Archive for October, 2011
The Guardian usually arrives on the hen-cleaning early shift tucked neatly into Jack’s pocket. It receives less attention at the brew-break than was once the case. Then known by all as the Grauniad, because of its penchant for spelling errors, it used to provide the basis for a wager based on who could spot the most. Today it was unfolded as we read its front page about the Prince of Wales, and I noticed that somewhere called Chin is expanding its nuclear armoury, clearly old habits die hard!
Anyway it appears that unknown to most, Charles is part of a “secretive constitutional loophole” which gives him the right to veto legislation. Since 2005, ministers from six departments have had to seek his consent to draft bills on everything from road safety to gambling and the London Olympics. Neither the government nor Clarence House will reveal what, if any, alterations to legislation Charles has requested, or exactly why he was asked to grant consent to such a wide range of laws.
In the last two parliamentary sessions the Prince has been asked to consent to draft bills on wreck removals and co-operative societies, a freedom of information request to the House of Commons has revealed. Between 2007-9 he was consulted on bills relating to coroners, economic development and construction, marine and coastal access, housing and regeneration, energy and planning.
All very odd. But a threat to democracy? Hardly. At least Charles can be relied upon to give an honest independent view which is more than can be said for the unelected Lords which is packed with toadies of successive Prime Ministers, and even includes more than one who has spent time at “Her Majesty’s pleasure’. And it is no more undemocratic than the ‘Witney set’ which, until the Murdoch explosion, was clearly pulling David Cameron’s strings. And you can look at the Werrity affair…I won’t go on, suffice to say that there is probably no one out there who believes that democracy actually exists at all.
Of course any mention of the Royals brings out, from under the stones, the supporters of ‘Republic’, the proponents of an elected head of state. Its director, Graham Smith, was quick to say that the secret power afforded to Charles is “an affront to democrtic values”. Hmm, he clearly has more trust in the existance of such a thing than the rest of us. As for an elected leader, one wonders who he has in mind. Blair perhaps since he collects highly paid jobs with the same enthusiasm that others collect stamps. Boris perhaps? Eddie the Eagle? Graham Smith?
By coincidence all this hit the headlines on the day that a report from the public administration select committee was published. It accuses the coalition government of maintaining pointless ministerial jobs to maintain influence over crucial parliamentary votes. It claims that David Cameron’s government is “patronage-driven” and is spending vast amounts of public money to buy loyalty. It reports that the coalition is failing to cut senior jobs despite its pledge to slash Whitehall costs.
Brenard Jenkins, the Conservatiuce chair of the committee, says that the government’s response that the ministerial number of jobs are “under review” is political code for “their refusal to engage with this committee”. He went on to claim that the number of ministers in the Commons is at its “absolute limit”. And there are more aides than is necessary. This proliferation of appointments is “more about exercising patronage over MPs, and thus being able to influence debates and votes, than it is about efficiency and accountability” added Mr Jenkin.
There are now 121 MPs on the “payroll vote” as ministers and their aides who are obliged to vote with the government or resign. The committee says that the payroll should be slashed by more than sixty. It also calls for the end to the appointment of unpaid ministers to circumvent legal limits on the size of government. Far from reducing government costs the Prime Minister is increasing them. And last week’s rebellion on the EU referendum is likely to herald yet more appointments as a means of silencing the Eurosceptics. There will soon be more Chiefs than Indians in the cloistered court of Kings David and Nick!
The theory behind our democratic system is that the country is ruled by independently-minded individuals elected by the people, each approaching legislation with his or her sole influence being the views of constituents. No string-pullers, no ‘donors’, no rich hangers-on. It is of course a fairy story as one corrupt government follows another.
If we enjoyed true democracy the outrage about Charles would be justified. As thing are I for one welcome the thought that there is at least one in authority who is not in the pay, or grip, of shadowy figures that never seem to come to the Gruaniad’s attention!
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY; ” For all their faults, Thatcher and Blair were respected not for their bossiness but because of their principles and vision (whether you agreed with them or not). Cameron is not in their league. He’s got one vision; that the nation requires the services of David William Donald Cameron as Prime Minister. For years I thought Cameron was likeable but with two major defects – no credible programme to bolster the country’s fortunes and being a rich toff with no idea how most people live. It’s true that those were, and are, big defects. But increasingly, another one is coming into view. Bluntly, Camerion has a nasty streak. When the going gets tough, he has no answers – just insults and bullying”. Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow in her Sunday Star column dated 30th October 2011.
The alternative to growing old is even worse and, as the hands on the clock move on, we codgers find ourselves taking an increasing interest in the standards of care provided for those whose bodies ultmately surrender. We were already aware of the painful fact that the standards of care for the elderly incapacitated are the worst in Europe, but now things are set to get a good deal worse. It frightens all whose limbs are beginning to rebel, it should shame everyone in the ‘big society’.
Government funding has been cut by almost a fifth, an horrendous amount given that the sum available was already inadequate. More than £1.3 billion has been removed from council’s annual spending on help for the over-65s since the Coalition came to power. The details have emerged from a House of Commons analysis and reveal that most councils are cutting all elderly services funding, even to the extent of increasing charges for such basic services as meals-on-wheels and home care. Nursing homes are in financial crisis after cuts to fees to cover specialist dementia care.
The result will be twofold. Many more elderly and frail patients will have to stay in hospitals which is a very expensive route. Even worse the quality of life of both patients and their families will be reduced drastically. Michelle Mitchell, the charity director of Age UK, says that “the care system is in crisis. We need the Governmnet to show leadership and make the difficult but vital decisions to reform our broken care system”. Emily Hilzhausen, director of policy at Carers UK, said many were suffering from “real terms cuts”. She said that “it is extremely worrying as we look at the impact on families’ lives. We know that families are already under an enormous amount of stress and that will only get worse with these cuts”.
In 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government, councils spent £7.6 billion on social care for the elderly. This year, the figure is up to £1.3 billion lower. Last year George Osborne promised an extra £2 billion for councils to spend on care homes, meals on wheels and help for the elderly and disabled with daily tasks such as washing and dressing. Incredibly this money was not ‘ring-fenced’ and the vast majority of councils have allocated it elsewhere.
It is no coincidence that mental health social services are also in melt-down. For any government to simply leave councils to their own devices on such services is a crass deriliction of duties. Such services are what define a fair and caring society from one of a third-world one. To learn of such things on the day that it is announced that our donations to Brussels of £12.75 billion far exceed our benefits of £5.8 billion is truly infuriating!
We all know that there have to be cuts, but they have to be slanted to protect the vulnerable and affect those who can afford to economise. Yesterday we learned that the 100 FTSE top bigwigs received average pay rises of 49% over the past 12 months. Nick Clegg commented that they seem to live on another planet. Pity he supports a cabinet happy to allow such wanton greed to continue unchecked!
