Posts Tagged ‘Churchill’
I resumed hen-cleaning this morning. The advice to take things easy has been overwhelmed by the feeling of guilt induced by others having to do my work, and I have never found the experience of taking it easy a pleasant way to live. Eighty years-old bodies are rather like old cars, once you repair one component another quickly falters so as long as the old ticker ticks I shall follow Churchill’s advice to ‘keep buggaring on’.
Enough of me, for the airwaves are as usual buzzing with news. Today’s papers are awash with it with three subjects leading the field. Understandably the sudden death of David Frost has triggered many memories of a vey gifted man. Syria also accounts for a lot of column inches, A part of us yearns to ride to the rescue of the oppressed and battered, another part recognises that anything we do, short of putting “boots on the ground”, will only serve to make a desperate situation even worse. By way of light relief the world record fee for Gareth Bale has shown that the world of football has finally taken leave of its senses. People around the globe may be starving, but here we have over £80 million being coughed up for a bloke to kick a ball around!
But what really worries us codgers is the fading from the headlines of the subject of global warming. It suits those with vested interests that it should be this way, but the reality is that long after the Syrian crisis has been resolved and Golden-Boots has retired with wonky knees the effect of what we are doing to the environment will be looming ever larger.
There is no serious argument within climate science about the link between carbon dioxide levels and temperature. Between 1970 and 1998 the planet warmed at an average of 0.17C per decade, and from 1998 to 2012 at 0.04C. The apparent slow-down has given succour to the greatest polluters on earth, but scientists are establishing evidence that considerable heat has been absorbed by the sea. This is hardly good news: atmosphere and ocean play on each other, and any stored heat is likely to be returned to the atmosphere sooner or later, in unpredictable ways.
Twelve of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000; the last two years have been marked by catastrophic floods in Australia and record-breaking temperatures in America; and the loss of north polar ice has accelerated at such a rate that climate modellers expect the Arctic Ocean to be ice-free in 2040.
The other message is that more warming is on the way. This is because the planet has still to experience the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions of 20 years ago or more. Just as the gas flame under a kettle takes a few minutes to warm the water, so the additional energy put into the atmosphere takes a decade or two to make itself felt.
Eminent scientists warn that if the world goes on burning coal, oil and gas at ever-increasing rates then by the second half of the century continents could move to a new climate regime in which the coldest summer months will be substantially hotter than the hottest experienced today, and large areas of the planet will be under water.
Many do not wish to even know this, others simply shrug. We admit to a bit of shrugging, it is only human to dismiss any potential disaster if its forecast arrival is long after ones own lifespan. But we must remember that our grandchildren will inherit the nightmare we have created.
As with many things we all care about this but feel almost totally unable to do anything. Given the sudden outburst of democracy both here and in America perhaps our politicians might care to consult others instead of blindly pursuing suicidal energy policies?
When it comes to global warming world leaders are merely rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all;. The conscientious historian will correct these defects!” – Herodotus
Overcast but warm as we trooped on to the allotments this morning. No need for sunhats and a good deal of grizzling since the weathermen have promised a return of the monsoons. The optimists amongst us believe that another summer like this will be another century in arrival. The realists, having yesterday seen TV evidence that the ice-caps are melting at record rates, fear that this year is the new norm. Whoopie!
But for today at least we are cheerful, for tonight will bring yet more Paralympic thrills. When the Paralympics opened we viewed the event as a poor-relation postcript to the Olympics. We expected to be inspired by brave and determined competitors, we didn’t expect to be thrilled by sporting excellence. Many of the events featuring such as Jonnie Peacock, David Weir and Ellie Simmonds have been every bit as exciting as the able-bodied contests.
Without doubt the Paralympics have been an overwhelming success. The messages are all-powerful, anyone can achieve anything and disabled people are no different to the rest of us. Hopefully all those ludicrous feelings of superiority that so many of us feel when talking to people in a wheelchair are melting away. But, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is not the end, it is merely the end of the beginning.
Before we can even remotely claim as a society to have abolished discrimination against the disabled, government itself must put its house in order. For our dear leader to hand out medals and plaudits to Paralympians whilst allowing the disabled to be treated contemptably is hypocrisy. The appalling performance of Atos in assessing qualification for disability payments is a national disgrace. Almost half of their rulings are later overturned but the very act of having to appeal is both degrading and costly.
