Archive for April, 2012
We knew what to expect when we arrived at the allotments this morning and we were not disappointed. It resembled Tottenham in the aftermath of the riots or after the news that ‘onest ‘arry Redknapp had been rejected by the Football Association. The first task this morning was to head for B &Q for a new load of roof panels, or flying saucers reported by UFO watchers. They won’t have a long life, it will match the period until Thor decides to beat us up again.
And that may be about the amount of time our dear leader has before his world comes crashing down. Yesterday David Cameron decided to speak to the nation. In Churchill’s time that meant a solo broadcast, now it involves appearing before Andrew Marr. It has to be said that the Prime Minister would most certainly have gained a place in the cast of Downton Abbey had this been an audition. His ability to switch on sincerity and integrity would match anything that Alec Guiness ever produced. At one point Marr was groping for his hankie as his tears welled.
Unfortunately our former PR guru has a habit of saying, seemingly sincerely, whatever first comes into his head. Yesterday he had to explain why he refuses to pass judgement on Jeremy Hunt, and why the economy is now in a nosedive almost as great as his own in the opinion polls. In fairness he could hardly give an honest answer to the Hunt question since it is that any detailed investigation would raise the spectre of his being a member of the Murdoch clan. But in a moment of sheer inventive explanation he came up with the answer to both issues. In one way or another they are all the fault of Europe. At this point he positively beamed as he sensed the escape door opening, the Euro he said may yet fall apart as countries such as Spain, Greece and Italy struggle to persuade their people to accept austerity in the way that he and Gorgeous George have managed here.
Clearly he forgot for a moment that the sobbing Andrew Marr was not his entire audience. Within minutes of transmission the front runner in the French presidential election made a rather pointed suggestion. “With the Britsh economy shrinking in the last quarter, Mr Cameron should perhaps give his attention to problems nearer to home, he said, and added for good measure that; “all European leaders, both inside and outside the euro area, should show responsibility by not encouraging market volatility”. The German leader quickly followed with similar sentiments and the comments of the others were along the lines of the ‘Great Raspberry blower of old London Town’ who once featured regularly in the Two Ronnies.
None of which quite matched the vitriol poured forth from the Lib Dems. Everyone knows that statements from Lord Oakeshott, the former Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, are really those of Vince Cable, who lives under sentence of death from Mr Cameron’s lapdog. Oakeshott/Cable suggested that Cameron was ” deliberately playing up the European crisis to distract voters from domestic issues”. The double act went on to say that our dear leader was “extremely unstatesmanlike, a British Prime Minister should not rock the boat of others to distract attention from his own failings”. Ed Balls said that attempts to blame Europe for pushing Britain back into recession ”just won’t wash”. For once he was right.
So with all deference to the king of fat-cats we codgers find ourselves with no alternative than to agree with Brother Balls. I guess that until we get what we really want, independent candidates such as Siobhan Benita who is climbing the London mayoral election polls despite having no funding or party machine, we will have to settle for Yvette Cooper’s old man.
One final word about the hunt for Hunt. Yesterday a spokesman said that Jeremy is as “popular with MPs as George Osborne is unpopular”. Either they or us are losing the plot!
FINANCE SECTOR IS STILL GETTING BY!
You may, or may not, be pleased to know that the finance sector top-dogs are still scratching a living, despite it all.
Mike Yardley quit Royal London, the UK’s biggest mutual insurer, last September after just thirteen years in charge. The annual report shows that he received a “golden goodbye” of £4 million.
So stop worrying about your pension!
This morning the allotments felt like the bleak and lonely place that Captain Mainwaring retired to for his honeymoon. A howling wind, driving rain and finger-numbing temperature welcomed us when we arrived to release the hens. Dozens of them declined the invitation of the opened coop-doors, who can blame them. Only mad old codgers were out and about this morning.
It all seemed to sum up what has been a bleak week for our country. Most worrying of all are polls showing the greatest disillusionment ever with politicians. There was a time when on a visit to the pub one studiously avoided talking politics for fear of triggering an angry debate. Now it is safe ground, everyone seems to have reached a point of total distrust in every party, every politician. That is not a healthy situation for what has largely remained a stable, tolerant democracy, one often cited across the world as an example to follow. It has often been remarked that were there a revolution in Britain no one would turn up if Man Utd were on the telly, we may now have reached the point where one has to add and playing Man City!
This week’s final proof of the corrupt relationship between a gutter-press and the most senior members of the government has merely served to confirm what most people already believed, that the cancer of dishonesty and corruption that developed during the Blair years has now enveloped almost every corner of government. Today we learn that the Prime Minister may be preparing to jettison Jeremy Hunt, and it is difficult not to feel a sneaking sympathy for that overly-ambitious young man.
It has become obvious that he traded approval by the government for the Murdoch takeover of BSkyB for approval of the government by the News Corp headline-writers. But there he was with Rupert’s representatives breathing down his neck on one side, whilst on the other he was very aware of the fact that the Prime Minister was socialising continually with the Murdoch heirarchy. A leading Tory minister has said that he should have “stood up to Cameron and told Murdoch there would be no contact”, but the pressures must have been immense.
We even learn of his hiding behind a tree on his way to one of many private dinners with James Murdoch, to avoid being seen by media correspondents who were by then scenting blood. Now it will be his that will be spilt as Cameron’s office begins to leak the possibility of the Prime Minister “exercising his authority”. But who will exercise authority over the greatest villain of the plot?
The usual tactic of leading politicians at such time is to wait to see if “things move on”. In reality they are now doing so, but in very much the wrong direction. If a general election was held this week the polls tell us that Labour would carry a ten-point lead. More significantly, the majority of the nation would cry a plague on all their houses.
In fact there are elections of lesser importance this week. They will undoubtedly reflect a rejection of the government, but with far less than half the electorate registering a vote. But there will be one exception. Boris Johnson will win the London mayoral contest. If so, how can it be that he will buck the trend?
Many disagree with many of the things that Johnson stands for, but most have a sneaking admiration for the guy. He is funny, loopy in fact. But he is honest. You may not like what he says, but you can be sure that what he says represents what he believes. Yesterday he attacked Osborne’s ludicrous handling of the economy and, for good measure, spoke out against elitism. The mad Boris comes from the same kind of background as Cameron, but he is perfectly at home trading insults with any roadsweeper he meets. He is of the people and understands the tremendous strains that they are now under. At the very least he inclines us to laugh at rather than despise him.
Asked if he will replace Cameron, Boris yesterday replied that it is as likely as his being found locked in a giant freezer. So it has a chance. But whatever happens we need a change. Every leading politician now employs an army of special advisers. Two of them, Werrity and Smith, have emerged from the shadows in recent times and they have taught us a lot. Unelected, and unaccountable, young wizards are doing dirty deeds and spinning lies galore with their employers egging them on. All semblance of truth has gone.
Old codgers tend to reflect back to World War 2 more than perhaps they should. But this I know, Churchill told the truth and told it continually. He depressed us, he inspired us. He wasn’t God, but in dark times he was the next best thing in that we knew we were hearing the truth and nothing but the truth, however painful it may have been.
We have a sneaking feeling that at some point an aspiring leader will say that he or she has no need of spin-doctors, and will henceforth tell it just as it is, warts and all. Until that day dawns the present bunch might just as well shut-up for no one believes anything they say.
