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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There are few things more annoying than clambering down a ladder to answer a phone only to find that it is yet another call from British Gas. Would I like to switch? No I wouldn’t, are you short of a few million to pay the bonuses? But the ladies in Hong Kong know nothing of such things. The subject of switching has often come up during allotment tea-breaks and, having compared our various charges from the Big Six, we long ago concluded that they are all suspiciously similar. And they have all continued to rocket upwards, with scarcely a pause when the cost of crude oil drops.
Last year, British Gas home energy charges climbed a massive 18 per cent while a survey from uSwitch showed a drop in customer “happiness” of 11 per cent. Now some 5.5 million households are thought to be struggling to afford heating, with bills accounting for over 10 per cent of income. But the “happiness” ratio at British Gas must be rather higher.
British Gas owner Centrica will today announce bumper profits with analyists predicting a 4 per cent rise to £2.5 billion. Centrica chairman Sam Laidlaw is in line for a seven-figure bonus – he gained £900,000 last year on top of his £941,000 basic salary. Meanwhile British Gas boss Phil Bentley will pocket a bonus of £700,000, a big increase over last year’s payment. Given that British Gas is expected to exceed half a billion profit this year you may feel that the champagne is merited. But it isn’t. Increases in profit gained by exploiting customers who in reality must buy the product is just robbery, not good management.
Chairman of Centrica Sam Laidlaw, described in 2008 by Lindsay Hoyle, deputy speaker, as “one of the fat cats of British industry”, is a family man with three sons and a daughter – but that is the only thing he has in common with his 17 million customers. His salary and bonuses earn him a nice little near couple of million. The Old Etonian has a home in one of the most exclusive streets in Chelsea and he spends much of his leisure time on a racing yacht.
Pressure from the think tank Compass on escalating energy prices is building in the form of a national campaign. Audrey Gallacher, director of energy at Compass, comments wryly that as millions struggle to make ends meet, energy executives strugge with what to do with all their profits”. Buy yachts perhaps? But Mr Laidlaw knows that, despite what Vince Cable says, the coalition will make no move to curb pay or bonus excesses, nor to challenge energy prices. How does he know this? Because a fellow Od Etonian happens to be a personal chum. David Cameron is a useful friend to have.
Yesterday slippery Dave earned a standing ovation from the FTSE top dogs. He said that “in recent months we have heard some dangerous rhetoric creep into our national debate that people in business are out for themseves”. Dave implored his audience to help him “fight this mood”.
So there they all are, sleeves rolled up and ready to fight whoever it is that is attacking the bonus-earners. It now becomes somewhat complicated since it was slippery Dave himself who only weeks ago roared of “crony capitalism”, and the fact that shareholders and customers are being “ripped off”.
All very confusing, but we can be sure of one thing. The energy companies will continue, unchallenged, to rip off the rest of us, Mr Laidlaw will sail his yacht, and the bonuses will continue upwards. And Dave will continue to protect his crony whilst remembering to face both ways at the same time.
Turn the fire up Mabel, for British Gas every little helps!
WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT BUSINESS; “The quickest way to make a million? Marry it”……Zsa Zsa Gabor “The first rule of business is; do other men for they would do you”….Charles Dickens “The art of management is the art of taking credit for other people’s work”…..Germaine Greer “I think it’s wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly”…….Steven Wright “There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate; when he can’t afford it and when he can”…….Mark Twain “Elbert Gary of the United Steel Company never saw a blast furnace until after he was dead”……Benjamin Stolberg
Bright sunshine this morning, life is full of surprises. But given just a hint of spring and codger’s minds turn to cricket. Unlike football, cricket has a long break and, come February, images of green fields and men in white coats and even whiter flannels flood our consciousness. But sadly this season threatens to be rather different. England have just redeemed themselves against Pakistan and we should be champing at the bit, but for the first time in our lives we find ourselves wondering if what we are planning to watch will have been planned in advance!
Last week the former Essex fast bowler Mervyn Westfield was sentenced at the Old Bailey to four months behind bars in a fixing racket the judge said was orchestrated by his team-mate, Danish Kaneira, the Pakistan leg-spinner. Even more devastating was the revelation that Kaneira’s approaches to players offering bungs from bookmakers were an open secret at Chelmsford. Mark Milliken-Smith, QC, defending Westfield, said it was “startling” that no one reported Kaneira, and accused the Essex players of deliberately “turning a blind eye”.
The scandal centred on two one-day games in the late summer of 2009, which were televised worldwide. Typical of what happened was that Westfield, 21, took £6,000 to concede at least 12 runs in his first over against Durham. Kaneira was to receive £4,000 the court heard. Nine days later after a night out with team-mate Tony Palladino, Westfield showed him bundles of £50 notes and said it was from fixing. Palladino mentioned it to other players but it was only in the spring of 2010 that the police were informed.