And now we learn that the personal medical details of claimants are being examined by lay employees of Royal Mail! Medical experts have reacted angrily to the news that the Deprtment for Work and Pensions routinely uses Royal Mail staff to process benefit claims, including health records. People applying for disability or sickness benefits are obliged to complete a medical questionnaire explaining their conditions, prescribed medication and therapies. The forms are posted in pre-addressed envelope to Atos Healthcare.
The envelopes are opened by Royal Mail employees and sorted according to priority. In other words laymen are being given free access to private medical information and are taking decisions far beyond their competence. Add to that the fact that their judgement is then being checked out by a private company which has lost completely the confidence of the medical profession, not to mention the claimants, and you have discrimination writ large.
The fact that this has come to light only as result of Lynne Neagle, a member of the Welsh Assembly, having received a complaint from a constituent says everything about the government’s real attitude to the disabled. Yes, there may be scroungers but the vast majority of claimants are genuine and need help, and deserve dignity!
Without doubt tomorrow’s closing ceremony at the 2012 Paralympics will be a fitting end to the beginning. No doubt either that we will all see disability in a different light from now on. But – and it is a huge but – David Cameron and his fellow rich-boys are far from the end of their beginning.
The real change must come from the top. Until it does the memory of our two-week period of acceptance, respect and admiration will carry a bitter taste for those who stars such as David Weir, Jonnie Peacock and Ellie Simmonds so proudly represent.
What they demand are not honours but fairness!
Albert is far less concerned about the deepening financial crisis than the rest of us allotment geezers. Believe it or not, our crotchety old pal has withdrawn his savings and now sleeps just inches above what we reckon to be a fair sum. Sheer madness? Maybe, but at least he no longer frets, as the rest of us do, about the banks going into meltdown and the ATMs drying up.
If only we could believe that the politicans would get a grip on the crisis escalating in the eurozone! Yesterday David Cameron warned that we are staring down the face of a barrel (ever since his ‘conquest’ of Gaddafi he has taken to those well-worn Western terms). But he is spitting into the wind, for the euro venture was always doomed to failure once it came to the point where national leaders are supposed to convince their countrymen that they must sacrifice to save other more reckless partners. Churchill’s words from a different era were made for today’s European bigwigs. He talked of politicians who are “resolved to be irresolute, adament for drift, solid for fluidity and all-powerful for impotence”. Some things never change.
But the latest financial crisis will undoubtedly pass, and we will eventually return to an age of massive banker’s bonuses and an inability on the part of the est of us to distinguish between needs and wants. Meantime we should perhaps thank heavens that we are not immersed in the Lib Dem dream of full membership of the European monetary union. I must confess that the whole business of economics baffles me, a condition not helped by the even more baffling nightly explanations from Robert Peston.
Perhaps my concentration is not what it should be. If so I put it down to the fact that I am becoming increasingly obsessed by what is happening to the NHS. There is increasing evidence that by the time we all return our attention to it, it will have passed the point of no return. Despite all the waffle about the Bill before parliament, Andrew Lansley has already pressed ahead with implementation. The commissioning agents, the Primary Care Trusts, have been largely dismantled and vast amounts of redundancy packets handed out. A few of the new GP-led commissioning consortia have been formed and links with American healthcare providers set in concrete. According to their location, hospitals are receiving either no guidance at all, or are being told to open up their services to private bids.
Throughout the service there is total confusion compounded by massive cuts in funding and the increasing militancy of clinicians who continue to warn that patients are being put at risk by dramatic extensions to waiting times. The response from Lansley is a series of giant smoke screens, all aimed at proving that the last government left the service in a ruinous state. The latest story hit yesterday’s headlines when he announced that 22 hospitals with Private Finance Initiative (PFI) debts are now financially bankrupt. Given that this government is also using PFI to fund new building projects it was an odd tale and, when examined in detail, it turns out to be a huge lie.
When the health secretary said that the trusts were “on the brink of collapse because they have been landed with PFI deals they simply couldn’t afford by the Labour government” he caused quite a stir, not least on the part of the trusts that he mentioned. Amongst them was the North Bristol NHS Trust which voiced “puzzlement”. It has a £374 m PFI deal to build its new Southmead Hospital but pointed out that the repayments are “less than 7% of income and are factored into our long-term financial plans and are entirely affordable”.