MISPRINT OR DIVINE REVELATION?
” I believe to make a prosperous thieving borough we need united and strong communities”..Election statement of Labour candudate Shefali Begum, Rochdale Online.
There was more wind on the allotments this morning than Albert musters after one of his notorious nights-out. In some ways gales are the worst of all weather conditions for a bunch of codgers. Our hearts are willing to chase roof panels, but our bodies are inclined to cede victory to the B & Q specials which invariably head off for Manchester airport.
But we suspect that greater people than us have the wind-up at this moment. For a blog that prides itself on covering a wide variety of stories we seem to have become pre-occupied with the mystery surrounding Jeremy Hunt, but there is a reason for this madness. We suspect that, possibly for the first time in recent political history, the fate of the Prime Minister rests on what happens to one of his ministers. Yes there was the thrilling tale of Fox and Werrity, but Cameron was free to hoof them out without fear of becoming implicated. But anything that focuses on the tangled web of intrigue with the Murdochs is another matter all together. David Cameron was not merely close to the Murdochs, he was part of them.
Now he is really in a corner. The plan, doubtless the result of many hours devotion by the Downing Street escape committee, was to refer the Hunt affair to the Leveson inquiry. As late as yesterday we watched an interview with Nick Clegg in which he ridiculed the demand by his deputy, Simon Hughes, for an independent investigation by claiming that there could be no finer check that that of swearing on oath before Leveson. The thinkng of him and his boss was probably that the questionning would be lost in the daily mass of appearances by the great and clearly bad members of the media.
But his Lordship has spiked the guns. Yesterday afternoon he made it clear that it was not his role to investigate breaches of the ministerial code. He added that this is a job for Sir Alex Allan, whose official role is to investigate apparent breaches. To add to the blow Sir Christopher Kelly, the respected chairman of the committee on Standards in Public Life, said it was “obvious” that Mr Cameron should call in Sir Alex to investigate if the code had been broken. “There is no doubt that the allegations that have been made about boundaries and behaviour of ministers need to be properly investigated”, he added.
Oh dear! There can be no doubt that Hunt has breached the code, being fully responsible for whatever his special adviser says or does. Since the Civil Servants are the very same that served Vince Cable (and warned him against any contact with the interested parties) it is certain that they issued the same warnings to Hunt. Frankly the beleagured minister hasn’t even one leg to stand on, and today’s poll shows that the view of almost 70% is that he should resign.
But the danger of an inquiry focussed solely on this issue is that it just might extend its remit. Clearly Hunt’s visit to News Corp in the US being followed by the decision of Murdoch to switch support to the Conservative Party, in turn followed by meetings by Rupert Murdoch with the new Prime Minister, in turn followed by the trapping and axeing of Vince Cable has David Cameron’s fingerprints all over it.
The next stage of this story will be intriguing. If David Cameron is forced to concede that there must now be an independent inquiry Hunt is finished, and the Prime Minister may find himself officially under a mortal spotlight. If he doesn’t, the political pressure will hit the Conservative prospects even harder than todays poll’s already indicate.
Dare I forecast what the escape committee may come up with. In the way that Adam Smith was compelled to sacrific himself to save Hunt, Hunt will now be ‘persuaded’ to sacrifice himself to save the supreme leader.
Of course I could be wrong, Nick Clegg might decide to say that he did it. He has nothing to lose since today’s ComRes survey reports that the Lib Dems are now at 10%, and at least a fifth of those of a Lib Dem persuasion say they will only vote for the party if Clegg is no longer leader!
QUOTE OFF THE DAY;
“I have been selected to be a school governor….hoping that my thirty years with the Prison Service will be of use to the pupils, staff, and parents of these children”…….Election leaflet for David Moran, Conservative candidate for Chorley council.
There was an unfamiliar light in the sky as we began our hen-cleaning this morning. Someone wondered if it was the aftermath of the bonfire that Simon Hughes is igniting under Nick Clegg. But it proved to be the sun. The Met Office told us to expect continual rain, with occasional thunder, so we shouldn’t be too surprised.
But we were entitled to be surprised when watching last night’s David Bumblebee’s Question Time. Until that moment Nick Clegg had sat in the Commons nodding alongside his boss as the Old Etonian produced a series of less than convincing explanations for his refusing to call for an independent inquiry into the Jeremy Hunt affair. Then the Lib Dem deputy leader, Simon Hughes, broke ranks. He simply “cannot understand why David Cameron is refusing to hold an inquiry into what appears to be a breach of the ministerial code”. So at least one senior Lib Demmer can see the perils of being drawn into the web of lies and subterfuge.
And web is the right description. Yesterday saw George Osborne drawn in. He is now facing questions over whether he played a role in supporting News Corps attempted £8 billion takeover of BSkyB. Evidence has appeared at the Levison Inquiry that Mr Osborne was lobbied personally by James Murdoch and that Rupert Harrison, the Chancellor’s special adviser, discussed the bid with Frederic Michel, the News Corp’s public affairs director, who is already implicated with the departed adviser to Hunt. In a written submission Mr Murdoch says that he discussed the bid with the Chancellor in November 2010, and Mr Michel reported on tensions centered around Vince Cable, who was subsequently relieved of his responsibilities for all things Murdoch.
Meantime Jonathan Stevens, the Permanent Secretary in Mr Hunt’s department, appeared before a select committee and refused on ten occasions to confirm the claim by Hunt that he had approved the many contacts made with the Murdochs by the departed Adam Smith. In other words he was not consulted.
The whole affair is building up into a massive explosion. One doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that Cable had to be moved aside to enable ministers to deliver to Murdoch what they had promised in exchange for the support of his influential newspapers. It is ironic that the normally somnulent watchdog Ofcom is now indicating that it intends to question whether News Corp is “fit and proper” to have any access to the British television sector. The outcome could well be the end of the Murdoch’s involvement with Sky. Had it not been for disclosures about the Millie Dowler phone hacking Hunt, with Cameron’s backing, was about to wave through their takeover of the whole shebang.
Of course anyone tuning in to Leveson yesterday in the hope of clarity will have been disappointed. It was the turn of Rupert himself to prostate himself before the learned judge. He came across as a grumpy boiled egg suffering from acute memory loss. The latter must be a genetic problem since neither Dad nor young James seem to remember very much. They also appear to have the coalition disease which has, as its principle symptom, delusions that all misconduct is carried out by underlings who never let their bosses into the secret.
This Agatha Christie-like story has some way to run yet. We all now know what happened but the question is can it be proved? Clearly Cameron was very involved though his Chipping Norton set, clearly Hunt was the string-puller and now we have Osbone joining the ever expanding cast. There will be more to come, no Christie mystery is complete without a cast of dozens.
Hopefully it will not run for as long as The Mousetrap but who knows. The waves threaten a tsunami. Maybe the stance of Simon Hughes will lead to the Lib Dems heading off for high ground, in which case the whole pack of cards may collapse.
As we watch this appalling evidence of a government working hand-in-glove with people planning to destroy the BBC and establish a regime of news manipulation, we can only hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But, given the state of the nation, only an optimist could believe other than it is yet another train heading our way.
LIKE TO DEFER YOUR TAX?
