Posts Tagged ‘Cameron’
This is one of those mornings when one looks back with regret at having refused the chance to emigrate. Someone near to the allotments had erected a mass of flashing Christmas decorations in their front garden, now they are draped along our boundary hedge. Inside our domain, roof panels compete with fallen leaves and two coops have sunk into a sea of mud. And as we struggled to restore order a bitingly cold wind carried away our curses. Chicks at Easter are the stuff of dreams and painted eggs, chickens in December are a recipe for POIS which to the unitiated stands for pissed off in spades.
But for most of the gang things could be a great deal worse. All around us we see people suffering great hardship, not least the young people, many of whom in these parts are searching for work. Today we learn that the government is proposing to apply pressure to cancer sufferers with the threat of taking away their disability allowances should they fail to satisfy ”back to work” panels that they are truly incapable of working. Clearly whichever halfwit came up with this wheeze has never endured the experience of cancer. The truth is that in their desperate search for more ways of reducing costs the government are looking in the wrong place.
As with their reluctance to tackle the nation’s big earners and tax evaders, Cameron and Osborne are also avoiding any move likely to offend their other supposedly big supporter’s group, the over-65s. But having the dubious privilege of being in that category does not necessarily mean that one is, as the Cockneys have it, brassic-lint. Some of my pals are reliant on the state pension and there is no possibility that they could exist solely on that. But the majority of us enjoy a company pension awarded before the government began to destroy such things. To be blunt, we can manage perfectly well without winter fuel payments, bus passes, free TV licences and special tax allowances. Of course we like to have them but with so many younger people suffering real hardship, as against a reduction in pleasures, we can see no reason for special treatment simply because we are ancient.
Of all the bountiful gifts bestowed on us by politicians in the grip of obsessions about ‘grey voting power’, the most ludicrous of all is the bus pass. Most of us have never bothered to obtain one but we know many who have, and few of them really depend on them to get them from A to B, a feat that would be unaffordable without a free pass. Most of those we know who carry a pass in their purses or wallets regard them as a ticket to ride purely for the sake of riding somewhere. One couple have developed a hobby of travelling the length of the land, a journey of, presumably, a zillion bus stations and irritable drivers.
Nick Clegg recently said that millionaires who happen to be old should forego benefits such as bus passes, TV licences, fuel payments etc. He went on adovocate means testing, an emotion-firing term if ever there was one. Some high-profile figures have already taken action, the ‘Surviving Winter Appeal’, supported by the likes of Michael Parkinson, Jonathan Dimbleby, Ann Widdecombe and Joan Bakewell, calls on the better off to hand over their winter-fuel allowance of up to £300 to those in greater need. The scheme is to be applauded but essential welfare decisions should not be determined by charity.
Neither should they be determined by means testing or ludicrous talk of millionaires (Clegg has become so close to rich ministers that he imagines they are typical citizens). The simple way to tackle this issue is to use the tax system. Anyone sufficently flush to be paying tax at 40% could be excluded from elderly benefits. It would save a good deal of treasury expenditure which could then be used to further assist youth employment and care of the elderly infirm.
There is inevitably a caveat to this generous proposal from a bunch of codgers. Real action must be taken to tackle bankers and the rest of the top 1% of earners. We realise that they are the privileged friends of very rich government leaders but so long as they are allowed to pocket their millions without paying any tax to speak of, no one will volunteer to help, no one will truly feel that we are all in this mess together.
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Which Gareth Gates hit contains the words “We’re caught in a trap”? 2. In which series did Mark Benton play a tramp called Sheldon? 3. Who produced the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels? 4. What is a firebat? 5. Where are your fontanelles? 6. Which American protest singer is linked to the “dustbowl ballads”? 7. Who wrote the stories subsequently televised as “Poldark”? 8. In which time device would you find an escapement? 9. The port of Archangel is in which country? 10. The Titanic was launched in which city?
When, as part of their attempt to ‘sell’ their NHS reforms, David Cameron and Andrew Lansley announced that the NHS was failing cancer patients several of my allotment pals were deeply disturbed. Up to that point they had clung to the belief that if any organisation could save their nearest and dearest it was the NHS. Although we were still all opposed to the idea of applying massive reforms at the same time as imposing £20 billion cuts, we were shaken by the claim that our cancer services were the worst in the developed world.
When the controversy reached its heights, with virtually the whole of the medical profession warning of the extreme dangers of the Lansley plan for localised commissioning and the introduction of the private sector, it was apparent that the bill was seriously flawed. It was then that Cameron repeated his election claim that Britian had “a higher rate of cancer deaths than even Bulgaria”. Both he and Lansley repeatedly justified their draconian plan by emphasising that both survival and death rates from cancer are extremely poor by internatiuonal standards. Without doubt the seemingly honest announcement rattled many who were on the brink of supporting the huge campaign to save our health service.
We now learn that they lied. New research released yesterday has, not surprisingly, received little publicity in the right-wing newspapers for it shows that the NHS, far from being at the bottom of the cancer mortality league, is in fact “the international leader in tackling the disease”. A study published in the British Journal of Cancer covers extensive research by Prof Colin Pritchard, a health academic at Bournemouth University and Dr Tamas Hickish, a consultant medical oncologist at Poole and Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch hospitals. The authors studied cancer mortality and the amount of GPT spent on healthcare between 1979 and 2007 in England and Wales and nine other countries including Germany, the USA, Spain, Japan and France.
In a statement Pritchard said yesterday that the research shows that the ministers have “misrepresented the NHS’s record on cancer in order to gain support for their unpopular shakeup”. In fact England and Wales saw the biggest drop in mortality among males aged 15-74 – down 31%. While six countries saw falls of at least 20%, England and Wales – which in 1979-81 had the third highest rate with 4,156 deaths per million men – improved the most, achieving by 2004-06 2869 deaths per million. Among men aged 52-64 and 65-74, who are more likely to get cancer, mortality dropped by 35% and 28%.
While mortality among women the same age declined by less, at 19%, that was the third biggest improvement after Japn (23%) and Germany (20%).
The research goes on to show just how good England and Wales are on cancer care, relative to spend. It makes clear that; “We do significantly more with proportionately less funding. It means that 34,484 people are alive today who wouldn’t have been if things had not improved since 1980″. The reference to funding reminds us that the percentage of GDP spent on the NHS is significantly lower that that of most of the other countries covered by the research. It specifically mentions that, in monetary terms, the NHS is “vastly superior to the private healthcare system of the USA”.
The authors of the report rightly point out that we must always strive for further improvement. Our mortality rates may be amongst the best in the world but every death is one too many. The tragedy is that the result of what one leading clinician has called a totally unintelligible bill will undoubtedly be to reverse the improvements that have occurred.