Within hours of the Bristol reaction, the Department of Health’s own latest quarterly assessment emerged. A quick check revealed that 17 of the 22 named by Lansley have the top rating for financial stability. Of the remaining five, four were deemed as “underperforming” financially although the issue is not deemed to be PFI-related.
Leading figures were quick to attack Lansley’s claim. Lord Crisp, former head of the NHS, pointed out that the cost of repayments under PFI deals amounted to “only about 1% of the entire services annual budget”. Professor John Appleby, chief economist of the influential King’s Fund health thinktank, said it was “wrong to argue that the NHS finacial problems were cause by such deals”. He added that “to simply blame PFI is simply misleading at best”.
Which of course is excatly what Lansley intended it to be. The new financial crisis in the NHS is almost entirely due to the largest cuts ever imposed combined with an ever increasing demand caused by increased longevity. Throw in the chaos caused by changes that no one understands, or seems able to cope with, and you have the truth.
Perhaps realising that he has been caught out yet again the spin-doctor, who rules over the real ones, has launched into a tirade about the NHS computer programme. He is absolutely right to condemn this as an expensive fiasco and hopefully will realise that whilst Lbaour ministers were undoubtedly negligent, those even more so were the civil servants still in his department who advised them, and the auditors who failed to post warnings. Since he is looking for cuts his own office might be the right place to start! But the funding came from central government and has not impacted on individual Trusts.
Cameron and Clegg are past masters in the art of rhetoric and acting. But what we desperately need is some down-to-earth honesty. If they must proceed with privatisation they should say so, if they must cut funding so massively they should say so. And, above all else, they should instruct their health secretary to stop telling lies!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE WEEKEND QUIZ ??????????????????
In his ‘A Time for Greatness’, the American poet and writer Herbert Agar wrote in 1942 of the “truth that makes man free”. But he went on to add that the truth is something that “men prefer not to hear”. I sometimes wonder if our politicians are his latter-day disciples for they give every apearance of fearing the outcome of setting us free and, to a man, continue to feed us speeches comprising platitudes laced with a fair mixture of downright lies.
Yesterday it was the turn of Uncle Vince Cable. We are, intoned our hero, in the economic equivalent of a war. He proceeded to tell us that only grey skies lie ahead and drew a comparison with that previous coalition. It was somewhat misleading given that the nation was united then, and Churchill told us the grim truth but always ended with a rallying cry. In other words the then leader seperated the truth from the pure rhetoric. Now the two are mixed and few can distinguish between the two.
A good example was the usual Cable onslaught on the fat-cats and bankers. On the former the Business Secretary declared that pay and bonuses will in future be restrained by employees serving on remuneration committees. He forgot to mention that there is no earthly chance of this actually becoming law and that, even if it did, the pension and investment bodies hold at least 80% of the controls of all large public companies.
He went on to announce his plans to implement the Vickers recommendation that a ‘firewall’ be built between the banking and ‘casino’ arms of our big banks. He forgot to mention that the government has made clear that implementation will not take place before 2018, by which time any new crisis will have arrived. He also beat the drum on the need to be resolute and not change the Osborne austerity package.
On this one he was subsequently contradicted by his wife! Interviewed on air, together with other delegates to the Lib Dem conference, she remarked that many government departments had wrongly front-loaded all cuts into the first year. They should, she insisted, have been spread over the five years of the coalition’s life thus avoiding the present crash in consumer purchasing. Clearly that is the real truth, and had he said that his credibility would have been enhanced. Meantime, the Cable family breakfast may have been a little fraught.
But it would be unfair to lable Cable as the one peddlar in falsehoods for they all do it. Only last week Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Minister, made great play of the fact that most of those charged in connection with the recent riots were already known to the police. Proof positive, he claimed, that prison does not work for they have already been there. Pure nonsense. The fact that those arrested as a result of CCTV pictures were mainly known to the police was clearly due to the fact that they are the people most likely to be recognised by the team of officers matching faces to records of convicted criminals. Who is the police most likely to recognise on a video? Yes, someone who is a previous offender. The truth is that only a tiny percentage of those involved have been caught and no one has the faintest idea as to the identity of the unapprehended majority.
