Archive for March, 2012
It was inevitable that George Galloway would be the topic of conversation as we cleaned out the hens this morning. He had, after all, just recorded the largest ever by-election victory by an ‘independent’ in post-war history. And he probably struck a chord with millions when he said that people are sick of double-dealing, double-speaking mainstream politicians. Mr Galloway is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he does have personality and vigour. Compared to Cameron or Miliband he is a ball of fire. The former is a smarmy nincompoop, and the latter reminds me of the shy Vet of Reggie Perrin fame, someone who knows what he wants to say but is too nervous to say it.
Predictably the three main parties were quick with the spin. Miliband promised to go to Bradford to meet the people, something he should perhaps have done some time ago. Lady Warsi, for the Conservatives, declared it a very bad night for Labour, seemingly unaware that her party’s percentage fall was even greater. The Lib Dems said little, what can you say when you lose your deposit?
The sad reality is that disenchantment with politicians has reached an all-time low. Nowhere was this better illustrated yesterday than in the announcement of the panel set up to investgate the claims made by the Conservative co-treasurer, Peter Cruddas, to reporters posing as would-be donors. He openly offered influence and honours, not to mention illegal methods of donating. Either he was lying or, more likely, reflecting the corrupt reality. Cameron was quick to promise a detailed investigation into what are potentially the most serious revelations ever uttered by one so senior. The claim that Blair was almost equally culpable is probably true but utterly irrelevant.
And who is conduct the investigation the “public has the right to expect”? None other than Lord Gold, who was a senior partner at Herbert Smith, a law firm that acted for Lord Feldman’s family company until 2008. Lord Feldman is the co-chairman of the Conservative Party and was responsible for recruiting Mr Cruddas. Lord Gold will be joined on the enquiry by two peers. They are Lord MacGregor, a Conservative Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher and Baroness Browning, another former Conservative minister.
Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life – the organisation that logically should have been charged with investigating so serious a matter – was quick to lash out. He said that the inquiry was “unlikely to have much credibilty” with Lord Gold at the helm. He demanded a a “proper, independent inquiry ” into the cash-for-access scandal conducted by people who were not linked to the Conservative Party. He added ; “I don’t think anyone is even trying to call it an independent inquiry, that would be an abuse of the English language”.
Whilst all this was unravelling news broke of another similar scandal. Ed Staite, a former Conservative public relations consultant, was filmed by undercover reporters for a Sunday newspaper. He tells them that were they to fund a policy group they could influence George Osborne. Tomorrow’s headline, another sign of corruption at the heart of government.
In this, and so many other actions, the country’s most senior politicians are showing contempt for the general public. Who is there left that we can trust? Sadly, the answer appears to be no one.
Of course the spin-doctors always have an answer. Their reply to the question is that elected Mayors and Police Commissioners will take many powers away from central government and place them in the hands of the people. Really? Just take a look at those who are stepping forward as candidates. Birmingham voters will get the chance to choose their ‘independent’ leader in November. Yesterday Liam Byrne, Labour shadow work and pensions secretary, threw his hat into the ring. His opponents are likely to be Gisela Stuart MP, Sion Simon, fomer Labour minister, and Sir Albert Bore, the Labour leader in Birmingham. New faces? Free of party tags? Not alligned to central politics?
And the police situation is even worse. A confidential report by the Serious Organised Crime Agency has warned that private investigators have been using corrupt serving and former officers to delete intelligence files from the national police computer, an d to allow unauthorised access to details of current investigations, the location of witnesses under police protection and the identity of informants. And who will be taking over the role of local heads of police forces? The candidates to emerge so far are almost entirely local councillors, and I don’t mean independent ones!
With news of the emrgence of two hundred doctors who plan to stand at the next election, plus the Galloway development, is it just possible that the day may dawn when the corrupt will be swept away by an electorate which is at last beginning to assert itself?
