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.