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
For some time now we codgers have suspected that any nation that includes amongst its citizens millions of people who follow every tweeted word from Lady Gaga is a little, er, gaga. But we have never dreamed that a society once renowned the world over for its honesty and sense of fair play is now a nation of liars and cheats. Indeed had anyone dared to suggest such a thing we would have slapped them with a pair of hen poo-encrusted gloves and challenged then to a duel with beansticks.
But that is the conclusion of a survey just completed by Essex University. Its conclusion is that Britain has become a more dishonest and cynical country over the past decade. The study finds that Britons are more likely to lie and cheat than we were ten years ago. Those aged over 45 remain decent people, but attitudes have changed sharply for the worse among the young. Less than 20% would hand back money they found in the street, a statistic that has halved in just ten years and which was almost 80% in the post-war period. In fact the survey has used all the usual indicators and the younger part of our society has fared badly.
It would of course be easy to wheel out the usual guff from older people about ‘the youth of today’, but we surely need to ask ourselves why this massive decline in standards has occurred. From our teens onward, whether we realise it or not, we are heavily influenced by the examples of others. It seems reasonable to assume then that today’s generation has been, and is, influenced by some dodgy people. In an age of constant communication the behaviour of national figures comes under the spotlight far more than was once the case, and that means that cases like the one involving Chris Huhne, the environment minister, do not pass unnoticed.
The allegation there is that he asked Vicky Pryce, his ex-wife, to pretend that she had been at the wheel of his car and would therefore take his speeding points. He has yet to be convicted but in any respectable organisation he would have been obliged to step down pending a verdict. But he continues as a minister. And the rumour circuit has it that if he is convicted the prime minister may well bring back David Laws, a minister who falsified his expense claims
Of course the rot starts at the top, and there is no denying that in whatever area you care to consider – personal repsonsibility, behaviour, truth telling, neighbourliness – there has been a catastrophic collapse. Start your recap with the Blair government. It became normal for his official spokesman to lie on the record. Blair himself repeatedly deceived parliament, and used his position to obtain favours from wealthy wannabies, a practice that he continues to this day. This amorality spread to MPs and the 2005-10 parliament was probably the most corrupt since the 18th century. For months on end we were regaled with stories of lies and cheating in regard to expenses. And even today we have some of those found wanting holding cabinet posts.
More recently we have learnt that much of the media ( and in particular Murdoch’s empire) has been systematically corrupt, bribing police officers and leading politicians alike. Blair and Cameron have both been shamefully complicit in this, and the decision by Cameron to employ Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who has since been arrested, remains the most shameful episode of his premiership.
But it is not only politicians who have led the nosedive in standards. Shake hands with a banker and count your fingers. And their greed is breathtaking. Right now Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS, is reportedly pressing for a substantial annual bonus in addition to his massive £1.2 million salary. And Hester is in fact a civil servant, his bank being 84% owned by the state. His boss is Robin Budenberg, the chief executive of UK Financial Investments, who earns £145,000. He in turn reports to Nicholas Macpherson, Treasury, who earns £175,000. So Hester believes that he is worth umpteen times the amount paid to his superiors. And you can add his colleague John Hourican, head of the calamitous RBS investment arm. He is reportedly demanding a bonus of £4 million which would mean that, despite being a state employee, he would be pocketing £11,00o for every single day at work. In just three days he would receive more than a young corporal, risking life and limb in Afghanistan, gets in an entire year.
No, it is not difficult to develop an explanation for the massive fall in behavioural standards amongst the British public. If Blair can lie to parliament about Saddam Hussain, and get away with it, if Cameron can employ the appalling Coulson as his spokesman, if bankers can demonstrate blind greed and MPs likewise, why on earth would a teenager feel even a twinge of conscience when he steals money or dodges fares?
Today for the first time Nick Clegg has made clear that the present situation in which ordinary families are struggling to survive, whilst the wealthy are being allowed to avoid even stamp duty, is no longer acceptable. Could this be a small light at the end of a very dark tunnel. We shall see, but at least he deserves credit for casting his gag aside.
It will only be when someone at the top takes a stand against cheating and lying about what is really happening, that the rest of us will begin to look in the mirror. When a group of us read the survey someone commented that we cannot sink lower. Oh yes, we can!
A FEW QUOTES FOR PET OWNERS; “Cats are smarter than dogs. You can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through the snow”….Jeff Valdez “The simple rule about pet cats is this; like exclamation marks, more than two signifies a complete nutcase”…..Jeff Green “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals”….Winston Churchill “A dog is not intelligent. never trust an animal that is surprised by its own farts”….Frank Skinner “I had a cat once. That was the roughest night of sex I ever had”…..Matt Vance “They say that dog is man’s best friend. I don’t believe that. How many of your friends have you had neutured?