The London arm of Goldman Sachs paid only £4.1 million in corporation tax to the Treasury last year despite making pre-tax profits of £1.92 billion, annual accounts have revealed. The company has deferred £418.2 million that it had to pay immediately in “current tax”.
Last year it was revealed that Inland Revenue boss Dave Harnett had “let off” the bank to the tune of £10 million. That decision is due to be challenged in the courts by UK Uncut.
Meantime it is good to know that the banking sector is keen to meet its public moral obligations!
The coils of hosepipes lying on the allotments are under several inches of water this morning. We have received a letter from the water company warning us of the need to avoid using them, and Albert couldn’t resist the temptation to return it with an inappropriate rejoinder. Such Gods are not known for their sense of humour, doubtless an inspector will now arrive. In the unlikely event that he has any commonsense he will wear wellies for his tour.
But despite the appalling conditions there was a good deal of banter today. Several quoted Dennis Skinner’s retort in the Commons. The ‘Beast of Bolsover’ is not everyone’s cup of tea but he does have a habit of going straight to the core of an issue. “When posh boys get into trouble they sack the servants” was his take on the latest fiasco to hit the coalition. And he is right.
The very posh Jeremy Hunt was quick to come up with an explanation for the damning series of emails that his department exchanged with the Murdoch gang during the period when the bid for BSkyB was in the air. We are expected to believe that Hunt knew nothing of the messages being transmitted by his political adviser, Adam Smith. We don’t. We are expected to believe that Mr Smith has suffered a sudden bout of conscience and has resigned. We don’t. And we have noted Hunts’ claim that Smith is a “man of great integrity”, that being so he presumably wasn’t lying when he constantly told News Corp that the minister was fully aware of his statements. Anyway it is all academic since the Ministerial Code makes it clear that a minister is “responsible for any misconduct by his or her political aide”.
Potentially the most explosive issue in this tawdry affair has scarcely been mentioned by the baying hounds. It centres around a five day visit to the US by Jeremy Hunt in August 2009. The register of members’ interests for that year show that Hunt spent his time there at News Corp headquarters. This week at the Leveson inquiry James Murdoch revealed that at that precise time his company was weighing up whether it could “overcome the likely obstacles to a takeover bid for BSkyB”. The indications are that it was at this gathering that Hunt gave the green light, always providing that the Conservatives won the forthcoming election.
Hunt returned from the US on 4 September 2009. Six days later, James Murdoch met Cameron, then leader of the opposition, at the discreet George Club in Mayfair. At that meeting Murdoch told Cameron that the Sun was to switch its support to the Conservatives. The external announcement of that switch was delayed until 30 September. On that day Rupert Murdoch had breakfast with Cameron. The announcement followed just as Grumpy Gordon took stage at the Labour party conference.
When the coalition was formed Jeremy Hunt was appointed Culture Secretary and Vince Cable took Business, the body obviously responsible for handing the response to the BSkyB bid. He was mysteriously tricked by reporters into admitting that he was opposed to the Murdochs. That was suspiciously convenient, and Cameron immediately transferred the responsibility to Hunt.
In the same way that we cannot believe the Hunt excuse for Adam Smith’s emails, we certainly cannot believe that his visit to America and the almost immediate decision of the Murdochs to switch their support was other than corruption at its worst. And one can add to that the subsequent anti-BBC moves initiated by Hunt, not least his ruling that the licence fee be frozen for six years.
And there is of course an even greater implication. David Cameron must have been involved! As more details emerge Hunt’s resignation will not be the only one being demanded!
QUOTE OF THE DAY!
”With the economy failing, five per cent more cuts are the last thing we need. The economy is flat on its back and more cuts would simply be self-harm. The coalition should instead borrow using the UK’s record low interest rates to fund an ambitious national home-building programme” Former Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman and personal friend of Vince Cable, Lord Oakeshott.
Batten down the hatches, or in allotment speak, put weights on the hen-run coverings! the weathermen are often wrong, but to judge by the skies they may be right this time in warning that we are about to have a spell of weather likely to have every ark-builder in the land getting out the planking. In fact our short-term future looks almost as black as that of our dear leader, who is learning just how dangerous it is to retreat from the embracing arms of the Murdoch clan.
The setting up of a truly independent inquiry into phone-hacking must have seemed a good way of dodging the bullets when David Cameron was first cornered after revelations surrounding his intimacy with the Murdochs hit the headlines. Here, he will have thought, is proof positive that I am stooge to no man. Unfortunately for him he rather missed the point that Rupert Murdoch, and his dopey son James, are not quite as cuddly as he imagined. They, after all, have courted and won the hand of Thatcher and Blair, and have never before felt the need to wield the axe. Now they are on the revenge trail.
Yesterday James Murdoch gave an indication of what may be to come. Since becoming leader of the Conservative Party, Cameron has taken as many pains to cultivate his relationship with the Murdochs and their acolytes as he has to conceal just how close it has been. For example, when he was asked about the notorious dinner at the Chipping Norton home of his close friend Rebekah Brooks, the Prime Minister at first claimed that it didn’t happen. He later admitted that it did but insisted that there was nothing “inappropriate” about his conversations with James Murdoch. Yesterday James confirmed to Leveson that he did discuss the BSkyB takeover with Mr Cameron at the dinner. How appropriate was that?
We now also have details of the many social gatherimngs that the Camerons enjoyed with the Murdochs. We also know that in December 2010, the Prime Minister relieved Vince Cable of his responsibilities after he was taped by reporters admitting that he had “declared war on the Murdochs”. Mr Cameron made clear that, in his view, Mr Cable’s anti-Murdoch comments were “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”. He then appointed Jeremy Hunt, whose obsequious relationship with the Murdochs was well known. It sees that Mr Hunt’s pro-Murdoch bias was both acceptable and appropriate.
Yesterday we learned just how Hunt fulfilled his duty to be quasi-judicial in overseeing his responsibilities in regard to the takeover. The release of a long series of e-mail exchanges between staff working for James Murdoch and those working for Hunt is a bombshell. They show clearly that Mr Hunt not only failed to observe the necessary proprieties, but appeared intent on ensuring the bid went through, however difficult that was. In one e-mail the front man for James Murdoch reported back that he had been given information on what Mr Hunt was to announce to parliament. It was, he said, “absolutely illegal”. In another message Frederic Michel, head of public affairs at News Corp, reported on an “agreed” plan with Hunt that would lead to “game over for the opposition”.
Had it not been for the revelations about phone hacking published in The Guardian the bid would have been waved through, and both Cameron and Hunt would undoubtedly have received their political pay-back.
Unsurprisngly the opposition has called for the resignation of Jeremy Hunt. But in any large organisation people take their lead from the top, and the Labour Party is attacking Judy rather than Punch. Mr Cameron has long been an intimate friend of many within the Murdoch camp. Social life apart, his pro-Murdoch sympathies were on display in his decision to employ Andy Coulson and in his refusal to condemn Mrs Brooks when she fell victim to the Metropolitan Police investigation. He even tried to hide the fact that he had ridden a horse lent to Mrs Brooks by the police. The information being dribbled out by the Murdochs is beginning to show the Prime Minister as a stranger to the truth.
Is it really any surprise then that Jeremy Hunt, already in thrall to the Murdochs, should see his master’s lead as one to follow?