Despite what others say I have continued to believe that David Cameron, albeit somewhat out of touch with our new ‘underclass’, means well and will fight for justice against the Tory right. Having today read an article by the Speaker’s wife, Sally Burcow, I am beginning to wonder. According to her, Cameron says whatever it suits him to say at the time he’s saying it. Why? According to Mrs Bercow “he is out to get cheap applause or just to get his way”. When, she asks, “will the public look more closely and see that, far from being Mr Nice Guy, the PM is an arrogant bully who should be knocked off his pedestal and put in his place”.
Presumably the Conservative Speaker is well placed to make judgement on the Prime Minister and to pass it on in pillow talk. If he/she is correct, our suffering elderly may wait a very long time before suicide looks an attractive alternative to what they are going through!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. Wigan 2. William Wordsworth 3. North 4. Commonwealth Day 5. Wessex 6. Lisbon 7. Spirit in the Sky 8. Robert Plant 9 Freddie Starr 10. Joseph Lister
Almost all the allotmenteers read Private Eye. We love it. Mind you, Mr Hislop may not love us since we only buy one copy which is passed around over the next fortnight before the next issue arrives. Today we gathered round to look at the cover of the special 50th anniversary edition. Good cover – they always are. Today features pictures of Harold Macmillan and David Cameron. The magazine asks itself if satire makes a difference. Under Super Mac’s picture the caption reads “Magazine pokes fun at Old Etonian Prime Minister surrounded by cronies making a hash of running the country”. Under Cameron it simply says “Er…”.
For half a century the magazine has beaten the dailies to every story and every scandal. There must be many a politician, both local and national, who opens the latest copy with trepidation. There must be many a council chief too, not to mention the press whose double standards the Eye delights in exposing.
Today the Daily Mail gets some stick. On September 15th the Mail attacked the BBC for its decision to show, with his permission, the death of a cancer-stricken soldier. The BBC had, pronounced the Mail, gone too far in a cynical attempt to boost ratings. The Eye goes on to show the Mail’s reaction to Gaddafi’s death. It cleared the width of its website’ s homepage to display no fewer than 17 pictures including his mutilated corpse and another of his son.
The Sun also earns attention. “Disgraced Liam Fox will get a £17,000 pay off despite breaking the ministerial code”, fumed the tabloid. The Eye says that clearly the case of the defence secretary is quite different to that of news International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who walked off with a mere £4 milliom pay off in July after “presiding so brilliantly over the phone-hacking disaster”.
Above all, the Eye does superb investigative journalism unequalled by any other. Be the government Labour or Conservative there is a real lashing when corruption is unearthed, and over the years there has been a great deal of that.
More people should buy Private Eye. Its revelations never cease to astonish, its humour never fails to delight.
By way of a postscript here is a paragraph supposedly written by George Osborne ; ” I welcome the latest monthly figures which show that inflation has leapt to 5.2 per cent as showing that plan A is working. City economists said a rise like this was simply impossible, but I have delivered an inflation figure far higher than anyone could possibly have predicted. I see no reason why, under my stewardship of the economy, inflation shouldn’t outstrip all predictions once again”.
Happy anniversary Private Eye, may you continue to spotlight the crooks and deflate the pompous for many years to come!
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE WEEKEND GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ:
1. Which club joined the Football League in 1978 and made the Premiership in 2005? 2. Dove Cottage was home of which poet? 3. Which Pole was first reached in 1909? 4. Which Day replaced Empire Day in 1958? 5. Alfred the Great ruled which kingdom? 6. Estoril is a resort north east of which major city? 7. Which No 1 for Norman Greenbaum was reworked by Gareth Gates? 8. Who was the founder lead singer with Led Zeppelin in 1968? 9. Freddie Powell found fame as which crazy comic? 10. Which Britsh surgeon was a pioneer in improving surgery hygiene?
Without question the so-called Arab Spring has brought hope for many oppressed and ill-treated people. Because we were the architects of Gaddafi’s downfall it is perhaps not surprising that our news bulletins are focussed on Libya and the joy of freedom in a country that has suffered greatly. But there are now clear signs that we are not being fed a balanced story.
The ugly underside of the rebel army is proving unconfortable news for those who for many weeks portrayed it as a body of decent citizens prepared to sacrifice everything for the establishment of a safe society, in which the rule of law is administerd in a fair and civilised fashion. The YouTube lynching of Gaddafi, courtesy of a Nato attack on his convoy, was difficult to stomach for many here. The pictures of his captors sodomising the dictator with a knife even more so. But some reasoned that this was an understandable act of revenge, indeed Hilary Clinton made a joke of it until global revulsion caused the US to demand an investigation.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported the discovery of 53 bodies, military and civilian, in Sirte, apparently executed – with their hands tied. More revulsion. Yesterday Peter Bouckaert, investigator for HRW, reported evidence that about 500 people, civilians and fighters, have been killed in the last ten days by shooting, shelling and Nato bombing. There has been in Sirte, he reports, a two-month long siege and indiscriminate bombardment of a city of 100,000 which has been reduced to a Grozny-like state of destruction by rebel troops and Nato air and special-forces support.
More and more evidence is emerging of what the rebel army has done on the way to Nato-sponsored victory. Amnesty International has now produced compendious detail of mass abductions, detentions followed by beating and torture, killings and atrocities. African migrants and black Libyans have been subjected to a relentless racist campaign of mass detention, lynchings and atrocities on the usually unfounded basis they were once loyalist mercenaries. Bouckaert reports that he has witnessed rebels this week burning homes in Tawerga so that the towns predominantly black population – accused of backing Gaddafi - are homeless.
Perhaps equally depressing for those of us fed a diet of triumph and good over evil, it becomes ever more evident that if the Nato mission was to save civilian lives, it failed. Estimates of the number of civilians killed over the eight months – as Nato leaders vetoed ceasefires and negotiations – range from 10.000 to 50,000 with 509,000 wounded. Of those, uncounted thousands were civilians, many of whom were killed by Nato bombing.
Now the transitional government is in place but already the Islamist military leaders have made clear that they will not be taking orders from the NTC. The Tripoli commander Abdel Hakim Belhaj – kidnapped by MI6 to be tortured in Libya in 2004 – is unlikely to ever accept the government that has so far emerged.
Small wonder that the councils leaders are now asking Nato to stay on. Amazingly Nata has announced that it will return to take military action against any group opposing the new regime. That hardly sounds like democracy, it does sound suspiciously like domination by foreign powers, powers that are blindly following the only horse in the race that they know will deliver the oil deals they seek.
None of which contradicts the fact that the world is a better place without Gaddafi. But it does suggest that it is time to put away the rose-tinted glasses brigade who suggested that this was another Falklands. It most certainly wasn’t. We have been instrumental in the death of vast numbers of civilians. The number under Gaddafi might have been greater but that we will never know.
