Posts Tagged ‘38 Degrees’
The list of things we codgers simply don’t understand would fill a dozen books. We were mulling this over as we cleaned out the hens this morning, the introspection being triggered by last nights ‘Autumn Watch’ on the BBC. Prior to watching that we ancient ones had always seem earthworms as things gobbled up by chickens and bait to be used on our fishing sessions. It seems that they are in fact the earth’s greatest recyclers, a sort of wriggly version of Greenpeace. According to Chris Packham they devote their lives to pulling leaves down into the soil where they combine with worm-tunnels to enrich the soil.
So, ordered the dashing Chris, we should refrain from sweeping up the autumn carpet. Having devoted a lifetime to the art of broom propulsion we are happy to obey. We did mention this to a guy toting a blower in the Tesco car park this morning, he was engaged in blowing leaves from one heap to another which seemed even dafter than sweeping them up. Clearly he was not a disciple of the Packham school of enlightenment for his response doesn’t lend itself to quotation in a family blogpost.
But our rebellious spirits were uplifted this morning by the news that Jeremy Hunt lost his high court appeal against a ruling in favour of the protest led by 38 Degrees, and the people of Lewisham, against his plan to close essential services there. The destroyer of the NHS will of course now table a new law giving him powers to close whatever takes his fancy, but for a while at least it is good to feel that the people can, if well lead, stand up to politicians who, by comparison, make Basil Brush look eminently sensible!
Perhaps someone will be inspired to question other proposals such as that of justice secretary Chris Grayling, who is hell-bent on privatising the probation service. Yesterday three leading figures in the service warned that his plan poses a major threat to public safety. Gillian Wilmott, the chair of the Derbyshire probation trust, insisted that fragmentation of the service will lead to “more systemic risks and more preventable serious attacks and deaths”. Given that Grayling has made clear that G4S and Serco will both be able to bid for the £450m contracts despite the fraud inquiries under way in their current Ministry of Justice contracts, it is easy to share the misgivings.
This of course is but one of many privatisation projects being rushed through ahead of the general election. Why coalition ministers are so concerned that Labour would call a halt to their madness is less than clear given that Ed Miliband is showing an equal enthusiasm for what appears to be a disregard for logical alternatives. Ask Ed the Balls who dared to question the cost of high speed rail!
We realise that in questioning the obsession with transferring essential services into private hands we risk being labelled anti-progressive, Marxists, unpatriotic and whatever other labels our dear leader is inclined to hurl around when his gander is up. But we are determined to continue to raise an eyebrow. We do so not because we are unaware of the power of market forces, but because these only produce benefits when the consumer or user has a choice. And our worry beads go into overdrive when the new private owner is clearly pursuing an agenda that is anything but in the interest of either the country or democracy.
We may be paranoid but it doesn’t follow that someone isn’t out to exploit us. This suspicion always emerges when we look behind the headlines and research the true nature of the latest private saviour. Yesterday we looked at Mr Grayling’s friends at G4S. Enough said. Today we have taken a look at the Swiss-based owners of the Grangemouth plant. We find it odd that a private owner is in a position to close down what is a major contributor to the Scottish economy, and a key part of Britain’s fuel security. Last week it announced its intention to do just that and those who settle for the headlines applauded a company happy to crush the “dinosaurs of the Unite union”.
But are the “champions” of the nation really what they seem? Ineous is in reality a secretive, largest privately run company that operates in Britain. It fled Britain’s tax regime in 2010 and operates in up to six tax havens. According to Ineos Chemicals Grangemouth Ltd accounts last year, sales have grown by more than 50 per cent, and there was a gross profit of nearly 20 per cent. Its suggestion that labour costs – just 17 per cent of the plant’s total costs – were entirely responsible for Grangemouth’s financial “plight” were ludicrous.
That apart there are suspicions that Ineos has saddled external debts on the plant for tax purposes, and there is clearly a case for the plant’s books to be laid open to independent scrutiny, as well as for an HMRC investigation into the company’s tax affairs. But that isn’t going to happen. The Ineos owner, JIm Ratcliffe, is beyond the influence of ministers, even if they wished to apply it. In fact they fell over each other to applaud the spectacle of the humiliation of the trades union without so much as pausing to wonder at the evidence that one man has it in his hands to wreck economic homicide.
It was extremely unlikely that the union would have carried out its threat of lightning strikes, but Mr Ratcliffe didn’t wait to find out. This was the perfect opportunity to crush worker representation and to hell with the economy if it dared to fight back in the face of mass redundancy announcements.
In a 2009 report entitled “The shape of business over the next 10 years” the CBI, the main bosses’ organisation, called for businesses to use the economic crisis to create a so-called “flexiforce”. This would mean a “new employment model where the core of permanent staff is smaller with ever-growing dependence on temporary workers”. We are now seeing the implementation of this in the shape of zero-hour contract workers, temporary workers and insecure self employment. The government is destroying industrial tribunals and its powerful friends in the private sector are destroying trades unions.
You may or may not see this as a good thing, but the real concern is that power to hold the country to ransom is not being switched from unions to publicly accountable taxpaying British corporations, but to almost mysterious owners who have no financial or moral commitment to Britain.
We all find the posturing of union barons tiresome and sometimes infuriating, but what is happening now is infinitely more threatening!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ”There’s class warfare, all right, but its my class, the rich class, that’s making the war, and we’re winning!”….Warren Buffet, US billionaire.
It was still dark as I drove along the M6 this morning. Dark, wet and depressing. I had promised to be back for the hen-cleaning, and felt frustrated by the vast range of trucks and cars impeding my progress. How strange it is that so many of us have to rush around at ungodly hours, just how important is the work that draws us from our warm beds? I do know various people who would use the local trains if only they were remotely reliable. How will HS2 help them?
Such random thinking always seems to emerge in traffic-jams, and this morning I made a conscious effort to focus on rather more momentous issues. Given that the radio was replaying the oratory of slick Nick Clegg I had to settle for that. In effect he was peddling the idea that coalition government is here to stay, and that the Lib Dems will forever serve as a brake on the mad people of the right and left. It is a clever ploy, one that just might see Master Clegg permanently entitled to all the trappings of power without troubling responsibility.
But it seems to me that the king of U-turners is right in one respect at least, politicians are going to have to get used to loss of absolute power. This is well illustrated by the ludicrous annual conferences. A decade os so ago they were meaningful in that the attendees were party members determined to have their say. In 1953 the Conservatives had 2.8 million members and the Labour Party 1 million. Today those numbers have shrunk to miniscule levels. The website ConservativeHome (which now stages its own conferences) suggests that the total party membership is below 100,000 – less that half the number when Cameron was elected leader. Labour’s number is harder to calculate given that the trades unions affiliate people without asking them, but the number becoming members by choice is probably even lower that the Conservative total.
The result is that the annual conferences are merely PR functions aimed at maximum TV coverage for political Oliviers. Policies are conceived and honed by a small coterie of aides in London and their masters are simply charged with the task of selling them.
What has happened is that the old concept of society being divided into a party of property and one of workers is dead. It was perhaps the advent of ‘New’ Labour that drove the final nail into the old order, that and the progressive elimination of the labour-intensive factory floors. In truth there is now little significant difference between the parties. Fiscal policy? Osborne now borrows more than even Grumpy Gordon proposed. There simply is no divide in opinion obvious enough and large enough to suggest why half the country should want to be on one side and the other half on the other.