Yesterday Don Topley, the former Essex player, alleged that two county matches in 1991 were fixed. It is, he said, another sad day for cricket and for Essex. He went on to criticise the short prison sentence but his comments about earlier seasons left the impression that this was far from an isolated instance.
There are of course a number of previous cases involving other countries. Most people will recall the Cronje affair and, more recently, the conviction of Pakistan test players who bowled no-balls to order and were exposed by the News of the World. But we have tended to adopt a superior tone by assuring ourselves that this couldn’t happen in the English game. Cricket, after all, has for a century been a byword for fairness and honesty.
But now we know that it has been going on, and one would have to be a one-eyed optimist to believe that it only happened at Essex, although that county has a lot of explaining to do. The problem is that fixing doesn’t have to centre on the result of a game, it can involve betting on any aspect. And, cricket being the complex game that it is, there are many.
It is inevitable that once the new season starts every no-ball, dropped catch, poor over etc will be the subject of speculation. If this cancer is not dealt with now, and in dynamic style, the whole game will become suspect. With professional wrestling we know that the contest is pre-fixed, if people come to believe that cricket is the same there could be the biggest fall in attendances of all time.
Michael Vaughan has been quick to demand that any player found guilty of corruption – and that is what it is – must be banned for life irrespective of any sentences handed out by the courts. The cricket authorities are renowned for fudging issues, they fudge this one at their peril.
The perceived wisdom always was that cricket is a game played by gentlemen. It seems not. There is therefore only one remedy. Umpires and match officials must be charged with reporting any incident that strikes them as unusual, and each report must be analysed by the anti-corruption body. If suspicions are shown to be well-founded the Vaughan solution must be followed, no ifs or buts. And similar punishment must apply to officials and managers who fail to constantly check out what is happening in their dressing room.
Yes, it means that from now on every honest player or official must live under the same cloud as the cheats. But that is better than what will happen if the cricketing public abandons the game!
THINGS PEOPLE SAID ABOUT SMOKING; ” Giving up smoking is easy. I’ve done it thousands of times”…..Mark Twain “I wsa so horrified when I read about the effects of smoking that I gave up reading”……Henny Youngman “I’ve given up smoking before. Worst eight hours of my life”…….Lily Savage “I’d quity smoking if I didn’t think I’d become one of those non-smokers”……Bill Hicks “Here’s a sure tip to stop smoking; douse yourself in petrol every day”…..Bill Bailey “It is now proved beyond doubt that smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics”…..Fetcher Knebel “The room smelt of not having been smoked in”…..Ronald Knox “Cigarette sales would drop overnight if the warning said ‘Contains fat’ “….Dave Barry
The monsoons are back. We codgers are a generous bunch, and we would dearly love to export a zillion gallons of our accumulated rainwater to the south east where daily prayers for some of the wet stuff go unanswered and water rationing looms. Unto him that hath shall be given seems to be the edict up there, and we are sick of it!
But we weren’t always slaves to chickens, and we well travelled codgers sometimes find ourselves in the position of knowing more than the investigative journalists of which we hear so much these days. Many of this morning’s papers carry a story surrounding an unnamed senior cinician who has been summoned to appear at a disciplinary hearing to be conducted by his Primary Care Trust in Cumbria. His offence was to be one of 22 doctors who signed a letter to the media criticising Andrew Lansley’s health and social care bill.
We can confirm that the doctor in question is Professor John Ashton, the county medical officer for Cumbria. Some of us know him, all of us know of him. He is an excellent clinician with an impeccable record of dedicated service to the NHS which he has long served with distinction. He is known by everyone as a man of great integrity. I am sure the same is true of the other signatories. All they have done is to say what almost every other clinician in the land is saying.
Purely by chance I read the latest from the Leveson enquiry this morning. Trevor Kavanagh, the associate editor of the Sun, is reported as having said; “Freedom of speech is a hard-won, centuries-old legal principle which did not arrive in the last shower with the Human Rights Act. It is, by its nature, in the public interest”. And he is right, isn’t he? Yet right now the Department of Health is engaged in a sinister war of intimidation.
Yesterday the Guardian revealed evidence of the manipulation of waiting lists statistics, which threw immediate doubt on government claims that NHS waiting lists are not extending. The information sounded very convincing but was provided to Polly Toynbee by a ‘whistleblower’ who works in a hospital appointments office. In parliament the opposition predictably raised this and ministers ridiculed the idea of believing anonymous sources. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that lists are being fiddled on the instruction of the D of H, and whistleblowers are tracked down and fired.