As Pritchard himself remarks, Cameron and Lansley are happier with NHS ‘bad news’ stories, rather than “celebrating the considerable achievements in recent years of the NHS”.
The reason for that is obvious but nothing can justify telling lies which, apart from damaging the reputation of the NHS, have caused untold misery to the millions who have been diagnosed with the disease we all fear above any other.
This news broke on the day that Theresa May admitted that she has no idea as to how many unwelcome guests have been arriving in the UK. Call it incompetent or dishonest, either way this government is becoming less appealing by the day!
OOOO JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ OOOO
When I penned my recent piece on the death of democracy I underestimated the willingness of at least some MPs to stand up for it. In last night’s debate in the Commons on the need for a referendum on Europe, an impressive number of Conservative MPs made it clear that having been party to a promise to consult the people, they had no moral alternative than to vote for a national vote. Despite a three-line whip imposed by the prime minister, 82 voted for a referendum and a further 15 abstained. In all about half of all Conservative members, outside the “payroll vote” of ministers and their aides, defied Davd Cameron and the barrage of threats to which they had been subjected. Of course the motion was lost since Cameron can rely on his lapdog Lib Dem partners, and his dormant Labour opponents, to support him.
The point here is that the vote was not about leaving Europe, loosening our ties, or staying in. It was simply about the right of the people to express a view on an issue that impinges on every family in the land. If truth be told when, in the run-up to the election, Cameron pledged to force a referendum at the “earliest moment” he was of course indulging in the type of politics that has brought the art so low in the public view. The reality undoubtedly is that whilst he does have reservations about Brussels, he has even greater reservations about the concept of listening to public opinion. For different reasons Miliband feels much the same way.
One of the most dramatic moments of the debate came with the resignation of Philip Hollobone, an aide to David Lidington, the Europe Minister. He pointed out that the debate was the result of a public petition and said that supporting the referendum motion could help to “restore public confidence in politicians and Parliament”. He went on to say: “Heres our opportunity to show people that actually the system can work; that representative government does actually continue to function in the land where it was nurtured and developed; that patriotism, putting your country rather than your own interests first, is not foreign to this House”. He was followed by Stewart Jackson, another PPS, who also resigned, accusing Mr Cameron of “catastrophic mismanagement in terms of my party”. He in turn was followed by a large number of other Conservative MPs most of whom emphasised the importance of keeping promises conveyd by them to their constituents.
None of them were heard by the prime minister who left the House after giving his own version of things. He didnt have a good day. His analogy of helping a neighbour to put out a fire was ridiculous. Yes, one would do that but that doesnt imply that one would also allow the neighbour to impose countless rules on ones own household. But, as is often the case anything daft said by the king of spin was more than matched by Ed Miliband. He said that when the French President told the prime minister to shut up he was speaking for Britain. Mr Miliband clearly hasn’t spoken to many of what he terms ‘ordinary people’.
A new poll out today reveals that almost 75 per cent believe that the British people should have the opportunity to express a view on the EU. Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have shown total contempt for that view, clearly they hold a very low view of the people and of the democratic process.
I suspect that their view of us all is reciprocated. I thought I would never say this, but I admire the 97 Conservatives who at least demonstrated that not all MPs are simply ‘voting fodder’ and there is some point in electing representatives.
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It seems that there are a few shock-waves rolling around the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. On the face of it the senior coalition partners have every reason to feel satisfied for, despite the severest cuts to public services in our history, the Tories are still neck-and-neck with Labour. But for them a very threatening situation appears once one examines the breakdown of the projected support. In short, whilst the Tory support from men is holding firm, the opposite is true of the women.
In the latest ICM poll there was merely a modest lead for Labour amongst men (26% against 24.5% for the Tories). But amongst women at large the difference is more pronounced (27% against 21%). And when you examine the breakdown further there is a real shock. Amongst women aged 55 and over the number “dissatisfied with the way Cameron is doing his job” has leapt from 27% at the start of the year to 48%. These are election-changing figures. So what is happening?
Probably the first reaction from the Tory spin-doctors was that the prime minister’s unfortunate comments to two female MPs has turned women off. But the decline was recorded before he did that. It may be that his apology didn’t help, but the chauvanism was not the prime cause. However he was probably ill-advised to claim that he identifies with the problems women have “around the kitchen table”. His remarks sounded patronisng and unreal given that he lives in a very different world and his wife markets bags for prices greater than the average household income.
YouGov polling suggests that the huge fall in the support of women came before Cameron’s “calm down dear” moment. Yes, there may be some relationship between Cameron’s perceived attitude to women and their withdrawal of support, but he missed the point completely when he remarked that he is not “a sort of all right luv, I’ m down the pub tonight bloke”. No one thought that he goes around in a string vest, sinking pints and smoking roll-ups. It seems that many women see him as a posh boy with a default setting of condescension to the fairer sex, which he sometimes fails to hide quickly enough.
But the real issue is that the coalition is dominated by men who, not surprisigly, take a male view of what should be cut. The services hit most severely have been things affecting, primarily, women and children. And there are perceived injustices on women’s pensions . Even on announcements made to woo back the disaffected there are clear signs of masculine judgement ; to close libraries and baby clinics is fine but the policy of bin collections is the priority. That is almost certainly not how many women see it.
The truth is that the Conservative Party of today is dominated by men. Only 16% of their current MPs are women and a study by the academics Sarah Childs and Paul Webb (‘Sex, Gender and the Conservative Party”) concludes that Cameron backed away from his earlier determination to feminise the Party. This was, they say, a “major missed opportunity”. Given more women around the cabinet table it is unlikely that leaving Labour to talk about child tax credits, early learning centres and healthcare would not have happened. The latest reports showing the decimation of nursing would have been challenged for, whilst not all women are nurses, the cause resonates more clearly with them than with men. Likewise all children-directed benefits.
A few days ago I was talking to a senior Labour politician in London. I asked him if Labour can possibly win the next election. He replied yes, because by then Yvette Cooper will be the prime minister in waiting. Far fetched? Perhaps not, for she was noticeably the star at the recent Labour conference. And it was also being leaked that Ed Miliband is about to promote Emma Reynolds, Rachel Reeves, Liz Kendall and others.
We blokes of the allotment are just as guilty as Cameron of often not recognising the importance of the female view. But then we are not running the country. He is, and all the signs are that he has totally misread the importance of the female approach to issues that men dismiss so easily.
He will continue to do so at his peril for the Sarah Childs and Paul Webb study illustrates clearly the enormous impact on seats gained given a big swing in the female vote!