Political affiliations are fading because the population is becoming less and less tribal. A few days ago we reported on the national attitudes survey which demonstrates that only a small percentage of the population now identifies with one political party. Just because we don’t think an air strike on Libya is a good idea doesn’t mean that we think free schools a bad one. Yet every election asks us to choose between baskets of policies. The political system offers us only fixed menus when most of us really want to go a la carte..
People have not lost interest in politics, merely in political parties. The success of groups like TaxPayers’ Alliance and 38 Degrees shows there is plenty of interest in political issues. But so many of these do not fit neatly into party labels. The result is a growing proliferation of minor parties. Ukip is an interesting example. Its founder, Alan Sked, has left because he believes that it is attracting members who are racist or anti-intellectual. He now wants to start up a new anti-EU party, this time one that opposes the so-called bedroom tax and seeks to nationalise the railways.
He is likely to be unhappy in any party for long. But then most if us in our hearts are Skeds; we find ourselves with a range of opinions which straddle the manifestos of all the major parties, and many of the minor ones too. The next election will see the birth of many more of the minor category. The Save the NHS party will field over a hundred doctors, does anyone disagree? But if elected under the present system the doctors would have to produce policies on many other issues.
Let me end with the future scenario as seen by a bunch of old codgers. The public has made it clear that it sees the idea of political parties as dead. But how do we kill them off? We are destined to trundle along being governed by two and a half parties which have ever fewer members, and no doubt end up being propped up with taxpayer’s money. But MPs are sensing the national mood and are likely to become far less responsive to the whips. Syria will be but the first of many ‘rebellions’.
In due course existing conventions will crumble. The Prime Minister and the main offices of state will be directly elected, encouraging more and more independent candidates to come forward. Every policy will have to command support in the Commons on its merits. Then the country could simultaneously vote for both welfare reform and a mansion tax without considering supposed party loyalties.
Yes it will be messy in a sense, a PM would be forced to work with people he or she had not chosen to work with. But that would resemble real life – what business is run along tribal lines, with two slates of executives constantly trying to do each other down?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “The public has decided that the future of democracy lies elsewhere: in popular protest, single issues and so on!”…Ross Clark
Having donned his thermals it seems likely that Albert is going to take them off again. If the weathermen are right we are about to enjoy Heatwave Mark 2, good news for all but our Eskimo contingent. We shall see, but one thing is certain, we will not feel as warm as Vodafone shareholders who must be aglow this morning. The sale of its stake in Verizon has netted a massive £84 billion for the UK-based phone company and shareholders will pocket £60 billion. Bankers will receive £156 million in fees. And the tax to be paid will be, er, unpaid. Gorgeous George Osborne says that he sees no reason to change the tax laws, so that’s all right then.
Meantime, a new opinion poll shows that a massive majority of the public is opposed to any military action in Syria, and almost half see our dear leader as being out of touch with public opinion in even contemplating such a venture. I think we can take it that there will be no further Commons debate on this! But that noble institution is today considering an action equally repugnant to anyone who believes in freedom of speech.
Just before the recess the government tabled a bill entitled ‘The transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration bill’. With the holiday period looming it received little scrutiny, and there will probably be few MPs present today when the Coalition rushes to get the bill on to the statute books. Which is to say the least unfortunate since this represents a massive attempt to silence critics.
Many of my fellow allotment codgers have long supported the protest group 38 Degrees, which just a few weeks ago received sufficient donations to enable it to take Jeremy Hunt to the High Court to challenge his decision to close Lewisham Hospital emergency facilities. His action was judged to be unlawful. A few days ago 38 Degrees released an email warning that the new bill will make its activities illegal.
And they are far from alone. The hastily constructed bill will treat charities, thinktanks, blogs, community groups and activists of every hue as political parties. From tiny groups vocal on local issues to great national organisations , all risk being silenced in the year before a general election. Any organisation spending £5,000 a year and expressing an opinion on anything remotely political must register with the electoral commission.
The way permitted campaign spending is calculated has been widened in remit and cut by 60%, so it includes all staffing costs for the year. That will include even groups affiliated to national umbrella organisations whose spending will contribute to a national capped limit. So a Save Our Sure Start or Save Our Hospital in a small town finds every national linked campaign counted into its local spending. Since almost everything is political, this kills almost all debate in election years. President Putin would approve of this bill!
A leading human rights QC has warned that the bill will breach the right to freedom of speech. Lawyers for many charities have warned that this will be a legal minefield for trustees; if they trip into electoral law by spending more than £5,000 on any campaign that contains any implied criticism of the government they risk criminal charges. Our friends at 38 degrees say that “the proposed gagging law will have a chilling effect ion British democracy”. The Taxpayers’ Alliance says that the bill is a “serious threat to independent politics that will stifle free and open democratic debate”.
The prime mover for this hotchpotch of a bill is Nick Clegg. It seems he was spurred into action when the National Union of Students let it be known that it planned to remind voters that the Lib Dems pledged never to raise tuition fees. If they now do so they will be committing a criminal offence if it can be shown that they spent over £5,ooo on leaflets and the like.
Many people have over many years pressed for reform of the laws covering lobbying. This bill will contribute nothing in that regard. In 1994, there were five public affairs firms – as lobbying companies prefer to be known; now there are 70. More than 1,250 individuals work in self-regulated consultancies. Many more work in-house foi corporations and interest groups. They seek, and pay for, access to ministers, corruption is everywhere. The bill will not affect them.
It is often difficult to work out whether actions by this government are sinister or simply incompetent. But either way if MPs allow this bill through anyone involved in any campaign implying criticism will find themselves in court.
This is precisely the kind of legislation that we love to point to when criticising Mugabe and the rest. It is shameless, shameful and shaming!
THOUGHT FOIR TODAY; ” The new bill was not in the Queen’s Speech. It has not been through a process of pre-legislative scrutiny. It is an untested and jumbled set of ideas about lobbying, on to which has been tacked a badly thought-out and unworkable set of controls on third-party campaigning in the run-up to elections and a plainly partisan set of plans on trade union campaigning!”… Guardian editorial, 3/9/13
Even the prospect of the Test Match, about to start at Old Trafford, was driven from our minds by the news that Jeremy Hunt has been defeated in the High Court. Regular readers will recall that every member of our allotments gang responded with a tenner to the appeal from campaigning group 38 Degrees who wished to join with the people of Lewisham in seeking legal redress against the Health Secretary’s decision to downgrade the casualty and maternity services at the successful and highly-regarded Lewisham hospital.
The proposed changes were part of a wider ‘reform’ of services in the capital, after the financial collapse of the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS trust (SLHT). Hunt appointed a special administrator to the SLHT and suspended the directors. He then took the astonishing decision to close services elsewhere with a view to forcing patients to travel to help offset the financial losses. It clearly escaped his mind that the result would be, to quote Dr Louise Irvine who led the mass protest in Lewisham, that people would have to travel ” a long, long way further to get access to vital services”. And long delays in getting to an A & E unit mean one thing – avoidable deaths.
38 Degrees saw this as the perfect test case, and set about raising £20,000 to establish a legal team. Its advice was heartening, Hunt was acting illegally. Yesterday brought the long awaited hearing at the High Court, and thousands demonstrated outside.
Mr Justice Silber ruled that Hunt had acted outside his powers when he announced to parliament in January that casualty and maternity units at the highly rated Lewisham hospital would be downgraded. The judge went on to say that the Secretary of State had unlawfully breached the provisions of the National Health Services Act 2006.
Dr Irvine paid tribute to the thousands of local people, community groups, GPs, hospital doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who, together with 38 Degrees members, had donated to make this landmark victory possible.