We allotment codgers must declare an interest before commenting on the case involving ‘Arry Redknapp. We are amongst his number one fans and, almost blindly, applaud his every word. And most of them are worth listening to, a perfect example being his comments of last week on the obsession of the media with football managers. ‘Arry said that the manager of bottom Premiership club Wigan is in fact cleverer that him, he simply doesn’t have the players. And as for oil-rich Manchester City, a local hack could triumph there since all he has to do is buy up the world’s best players.
Sadly our hero now finds himself in a spot of ‘bovver’. Our hope is that he will be aquitted but that is not something we can decide. Our sense of outrage is centered on the huge media attention and the implication that a tax ‘haven’ is something unique, something no one has ever used before.
Time and again this blog has named many of our largest companies which pay very little tax by basing skeleton ‘processing’ units abroad. The vast majority of the richest indivuals in the UK do the same. Just last week the figures covering Tony Blair’s money-making organisation were revealed and, lo and behold, it pays very little tax. But it is unfair to single out any individual for a list of the top thousand richest people who pay full tax would require only the back of an envelope. And we can of course throw in the companies who have reached ‘agreements’ with the Inland Revenue which have cost taxpayers millions.
The truth is that the approach of our governmnet to tax avoidance is unique. an example is provided by the US insurance company Aon. It is moving its head office here and makes no secret of its reason. This, says the firm, “is to take advantage of the new rules which permit a significant reduction in our global effective tax rate”. The firm has $300 million stashed offshore and admits that were it returned to the US, it would “spark a tax charge”. In return we get merely the possibility of 20 senior executives relocating here. Tax haven Britain is open for business!
And there are literally hundreds of similar stories. Estimates of the amount being lost to the treasury each year are in the region of £180 billion. And today we learn more about the mysterious ‘Chemistry Club” which runs invitation events at the Sartoria restaurant in Mayfair. For a charge of £1800 leading business gurus can enjoy what are described as “relevant introductions” to ministers. Chief executive of the Club, Mark Simon, says that the events “target key decision makers”. No surprise there. No surprise either that Labour MP Lisa Nandy has remarked that it is “hard to avoid the impression that ministers are just paying lip service to the principle of open government”.
One of the attendees paying heed to the lobbyists has been the chief secretary to the treasury, Danny Alexander. Yesterday he was on his feet in the Commons defending criticism of the fact that the national debt has now passed the trillion mark. He did the tradional assault on Labour for “creating this mess”, and then turned his ire on wealthy tax-dodgers. “Our message to you”, he droned, “is that no matter how well known you are, how clever your accountants, however far away you hide your money, we are coming to get you”. At least he won’t have far to travel for Mayfair is but caber-toss away (Mr Alexander is one of those MPs who will presumably join Mr Salmond when he creates his kingdom).
It was of course a statement similar to those made many times by both the last government and this one. Tax avoidance is now a UK national sport, and the amounts being syphoned off make the amounts being quoted in the Redknapp trial sound mere pocket money.
So when all those massed photographers have finished snapping ‘Arry for the umpteenth time, they might like to point their cameras elsewhere. Then again, the Press barons might not care for that!
A FEW QUOTES TO REFLECT ON; ” I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it for it is never of any use to oneself”…..Oscar Wilde “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow”…..Motto, The Green Berets “If you’re going through hell, keep going”…..Winston Churchill “Never accept a drink from a urologist”…….Erma Bombeck ” To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target”……Ashleigh Brilliant “Always be wary of any helpful item that weighs less than its operating manual”….Terry Pratchett
Have we ever had such a wet winter? Don’t say yes, we grumpy codgers know better. A glance back at the blogs of last year will show that we struggled with the snow, but at least it was manageable. But this wet stuff is different, every day sheets of water form on the allotments and heaps of gravel are tipped on. A century from now archeologists will excavate our site and spend months analysing the stones, perhaps we should leave a note in a bottle explaining that they came from B & Q.
Bedraggled and soaked to our Long-Johns, we gathered around the ‘clubhouse’ wood fire with more steam rising than from Red Rum in his pomp. But there was a mystery to debate. Today’s opinion polls show the Conservatives now six points ahead of Labour, with even the supposedly doomed Lib Demmers up to 16%. With most people now feeling the pinch, many local services being axed, the NHS in chaos, the wealthy becoming ever more wealthy, and the Manchester police openly commenting that they can no longer cope, how can this be?