Next up before Leveson will be Rupert himself. Will he play the role of the kindly elderly leader who knows little of what his minions do? Or will he show just how tough and ruthless he really can be? Our Prime Minister must be praying that it is the former, for there is now every reason to believe that there is still a great deal we don’t know about the stench of corruption pervading 10 Downing Street!
BARCELONA CAN DRIBBLE!
To be honest we codgers are not usually given to applauding the Russian empire of Stamford Bridge. But it has to be said that Chelsea performed wonderfully in coming successfully through their encounter with what many claim is the best team in the world.
They are certainly the best dribblers. But their reluctance to shoot rather undermines the ‘best’ claim. Even the ten men of Chelsea were able to hold Barca at bay for more than half of the match, after John Terry had taken leave of his senses.
Here’s hoping Chelsea can now land the cup. It would have been nice to see a British-owned team of British players do it, but anything is better than our usual nothing!
We regularly watch TV nature programmes in which foxes are portrayed as frIsky playful bundles of fun, a joy to behold and well worth the setting out of titbits on the back lawn. In one Springwatch programme cameraman Buchanan tracked down foxes living in inner-city Glasgow and went into reverend cries of sheer delight each time he came across fresh evidence of the “exciting growth in the number of the creatures now choosing to live amongst us”. Absolute tripe.
On the allotments we have to regularly check all the wire fencing around the chicken-runs, because the cameras tell us that there are regular visits by foxes during the night. No doubt the TV boffins will tell us that it is all part of the food chain. Wrong. We know from sad experinece that if a fox gets into a hen-run it will not merely carry off a meal, it will kill every hen before leaving piles of headless bodies. And we now know that the ever inceasing urban foxes are quite prepared to attack babies in prams, even people sleeping in tents. We do not trust or admire them in any way whatsoever.
Come to think about it, the list of people or things that we codgers distrust would fill a giant-sized notepad. And top of that list would be our newspapers. We all knew that most of the dailies favour one political party or another, but yesterday’s proceedings at the Leveson inquiry made clear that the bias goes far beyond editorial views. The news itself is being distorted, what we are being fed each day is little more than propaganda.
Yesterday it was the turn of Aidan Barclay, the chairman of the company behind the Daily Telegraph, who made clear the extent to which the corruption of the truth is the norm on Fleet Street. In March 2010 he texted David Cameron after a breakfast meeting with him at the Ritz Hotel, which his family also owns. He said that he had spoken to the editor, Tony Gallagher, and they would arrange a “daily call during the election campaign as discussed”.
Barclay told the inquiry that the aim was to “get Cameron’s message across in the most efficient manner”. He went on to detail various contacts with the would-be prime minister plus regular contact after the formation of the coalition. The only conclusion one could draw was that the Conservative Party and the Telegraph created headlines and stories favourable to their joint political aim. The reinvented the news.
Undoudtedly those papers that favoured the other major parties were busy doing the same thing, with The Sun going one step further by obtaining promises of favours in exchange for endorsement. One way or another almost the whole range of newspapers were distorting the news and deliberately misleading their readers.
Of course we buy newspaprs, or read on-line versions, for more than political news. Which is just as well since what is emerging on a daily basis at the Leveson inquiry is clear. To have any prospect of knowing what is really going on we have to tune in to TV news bulletins, where the BBC and ITN at least do seem to operate free of political manipulation.
This morning we have yet more evidence of just how deep the trend of news distortion runs even when there is no election in view. To me the biggest story of the day was the attack on Messrs Cameron and Osborne by their own MPs, yet only the Independent chose to really highlight it. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries accused the two men of being “two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to understand the lives of others”. She was immediately supported by other bankbench colleagues.
Meantime a Conservative-dominated committee of MPs added to Mr Cameron’s woes by declaring that he is presiding over an administration that lacks a “clear and coherent” approach. The Public Administration Committee accuses the government of driving through “short-term” policies that do not reflect the longterm interests of the nation. They cite a range of mistakes over economic, defence and energy policy which they say could have “catastrophic” consequences for the country.
And on the same day the former cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnel, has attacked ministers for blaming the Civil Service for many of the problems of the past few weeks. He said sardonically that “the Civil Service has what is for the government an annoying habit of pointing out it’s important to stay within the law”.
Of course we expect the opposition to be attacking in this way, but when the government is under such attacks from its own MPs and the Civil Service it is surely news of considerable significance. Had it not been for a handful of truly independent nespapers little if anything would have been heard.
It is often said that newspapers are useful only for the wrapping of fish ‘n chips. From now on we will tend to sprinkle even more salt!
JOB HUNTING? TRY THIS!
Have you noticed the spread of gobbledygook? A whole invisible army of Baldricks is beavering away in an attempt to confuse we simple bumpkins. Try this advert for a vacancy in the BBC News Group.
“This post is in the Journalism audience research team. The post is a Senior Research Executive and will report to the Manager for Multi-Platform Journalism. The post-holder will be required to work across all core inter-unit Journalism disciplines, in line with meeting the Journalism Group objectives, but will focus on understanding Multi-Platform audiences…”
Albert has posted his application!
There are a number of greenhouses on the allotment and local boys often test out their throwing arms with golf balls. Yesterday one of them achieved gold. Someone spotted the culprit , and Tom popped round to his house to have a quiet word in Dad’s ear. And there the matter ended because we were all boys once and remember only too well indulging in the same kind of horseplay.
Unfortunately Kenneth Clarke and company seem unable to distinguish between thuggery and high spirits. We are constantly told that punishment is not the way to deal with crime, we must instead counsel perpetrators and encourage them to redeem themselves. That was exactly the line taken by local magistrates recently, the problem was that the thug appearing before them was making his nineteenth appearance!
On Friday at 7.30pm, in broad daylight, the newly appointed governor of Bermuda, George Fergusson, was taking a relaxed stroll thorugh a park near his home when he was set upon and robbed. So violent was the assault that, despite the best efforts of surgeons, he has lost the sight in his left eye. No he was not in Bermuda but in London, Hammersmith cemetary to be precise.
And that was not an isolated incident.The number of muggings and robberies is soaring. Violent “thefts from the person” reached 100,000 during 2011, an increase of 10 per cent, and is still rising. Knifepoint muggings are up 9 per cent and there is growing concern for the safety of visitors coming here for the Olympics. And the police have a huge problem given that the number of officers now available for front-line patrols has been slashed by 16,000..
The coalition has made another contribution to the growing problem by leaving ‘Victims Support’ to the descretion of the new breed of Police and Crime Commissioners. The charity has warned that the cost of the extra bureaucracy will almost certainly lead to the loss of the organisation’s funding. The likelihood is that there will be postcode support at best. At present ‘Victims Support’ provides intensive support for victims of violent crime, even to the extent of being with them in court. But the governments’ ideology is slanted entirely in the criminal’s favour. Once again the influence of the Lib Dems, and their hero Kenneth Clarke, is very much in evidence.
To an extent we have all been brainwashed. The do-gooders bang on about “the hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade” and we all bite our tongues for fear of being thus labelled. For good measure they point out that their God, Mr Clarke, is reducing prison sizes and there is simply nowhere to put villains should the courts so decide.