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MEN RULE?
Even Eric Pickles, not perhaps the greatest champion of women’s rights, was shocked to discover that civil servants have spent over £250 million on inappropriate items. In his speech to the Tory conference big Eric may well highlight, as an example, a visit to a gentlemen’s club for a ‘staff away day’. It cost the taxpayer £5000 and the ‘club’ featured ‘Amber Topaz’ and ‘Lady Beau Peep’!
We now have a roof over our heads on the allotments. Every member now has a base to stage the annual veggie competition and to gather for the sale of seeds and plants in readiness for the Spring or, in the case of greenhouse owners, for early germination. Just like the allotments featured on last night’s ‘Gardener’s World’, our community is a close knit and, usually, happy one. We particularly welcome newcomers and bombard them with advice. To avoid givng the impression that they have joined a geriatric mad-hatters tea party we hen-keepers confine that to matters agricultural. Were it otherwise we would today have been having a rant about the EU!
Whilst we are all delighted to learn of the fall of Gaddafi there are many amongst us still puzzled at our role in his downfall. Only yesterday the RAF were continuing to bombard his supporters and the loss of civilian life is mounting horrendously. And why only Libya given the situation in Syria? But we are told that Cameron has been brave. Ignoring the question as to how bravery can be achieved sitting behind a desk, we tend to ask just when he is going to show equal bravery in standing up to the EU.
Yesterday featured an outpouring of rage against the National Trust by the minister for planning, Greg Clark. The NT has had the timerity to question his claim that every village in the land must concede the right of developers to build more and more housing estates. Never mind the preservation of rural England, we desperately need millions of extra houses to cope with the rocketing population cries the minister. He misses the point that we also need more roads, hospitals and social services to cope. In truth we are a small overcrowded island near to breaking point. We simply cannot continue to allow millions of eastern Europeans to come here. The EU demand that they must be granted automatic entry will destroy not only our heritage but our infrastructure too!
Meantime, the EU has delivered another massive blow to our 4.8 million small businesses. If the present abysmal economic growth chart is ever to recover they are the people who must deliver. That becomes even less likely given the Agency Workers Directive drawn up in Brussels. This will grant temporary agency employees the same employment rights and conditions as permanent workers, including paid holiday entitlement and maternity leave. Right now the use of agencies is keeping many small employers afloat, this new law will make it impossible for them to resort to temporary staff, it will destroy them.
If the government is serious about developing a strategy for growth, it should tell the European Commission that it is suspending all directives that are harmful to job creation. But it wont because, as ministers warned yesterday, this would see us in trouble with the European Court. So Cameron et al will bend the knee and allow another nail to be hammered into the coffin of enterprise. As this blog reported yesterday, Qunago bosses are being pampered and cared for by the coalition. Our business sector is being left to the mercy of unelected big-wigs sitting in ivory palaces.
We chicken-man are far from unanimous in our scepticism about our prime minister. But we are united in one belief. Bombing Libya is not our highest national priority, resurrecting our economy and preserving our heritage most certainly are. And that means taking back the right to run our own affairs.
Come the next election the people will give little thought to Libya and a great deal of thought to the state of our nation. David Cameron is busy digging Colonel Gaddafi’s grave, in conceding the right to rule to Brussels he is also digging his own!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR A SPECIAL SUNDAY QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Albert’s hearing aid has been found. It was discovered during this morning’s cleaning-out and the clear evidence was that it ‘passed through’ one of the hens. The good news was that it was still emitting a whistling sound, the bad news being that our excitable pal then emersed it in a bucket of hot water. It is now as dead as a Dodo. Albert has asked me to mention it in the blog to enable him to present a copy to the NHS hearing aid clinic. I fear the worst for the cash-strapped service is struggling to cope with the Lansley cuts and is unlikely to be swayed by such a bizaare explanation. The odds are that the God of hearing aids will ignore the fact that one of her colleagues lost hers down the loo, and will cry do as we say, not as we do!
If so she will be in noble company. Over the past few days a series of politicians including Messrs Cameron, Gove, Pimm and Miliband have lined up to condemn the public sector workers planning a mass walk-out in defence of their pensions. Given that many of them are in line for no more thn £6000 per year it is hard not to sympathise, particularly in the light of the responsible and stressful jobs they carry out. But the fact remains that unless something is done the pension pot will run out in the years ahead given the change in demography. Unless Lansley’s plan for the NHS succeeds in reversing the trend to live longer we are heading for a black-hole big enough to swallow the lot of us. And we are all in this together!
Wrong! Perhaps few realise that the one group of public servants immune from pension cuts are our parliamentarians. On Monday’s Newsnight, Conservative Nick Boles affected a reasonable tone ahead of tomorrow’s strikes. He wondered aloud to Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers whether anyone else got as good a deal as teachers, asking “is there anybody out there who gets 13.5% from their employer?”.
Had Ms Bousted been properly briefed she could have answered look in the mirror. In 2009 the government actuaries deemed it required a taxpayer contribution of not 13.5% but 31.6% for the largesse dished out to our politicians. There have been tweeks since but costs are still at 20%. Without digging into the detail – partly because I find it hard to fathom – I can headline it by confirming that just 20 years service at Westminster secures an index-linked retirement income of half final pay. Set lump sums aside and MPs are clocking up rights at twice the rate of teachers!
And that is far from all. If an MP falls ill he or she need not worry about hard-faced men from healthcare company Atos refusing incapacity benefits. He or she must merely satisfy fellow MPs, who serve as trustees, that they are no longer up to lolling on the green benches. He or she will then get full pension at once – topped up on the assumption that the voters would have continued to elect him or her until they reached the age of 65.
Even more generous than the parliamentary scheme is the provision for the premiership, speakership and lord chancellorship. Just one days service in any of these offices affords an immediate whole-life annuity, worth several million to people in middle-age.
There have been various promises of reform but the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority says it can do nothing until the leader of the Commons commences powers legislated for before the election but not yet “switched on”. In any case, it says, it will take much time to collate evidence and consult with MPs. You can bet your life on that!
This really sums up the greatest frustration felt by all those being hit by cuts of various kinds. If we were really all in the same boat it would at least seem fair. But we all know that the rich and corporate are evading tax to the tune of £120 billion. Now we know that the very people who fail to tackle that iniquity are also keeping generous pensions whilst lecturing teachers, nurses etc about the need for change.
The Westminster brigade should be thankful that we Brits are different to the Greeks. Riot? Nah, we are too busy wondering if Murray can really make it this time!