One possible explanation is that the polls are wrong. Most unlikely since they all tell roughly the same story. Another is that the coalition is becoming increasingly popular. Most unlikely, indeed few people one meets have a good word to say for them. That leaves only one logical reason, the vast majority do not see the Labour Party as remotely capable.
When broken down, the polls show that managing the economy is the biggest gap in opinion. Around a half believe that Cameron and Osborne are making the best of a bad job. Only a bloke in Wapping believes that Miliband and Balls could do better. And this gap has widened significantly. Why? The likelihood is that Miliband’s decision to announce that, if elected, he will follow the same path of cuts as the coalition has left people bemused. I realise that he didn’t actually say that, but he provided the headline writers with a soundbite, and most people just read the headlines. What he was trying to do was demonstrate that he is not in the pocket of the trades unions, what he actually did was create the impression that the attachment of his party to the Keynes principle of a slower deficit reduction coupled with growth stimulation has been tossed aside.
In fact it is difficult for the casual observer to spot any difference between what the governmnet is doing and what the opposition is suggesting. This weeks big issue is benefits, and shadow ministers have gone to some lengths to demonstrate that they agree with the Osborne line. On this, as on much else, they have misread the public mood. The vast majority want concessions for those in real hardship but there is widespread resentment at the idea of someone not bothering to work, as against desperately seeking to do so, receiving more in benefits than the average person earns for full time employment.
On Europe the opposition is again out of kilter with public opinion and seems to have no proposals for curbs or changes. On the NHS it has failed to make any contribution to the debate and voters could be forgiven for thinking that protest organisations such as 38 Degrees are the opposition. On capitalism the coalition seems the only show in town for those outraged by the spectacle of bankers and leading FTSE executives earning almost one hundred times the average wage for everyone else.
The worrying aspect of all this is that the Labour Party seems devoid of ideas aimed at different policies that could improve things. In areas such as youth unemployment it has nothing exciting to say other than to yell abuse at the government. Yet there are surely many imaginative opportunities for completely new initiatives.
In fairness the shadow of Blair is a long one and given his present money-grabbing way of life, it isn’t going to shorten. But the past is past and constantly trying to defend the indefensible isn’t going to help. The nation needs the option of alternative policies, it needs at least a choice.
We codgers have no wish to kick a man when he is down, but it has to be said that Ed Miliband is proving to be a disappointment. Even Baldrick could work out that there are different and arguably less damaging ways of tackling many of the current problems. But Miliband seems to be falling for the notion that because the coalition is ahead in the polls he should ape them.
The reality is that they are only ahead because unaligned people hear nothing different from his lips than pours forth from Cameron, a king of spin if ever there was one. The opposition plan should be to come up with alternatives. Unless, that is, it feels that the coalition is right in all things. Should that be the case we should perhaps send for the Monster Raving Loony party.
Juts one example of being unable to spot the difference relates to the Lansley plan to raise the limit for NHS Foundation Trust’s private practice. At 49% this will create a two-tier system, one in which wealth will determine longevity. Labour should surely at least propose a lower percentage, or indeed a total ban. But like the less-than-wise old owl, it says nothing.
SOME QUOTES TO MAKE YOUR DAY; “There is nothing so improves the mood of the party than the imminent execution of a senior colleague”….Alan Clark “Did you sleep with Bill Clinton? No., neither did I. Small world isn’t it?…..Marty Allen “Clinton’s probelm was that he misunderstood th role of President, which is to screw the country as a whole, not individually” ….Betsy Salkind “Today, the L A Times accuse Arnold Schwarzenegger of groping six women. I tell you, this guy is presidential material”…..David Letterman “The duty of an opposition is very simple; to oppose everything, and propose nothing”….Lord Derby “Nixon’s motto was if two wrongs don’t make a right, try three”….Laurence J Peter “Clement Atlee is a modest little man with much to be modest about”….Winston Churchill ”It’s not enough to have every intelligent person in the country voting for me, I need a majority”…..Adlai Stevenson
My headline is in quotes since the words are not mine. They were uttered yesterday by Lord Oakeshott, the Lib Dem peer who resigned as his party’s Treasury spokesman over the lax treatment of banks by the coalition. His reaction came after research showed that the average remuneration of 1,265 bank employees was £1.8 million in 2010. And, as far as is known to date, it has continued to climb since. As the good Lord says, the lid has been lifted for the first time, and what we see is that the astronomic pay dished out for what amounts to gambling is not confined to the likes of Barclay’s Bob Diamond. Albert may be lacking in taste when he wears his tee-shirt emblazoned Bankers are ******* but we all agree with his sentiments.
