Archive for January, 2012
Having cleaned out the hens and expressed relief at the absence of ice from any of the water-dispensers, we retired to the warmth of our clubhouse for a brew. As is our routine we then began to scan the various newspapers that arrive in member’s bags. First to the sports news and the zillionth discussion about Arsene Wenger. I’m sure we pay more attention to him than Mrs Wenger does and it is hard to understand, certainly more so that the preoccupation of some of our number with Lady Gaga!
The most surprising thing to emerge from our less-than-learned study was the number of full-page ads by Bupa. A full page in the dailies doesn’t come cheap, and the obvious conclusion is that Bupa is gearing up to benefit from the outcome of the Lansley NHS reforms. Included in the blurb is the claim that Bupa provides access to proven drugs not routinely available on the NHS” and access to “the very latest medical equipment and specialist treatment centres”.
And it is all true. Several of us had Bupa cover when we were in employment and regularly found that insurance enabled us to secure immediate diagnosis and treatment from specialists that we would have to wait for weeks to see via the NHS. Unfair on everyone else but in those days the amount of private medicine was limited. Now our Foundation Hospitals are being instructed to cut costs significantly and to open up 49% of NHS beds to private patients. Suddenly the world will be the oyster for those having, or able to pay for, health insurance. Dependent on how quickly hospitals are obliged to seek revenue in this way, we are within a scalpel’s distance of a two-tier system. So ministers are able to state that they are not privatising the NHS, but that is only half the truth.
As at this morning MPs are preoccupied with David Cameron’s U-turn in Brussels, and the fact that Miliband appears to have woken up and has the king of spin on the backfoot on bank bonuses. But even so NHS reforms are hitting the headlines too. Even the, to use Albert’s term, Daily Torygraph is on the warpath. Mary Riddell sees the NHS as Cameron’s greatest threat. She describes Andrew Lansley as “the Dr Crippen of public policy and describes his Bill as “destroying the NHS, antagonising the workforce, estranging the Royal Colleges and spending an estimated £3.4 billion on making an adequate system unworkable”. Ms Riddell believes that that the NHS may yet prove the defining crisis of Cameron’s premiership. Seldom has a devoted Conservative organ launched such a fierce onslaught.
And it is far from alone. The editors of the respected British Medical Journal, the Health Service Journal, and the Nursing Times have today warned that the Lansley Bill is so badly thought out that it will leave ” an unstable system that is only partially fit for purpose”. They go on to argue that the Bill is “unnecessary, poorly conceived, badly communicated and a dangerous distraction at a time when the NHS is required to make unprecedented savings”.
Meantime the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists has joined the royal colleges of midwives and nurses plus the British Medical Association in declaring outright oppoition. The Royal College of GPs has so far refrained from joining them, but their poll has shown 98% of GPs want the bill withdrawn, so their move is imminent. All of these bodies are non-political and moderate by nature. All say that the Bill’s main objective is to open up the NHS to competition from private providers.
Perhaps their most significant argument is that the reforms are so badly designed that another major NHS reform is guaranteed within five years. They collectively demand that parliament should establish an independent commission to hold “a national discussion on the future of our national health system”. But it won’t, and Lansley will blunder on.
If Lansley had wanted evolution rather than revolution , he would have slimmed down existing primary care trusts, put clinical staff on the board alongside the best NHS managers and let them figure out how best to spend the money available whilst focussing on quality and safety of care. Instead he has launched – despite the fact that the bill has not yet cleared the Lords – a chaotic hotch-potch. Spare a thought for the virgin commissioning consortia who are charged with making local decisions in the interests of patients while obeying national guidelines, regulatory rules and competition laws. They will undoubtedly panic and put everything out to competitive tender. Or they’ll spend a fortune on “commissiong support setrvices”. Or both. One group will benefit. Lawyers and management consultants will quickly find themselves in the Stephen Hester multi-millionnaire class.
The whole affair is incompetent in the extreme. If you can afford a Bupa insurance you need not worry, if anything the service you will receive will be better than now. If, like we codgers, you cannot afford it, prepare to meet thy doom!