Of course everyone knows that ministers hell-bent on the privatisation of the health service will already be plotting an appeal and counter-moves. But this victory has great significance. It shows that vast numbers of people are appalled by what the government is doing to the NHS and, given support, are prepared to stand up and be counted. Politician’s main concern is for their own skins and they will recognise the political dangers in continuing to destroy local emergency services. What Lewisham did yesterday will act as a precedent.
We all recognise that the NHS faces perilous times and must become more administratively efficient. But services such as A & E are too important to be left to the whims of an ass such as Jeremy Hunt, who clearly isn’t even aware of the limits of his powers. The time for people power has arrived, the NHS belongs to us all and we must take heart from this evidence that if we fight we can win!
The small part we codgers played in this affair has helped to restore our battered sense of pride. We all smirked somewhat when Lord Howell of Poshtown, the father-in-law of Gorgeous George Osborne, told the nation that fracking should be confined to the desolate North East and its equally desolate peasants. Yesterday he apologised and explained that he had meant to refer to us lot in the North West!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “This is a tremendous victory for all who campaigned for this well-run, successful hospital to remain open. The mobilisation of the public has been extraordinary. Real questions must now be asked about the decisions being taken by this government in relation to healthcare!”…..Rosa Curling from law firm Leigh Day
June seldom lives up to its flaming reputation, but the 2003 version is off to a glorious start. As we worked on the allotments this morning it was easy to imagine that all those wet dark mornings never happened, and everyone was in good humour. There was general surprise at the national surprise about revelations that the powers that be are secretly spying on us, we always assunmed this to be the case. Indeed we have often warned Albert that his fantasies about Lady Gaga are read by Obama and Gove, who probably frowns at the absence of semi-colons.
But our main preoccupation continues to be the fate of our A & E departments. Most are in meltdown as a result of the cuts disguised as efficiency savings. And to make things worse Jeremy Hunt is hell-bent on closing just as many as he can, always providing that they are not in marginal Conservative constituencies. The spin is that this enables neighbouring hospitals to develop larger, safer facilities. The reality is that they finally crumble under the weight of yet more blue lights.
Today we have proof positive of the real effect of adding to the travel time of ambulances. The A & E unit in Newark was closed and since then the number of deaths of trauma cases have jumped by 37%. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to work out that an additional delay of up to 30 minutes for someone in extremis can be fatal. Add to that the difficulty that people with day-to-day injuries encounter when their nearest facility is many miles away and the picture is complete. Every large connurbation needs an emergency facility.
Up until now the public reaction to closures has amounted to protest marches and petitions. The effect of those on someone rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic is minimal. But suddenly a new form of action has appeared. Legal experts have concluded that the closure of an A & E unit is illegal, a refusal by the government to meet its obligation to provide life-saving facilities with rapid local access. As a result the latest victims, Lewisham in South London, have decided to take Jeremy Hunt to court.
In a preliminary hearing a Judge has ruled that there is a case to answer, and has limited the legal cost liability to £20,000. Barristers have agreed to cut their fees and a huge fundraisng campaign is under way. This has now earned the support of ’38 Degrees’, the national protest organisation, which is throwing its considerable weight behind it and people from across the country are making donations. We codgers put our hands into our pockets yesterday.
If the legal wizards are right this will set a massive precedent. Clearly what Hunt is doing is incredibly irresponsible and morally flawed. But if it is also ruled to be illegal the government will be forced into a corner. We say government rather than Hunt since the real villain here is Lansley whose so-called reforms were based on the ludicrous assumption that the gaps caused by closures could be covered by community units funded by the private sector.
The case will be heard by the courts in two weeks time. In the event of Lewisham losing there is of course the opportunity to appeal. It would be the ultimate irony if the European court came to our rescue, but hopefully it won’t be needed.
Some months ago this blogsite predicted that the NHS would emerge as the major issue. We stand by that although it has to be said that the previous governmnet was equally culpable in attempting to close down essential medical services.
But this is an issue over and above party politics. This is about life or death when an emergency strikes. It affects everyone of us. We are all sick and tired of politicians and the time has come to hold them to account!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ” Providing aid to Africa is in Britain’s vital economic and security interests and must be maintained at current levels”…Justine Greening yesterday, arguing the case for overseas aid having precedence over NHS funding.
Albert was singing, as only the tone-deaf can sing, as we cleaned out the hens this morning. It may have been down to two mornings on the trot witout a downpour, but given the words of his croak it was probably related to his latest attempt to bankrupt the bookies. The song goes back a long way but its words seem very relevant to Britian 2012. ‘Money is the root of all evil’ stormed the charts a few decades ago, today it could be our national anthem.
Like the rest of the country we are keyed up about today’s Wimbledon Final. Tom remarked that it is nice to focus on something that isn’t money-driven. Really? If Andy Murray wins today he will pocket £1.5 million in prize money plus an estimated £50 million in sponsorships. Sounds somewhat money-related to me. But at least it will be money honestly earned.
On Tuesday the European Parliament will debate proposals to curb banker’s bonuses. In the eyes of most people the EU achieves little via its endless interference in Britain’s affairs, but this is one issue that merits attention on an international level. But guess who is planning to torpedo any such move. Yes, its our very own Gorgeous George Osborne. Last year bankers pay rose by 12 per cent after a 36 per cent leap in the previous year. And bonuses went off the graph. But our chancellor is determined to use his veto to protect his friends.
No surprise really that he and our dear leader went to great lengths to rule out an independent inquiry into the Barclays Libor fiddling, an internal whitewash with the chance to smear the two Eds is a much safer and attractive option. No surprise either that the Treasury Select Committee now realises that Bob Diamond spun them a tale and wishes to recall him. Of course he spun them a tale, the only surprise is that they didn’t grasp the fact when he was before them.
The reality is that the whole banking culture must be changed and the casino-like investment arm seperated. Osborne can wriggle all he may but nothing short of a total reform will do, for where the banks lead the rest of the financial structure follows. And that embraces a lot of organisations, not least the Inland Revenue. It has been involved in a series of cosy settlements with large companies and now we learn that two of its directors are involved with companies operating tax avoidance schemes.
Do you remember Gordon Gekko, the corporate raider played by Michael Douglas in Wall Street? His motto was “greed is good” and we were glad that people like him only existed in Hollywood make-believe. We were wrong. When Rover closed suddenly in 2005 and 5000 workers were put out on to the streets, four directors shared £4 million. Outrageous, we cried then, but that was small beer, now almost every top executive has a nose in the trough and every major company practices tax avoidance. We all know about Amazon, Vodaphone and the like but even a hero such as Richard Branson has an empire consisting of companies registered in the Channel Isles and British Virgin Islands.
Meantime Sean Connery demands an independent Scotland. Perhaps he will actually come home to pay taxes should it come to pass, but don’t hold your breath. Under Blair and Cameron it has become the established practice of the British establishment not to pay British taxes. According to the protest group 38 Degrees even the chancellor himself has earned the title of the ‘Artful Dodger’.
Small wonder then that we have to reduce our armed forces to their lowest ever levels, to refuse to act on elderly care, to bleed the NHS to its death. Unless everyone pays tax the outgoings will always exceed the incomings.
But there is hope. It is clear that politicians will never willingly tackle the issue of financial privilege and malpractice. But public opinion is on the march. There is a growing national demand for a new morality, a recognition that the new infatuation with wealth will bring us all down.
That old song was right. Almost everything that is failing and wrong in our society has money at its roots!
THE ENEMY WITHIN!