It is perhaps only right to remind ourselves that the huge arms depots that we spent so much on destroying from the air were there by courtesy of ourselves and other European arms vendors. In total Libya imported military planes worth £270 million, just under £100 million in guns and £85 million in electronic equipment from the EU between 2005 and 2009. And Gaddafi’s arsenals which escaped destruction now stand largely unguarded. These stockpiles include chemical and biological weapons plus heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. Into whose hands will these fall?
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE WEEKEND QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Several of us headed off in the van yesterday to collect some chicken coops. Being nincompoops we travelled back in the rush hour, and boy did we regret it. The motorway was jam-packed, the service stations resembled a Lady Gaga concert. The country is seizing up was our rather gloomy prognosis, as we spent forever crawling behind a van bearing the inaccurate boast that “We never slow down on customer service”.
And it is not just grumpy old men that watch despairingly as our roads, our hospitals, our rail services, our sewage and water supplies et al, are becoming ever more inundated. In our angrier moments we blame the cuts, the politicians, the banks and every other curse that comes to mind. But the reason for it all is quite simple, our population is rocketing past the levels at which a small island’s infrstructure can cope.
The latest projections from the Office of National Statistics predict that by 2043 Britain will be the most populous country in Europe. Our population will have swollen to 74 million, outstripping France and Germany. The landmark figure of 70 million is expected to be reached within 16 years. In fact over the next decade the population will increase by the equivalent of a city the size of Leeds every year. The official estimate is that the number of people in the UK will grow by 491,000 every year through to 2020, the fastest sustained growth for 50 years.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the Migration Watch UK, tells us what we already sense. “These figures conirm that the UKs dramatic rise in population will continue unabated”. He added that “two thirds of the increase is due to immigration and as people return home this evening crammed into public transport and on congested roads, they could well ask where all of these people are going to fit”. Indeed they may!
The one-third that isn’t due to immigration relates to the fact that we are all living longer. At the end of last year there were 1.4 million aged 85 and over, this is forecast to double by 2035 and the number of over-95s will quadruple. Nothing we can do about that except be thankful to the NHS.
It follows that immigration must be reduced, or even stopped. The irony is that anyone saying that is immediately accused of being racist. In fact the unchecked flood of people entering the UK is giving succour to vermin such as the BNP. The issue has nothing to do with race, it has everything to do with the obvious fact that the place is full beyond its capacity.
Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, in commenting on the projections, said yesterday that “there is more to do to bring net migration to the order of tens of thousands per year and ensure migration which benefits the UK”. He is right to try because, as we have learned recently the world population is itself set to rocket. But – and it is a very big but – so long as we are party to the EU open doors policy the government remains powerless to stop the flow of immigration from within its borders.
Right now we are seeing the fallacy of the one-club EU approach. Perhaps not surprisingly, Germany and France are unhappy at the thought of constantly bailing out smaller and more economically-fragile countries over which they have no budgetry control. Thanks largely to Grumpy Gordon we are not in the Euro. However we are an obvious destination for people in the countries insufficiently resourced to cope with the recession, and they are pouring in. Ultimately that damages not only this country but the ones being deserted by skilled workers.
On Monday half of David Cameron’s MPs refused to support his denial of an EU referendum. Since then various Conservatives who supported the prime minister have warned that they will not do so next time, amongst them was the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. He knows that the clock is ticking on the cost of population explosion, not just on services but on their costs plus those of pensions and benefits.
By contrast Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband continue to ridicule any worries about over-population. Perhaps they would like to tell us just how many they believe we can accomodate without bringing about a total collapse!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Ray Parker Jr. 2. Bolton 3. Twelve 4. Pigs 5. Pain 6. Switzerland 7. In the morning 8. Overload 9. President Marcos 10. A lie detector.
Many years on the allotments have taught us one thing at least, the perils of instant stardom. From time to time new members arrive to take over a neglected plot and invariably set to work with gusto. Within weeks they often have a patch that would bring a glow to Monty Don’s cheeks. One year later some have vanished, never to be seen again. So we have learned to reserve judgement, something that we increasingly fail to do at national level.
Maybe the arrival of Talent Shows and Big Brother on the box has given us Brits an appetite for instant stardom. Suddenly an unknown is acclaimed by the tabloids, a new star is born. Often the very same papers break the news, with lurid headlines, that all is not quite what it seemed. Whatever the reason, we are certainly hasty in our national judgement these days! Three new examples come instantly to mind.
Every news bulletin for the past week has acclaimed the heroes of Libya. Suddenly what looked like a rag-tag army of rebels has become a million copies of Montgomery, men of valour, honour and goodness galore. Then the feet of clay began to emerge. The heroes decide to exhibit an executed corpse for seven days and run a sort of peep-show, not exactly a la Montgomery. Then we learn that fifty of Gaddafi’s supporters have been found with their hands tied behind their backs and a bullet through their heads. Then we see graphic images on the web of the former dictator’s body being desecrated in an obscene way. Maybe not good guys at all?
Then we have had the arrival of protestors on the steps of St Pauls Cathedral. Cue trumpets of acclaim for these are, we are told, the first of zillions prepared to expose the bankers. The dawn of a new age in which Frustrated of Godalming lays down his pen and puts up his tent. Just one week on we learn that the tents are mainly empty at night, and reporters checking this out are threatened by the sort of people one hopes not to meet in dark alleyways.
And our third example is a classic and comes from the world of cricket. Throughout the summer a seemingly transformed England one-day team was lauded to the heavens. This new combination was unbeatable, a wonderful example to the nation in both the art of spin-bowling, big-six hitting and sportsmanship. MBEs all round!
Yesterday the new all-conquering heroes suffered the final defeat of their Indian tour. Unfortunately it was the fifth thrashing out of five in a series where the only thing we proved capable of spinning was the coin. And for good measure the hosts had cause to complain at the foul-mouthed antics of some of the England players, a trait they managed to perpetuate even as the players left the pitch yesterday in Calcutta.
Who knows, even some of our other instant stars may prove to have feet of clay too. It is not so long since David Cameron and Nick Clegg won every maiden’s heart with their love-in in the rose garden. Now there are at least 97 of their disciples who show signs of disenchantment.
But perhaps we critics of instant stardom are missing something. Perhaps stars are born, plunge to earth and then ascend once more. If two-Jags Prescott suddenly casts off his ermine robes and returns to rule over us we will know that to be so!
TEST YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WITH THE MIDWEEK QUIZ:
1. Who was the frst Briton to hold the world javelin record? 2. Hidetoshi Nakata of Japan made his Premiership debut with which club? 3. How many players are there in a Canadian football team? 4. Chester Whites, Durocs and Hampshire are all types of what animal? 5. What is killed by an analgesic? 6. The Dunfourspitz is the highest mountain where? 7. When do ducks always lay their eggs? 8. What was the first Top Ten hit for the Sugababes? 9. Who preceded Corazon Aquino as President of the Philippines? 10. Which test would you be taking if you underwent a polygraph test?
