Archive for February, 2012
More rain, more mud. If only we could persuade the hens to stay on the gravelled areas life would be easier. But the moment the doors are opened they head off immediately to the sea of mud that once was a field, before they devoured the grass. In many ways chickens are like some people, stubborn to a fault.
A good example of which are the Occupy protesters at St Pauls who were finally evicted yesterday. At first they endured ridicule, even new names such as ‘bivouacked crusties’ with which mad Boris expanded Britain’s word power. And they drew into their midst some decidedly odd characters, who joined them in bearing the worst that winter could throw at them. But they stuck it out, and it soon became apparent that this was one protest that the establishment could not shrug off lightly. Where turn-of-the-millenium Stop the City protests were the preserve of socialist students, opinion polls this time have found middle England more inclined to applaud Occupy’s idealism than to dismiss it as naive. Within a month of the occupation the term ‘crony capitalism’ was on many lips, not least that of the Prime Minister.
On the very day when the tents came down, as if on cue, capitalism provided yet another example of the depths to which our large companies and institutions have sunk. It was revealed that Barclays, whose boss pockets bonuses beyond human understanding, have been avoiding tax based on a rebate in respect of tax that has never been paid. Here we have a public company that has been reliant on all manner of public guarantees, going to ingenious lengths to avoid its public responsibilities. And the same politicians who say we cannot afford disability benefits and children’s centres were prepared to approach the dodgers with kid gloves, their first instinct was to spare the bank’s shame by refusing to name it which contrasted with their ‘name and shame’ approach to benefit fraudsters.
The church also fared badly when the protest gathered momentum. Some clergy resigned at the idea of eviction, haunted by the story of Christ in the temple. Others suggested seminars, which they knew would never attract the glare of publicity. It was left to a Bishop to speak out about a society in which bankers could render the poor even poorer, yet continue to pocket obscenely large sums of money.
Of course Barclays were unlucky in their timing. Vast numbers of our large companies avoid tax, and one only has to look at the salaries of the top FTSE firms to see just how far the culture of greed has spread.
And finding crony capitalism is not difficult. From the dubious awarding of government contracts to the decidedly dubious relationship between the Murdoch empire with almost every part of our corporate life, there are more and more examples of a corruption that has penetrated every nook and cranny of a society that once was a worldwide blueprint for integrity. We didn’t need to learn that the Metropolitan police had loaned a horse to Rebekah Brooks, or that David Cameron attended her ‘at homes’, to realise that the cancer runs deep.
And still the attempts at more crony capitalism continue. Even as commercial scandals engulf welfare, plans that will deepen burgeoning private profiteers in the NHS speed toward the statute book, despite the objections of almost every clinician and patient in the land. Yesterday even the GP so often wheeled on stage as a great advocate demanded the the Bill be dropped, but promises of rich pickings have been made and must be honoured, whatever the effect on the nation’s health.
But at least the stalwarts of Occupy have caused the spotlights to be focussed. They haven’t achieved change, but they have made us all aware of how far down the slippery slope we have reached. During the eviction Symon Hill, a protester from the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, was manhandled by police as he attempted a last prayer. He deserved better.
Those who pray should perhaps say one of thankfulness for people like him. We were blind, now we see!
WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT CHARACTER; “He’s as slippery as an eel that’s been rubbed all over with axle-grease”……P G Woodhouse ”The only flair is in her nostrils”……Pauline Kael “We are all worms, but I do believe that I’m a glow-worm”……Winston Churchill “When a person tells you, ‘I’ll think it over and let you know’ – you know”…..Olin Miller “To be positive is to be mistaken at the top of one’s voice”….Ambrose Bierce “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example”……Mark Twain
It is still February, it is mild, the slugs are out in force. If you are a grower that will worry you, if not you probably imagine that I am speaking of air rifles. For allotment codgers it is bad news, proof positive that the one spell of ice didn’t perform the annual cull. Buy shares in blue pellets! Growing apart, we go to lengths to keep slugs from the hen areas. Call us picky if you must, but when we are eating our new-laid eggs we prefer not to realise that we are tucking into boiled slugs.