That was good whilst it lasted. Albert’s little chest was nowhere to be seen this morning, he was enveloped in a hoodied duffle coat, looking for all the world like one of Snow White’s companions. It has to be said that a sudden halving of temperatures does nothing for morale, and the pursuit of three hens heading off for the petrol queue lacked the vigour so evident over the past week. But those of us who, until a fortnight ago, were inclined to give the coalition the benefit of the doubt were encouraged by the sudden assault launchd by David Davies, the Tory that challenged David Cameron for the party leadership.
He suggested that “striving” voters believe that ministers like the Prime Minister and the Chancellor do not listen to their concerns. In fact he went on to claim that working-class voters increasingly “resent” what they see as over-privileged Cabinet ministers who simply “do not understand their everyday lives. Mr David has what the Old Etonians suddenly suspect are ideal credentials – he grew up on a council estate in south London.
Given the shambolic nature of the past week, this triggered an immediate search for spokesmen with whom “ordinary” people would identify. One can imagine the conversation between Dave and Gorgeous George. Dave undoubtedly argued that he is doing his level best to appear ordinary, having agreed tto be filmed playing badminton. Goerge for his part had posed with a Cornish pastie. Neither will have entirely grasped that not all “ordinary” folk regularly follow either occupation.
But they clearly made progress. Angus Maude, who has the disadvantage of looking like a serial-killer accountant, has been banished and in his place they have unearthed Mike Penning, officially the Roads Minister but unofficially one of the few ministers who actually sounds as if he lives on this planet. He immediately appeared on the Radio 4 Today programme and, although he was there to talk about the petrol “emergency”, chose instead to state that whilst he was not the minister responsible for pasties, he does enjoy them and would be happy to show anyone exactly where he buys them. It as all very reassuring, so much so that his very ordinariness may well have served to make his senior colleagues seem even more remote. If the sudden exposure to the public spotlight overwhlems so ordinary a bloke, the coalition has Eric Pickles on standby. He wasn’t first choice on the grounds that he speaks like Donald Pleasance playing a Nazi General and looks like someone who has eaten rather too many pasties.
For what it is worth, I believe that in searching for new spokesmen who appear ordinary is fraught with danger. The idea that outside of parliament dwells 30-odd million ordinary people all acting and thinking as one in the manner of a Borg-collective is a little wide of the mark. As if to prove my point, the government made a late change to its representation on last night’s David Bumblebee’s Question Time. The woman they sent reminded me of a middle-class lady from Greenpiece, who regularly assails my ears in the local pub. She is always right, everyone else is unenlightened. She, and the “ordinary” politician that appeared last night, is anything but ordinary. Both are a pain in the bum.
The truth surely is that there is no such thing as an “ordinary” person. Cameron has attempted to demonstrate that he understands rhyming-slang, little realising that no one more that a couple of miles from Bow Bells uses it. He should leave the lower end of the social strata to The Sun if he can maintain his close links with Murdoch. He needs to focus on the middle-class where the swing-votes lurk, and that in itself is a major challenge since in this day and age that embraces Mrs Bouquet at one end, and a chap in last nights audience at the other. He believed that the answer to strikes is imprisonment for all who contemplte such an act.
Better still drop the whole pretence altogether. Both Attlee and Churchill held great sway with the masses, yet both were from privileged backgrounds. Their secret was competence and, when that deserted them, honesty.
A dose of both would do the coalition a power of good. It is true that only last week almost 70% declared Cameron and Osborne to be rich and socially unconnected with them. But a year ago, when the coalition was riding high in the polls’ the fugure was only two points lower.
People don’t expct Old Etonians to go around munching pork pies, what they hate is their habit of telling them. They don’t care if they speak with a plum in their mouths and ride ex-police horses, they hate their corruption and favouratism to their own kind.
Even using big Eric as a frontman can’t save them now as we move back officially into recession. They may not be like us, but they have brains. The time to start using them has arrived!