OOOO ANSWERS TOMORROW OOOO
When I penned my recent piece on the death of democracy I underestimated the willingness of at least some MPs to stand up for it. In last night’s debate in the Commons on the need for a referendum on Europe, an impressive number of Conservative MPs made it clear that having been party to a promise to consult the people, they had no moral alternative than to vote for a national vote. Despite a three-line whip imposed by the prime minister, 82 voted for a referendum and a further 15 abstained. In all about half of all Conservative members, outside the “payroll vote” of ministers and their aides, defied Davd Cameron and the barrage of threats to which they had been subjected. Of course the motion was lost since Cameron can rely on his lapdog Lib Dem partners, and his dormant Labour opponents, to support him.
The point here is that the vote was not about leaving Europe, loosening our ties, or staying in. It was simply about the right of the people to express a view on an issue that impinges on every family in the land. If truth be told when, in the run-up to the election, Cameron pledged to force a referendum at the “earliest moment” he was of course indulging in the type of politics that has brought the art so low in the public view. The reality undoubtedly is that whilst he does have reservations about Brussels, he has even greater reservations about the concept of listening to public opinion. For different reasons Miliband feels much the same way.
One of the most dramatic moments of the debate came with the resignation of Philip Hollobone, an aide to David Lidington, the Europe Minister. He pointed out that the debate was the result of a public petition and said that supporting the referendum motion could help to “restore public confidence in politicians and Parliament”. He went on to say: “Heres our opportunity to show people that actually the system can work; that representative government does actually continue to function in the land where it was nurtured and developed; that patriotism, putting your country rather than your own interests first, is not foreign to this House”. He was followed by Stewart Jackson, another PPS, who also resigned, accusing Mr Cameron of “catastrophic mismanagement in terms of my party”. He in turn was followed by a large number of other Conservative MPs most of whom emphasised the importance of keeping promises conveyd by them to their constituents.
None of them were heard by the prime minister who left the House after giving his own version of things. He didnt have a good day. His analogy of helping a neighbour to put out a fire was ridiculous. Yes, one would do that but that doesnt imply that one would also allow the neighbour to impose countless rules on ones own household. But, as is often the case anything daft said by the king of spin was more than matched by Ed Miliband. He said that when the French President told the prime minister to shut up he was speaking for Britain. Mr Miliband clearly hasn’t spoken to many of what he terms ‘ordinary people’.
A new poll out today reveals that almost 75 per cent believe that the British people should have the opportunity to express a view on the EU. Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have shown total contempt for that view, clearly they hold a very low view of the people and of the democratic process.
I suspect that their view of us all is reciprocated. I thought I would never say this, but I admire the 97 Conservatives who at least demonstrated that not all MPs are simply ‘voting fodder’ and there is some point in electing representatives.
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A billion is not a number that we codgers find easy to contemplate. When we proposed to lay down concrete paths on the allotments we had umpteen meetings to consider the expenditure of £500, I shudder to think how many times we would have met to debate a thousand, let alone a billion. Even back in 1804 we would have struggled to grasp the fact that there were one billion people on our planet, now that there are seven billion our feeble minds merely boggle.
The increase in the number of souls inhabiting the earth is rocketing. Twelve years ago the United Nations staged a great hoo-hah when the then secretary general, Kofi Annan, held aloft, in a Sarajevy hospital, new born Adnan Nevic who was the symbolic six billionth living person. On October 31st of this year there will be a ceremony to mark the arrival of the seven billionth. When you allow for the fact that man that is born of woman has but a short time to live, that figure tells you everything about the story of arrivals far outstripping departures!
According to a UN report due out this week the global population will hit nine billion by 2050 and, by the end of the century will exceed 16 billion. Rising birth rates in many countries, particularly those in the developing world, have combined with factors such as longer life expectancy and successes in reducing infant mortality to produce a population that few used to predict was ever possible.
So we have a good news story at last? Actually no. Twelve years on, Adnan Nevic lives in Visoko. His surroundings are pleasant though far from affluent. Most of the 78 million children to be born this year will not be so fortunate. The vast majority will be born into appalling privation, in slums in developing countries. Across the world millions lack adequate sanitation and live in penury without electricity, water or enough to eat. Even worse, child number seven billion will be born into an even more threatening world than that of Adnan, it is one threatened by terrorism, economic crisis, climate change and new wars unthought of in 1999.
Sir Crispin Tickell, a former ambassador to the UN, is now an environmental guru. He believes that the greatest nightmare of all is “the proliferation of our own species”. We are, he says “a species out of control”. As population rises, consumption will increase and place an impossible strain on natural resources, from water supplies and agricultural land to fish in the ocean, as well as giving rise to runaway climate change as we burn ever more fossil fuels.
Mary Robinson, the former Irish president, told a recent meeting of the Aspen Institute that “Somalia shows the extent to which failure to learn from the famine of 1992, and our failure to prioritise the health of women and children has become a global problem, one none of us can ignore”. But ignore it we do, and world leaders are reluctant to face up to the appalling truth which is that there is a finite limit to what we can take from the planet and the soaring poplulation will in due course deplete it completely. Before then many species will become extinct, ultimately man likewise.
Right at the centre of this issue lies womens rights. Hundreds of millions of women around the world, but mainly in developing countries, have families bigger than they would wish, because they are being denied the ability to control their own reproductive health, according to Population Action International. Geoff Dableko, of the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC, urges that; “Investments in reproductive health are vital to global development, with widespread beenfits for reducing poverty, empowering women, protecting the environment, and addressing the threat of civil unrest”.
Paul Ehrlich is Bing professor of population studies at Stanford University in California. In 1968 he published The Population Bomb’ which sold many millions of copies. Central to his argument even then was the belief that global population growth would exceed the Earths capacity to feed it. Today, not surprisingly, he is even more pessimistic. The question is, he contends, whether “we can avoid the first time an entire global civilisation has given us the opportunity of having the whole mess collapse”. “The next two billion people will, he argues, put more and more pressure on environmental issues that we are failing to handle even now. Each individual has to have food from more marginal land…materials from poorer ores. We’re going to use more oil so we have to drill deeper. We’re past the point of diminishing returns”.
Can we find a way of feeding yet billions more? Ehrlich points out that we are failing right now to feed 7 billion. He points out that we could possibly support more people on the planet if humans were willing to share equally, but they aren’t. Relatively affluent societies such as ours have no intention of reducing our living standards to improve those of others.
In reality the only answer to this nightmare has to be a political one. Sadly the only organisation structured to lead that is the UN. But were it to suggest massive cut-backs in the consumption of the developed countries and massive investment in womens health in the undeveloped ones, we all know what the answer would be.
Environmentalists regularly appear on TV to highlight the danger of the extinction of this or that species. Strangely they never mention that the saviours they propose – us – are themselves facing a similar fate!
It always seems to me that there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the Human Rights Act. I, for one regularly link it with the ludicrous regulations that pour forth from the EU bureaucracy, such as the latest masterpiece named the Agency Workers Directive which will cost the UK almost £2 billion per year. Others, such as my old pal Albert, assume that one can exploit ones own human rights without regard for the effect on others, a good example being his claiming the human right to lie in bed without recognising that others then have to see to his dozens of hens.