TODAY’S NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1. Which John married actress Sheila Hancock? 2. Which pre-decimal coin had the value of two shillings? 3. Which group revived a previous hit in the 90s with the help of Roy “Chubby” Brown? 4. Which TV presenter’s shows have had Toothbrush and Breakfast in their titles? 5. Were the Olympic games last held in Russia in 1960, 1980 or 1988? 6. Who is Popeye’s rival ? 7. Was Sir Walter Scott Scottish? 8. Which English soccer side was managed by the late Bob Paisley? 9. What is the main language in Brazil? 10. Which Macaulay starred in the cartoon and live action film “The Pagemaster”?
No need to remember my radio this morning for the Test Match is over. Throughout the duration of every game Test Match Special is a must, and even those unenlightened souls who are not obsessed by cricket enjoy listening to the mixture of commentary, anecdotes, stories of cakes and occasional gaffes. Of course the greatest of the latter was Brian Johnston’s reaction to Agger’s immortal line about Ian Botham ‘ failing to get his leg over’. On Tuesday it was once again the blushing Aggers who triggered convulsions. Whilst watching pictures of Kevin Pieterson adjusting his bat handle, Aggers remarked that “It’s not easy putting a rubber on, is it Michael”. With Phil Tufnell alongside Michael Vaughan it was no surprise that once again convulsive laughter stopped play.
On the allotment we all enjoyed that. Come to think about it we’ve enjoyed much of what we’ve heard on the news recently. In fact we have decided to run a sweepstake on the number of about-turns performed by Agger’s fellow Etonian, the prime minister. I’ve drawn 8. The calculation ends on Novbember 1st and I reckon that I’m in with a chance. Of course agreeing what is or isn’t an about-turn can be difficult but we have unanimity on 5 so far.
The fifth emerged yesterday when Justice Secretary, snoozer Clarke, was forced by Number 10 to abandon a plan to give rapists, and other serious offenders, a 50% discount in return for early guilty pleas. Just weeks ago Kenneth Clarke announced that the policy was agreed but Andrew Cooper, the new PR guru in place of the departed former editor of the News of the World, advised Cameron that the Tory brand was being damaged.
Just days earlier Cameron, under pressure from Clegg, in effect dismantled Lansley’s NHS plans which now face rewriting and resubmission to parliament. A few weeks ago the Caroline Spelman plan to sell off the forests met a similar fate, as did the plans announced to make anyone unemployed for more than twelve months lose 10% of their housing benefit. And then there was Cameron’s conversion to interventionalism in foreign civll wars.
Working for this prime minister must in some ways be worse that serving under Grumpy Gordon. He used to decide everything, Cameron leaves his team to dream their dreams and to announce them. He then has private polls of public opinion carried out and, probably, reads the Rupert Murdoch line before deciding whether to step in and stop the whole shebang. You could reasonably say that he makes more screaming U-turns than a getaway driver without a satnav!
The amazing thing is that Ed Miliband seems incapable of even scoring a point as one ministerial humiliation follows another. In the House yesterday the two bickered and threw insults but one was left worrying at the thought of either of them being in charge of a town hall, let alone a country.
But there is a mounting opposition to the saga and it rests on the Conservative backbenches. Several broke cover yesterday in defence of their right wing heroes such as Clarke and Lansley. But the protests could become politically dangerous should the Conservatives begin to reap some of the blame for what is happening. Fortunately for the PM that is not likely so long as the human punchbag called Nick is happy to take the punishment.
My own view is that ‘Dave’ should carry on having his ministers dangle off the gangplank. Just three more and I could be fifty quid in pocket. Should be easy for him for practice makes perfect!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1. Its star’s John Challis (Boycie) 2. Philadelphia 3. Hilary 4. Dolly and Cissy 5. Eddie Brown’s 6. Darrin Stephens (Bewitched) 7. North Tanton 8. Paul Shane 9. Mrs Polouvicka 10. Bernard Hedges
A howling gale, no sign of Albert’s missing hearing aid, and the great escape by four hens all combined to take the level of grumpiness to new heights this morning. Only the fact that Lady Gaga’s new recordings are due out tomorrow saved the day for the King of Grumps is addicted to the music from planet Mars. For the rest of us this afternoon’s Premiership play-offs offer some diversion although we fear the worst for our heroes from Blackpool.
On days like this the flak directed toward whoever happens to be in government is considerable, and it has to be said that there is considerable scope for ire. The problem with the British political system is that the prime minister is forced to select his ministerial team from elected MPs which makes the choice rather limited, given that most of them have never run anything more testing than a raffle. By my reckoning David Cameron is sitting on five dud eggs and he must yearn for the chance to have a clear-out. But a coalition presents real problems in this regard.
The other problem is that the prime minister decided at the outset to practice the art of delegation. As a former chief executive I could have warned him that this can be a dangerous practice. The theory, as expounded in a thousand management textbooks, is fine but it is based on the assumption that the entire team is comprised of geniuses in the making. Any team selected from a pack of carpet-baggers, PR twerps and good-for-nothings is likely to include some real buffoons in the making and the present cabinet certainly does.
Ken Clarke headed the list even before this week’s ludicrous statement on rape and the idea of slashing prison sentences at a time when over 60 per cent of the population believes that they are already too soft. Next comes Andrew Lansley whose handling of the NHS has reached the point where Number Ten has been obliged to take the project over. Chris Huhne is close behind, having followed up his attack on the government of which he is a part by lurching toward a major scandal involving an allegation that he asked his wife to take speeding points for him.
Uncle Vince Cable will certainly be on Cameron’s secret sacking list, having been caught talking on tape about using his “nuclear” option of resigning and then performing more U-turns than a Brands Hatch driver. And then there is the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, who triggered national uproar with her proposal to sell off the nation’s forests without even consulting her leader.
David Cameron likes to talk about the ‘Big Society’, about our all being in this together. He would be well advised to try an experiment. Why not bring in Ministers who are not politicians but who have proven expertise in their specialist fields. Of course the political classes would object, turkeys never vote for Christmas. But at least he could then lead in the way he desires, by setting objectives and letting ministers get on with implementation.
Had he, for example, appointed one of the really successful front-line executives in the NHS they would have come up with improvements but ones that are possible and make sense. In every field there are experts who have been there and done it, people like Lansley and the others have no knowledge, no experience and no residue of goodwill to call on.
Certain it is that a cabinet reshuffle is overdue. If Cameron persists with this bunch of idiots or nincompoops he has no chance of winning the next election. Of course, should he lose, the Opposition will take over and bring back from the dead their own no-hopers such as those who paid out millions to private companies for NHS work that they didn’t perform. Unless someone breaks this ludicrous vicious circle we will continue to be the world’s greatest example of incompetence in motion.