THE THINGS PEOPLE SAY! “I’ve never said the word ‘never’ “….Barry Hearn on Radio 5 Live “There was nothing wrong with his timing, he was just a bit late”…..Mark Bright on Radio 5 Live “We’ve just heard Andrew Strauss give Jimmy Anderson the nod”….Michael Atherton on Sky Sports “I’m all for women’s rights – and for their lefts too”….Groucho Marx “Whatever women do they must do it twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult”….Charlotte Whitton “I don’t eat snails – I prefer fast food”…..Roger Von Oech “I went to hear Pavarotti once. He doesn’t like it when you join in”…..Mick Miller “Heterosexuals are always asking me ‘What do you lesbians do in bed?” And I tell them, “Well, it’s a lot like heterosexual sex – only one of us doesn’t have to fake an orgasm”….Suzanne Westenhoefer
In a previous blog I guaranteed three cheers for Stephen Hester should he decide to forego his bonus from the state-owned RBS bank. But on a crisp, frosty morning on the allotments we managed only two. The other hooray for Henry was lost since he took rather a long time to realise that he was, in the words of his spokesman, being seen as “a pariah”. That apart, we learned that he is still in line for as much as £7.8 million in a new round of pay and perks.
Without doubt what tipped the scales on the immediate bonus was the decision by Ed Milioband to force a Commons vote. Small wonder that ministers were relieved, for we now know that they were lying through their gold-capped teeth. The bank has confirmed that there was no commitment by the previous government to pay a bonus, and no threat from the Board to flounce out. Both David Cameron and George Osborne have shown how remarkably out of touch they are with public opinion. As Lib Dem Lord Oakeshott put it “Britain is sick of robber bankers who help themselves before customers”.
And large sections of it are also sick of the constant peddling of diet regimes, none of which have been subjected to clinical research, all aided and abetted by the daily portrayal of models whose waists are thinner than the meat between a mackeral’s eyebrows. It is to the credit of MPs that an all-party group is today opening a hearing on body confidence. The ultimate credit for this new level of exposure must go to the health and fitness charity, the Central YMCA.
Their chief executive, Rosi Prescott – no relation – says that the charity is starting to see lack of body confidence taking over vast numbers of young people. Rosi adds that: “Ever thinner celebrities are featured in magazines while digitally enhanced images of perfect bodies are all over the internet”. As a result there are now more than a million people, mainly teenagers or young people in their early 20s, with an eating disorder. And lets not forget the thousands of women who are victims of the cosmetic surgery boom, which includes the current breast implant scandal.
The chair of the new parliamentary committee is Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson. She claims that dissatisfaction with one’s body has never been higher; the pressure from the fashion industry and advertising means “low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders are all increasing”. Half of all girls aged 14 have dieted and a third of 14 year-old boys. And we are not talking about clinical obesity here, just an obsession born of the belief that anyone who doesn’t resemble a stick-insect is in some way inferior.
There is a quiet epidemic of kids taking laxitives to lose weight, youhg men taking steroids, girls throwing up or committing themselves to odd and dangerous restrictions in food. The life-long effects are becoming clearer; they include wrecked careers and permanent ill-health.
At the base of this nightmare are the drug companies that are pushing “wonder” cures and diets, tanning firms and heavily advertised cosmetic surgery specialists. They depend on the advertising and fashion firms that sell an idealised, youth-obsessed beauty cult that is far beyond the reach of most real humans. Against all this, what chance does an impressionable 14 year-old have?
This is not a women-only problem. Though girls are still vastly more likely to suffer from anorexia or to go for cosmetic surgery, the growth of male anorexia in recent years is very striking. But endless appeals to the fashion gurus to rethink the models they use have received a cold-hearted brushoff. The only progress made to date is a ban on digitally altered body images in advertising but battle has hardly been joined to this date.
The government has made much of what it calls the “happiness agenda”. It might well extend its criteria to include how people feel about their bodies after constantly comparing them with waif-children in magazines, the adlolescent gamines and beardless urchins of the runways. At least MPs are now making a start.
Among today’s witnesses will be companies such as L’Oreal, Boots, Unilever and Proctor & Gamble, as well as publishers and editors of young people’s magazines. In a preliminary hearing there has already been a clash between Susie Orbach, psychotherapist and author of ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ and Weight Watchers over what is thought to be the most expensive (£15m) advert ever shown in the UK.
So there is a huge and growing problem but what can be done? If government feels it necessary to influence how much we drink and how much excercise we take, it can surely do more to support people whose lives are being destroyed just for being ordinarily shaped. It could regulate the advertising and the practice of cosmetic surgery more closely, and it could pass laws making commercial dieting products carry independently monitored evidence of their effectiveness, or lack of it. Revolutionary? No, no more so than the inclusion of calories and additives in food labelling.