All of which is unfortunate since it creates a groundswell of support for those who wish to ban the act from these shores. Observance of human rights are a basic need in every society. We have seen in Libya the effect of someone like Gaddafi flouting them at every turn. When he is caught the so-called rebels follow his example, and behave like the wildest of animals. It will be a long time before anyone in that ciountry recognises the human rights of every other citizen.
In this country we have a reasonably good record on adherance to human rights in everything from police arrests through to treatment of the sick and disabled. I say reasonably because we still have a fair way to go. The problem is that almost everyone now regards the Human Rights Act as a charter for foreign criminals. It isnt, the real problem is that its administration is abysmal. So few checks are made on claims made to the courts that it has become almost impossible to deport anyone, however dangerous they may be.
Let us look at a current example. Gary Ellis, 23, came to Britain from Jamaica in 2001, on a visitors visa. In 2004 he was jailed for a year for robbery. Then, in April 2007, he was imprisoned for 30 months for supplying Class A drugs. In 2008 the Home Office tried to deport him, but Ellis brought his first Article 8 appeal, and a panel led by immigration judge Kamini Roopnarine-Davies ruled that he must remain here due to his family life with partner Selese Whiley.
In September 2009 Ellis was convicted again, this time of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs, and was handed another 30-month sentence. Again the Home Office demanded his deportation but another immigration judge, Ifeyinwa Munonyedi, sitting with a magistrate, Andrew Richardson, found that he was a “fully integrated member of British society” with an “established family life with his partner, Miss Whiley, and their daughter”. A Home Office appeal was rejecetd last month by Devin Gill, a senior immigration judge .
Again Ellis claimed that he owed money to drug dealers, and he gave evidence of threats having been made to Miss Wiley and her mother. Judge Gill referred to the “considerable pressure” that Ellis and his partner were under.
Unbelievably, the case presented on behalf of Ellis, by an experienced immigration lawyer, was never checked out. Whilst he was allowed a first-class advocate paid for by the taxpayer, the public was represented by a very junior civil servant known as a “Home Office presenting officer” with no legal qualifications and just two weeks of training. No checks were made on Ellis’s sad story.
The truth is somewhat different. Miss Whiley was tracked down by the media and she confirmed that the couple seperated in 2007 after a relationship that lasted only eighteen months. She said that “he wouldnt be welcome in my home. He just keeeps offending and I dont understand why they cant get rid of him”. She added that Ellis has made no financial contribution towards her daughter’s upbringing. Apparently Ellis contacted her to ask that she lie on his behalf in the courts, a request she flatly declined. She utterly refuted the suggestion that she had been threatened.
This example is one of many of criminals avoiding deportation by lying to the courts who can only make judgements based on what they are told, if doubts are not raised. The likelihood is that at least some of the suspected terrorists allowed to stay here have also lied.
Surely the whole system of the Home Office presentation to the courts needs to be changed. Instead of reducing the subject to comedy by inventing the story of a cat, Theresa May should have insisted on detailed investigations before deportation applications are filed. If she does not now do so we will continue to read of dangerous criminals being allowed to stay here, and we will continue to demand that we opt out of the Human Rights Act.
Frankly, whatever Act we replace it with will still require a level of competence that up to now has been remarkably lacking!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAYS WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. Metro Goldwyn Mayer 2. Purple brown 3. Michelle McManus 4. Raymond Baxter 5. Speedy Gonzales 6. Snap 7. Deleware 8. Fools 9. Cheese 10. E. Nesbit
There were one or two disgruntled souls amongst us this morning as we sorted out the squabbling hens. The reason was twofold. As happens when daylight hours reduce the hens have reduced their egg output more than somewhat, it is a time when even the most enthusiastic questions the amount of work involved and its reward. But the main reason for Albert and Billy doing a Victor Meldrew was that the vote went aginst them at last night’s gathering of the alloments association. But, as someone pointed out, that’s democracy for you. Everyone has a vote and sometimes the verdict isn’t what one desires.
I have long suspected that the democracy that we Brits love to lecture other countries about only happens at local level. We elect MPs, which is democratic, but they are prevented by the parliamentary whip system from reflecting the feelings of their constituents, which isn’t. And today we have the perfect example.
In preparation for Monday’s vote on an EU referendum, the Daily Express commissioned a YouGov survey. The poll found that more than two-thirds of all voters – 67 per cent – would like their MPs to vote in favour of holding a referendum. Of Tory supporters 78 per cent were in favour, of Labour 59 per cent and of Lib Dems 57 per cent. Equally telling is the fact that 75 per cent wanted MPs to be free to vote according to their personal views, having taken readings in their constituencies. Immigration was cited as the biggest factor encouraging a desire to reconsider our EU links with 81 per cent and 60 per cent of Tories and Labour respectively making clear their unease.
So, this being a democracy, Monday’s vote will be an historic one. Actually no. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have all imposed a three-line whip with instructions to their MPs to vote down the proposal for a referendum. Some MPs are so incensed that they may risk rebellion but anyone with even the faintest ambition for promotion will not dare to do so. But in defying public opinion perhaps the reviled trio are at least standing by their beliefs. Actually no!
The records show very clearly what each man promised before the election. Cameron was crystal clear, a Conservative government would hold an early referendum to establish the view of the people in regard to Brussels. Clegg claimed to be “passionate” about a referendum and added that; “We’ve been signed up to Europe by default; two generations have never had their say”. Miliband made no secret of his love of Europe, but did promise the referendum that both Blair and Brown failed to hold despite promising to do so.
It is therefore not unreasonable to charge all three with telling lies. Neither is it unreasonable to charge them with a total contempt for, and disregard of, democracy. Few see the benefits of being a member of a vast bureaucratic and unaccountable organisation. Few support many of the myriad of regulations, the talk of an EU army and constant leaks revealing waste and corruption. But that is beside the point which is that the people have a right to at least express a view.
Let us hope that at least some brave souls will refuse to be told what they can and cannot vote for on Monday. Norman Tebbit spoke for many people of all political persuasions when he said yesterday that imposition of a gag in parliament will “embitter” many. It will, he said, be seen by voters as “a mixture of threats, cowardice and clever political manoeuvring”.
It will also tell us a good deal about the snivelling and dishonest leaders of our so-called democracy!
TEST YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WITH OUR WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. What did MGM stand for? 2. What colour is puce? 3. Which “Pop Idol” winner appeared on “You are What You Eat”? 4. Who was the first presenter of the TV series “Tomorrow’s World”? 5. Which cartoon character was the “fastest mouse in Mexico”? 6. Who had 90s No.1 hits with “The Power” and “Rhythm is a Dancer”? 7. Which US state is the second smallest? 8. According to the saying, who rush in where angels fear to tread? 9. What is Blue Vinney? 10. Who wrote “Five Children and It” and “Wet Magic“?