It is of course less easy to do that to doctors, and the likelihood is that Professor Ashton will land merely a reprimand. There is a reasonable chance that he and his colleagues will refuse to accept even that. They certainly should do, for asked who they trust the vast majority of electors will put doctors at the top of the list at the foot of which rests Andrew Lansley.
Sinister may strike you as an over-the-top headline for all this. But it isn’t, for if politicians are to be allowed to take away freedom of speech from anyone opposed to their views it is a very sinister development indeed.
So what has brought about this sudden acceleration in gagging? The Prime Minister has decided to stake his reputation on NHS reform, and when that happens the NHS is forced into becoming more brutal and bullying and to bury bad news. Cameron is about to repeat Blair’s mistake and could well precipitate a full uprising by the only profession that still dares to speak the truth.
WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT HUMANITY; “I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure”…..Boscoe Pertwee “The most dangerous thing in the world is to leap a chasm in two jumps”…..David Lloyd George “No man in the world has more courage than the one who can stop after eating one peanut”…….Channing Pollock “You don’t have to swim faster than the shark, just faster than the guy next to you”……Peter Benchley “Ask him the time and he’ll tell you how the watch was made”……Jane Wyman “People in a temper often say a lot of silly things that they really mean”…..Penelope Gilliat “The meek shall inherit the earth. Serves them right”….Denis Leary
We dumped yet more gravel on the hen-run areas in an attempt to avoid the need to begin ark-building. We sometimes wonder what archeologists will make of it all when, in a zillion years hence, they attempt to fathom out what people did back in the dark ages of the 21st century. At least they will know that we used false dentures, Albert having misled his top set during one of his many falls during the January mini-ice age.
But one suspects that their fellow academics, the historians, will have more fun in analysing the endless governmental cock-ups. There will be plenty to choose from, my current favourite is the one involving our hugely expensive border control system which seems to only check incoming people at times when there are no queues. Presumably the terrorists make a point of arriving at peak hours!
It would be easy to blame Theresa May for the latest fiasco, easy but unfair. Under our bizaare method of government, Prime Ministers are obliged to select the people that run our vast departments of state from around 300 or so MPs. Deduct one hundred that are too old, another hundred who are too loopy, and he or she has the unenviable task of appointing to what are massive management tasks about half of what is left.
The result is that people such as our Theresa, who would look far more comfortable as a Marks and Sparks sales manager, or John Reid, a boxing promoter if ever there was one, find themselves in charge of the Home Office. When Reid took over he panicked at the revelation that walking in loaded with DIY bomb kits was rather easy, and he declared the whole set up as unfit for purpose. To deal with this he created The UK Border Agency (UKBA).
Several home secretaries later, May also had good reason to panic. On her watch the Agency has lost all track of 124,000 asylum and migration applicants, 500,000 passengers on Eurostar have been nodded through, secure ID checks have been suspended 482 times and Ports have relaxed rules on 14,812 occasions. Cue the inevitable arguments about who is to blame, cue the decision to scrap the organisation and to create two in its place. In the absence of an experienced chief excecutive these too will fail but the chances are that by then Theresa will have been reshuffled, and someone else can make more sweeping changes.
Frankly until the UK adopts the practice, often followed in the United States, of appointing apolitical professional top managers with ministers merely holding them to account, this type of mayhem will continue. Almost everywhere one looks there are similar debacles and Andrew Lansley is a perfect example. If he had set out to make a mess of the NHS he couldn’t have done a better job. In an attempt to bring order to chaos, Cameron then calls a conference from which he excludes all the critics and fails to even mention the issue that has 56 per cent of the over-65s population demanding that the bill be dropped. His own party’s standing has fallen dramatically in the polls and no fewer than 67 per cent of Lib Dem voters demand a halt, not that whelk stall Clegg will listen to them.
Had Lansley merely stated the political objective and left the planning to an experienced NHS executive none of this mess would have occurred. And there would have been no need for all the chaotic arguments about a bill that even Lansley’s right-hand man has described as unintelligible. And there would have been integrity. The political brief would have stated the aim as privatisation and only when, and if, political agreement was obtained would the planners get to work.
During my years as a business leader or NHS chairman I met many ministers carrying various political labels. I can honesty say that I cannot recall one who struck me as being much above whelk stall ability. Several were politically astute, but mixing the two is a recipe for ruin. In theory they all relied on civil sertvants for advice, but they too lack any business experience and for good measure rotate every two years.
I wonder if BetFred will take a bet on the date of the next border agency reorganisation! There is money to be made!