The truth is that governments have been too slow to tackle this issue. There has been little attempt at legislation and even less to ridicule and attack the skinny-model fashion houses or the snake-oil diet sellers. One can argue that adults should be capable of making their own judgements, but so many of the victims of anorexia are really children.
Having encountered a victim, we codgers offer a simple solution to the phoney diet sellers who stand to benefit most. Unless and until a body of top medical and scientifc experts confirm the veracity of their claims they should be obliged to carry warnings similar to those now on tobacco products. ‘This product can ruin your health” would be a good start. If they refuse, ban them!
A FEW QUOTES TO BRIGHTEN YOUR MONDAY! ” When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife”…..Prince Philip “A lady is a woman who never shows her underwear unintentionally”….Lilian Day “Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people once a year”…..Victor Borge “Copulation was Marilyn Monroe’s uncomplicated way of saying thank you”….Nunnally Johnson “Trying is the first step to failure”….Homer Simpson “We didn’t lose the game. We just ran out of time”….Vince Lombardi “The England soccer team – brilliant on paper, shit on grass”….Arthur Smith “I never mak eptredictions, and I never will”….Paul Gascoigne “ Well, either side could win, or it could be a draw”….Ron Atkinson
I have to confess that the Stephen Hester affair is rocketing outside of our field of comprehension. We now learn that the bonus that had us hopping around like Rhode Island Reds was mere loose change. It has now been announced that he is due another bonus of £3.3 million next year, and can look forward to a four-year incentive plan worth £27 million. We have never begrudged our taxes, suddenly the mood has changed amongst the allotment codgers.
A couple of our number were once fans of the Iron Lady, today they were speculating as to how she would have responded to a bank chief’s pistol pointed at her head. Meryl Streep has reminded us that Mrs Thatcher was not averse to calling her colleagues spineless, boneless, suet puddings of men. Faced with the threat that Mr Hester might flounce off she would probably have talked of “Holding the country to ransom”. She would certainly have refused to give in to the concessions of the jellyfish public school you-scratch-my-back cabinet elite of today.
And it has to be admitted that our chances of not being sold down the river at this week’s gathering of the EU leaders would have been considerably less had the Iron Lady been our representative. For this week brings David Cameron’s biggest test. When he played his recent veto card his popularity soared in a nation predominantly opposed to being under Brussel’s thumb. But there are now whispers, amongst Tory MPs at least, that he is not planning to follow up by demanding concessions.
The assumption was that he would now refuse to allow the new fiscal union to use the EU parliament and its many facilities to proceed with its plan. Well informed sources say that, as a result of pressure from Nick Clegg, he is not proposing to oppose that. It that is true, the result will be that in effect the countries in the Eurozone, plus those aspiring to be, will become the EU. And the laws they pass will impinge on the UK and draw us ever further into the mesh.
Fiscal union is the German-led response to the debt crisis that has threatened to consume the single currency. After the Euro’s launch, governments in countries such as Greece and Portugal were suddenly using the same currency as Germany – and were able to borrow at the same rock-bottom rates. They spent wildly, running up vast debts which they struggled to maintain once the markets took fright and drove up lending costs. The proposed new rules, or fiscal union, mean that all countries inside the union will have to submit their budgets for approval, or amendment, by Brussels and Berlin. It is hoped this will restore market confidence, it will certainly mean an end to sovereign status. Germany will achieve by peaceful means what it has twice failed to do by more violent methods.
And now the big challenge arrives. Unless Cameron now tells the other EU leaders that you can go ahead and use the institutions of the EU to police your new arrngements, but only if you accept our demand for a new set-up for ourselves too, the United Kingdom will be even worse off than before he staged his ‘heroic’ veto. If he rolls over now we have the worst of all worlds, we will be governed by a body that we are not even a member of!
Of course the prime minister faces a real political nightmare. If he now shows that his veto meant just that he will face a major confrontation with the Lib Dems. If he now shows that it was an empty gesture he will face the wrath of most Conservative MPs, and most of the country who responded so well to what it thought was a major step-back from EU control.
We will soon know, but unless Downing Street is being unusually tight-lipped it seems probable that he is about to roll over. It would be no great surprise to Cameron-watchers who will have noted that scarcely a month has passed since, when cornered, he said that he would certainly block any bonuses at state-owned UK banks.
This will be a big week for Britain and a big one for David Cameron. If he were to turn his short-term tactical manoeuvre into a real veto it would be the defining act of a historic premiership. If, despite the inevitable weasel words, he shows that his gesture was a hollow one he is doomed and so, one suspects, are we!