I believe that Cameron has it in him to try something new along these lines. The worry would be that, given his penchant for delegation, he might invite Nick Clegg to organise it. Frying pans and fires come to mind!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. Groove between nose and lip 2. 1940s 3. Architecture 4. Joseph Black 5. Benjamin Britten 6. Ian Woosnam 7. Russia 8. Family Plot 9. Sri Lanka 10. Flushing Meadow, New York
The weather continues to make life a pleasant experience, and as we worked in our shirtsleeves this morning it was hard to imagine that just a few months ago we were on the same piece of ground looking very much like Scott of the Antarctic. But we were not in fancy dress, an adventure reserved for Saturday evening when the ‘Allotment Striders’ took part in a ‘Walk in the Dark’ in aid of the Rosemere Cancer Foundation.
Unfortunately my right knee is at present about as useful as a boil on a boundary rider’s bum, so I had to be content with cheering the others on as they set off together with several hundred others. I have never seen Albert and his wife wearing Spok ears before but when it comes to fighting cancer my old pal will do absolutely anything to help raise a few quid.
It was a 14 mile walk and I gather that the participants reached their beds no earlier that 2.00am, which posssibly explains why we haven’t seen Albert on the allotments for the past two mornings. Or perhaps he is still in one of the pubs which kindly provided facilities en route. In fact the level of support from the community was tremendous, even the local rugby team turned out to ensure that there were no incidents involving the drunks preparing for their regular visits to the A & E Departments. Since the popularity of Cameron amongst the mass seemed equivalent to that of Gadaffi they probably hadn’t realised that they were providing the perfect example of his Big Society!
There are few more devastating words that ‘I’m sorry to tell you that you have cancer’. Many talk of the initial feeling of despair and why me. But one in three of us will experience that dark night of the soul. The good news is that researchers are beginning to make significant breakthroughs and the development of high-tech equipment is providing clinicians with the tools that they have long yearned for. The result is that recovery rates are at an all time high.
But there is still a mountain to climb and the huge cuts being made to NHS funding by the coalition are making it even steeper. Rosemere has a small central staff supported by an army of volunteers who give vast amounts of time to running every possible kind of event to raise cash. If the clinicians on its management committee ask for anything they get it. Sometimes it is kit not yet available via the NHS, sometimes facilities needed to make the stay of the patient in hospital a less stressful one. Last week the charity furnished and opened a house at Blackpool Victoria hospital aimed at providing accomodation for relatives whose presence makes an enormous difference to someone confined to his or her bed. Next week it will be a piece of kit required for pre-op patients, the list goes on and on.
There are many similar charities across the UK and one can only speculate as to the collective effort, one that is beginning to make a big difference in cancer fighting. But raising cash right now is not easy and a project valued at £800,000 will involve a huge commitment by thousands. And this is where thoughts turn to ventures such as Libya.
Each missile fired by the RAF costs a minimum of £800,000. Most military strategists believe that the only possible outcome in that tortured land is a stalemate. Only Britain and France are firing these astronomically expensive weapons of destruction and only they are picking up the bill. Just imagine the impact on the fight against cancer were the cost of even a half dozen missiles to be saved and made available.
Of course it won’t happen and it is perhaps best not to even think about it. But one hopes that someone up there is considering the implications of being world policemen when we can’t even afford our own, and the only hope for cancer victims rests with voluntary efforts, magnificent though these be.
The UN resolution is aimed only at protecting civilians from the ghastly Gadaffi. Doing this from the air is clearly difficult and one wonders why we would continue the attacks once the regime’s tanks have been put out of action. Remember that even the missile that killed many ‘rebel troops’ cost £800,000!
Anyone with experience of cancer will know that real progress is being made. But they will also know that further progress will be dependent on the amounts raised. The rates of cancer in the ‘developed’ countries exceed all others and it is they who must decide on their priorities. Right now they favour intervention in wars that are really not their responsibility.
How many more cancer victims must we mourn before politicians pay at least lip service to the only war worth fighting?
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; THEATRE; “Comedy is love and a bit with a dog. That is what people want”….Tom Stoppard “The play was a great success but the audience was a total failure”….Oscar Wilde “I saw that play under adverse conditions. The curtain was up”…..Robert Benchley “Shakespeare is fantastic. And to think he wrote it all with a feather”…..Sam Goldwyn “He directed with all the airy deftness of a rheumatic deacon producing Macbeth for a church social”……Noel Coward “In the theatre I’m playing , there’s a hole in the wall between the ladies dressing room and mine. I’ve been meaning to plug it up, but what the hell – let them enjoy themselves”….George Burns
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Nick Crane 2. For his travels in Tibet, China, Afghanistan and Africa.
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What was the BH-7 being tested by the Royal Navy in 1971? 2. Which transplant ‘first’ was achieved in Munich in 1970; a) Heart b) nerve or c) Brain?
Another lovely morning, the sight of the sun turning the sparkling yellow of the forsythia into a seeming mass of gold was quite something. Thanks to Professor Brian Cox, the new Beeb megastar, we now realise that our sun is a mere speck in the cosmos but that hasn’t diminished our delight when it works it’s wonders. Even Albert was happier in its glow, so much so that he stopped banging on about the England cricketers and turned to a less emotive subject, the forthcoming referendum on an Alternative Vote system.
I had to confess that it makes no sense to me. It represents the concession Cameron made to Clegg, but given that few are likely to support the Lib Dems anytime soon it is hard to fathom how even they benefit. There are full page ads in some of today’s papers and the explanation takes up many a column inch. Confusing to say the least. Less confusing but rather ominous is the news that one of the major sponsors of the Yes campaign is the company that will make a fortune out of the supply of the complex hi-tech equipment required to run an election under AV!
I have always seen sense in Proportional Representation(PR) which would allow all the national votes garnered by a minority party and allocate seats accordingly. But, it seems to me, an Alternative Vote system achieves no such thing. It means that I, an ardent member of party X, have to nominate a second choice and so on. But if I am ideologically ardent about party X, I almost certainly won’t have a second choice. Rather than go down that route I would probably place the main rival to party X at the bottom of the list and opt for those least likely to provide a threat. The result could be that people like Ukip, BNP, or the Monster Raving Party suddenly appear to have far more support than they really have. And the option of tactical voting is already present in our longstanding ‘first-past-the post’ arrangement. If, for example you are a Labour voter in a Conservative safe seat you can decide to vote for their LIb Dem challenger. Not a good example since Calamity Clegg has turned the Lib Dems into a Conservative subsidiary but I’m sure you know what I mean.