A British jihadist who fought with Al Qaeda was arrested yesterday after going through the Olympic Park five times. He was under a control order not to enter any Olympic zone, but still travelled through the main games area in Stratford, East London five times in a single day before being spotted. According to a Home office lawyer the man known only as CF wishes to “re-engage in terorism-related activities, either in the UK or Somalia”, and is “determined to continue to adhere to his Islamist extremist agenda”.
Because he is a Britsh citizen he has been free to leave the country to fight alongside Al Qaeda and free to return at his pleasure. His human rights dictate that he is not unduly harrassed.
And he is far from the only one causing MI5 nightmares as the games draw near. A Home Secretary with guts would lock the whole lot up and throw away the key. Better still put them on a plane to the places they profess to love and make it a one-way ticket.
The response to that will be that we are a tolerant society. Should an atrocity occur ministers may find that we are not quite as tolerant as they fondly imagine!
As we toiled in the mud this morning we found ourselves wondering if Stephen Hester, the chief executive of RBS, has a chicken farm on one of his three estates. Certainly the 350-acre one in Oxfordshire is big enough, and this bunch of aged chicken-keepers would be delighted to help run it on the basis that a change is as good as a treat and the wages are likely to be good, if Mr Hester’s are any indication.
If you believe this morning’s papers, the nation is in shock at the decision to award him almost a million pounds in bonuses to add on to his basic salary of £1.2 million. We doubt that since, as forecast in a previous blog, we anticipated no reluctance on his part to pocket another pile of taxpayer’s money and great reluctance on the part of the government to stand up to him. The hilarious aspect of the decision is that Vince Cable is touting a plan to curb executive pay by granting shareholders the power of veto. Few believe that pension funds and the rest will bother and here we have a perfect example of the reluctance of a shareholder (holding 84% of the equity) to do anything. And the shareholder is the government.
When the news broke David Cameron was at Davos telling the Germans how to run their economy, but other politicians were quick to cry foul. Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne appeared on Bumblebee’s Question Time and said that Hester should decline the bonus as “a question of honour”. He went on to draw an analogy similar to one we used yesterday. Hester’s total package means that he is paid for three day’s work what a soldier in Afghanistan, risking his life on a daily basis, gets in a whole year. Browne suggested that Hester “should reflect on that”. Some chance.
Another of the leading Lib Dems, Lord Oakeshott, said the bank should realise that any bonus for Hester this year was “totally unacceptable”. He went on to draw attention to the fact that RBS has failed to honour the Project Merlin agreement, and has continued to deny small businesses the loan facilities they need. And all this on the day that a ComRes poll revealed that one in four of Conservative MPs believe that economic growth will not improve over the next twelve months.
Inevitably Hester will attract a good deal of vitriol over this, but some of that should go to the government which sanctioned the bonus. In a way it sums up the extent to which people like David Cameron and George Osborne are out of touch with what they like to call “ordinary” families. They genuinely seem to believe that, given his task, it would be ungracious to oblige Stephen Hesler to manage on a basic salary. But that alone is over one million pounds!
Some claim that he had put a gun to Cameron’s head. If so the prime minister should have, to quote Robert Peston, called his bluff. Where would he have gone? Certainly not to any other UK bank and it is hard to imagine a queue in Europe for his signature. Anyway he has those lavish estates to oversee.
What do we actually know about this man who now takes from the taxpayer a zillion times what any benefit claimant aspires to. He started work in a sweet factory where, he claims, he was taught the value of money. His first job was packing Polos and he therefore doesn’t need anyone “to tell me what it’s like being a normal person on normal amounts of money”. He tells us that even his parents think he is overpaid.
A curious aspect of this decision is that David Cameron was recently vitriolic about the £700,000 salary paid by the BBC to its Director General. At the time we agreed on the grounds that it is our cash that the Beeb is tossing around. Suddenly it is okay to hand nearly three times that to a banker who, so far, has done little beyond firing 33,000 staff.
At least there should be one outcome that will be a blessed relief. We will no longer have to listen to ministers banging on about our all being in this together. If ever there was proof that there is one rule for the rich and another for the rest of society this is it.
Of course should Mr – the knighthood is in the post – Hester respond to the public outcry by refusing the obscene handout we will be the first to praise him. ’38 Degrees’ has this afternoon launched a petition so you never know, perhaps he does have a conscience. But we are not holding our breath!
WHAT THE STARS SAY ABOUT COMPUTERS; ” Computers are like humans – they do everything except think”….John Von Neumann “I know nothing about computers. I don’t even know how often to change the oil”….Buzz Nutley “Bill Gates declared to the world ‘I am Microsoft’. Mrs Gates had no comment”…..Whoopy Goldberg “Computers don’t poop, fart, shag or laugh, and cannot detect irony. These, then, are the distinguishing characteristics of humanity”…..Eric Idle “The trouble with the Internet is that it is replacing masturbation as a leisure activity”…..Patrick Murray “How do I set my laser printer to stun?”….Chris Moyles “A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kickboxing”…..Emo Philips
A sunny, cold, crisp morning. Very welcome after endless days of rain and gloom. Apart from having to put up with the now, what really concerns the gardeners amongst our hen-keepers is the sight of slugs slithering into the chicken-feed. Unless nature stages a deep-freeze cull the summer will be a difficult one. When we retired for our brew that was the first subject on the agenda. Then we turned to the slugs in last night’s ‘Question Time’.
The first question related to high-speed trains. The audience was largely antagonistic, the politicians on the panel otherwise. The first called upon by David Dimbleby was transport secretary Justine Greening, she of the attempt to sell the forests off to China. Frankly I would worry if she was the manager of our local Tesco but here she was, the brains behind the £32 billion project aimed at lopping a half-hour off the time of travel between London and Birmingham. To say that she failed to justify the project would qualify as the understatement of the year. But as she floundered, her Labour opposite number, Douglas Alexander, rushed to the rescue. According to him, the government have not only done the right thing but deserve a statue of David Cameron outside every station.
A portly chap in a green sweater showed a greater understanding than either of them. He has no wish to travel from London to Birmingham but already struggles to get to work since fewer trains now stop at his station. Won’t high-speed trains stop at even fewer stations? The Greening/Alexander partners had no idea. And so it continued. But my point on this occasion is not about the mad project, but this latest example of being unable to spot the difference between the Conservative and Labour Parties.
As a one-time political historian I have to say that the present opposition is the most inept of the past 50 years. Right now the nation is struggling with the most severe cuts to public services in our history, and the government has lurched from one crisis to the next. The NHS slaughter (38 Degrees mustered over a million votes for its petition), the Murdoch scandal, the attempted forests sale, the deeply unpopular changes to the planning laws, the treatment of our armed forces, tuition fees, the slavish obedience to Brussels.. you name it and the government has put its foot into it. And David Cameron is twice as popular as Ed Miliband and the Conservatives are miles ahead in the polls.
Of course it is not the role of Her Majesty’s opposition to oppose for the sake of doing so, but it is expected to question and to make constructive suggestions as to alternative policies. Labour does neither. Polls suggest that the vast majority is opposed to what is being done to the NHS but if Labour has expressed a view it has done so very quietly. The latest horror in many minds is the proposed axeing of disability living allowance, which provides a small shred of comfort to those suffering from cancer, MS, motor neurone and other chronic diseases. Disabled children lose £27 a week and many of their families are already below the poverty line since mothers cannot work and care full-time.
