it all looks like “an extraordinary overpayment by the National Grid. Clearly Mr Yeo does not have a father-in-law with a finger in the juicy pie.
So whether you love or hate the sight of the wind farms, you should perhaps worry about the massive profits they are generating for speculators from overseas. Throw in the claim by many experts that the amount of electricity they generate (when they are not being paid for not doing so) is so small as to make no difference and you may begin to wonder who, apart from Sam Cameron’s dad, in the UK is gaining anything from the disfiguring giants!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. Cockerel 2. George V 3. A Will 4. Nixon 5. Daphne du Maurier 6. Rioja 7. Clot 8. 1959 9. Craig David 10. Steven Spielberg
As we sheltered in the allotments shed from the monsoons this morning, Tom told us a tale about an uncle of his who died some thirty-odd years ago. When his brother (Tom’s father) was clearing out the bachelor’s house he found a battered suitcase under one of the beds. Attached to it was a label bearing the words ‘Don’t trust banks’. Inside were a lot of old banknotes. At the time the family regarded it as an example of eccentricity, now Tom believes that his old uncle was a wise man.
Today banks are about as popular as a rattle snake in a lucky dip. Bailed out by the taxpayer, their execs have continued to pay themselves ever increasing bonuses and eye-watering salaries. They have continued to rook their customers with savings accounts carrying names like gold-plated and paying miniscule interest. In fact they have pulled every trick in the book, and then some, to dupe the public. But worst of all they have continud to demonstrate that they are unsafe!
The latest example is provided by the news that a 31 year-old relatively junior employee was able to run an internal fraud at the Swiss investment bank UBS for three years without anyone in charge so much as spotting what he was doing. Kweku Adobili yesterday appeared before magistrates charged with “false accounting and fraud”, and police are unsure whether they have uncovered the full extent of the alleged £1.3 billion fraud. They are also investigating the possibility that others may have been involved.
The bank’s monitoring procedures, supposedly there to detect improper conduct, failed to raise any alarm. In effect an employee who joined UBS as a trainee in the back office in 2002 was able to accrue a record loss by carrying out a large number of transactions over the course of a three-year period. Mr Adoboli was described on the charge sheet as a senior trader in Global Synthetic Equities, a position in which he was expected to “safeguard , or not act against, the financial interests of UBS bank”.
So we now have a glimpse of what happens in what Vince Cable calls the casino part of banks. This week the Vickers report recommended that such investment/gambling parts of banks should be totally seperated both organisationally and financially from the everyday banking activity, that part on which most of us rely for the safeguarding of our savings or whatever we may hold in a current account in readiness for the ever increasing bills.
It is clear that, until this happens, there continues to be a major risk that the casinos could bring the whole structure of the banks crashing down once again. And what was the response from chancellor George Osborne? He agrees but sees little prospect of carrying through such proposals until after the next election. Ye Gods, the whole Northern Rock saga could be repeated long before that.
We are constantly told that any punitive action against the banks could see a wealth of talent pack its bags and head for other shores. Talent? Is this the talent that brought us to our knees through reckless lending, and still seems incapable of controlling what its greedy investement staff do? Let them pack their bags, one suspects that only Libya would welcome them.
For all that we dislike the banks and the avaricious nature of their top people it is critical that we see them as safe. Clearly this cannot happen so long as their greedy and incompetent investment activities are intertwined with normal banking. Uncle Vince Cable has been consistent in the demand for seperation and, just for once, Nick Clegg should have the guts to stand up to Cameron, Osborne and all and make clear that his group of MPs will support the opposition in demanding immediate implementation of Vickers. We all realise that billionnaires such as Osborne have strong links with the City slickers, but enough is enough.
Failing action we will all wake up one morning to learn that our bank has gone under and that, this time, the debt is too big for the Bank of England to bail-out. In the meantime I am inclined to follow the example of Tom’s uncle. After all, the banks pay virtually no interest on instant access cash so leaving it with them doesn’t sound the best idea in town.
Just to be on the safe side I shall keep my suitcase in the kitchen where the Alsations spend their nights dreaming of legs of mutton and intruders alike!
TEST YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WITH THE WEEKEND QUIZ!!!!
