It is not unusual for us to do a little wine-tasting on the allotments and this morning we enjoyed a new mix. Alec is a home-brew buff and, after our battle with the hens was over, he handed round glasses of his latest concoction. It was absolutely delicious. As is the custom we only learned its name after we had inbibed. To my surprise it was Birch Sap Wine. Apparently enthusiasts visit a silver birch tree every two years, drill a hole and extract the sap. That specific tree is then left alone during the next year’s ‘harvesting’. The sap is only available for about fourteen days during the Spring and the hole drilled is neatly bunged.
Apparently Siver Birch wine was Queen Victoria’s favourite tipple and in Alaska, birch sap is big business. To make the wine Alec adds lemons, orange, raisins and honey. Then it is left to ferment only to appear in an allotment shed one year later. It is said that we learn something new each day, that is certainly true for me in this case.
And Nick Clegg has probably learned something new this morning. At least he will have done if he reads The Times. Baroness Shirley Williams, arguably the most popular Lib Demmer, has announced that she is opposed to the Lansley proposed reforms to the NHS. They are, the member of the ‘Gang of Four’ that founded the Social Democrats believes, “disruptive and untried”. She goes on to say that “why we should dismember this remarkably successful public service for an untried and disruptive reorganisation amazes me. I am entirely unconvinced”. Our Shirley – which is how many of us once saw the darling of the centre-left – is clearly incensed by some of the nonsense issuing forth from Lansley and his cronies. She points to remarks made by the new head of Monitor, the regulator charged with introducing competition into the health service. He is on record as saying that he is aiming to “transform the NHS into a system resembling the deregulated gas and electricity markets”.
Shirley writes today that “British Gas raised energy prices by 7 per cent last year, while making £700 million in profits. Should this inspire confidence?”. She believes that “the private sector will skim off profitable routine operations, leaving expensive, complicated treatment to the NHS”. As for patient’s choice Shirley suggests that this “will not become a reality for the most vulnerable patients, including the elderly”.
There is nothing new in what Shirley Williams has said, the drama centres around the fact that she is saying it and in effect, has issued a challenge to Clegg. The outcome may well be the chance for activists to vote on an amendment ordering the Lib Dem ministers to oppose the policy. If that happens the pressure on Clegg to stand up and be counted on a reform that was not so much as mentioned in either the manifestos or the coalition agreement itself. If he fails to do so there could be trouble ahead!
As if on cue Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GP’s committee has attacked the Lansley plan which he says will subject GPs to central political control. Experts writing in ‘The Lancet’ warn that the scheme will “dent public confidence”, whilst Martin Mckee, Professor of Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has talked of a “fragmented workforce” and the “loss of independent voices”.
Only today I was chatting to doctors employed in the Midlands within the NHS. They simply do not understand how such vast changes can take place alongside massive cuts in funding. And, like Shirley Williams, they fear that the introduction of profit driven private companies into health provision will inevitably mean that vulnerable and very ill patients will suffer as a result.
As everyone knows a large protest movement is gathering on this and it is pledged to repeat its triumph over the ludicrous forests plan. But there are powerful vested interests at play in the Conservative heirarchy and, in reality, only their coalition partners can stop them. Even Nick Clegg may decide that this is his party’s last chance to show the country, which polls suggest is 80 per cent against the NHS carve-up, that it still has the sort of principles that once endeared Shirley Williams to the nation.
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “Take me or leave me. Or as most people do -both”…..Dorothy Parker “My boyfriend and I broke up. He wanted to get married and I didn’t want him to”….Rita Rudner “Gaddafi is in denial about events in Libya”…Tony Blair “Get your tongue out of my mouth, I’m kissing you goodbye”….Cynthia Heimel “I’m still going on bad dates when by now I should be in a bad marriage”….Laura Kightlinger ” My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you waited it out until all the groceries were unloaded”…..Erma Bombeck……”There are only two things a child will share willingly – communicable diseases and its mother’s age”…..Benjamin Spock “Money isn’t everything but it sure keeps you in touch with your children”….John Paul Getty “Cleaning your house whilst the kids are still growing is like shovelling the drive before it stops snowing”….Phyllis Diller “I don’t think there’s intelligent life on other planets. Why should other planets be any different from this one?”….Bob Monkhouse
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Peter Ustinov 2. Secretary of State for the Environment
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What year did Britain change to decimal currency? 2. Which coins did Britain’s Royal Mint stop making in October 1970?