Sadly our society has slugs of a two-legged variety. That became alarmingly clear when Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers gave evidence, on behalf of the Met, to the Leveson inquiry yesterday. In a quiet understated way she detonated a time-bomb. She gave compelling evidence about a culture of illegal payments at the Sun involving a network of corrupted officials. One public servant had received £80,000, she claimed. A single Sun journalist had, over the years, handed out £150,000 in cash to such contacts across a wide range of public bodies. Senior executives at the Sun knew about the payments, and the newspaper employed “tradecraft” to hide them.
There is much more investigative work to be done, but it was clear that what has been happening for a very long time has been the payment of siginiicant sums of money to officials in every area of public life, including the police, military, prisons and health service. And Leopards don’t change their spots overnight! As the day went on we also learned from Charlotte Church of the intimidation of her unwell mother, and from John Prescott of the police connivance with News Corp.
Yesterday we looked at the link between Rupert Murdoch and Michael Gove. We now wonder if Gove still believes that Leveson is “much ado about nothing”. The fact that so many public officials are in the pay of a newspaper sounds a big nothing. And the list provided by Sue Akers made no mention of politicians. But we do know that the leadership of both the Conservative and Labour parties have danced to the Murdoch tune.
It has to be admitted that millions showed their confidence in Rupert Murdoch on Sunday, when his new paper sold out. But in a way that illustrates the power and influence that he has. If readers choose to buy into it that is democracy. But if those who supposedly guard the integrity of the state also do so that is corruption in its most dangerous form.
Realistically the lead against such behaviour must come from the top, from politicians. At the general election there was a ray of hope. It arrived in the shape of Nick Clegg who promised a new start, an honest start. Now, if the latest opinion polls are correct, his Lib Dem party has all but vanished. His hands were clean of any involvement with the Murdoch set that swirled around Cameron and Blair. In that respect they are still clean, but he has perished in a sea of confusion, lost identity.
Today’s attempt to distance himself from Cameron over the NHS illustrates this perfectly. From playing the role of a partner, he is now demanding that the potential for privatisation be removed from the bill. The NHS, now says our Nick, can never be treated like the gas, electricity or water industries. Why the sudden change of mind? The rebellion in Lb Dem ranks at all levels is threatening to topple him from the party leadership.
If I suggest that had Nick Clegg maintained a distance from the Conservatives he might by now be seen by many as the new man, the honest man, the men in white coats may come for me. But it is possibly true, we will never know.
So with the only potential white knight gone, who can we trust? Good question and if I knew the answer I would be doing something more rewarding than keeping slugs from chickens!
THINGS PEOPLE SAID ABOUT SOCIETY AND POLITICS; “I don’t worry about terrorism. I was married for two years”…..Sam Kinison “The best defence aginst the H Bomb is not to be there when it goes off”….Winston Churchill “War doesn’t determine who is right – only who is left”……Bertrand Russell “Going to war over religion is like killing each other to see who’s got the best imaginary friend”…….Richard Jeni “If Kitchener was not a great man, he was at least a great poster”……Margot Asquith “My only qualification for being put at the head of the navy is that I am very much at sea”……..Edward Carson “The Falkands war was two bald men fighting over a comb”……Jorge Luis Borges
Our little boycott of the Murdoch press is clearly the exception rather than the rule if the sales figures for yesterday’s Sun is any indication. It would seem that the great British public, or to be more precise the Sun readers, is/are quick to forgive. And however much we rant at the sheer injustice of what was done to Millie Dowler’s family and hundreds of others, we have to grudgingly admit that the Digger knows a thing or two about marketing. And, to quote Albert as we cleaned out the hens this morning, the man has more than money in his pockets!
We all know about the Cameron connection, but few of us realised that Messrs Salmond and Gove are also resting neatly inside that posh greatcoat. Yesterday’s Sun was light on content but it did include one surprise. It quoted an unknown Scottish government source as saying that 18 October 2014 is being lined up as the referendum date. It will be, the Sun announced, the day when people will get the chance for independence and equality for Scotland. The story was described as a “world exclusive about the Day of Destiny”.
What is going on here? After hailing the Time’s decision to make the Scottish Nationalist party leader “Briton of the Year” in late December, Murdoch said earlier this month that Salmond was “clearly the most brilliant politician in the UK”. He followed that with a tweet last Monday stating; “Let Scotland go and compete. Everyone would win”. So the tycoon has decided. Scotland is to get independence and it was the Sun ‘wot did it!