1. Which creature do French sports fans traditionally let loose before the start of a big match? 2. Which king unveiled the Victoria memorial? 3. What is made by a testator? 4. Who telephoned Neil Armstrong during his first moon walk? 5. Which novelist had three novels adapted by Alfred Hitchcock to films? 6. Which wine-growing region is divided into Baja, Alta and Alavesa? 7. What does fibrin cause to happen to the blood? 8. Did Buddy Holly die in 1956, 1959 or 1961? 9. Which top-selling writer/singer was born May 5, 1981, in Southampton? 10. Which director appeared in “The Blues Brothers”?
Much jubilation on the allotments this morning. Yesterday, Lancashire became cricket County Champions for the first time in even our living memories and they did it with a team almost entirely comprised of Lancastrians. It feels mush better that it would had the team been packed with merceneries paid huge sums to perform for the highest bidder. Strangely enough this historic success came in a season when all of the home matches were played away from Old Trafford. Perhaps the weather played its part too?
So Peter Moore and his merry men are suddenly top of the allotmenteer’s list of heroes. Unexpected. So is the identity of the chap at the bottom. Ed Miliband this week chose to attack the Union’s decision to threaten further strike action and my pals, of all political persuasions and none, were not happy about it at all. His motives, they argue were purely political, he turned on his allies in the belief that the wider public would applaud him.
On this, as on most of the other things he said at the TUC conference, he was mistaken. When asked by the ComRes opinion poll whether public sector workers had a “legitimate reason to go on strike”, 49% of the public agreed and just 35% disagreed. Miliband talked of waiting until negotiations are completed but the mass of the people realise that this is a charade. Treasury ministers have already switched the indexing of public sector pensions from Retail Price Index to Consumer Price index, thus wiping 15% off every public sector pension, and they have made clear that the other cuts announced are not negotiable.
We seem to have reached the strange position where our political leaders applaud strikes in Egypt, Poland, Tunisia and Lord knows where else, yet regard any threat here as treasonable. And they are backed by almost every newspaper who still beat the drum about ‘Red Robbo’ and the winter of discontent. I was involved with the Union madmen who caused so much damage back in the sixties and seventies but they and their kind are long gone. They talked of revolution, today’s moderate and well-educated Union bosses merely ask what they are supposed to do in the present situation, Should they, asks Unison boss Dave Prentis, merely say “It’s unfair but we’ll do nothing”.
Of course there is a strong argument that says that private sector workers who have poorer pensions should not subsidise those in the public sector. But the argument here is about far more that pensions. On last night’s BBC ‘Question Time” a smooth government minister said that no one should grumble for we are ‘all in this together”. There is the nub of the argument for we most certainly are not. MPs, bankers, fat-cats galore are all doing very well thankyou. The burden of the Osborne cuts is falling heavily on those who can least afford to manage them. This week we had the bizaare spectacle of leading private sector millionnaires, such as the former head of Marks and Sparks, declaring that they should pay more tax, whilst Osborne repeated his intention to cut the existing top rate. As for the claim that the Union leaders are “holding the country to ransom”, it would perhaps be more appropriate to levy this at people such as Barclay’s Bob Diamond.
So there are many reasons to feel that the cuts are unfair and discriminate against the less well-off. But that is not the central issue being attacked by the new breed of Trades Union leaders. They include in their number several trained economists and for months now they have argued that Osborne’s plan is wrong. They acknowledge that debt repayment is crucial but believe that without growth stimulation the economy will at best flat-line. They believe that the inevitable result will be massive job losses in the public sector with no off setting increases in the private one. Already we are in a situation where the private sector has created just one job for every three lost in the public one.
Maybe the supposed dynosaurs are talking nonsense. Maybe not, for they have impressive support. In recent days Nobel prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman and the FT columnist Martin Wolf have called for growth stimulation. Even Bill Gross, manager of the world’s largest bond fund, Pimco, and a former Osborne ally, now says that the coalition’s austerity measures need “fine-tuning and perhaps re-routing”.
We clearly need a radical alternative to austerity. It may be fanciful to believe that the day is coming whem most people of average or below-average means need a champion but it could reach that point. Since Ed Miliband and the Labour Party seem reluctant to play that role and the Lib Dems have all but died, the Unions may be the only show in town.
All I know is that if one more complacent twit like the minister on Dimbleby’s show, drones on about our common pain I shall kick the set in!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR A SPECIAL WEEKEND QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!