No tears were shed for Muammar Gaddafi when we assembled for hen-cleaning this morning. However, it has to be said that most of us were uneasy about the manner of his death having seen footage of a gloating mob kicking and beating him, not to mention stealing souvenirs from his still-alive body. There can be little doubt that he was then summarily executed, all of which tells us something about those who served in the so-called rebel army. Call us old-fashioned if you will but we believe in a rather more formal form of justice.
But the fact remains that the ghastly dictator has gone and Libya is ‘free’. Now comes the tricky part, for the temptation will be for new-age military heroes such as David Cameron to place troops on the ground the moment it becomes apparent that the Islamist fighters, who comprised the bulk of the revolutionary army, begin to exert their new found authority. Most of them were previously in the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Fighting Group and have made little secret of their desire to see Libya embrace Sharia law as the cornerstone of its new system. There will in due course be a battle royal between them and the secular liberals who long for western-style democracy. Whether the battle becomes one of words or deeds remains to be seen.
Either way, national cohesion will prove problematic; Libya is an enormous country, four times the size of Iraq, and difficulties in communication serve to entrench local sympathies and attitudes. Its people are deeply tribal and several tribes – among them the Warfalla, one of the largest – remain loyal to Gaddafi. Add to all this the fact that many of Libya’s cities are now awash with weapons as a result of arming the citizenry in its fight against the old regime and the further fact that the new government’s divided security apparatus will struggle to exert control over factions which have already made clear that they do not accept the composition of the interim government. Ominously the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, the successor to Bin Laden, yesterday promised to champion the “Libyan jihad”.
I found myself nodding when listening to Rees-Mogg on last night’s ‘Question Time”. He welcomed the downfall of Gaddafi but expressed total opposition to further involvement in this or any other war. He made the point that there is no longer a British empire, and we have to end our pretentions of still being a major player on the world stage. He clearly recoiled from suggestions from the audience that we should now move in on Syria and other equally appalling regimes. We haven’t the resources, we haven’t the right.
If Mr Rees-Mogg has read the new book published by Jeremy Paxman he will have realised that he is not alone in his thinking. Paxman’s ‘Empire’ examines what once ruling the world has done to the British. Our imperial history, Paxman claims, is no more than the smell of mothballs in a long-unopened wardrobe. Britain is now in irresistable decline yet we still wear plumed hats, award ourselves Orders of the ‘British Empire’, and have monarchs who drive in golden carriages. Noithing wrong with any of that provided we are not caught up in delusions of grandeur.
Incidentally, ‘Empire’ contains many horrific examples of the way our ancestors behaved during those long-gone glory days. The accounts of our handling and treatment of slaves quickly disperse any notion that at least we were once great in the truest sense of the word. Of course we are far from the only nation with a chequered history, but we do seem to be the only one that imagines deep down that we can still rule the world with a gunboat, always assuming that we still have one.
We were right to help the Libyan people but we would be well advised to step back now. If we escalate our involvement we will almost certainly be drawn into yet another conflict with no end. Do we really want another Iraq or Afghanistan? Is it our responsibility? Instead of focussing on foreign shores, and decidedly dubious, partners David Cameron should perhaps give attention to the horrendous mess into which we have plunged.
It is not of course just our distant shame of Empire that we should prefer to forget. It is a relatively short time since Blair literally embraced Gaddafi and followed that up with a further six visits. Small wonder that, however unfairly, some leading Americans argue that the role we play is a cynical one. As is theirs of course.
So farewell Gaddafi and, if we have any sense, farewell and good wishes to Libya!
CRICKET; WE AREN’T AS GOOD AS WE IMAGINE!
Next to hens, cricket occupies pride of place in many a codger’s heart, and we were delighted by the performance of our one-day international team during the latter part of the summer. I confess that we tended to regard the Indians as a busted flush, a victim of the new Cook-led all conquering England stars.
Now we are suffering a rude awakening. Yesterday India won the third match in the five match series being played in India, and although the England performance was an improvement over the first two thrashings we still had no answer to Dhoni and the rest.
Hindsight is of course a great gift but some of us did question the inclusion as wicket-keeper of Kieswetter, the exclusion of Anderson, and we were unhappy about the growing tendency toward so-called sledging.
There is still every reason for optimism but hopefully our feet are back on the ground. Whilst there we should concentrate on beating our opponents rather than abusing them!
There is a risk that a homily on honesty could sound all holier than thou. So I hasten to make clear that none amongst us allotment codgers claims honesty on moral grounds. But we have learned one life-lesson at least, telling one lie leads to another and ultimately to exposure. So we stick to the absolute truth as the only way to avoid landing in the proverbial. What truly amazes us is that the great, and the supposedly good, continue to lie almost as a way of life.
The inevitable result is that they end up on the headlines, and today is no exception. More out of curiosity than interest, I did a trawl of the morning’s papers. First up was Liam Fox. His statement to the Commons included the remark that ” the ministerial code has been found to be breached”. He made it sound as though a hurricane had struck, a force of nature for which no one is to blame. He moved on to the press ” where accusations are treated as fact”. He rendered this farrago of self-regarding , self congratulatory self-exculpation on the very day when yet more links between the Conservative’s high command and its introduction of donors to him were exposed. He in turn introduced them to Adam Werrity. The money thus procured was then spent on Werrity’s lavish trips abroad posing as Fox’s advisor. Enough said!
It seems likely that the police are about to examine all this in greater detail, but they too featured amongst today’s strangers to the truth. A major inquiry into the use of undercover police officers to infiltrate protest groups has been thrown into chaos after newspapers revealed that police chiefs have authorised undercover officers to give false evidence under oath in court. Jim Boyling took the oath and gave evidence as ‘Jim Sutton’ at London’s Horseferry Road court. Had it not been for the press his lies would have passed unnoticed.
Any one-day scan would bring the EU into the villain’s corner. Today we learn that senior officials have gone to great lengths to block publication of reports showing waste, nepotism and expenses fiddles. The internal auditors had reported that such practices were common amongst the 7000 unelected officials who work for the EU’s assemble. Klaus Welle, the parliament’s secretary-general, tried to block the release of the report to MEP’s, arguing that “exposure of the audits would “disrupt decision-making”. But for the press we would never have learned that billions of pounds have gone illegally into pockets. Almost as a postscript we learn that David Cameron is imposing a three-line whip on Tory MPs who have the timerity to propose voting in favour of a referendum next week.
Sadly, sections of the press are themselves amongst the candidates for liar of the day. James Murdoch told MPs that he was not aware that other journalists on the News of the World had been implicated in wrongdoing. Yesterday Julian Pike, a partner with Farrer and Co, the law firm that represents the Queen, said that Mr Murdoch met Mr Myler on May 27th,2008 to discuss the case and received a briefing document stating that others were involved.