GALLOWAY VICTORY SAYS IT ALL! The absolute thrashing dished out by George Galloway in the Bradford by-election says it all about the total disaffection the vast majority now have with all three of the main political parties. Although George Galloway represented his ‘Respect party’ he, in effect, stood as an independent yet was able to exceed the Labour vote by 10,000 and the Conservatives and Lib Dems by even more.
It bodes well for the new Doctors party at the general election!
WERRITY LIVES! Readers who enjoyed the Werrity saga will be relieved to know that our much envied hero is not yet an extinct species. Annual accounts for Pargav Limited show Werrity collected £73,850 in the year to October last. The accounts, now filed at Companies House, show the payment as being for “consultancy charges” paid to Mr Werrity who was a “shadow director of the company”.
Pargov received £147,000 from four Tory-donating businessmen and an international investigation company staffed by ex-MI6 employees, and paid for Werrity to take a string of first-class flights to meet Liam Fox at 18 exotic locations while the Defence Secretary was on government business.
Faced with all that stress, our hero was surely entitled to some relaxation and £379.60 went on a bill at Larry Flint’s Hustler Club topless bar.
When Tom and I reached the allotment gates this morning, we were somewhat taken aback to see a long queue of cars snaking past the lane. For a moment we wondered if hen-cleaning live had become a Sky spectator sport, but one of the drivers yelled an explanation through his open window. We are taking the advice of old Maude, was the gist of it. The queue stretched down to the petrol station some quarter mile away, and the idea of anyone following any advice given by Angus Maude struck us as daft in the extreme. But they are doing so, and later we say several geezers carrying cans of petrol to store in what the Cabinet Secretary referred to as outbuildings, clearly not realising that the average family’s outbuilding is a wooden shed rather than an empty set of stables!
It is only the fact that Cameron is equally daft that stops one wondering how he came to leave a key interview on the possibility of a petrol delivery driver’s strike to Maude. Both men hail from another planet, and it showed. Those close to the negotiations believe that there is a good chance of a settlement on the health and safety issues in dispute. And, in any case, any strike is at least two weeks away. Only Eric Cameron and Ernie Maude could have managed to launch a hoarding crisis today. Already social service and NHS emergency teams are running out of fuel, which would be guaranteed should a strike actually happen.
Surely no one could match their stupidity. Oh yes they could. Take a bow Andrew Lansley. Having defied almost every medical body in the land to bring in his Reform Bill, that wizard has now realised that GP practices, to whom he plans to hand the NHS budget, are private businesses many of which hold financial interests in private healthcare firms. The realisation that we now have a classic conflict of interest has finally dawned on the hapless health secretary who has ruled that GPs thus affecetd must stand down from commissioning decisions. Since that means almost all of them, we are back to a revamped Primary Care Trust structure. That is also a problem since most of the key personnell have already departed, clutching giant redundancy packages.
Meantime Mr Lansley is probably pleased at the rapid progress being made by his private sector friends. Yesterday I received four emails from private health insurance companies, all warning me that I must either take out insurance or face very long waits for treatment under the NHS.
I quote verbatum from one; ”Can you afford to be without Health insurance? The NHS waiting lists are out of control and the NHS reforms are creating chaos and uncertainty. It’s no surprise millions of UK residents are now protecting themselves with medical cover”. Another said that “over 250,000 are now waiting for over 18 weeks..you should get access to immediate access and high quality facilities now”.
So now we have the Maude Lansley recipe for a happy life. Build you own fuel stockpile, and buy into medical insurance without delay. Come to think about it, Eric and little Ernie would have done a better job!
We have used the brilliant weather to our advantage by tackling jobs the thought of which usually has us running for the shed. One of the big trees was smothered in ivy, as was one of the fences, and we launched our attack-on-ivy-in-the-sun mission. We now have a heap of tree, fencing and ivy big enough to constitute a risk to Knacker’s low flying helicopter. We also have clear evidence that all the boffins on TV who claim that ivy does no harm to its support are talking absolute rubbish.