THINGS PEOPLE SAID ABOUT BOOKS; “A man came to my door and said, ‘I’d like to read your meter’. I said, ‘Whatever happened to classics?’ “……..Emo Philips “Paradise Lost is a book that, once put down, is very hard to pick up again”…..Samuel Johnson “I have hundreds of books but no bookcase. Nobody woud lend me a bookcase”……Henny Youngman “Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having babies. Life is the other way round”……David Lodge “I’ve just been reading the dictionary. Turns out the Zebra did it”…..Steven Wright “Never judge a book by its movie”…..J W Eagan “I do a lot of reading about serial killers, mostly ‘How To’ books”….Roseanne “To write a diary every day is like retiurning to one’s own vomit”……Enoch Powell
Regular readers will know that we allotment codgers have developed a paranoia about Andrew Lansley and his plans to privatise the NHS. But, to quote the old adage, just because you are paranoid it doesn’t follow that someone isn’t out to get you. Anyway, when we first learned that David Cameron had decided to become involved we were more than somewhat relieved. Surely he would recognise just what a political banana skin this project is, surely he would realise that once the great British public grasps the significance of NHS hospitals being encouraged to increase their private beds up to 49% all hell will be heading his way. Sadly, it seems not. Instead we are to have a dose of slanted PR, Cameron style.
What do the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Radiologists, the Royal College of Pathologists, the Royal College of Physiotherapists, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists all have in common? Two things. They have all come out opposing the NHS Bill, and they have all been omitted from the conference being held today by the Prime Minister in Downing Street.
Amazingly the Downing Street spin-doctors yesterday explained that those chosen to attend the summit had been selected on the basis that there was little point in inviting those that opposed the Bill. Ye Gods! In other words Cameron intends to wheel out the group of GPs named by this blog some months ago as an elite group of regular diners and prospective honours recipients. There are now an impressive 50 of them, not so impressive when viewed against the total number of around 35,000, almost all of which have voted against.
He will also wheel on the Surgeons, the only Royal College in support of Lansley. That was predictable. At present surgeons can only allocate hours to private practice once they have fulfilled their obligation to the NHS. Once 49% of NHS hospital beds are occupied by private patients they can make their fortunes in normal hours. Their NHS waiting times will increase by almost 50%, a figure being quoted by medical insurance companies who are now funding an unprecedented number of full-page daily ads in the national press.
Incredibly the government has dismissed the protests of all of the medical bodies as ‘self interest’. This is not only offensive to the professional bodies, it also does a grave disservice to the general public. The people did not vote for these changes, and a petition launched just three days ago attracted 100,000 signatures within hours.
Writing in the Lancet last week, Prof Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Barts and the London School of Medicine, together with two leading lawyers, concluded that under the Lansley proposals patients will end up paying for treatments at present provided by the NHS. They argue that the bill will introduce a “mixed financing system and abolish the model of tax-financed universal health care on which the NHS is based”.
Yes the Downing Street gathering of cronys will, by this evening, tell us that the Bill is the best thing since sliced bread. The truth is printed in this morning’s Daily Telegraph where Max Pemberton asks: “Can the government really keep telling us they’re listening while driving the knife deeper and deeper into the heart of the NHS?”.
WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT THE THEATRE: “I go to the theatre to be entertained. I don’t want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction. I can get all that at home”….Peter Cook “Very few people go to the doctor when they have a cold. They go to the theatre instead”…..James Agate “What is my play about? It is about to make me very rich”……Tom Stoppard “Nudity on stage is disgusting. But if I were 22 with a great body, it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive religious experience”…..Shelley Winters “Shakespeare is fantastic. And to think he only wrote it all with a feather!” …….Sam Goldwyn “Opening night; the night before the play is ready to open”……George Jean Nathan “I come from a long line of actors. It’s called the dole queue.”……Alan Davies
Sunday morning is the traditional time for a good deal of soccer chatter on the allotments. Today the weather seemed a perfect analogy for our big-time clubs. A glance at the sunlit bue sky suggested that all is well, but the invisible wind had a cruel cutting edge to it. Translated into football all appears well as the mega-stars strut their stuff, but out of sight of the adoring fans financial lunacy is doing its worst.
In the past week Glasgow Rangers have passed into the hands of administrators and Portsmouth have returned to the brink of extinction. At least a dozen other clubs are teetering on the edge as managers rotate and pocket ever-increasing packets of cash. There are many things wrong with the once beautiful game but one towers above all others. Clubs have lost all sense of what is a sensible wage bill. In an attempt to keep pace with the ludicrous wages paid by oil-rich Arabs and Russian tycoons even the lower order Premiership clubs are paying millions per year to even the most modest performers. When I read recently that a player regarded an offer of £100,000 per week as an insult, I finally realised that the whole set-up has lost its senses.