Up to a point Salmond does appear to be brilliant, for he has wooed the great man and made the right promises. The referendum date story follows a long courtship of Murdoch and News International by Salmond. By the summer of 2011, Scotland’s first minister had held more than 25 meetings with News International editors and executives. He has showered the tycoon with gifts and made a direct bid to win Sky coverage of a Scottish cultural festival.
Last week Salmond called Murdoch in London, and had a private chat about the new Sunday edition of the Sun. It seems reasonable to assume that a deal has been struck. Cameron will now find opposing Salmond’s tactics a good deal trickier!
Meantime the Digger is keen to make inroads into education via educational innovation, or video lessons to you and I. He has already made substantial progress in the USA, and in June of last year Gove addressed the teachers college in Birmingham on the “amazing progress of iTunes U in pubishing lessons on line”. That evening he dined with Rupert Mutrdoch again. I say again because Gove has dined with him on many occasions, including a shared meal following the tycoon’s delivery of the Margaret Thatcher lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies. Time and again Gove has extolled the News Corp’s education project, time and again the two men have met privately.
Last week Gove pubicly attacked the Leveson inquiry. It is, he inferred, a threat to press freedom. “Whenever anyone sets up a new newspaper -as Rupert Murdoch has done with the Sun on Sunday – they should be applauded and not criticised”, proclaimed our education secretary. It wasa reminder of just how close the two men are. One of Murdoch’s long-term projects is what he calls his “revolutionary and profitable move into on line education”. But what is in it for Gove?
There are clues. When Gove first arrived at Westminster in 2005 as a backbench MP, the Times topped up his salary with a £60,000-a-year column. His wife still works for the paper. And Murdoch’s publishing arm, Harper-Collins, gave Gove a book advance in 2004, when he was first selected for the safe Conservative seat of Surrey Heath. The book is to be a history of Viscount Bolingbroke. It has yet to be written but the advance has not been returned.
You could say that these are all straws floating in the wind. Or you could say that Rupert Murdoch does what anyone in his position of power does. He uses it.
The Scottish vote and the Schools technology project appear to be buttoned-up. The fascinating thing now will be how Murdoch will pay the General Election. Messr Cameron and Miliband would be well advised to give it some thought!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. California 2. Dead Sea 3. Betty Boothroyd 4. World Filled With Love 5. The Listener 6. The Friendly Islands 7. John Lennon 8. Richard Beckinsale 9. Gosport 10. Busta Rhymes
A chicken had managed to get herself marooned on a log in the big pond this morning. We were attempting to reach it with a long-handle net when Albert arrived. In no uncertain terms he told us that we have all become infected with the “bloody health and safety rubbish” before wading straight in and retrieving the hen. On reflection he was right. We all tend to believe too readily what we are told, in this case a load of nonsense about three inch and three foot safety procedures, something that a few days ago prevented the possible rescue, by a group of able-bodied firemen, of a man drowning in a three-foot deep boating pool.
Come to think of it, we believe far too much of everything. Over the past few months there has been a lot of ill-feeling toward tax dodgers. If what we read is true George Osborne himself does it, as do nearly all the top earners and large companies. And this at a time when people on low incomes are struggling to pay their energy bills or other essential needs, such as food. So the attack by Ken Livingstone on what he called “rich bastards”, went down well. For good measure he said that “no one should be allowed to vote in a British election, let alone sit in parliament, unless they pay their full share of tax”. According to Ken, Cameron’s problem is too many of his team have become super-rich by tax fiddling and “everybody should pay tax at the same rate on earnings and other income”.
Quite right too, said we codgers. But it appears that all is not what it seems in the newt-infested world of our hero. We now learn that our Ken has avoided at least £50,000 in tax by having himself paid through a personal company. Companies House documents show that Mr Livingstone, who is Labour’s candidate for the London mayoralty, earned £232,000 in 2009, the first year after his defeat by mad Boris. The money came from personal appearances, speechmaking and hosting a radio show. It was paid into a new company set up by Ken and his wife, Emma. The pair are the sole shareholders.