Now put yourself in the minds of the unrepentant thugs. Forget in this context the nonsense about unemployment and benefits cuts, of course the poorer are suffering to benefit the rich but that can never be used as a justification for violence. The main sentiment in the thug’s mind will be the risk of being caught and punished. He will know that the chance of either is receding. If he still knows fear at all it will be the possible loss of his freedom, of having to work hard at a monotonous task.
Is it too much to hope that at some moment the elite London-based clique, that head up our parliamentary system, will realise that the spiral in violent crime must be halted? Probably. But should they do so what is really needed is a new approach that takes into account the affect on innocent victims. It may be true that for all but the homicidal prison is a poor solution. So how about controlled work centres to which the convicted report seven days per week for 12 hours per day. There they would be intensely supervised, and moved back to the start of their sentence should they cause problems. The word intensely is a deliberate choice to distinguish such an initative from the derisible community service scheme. Lousy idea? Well the task of government advisers shold be to produce a better one.
Something needs to be done before society comes to believe that turning the other cheek is the only option. For hardened thugs it simply won’t work. Yet every day we read of instances where horrendous offenses are virtually condoned. On tonight’s Panorama the story of Jane Worroll’s elderly mum will be told. Jane was pregnant and unable to cope with the care of her mum who was diagnosed with Alzheimers and had suffered several falls.
In desperation whe found what appeared to be a good private nursing home. As time passed she became increasingly concerned and installed a concealed camera in the room. What it revealed horrified her beyond belief. Her mum, to who she owed so much, was being systematically beaten and abused. She confronted the owners and moved her mum. Their initial response was that the care given was unacceptable, and four of the female carers had been given four days of training. Astonishing. It took the full glare of publicity to force stronger action.
Here again we see the new age attitude of treating violence as merely an indication of the need for understanding and rehabilitation. And to hell with Jane’s mum and thousands like her. And to hell with beaten ambassadors and the thousands of people who, like them, dare to walk our streets.
I don’t subscribe to the view that people like Cameron, Clarke et al are uncaring. What I do believe is that they exist in a rarefied atmosphere where cads who misbehave can be chastised and then readmitted to the club. Real life is not like that!
CANCER VICTIMS LOSE OUT TO RED TAPE!
Almost £200 million was allocated to the Cancer Drugs Fund for the financial year just ended. It was a welcome initiative aimed at giving family doctors the opportunity to prescribe life-extending drugs not automatically available.
Less than one-third of the money was actually spent. Campaigners claim that patients are still having to “jump through hoops’ to get help.
Oh for a leader such as Churchill who would by now have kicked every fat bureaucratic backside, and then some! What we actually have is Andrew Lansley!
It’s been a funny old morning so far. Funny as in unusual, most certainly not as in ha ha. For a while we worked in the hen-runs in bright sunshine, and those who like to display their tattoos and biceps were in their element. Having neither I kept my waterproof on, a wise move since an hour later we had rainfall a la Amazon forests before man decided to chop the trees down. But there were eggs a plenty, and the ‘mayor’ set off to gift them to every hard-up family we know, that covers most people in these parts.
George has been part of our gang from the start and is popularly known as ‘mayor’ on the grounds that he once held that office in his local borough. So far as we can gather it lasted for a year and involved wearing a chain and visiting every local function and club. George is a bit taken aback by the new craze for elected mayors whose role is somewhat different. According to the government they transfer power to the people, the reality is somewhat different and can be decidedly sinister.
Once elected by what is usually a small percentage of the electorate, an elected mayor cannot be sacked by other than the electors, and that only every four years. He or she is in effect a dictator with control over financies , policy and senior appointments. Councillors only control relates to the annual budget, for which an elected mayor needs a two-thirds majority. So we can forget the long-held principle of our local councillor acting for us.
This may be a reasonable wheeze in a large city like London where everything mad Boris or grumpy Ked does is scrutinised by the media and national government on a daily basis, but in less publicised areas sinister things can happen. Take as an example the London borough of Tower Hamlets.
Just 13 per cent of the electorate appointed as elected mayor Lutfur Rahman, a man closely linked to a Muslim extremist group, The Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). Twelve months before his election undercover reporters filmed an IFE activist, Abu Talha, discussing IFE plans. “The mayor is going to have a lot more control. That’s why we need to get someone, one of our brothers, in there. Which we will do,” he said.
The IFE, which believes in turning Britain into an Islamic state under Sharia (Islamic law), used a law stating that if more than 5 per cent of the local electorate petitions for a referendum on having an elected mayor, a vote has to be granted. Another IFE activist, Abjol Miah, also a councillor for George Galloway’s Respect party, organised the petition with a local businessman, Shiraq Haque. More than 99 per cent of the signatories on the petition were Asian, in a borough that is two-thirds non-Asian. Almost half of the signatures were declared “invalid” but enough passed muster and the election was duly held.
Since his election Mr Rahman has sought to “Islamicise” Tower Hamlets, clamping down on strip clubs, a reputably gay pub and various other activities. He has channelled large sums of public money to IFE front organisations, appointed key IFE activists to council posts and rewarded his backer, Mr Haque, by making him chairman of a council-sponsored festival. Mr Rahman’s face is to be seen on dustcarts, lamp posts, stationary and a weekly newspaper that is delivered to every house. His advisers are paid up to £1000 a day, his office has doubled in size and he has acquired a Mercedes and chauffeur at taxpayer’s expense.
Many of the cities now facing a referendum have populations of around 300,000, little more than Tower Hamlets. All must be vulnerable to dictatorship. In Salford one candidate regarded as a front runner is Paul Massey. He has 25 convictions for offences includimg violence and possessing an offensive weapon. In 1999, he was jailed for 14 years for stabbing. and is under investigation for moneylaundering.
The point here is not that Mr Massey shouldn’t be allowed to stand, but that the vast majority of the electorate is unlikely to vote. That is what happened in Doncaster which, like Tower Hamlets, already has an elected mayor. Their mayor is a member of a fringe nationalist party called the English Democrats and such has been the friction that a referendum is to be held next week to decide whether to abolish the post.
In all but the very largest electorates (London has 7 million) the idea of elected mayors is beginning to look like a recipe for dictatorship by people with a cause to which few subscribe. It increasingly begins to look like yet another coalition wheeze that hasn’t been carefully thought through.
A simple way to establish real governance would be to rule that 51 percent of the total electorate must vote in favour at any referendum forced under the present law!
SEB IN CLOUD CUCKOO LAND?
With less than 100 days to go to the Olympics, Londeners are dreading the traffic and travel chaos whilst millions of others are wondering why a 2-hour opening ceneromny should have to cost over £100 million.
But Lord Seb Coe claims that there has “never been such a consensus about a national cause”. Two World wars and one World Cup Final in 1966 seem to have escaped his notice!
We old codgers feel quite left out of things these days. This morning’s papers carry news of another zillion people alleged to have been hacked by the Murdoch empire, and it begins to look as though we will end up with the dubious distinction of being the only people in the kingdom that were so uninteresting that no one listened in to our conversations about Blackburn Rovers. Add in the fact that large numbers in our region have been busy collecting knighthoods and you have a gloomy picture of old ‘uns neglected. Mind you we have never donated to the Conservative Party so we really have only ourselves to blame. Small wonder that no one consulted us before deciding to hand over another £10 billion to help bail out Europe despite our pleas to save our local meals-on-wheels service!