Today some newspapers report that Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager has been told that he must begin to pay ‘realistic’ wages. Stars that he nurtured and developed can go elsewhere and pocket £160,000 each week, he is offering a ‘miserly’ £75,000. Can you imagine any other job that would offer anything remotely near that? Nor can I, not even the ultimate symbol of perverted greed, the bankers, manage that.
Unless the Football Association and its European counterparts finds a way of setting a maximum wage, dozens of clubs will go to the wall. Of course those such as Manchester City and Chelsea would baulk at such a move but how will they survive if they have no opponents capable of providing competitive matches. And for how long would Sky continue to pour money in to non-spectacles that have no attraction for viewers?
And the disease of extravagence is permeating down. Whilst the non-Premiership clubs cannot countenance wages in the millions they are still getting caught up in the pay-more-than-you-can-afford frenzy. Even in non-league circles ambitious clubs are paying players far more than gate-money can ever cover. Already loyal supporters are finding the strain of constant fund-raising too much, and this season alone has seen over a dozen household names lock their gates for the last time.
Someone has to call a halt to the madness before it is too late. Given a maximum wage of, say, one million pounds per year there would still be scope for the handful of mega-rich owners to flaunt their affluence. Others would pay less so little would change from the spectator’s viewpoint. And where else would the soccer stars earn such money?
The only logical agent for such a revolutionary approach is the Football Association. But the omens are not good. It has just announced a new England strip to replace the existing one that has only featured in eight matches. It is priced at £70 and is a blatent attempt to screw more money out of parents. And remember that it was the selfsame Association that appointed Capello at a salary of £6 million. In contrast, at the time of lifting the 2010 Workd Cup, Vincent del Bosque was being paid £1.5 milion as was Germany’s Joachim Low.
Suddenly the FA has a golden opportunity to set a new standard. There are many existing managers who would jump at the chance of managing at international level, and tempting though it may be to give someone like Harry Redknapp the millions he demands, the temptation should be resisted. Were it to make a firm stand on this, many clubs would be encouraged to come to their senses.
In the final analysis footballers are entertainers, and their rewards should refect their ability to draw punters through the turnstyles. If a West End play did not attract sufficient money through the ticket office it would be ‘pulled’.
Where I grew up one could see folk emerge from their front doors on Saturday afternoon en-route for the local football ground. There were big stars then such as Matthews, Lawton and Finney. They were all on the maximum wage which represented more that those that watched them could earn. But not obscenely so. And no clubs went to the wall.
Of course the idea of a maximum wage would be debated and scorned by many fans. But will they enjoy the alternative? Probaby not, for if the present crazy indulgence goes on dozens of the teams they watch now will be no more within a matter of years.
WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT DIETS; “If her bum was a bungalow, she’d never get a mortgage on it”……Victoria Wood “Is she fat? her favourite food is seconds”…..Joan Rivers “When my mother-in-law hangs out her bra on the line to dry, we lose an hour of daylight”…..Les Dawson “I asked the sales girl is she had anything to make me look thinner. She said ‘How about a week in Ethiopia?’ “…..Roseanne “Pavarotti is very difficult to pass at the net with or without a racket”…..Peter Ustinov ” ”I know there’s a thin person inside me trying to get out’ ‘Just one dear?’ “……Edina Monsoon and Gran, Absolutely Fabulous “You know why fish are so thin? They eat fish”……Jerry Seinfeld
To quote Arkwright, it’s been a funny old day – so far. On our first visit to the allotments it was raining cats and dogs and it was all hands to the gravel spreading. When we returned at lunchtime the sun was out and a force zillion westerly sent Albert’s new cap on its way to join the old one. But my old pal was in an unusually benign mood. He had just read that his hero Big Eric Pickles has taken immediate action to nullify the triumph of the Secular Society, which had obtained a court order banning council prayers in Bideford. Despite the fact that Eric could swallow Albert whole and still seek afters, the wee fellow dotes on him.
But the focus of today’s gossip was on the arrival amongst us of God, or His Holiness Rupert Murdoch as Cameron and Blair like to describe him. And we are told that his visit to the Sun newspaper offices has boosted morale. Given that his new Management and Standards Committee is working flat out to hand over the journalists to Inspector Knacker, that probably wasn’t difficult, but the Digger delivered a promise that all those suspended can return to work. That delighted the staff, but has probably left Knacker somewhat confused.
But the big announcement was that, just as all the cynics had predicted when he closed the News of the Screws, Murdoch is planning to introduce a Sunday version of the Sun. Never mind the parents of Millie Dowler or the countless other families whose privacy was invaded, never mind all the payments to police officers, never mind the dubious explanations given to parliament, never mind Ms Brooks and all the other directors who knew nothing, the Murdoch Sunday wil be back in time for the Olympics advertising boost.