Short of full PR the present system strikes me as the best available. When we have a flutter on the National we know perfectly well that the reward for the horse coming second will be, er, second best. A system whereby all the bets placed on the top four were reapportioned could possibly see the winning spoils going to other than the first past the post. It sounds ludicrous to me. As does the cost of staging a referendum on anything other than a straight choice between the present system and PR.
Maybe I am missing something here. If so I am sure you will tell me. But if I am confused I am not alone for all of the major parties are split down the middle on this.
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY: “Never go abroad. It’s a dreadful place”…..Earl of Cardigan “They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind”…..G K Chesterton “I wouldn’t mind seeing China if I could come back the same day”…..Philip Larkin “A passport picture is a photo of a man that he can laugh at without realising that it looks exactly the way his friends see him”……Phyllis Diller “Why is it called the tourist season if we can’t shoot them?”….George Carlin “The wife and I have been arguing about where to go on our holidays. I want to go to Tenerife and she wants to come with me”…..Roy Chubby Brown “They’ve started giving passports to animals now. My cat has a passport. Do you know how that makes Mohammad Al Fayed feel?”……Jeff Green “To be a Frenchman abroad is to be miserable. To be an American abroad is to make other people miserable”……Ambrose Bierce “I hate views. They are only made for bad painters”…..Oscar Wilde
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Margaret Drabble 2. Canada ( Montreal)
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which country did Picasso die? 2. Where was Governor Richard Sharples murdered?
On such a beautiful morning it is hard to understand depression. But our allotment gang has come to understand the insidious condition well since one of our members has fallen victim to the dark night of the soul. Of course we all get low from time to time, but we have learned that ‘black-dog’ in its worst form is different. Sometimes it can be due to chemical imbalance, sometimes the result of battling on through nervous exhaustion. But it is not, as Geoffrey Boycott yesterday inferred when talking about the departure of Michael Yardy from the cricket World Cup, simply proof that the victim is ‘not good enough’. For heavens sake, we thought that this type of ignorance had long gone. What victims need above all else is an acceptence on the part of their family and friends that depression is simply an illness and no more deserves stupid stigmatisation than cancer or any other condition. The very fact that we openly discuss the problem in an everyday setting has helped our pal enormously. He now wears a cap emblazoned ‘Stuff Depression’, a sure sign that his old humour is returning.
If it hadn’t been for Boycott’s stupidity we would all have been tickled by the latest Clegg fiasco. Around the Commons he carries the nickname ‘Calamity’ and it is not hard to understand why. Yesterday he forgot to switch off his mic and was heard to tell Cameron that “if we keep doing this, we won’t find anything to bloody disagree about on in the bloody TV debates”. It summed up perfectly the hole into which he has dug himself and his party. Clegg does not appear to be a man blessed with an excess of self understanding and he has never come to terms with the concept of a coalition of differing views, preferring instead to simply support Cameron in whatever lunacy (viewed from a Lib Dem viewpoint) he may be engaged. Indeed Labour has already signalled that it will not enter a debate with both Clegg and Cameron since they are in effect one party.
All this is happening against a background of a collapsing economy and draconian cuts. Yesterday I heard of a respite service for severely disabled children being axed for want of £8000. Undoubtedly every community in the land has similar tales to tell whilst they read of our now facing a further massive payout to bankroll Portugal. The polls suggest that the effect is poliarisation. Those who voted Lib Dem now see them as irrelevant and are pondering the best alternative.
Without doubt some will return to their Tory roots. But will Labour gather in the major benefit? Many Lib Dem voters were people dissilusioned with the ‘New’ added to Labour’s brand by Blair. They were unable to detect any real difference between the traditional persecutors and defenders of the poor and vulnerable. To win them over Ed Miliband has to move to the left to disassociate himself from the City crowd. But if he moves too far the possibility is that he will find himself lined up beside the dinosaurs that still inhabit parts of the trades union movement. Indeed, even tomorrow when he attends the London protests he would be well advised to sit clear of the more extreme. People are in distress but they want fairness not revolution.
Over the past few weeks Miliband has certainly won over many in the House. He outdid Cameron in prime minister’s questions on the subject of the NHS, was sustained in his response to Libya, and wasn’t upturned in his response to the Budget on Wednesday. Cameron is now finding it harder to bully him or to rattle via personalised attacks.
But he has some way to go before he is perceived by the public as the people’s champion. Some say that he is too honest for his own good. That may be a handicap in the world of spin but he has stuck to his guns by sticking to his description of the “squeezed middle”, which all the presentation experts advised him against. Clearly he believes in it and shows all the signs of growing into the first senior politician of principle that we have seen for very long time.
The May elections will give a better indication of just who are the inheritors of Clegg’s blown opportunity. You could safely bet your mortgage on the death of the Lib Dems who are now seen as Conservatives. The worry is that their death may lead to inheritors such as Ukip and the BNP or, more likely, turnouts at a new low.
One thing is sure. If by any chance a new coalition is called for come the next general election, Ed Miliband will treat Nick Clegg with even more caution than the born-again Union barons!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; COUNTRIES “I find it hard to offer an opinion on New Zealand because when I was there it seemed to be shut”……Clement Freud “New Zealand is a country of thirty thousand sheep, three million of whom think they’re human”…..Barry Humphries “The way I understand it the Russians are a sort of combination of incompetence and evil – sort of like the Post Office with tanks”……Emo Philips “A Scotsman is a man who, before sending his pyjamas to the laundry, stuffs a sock in each pocket”…..Ambrose Bierce “In Britain, a dog is for Christmas. In Korea, it could be for breakfast, dinner or lunch”…..Anon “Wales is a country where Sunday starts early, and lasts several years”…..Peg Bracken “The Welsh are always so pleased with themselves. I’ve never taken to them. What are they for ?”….Anne Robinson “Sweden is where they commit suicide and the King rides a bicycle”….Alan Bennett ”India; done the elephants, done the poverty”….Phil Tufnell “What I look forward to most on returning from India is a dry fart”….Phil Edmunds “The Irish are a race of people who don’t know what they want and are prepared to fight to the death to get it”……Sidney Littlewood. “There’ll always be an England, even if it’s in Hollywood”….Bob Hope “Boasting about modesty is typical of the English”….George Bernard Shaw “An Englishman’s ultimate ambition is to get a railway compartment to himself” …..Ian Hay “If I were God and were trying to create a nation that woulkd get up the nostril of the Englishman, I would create the French”….Julian Barnes
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Two 2. Astronomy
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What was ‘Blue Streak’ on which Britain stopped work in the 70s; a jet fighter, a rocket or a superfast car? 2.What happened to the three-man crew of the 1971 ‘Soyuz’ 11′ flight?