No one-day ‘fiberama’ would be complete without Andrew Lansley. He has constantly claimed that his NHS Reform Bill has the backing of the medical profession. Yesterday Dr Clare Gerada, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that the reforms would “compromise” GPs. There will be, she said ; “two queues; one for people who can afford to pay, another for those who can’t”. And Malcolm Grant, the chair of the proposed NHS commissioning board, told MPs that the health bill was “completely unintelligible”.
I am running out of space, which says it all about the number of people and bodies who, on one day alone, were found to be strangers to the truth. Is it any wonder that a spirit of cynicism now stalks the land? We have just heard that Gadaffi has been killed. Good news. But is it true?
Oh what a tangled web they weave when they are trying to deceive!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Monkey 2. Man Utd 3. James 11 4. Shayne Ward 5. An acre 6. Dauphin 7. The Ouse 8. Sandie Shaw 9. Clement Attlee 10. July
We old codgers like Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England. The sentiment stems from the visit some of us made to his inner sanctum when we ferried schoolchildren, who had published books on money management, to London. He talked to the pupils for half an hour or so, but I have to confess that apart from his stating that our financial mess was caused by greed, I understood little. However I do recall his mentioning Quantitative Easing (QE).
Now he has mentioned it again, in fact he has taken more action in that regard. Our old pal – codgers do tend to suffer from delusions – has just printed another £75 billion to add to the £275 billion that has already found its way into the hands of our esteemed bankers. Again one cannot help noticing that the talk is of saving the banks, not the economy.
Yesterday I happened to hear some called Sentence – I think that was his name rather than his mission – who last month resigned from Mervyn’s monetary committee. He said that QE is a major mistake, it won’t work. Some mistake at £275 billion! This prompted me to check out the view of as many experts -why do they all appear to be younger than Adrian Mole – as I could find in our soon-to-be closed library. Now I really have to depress you.
As best I can sum it up most of this stupefying sum has allegedly vanished overseas, covering bad debts, fuelling commodity prices, depressing the pound and increasing inflation. Meanwhile our economy has ground to a shuddering halt and inflation has hit record levels. It seems that QE is like filling a car with petrol when the tank is disconnecetd from the engine. It is, according to people who should know, a dreadful policy.
So, with George Osborne insisting that he will cut till he drops, our only counter-recessionary policy is one that appeases the past recklesness and present greed of bankers, in the certain knowledge that none of the proclaimed boost to domestic credit will go anywhere near it.
Armed with this acquired ‘knowledge’ I tackled the local bank manager, who from time to time wanders on to the allotments with his dog. I asked why it would not be better to direct the money straight on to the High Street, to revive demand by helping struggling businesses and the unemployed by building credit lines from the front line in the market place, rather than from top down. He suggested that a visit by the men in white coats may be imminent. “Leave it to the experts, Dennis” he said. That worries me for it was the self same experts that created our penury in the first place.
But he managed to worry us even more. He remarked that all pensions will soon be in deep trouble, apart from those of the public sector of course. Apparently the effect of QE is to drive down the interest paid on gilts. Pension funds rely on these and, given previous reductions, are already struggling. Now our local Captain Mainwaring cheerfully predicts that many will simply go pop. Ye Gods.
All of this has inclined us codgers to look at the gathering London ’99 per cent’ protest with a friendly eye. After all, what the growing numbers are claiming is that our society is run by the rich for the one percent out there who carry the same label. And when we read that Mick Davis, one of those who funded the ever present Werrity, receives an annual salary of £21.2 million, we knew that they were right. Throw in Osborne’s reluctance to tackle tax avoidance (which accounts for £100 billion), bank bonuses and the rest and you have the picture.
America is not without its economic problems too, but it is interesting to visit as I did recently. The only grumbles about different treatment of the haves-and-have-nots I heard related to race. In other spheres they have a far less elitist and confrontational approach. Sport provides an example. If, say, a baseball club makes a huge profit the Basball Authorities tax it and redistribute to other clubs. Small wonder that the American owners of Liverpool FC remarked that they much prefer the UK where “you keep every cent despite the fact that without the lesser clubs you would have no games”.
Right now in parts of the north-east, such as Consett, unemployment has reached 35% amongst the 16-24 age group. Local services have been emasculated and some, such as the youth advisory service, local bus service and civic centre closed. There we have the perfect recipe for civil unrest the like of which we haven’t seen since the 1930s.
Over dramatic? Then turn again to our old pal Mervyn. Yesterday he said: ” We face the worst economic prospect since the 1930s, possibly ever”.
Thanks Merv, but go easy on the QE!
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. What type of animal is a Sooty Mangabey? 2. Which team lost the first FA Cup Final decided on penalties? 3. Whom did William 111 defeat in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne? 4. Who won “X Factor 2″? 5. In Old English which word meant a field? 6. What were the eldest sons of French kings called from the 14th century? 7. Ely stands on which river? 8. Which 60s singer married designer Jeff Banks? 9. In 1945, who became prime minister? 10. In which month in 2006 was “top of the Pops” aired for the last time?
We were kitted out like lifeboat men as we cleaned out the hens this morning, the monsoons are back! Having scraped and slithered, we were soon back in the warm clubhouse, there to exchange our somewhat jaundiced views of the great and good. Much talk of corruption prompted by yet more revelations, and the oft debated question of whether the powers that be are as corrupt as they appear or whether they are just plain stupid. I subscribe to the latter since it is hard to imagine even a half-witted chicken not realising that what it was doing would quickly become apparent.
Today’s spotlight has fallen on the justice minister, Jonathan Djanogly, who has been stripped of his responsibility to regulate firms that “ambulance chase” the public. This follows an investigation by the Guardian that revealed how he and his family could profit from controversial changes to legal aid being piloted by him through parliament.
Mr Djanogly, the heir to a £300 million family business, had failed to declare that his teenage children were shareholders in his brother-in-law’s busineses – two firms that advertise claims and are part of an industry that he has regulated as a minister. Claims-management firms “ambulance chase” the sick, sexually harassed and the sacked and put them in touch with no-win no-fee lawyers. The firms collect a payment known as a referal fee. In May, the Legal Services Board , the independent body which advises ministers on legal regulation, had said the case for banning fees “had not been made out”. Four months later – without any consultation or impact assessment – Mr Djanogly announced a ban on referral fees in personal injury cases, but effectively excluded his brother-in-law’s businesses, which deal in employment law.
Last week Sir Gus O’Donnell – surely the busiest man in Westminster – launched an enquiry into the apparent conflict of interest and meantime has announced that in future Ken Clarke will be in charge of relevant areas, leaving Djanogly in charge of legal aid and civil litigation. This of course means that he will be able to identify growth areas for claim management companies.
Djanogly’s brother-in-law, Ben Silk, runs two firms. Legal Link Introductory Services trades as Justice Direct, the other is Going Legal. The two firms made a profit last year of £130,000. After he was contacted by Silk, who was alarmed by the Guardian’s investigation, the minister sold his children’s stakes. But the minister has at least £250,000 in shares in companies with insurance susidiaries and is a member of his family’s Lloyds underwriter partnership that deals in accident, health and motor claims. He has been entitled to £41,000 a year from that partnership, known as the Djanogly Family LLP.