It has to be said that not all former empoyees of News International are over the moon. Those arrested at the News of the World are not to be treated on a basis of innocent until proved guilty. Typical is the former chief reporter Neville Thurlback who tweeted “Is this just a PR stunt and NOTW men don’t matter as the paper is defunct”. Shame on you Neville, your former boss has the best character references that money and membership of Mr Cameron’s Witney set can buy.
What is certain is that the politicians will watch the circulation figures of the NOTW Mark2 with great interest. If it flops they will maintain their recent air of distance from all things Murdoch. But if it takes off, expect to see that motor cavalcade arriving at the back door of 10 Downing Street. The fact that Sun readers obediently follow its advice on how to vote tells us something about them, but the fact remains that the Digger at full throttle has the power to make or break governments.
Statistics suggest that the majority of Sun readers are men. We understand that because until we decided to ban News Corp papers from our little circle, several of our members who favour long macs were to be seen studying whatever learned detail was provided on page three. But solidarity rules here, and we are resolved never to let the output of people who have taken journalism into the gutter to cross our wonkey gates again.
We have formed the CATS society, and you are welcome to join. Must have an acronym in this PR age. Ours stands for Codgers Against The Sun!
WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT THE MIND; “Wee Willie Winkie ran through the town, upstairs and downstairs, in his nightgown. And you think I’m nuts?”….. Tommy Cooper “One out of four is mentally unbaanced. Think of your three best friends. If they seem okay then you’re the one”…..Slappy White “The neurotic buids castles in the air, the psychotic thinks he ives in them, the psychoanalyst colects the rent from both”…..Jerome Lawrence “Most people with low self-esteem have earned it”…….George Carlin “I went to my doctor and he told me I had acute paranoia. I said, excuse me, but I’m here to be examined not admired”…..Gracie Allen ” How to tell if you are paranoid; if you can’t think of anything that’s not your fault, you’ve got it”……Robert Hutchins “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most”…..Mark Twain “Being in therapy is great. I spend an hour just talking about myself. It’s kinda like being a guy on a date”……Caroline Rhea
The redeeming feature of chicken-keeping for a bunch of grumpy old men is that there is always something to moan about. The icy spell provided plenty of justification, now we have a sea of mud. It has to be said that the hens seem impervious to it alL, for eggs are rolling off the production line at record levels. A figure of speech, since the chooks are free-range the eggs tend to be laid in odd places and each day we re-enact the treasure hunts of distant memory. Miss an egg and feed a fox, and we hate them even more than politicians.
But enough of such trivia, I’ve fulfilled my role as a codger’s PR officer. What has really caught our eye is the plight of small children caught up in the benefit cap hoo-hah. Over the past few days the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury, David Cameron and umpteen others have gone to some lengths to stress that ours is a Christian society. It is time our actions demonstrated that irrefutable truth. If my memory of Sunday School serves me correcty there is a famous instruction to suffer the little chidren to come unto me. What we are now doing is to interpret the word suffer in an entirely different way!
Undoubtedy there are problems across the country but I use London as my example since I have real information rather than heresay. The background is that the government has capped all housing benefit payments at £250 per week for a one-bedroom property and a maximum of £400 for a place with four or more bedrooms. This applies to families renting property and the theory was that landlords would be obliged to reduce rents accordingy or hold empty property. However, since few people can obtain mortgages for the highly priced London market there is huge demand for rented properties. The result is that families facing a cap are being evicted.
As a result Westminster Council has accepted that “there wil be a 20% reduction in the school population across the borough”. Bob Denton, Westminster’s strategic director of housing, makes the position clear. “Is it fair for the state to provide subsidy for people to live in places that are too expensive?”, is his retort. On the face of it most peope will give him the reassurance he seeks. The coalition has gone to great lengths to demonise those who receive benefits, and the country rings with comments about people who have large families, people who never work and so forth.
Meantime the bailiffs are in action. Amira, 39, was renting a flat near Edgeware Road for £812 a week, with her four chidren. She is not currently working because her youngest child, aged one, is unwell and receiving treatment at Great Ormond Street hospital. When her landlady realised the family could no longer meet the rent she proceeded with eviction. The bailiffs evicted the family on 14th November. After a day spent on the streets with their belongings, the family was placed in a vast B & B where they all sleep in one room and share facilities with other families in similar distress. Through it all Amira’s greatest concern has been the affect on the chidren of school age.
At the nearest school, Gateway Primary School the teachers are deeply concerned about the affect on the chidren of the housing benefit cap. Maggie Schneider, the deputy head, tells of the affect on pupils of their ‘personal challenge for the term’. Typical was the response of an eight years old who comes to her room each day to ask if the teacher can help her find a home. Headteacher and governors report that the process of trying to support families is taking up more and more of staff time. A significant number of children have already left the school and staff have been unable to track them. Some may be in such a state of transit that they are no longer attending school at all.