It was only the intervention of Lib Dems in the Lords that has prompted Cameron to hint at yet another U-turn. The Labour Party, once the champion of the oppressed, has made little effort to force the issue or to inform the public. It has allowed the government to hide behind stories of “disabled” people caught running marathons, or water-skiing in foreign parts. Just a little research would have shown that disability fraud actually accounts for only 0.5%!
Around half of our allotment gang voted Labour at the general election. I have yet to hear any say they will do so again. Time and again I hear talk of a windfall tax on the top tenth of earners being sufficient to pay off the nation’s debt at a stroke. But the government prefers to cut help for stroke patients. I have yet to hear a single Labour politician speak along these lines.
In his recent work ’Austerity Britain 1945-51′ historian David Kynaston demonstrates that even in the aftermath of war, and with a number of fiery revolutionaries in key government positions, there was almost total indifference on the part of the public to socialism. Even the miners showed little enthusiasm for nationalisation when it happened, the idea of being ‘owners’ left them unmoved.
And in today’s world socialism has gone the way of The Red Flag, once beloved by Labour Party conferences. Blair was instrumental in changing that, and he was also responsible for moving the party’s policy direction toward the middle-classes. He had to do that to remain a credible political force but in so doing he stripped away Labour’s traditional values. Now the Party has an identity crisis. It finds itself unable to do other than parrot what the coalition is doing.
Of course there is no mileage in demanding a return to socialism, but it had its redeeming values such as caring for those who cannot care for themselves. And that section of society is growing rapidly. Surely if ever there was a time to demand a tougher stance on the rich, and a more compassionate one on the middle and lower earners that time is now.
Many believe that Yvette Cooper could lead such a revival in Labour’s fortunes. Someone needs to for the present trend is a threat to democracy itself. The number prepared to support Labour is falling, the Lib Dem support has melted away, and by the time of the next election the number inclined to vote Conservative will have been emasculated by a thousand cuts.
An election in which those who don’t vote at all significantly outnumber those who do is a dangerous place to be!
A bright and sunny morning greeted us as we set about our usual routines. The latest flock of Caledonian Black Tails seemed in skittish mood and hopes are high that they will join the egg production numbers well before Easter. But we were in a grumpy mood, having heard the outcome of the parliamentary vote on the plan to privatise all the woodlands held by the state-owned Forestry Commission, about 20 per cent of the UK tree population. Several of us had given time to supporting the campaign by ’38 Degrees’ and had fooled ourselves into believing that a petition already heading for the half-million mark plus extensive press adverts would cause MPs to stop and think.
Yesterday our optimism was boosted by official figures released by the government. These showed that the sale will bring in £655 million but will cost £679 million. The cost benefit study says the government would lose substantial income from the sale of timber and recreation licences and would have to pay many millions in compensation and redundancies. In addition any charities bidding would have to be given substantial financial help. In other words there is no financial merit in pursuing this highly unpopular strategy. It is driven entirely by ideology.
The long awaited vote brought a defeat for the opposition motion opposing the sale. The coalition won by 310 votes to 260, a mjority of 50 secured by the block support of the Lib Dems. Why they would want to sell off our heritage is unclear.
Earlier, at prime minister’s questions, David Cameron said there would be no u-turn on this although he would “listen to all the arguments”. Immediately afterwards his parliamentray private secretary, Desmond Swayne, issued a blog in which he revealed that the plan had unleashed a “torrent of hostile emails”. Rather patronisingly, he went on to complain that it was almost as if the government was proposing to “adulterate the people’s strawberry jam with wooden pips”. Clearly what the people say is regarded with disdain, perhaps the fact that at least eight multi-millionaire ministers have their own private woodland has made opposition seem petty?
This of course is far from the end of the matter. A Bill has to come before the House and ’38 Degrees’ has pledged to fight on. It hopes to produce a petition involving millions, and it will continue to present the case against private ownership as it did on Sunday in the BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ programme. It is pushing against an open door for wherever one goes one finds . people are opposed to the destruction of trees, and episodes like yesterday’s massive storms in Australia strengthen the belief of many that we cannot go on ignoring what scientists tell us about climate change. But the overall reaction is that with the poulation becoming ever more urbanised we need to protect our forests, our chance to escape and our heritage.
Yesterday was the perfect example of just how facile are the claims that we live in a true democracy. MPs are besieged with complaints and pleas that they stop this destruction now. But they are perfectly happy to toe the party line, however mistaken that may be. Only three Conservative MPs rebelled; Zac Goldsmith, Julian Lewis and Caroline Nokes and they deserve credit for being prepared to face the music from Cameron, Clegg et al. We can only hope that more will decide to do likewise when the final vote is taken.
But the omens are not good. Forests which have enchanted so many for so many centuries, and have provided sanctuary for so much wildlife, will be destroyed. And for what? Once we imagined that this was all part of the need to pay off our deficit. Now we know it is, like the NHS ‘reforms’, simply part of the obsession with privatisation.
Mr Cameron can be thankful for two things. Firstly that he has fifty odd Lib Dem lapdogs, prepared to jump when he tells them. Secondly, that the British people are of a more passive temperament than Egyptians!
LAWYERS STOOP EVER LOWER!
Fancy making a quick pile at the taxpayers expense? Then why not become a lawyer, a profession that stoops ever lower in its attempts to wipe out a century-long reputation for honesty and probity.
The no-win-no-fee circus is now moving in to Her Majesties prisons in expectation of a windfall resulting from the European Court’s ruling that prisoners should get the vote as part of their human rights. David Cameron is rightly refusing to grant any such concession but Europe now rules the roost. The result could be that prisoners can sue us the taxpayers.
And the vultures are gathering. Lawyers have already ‘signed up’ 2500 prisoners and persuaded them to seek payouts. The estimated compensation and massive legal costs could exceed £100 million.
Of course if we refuse to bow the knee to Strasbourg the cost would be zero . But the chance of that is akin to the legal profession winning back the proud place it once had in public affection.
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” Save a little money each month, and at the end of the year, you’ll be surprised at how little you have”…Ernest Haskins ” When a man tells you he got rich by hard work, ask him whose”….George Bernard Shaw ”Why does a slight tax increase cost you 200 pounds and a substantial tax cut save you 30?”…..Peg Bracken ” Everyone should pay their tax bill with a smile. I tried it but they demanded cash”….Jackie Mason “My family was so poor that the lady next door gave birth to me”….Lee Trevino ” We were so poor that if we woke up on Christmas morning without an erection we had nothing to play with”….Frank McCourt “The lack of money is the root of all evil”….Mark Twain “Now that he was rich he was not thought ignorant any more, but simply eccentric”….Mavis Gallant “Victoria Beckham gave away all her old clothes to starving children. Well, who else are they going to fit?”…..Pauline Calf “Homelessness is homelessness wherever you live”….Glenda Jackson “His wallet is as capacious as an elephant’s scrotum and just as difficult to get your hands on”….Blackadder 11 “An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one”….George Mikes
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Haiti 2. Ben Lyon
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What was Gypsy Rose Lee (died 1970) famous for? 2. This leader once took off his shoe to bang the rostrum at the UN . He died in 1971. Who was he?
No need for hand-warmers this morning, despite forecasts of frost it was relatively warm as we release the hens. As they scuttle out I often wonder what it is they are so eager to get on with. Albert suggests that they need a copy of the Sun to uplift their spirits but having seen the lethargy of the local council workers, for whom a rolled-up copy seems mandatory, I rather doubt it. Maybe they spend their time being thankful for not living as their battery-sisters do, they after all don’t have four visits per day from old geezers bearing a constant supply of lettuces, boiled spuds and spinach leaves. And they have freedom to wander amongst the trees and, if the mood takes them, to fly up into them.
