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!