The daffodils are out and the Bluebells under the trees are preparing to join them. The snowdrops are everywhere and the birds are scavenging for moss as their thoughts too turn to the Spring. In fact morale on the allotments should be high for the worst excesses of winter are over and more and more members are returning to their plots. Sadly there is a constant shadow cast by members who have grandsons, or in one case sons, in Afghanistan. Two of them are themselves ex-army men and the term armchair generals is in regular usage. In fact it reached its peak when Cameron’s warlike stance on Libya coincided with news of yet more cuts to our armed forces. And today we learn that more redundancy notices are on their way, the long-awaited armoured vehicles are to be cancelled as is the fleetof Reaper and Predator unmanned drones that spy on and attack insurgents.
Military experts are calling for a halt to the programme of cuts before it is too late They point out that the only reason HMS Cumberland was able to help rescue British citizens was that it was on its way home to be scrapped. Our one remaining aircraft carrier is now at Portsmouth awaiting the same fate and our Harrier force awaits a similar fate. Yet even the oldest of the prematurely retired GR77 and GR9 Harriers have only used a third of their planned airframe hours.
What it all boils down to is the stark fact that our troops are now exposed to mortal danger and the defence of the realm is now dependent on the support of the French and American governments. One imagines that the tranquility of Bladon churchyard is disturbed by the sound of Winston Churchill turning in his grave!
For he not only understood a great deal about military strategy, he had experienced the sound of shots fired in anger. But like Blair and Thatcher before him, David Cameron has never served or experienced the consequences of decisions made by armchair generals. Would Thatcher have been quite so quick to pack off her Task force to the Falklands if she had ever witnessed a ship and its crew on fire? Would Blair have been quite so gung ho about invading Iraq if he had actually seen what just one smart bomb can do to a village community?
And now we have Cameron – another donkey eager to send lions into battle for a cause that has nothing to do with us, and for which we no longer have the military strength. Fortunately no other world leader took his posturing over Libya seriously and hopefully he now realises that playing politics with the lives of servicemen is immoral.
For generations our prime ministers have sent young men and women off to fight and kill and die. Many have returned in coffins, many dreadfully burned, many severely wounded in body or mind. Many who returned have faced an uncertain future as the armchair generals tear up the promises to employ or help them. Toy soldiers like Thatcher, Blair and Cameron have abused their bravery, casually thrown away their lives, all for the sake of their own preening vanity.
Of course there was no alternative in 1939 when these Islands face imminent danger. But that was then, now we have few planes, ships or troops. But we are not facing danger from without and Cameron should stop playing politics without understanding the awful outcome of what he does!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” A man without a woman is like a neck without a pain”….W C Fields “The more I see of men the more I admire dogs”……Marie de Rabutin-Chantal “A man in the house is worth two in the street”….Mae West “I once had a large gay following, but I ducked into an alleyway and lost him”……Emo Philips ” I remember when outing meant a family picnic”…..Rodney Dangerfield “” I was dating a younger man. I asked him where he was when Elvis died. He said he was in amniotic fluid”……Robin Roberts ” Cleanliness is next to impossible”…..Audrey Austin “Alimony is the screwing you get for the screwing you got”….Jim Davidson ” My best friend ran off with my wife, and let me tell you, I really miss him”….Henny Youngman ”Bagpipes are the missing link between music and noise”…..E K Krugar
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Wimbledon 2 Virginia Wade (1977)
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What kind of animal is a Kermit? 2. Was Gilbert O’Sullivan American, British, or Irish? What song gave him his first big hit?
Several of us went to a night out at a place called Rivington Barn last night. It was a superb do held on behalf of the Rosemere Cancer Foundation, and organised by a group of wonderful ladies who rejoice in the name of the Adlington Witches. Thanks to their toilless efforts the attendance was massive, the local world and his wife were there. If Mr Cameron really wants to understand community involvement he should ask Marina, Kath, Carol or Marje. Some have experienced cancer and they are fighting back big time.
Of course the flip side was that we were somewhat bleary-eyed when we turned up late to let the hens out and to continue repairs on what looks like a scene from the Blitz. When Albert hit his thumb with the hammer the air turned blue and I am not referring to the Conservative Party. That is not a safe talking point right now for even the staunch lifetime Tories amongst us are upset and muttering about a new poll tax moment. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the forests have suddenly become the biggest challenge facing the coalition.
A few days ago I pondered on this strange development. The treasury has confirmed that the sale of all the state-owned forests and woodlands will result in a financial loss so we can dismiss the idea that it is part of the deficit reduction plan. So why on earth did the cabinet agree to launch such a controversial idea at a time when it will have more than enough hostility to contend with over spending cuts? Yesterday we were given an answer by Julian Lewis, the Tory MP for New Forest East. He said that the wheeze was dreamed up by “those unelected advisers, those bright sparks, who thought up this rubbish about privatising forests”. he had plenty of support. Zac Goldsmith, who headed up David Cameron’s environmental policy group when in opposition, said that the proposals “went too far” and he had no idea why anyone thought it sensibel to “be so radical”. Caroline Nokes, one of the Tory MPs in the New Forest, said she was all for shrinking the state but this was ” too big and too much”. In fact a whole number of Conservative leading lights made clear yesterday that they will vote against the government on this, and most admitted that the idea dreamed up by advisers should never have seen the light of day. There is certainly no financial or political advantage to it.
On Friday night we had the first indication that this may be one of those rare issues that brings the usually apathetic British public on to the streets. Junior Minister Mark Harper is the Tory MP for the Forest of Dean. He called a public meeting to explain the supposed benefits of privatisation and the meeting had to be abandoned in uproar. He was pelted with eggs and had to be rescued by police who drove him away in a van. And these were not idealistic students aided and abetted by anarchists, they were typical middle class, middle age, Tory voters. And right across the country similar attitudes are emerging.
On Thursday the government fielded immigration minister Damian Green on the BBC Question Time programme. He seemed bemused by the verbal onslaught over forests and when challenged to give one good reason why the privatisation should go ahead, simply floundered and waved his hands in the air. He understandably couldn’t come up with any justification for spending taxpayers money on what would be the biggest change in land ownership since the Second World War.
The petition being gathered By ’38 Degrees’ on its website is now at the 500,000 mark and climbing. There are clear signs everywhere that this proposal is uniting people right across political colours. There is still time for David Cameron, who clearly had no hand in the plan and assumed it to be a minor issue, to pull the plug on it. But if he continues to identify himself with it and refuses to budge, this could well be his equivalent to Thatcher’s poll tax moment. And even the poll tax had some apparent reason for its creation, forests have none.