Come to think about it trees play an important part in all our lives. Of course they play a key role in offsetting the effect of carbon emissions, but they also provide us with places of beauty and solace for the soul. Perhaps we should make the best of them for their massacre at the hands of money-grabbing developers is about to accelerate thanks to the bizaare plan of the coalition to sell off the Forestry Commission which owns 20 per cent of all the woods and forests in Britain.
On January 6th I revealed the campaign being run by ’38 Degrees’. Since then thousands have signed up on-line to register their opposition to this wanton destruction. Today one hundred top celebrities have added their names to the fight. The names include Judi Dench, Dr Rowan Williams, Annie Lennox, Joanna Trollope, Bill Bryson, Richard Briers and a host of others. All their signatures appear at the foot of a letter published in this morning’s papers.
It states “We, who love and use the English forests, believe that such a sale would be misjudged and shortsighted. It is our national heritage. We are an island nation yet more people escape to the forests than to the seaside. Our forests nurture countless species of native plants and wildlife. We have relied upon them since time immemorial yet we are only a heartbeat in their history.”
Last week saw the publication of a poll on the proposal. Over 75 per cent are totally opposed to the government’s plan. People from all walks of life are angry and bemused. Some visit the forests regularly and there have been mass protests in such as The Forest of Dean. Some remember with affection the visits they once made as a child and many others still take their children to enjoy the wonder of nature at its best. If Cameron rides roughshod over the view of the vast majority of Brits he will be making a lot of enemies, for once the sale is made there is no going back, the bulldozers will be revving their engines.
The most amazing aspect of all this is that even the most favourable sale is only expected to raise £100 million. Compare that to the £15 billion we are happy to plough into the Olympics or the £130 billion that is lost to the exchequer each year via tax avoidance. The truth is that money is not the motivation, it is ideology, the obsessive right-wing belief that everything must be privately owned even if that leads to its destruction.
If you too feel that the forests that belong to us all, and are part of what Britain is, should be left alone for future generations to treasure why not go on to the ’38 Degrees’ website and sign the petition. Politicians will only listen if they feel that their votes are at risk so numbers count!
OSBORNE ACCUSED OF TAX DODGING!
Channel 4 has claimed to have evidence that George Osborne is avoiding the payment of tax. It says that he employs accountants to find loopholes which help him avoid payments of up to £1.6 million. The pressure group ’38 Degrees’ is running an online petition demanding that he end this practice and, so great has been the response, it is running an advertisng campaign portraying the Chancellor as ‘the artful Dodger’.
Like you I have no idea as to the truth of these accusations but it seems unlikely that broadcasts and public campaigns would have been launched without firm evidence. And I have heard no refutals by Mr Osborne.
The government has been reluctant to tackle tax avoidance which is believed to account for losses far in excess of the total value of the cuts now hitting many poorer families. Why? Perhaps this story gives us a clue! Can it possibly be that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is using tax avoidance?
If so it might be prudent for the millionaires running this country to stop banging on about us all being in this together!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “If we tread on a mine, Sir, what is the procedure? Normal procedure Lieutenant, is to jump 200 feet in the air and scatter oneself over a wide area”…..Captain Blackadder “The best defence against the atom bomb is not to be there when it goes off”…Winston Churchill “War doesn’t determine who’s right – only who’s left”….Bertrand Russell “We are not retreating; we are advancing in another direction”….General Douglas MacArthur “They still haven’t found Osama Bin Laden. Why don’t they give his name to the Child Support Agency, they’ll find him”….Roy Chubby Brown ” Peace is when nobody’s shooting. A ‘just peace’ is when your side gets what it wants”……Bill Mauldin “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”……Winston Churchill.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Andrei Sakharov 2. Richard Nixon
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who refused to play South Africa in a Davis Cup Final? 2. Which orchestra did Sir George Solti once conduct in London?
For the first time since that December spell we needed boiling water to thaw out the hen’s water this morning. But we cheered ourselves with the thought that we are now well into January which means that somewhere beneath the hard surface of the flower plots, the daffodil bulbs are gently preparing to send up shoots of greeting in a couple of months time. We shouldn’t wish our lives away but on cold mornings such as this we do!
And we had some extra help this morning. Alf’s grandson has taken to coming down for want of something better to do. His story is typical of many and it is worrying. Peter left school last July having decided that academia is not his thing. He is, as they say, good with his hands and wishes to learn a trade. He has filled in what feels like a zillion forms and attended various interviews. But he has had no luck and is demoralised. Even the most basic supermarket vacancies have attracted hundreds of applications. Of course he isn’t going to starve since he lives at home, and this or that government scheme provides a small income, but the concept of work is beginning to seem like a fantasy and there is no incentive to get him out of bed.
And Peter’s story is now repeated across the country. One young person in five has no job and the position continues to worsen. Why the government believes that the private sector will suddenly produce vast numbers of jobs born of expansion remains a mystery for all enterprises are driven by customer demand and that continues to fall as consumers ’draw their horns in’. Inflation on food is nudging 5 per cent and the effect of increases in VAT and fuel bills is beginning to bite hard.
To make things even worse the public sector is shedding jobs at an astonishing rate thus creating yet more competition for such employment as is available. And the number now having to accept part-time working has climbed, the latest statistics show that around 1.16 million are now having to settle for the only option there is. Another statistic that adds to the gloom is the one concerning older people forced into early retirement.There are now 1.56 million people under the age of 65 who have been obliged to end their working life.
David Cameron has described the latest increases in unemployment as a matter for ‘huge concern’ and, predictably, devotes the rest of his comments to a diatribe about Grumpy Gordon. People engaged in the soul-destroying daily search for work are simply not interested in political point-scoring, they want work. At least the older ones do and herein lies the biggest worry, vast numbers of youngsters have given up and a generation unused to the disciplines and incentives that regular employment brings is disillusioned and restless.
Some economists are now openly predicting that youth unemployment could rise to almost 50 per cent. It doesn’t bear thinking about does it? Whether you view the prospect in terms of idle hands causing mischief or simply mourn the death of ambition for half of a whole generation it is a worrying scenario. Faced with such a calamity the government must do more than blame its predecessors. It must reconsider the sheer pace at which it is cutting back. The much maligned Gordon Brown insisted that the elimination of the deficit arising from the banking collapse must be gradual for fear of triggering mass unemployment. There are worrying signs that he may have been right.
Anyone who has been unemployed knows that the effect of constant rejection goes far deeper than income. Slowly but surely resentemnt takes over. And the constant news of massive payouts for bankers, local authority executives and leading business chiefs fuels an understandable feeling of rebellion, a mood intensified by clear indications that tax avoidance by the richest is commonplace and unchallenged.
Unless something is done quickly, society will reap a whirlwind and Cameron may yet regret the decision to axe thousands of policemen, something that was attracting many signatures last weekend in our local town centre. That is his problem but the demoralisation of our young people concerns everyone who cares and hopes that the next generation will prove better custodians of planet earth than ours has.
There is an old saying about fiddling whilst Rome burns. It is apt, for right now the entire country is obsessing about the madness of Lansley’s NHS destruction which will produce no savings whatsoever. Instead every person of goodwill in the land should be focussed on the task of getting our youngsters into work and out of alienation and despair.
Wake up Cameron et al, before it is too late!
CONSULTATION; YOU MUST BE JOKING!
Claims by governments of all colours regarding consultation have always been ludicrous but local government ministers Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps are going even further in bringing the word into disrepute.