People of the left or right of the political spectrum will argue the case for a cap in different ways. Without doubt there are cheaper ways of housing famiies than the one that has existed for so long. But – and it is a very big but – no one debates the issue in terms of the children. Whatever parents may, or may not, have done can it possibly be right that small children spend their days worrying about shelter and are moved around from pillar to post in the middle of winter?
In the case I studied, Westminster council estimated that it can ultimately save £39 million, but that includes adults with no dependent children. Multiplied across all the high rent-cost areas that total grows significantly so there is money to be saved. But are we happy to damage small children to save it. Surely decency and compassion demands that the subsidy should continue for families with children of primary school age. Can we really countenance visiting the sins – if there are any – of the parents on innocents?
A few days ago I had a first hand account of a birthday party staged by a distant member of the Royal family. Apparently the champagne was served via a huge fountain around which flowed a sea of bubbly. Buffet tables groaned beneath the weight of exotic foods flown in from every corner of the globe and the children wore specially tailored fancy dress. Yesterday we learned of senior civil servants dodging their tax liabilities.
It prompted my friend to question all the rhetoric about a Christian country. I wonder why!
WHAT PEOPLE SAID ABOUT FOOD AND DRINK; Americans regard food as something to sober up with”……James Agate “If only it ws as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly as it is to masturbate”……Diogenes “The worst thing that ever happened to me was that I offered a chap a crisp from my bag and he took two”……Vic Reeves “Why is it that all the things I like eating have been shown to cause tumours in white mice?”……Robert Benchey “Turkey is totally inedible. It’s like eating a scrum half”….Wilie Rushton “Why do mums always buy crap pop?”…..Peter Kay “I don’t drink water. Have you seen the way it rusts pipes?” …..W C Fields ”Cured ham? No thanks pal – cured of what?”…….Tommy Sledge “This stuff tastes awful. I could make a fortune selling it in my health food store” ……Woody Allen
The mild weather continues and this morning the fish in the big pond were rising for food, an unusual thing for February. But the forecast is for the return of the icy blasts at the weekend and we did our best to dissuade Albert from storing away his eskimo suit. We also poured scorn on his latest brainwave to set himself up as a chicken poo consultancy with a view to dodging tax. Today’s headlines about the antics at the Department of Health triggered the notion, but we warned that whilst the taxmen are always generous to the Gods, they tend to stage dawn raids on scruffs bent on saving ten bob on their tax return.
In December Gareth Jones, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, sought assurances that health department staff were not being paid by means of payment to limited companies in lieu of salary, as a means of paying tax at the much lower corporate tax level. Health minister Simon Burns replied that, good heavens, no such payments are made. “It is not the department’s policy to permit payments to civil servants by way of limited companies”, he proudly announced with a wave of his not inconsiderabe paws.
Unfortunately for him someone in the department has leaked details to the Guardian. More than 25 senior executives are being paid through companies registered at their home addresses. The documents show that the named individuals are being paid more than £250,000 per year, as well as individual expenses. When challenged the D of H said that it couldn’t justify the practice, but intriguingly added that this may merely be “the tip of an iceberg”. It defended its earlier denial by saying that the individuals are not technically civil servants even though many have worked at Richmond House since William Pitt ruled. Leaked emails show that every possible effort to deceive has been considered.
Those who are horrified at what Lansley is doing to the NHS will inevitably point the finger at him. But that would not be entirely fair for it appears that this form of tax dodging has been going on for years. It could of course be reasonably argued that he should have checked out his own camp before diving headlong into accusations against the NHS, all of which have now been shown to be about as true as Simon Burn’s statement.
The major justifications for his NHS reforms were claims by Andrew Lansley that productivity has fallen dramatically, and that the vast majority of people support his plan despite the total opposition of the medical professions, which he describes as “vested interests”. A few days ago his claim about productivity was exposed as a lie, today the result of a national survey of 700,000 patients by the Care Commission is published. The percentage of patients rating their experience of the NHS is 84% ! Satisfaction with the service is said to be at “an all time high”.
Meantime an internal assessment of all four NHS regions has placed the Lansley plan in the highest risk category, and the summary warns that there is a high chance the reforms will fail. The government’s own risk assessment is said to be equally damning but Lansley has so far managed to block its publication. Whilst all this has been going on the providers of private health insurance have launched a massive multi-million pound campaign.
The revelations about tax dodging by such a large number of executives suggest that those who claim that Lansley has little idea of what really happens in the average surgery or hospital are probably right. Clearly he doesn’t even know what is happening in his own corridors of power!