A FEW QUOTES FOR SUNDAY EVENING! ” It has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake”…..Mark Twain “I’d give up smoking but I’m not a quitter”…..Jo Brand “The best way to avoid a hangover is to avoid alcohol the night before”….Cathy Hopkins “Oysters are supposed to enhance your sexual performance but they don’t work for me. Perhaps I put them on too soon”…..Garry Shandling “Barbeques are like overhead projectors – they never work the first time around”…..Digby Anderson “You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100″….Woody Allen “To what do you attribute your long life? To the fact that I haven’t died yet” …..Sir Malcolm Sargent “It’s official. I’m middle-aged. I don’t need drugs any more. I can get the same effect just by standing up real fast”….Jonathan Katz
PS; Since penning this piece we have just learned that Stephen Hester has decided not to accept his bonus for this year. So much for minister’s claims that had they refused it he would have left the bank!
We had a sharp frost during the night and, at last, winter looked as it should as we arrived to feed the hens. No mud, just crunchy ridges. No rain, just a clear blue sky with the sun causing the frozen ferns to sparkle. We hope it will last, our deep-rooted pessimism says that it won’t. Either way we were pleased to see headlines about the newly discovered benefits of drinking copious amounts of tea. Apparently research has shown it to be the greatest opponent of blood pressure. Eureka, we codgers will live to be 150, unless drinking it from dirty old tin mugs negates the benefits.
Yesterday’s blog centered around the not-so-small fortune being pocketed by Stephen Lester. The row accelerated overnight and Boris the Mayor led it. Disgraceful was his verdict. George Osborne talked a great deal of rubbish by claiming that a majority shareholder has no power to overrule a Board of Directors, and added that it was all Labour’s fault anyway. Meantime Mr Hesler is presumably contemplating the alternatives of handing the loot back or joining a Greek bank.
In the same news bulletin that covered all this, there was an announcemnt of yet another of our troops in Afghanistan having been killed. Every time the now standard words are used I find myself screaming at the TV. Why are they still there, what can possibly be achieved? No answer from either the inanimate set or the reticent politicians. What I hadn’t realised was that having sent our young men into a futile conflict of extreme danger, we compound the crime by treating their widows or partners as dirt.
Sheenie Chant, 35, was seven months pregnant when her husband, RSM Darren Chant, was among five unarmed soldiers killed by a rogue Afghan policeman in Helmand in November 2009. She believes that our war widows are “forgotten ghosts”. She has accused politicians of “gross insensitivity” in failing to apply the Military Covenant to war widows when it comes to taxing and assessing their pensions.
Mrs Chant had just given birth to the boy that RSM Chant will never see when her pension was assessed at £19,000 per year. Her husband, who was about to be commisioned as an officer, had served in the Army for 22 years, accruing a pension of £15,000 a year. This has only been topped up by £4000 and does not recgnise his expected future earnings or his age. Now Mrs Chant is on the breadline and will lose her accomodation. She confesses to being shocked at “how clumsy and blunt it all was”. She was particularly upset at the fact that her husband’s pension is to be taxed, an action that she sees as “taking a dead man’s pension”.
Mrs Chant now faces a difficult life. She reflects that “Darren made the ultimate sacrifice for Queen and country”, and asks “How is the Government honouring that sacrifice?”. Since his death Mrs Chant has been overwhelmed by the kindness shown by the Grenadier Guards who have been “loyal, decent and have shown genuine love for me and the baby”. But the regiment too has been “mortified” by her financial situation.
And how did the MoD respond to these revelations? A spokesman said that “our thoughts remain with the families of those killed as a result of service”. Really? No, not really. To politicians, soldiers are just a means to an end.
They are not bankers or members of the wealthy lobbyists clique, and remain far from the mind of political opportunists. But the vast majority of people will be outraged to learn that we are not even providing adequately for young wives and children who face not only a lonely future, but a financially fraught one too!
We shall remember them, we say on Remembrance Sunday. So far as our government is concerned, it seems that we are wrong.