They are rushing through what they describe as the most radical reforms of social housing for a generation. The changes include allowing social landlords to offer fixed-term tenancies and charge much higher rents to new tenants, and changing the homelessness legislation so that homeless families can be forced to accept homes in the private rental sector. The reforms did not appear in the Tory or Lib Dem manifestos.
The ministers published a white paper at the end of November and invited responses by this week. That gave anyone concerned just eight weeks to protest yet the government’s code of practice says consultations should run for at least 12 weeks, and for longer when they include bank holidays.
For anyone who managed to register concern there are further obstacles. The second reading of the bill will take place on the very day that the consultation period expires and the summary of responses is promised for three months time by which point the committee stage of the bill could be safely out of the way.
Why not just be honest and announce that because we, the ministers, know best there will be no consultation whatsover!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ”I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people that annoy me”…..Fred Allen “My doctor asked me if I ever got breathless after ecercise. I said no, never, because I never exercise”….John Mortimer “My gran started walking 5 miles per day when she was 60. She’s 97 today and we don’t know where the hell she is”…..Ellen DeGeneres “I go running when I have to. When the ice-cream van is doing 60″…Wendy Liebman “I go to bed early because my favourite dream comes on at nine”…Eddie Izzard
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Liberal Party 2. Women
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who succeeded Harold Wilson as prime minister in 1976? 2. Who became Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster in 1976?
I knew that I was in for a ribbing when I arrived on the allotments well after daybreak and noticed Albert’s bike propped against the shed. But my old pal was in a good mood and contented himself with raised eyebrows. It turns out that he had a win on the gee-gees yesterday but was keen to avoid the news reaching his better-half. It reminded me of the scene from Fawlty Towers and I found myself wishing he hadn’t told me lest I bump into Margaret and, like Major Gowan, get betrayed by my tongue. Albert’s forecast on the horses must have been more accurate than the one he put forward on the Oldham and Saddleworth byelection!
In common with several of those who were swept along in the Nick Clegg euphoria at the general election, Albert had been convinced that Oldham would prove to be Clegg’s swan-song, the Lib Dems would be anihilated. In fact, although they lost by over 3500 votes to Labour their share of the vote held up well. At 31.9% it was certainly light-years ahead of the present national poll rating of 8%. Despite the Woolas factor, Labour took a share of 42.1%, a huge increase of 10.27%, so Ed Miliband will be reasonably content and the only massive fall was that of the Conservatives who dropped by over 13%.
The probability is that the people shaking their heads this morning are Conservative MPs and supporters. Some weeks ago this site revealed details of a memo from David Cameron making clear that a Lib Dem victory was the real aim. Although the prime minister did make a token visit, those from these parts who canvassed in Oldham returned to report that the Conservative campaign was in a lower key than Paul Robeson’s voice. It was the first example of the coalition parties working as one and the outcome will not have pleased many Tory activists one little bit.
But the objective observer must concede that Cameron called it correctly for, if the threatened Lib Dem collapse had occurred the odds are that the coalition would have crumbled too. And right now, with Miliband out in front, a general election is the last thing that the Old Etonians want.
To me at least the most astonishing statistic concerned those who didn’t vote. Over half of the good people of Oldham and Saddleworth boycotted the polling booths. Inevitably that included the usual flat-earthers who either didn’t know that there was an election or who wanted to watch something on television. But so great was the abstention that one can only conclude that many thousands decided that they have lost faith in politicians of all parties.
I have never been able to undertsnad why voting in a parliamentary election is not mandatory given that people can opt for a postal vote. But the likelihood is that no politician would like to see the results include a huge number ticking the box marked “None of them”.
Yet such a development would surely be good for democracy and would certainly introduce a note of humility on the part of those who love to defend their lunacies by declaring that they are merely carrying out the wishes of the people!
But for now we can imagine the degree of relief at the Clegg breakfast table this morning. The only problem is that as the butler serves the Camerons there may well have been mutterings about ‘now they really owe us’. Clegg has emulated Houdini but the grip around his throat has tightened and the day may well come when his boss will feel less inclined to come to the rescue!
HONOURS LIST FARCE CONTINUES!
As always the government was keen to include lollipop men and women in the New Year Honours List. Sadly the latest awards for ‘this incredibly important safety service’ coincided with decisions right across the country to make the gallant pole-bearers redundant.
But at least the government’s best friends, the Finance wizards, did well. Philip Remnant was but one of those honoured. He was appointed by Grumpy Gordon to U K Financial Investments, the body managing government stakes in bailed-out banks. UKFI has overseen a system where publicly-financed banks continued paying big bonuses but stopped lending to small businesses!
Nice to know that not everyone to be presented to Her Majesty is on the dole queue!
ANTI-SMOKING LOBBY TRIUMPHS AGAIN!
In December, broadcasting watchdog Ofcom decreed that Live XXXBabes, a free-to-air unencrypted adult sex chat services channel that until recently broadcast on Sky’s channel 950, had breached its rules during a daytime broadcast on 5 October. The channel offered the opportunity to “chat to the hottest, filthiest babes” on premium rate phone lines with the promise that they would “do anything you want…whatever turns you on”.
Presumably Ofcom was upset with some of the things that did turn punters on? No. It was concerned that “a female presenter wearing skimpy lingerie was smoking heavily…the prolonged sequence of smoking drew attention to the activity of smoking as a desirable activity..”
Purveyors of soft porn be warned. Encouraging people to smoke is the greatest evil!
SAVE OUR FORESTS!!!
In a previous blog I outlined the crazy government proposal to sell off all of the forests controlled by the Forestry Commission. This will lead to 20% of the UK forests being taken over by developers. And we all know what that means.
’38 Degrees’ is attempting to organise a massive protest and that looks the only hope. So far 135,000 have visited their website and ‘signed’ the petition. It will take a bigger number than that to stop this destruction.
Do please give your support!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. 800,000 2. Australia
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which British tennis star married Chris Evert? 2. Which government minister of the 90s appeared in 1974 as a guest on the Morecambe and Wise TV show?
There are just a few heaps of dirty snow still to be seen on the allotments, reminders of what we now learn was the coldest December since records began. An old adage has it that such snow is hanging around waiting for the next delivery and the forecast sounds as though it may not have long to wait. But this time around temperatures will not reach brass monkey levels so we are not too concerned. What we are concerned about is the fate of our trees. Not those surrounding our site which we would defend to the last of Albert’s teeth, but those under the stewardship of the Forestry Commission.
These encompass 20 per cent of all of England’s wooded land – 650,000 acres in total, including 20,000 hectacres of ancient woodland. Believe it or not the coalition is proposing selling the whole lot off to the highest bidder and one doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that it will prove to be developers. The scale of the resulting destruction is preposterous, unimaginable. The UK is already one of the least wooded countries in Europe and now we supposed fighters against global warming are about to make the situation much worse.
Roger Deakin once wrote that “the enemies of wood are always the enemies of humanity” and W H Auden that “a culture is no better than its woods”. If you are one of the millions who live within striking distance of one of the many woods currently owned, on our behalf, by the Forestry Commission you will know what they meant. Woods are the places where you first saw bluebells, walked the dog, paddled in streams, made dens, saw foxgloves and butterflies, listened to the nightingale and cuckoo, smelled wild garlic and delighted in the sun-dappled ferns. Woods and forests are part of who we are, an ever present escape in a mad world. And Cameron, Clegg and friends wish to destroy them for pieces of silver.