But we shrugged off our sense of isolation and, after we had cleaned out the hens and collected 124 eggs, we turned our giant intellects to the latest poltical talking point. Nick Clegg is determined to be remembered, after his party has been obliterated, as the man that reformed the House of Lords. In fact he is applying a touch of blackmail to his boss by announcing that should the Tories not support the idea of a totally elected Lords he will not allow the bill that changes the number of MPs to pass. Shrewd move, since the redistribution of constituencies guarantees around 25 safe seats for the Cameroons.
By way of retaliation a large group of Tory MPs, who loath Clegg almost as much as do students, are demanding a referendum. Their argument is that if the introduction of elected mayors justify asking the people, the biggest change to our constitution surely merits the same. But little chance. Like the legendary computer of ‘Little England’, Clegg says no.
All of which takes me to the big mystery. Why do we need the House of Lords at all? The original concept was an excellent one, a body of independently minded and experienced people who could hold the Commons to account made sense. But in recent times the place has been filled with political stooges and donors, all subject to party whips. The place is past its sell-by date.
Now Clegg wants to convert it into a second-chamber comprising candidates elected at the polling booths. How will that work? Will it be able to overrule the Commons, if so the Commons will become even more emasculated than it already is by Brussels. Either way we can be sure of one thing, the candidates will all hail from the Conservative or Labour Parties plus a sprinkling from Ukip and the rest. So in what way would they be different from MPs?
Should there be a referendum there should be a third option; total abolition. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might attract a lot of support. Many people believe that the time has come to recognise that the days of empire are long gone, and that we are no longer the centre of the human race. There one would find America, China and the rest, and all seem to manage wthout parading about in ermine robes and bearing posh titles. The latter could of course continue for fear of party funds drying up.
Frankly the idea of independent thought has also faded away. Gorgeous George Galloway last week said that Cameron, Clegg and Milband are “three cheeks of the same bum”. Crude, but he is surely right to argue that the policies of all three are almost indistinguishable. So do we really need a duplicate set at a time when lesser mortals are struggling to make ends meet as a result of their collective incompetence?
BBC BREAKFAST SHOW UNAFECTED BY MOVE!
BBC bosses insisted yesterday that despite moving the morning breakfast show to Salford, the programme is “utterly unchanged”.
A spokesman said that this is a “slap in the face to all those critics who said the programme would get better.” He added that it “remains as superficial as ever, and it is a tribute to the sheer professionalism of our presenters that they have managed to move to a brand new sofa and yet are continuing to deliver the same old tripe”.
At least that is what Private Eye says they said!
Before I retired my image of a chicken was of happy slow-moving creatures wandering around in sunlit farmyards. Now I know better. We codgers have endless problems on the ‘allotments’ with bullying, and the isolation runs reserved for victims is regularly full. We used to have a hen nicknamed Gaddafi, given its total preoccupation with dominating the rest of the flock. Like its namesake Gaddafi has gone, but we have another suspect. We call her Murdoch.
And if even half of the story told in a new book published yesterday is accurate we are right to do so. ‘Dial M for Murdoch’ is published by Allen Lane and costs £17, its authors are Tom Watson and Martin Hickman. The story they tell is truly amazing and it is worryingly easy to believe that our top establishment is rotten to its very core.
In July 2009 a report by Nick Davies in the Guardian revealed that News International had paid more than £1 million to settle the claims of phone-hacking victims. The Commons culture, media and sport committee decided to recall News International executives for an explanation. At that point News International called for the Labour MP Tom Watson, already a thorn in its side, to be removed from the committee. Watson was privately told by Downing Street insiders that Wapping was using its connections to persuade senior politicians to urge him to hold back. Gordon Brown called Watson to tell him that Rupert Murdoch had phoned Tony Blair to tell him to call Watson off.
Speaking three years later, Alastair Campbell talked of the “bullying culture”; “I recall Rebekah Brooks telling me that as far as she was concerned, with Tom Watson it was personal, and we won’t stop until we get him.” He goes on to recall that in various interviews he warned that this was a story that was not going to go away, that News International and the police had to grip it and come clean. He urged that David Cameron should reconsider the appointment of Andy Coulson, and he went on to contend that what was emerging was evidence of systematic criminal activity on a near-industrial scale at the News o the World. Campbell then received a series of what he describes as “threatening text and phone messages from both Rebekah and the offices of James Murdoch”.
The book claims that in the summer of 2011, before the Guardian broke the story that Millie Dowler’s phone had been hacked by the News of the World, concern about the growing revelations was growing wihin the Murdoch empire. It was at that point that approaches were made to Watson. He had made an inflammatory speech at the GMB union’s conference, telling delegates that his bins had been gone through, he also claimed that the News of the World had targeted the parents of the Soham children.
Two intermediaries close to News International offered a deal. One told Watson the company would “give him” Andy Coulson but he was to regard Rebekah Brooks as “sacred”. He was also approached about a possible meeting with Rupert Murdoch. With turmoil already in the air David Cameron’s government announced its intention to wave through the BSkyB takeover. Events escalated and the government was saved embarrassment when News International withdrew its plan.
Watson had a witnessed interview with Neville Thurlbeck, the former News of the World chief reporter. Thurlbeck is claimed to have said that journalists at the News of the World were told to “find out everything you can about every single member of the parliamentary committee. The aim was to discover “who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use”. Watson and his co-author, Martin Hickman, an Independent journalist, believe that the decision not to initially compel Rebekah Brooks, who was then News International’s chief executive, to give evidence was the result of pressure on members of the committee.
There is much, much more in the book. It is of course only one side of the story, but taken at face value it paints a picture of an intimidated and corrupt establshment. It suggests that top politicans and police were so involved with the Murdoch empire that they could only dance to its tune.
The book seems to suggest that British democracy is an illusion and that sections of the media are far from the champions of the people. Doubtless much more of this sordid tale will be mulled over at the Leveson inquiry and by the now seemingly tainted parliamentary committee.
But that is not sufficient. Most thinking people will have noted that had it not been for determined people like Watson and the Guardian newspaper this story would never have been exposed. They will surely want an assurance that none of this can ever happen again and they will want those who betrayed the nation’s trust to be barred from future office. The Prime Minister should order a full public and independent inquiry once the current prosecutions are dealt with.
But somehow one suspects that that is the very last thing he would want!
WHY NOT JUST SEND QATADA PACKING?
Ministers and shadow ministers alike have lined up to agree that Qatada should be sent packing. But yet another cock-up has reduced the chances of this happening anytime soon.
So once again the European Court is dictating UK policy. Contrast that with the willingness to ship people out to the United States!
Why not simply put this dangerous man on a plane? Other EU countries have acted thus and only incurred small fines. Come to that why continue to accept that any court other than our own should be free to imperil the British populace?
I will resist the temptation to tell you about our weather, I imagine that yours is just as awful. This morning we threw straw on to the muddiest parts of the hen-runs but that worked only until the next gust came. A neighbour’s roof now looks quite quaint. The main topic of conversation was Bill’s hernia, just the subject for a dark, wet day. Seriously though, our pal is in a lot of pain and is depressed having just been told that it will be 48 weeks before he can expect to have the necessary operation.