Perhaps he should enquire. And whilst doing so he should perhaps ask why his department has just paid out £2,810,103 in bonuses for pushing paper around. It might be better spent on nurses!
THINGS PEOPLE SAID ABOUT INTELLIGENCE; ” He was so thick he couldn’t tell which way a lift was going if he got two guesses”……..Roy Chubby Brown “His mum gives him a see-through lunchbox so he can tell whether he is on his way to work or on his way home”……Robert Klein “I was gratified to be able to answer instantly. I said I didn’t know”…..Mark Twain “The average person’s attention span is that of a ferret on a double espresso”…..Dennis Miller “What luck for the leaders that men do not think”…….Adolf Hitler “I’ve written a book. It’s called ‘How to Raise you IQ by Eating Gifted Children’ “……Lewis B Frumkes “I have come to the conclusion that a good set of reliable bowels is worth more to a man than any quantity of brains”…….Josh Billings
Because three of our allotment gang hail from north of the border it is inevitable that Scottish independence is regularly the subject for mirth. Albert repeatedly asks if Hadrian’s Wall is going to be fortified, equally regularly Ian replies that it would be pointless for the “Sassenachs have got helicopters now”. If truth be told, we all regard the break-up of the United Kingdom as a rather important issue, but none of us really understands how it could possibly work to the benefit of Ian’s kin who still choose to live in the world of Saint Salmond.
So we took more than a passing interest in the comments made yesterday by the parliamentary Scottish Affairs Committee. It called on the government for clarification of many matters, and complained that people on both sides of the border are “confused and concerned”. The first question it tabled was one that we have constantly argued about ; the national debt. Mr Salmond has studiously avoided the subject, but Taxpayer Scotland has suggested that an independent Scotland would start life with a debt pile of as much as £270 billion, equivalent to more than double its annual economic output. But the committee needs more information on the sharing of the costs of the RBS rescue, plus a list of other investments made by the UK taxpayer. The likelihood is that on day one the Scottish debt would represent around three years economic output.
Then comes the question of North Sea oil revenues. They are now dwindling rapidly, but the assumption by the SNP that revenues will simply accrue to Scotland fails to take account of the fact that a very high percentage of the capital investment came from English taxpayers.
Would Scotland retain the use of sterling? If so, would it be fiscally independent? Would there be a Scottish central bank? Can the population of Scotland produce sufficient tax revenue to sustain a seperate economy? Would English residents in Scotland pay taxes to the Scottish treasury? There is no clarity whatsoever on any of the big financial issues.
The chairman of the committee is Ian Davidson. He commented that even trivial questions are not being addressed. He quoted as an example the BBC. Would channels be available, how would the licence fee work? To that you can add a very long list of services that are currently shared, and which the less populated country would struggle to fund on a straight pro-rata basis.
We codgers, incuding our Scottish pals, are quite clear about our position. We see total independence as plain daft and unworkable, we favour devolution of as many powers as possible. My personal worry is that politicians are notorious for incompetent negotiations on assets. I shudder still at what I witnessed during negotiations covering the sell-off of National Bus, Royal Ordnance, British Leyland and others. I remember the Scammel factory in Watford being added to an appendix after the deal had been struck. Billions of pounds of taxpayer’s money were simply handed over, the victim not of corruption but just plain indifference and incompetence.
The real danger is that some half-witted civil servants will give Mr Salmond all he wants rather than the real bill which would render Scotland bankrupt on day one.
Of course the likelihood is that a referendum will result in a no vote for total independence. But Salmond is a canny operator and Cameron is as popular in Scotland as a rattle snake in a lucky dip. Perhaps he should ask one of his Scottish Lib Dem ministers to publish an estimate of the tax levels for citizens north of the border once the benefit of the English subsidy goes? After all they have a vested interest since a new English parliament would see them out of lucrative employment.
Or would it? The idea that the Scottish people can even start to make up their minds in a total information fog is stupid and dangerous.
THINGS PEOPLE SAID ABOUT THE ANIMAL KINGDOM! “Animals may be our friends but they won’t pick you up at the airport”……Bobcat Goldthwaite “A camel is a horse designed by a committee”……Alec Issigonis “A racehorse is the only animal that can take thousands of people for a ride at the same time”….Herbert Prochnow “When insects take over the world, we hope they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on all our picnics”……Jim Koser “What is it with chimpanzees and that middle parting? It’s so 1920s”….Harry Hill “Have you ever pondered on the similarity between a pelican and British Gas? They can both stick their bills up their arses”….Stephen Fry “Kids, if you want a kitten, start out by asking your parents for a horse”……Marty Allen “The dog was licking its private parts with all the gusto of an alderman drinking soup”…….Graham Greene