There is much more tedious detail and, to spare my typing finger, I will leave it to your imagination. The point is of course that yet again we have evidence that ministers seem incapable of recognising a conflict of interests. Amazing! Even on minor charity trustee boards one has to swear that one has no such conflicts, and even a dolt like me understands that one cannot make decisions on matters that could produce personal benefit.
Meantime our old friend Adam Werrity may face a police investigation. Since he presented himself as an advisor to a minister it could be argued that his funding came from benefactors who imagined that he was an MOD official. Which raises the question as to why Fox did not appoint him as an official advisor. The answer is that such a move would have rendered his sponsorship open to questions under the Freedom of Information Act.
At least that ludicrous saga has forced the government to blow the dust off its promise to regulate lobbying. That in turn may lead to some interesting revelations. Hardly a day passes but we hear reference to a think-tank, usually a euphemism for a pressure group. It is said that were we to know the identity of those backing such groups financially we would have huge scandals to chew over. Already we know a good deal about some of them. Today’s Telegraph reveals that property developers have mounted a huge lobbying campaign backed by the rich and powerful to alter planning laws in favour of development. Sir Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, has said that the “fingerprints” of rich builders are all over the reforms which will give developers carte blanche to build on large parts of rural England despite the availability of vast areas of so-called brownfield sites. As part of all this the Telegraph has revealed that an elite forum of property developers charged “key players in the industry” £2500 a year to set up meetings with senior Conservatives, and records show that ministers in charge of the new planning regulations have met 28 times with figures from the property lobby as against 11 with environmental groups.
It all tends to make the ‘Occupy London’ protest appear reasonable. In 20 British cities and in London itself, camps have been set up and they feature people from all walks of life. It is a simple and visceral protest at the injustice of the powerful still coining huge profits and bonuses while everyone else pays the price in cuts and lost jobs. The Financial Times declares that; “The cry for change is one that must be heeded”, and goes on to say that “the fundamental call for a fairer distribution of wealth cannot be ignored”.
When the FT begins to say such things it is surely time for David Cameron to take action. Whether his ministers and lobbyists are actually corrupt or just plain stupid, the political price will be the same. Today’s opinion polls show his party now trailing Labour by a mile with the Lib Dems on a miniscule 8 per cent.
What is happening compounds what we all felt at the time of the expenses scandal. Perhaps, should an election actually take place, the majority vote would be for ‘none of them’!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Viewed from a distance our society seems a very strange one. Yesterday, activists occupied the area outside of St Paul’s Cathedral as part of a growing global protest against corporate greed. It is, we are told, the launch of a new, practical politics for those disillusioned with representative democracy, which is a “private club run for the rich by the rich”.
Most of us are already nodding at that. We see a society in turmoil with austerity biting hard but, to quote the protestors, only for the “99 per cent”. Here in the UK we have been regaled with evidence of corruption writ large in the corridors of power. No sooner had the story of Murdoch and his cabinet friends subsided temporarily, we had the tale of Fox and Werrity. Now we learn that the same tycoon that funded that dubious pair has also entertained the new defence secretary, Philip Hammond. As each day passes we become more and more aware of the fact that far from all being in it together, society is deeply divided by the haves and have nots.
As someone who, a zillion years ago, read history at university, I know only too well the danger of attempting to pinpoint moments at which cultures changed. However, it seems reasonable to assume that the Thatcher era had at least something to do with out transition from an open, caring society into one obsessed with, and focussed on, financial reward and status. It was from around that time that we came to regard mothers who stayed at home as ‘unproductive’, and old people likewise. It is as if we forgot that every life has a beginning and an end, and for many years at each end we are cared for.
Yesterday I wrote of the recent revelations from the Care Quality Commission of neglect of the elderly in some hospitals, a product of decisions to reduce the funding for nursing. Today the same organisation publishes its report on nursing homes. Surprise, surprise, the situation there is even worse. One in seven is breaching the law by failing to prevent its residents becoming malnourished and dehydrated. And the majority now employ care assistants rather than nurses to save money.
The market-shaped way of life that now dominates our society has no time for the ’unproductive’. Care for our children fits into a marketised understanding of realationship; we talk of “investing” in our children, we regard their upbringing as something that must be “fitted into” busy and “productive” lives. At the other end of the age spectrum the elderly are perceived as a burden, a group with no “economic value”. Occasionally we laud examples of “grey power” as exemplified by people like David Attenborough but they are the exception rather than the rule. High-speed rail is infinitely more important than “unproductive care”.
Over the past two decades there has been a gradual and grudging reluctance to make the adjustments necessary to care for children (increased leave and part-time working), but the care of the elderly in an increasingly ageing society has been doggedly postponed – we simply don’t want to think about it. What we have lost, as a form of human marketisation has taken over, is the perception of the value of human experience beyond the busyness of the peak years of life. Milton summed it up well in the final line of ‘On His Blindness’ when he wrote “they also serve who only stand and wait”.
Of course in much of this we are not different to many of the other countries now experiencing the protests of the young and disillusioned. But in one major respect we are unique. Death has become the taboo word. Our health systems are fixated on cure and prevention. Across society we have lost the concept of honouring our elders, of having respect for their fraility and of recognising that their final years before death are important for all of us.
You will find this depressing but that is merely a product of our new marketised age. Death is a part of what makes our lives meaningful. In taking the subject off our life-maps we are creating the illusion that the young never grow old, never die except via tragedy.
The late Steve Jobs was a star inventor of our new age, yet in his remarkable speech to Stanford graduates in 2005 he bravely put death at centre stage. Death is, he contended, “very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent” . Perhaps already aware of his own mortality, he was telling us that developments and productivity are important but are only so as part of the total journey, they are not an end in themselves.
Joan Bakewell, interviewed on Radio 4′s Today programme pondered the impact on our modern age attitudes of the decline of religion. She asked who now teaches kindness as she learned it in Sunday School. She may have a point but religious organisations have a patchy record on kindness. It is surely the creeping obsession with marketisation that has led so many to ask “what do I get put of this relationship”, it is surely marketisation that has chnged all our patterns of thought.
History suggests that once cultural changes have taken root only massive disasters bring about change. We saw an exmaple in the second world war. A nation at war with itself, and on the verge of the self-destruction of a prolonged general strike, came togther and found unity of thought and purpose. Hopefully no such disaster awaits us now, but a total collapse of the world’s economic structure cannot be ruled out.
Who knows? The millions of young people around the world who are now protesting that there is more to life than greed and acquisition may just kick-start a new train of thought, a new way of life. Sadly I have to admit that we chicken-keepers are not optimistic given the leadership that we have. Whether you focus on Blair or Cameron, and their friends, you find an obsession with riches and little regard for how it is acquired.
The omens are not good but we should wish well all those still idealistic enough to protest .