Since coalition ministers are so keen on drawing a comparison between themselves and the World War 11 version they should perhaps resolve to begin to emulate its practices. When revealing all was not in the national interest Churchill, Attlee and the rest told us so. Otherwise they told the truth.
The big difference to today is illustrated by the fact that Osborne, Uncle Vince and all insist that we are all in this new ‘war’ together. However by their reluctance to penalise the rich to the same extent as the poor they constantly demonstrate that even they don’t believe it to be true.
Of course the biggest overriding problem today is that even were all the parties to sack their armies of spin-doctors and to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth we still wouldn’t believe them. Habits die hard and no one expects the truth. The challenge facing this government, and its successors ,is that the deeds of Blair over Iraq, Cameron over the Murdochs, and MPs over expenses, has bred cynicism thoughout the land.
Short of the return of a mass of independents wearing white suits and answering to the name of Martin Bell it is hard to imagine how this state of the nation will ever change. The truth is indeed as rare as hens teeth and we chicken-men can assure you that they simply do not exist!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Each day seems to be dominated by politicians on the make and so-called mega-stars preening and posing. We live in an age of insincere and boastful exhibitionism and it regularly feels as if we have modified Descarte’s motto of ‘I think, therefore I am’ into ‘I am seen and heard, therefore I am’. The days when national leaders such as Churchill, Gorbachev and Mandella inspired us by their sense of mission have long gone and instead we live in an unreal world of millionaires and spin-doctors. Or do we? People like Blair and Cameron talk of of the feel-good factor as if it can only be obtained via them, and people in the now departed Big Brother house say live as I do and feel good. But the truth is that most people see politicians and posing-upstarts alike as the routes to avoid if genuine pleasure and comradeship is the destination.
Yesterday I watched two events which reminded me that, sick though they may be of an incresaingly greedy and glum society, there are a lot of people out there who are more than capable of finding their own feel-good factor. The first event was an F.A Cup match, a first qualifying round game to be precise. Having read of the £150,000 per week Wayne Rooney being omitted from the Manchester United visit to Everton for fear of excessive abuse it was something of a relief to call at the home of Bamber Bridge Football Club where the small change given to the players is enthusiastically raised by a hard working committee. They were hosting Bacup Borough, a club, the excellent programme told us, which dates back to 1875.
The prize for the winners was a place in the next stage of the long road to Wembley and the incentive was sponsorship prize money of £3000. A massive amount for a samll club but hardly enough to buy Rooney’s latest pair of fashion boots. It was a superb game to watch and, to my eye at least, the standard of passing matched anything I have seen in the endlessly hyped Premiership games. And all for an admission charge of four quid which wouldn’t buy a glossy programme at Old Trafford. The spectators were utterly caught up in the game and homely humour replaced the obscene chanting now considered mandatory at the millionaire clubs. Foreign owners? Not a chance, both clubs are committee-run and the sense of local ownership runs deep.
It is perhaps indicative of the new age of greed that clubs such as Haslingden, Great Harwood, Darwen and Nelson have gone out of existence for want of enough cash to pay their modest bills whilst so-called stars change clubs for hundreds of millions. Yet in non-league football lies the perfect example of what Cameron is trying to explain as the Big Society.
In the evening I tuned in to the Meercat-advertisement-free Beeb to watch the last night of the Proms. Thanks to the new age of technology – not all developments are bad – the Albert Hall was linked to such diverse places as Hyde Park, Salford, Wales, Scotland and a host of other venues where huge crowds joined with passion in the familiar music. As the cameras panned the crowds it struck me that here we had a perfect example of what a classless society should feel like. People of every age and social group roared out ‘ You’ll never walk alone’ as if they really meant it. There was a real sense of togetherness, of unity. The love of music bound them as one, the flags and banners said we feel good, at this moment in time we are happy and we bear no grudge to any man.
Tomorrow many of those various people will return to what the politicians like to call the real world. They will return to the rat-race with the rats making the headlines. They will no longer feel good but will be pervaded by a sense of frustration that this land of hope and glory, of which they sang so passionately, is in reality becoming a land of greed, rush and falsehood.
But hopefully people such as club members and promenaders alike will reflect that they are not alone in knowing where the real feel good factor is to be found. Perhaps they will sense that they are part of a vast majority of people who would prefer the Descarte motto to once again stalk the land. Their self understanding will almost certainly tell them that they are bored of Rooney, Cameron and the rest, they seek only a sense of belonging and sharing. Above all they will realise that feeling good has nothing whatsoever to do with the great untrustworthy!