Certain it is the straws at which he is clutching will not keep him aloft. In desperation Ministers yesterday said that some of the forests could be sold to the National Trust. Immediately Dame Fiona Reynolds announced that the government had made “no attempt” to talk to the Trust and that to handle such an undertaking would require huge funding.
If this humble ferret-breeder might presume to offer advice to a prime minister it would be pull out now. To many people’s surprise the coalition has touched the nerve of public opinion that triggers massive reaction. All that lies at the end of this road is defeat and humiliation. That possibility may have to be faced on major financial issues, but to fall on his sword over something that even he probably thinks is mistaken is ludicrous.
And this time he cannot hope to let his sidekick, Clegg, take the blame for yesterday the majority of Lib Dem MPs, most of whom have forests in their areas, also signed the petition!
A BAD DAY FOR CRICKET!
The future of international cricket is in the balance. If fans come to believe that match-fixing is prevalent will they pay good money to watch games, the outcome of which has already been decided? No they won’t!
And what is the International Cricket Council doing to stamp out the cancer in the midst of a wonderful game? Not a lot! Yesterday, lenient sentences were handed out to the three Pakistan players found guilty of fixing matches during last year,s tour of this country. But Asif, Amir and Butt could be back playing Test cricket in four years time. Everyone knows that they are simply the tip of a rotten iceberg but the many others possibly behaving in the same way may well conclude that a four year ban is better than trouble with the betting gangs.
Incredibly the authorities have failed to act on a number of other exposures. One such involved the alleged fixing of the match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A Pakistan player told a former player of fixing and the latter telephoned the authorities hotline with details. That was four months ago and he has yet to even receive an acknowledgement.
Time and again the ICC lifts the lid, hands out token punishment and closes it again. If this goes on the game won’t!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” If I owned both Texas and Hell, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell”….Philip Sheridan “If an Englishman gets run down by a truck he apologises to the truck”….Jackie Mason ”The English have an extraordinary ability to fly into a great calm”….Alexander Woolcott “The Englishman has all the qualities of a poker, except it’s occasional warmth”….Daniel O’Connell “I like the English. They have the most rigid code of immorality in the world”…Malcolm Bradbury “It is no longer true that continentals have sex lives whilst the English have hot-water bottles. Now the English have electric blankets”….George Mikes “A genius is a man who can rewrap a shirt and have no pins left over”….Dino Levi ”Between me and Rudyard Kipling we cover all knowledge, he knows all that can be known, and I know the rest”…..Mark Twain “I cannot tell whether genius is hereditary because God has granted me no offspring”….James McNeill Whistler “What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid on my carpet”….Woody Allen “Philosophy is to the real world as masturbation is to sex”…Karl Marx.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. John Ford 2. Film Actress
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. For what was John Cranko (died 1973) famous? 2. She wrote ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ and died in 1973. Who ws she?
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?
“I’ll bet Abramovich has never done this” muttered Albert as we dug in the hen litter, a task that vies with setting mousetraps as my most dreaded, this morning. I’m sure he’s right, but then again neither would I if I had enough cash to pay fifty million for a lack-lustre footballer without even missing it. Clearly the Russian mantra of all men being equal wasn’t quite as inclusive as we used to believe in those heady days of the Daily Worker. It may be irrational but the news of the soccer largesse has made us even more cynical about our impending ’Big Society’.
A few days ago I mused on the plan for the Big S to take over libraries and run them with volunteers. I doubted the availability of literate volunteers with no need of income and a willingness to spend months learning the knack, before settling into several days per week full time employment without so much as a thought of financial reward. Several local fans of the Cameron big wheeze contacted me to point out that there is now a dynamic young Big Society Zsar who is more than happy to devote his life to leading us toward the promised land, in which we are not only all equal but ask nothing other than to serve others and, in some cases, library books.
I must confess to being taken aback by this news for the appointment of the Zsar had escaped me. I learned that Mr Cameron, the greatest Zsar of them all, had promoted to be a Lord a 34 year old former management consultant to be known henceforth as Lord Wei of Shoreditch. That didn’t sound the best of starts for the new age of all being equal, but at least the man was happy to work for nothing for three days per week on teaching us all the joys of voluntary near-full-time work.
Up until today I hadn’t read anything in the press about the new star Zsar so it was something of a surprise to read this morning that he has had to announce a reduction of 33 per cent in his hours. It seems that, unlike his benefactor, he is not a millionaire and has realised that he must allocate more time to “earn money” and to ”have more of a life”. We are told that, sadly, Lord Wei does not have “a private income”. Which seems to suggest that the army of near full-time voluteers will need to have one. Now that narrows the size of the new army somewhat doesn’t it!
All of which prompted me to look up Lord Wei’s terms of reference. He was to focus on “freeing people from the daily grind to give them more time to do voluntary work and involve themselves in running their communities”. Perhaps that explains the ever increasing number of redundancies amongst skilled public sector workers? However I did learn something else. Whitehall sources say that when he was invited to take up the post the new Lord imagined it to be salaried. Now he has concluded that working for free for most of each week is incompatible with ‘having a life’.
But the Big S top stars – which really means Cameron plus those who dare not cross him – point to the fact that they now have another new star Zsar. Lord Tarzan Haseltine is an unpaid advisor. So now we have the real specification for the new age volunteers. They need to be long-retired, and in possession of rather a lot of the readies!
Give us a break Mr Cameron. Many of us are tiring of all this hogwash at a rate faster than Torres is ever likely to run for his new Russian master!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “All the world’s a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed”…..Sean O’Casey “The world is like a safe to which there is a combination – but the combination is locked up in the safe”….Peter de Vries “The quietest place in the world is the complaints department at the parachute packing department”…..Jackie Martling “We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artifical flavours and furniture polish is made from real lemons”…..Alfred Newman “Life is full of misery, loneliness, unhappiness and suffering, and it’s over much too soon”….Woody Allen “Life is good and bad. Mostly and”….Diogenes “If life was fair Elvis would be alive today and all the impersonators dead”….Johnny Carson “Life is generally something that happens elsewhere”…Alan Bennett “Life is like a dog-sled team. If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes”….Lewis Grizzard “On the keyboard of life always keep a finger on the escape key”…..Scott Adams “He was an interesting character, Hadrian. He had a wife and a husband. And he built this enormous wall. I’d never thought of him before as a gay bricklayer”….Billy Connolly “I think Hitler had a fatal flaw. If I invented my own superior race I’d want them to look like me, or worse”….Buzz Nutley. “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?……Tony Hancock
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Australia 2. Toc H
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which country was ruled over by Papa Doc Duvalier? 2. Bebe Daniels died in 1971; what was the name of her husband and showbiz partner?