Banks are being forced to publish the information under EU rules that aim to lift the lid on City salaries and bonuses at a time when unemployment is rocketing, and those in employment are suffering pay cuts or freezes. It was reprehensible when the economy was booming, now it is an utter disgrace. The truth is that the ghastly alternative of shareholder capitalism engineered by the Conservatives in the 1980s, and cravenly supported by New Labour, has destroyed UK manufacturing and turned the country into a spiv’s paradise. Investment banks and hedge-fund managers have held everyone, including the government, to ransom. Where is the moral compass in gambling on corporate failure, or in ensuring that one of the few profitable UK manufacturing sectors left is an arms industry mostly in partnership with war-exporting economies?
Asset stripping has become a national sport, devastating families and communities, and the ‘bankers that take risk’ are the very people who have played the game, and have printed their own fortunes into the bargain. What Lord Oakeshott surely realises is that Cameron and Osborne are hardly likely to do anything to derail the super-rich parasites who have devastated our economy. To people of their wealthy background a million or so each year, plus bonuses, is not unusual. To the rest of us it is unimaginable.
And all this is taking place at a time when many will suffer benefits cuts, and I am not referring to the so-called ‘problem families’, most of whom are in social housing. And it is taking place at a time when even the horrendous unemployment totals tell only half the story. At first glance the news that the number of self-employed has rocketed to 4.14 million is reason to cheer. But within that ‘boom’ are vast numbers of part-time workers who are being exploited.
For example, adverts last week offered vacancies as Courier Drivers which were described as “self-employment business opportunities”. What it actually means is that the employer, like many others, has realised that such an arrangement frees him of national insurance payments, sick pay, maternity leave or holidays. It even rules out the minimum wage and any thought of pensions.
But the people I feel most sorry for right now are the thousands of ordinary workers employed by the high-street banks. They are not particularly well paid, but attract a lot of comment from a public that is rapidly reaching the end of its patience at the failure of the government to take a hard line. We should leave the tellers alone, they feel just as the rest of us do. Executives of those banks now owned by the state should lose their bonuses entirely and have pay-cuts in line with other public-sector workers. Ministers warn that they will all head off to other lands. Greece perhaps?
The attitude of bankers is illustrated by the legal action of 100 London based employees of Dresdner Bank, which was told by the new owners, Germany’s Commerzbank, to pay no bonuses, a not unreasonable stance given that losses had brought the bank to its knees. The brave 100 are demanding more than £1 million each as overdue bonuses.
In reality the rich-club brigade has moved into an unreal world, one in which executives four layers down the pecking-order see a million pounds as a normal amount even when the company is struggling. And they regard tax-avoidance as entirely normal.
Who knows, maybe the attitudes struck by Lord Oakeshott and Paddy Ashdown may just prompt Messrs Clegg and Cable to insist on real action. Their party now stands at single figures in the polls – what have they to lose other than their big cars and salaries?
January has always been a time of hard frosts, even harder ground and, sometimes, snow. This one is proving to be one of howling winds and enough rain to fill every reservoir in the area. It has traditionally been the time for a huge cull of slugs and snails, but this time it is easy to imagine them having a conference proclaiming death to all 2012 cabbages. The head slug, probably a terrestrial mollusc version of Michael Gove, will be painting an exotic picture of the munching time to come. Meantime codgers and hens alike are struggling to cope with now minus the consolation of looking forward to rosettes in the allotments trophy.
But we have an even greater worry. A quick visit to the 38 Degrees website reveals that this week brings the final curtain on the House of Lords consideration of the Lansley NHS Reform bill. In the absence of any cogent opposition in parliament, 38 Degrees has signed up a vast army of those opposed to Lansley, and is employing a team of barristers to examine the concessions that have supposedly been wrung out of the minister. Maybe we are becoming paranoid but our view is that whilst many of the clearly ludicrous ideas have been withdrawn, those that remain are potentially the most dangerous of all. Dangerous that is unless you have very deep pockets, in which case you may well view them as extremely promising.
Foremost amongst these is the intention to allow Foundation Hospitals - and all hospitals are to either be Foundations, closed or sold off to the private sector - to allocate up to 49% of their capacity to private patients. Having stripped them of funding, Lansley will be confident that most will see this as their only way of remaining solvent. Those that take this route will allocate around half of their beds to private practice and the existing consultants will cover them.
It is not difficult to envisage what will follow. You will be referred to a specialist by your GP and, as now, he or she will either give you a clean bill of health or will decide to put you on the waiting list for treatment. He or she will offer you the option of immediate treatment in the private wards or a place on the NHS list. Given that half of the present NHS capacity will have vanished, your wait will be along one. And Lansley has anticipated this by abolishing waiting times.