THINGS USED TO BE A GREAT DEAL WORSE!
Perhaps, like me and my allotment pals, you are inclined to complain that the Osborne cuts are leading us into untold hardship? If so, join me in thinking again for things used to be harsher than we can even imagine in today’s world.
I say this as a result of research I am doing into the history of the workhouses that came into being as a result of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. This heralded far-reaching’ improvements’ to the nation’s treatment of the poor and destitute. The new system was based on a new administrative unit, the Poor Law Union; typically a group of parishes around a market town. Each union was expecetd to provide a workhouse as the only option for its impoverished and between 1835 and 1839 no fewer that 350 were built. By 1839, 42,767 inmates out of the total 97,510 were children under the age of 16. They were listed as ‘orphans, deserted children, bastards, children of idiots or cripples or felons’.
Within each workhouse there was strict seperation of men, women and children and the latter were only allowed to see their mothers (if they existed) for short ‘interviews’. Discipline was harsh with trnsgressions punishable by a reduction in the already meagre supply of food or a few hours in the ‘refractory cell’ . Boys under 14 could be flogged but only with a rod approved by the Workhouse Guardians. The archives are bulging with examples of brutality of the most extreme kind.
It was many decades before things improved but at least we have the consolation that nothing Mr Osborne dreams up could possibly make the coming years the” hardest in our history” quoted by one leading bigwig last week!
TOUGH ON CRIME…THEY’RE HAVING US ON!
Remember the new sentences announced by the last government? In the case of burglary they were welcomed by many who have suffered at the hands of drug-fuelled wreckers and were certainly impressively draconian. We mean business, yapped the politicians.
What they didn’t tell us was that there was no intention of actually applying the punishments. Figures for last year show that around 10,000 burglars were convicted and sent to prison. Not a single one received a maximum sentence. Phil Davies, the Conservative MP, has said that he is sick of draconian laws that are never enforced. He claims that many of those convicted were incredibly persistent burglars. Rose Dixon, of the Support after Murder and Manslaughter group, says that victims fail to undertsand the logic behind sentencing and she is shocked by what is happening.
Perhaps they should write to Kenneth Clarke who doesn’t believe in prisons at all!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Sir Alan Herbert 2. He defected to the West.
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Ross McWhirter, who was murdered in 1975, was co-editor of which best-seller? 2. Who was the Minister of Funny Walks in Monty Python?
One of my fellow ferreters travelled to London yesterday for the service at St Paul’s to mark the 70th anniversary of the Blitz. It seems that it was a very moving occasion when many of those who took part in the German onslaught on the capital came together to remember the more than 43,000 civilians who were killed in air raids between Sept 7, 1940, and May 10, 1941. In his address, Air Vice Marshall Ray Pentland told the 2500 strong congregation that everyone who played a part in the Blitz, from pilots to those who fought fires and provided refreshments to the wounded, was part of a story that changed the course of history.
In a sense he is right but research quickly reveals that the Blitz of itself did not change the course of history. In fact it followed the event that did, the so-called Battle of Britain. On September 15th – all dates relating to the war overlap – Churchill visited Uxbridge, the Fighter Command headquarters covering the south of England. In the control room he watched as the ‘blackboards’ showed wave upon wave of enemy bombers and fighter escorts heading for the RAF airfields. More and more British squadrons were ‘scrambled’ and eventually Churchill turned to Air Vice-Marshall Park and asked “What other reserves do we have?”. The answer was none. Fighter Command had reached the point where the defence of its bases was crumbling.
We now know, from German archives, that on that day Hitler made another of his, for us, mistakes disguised as blessings. He decided that the RAF could not be defeated and that therefore the planned invasion (code name ‘Sea Lion’) must be indefinitely postponed. He and his staff decided to attempt victory through demoralisation instead and the Blitz began. Had he continued to attack the airfields, victory would have ultimately fallen his way and the invasion would have proceeded. As the raids on London intensified and those on the airfields ended, the reaction of Churchill and his commanders was a sigh of relief. Even if the Luftwaffe reduced Londin to ruins it would merely provide time for the British defences to be strengthened and redrawn. Arguably the time at which the Blitz began was the time at which the greatest threat to these islands ended.