Already there has been a mass protest in the Forest of Dean. The posters said it all; “Not for sale, Our Forest, Our heritage, Our future”. But ministers, who made no mention of this plan in their manifestoes, have made it clear that they do not intend to change their minds. Forests must go!
Suddenly I and my pals have become aware of a new champion for our forests. ’38 Degrees’ is an online protest group dedicated to fighting issues such as this. 38 Degrees was launched in 2009 with the help of a donation from Gordon Roddick, the widower of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. Since then it has attracted more than 250,000 members and the number is climbing daily as people realise that a democratic, non-political, mass pressure group can force the government to listen. Signing up on line for the Forest petition took me only a minute or so yesterday, doing so left me with the feeling that here lies hope of sanity.
David Babbs is the executive director of 38 Degrees. Yesterday he said that ”there are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who care about progressive issues who are not connected with traditional political oganisations”. He added that “they are not apathetic – they want to take action. What we are trying to do is to link all those people together”.
The proposed sell-off of the Forestry Commission is a perfect example of a lunacy dreamed up by politicians who regard themselves as all powerful and who have no intention of listening to individual pleas. Now we have a chance to petition and protest in large numbers. And large numbers of potential votes are the one thing that party leaders will listen to!
LIB DEM SUPPORT HITS ALL-TIME LOW!
The implications of not winning the byelection that they forced in Oldham and Saddleworth are severe for the Lib Dems. It is a difficult result to forecast given the decision of David Cameron not to support the Conservatve candidate. But if the national polls are any indication Mr Clegg may be in trouble.
In a “poll of polls” composed by Prof John Curtice of Strathclyde University, and published yesterday, the Lib Dems have slumped to their lowest level since the party was formed in 1988. Only 11 % said that they would vote Lib Dem in an election and if that actually happened the party would be left with only 15 MPs. And Nick Clegg is the most unpopular third party leader since David Owen.
As the Professor comments, it is clear that the costs and benefits of being in a coalition have been distributed very unevenly. The Tories get the praise and their stooges the blame. But given the debacle on tuition fees it is all entirely predictable.
SOME MORE SOCCER HOWLERS; “Alex Fergusson’s weakness is that he doesn’t think he has any”..Arsene Wenger “Jose Mourinho turned down the position of Pope when he heard that it was only an assistant position”….Harry Pearson “Graeme Souness went behind my back right in front of my face”….Craig Bellamy
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Mother Teresa 2. The USA
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. The novelist Nicholas Monsarrat died in 1979. What was his best known work? 2. In which year did the Queen celebrate her Silver Jubilee?
A flurry of snow triggered mass panic this morning. The fact that the December freeze was the worst for a century has not dispelled the paranoia and the chicken and ferret keepers alike see convinced that we will get another dose before the daffodils break surface. And you know what they say about being paranoid, it doesn’t follow that there isn’t something awful awaiting you. But for now a calm order has been restored and we were able to moan about something other than the Council’s invisible gritters. And what more topical subject could there be than VAT?
A couple of the gang once earned their crusts in accountancy and they are amazed that Osborne’s defence of the VAT hike has gone unchallenged. His case is that cash must be found to slash the deficit and no one is likely to dispute that. It is his argument that the only alternatives were National Insurance contributions or income tax rises. Rubbish is the view of my numerate pals. They contend that the chancellor is pandering to the powerful and by so doing has scored an own-goal. The VAT rise is unpopular and it will damage any green shoots of economic recovery. He is said to be cutting 500,000 jobs in the public sector, the VAT rise will make replacement posts in the private sector far less likely.
According to John and Alec the alternative was clearly to tackle the powerful, all the signs point to the coalition being scared of the big-spending lobbyists and particularly those in the financial sector. A couple of threatening speeches from Osborne and Cable were met with a barrage of threats about financiers heading for other countries and, hey presto, all is forgiven. The bonus tax levied by Alastair Darling was described at the time by most experts as too soft but compared with what is happening now Darling was the equivalent of Attilla the Hun.
Yesterday was a generally bad day for Mr Osborne. He returned from his widely criticised luxury Swiss ski break, which suggested limited self understanding, to find most of the national papers carrying adverts which portrayed him as ‘the Artful Dodger’, a campaign launched not by the Labour party but by the ’38 Degrees’ group which is non-political, already boasts 250,000 members, and alleges that the Chancellor’s family avoided £1.6 m.in tax Then he got himself into an awful knot in trying to explain why he believes that VAT is ‘progressive’ yet David Cameron sees it as ‘very regressive’.
Regressive indeed and the money that ministers are asking the public to raise could be raised in five minutes by calling the bluff of the richest section of the business community. So long as they shy away from this confrontation, and instead hammer the poorer sections of society, there will be widespread dissatisfaction. Few of us have the expertise of people like John and Alec but we know enough to realise that what is happening with banks is equivalent to pardoning the Great Train Robbers, letting them keep their loot, and applying a levy on everyone else to make up for the cash stolen.
The bankers have walked away from the debacle they caused scot free, with almost a trillion pounds of public money in their pockets. There was not so much as a compulsory lending ratio on their books. And the bankers rejoice. The big four are soon to reveal that some 200 in each of them earned over a million pounds last year. They have also rewarded themselves with personal bonuses of £7 billion over Christmas. That alone represented two fingers to the public and three times the money to be raise by the VAT rise.
There is no VAT or other transaction tax on banks. Money that properly belonged to share-holders and, in many cases, taxpayers , simply walked off the premises. It is as if a state-subsidised car manufacturer decided to allow its employees to take home half a dozen cars each Christmas!
Many of the cuts being applied by this government are justified for the waste of the previous regime was horrifying. Need an example? The multi-billion pounds NHS IT system that never worked will do to be going on with. But Osborne has fallen at an important fence. He needed to win over the public, to prove that we are truly all in this together. Visit any of the central London bars where the financial people gather and you will hear the popping of champagne corks.
They simply cannot believe that they have got away with it. And neither can the rest of us!
BUT IS AN AUSSIE THRASHING A GOOD THING?
England ended the day in a strong position at the Sydney Test. It is hard to know who to praise most in what has to be the fittest and most talented England team for many a year. The only slightly sad thing is that Paul Collingwood is nearing the end of his illustrious Test career, but there are a number of execellent young replacements waiting in the wings.
Australia seem to lack any back-up and, with the exception of the one brilliant spell by Mitchell Johnson, have looked a poor outfit. And that isn’t what devotees of Test cricket wanted to see. Yes, we longed for a winning series but we now worry about the effect of huiliation on Australian support through the turnstyles over the next few years. I worked in Australia and was surpirised to learn that not everyone down under is a cricket fan. Many are but I often sensed that the attraction was the regualar display of Aussie invincibility.
If the team continues for several years to look born losers will the support hold up? One prays so for already attendances at Test cricket in most of the other cricketing nations is falling away sharply. In India the crowds now turn out mainly for one-day cricket, Pakistan has real problems, West Indies have lost most of their support and even South Africa is seeing a swing to one-day.
The lifeblood of Test cricket has always been the Ashes but it is hard to see other than one-sided games for some time to come.
But our side can only play what is fielded against them and they have been magnificent.
SOCCER QUOTE OF THE DAY; Alex Fergusson was asked if given a gun with one bullet would he use it on Arsene Wenger or Victoria Beckham. He replied ” Could I not have two bullets?”
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Airey Neave 2. 1971 (February)
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who won the Nobel prize for peace in 1979 for her work in Calcutta? 2. Which country won 17 of 29 track and field gold medals at the 1972 Olympics?