It is clever. The attention of almost everyone has been focussed on the early examples of the introduction of the private sector without spotting that the biggest amount of privatisation will take place from within. At a stroke Lansley will achieve the competition he constantly bangs on about, and he will raise standards as hospitals compete with each other for private patients. But the effect will be a two tier service, and those who cannot afford insurance or the fees will suffer the greatest decline in healthcare for half a century.
Don’t be too surprised to note that many of the so-called Quality papers are more than happy with this. They reflect the views of their readers most of whom already use private hospitals, but are only too aware of their limitations. They want the comfort and privacy, but they want all services to be available. Under the Lansley plan they will get just that.
So far the nation has been sleepwalking into the destruction of our health service. But suddenly the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the British Medical Association have decided to oppose the Lansley plan and to fight it tooth and nail. But they have a problem. Lansley is no mug and has already implemented large sections of the plan, not least the parts relating to the abolition of Primary Care Trusts and the setting up of GP commissioning consortia.
I fear the worst. The thought that intrigues me is what future generations, who cannot afford private medicine, will make of the destruction. Yes, the odds are wealthier Conservatives will approve and be thankful that they no longer have to queue with the ‘riff-raff’. But what will the Labour and Lib Dem descendants feel about the decision of their predecesssor’s to simply roll over?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. James Callaghan 2. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 3. President Eisenhower 4. De Gaulle 5. Nehru 6. Al Gore 7. Fuhrer 8. Alexandra 9. Andrei Gromyko 10. Sir Geoffrey Howe
A BOOK WORTH READING; “The Heart is Highland” by Maisie Steven. Before it was too late, Kenneth Steven persuaded his mother to write down the story of her life. The book covers the story of her childhood in Glenurquhart, near Loch Ness. The community was itself a kind of family. It was a simpler time, when country ways were necessary for life. Life during winters was harsh and the cycle of life took its toll. But no one locked their door and no one suffered theft. Everyone worked as a team to bring the harvest home.
The book is available via www.lonelyscribe.co.uk .
Should you see what appear to be UFOs do resist the temptation to ring Inspector Knacker. Overnight we experienced our umpteenth winter gale and we arrived this morning to discover that large sections of roofing have disappeared. Plus a number of hens, which may explain why you thought you had seen odd looking aliens aboard the mystery transport. To say that is not to rule out the possibility of visitors from outer space, but I can never fathom why they would travel so far to look at Salford. Anyway, it’s back to the drawing board hen-roofing wise.
We were a comical sight as we assembled in the ‘clubhouse’ after fixing temporary roofing. Everyone had enough mud on their clothes to qualify for an advert for Southend beach, and everyone was rubbing their hands in the manner of a Conservative party donor who has just learned that his knighthood has been approved.
Which brings me to today’s little rant. The subject of knighthoods has not crossed our minds for some time, but the furore about the one carried by Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin has triggered our remaining grey-matter into action. It seems to us that politicians, the media, and such members of the public who give a hoot, are all missing the point. Of course he shouldn’t be addressed as a man of great achievement and honour, but why did he get the honour in the first place? Even had he been remotely capable he would still have been a very well paid banker and nothing more.
Inevitably the subject came up on Thursday’s David Bumblebee’s Question Time. Inevitably the politicians gave what they considered to be answers likely to find favour with all the people watching TV in NHS emergency departments (Lansley has at least boosted viewing figures). Then it was the turn of Germaine Greer. She said that the whole system of knighthoods is ridiculous and corrupt. She estimated that at least one-third of those honoured are no better than The Shred. A very high percentage of those touched by the Queen’s sword have bought their titles or have benefited from cronyism. Scrap the whole system, demanded our new heroine.
And we commoners agree wholeheartedly. The origins of the system go back to those who fought in battle for their monarch, or who sailed off in search of new lands to conquer. It is unlikely that whichever monarch came up with the idea envisaged that one day such status would be bestowed on civil servants whose only achievement is avoiding the sack, or bankers who have given the word selfishness a whole new dimension. To be fair there was probably a fair amount of cronyism even then, maybe the purchase of titles also took place.
The latter became the norm when Lloyd George took over and has remained so ever since even though the deed has been made slightly more respectable in that the cash is paid into party funds. In fact the more one scans the massive list of people who now rejoice in the title Sir, the more one realises that the rationale for honouring Francis Drake has been more than a little diluted.
So in the unlikely event of we allotment codgers assuming power we would scrap the whole corrupt business with but one exception. It does seem to us that someone who achieves a massive feat like climbing Everest, or taking a zillion Test wickets, should be honoured. But no one else.