A FEW QUOTES FOR THE WEEKEND; ” “Never try to keep up with the Joneses. It’s much cheaper to drag them down to your level”……Quentin Crisp “Turn right after the Picasso”….Jeffrey Archer directing someone to the bathroom in his London penthouse “He’s a self-made man who worships his creator”….William Cowper “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you knew how seldom they do”…..Olin Miller “More people will get out of your way if you say ‘I’m about to puke’ than if you say ‘Excuse me’…Sally Berger “Never ever pick your nose when you’re working with superglue”…Emo Philips “The trouble with nude dancing is that not everything stops when the music does”……Robert Helpmann “Ballet is a bunch of men wearing pants so tight that you can tell what religion they are”….Robin Williams
As we toiled in the mud this morning we found ourselves wondering if Stephen Hester, the chief executive of RBS, has a chicken farm on one of his three estates. Certainly the 350-acre one in Oxfordshire is big enough, and this bunch of aged chicken-keepers would be delighted to help run it on the basis that a change is as good as a treat and the wages are likely to be good, if Mr Hester’s are any indication.
If you believe this morning’s papers, the nation is in shock at the decision to award him almost a million pounds in bonuses to add on to his basic salary of £1.2 million. We doubt that since, as forecast in a previous blog, we anticipated no reluctance on his part to pocket another pile of taxpayer’s money and great reluctance on the part of the government to stand up to him. The hilarious aspect of the decision is that Vince Cable is touting a plan to curb executive pay by granting shareholders the power of veto. Few believe that pension funds and the rest will bother and here we have a perfect example of the reluctance of a shareholder (holding 84% of the equity) to do anything. And the shareholder is the government.
When the news broke David Cameron was at Davos telling the Germans how to run their economy, but other politicians were quick to cry foul. Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne appeared on Bumblebee’s Question Time and said that Hester should decline the bonus as “a question of honour”. He went on to draw an analogy similar to one we used yesterday. Hester’s total package means that he is paid for three day’s work what a soldier in Afghanistan, risking his life on a daily basis, gets in a whole year. Browne suggested that Hester “should reflect on that”. Some chance.
Another of the leading Lib Dems, Lord Oakeshott, said the bank should realise that any bonus for Hester this year was “totally unacceptable”. He went on to draw attention to the fact that RBS has failed to honour the Project Merlin agreement, and has continued to deny small businesses the loan facilities they need. And all this on the day that a ComRes poll revealed that one in four of Conservative MPs believe that economic growth will not improve over the next twelve months.
Inevitably Hester will attract a good deal of vitriol over this, but some of that should go to the government which sanctioned the bonus. In a way it sums up the extent to which people like David Cameron and George Osborne are out of touch with what they like to call “ordinary” families. They genuinely seem to believe that, given his task, it would be ungracious to oblige Stephen Hesler to manage on a basic salary. But that alone is over one million pounds!
Some claim that he had put a gun to Cameron’s head. If so the prime minister should have, to quote Robert Peston, called his bluff. Where would he have gone? Certainly not to any other UK bank and it is hard to imagine a queue in Europe for his signature. Anyway he has those lavish estates to oversee.
What do we actually know about this man who now takes from the taxpayer a zillion times what any benefit claimant aspires to. He started work in a sweet factory where, he claims, he was taught the value of money. His first job was packing Polos and he therefore doesn’t need anyone “to tell me what it’s like being a normal person on normal amounts of money”. He tells us that even his parents think he is overpaid.
A curious aspect of this decision is that David Cameron was recently vitriolic about the £700,000 salary paid by the BBC to its Director General. At the time we agreed on the grounds that it is our cash that the Beeb is tossing around. Suddenly it is okay to hand nearly three times that to a banker who, so far, has done little beyond firing 33,000 staff.
At least there should be one outcome that will be a blessed relief. We will no longer have to listen to ministers banging on about our all being in this together. If ever there was proof that there is one rule for the rich and another for the rest of society this is it.
Of course should Mr – the knighthood is in the post – Hester respond to the public outcry by refusing the obscene handout we will be the first to praise him. ’38 Degrees’ has this afternoon launched a petition so you never know, perhaps he does have a conscience. But we are not holding our breath!
WHAT THE STARS SAY ABOUT COMPUTERS; ” Computers are like humans – they do everything except think”….John Von Neumann “I know nothing about computers. I don’t even know how often to change the oil”….Buzz Nutley “Bill Gates declared to the world ‘I am Microsoft’. Mrs Gates had no comment”…..Whoopy Goldberg “Computers don’t poop, fart, shag or laugh, and cannot detect irony. These, then, are the distinguishing characteristics of humanity”…..Eric Idle “The trouble with the Internet is that it is replacing masturbation as a leisure activity”…..Patrick Murray “How do I set my laser printer to stun?”….Chris Moyles “A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kickboxing”…..Emo Philips