I never thought I would live to see most of the allotment codgers stripped to the waist in March, but that was the sight that greeted visitors this morning. Not me though, I am too self-conscious about my spare tyres. But there are none of those on Albert, whose tiny chest is as brown as the proverbial berry. Someone commented that were his chest of the treasure variety, it wouldn’t hold a single Conservative Party donor’s donation. Yes, jokes about the newly named party are in vogue this week.
The latest Com-Res poll for the Independent is the source of the name-change chatter. Asked whether they now regarded the Conservatives as “the party of the rich” no fewer than 66% said yes. Even 32% of Conservative supporters agreed, and a massive 70% of Lib Dem voters nodded. The poll shows Labour with a 10 points lead, and the Cleggites down at an all time low of 11. How Clegg is hoping to extricate himself from the disaster he has wrought is one of the great mysteries of the universe.
Without doubt David Cameron et al have had a few disastrous days. First there was the Osborne cock-up on the Granny Tax, then came the Cruddas affair which pointed to serious corruption at the heart of the party. Then Cameron declined to reveal just who has been entertained in his private flat, before yielding to public outrage by telling all. Then the media established that he had conveniently forgotten some key names.
But at the heart of all this lies the issue of political party funding, a subject on which Labour is equally uncomfortable. There is little doubt that the vast majority of people give money to parties in the expectation of receiving honours, favours or special infleunce. And there is little doubt that they get it.
In Novenber 2011 the committee chaired by Christopher Kelly came up with a solution in its report headed ‘Ending the Big Donor Culture’. It proposed a cap of £10,000 on individual donations, with the rest of the funding being provided by a public levy of 50 pence per annum. So why are all the parties showing such reluctance to change? The main reason is that the public schoolboys leading the Conservatives see their rich friends as part of who they are, and the Labour Party are terrified of upsetting their trades union buddies.
The other reason is a fear of running an election campaign on a tight budget. Each election sees the costs spiralling out of control. Battle buses, endless TV spots, zillions of posters, endless staged appearances of leaders. The list goes on and on, and the result is one lie heaped upon another, one trumped up condemnation of opponents after another. The public, activists apart, is totally disenchanted and almost automatically assumes that what it is hearing is an invention.
The idea of politicians being upfront and honest sounds far fetched, but given miniscule funding we just might see a different approach. In 1945 Attlee won a resounding victory without spending very much at all. His broadcasts were hardly a la Blair but he told the truth. Why is that so impossible now?
Something has to happen and happen soon for this government has been revealed as one corrupt beyond toleration, and there is little reason to believe that the other lot would be significantly different when the wealthy lobbyists came calling.
WHERE WAS THE CONSERVATIVE CHAIRMAN IN ALL THIS?
Senior Conservatives finally lost their cool yesterday when it emerged that even the eventual agrreement to provide details of the rich donors who dined privately with the Camerons had been doctored. People like Lord Fink, Sir Christopher Gent and Paul Walsh were overlooked, a surprising error given the vast amounts they have given and the influence they have had.
And the finger has been pointed at Chairman Lord Feldman of Elstree, the co-chair who approved the appointment of Cruddas. His Lordship is apparently the Eddie the Eagle of politics, so why is he still in office? We were quickly told. A senior spokesman said that Feldman is the prime minister’s closest friend going back to the time when together they organised the May Ball committee at Brasenose College.
So that’s all right then!
I have always wondered what would happen if some remote boffin in some remote corner of cyber-space pressed the wrong button. Now I know. The whole shebang simply vanishes far beyond the reach of a computer illiterate such as me. After a long two-day exercise conducted by an expert, who happens to be part of the family, the site has been restored!
I imagine you thought that Albert and I had scraped together £250,000 and were eating to our heart’s content in David Cameron’s flat. Sadly not, we are still here on planet earth surrounded by hordes of angry chickens.
I shall look forward to being back with you tomorrow!