Many years ago I worked for someone in British Leyland who failed to meet his targets and consequently lost the confidence of those at the top. He was displaced and was found a post in the civil service. Within six months he was knighted. I imagine there are enough similar stories to fill one of the Bibles being distributed by Michael Gove. So big a mess is he making of running eduaction that one can expect to see him depart ere long, with a title by way of consolation of course.
When we were mulling this over, someone less inclined toward our thinking protested that honours are central to the whole glorious concept of a British Empire. We had to fish out an old globe and point out that every area coloured red has changed its colour!
NEVER MIND THE KNIGHTS, TRY YOUR HAND AT THE WEEKEND QUIZ!
1. Who was Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and PM between 1964 and 1979? 2. Artist Peter Blake found fame designing which world-famous Beatles album sleeve? 3. Which American was known as Ike? 4. Which future President organised the Free French forces in WW2? 5. What was Indira Gandhi’s maiden name? 6. Who became US Vice President in 1993? 7. Which title did Hitler take as Nazi leader? 8. Who was the last Tsarina of Russia? 9. Who was Soviet Foreign Minister from 1957 to 1985? 10. Whose resignation on 1st November 1990 began Thatcher’s downfall?
?????? answers tomorrow ??????
Times are hard and charities are struggling. Not surprisingly corporate giving has declined, members of the public are having to count their coins, and any investments charities may have are earning little interest. The temptation to simply shrug and abandon hope is strong, but we codgers can’t do that for the charity that many of us support is at the forefront of the fight against cancer in all its forms. And cancer does not ease back its efforts to destroy in a recession!
The leading cancer-battler in our region is the Rosemere Cancer Foundation which covers a large number of the hospitals and communities in the north west. And it has come up with a novel way of enabling us all to provide vital support without robbing our piggy-banks. It has decided to hold a Rosemere Valentine’s appeal.
For many of us Valentines day is but a distant memory of anonymous cards and trysts behind the cycle shed. Yet it really represents something much deeper. In reality everyone has a Valentine lodged in their heart. She-who-must-be-obeyed and I were first manacled together some 56 years ago but, come to think of it, I still see her as my Valentine. Hopefully she feels the same but I lack the courage to ask. Of course many are not so fortunate, many have lost the physical manifestation of their Valentine, but he or she almost certainly still lives on in their memories. Many younger people still have a partner/Valentine and many even younger ones may well be in those thrilling early days of romance. The Rosemere idea is to stage events that enable everyone to mark the occasion and to help escalate the ever-increasing victories over the scourge that once was mentioned only in fearful whispers.
The campaign is now underway and large numbers are staging their own events. There will be street collections and a host of other opportunities to donate. And the campaign will come to a fantastic climax on Friday 10th February at Blackburn Cathedral when John Gilmore of Radio Lancashire will host a night of musical stars. Tickets are £15 which includes a pre-concert drink and the chance to meet others marking a special day in their memories.
The Rosemere Cancer Foundation works within our NHS hospitals and has a superb track record in funding high-tech equipment that will take some years to arrive via NHS funding, a situation likely to become even more the case in the months and years ahead. It also funds refinements to the service, all aimed at making the experience of cancer patients a far more bearable one.
One in three of us will at some time encounter cancer and there have been enormous strides in treatment over the past few years. We cannot afford to ease off for as each year passes one becomes ever more convinced that ultimate victoy is just around that dark corner.
So we codgers are telling everyone we know of the Valentine’s appeal. We really believe that this is a unique opportunity to reconnect with our deepest feelings and to maintain the fight against a ghastly enemy that has robbed us of so many friends and loved ones, all at the same time.
How about making a date? For more details simply go to www.rosemere.org.uk . See you at the Cathedral!
As we slithered about this morning – the mud is more clinging than Jack’s wife – there was, I sensed, an air of false jollity akin to the cell of a condemned man. We codgers are all patriotic, even if we no longer leap to attention when the national anthem is played, but each day’s news takes us closer to the conclusion that the Monty Python crew have taken over. They were all three pence short of a shilling, addicted to total lunacy and incapable of crossing a room without resorting to zany walking. It is our unanimous veridict that, via time travel, they have returned and assumed control of the country.
Verdict is an apt term for today almost every newspaper carries a picture of Daniel Chrapkowski leaping for joy outside Manchester Crown Court. Alongside him, Thomas Lane is giving two-fingers to the world. No they hadn’t won the lottery, they had been let off by Judge Martin Steiger. Their offence was to kick unconscious Joseph O’Reilly who subsequently spent a month in hospital, and had injuries so bad that he needed a metal plate fitted to his face. He suffered a fractured jaw and bleeding to the brain and it was little short of a miracle that he escaped alive after remonstrating with the yobs who were kicking over bins and scattering rubbish.