None of which of course made enduring months of heavy bombardment an easy experience and many Londoners, and later people living in other major cities, showed enormous courage and tenacity. But many did not. Remember ‘Major Gowan’ of ‘Fawlty Towers’ ? He was in real life a wartime policeman in London during the Blitz and his memoirs described his greatest preoccupation, that of trying to deter looters. House and corpses alike were pilloried and every heavy raid drew large numbers of villains to the scene. A victim has only this week spoken out on the topic we try to airbrush from history. David Clark was a small boy when his home in Ilford suffered a direct hit. The family was safe in its Anderson shelter but the “neighbours and the ARP wardens assumed we were dead”. They looted the house and the only things left were some fish knives and a decanter which David still owns today. “Don’t talk to me about everyone pulling together” is David’s take on the romanticised version we love to trot out.
We tend to recall the Blitz as the time when Hitler took on the cheerful cockneys and lost. To an extent that is right but it tends to cover up the gross incompetence of the pre-war government. As early as 1933 the Home Office had been thinking about mass bombing and in 1937 German bombers, supporting Franco in the Spanish civil war, destroyed the town of Guernica and killed thousands of civilians. Deep shelters were built in Barcelona and proved successful and there was a move to build them in London. But nothing was done despite the warnings of Churchill that our turn was coming. The last minute idea of supplying ‘Anderson’ shelters overlooked the fact that in the majority of London working-class homes there was no room to put them ( in his ‘Citizens at War’ of 1945, Stephen Spender covers this in detail).
Another much lauded feature of those dark days is the story of evacuees. Many families stuck it out amidst the chaos, smoke and bloodshed but many decided to accept the opportunity to move their children to safer parts of the country. Most documentaries feature those who remember their ‘step-families’ with great affection but there was a darker side. Archived records give many instnaces of abuse and places like Baldock in Hertfordshire gained a reputation for being ‘unwelcoming’ and those such as Windsor would not accept ‘Jews or children’. Experiences varied and if you look around your own community today you may well conclude that the idea of every family being caring and willing to sacrifice so much for strangers is a little implausible.
The other fallacy that we love to nurture is the one depicting the inhuman Hun perpared to bomb the innocent, something no decent Englishman would contemplate. It is true that several of Britain’s military leaders were opposed on ethical grounds to ‘mass murder that contributes nothing to the war effort’. But in 1941 Bomber Command asked the London fire chiefs “What change of tactics by the Luftwaffe would cause you greatest concern?” The answer was the concentration of a heavy attack into a very short space of time which would swamp fire service resources. And so, when 1000 RAF bombers attacked Cologne in My 1942, 1500 tonnes of high explosive were dropped on the city in the space of an hour and a half and the rescue services broke down. And of course, as the war progressed, the RAF intensified its attacks on civilian targets, culminating in the destruction of Dresden which killed more in one night than perished in the whole of the various Blitzes of the United Kingdom.
So our sanitised versions of the Blitz merit a clean-up. But that in no way detracts from the fact that the Britsh civilian population showed an impressive resilience, certainly one greater than the government expected when in 1939 it rushed through the requisition of large estates with a view to creating mass refuges for those whose nerves shattered. They were never used so there were many stoical people. My self understanding tells me that I would have found being the subject of constant attack, without the abilility to hit back, frustrating to the point of madness.
Perhaps Attlee shared the reservations shown in this piece when, after the war, he demanded scarifice from the people. He appealed to “the Dunkirk spirit” not the Blitz version. To invoke that, he may have reasoned, would be to embrace not just the brave but the honest and dishonest and those, like most of us, who are a bit of both.
CRICKET; WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?
Last night’s Twenty20 international between England and Pakistan was a total disgrace. A very small attendance meant that not too many were robbed of over forty pounds to watch a farce but the authorities must surely recognise that the writing is on the wall for cricket if performances such as this are allowed to continue.
England played well but it was obvious from the start that the Pakistan team had no interest in playing and no pride whatsoever. Small wonder that their diminishing body of fans is showing great hostility.
Since we know that many of the team have great talent, we can only assume that the allegations surrounding the touring camp are taking their toll. These need to be dealt with quickly but meantime the insistance of the authorities on the one-day series proceeding is backfiring hugely.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. 1971 2. Sail around the world
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which Massechusetts city became famous for its Marathon? 2. Which ‘unknown’ Australian woman won Wimbledon in 1971?