And Bill is no exception. Right across the country waiting times are extending and, in many instances, treatment is being refused in the case of non life-threatening conditions. Check with the Patients Association and you will learn that waiting times for seven kinds of elective surgery including hip and knee replacements, cataract removals and hernia repairs have increased sharply over the 2010 figures. And 93 of the 170 main hospital trusts have reported that the number of operations being undertaken has fallen.
We are now seeing the inevitable result of the NHS being obliged to make £20 billion of ‘efficiency savings’. That euphemism can be dismissed for the lie that it is, these are massive cuts in funding. Fewer nurses, junior doctors and ancillary staff mean reductions in service in terms of quantity and, if you have been on a ward recently, you will know that it also means reduction in the quality of care.
But all that is of course just a part of the so-called Lansley Reforms. The not-so-hidden agenda is to introduce the private sector into every aspect of healthcare and, almost unnoticed, this is underway. When the Daily Telegraph cries foul on the subject of the NHS, the Conservatives know they are in trouble, and the pseudonymous Telegraph doctor Max Pemberton has this to say; “Richard Branson’s compnay becomes one of the first of many vultures to start plucking over the rich, tender flesh of the NHS now that it has been splayed open by the health bill”.
He is referring to the news that Virgin Care has won a £500 million contract to provide c.ommunity services across Surrey. Virgin began to takeover from April 1st. In Gloucestershire a patient, Michael Lloyd , challenged the transfer of services there without consultation. His challenge went all the way to judicial review where the Primary Care Trust caved in and promised to advertise the opportunity, thus giving the NHS a chance to compete. Unfortunately this means that healthcare providers in other EU countries must also be allowed to tender and the shrinking NHS has neither the staff nor the will to spend months on a drawn-out process.
In Kent, hackles are rising after a private hospital claimed that it will offer NHS and private patients “the only cardiothoracic and neurosurgery tertiary care beds in the county”. This claim has substance for last week The Clydesdale Bank agreed a £34 million deal to help build and run the ‘Kent Institute of Medicine and Surgery’, which is due to open in the second quarter of 2014. A further £80million will be provided by corporate and private investors, including about 100 clinicians. Private provision in healthcare thrives when the NHS gives up trying, and with so many hospitals and PCTs now in huge debt and facing equally huge cuts, that is exactly what is beginning to happen. Hospitals are being encouraged by Lansley to take in private patients up to a ceiling of 49 per cent of their beds, and if they are going to survive at all that is exactly what many are proposing to do.
During the process of his bill Lansley cleverly proceeded with the changes anyway, and was then able to argue that it was too late to change course. So it will be with the introduction of the private sector.
Yesterday I noticed amongst my e-mails one from ‘Kerrie at Insured Ltd’. It was headed ‘Concerned re cancer? Skip the NHS waiting lists by signing up now with Private Medical Insurance’. Over the past week I have receieved six similar missives. I imagine we are meant to believe that Lansley knows nothing of such approaches.
Someone at our local hospital said to me this week that by the time his grandchildren are his age they will find unbelievable the story of a free-at-the-point-of-delivery service available to everyone irrespective of their financial status. Sadly, I believe that he is right.
Slowly but surely we are sitting back whilst an incompetent ideologist dismantles the NHS. To be fair we knew that, given the chance, he would do this. Nick Clegg and his gang have provided the chance!
THE BEEB IS NOT AS ACCURATE AS YOU IMAGINE!
Like me you may have always imagined that something said by the BBC is something accurate. If so then reflect on this snippet chosen at random. It comes from the BBC website where viewers were offered an insight into the life of ’60 Minutes’ host Mike Wallace, who has died.
“Wallace was one of the original hosts of ’60 Minutes’ when it began in 1968. He went on to interview the likes of Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy and Malcolm X”.
That was quite an achievement since all three men died long before the ’60 Minutes’ debut!
As you would expect from a gang of old codgers with nothing better to do than keep hens and grow produce we are a fairly happy bunch. Superficially Albert is the exception, but he too is happy in that he genuinely enjoys moaning, if there was an England moaning team in the Olympics my old pal would be the red-hot favourite for a gold.
To be honest I have never before so much as considered whther we were happy or not. It was today’s publication in ‘Psychological Bulletin’ that prompted my reflection. In the first review of its kind a team at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, Massachusetts, examined 200 seperate research studies that looked at psychological well-being and cardiovascular health.
The studies measured the extent to which individuals considered themselves happy or unhappy, satisfaction with their lives, and the extent to which they experienced pleasurable feelings. Some of the researches also looked at optimism and hope, the extent to which individuals expected positive outcomes in the future, and their enthusiasm for life.
The study then matched up the findings with the medical records of the people tested psychologically. Believe it or not there was a 50 per cent reduction in experience of, or calculated risk of, cardiovascular disease between those who scored highest on optimism scores compared with those who scored lowest. The results for vitality were similar. Even after accounting for life style factors, positivism was associated with almost a 30 per cent reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
One of the studies used 300 men and women who had bypass surgery, the same picture emerged. Those classed as optimistic were 50 per cent less likely to be readmitted to hospital for complications. Another study of nearly 2500 men showed a link between emotional wellbeing and strokes. Again, irrespective of other traditional risk factors, the optimists proved significantly less likely to have a stroke over the study period of six years.
Julia Boehm, the lead author of the study, said; “The absence of the negative is not the same as the presence of the positive. We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction and happiness are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease regardless of such factors as the person’s age, socio-economic status, smoking status , or body weight”. Prof Laura Kubzansky, a senior author of the study, added ;”These findings suggest that an emphasis on bolstering psychological strengths rather than simply mitigating psychological deficits may improve cardiovascular health”.
Much of the report is highly technical and beyond my ken. But one thing is clear, I have spent too many hours over many years listening to stern-faced medics at check-ups. All have warned me against most of the pleasures of life, none has ever realised that by making me miserable they were unwittingly increasing my risk of dropping dead.
Those readers acquainted iwth the work of Louise Hay (Heal Your Body etc) will suddenly feel that she was right all along. Perhaps that explains why her books are at the top of world listings.
So now we know officially. Never mind the utterances of the nanny-state, have a good laugh and live on!
HERE’S A LAUGH TO START YOU OFF!
We codgers have always found the tendency of the Brits to cock things up a subject for mirth. Today we have our zillionth example, courtesy of the various oddballs who run our railways.
It has been revealed that there will be extensive engineering work over the weekend of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant (3rd June). So if you were planning to attend a once-in-your-lifetime event forget it. Journey times between London and Liverpool will be doubled, the link between Wolverhampton and Birmingham will not operate at all, and passengers heading for London from the far north will be asked to catch a bus before making two changes of trains. I could go on and on.
It seems that no one had tipped off Network Rail and the rest about the Jubilee. Perhaps they should try watching the news occasionally!
Torrential rain greeted us this morning and we codgers spent a couple of hours splashing about with a flock of rather bedraggled hens. As a cloud of grumpiness descended we found ourselves wondering how it must feel to be super-rich. Since he is constantly in the news as the Conservative party treasurer, Lord Fink came to mind. He is widely known as “the godfather of the UK hedge fund industry” and is, as they say, rolling in money. Adair Turner, of the Financial Services Authority, once described earnings from engineering financial transactions as “socially useless”, perhaps that is why his Lordship is inclined to throw a good deal of it in the direction of charitable work.