Has Judge Steiger any idea of the effect on every thug who will head for town centres tonight? Probably not, for many members of our judiciary are carbon copies of those wig-wearers of Python fame. If a premiership footballer were to kick unconscious an opponent and the referee waved only a yellow card, he would referee no more. Yet our Judges bumble on.
Meantime there are startling revelations about Big Issue sellers. We have always seen it as a moral duty to support them, being homeless and in penury is a terrible situation. But now we learn that many of them are not homeless at all. Take the case of Firuta Vasile,. a Romanian immigrant. She has just won the right to claim housing benefit of £2600 from Bristol council. Which brings her benefit payments to £28,000 per year, an amount well over that earned by many of those who conscientiously hand her cash each week. Presumably she is one of the eastern Europeans the government insists we desperately need in order to create wealth in our troubled economy!
No surprise then that unemployment has hit a 17-year high and Britain’s part-time workforce has soared to a staggering 7.86 million. Today David Cameron will launch his latest verbal assault on bankers and tax-evaders. It’s a popular tune but action is noticeably absent. Even the Pythons would surely realise that the time to innovate on at least youth unemployment is overdue.
Yesterday we revealed the latest action by Michael Gove who is spending a haep of the money we don’t have on autographed bibles. Not to be outdone in the lunacy stakes, Andrew Lansley has announced plans to allow credit rating agencies, such as Standard & Poor and Moody, to take over the monitoring of financial performance of our Foundation Hospitals and to regularly assess the performance of senior managers. These are the very agencies that failed to spot the credit crunch in 2008, and of course have no medical experience whatsoever.
Andy Burnham was quick to remark that this will send “a chill wind through the NHS”. Wrong. It is already there, and today the usually moderate Royal College of Nursing has announced that regretfully it can no longer co-operate with the government. The Lansley plan is stupid in itself, but the extra trimmings now being announced are straight from the well rembered Python book of management.
Some papers are running a campaign demanding that Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin be deprived of his knighthood. Perhaps they should be asking themselves how he got it in the first place. There just may be a case to be made to giving orders of the British Empire to lollipop ladies, but surely the practice of wealthy and influential friends of ministers being able to, in effect, buy the right to call themselves Sir or Dame is well past its sell-by date. As indeed is the British Empire.
Never mind, the Pythons always managed to make us laugh and , as my old Gran used to say, you might as well laugh as cry!
The monsoons are back. So are the muddy hens and trousers in a Compo-like state. But we quite enjoyed our work this morning, punctuated as it was with ribald humour regarding the latest madness of King Gove. Over the past few days he has made Andrew Lansley look sane by comparison. Today, fresh from his royal yacht triumph, the education secretary has purchased sufficent copies of the King James bible to send one to very school in the land. Cost to the taxpayer is over £400,000, and each copy will include a personal message from Mr Gove himself!
But once we had completed our “what world does he live in” routine, we turned our thoughts to a rather more serious matter. Jack is related to a social worker in the north-east and regularly tells of the horrendous situation there. Government cuts to local authority funding have resulted in cuts in social worker numbers. An already overloaded team is now sinking fast under the weight of a huge and ever increasing caseload. This means that really difficult cases cannot be given the attention they deserve and, in the case of mental health assessments, the social workers are being put in great danger.
The most important thing that social workers do is listening to and supporting vulnerable people and making decisions after considered discussion and reflection. But this cannot be done if the caseload is too big, and it cannot be done in a culture of fear and persecution. And that is exactly the situation that faces most social workers, they have become the nation’s punchbag. Cuts in numbers are bad enough for hospital nurses but at least they are working in a secure environment. Most of us know little about social work, all of us line up to condemn when things go wrong. As they already have in cases like that of ‘Baby P’, and as they assuredly will continue to do unless ministers intervene in local authority culls. Should they do so – and politically they may soon have to – they would do well to ask themselves why such a vital service is left to the dubious administration of local councillors.
Until now social workers have lacked a champion. It is not unusual for them to be summoned to court which involves hours of preparation, and to spend long days racing from house to house at some of which those qualified to do so have to make key decisions and to involve police and GPs. And it is not unusual for them to spend their entire evenings writing-up. And all this in an environment where they are more likely to receive abuse and threats than any other profession in our society. But now a champion has emerged and he is himself a social worker of 20 years experience.
Chris Lee has been on the social work front line for a long time and is very aware of the fact that “social services is something on to which an awful lot of society’s guilt is displaced”. He looks back on the ‘Baby P’ case and remembers “genuine tremors through the profession”. He regrets the fact that Lord Laming’s 2009 report did nothing to raise awareness of just how challenging the day-to-day job of social work is. And the case undoubtedly influenced the new play by Mr Lee called ‘Shallow Slumber’.
