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.