Either way, Lord Fink is in the curious position of leading the charge aginst his own chancellor’s budget. With the support of more than 40 of the biggest super-rich donors, he has warned George Osborne that the proposed 25% cap on tax relief for charitable donations by the mega-rich will “put people off giving”. On the face of it, that is a puzzling claim.
Under the present rules, if you or I give to charity the state adds another 25% to every pound given. This goes directly to the charity. But those on a top rate of tax can claim a personal benefit and get their tax bills cut. Hardly seems fair does it? Presumably the rich donors do want to support good works since giving nothing would still see them even better off, but even this is debatable given that many of them pay almost no tax at all.
Unfortunately Osborne has allowed the tax-avoiders to climb on their high horses. After his cutting the top rate of tax on the spurious grounds that the rich avoid paying it anyway, he has a duty to block tax reliefs based on offshoring money in tax havens, offsetting contrived business debts, converting income to capital gains via private equity, and scores more wheezes A 25% cap on personal gain from charitable giving seems modest.
Why give at all? For many, prestige is a factor and for even more the ability to play God another. Under Blair a tycoon, who already has all that money can buy, was given the chance to play with schools at £2 million a pop, selecting the head, governors and curriculum at whim.
Yesterday saw Blair rise from the dead to announce that the super-rich must not be discouraged. Since he is now one of them that was no great surprise, neither was the fact that he was abroad when saying it. but it was noticeable that he offered no alternative to the arrangement that involves the public purse handing cash to rich donors.
Of course some donors have genuine motives, and do much good. But whatever the motives there is a simple solution. The Red Cross has suggested that all personal tax relief for donors be abolished with the money instead being given direct to the charity, as gift-aid does for basic-rate payers. It makes a lot of sense.
Were the government compromise – and there will be one – be along these lines the treasury would be better off and, in reality, the donors will continue to donate. Why? Because the genuinely philanthropic will see the fairness of it, and the rest will still want to engage in their prestigeous power games.
There may be other solutions but whatever they are, the coalition cannot afford, either monetarily or politically, to back down in the face of opposition from a sector that poisons the national atmosphere by effectively paying less tax that the minions they employ.
And if anyone doubts that, they should glance at the new opinion polls out today. The regular YouGov /Sun poll shows Labour on 43%, Tories 32%, Ukip on 9% and Lib Dems on 8%. A Populus poll for The Times shows Labour on 42%, Tories on 33% , Lib Dems on 11% and Others on 16%.
The dramatic change in the public’s perception of the coalition is undoubtedly to do with the impression of sheer incompetence that it has engendered. Even chip-shop owners are offering to take over. If only in an attempt to stop the slide and save their skins, ministers have to face up to the crocodile tears of Fink and his pals. Of course they must encourage giving to charities, but they should challenge the supposed great and good to prove that they are really that!
ANOTHER VICTIM OF DEPRESSION SPEAKS OUT!
A day or so ago we wrote about the stresses and strains of modern life and the mental nightmares that can result. Today we learn of another high-profile victim, former England prop Duncan Bell.
At first glance Duncan would never strike you as a likely victim of depression. A 19-stone prop forward, who cultivates his machismo from the very fact that he must grind bone on bone with opponents every week is, one would have imagined, immune to moments of darkness and introspection. But depresssion has no respect for physical strength or outwardly robust behaviour.
For years Duncan Bell has suffered in silence, maintained the same positive exterior. Now he deserves the applause of everyone. The more open and matter-of-fact we become a.bout mental illness the easier will be its defeat.
We codgers really must stop moaning about the weathermen, but it’s hard to do so given the extra work that they cause. Severe frost warnings of late have had us sheeting up an acre of tender plants, typhoon warnings have led to more rope work than Popeye ever undertook. Last night we were told that flooding was likely, and we dug trenches. I have finally given up on them and from now on Albert’s seaweed will be our guide. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Met Office is as scatterbrain as the government but they run them a close third. Second of course is Martin Atkinson who yesterday awarded a goal in the FA Cup semi-final on the basis that he thought it was over the line. Specsavers are in touch.
So we will leave the poor man to his fate, after all he has already felt the lashings of ‘Arry Redknapp’s long tongue. Instead we will take a peek at the cock-up masters supreme, the coalition. Every day brings some new indication that its policies are not thought through, they remind me of a former colleague who wrote copious reports but tended to put down the first thing that entered his head. He would then devote days to persuading the chairman that in fact he had meant something entirely different.
Today we learn that the heads of the armed forces are to present, what experts describe as, an overwhelming case for a U-turn on the policy adopted for Britain’s troubled aircraft carrier programme. The three chiefs are demanding that the Government abandon plans to buy the conventional version of the American Joint Strike Fighter – the F35C. Instead they require a return to the plans of the previous Labour administration to buy the STOVL (short take-off, vertical landing) F35B version of the Joint Strike Fighter.
It seems that a military eassessment of the programme ordered by the Prime Minister has uncovered the fact that the F35C programme would produce only one operable carrier, not two. It would carry an extra cost of up to £1.8 billion, with knock-on effects to other parts of the defence budget. It would be without the promised compatability with France’s carrier fleet, and it wouldn’t come into service until 2025 at the earliest.
It rather sounds as though all those who derided the so-called Defence Strategy Review were right. But already £250 million has been spent on the redesign of the carriers since 2010, and Mr Cameron has repeatedly derided Labour’s choice of the vertical landing aircraft as “wrong” and likely to give Britain a “more expensive and less capable version”. The technical detail is complex, but the whole affair adds up to another huge waste of public money and proof positive that, to quote the football taunt, they don’t know what they’re doing.
So any day now expect a statement from the spin-doctors that this is what the government always intended. Frankly that won’t wash. Changing ones mind can be a sign of strength, but not if you do it non-stop. In the early days the Government marched up the hill on free milk, the Bookstart scheme, school sport and changing the way we treat our forests, only to march back down again. Lansley’s NHS reforms had to be rewritten umpteen times, and the plan to take child benefit from high earners had to be reworked.
In recent weeks, plans for secret trials and greater e-mail surveillance have been rushed out to general bemusement, and are now being rushed back. Next came the mess-up on charitable donations, and the mishandling of tax avoidance which the Chancellor claims to have heard about last week from a geezer in a club.
It is true that many were irritated by Margaret Thatcher’s “lady not for turning” claim, for sometimes good leadership involves a little turning. But not spinning like a top.
Many Conservatives blame the Clegg factor and there may be some truth in that. He certainly confuses us. Only yesterday he said that he will withdraw Lib Dem Ministers from the coalition ere long, but will continue to be Deputy Prime Minister. How will that work?
Admittedly many of the fiascos are not terminal in nature. But when a government gets even its facts and calculations wrong on defence capability it is perhaps time to get out the worry-beads!
ARROGANCE ACROSS THE POND!
Why do so many of our top soccer clubs have to be owned by tycoons from other countries? How did we ever manage before they arrived? A damned sight better in most cases.
I was moved to say this by the arrogant manner of the American owners of Liverpool when they decided to show just how dynamic they are by firing staff at Anfield, and even threatening King Kenny. They chose to say that only league position counts with them, cups are irrelevant. Clearly they have no idea of just how important the FA Cup final is to UK soccer fans.
Who knows, they might even attend and learn something in the process.