Lee believes that theatre is a force for change. In the spare time that he has, he has become a prolific writer and has over 30 plays to his name. He sees himself as a radical writer whose work deftly deconstructs harsh social problems, from addiction to disability and mental illness. ‘Shallow Slumber’ opens in London next week at the Soho Theatre, Dean Street, and is already assured of a run from January 24 to February 18. What does he hope ‘Shallow Slumber’ will achieve? He hopes that it will bring home to a wider audience the travails of social workers and that audiences will leave “simply saying that it’s much more complicated than I thought!”.
What does the new champion make of the UK’s current woes – in particular the impact of the swingeing cuts facing the NHS and social care? He speaks passionately from the perspective of someone who has been in the system long enough to observe numerous attempts to restructure services as governments have come and gone. “You never get to the end of the bedding down and the full working of a new system before another system comes into play” he reflects. “It’s doubly difficult when you have a restructuring and a financial contraction happening at the same time, and right now things are tougher than they have ever been”, he adds and then wonders about the whole existence of the welfare state.
He has little time for politicians who claim they are protecting the NHS and social services; “Despite all the denials there is no doubt that from the previous Conservative administration through the New Labour years, into the coalition, there has been a gradual privatisation”.
Hopefully the new West End play will serve to increase public awareness of a service that for so many remains a mystery yet is pilloried when something goes wrong. Every social worker I have ever met shows sympathy for those they help. It is high time society reciprocated!
I can’t bring you an update on the latest thrills from the allotment because I haven’t been there. By way of a change I had an NHS apppointment for what is, I think, known as a glucose tolerance test. It is a ‘fasting’ version which meant that I arrived at the hospital minus my usual six bowls of porridge. My lack of a warm inner glow was not conducive to a sympathetic response when I found that the car parking charges have been doubled as from January 1st. Another Lansley triumph I muttered as I reached the pathology waiting room. Unfortunately I muttered in the direction of the seemingly bored young lady in charge and, for the rest of the day, she referred to me as Mr Lansley, which led to some strange looks from my fellow inmates.
In no time at all we were seatd in a long row and each of us gave an armful of blood, followed by a pint of whatever. The bored lady remarked that we should all sit still until her return in about three hours time. Even I realised that she meant to convey that we shouldn’t head off into town, but some of my companions took the instruction literally, and the room quickly resembled a tableau in Madame Taussauds. I amused myself by reading the zillion posters plastered along the wall.
If you don’t want to die young don’t smoke, don’t drink’ don’t jaywalk, don’t have sex, don’t eat fatty foods, don’t spend hours thinking about Lady Gaga. I quickly lost interest since, the latter apart, I have done all of those – some to a greater extent than others – and haven’t died yet. Then again I guess it depends on their view of young. Anyway, I was bored, and the geezer next to me even more so for he fell fast asleep. So I gently eased his newspaper from his loosening grasp.
Plenty in the Comic Cuts to keep me occupied. Cameron has now come out in favour of Gove’s royal yacht idea. But being a wily lad, he has stressed that those on benefits are not expected to chip in. Meantime, many of those about to lose their benefits are praying that the Lords stay awake long enough tonight to torpedo the plan to reduce them to penury. The captain of the Costa Concordia is meantime maintaining that he was the last to leave the stricken ship, an odd claim given that divers are still down there searching. And the coalition has announced plans to help elderly people living alone to ‘downsize’ by moving them into council property.My mind was frazzled by now, but I suspect that the youth-experience reporter who filed this story may have missed something out. Oh yes, and the armed forces are to be further reduced. Where is Werrity when they need him?
But I did craftily tear out one real gem concerning our latest hate-figure, little Michael Gove. A Nigel Cann has published a letter accusing him of being an expert in ‘buttering up’. Of course we had already worked that out, but the rest of the letter was fascinating. It seems our friend spent more than £7000 of our cash on furnishing his London home , including such essentials as a Manchu cabinet, elephant lamps and a Loire Table. He then sold up. Then he flipped his second home allowance to a house in Surrey – for which he claimed over £13,000.
And all that, according to Mr Gann, was only for starters. The minister handed £500,000 to the New Schools Network, headed up by one of his friends, and failed to hold competive bidding. And about one-third of his home spending in 2005 was with a company run by the prime minister’s aristocratic mother-in-law. And..at this juncture two things happened. The bored lady reappeared and the owner of the paper woke up.
She said that Mr Lansley was free to go and I did so with some haste before my sleeping companion discovered the hole in page four.
I must remember those posters I thought as I bit into my fast-breaking doughnut!