Accountants tell us that the move appears designed to ensure that Mr Livingstone paid corporation tax at 20 or 21 per cent, rather than income tax at up to 40 per cent. It is a loophole the former mayor has himself attacked as”Robin Hood in reverse”. It also meant that he was able to split his income 50-50 with his wife, even though it was earned entirely by him, saving further tax, and to pay Mrs Livingstone from company funds as his “assistant”.
There is now a row between the couple and accountants as to some of the detail, but the simple fact is that, like so many of his Tory enemies, Ken Livingstone is guilty of saying one thing and doing another. And two wrongs do not make a right.
If the government wanted to close this loophole it could easily do so. If personal companies were reformed so the income they earn is taxed on their owners as if it were part of their own income, that would close the hole. That way tax, and National Insurance if appropriate, could not be avoided by putting a company between a person and their income.
Of course a government so inhabited by people who, by one scheme or another, rob the exchequer is never going to do more than pay lip service to a crackdown on tax avoidance. But the general hard-pressed taxpayer should at least be able to expect the opposition to have clean hands.
The amount saved by Ken Livingstone is miniscule compared to that of his enemies. But sadly the man we called Red Ken appears to be tarred with the same brush.
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. In which US state is Death Valley? 2. Which sea does the River Jordan flow into? 3. Who was Speaker of the House after Bernard Weatherill? 4. What was the first Craig David hit to feature the word ‘Love’ in the title? 5. Which BBC magazine was launched in 1929? 6. What did Captain Cook call the islands of Tonga? 7. Which celebrity was murdered in 1980 outside New York’s Dakota Building? 8. Who played Lennie Godber in the TV series Porridge? 9. Which naval base is situated in Hampshire? 10. Who featured on The Pussycat Dolls number one hit ‘Don’t Cha’ ?
The sight of American law-enforcement officers handcuffing a British citizen at Heathrow didn’t go down well amongst our allotment gang. We are still fuming at the decision to set free the radical cleric Abu Qatada after European courts blocked the Government’s attempts to deport him, now we learn that the American government can walk into the UK at any time and frogmarch away someone born here without so much as a by-your-leave. So angry were we that the hens must have sensed that we were not paying attention to their every need.
As he left between two burly US marshalls, Christopher Tappin commmented that he would have more rights to fight extradition if he were a terrorist. The 65-year-old, who remains adamant that arms dealing charges he faces in the US are “frivolous in the extreme”, claims passionately that he is a victim of entrapment. If convicted he could be sentenced to 35 years in jail. His immediate future is likely to be in an El Paso jail where he envisages having to join a prison gang to obtain protection.
Mr Tappin said goodbye to his tearful wife who is suffering from chronic illness, and fired a final salvo at David Cameron. The Conservatives, he argued, had promised to reform the law on American extraditions but had failed to do so. Cameron, he said, has “let me down”.
The retired shipping agent and former president of the Kent Golf Union, from Orpington, denies attempting to sell batteries for missiles which were to be shipped from the US to Tehran via the Netherlands. He is clearly another victim of the one-sided extradition agreeemnt with the American government. Were the UK to seek extradition of an American citizen he or she would have the right to appear before a judge who would be responsible for establishing that there was a detailed case to answer, and that the prosecution case stood up to examination. Turn the situation around and a British citizen has no such right. All the Americans have to do is crook their finger.
Of course it is not for us to decide whether Mr Cappin is guilty or innocent. But he is just as entitled to his human rights as a foreign advocate of violence and terrorism. He will certainly be at risk in those notorious American jails he is likely to held in until such time, if at all, he faces trial.
Perhaps we are becoming ‘little Englanders’. But it increasingly seems to us that our governments of all political persuasions will go to any lengths to avoid offending outside bodies. We bow the knee to the Americans, we will do anything to avoid offence to countries that threaten us with terrorism.
We know nothing of Christopher Tappin, but we deplore the right of the American authorities to arrest him on British soil. As he left he said that he may never see his native country again. Those of us with an understanding of the American system of law and order, and knowing the gutless nature of our government, fear that he may be right!
At the very least he had the right to an examination of the supposed evidence by a British court. British ministers should hang their heads in shame.
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE WEEKEND QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!