David Cameron today tells the public it has a duty to provide more support to the Armed Forces. I doubt that many members of the public need reminding of that but it seems that the government does. Today we also learned of the 299th death of a soldier in Afghanistan, yet another reminder that being a member of the armed forces is an extremely dangerous and, often, life-destroying profession. So our troops need a good deal more support than flag-waving!
It is impossible to avoid the impression that this government is going to prove just as unimaginative in regard to defence as was the last one. If one accepts that the defence of the realm is the most important task of government one must surely accept that it merits top priority in all things. But without doubt we are treating it as something on which we spend the absolute minimum. All the arguments about whether our troops have enough of this or that piece of kit misses the point which is that they should always be equipped with the latest hi-tech armoury and protection that money can buy. They should also feel that the dangers they face are compensated for by the best pay and pensions of any public service and that the accomodation for their families reflects the prestige of the role.
We are a million miles from this. Civil servants enjoy gold-plated pensions based on extremely high salaries and even bodies like the police provide retirement before fifty at guaranteed rates far in excess of those for soldiers. Having said that we should acknowledge that the police too are a crucial part of our national security but the same cannot be said for millions of others in local government, quangos, housing associations and the like. On the subject of pay and pensions what is needed is not more expenditure but a brave re-ordering based on national priorities and exposure to danger.
In today’s world the need is for specialist, highly skilled units using the best equipment. As early as World War 11 Churchill forced through the introduction of what he called commandos. He saw the need not for masses of personnel but small mobile units ready to strike fast using technology superior to that of the threat. How much truer that is today. We will not win in Afghanistan by sheer numbers, only by being technically more powerful and personally more skilled that the Taliban.
Accomodation for the families of members of the armed forces should be regarded as one of the attractions of being a regular. If we want the most able and fittest members of our society to be attracted by a career that involves high risk we must make the conditions more attractive than any they could aspire to in any other career. The standard of married quarters at present is disgraceful, a real disincentive rather than the reverse.
And above all we need to provide top-class medical facilities for those injured in body or spirit. Successive Ministers trot out the well worn talk of priority in the NHS. The facilities there are already stretched to breaking point and, in the case of mental health, are still totally inadequate for the general population let alone those torn assunder by the affects of the horrors of modern warfare. If we can afford to build Olympic Villages we can afford Armed Forces Recuperation Centres offering the best available in treatments.
What then of those whose physical injuries will make the rest of their lives difficult if not almost impossible. No Minister seems capable of coming up with an imaginative approach. One of the country’s finest MPs, Lindsay Hoyle, suggested that injured ex-servicemen should be the basis of a new Border Control force. So far as I can establish no one at cabinet level even pursued or tried to build on the concept.
Yes, the list is a long one. But if we intend to continue our role as a player on the world stage we surely must be prepared to make the armed forces the best in the world and a career that young people want to pursue in the knowledge that the inevitable risks are offset by rewards and recognition available nowhere else.
All it needs is determination and ingenuity. Politicians are good with words but poor at implementation. The now invisible Nick Clegg was spot on when during the election campaign he outlined huge cuts in NHS bureaucracy. If they actually happened the money would be there for an armed forces special service. Others highlighted the need to cut the incredible benefits enjoyed by fat cats funded from the public purse. There were lots of excellent ideas about saving public money which could be switched to defence funding. Nothing has happened and incredibly Liam Fox has boasted of his plans to make defence cuts.
Yes we will all support next week’s Armed Forces day and continue to work for charities such as ‘Help for heroes’ but the recognition our armed forces must have goes much deeper. Only government can provide the lead and Mr Cameron ought to see that as a greater priority than tinkering with our educational system to benefit the children of families already in a position to help themselves.
Whether we realise it or not we all seek inspiration, a light to brighten our darkness. Some find it in sports or movie stars, some in nature as they reflect that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as such as the simple lily. I have always drawn my inspiration from people, fellow specks in the universe, who have shown that whatever befalls them surrender is not an option.
It was the arrival of the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation that prompted me to reflect. In the face of the greatest danger 338,226 were rescued as part of what Churchill named Operation Dynamo. An armada of civilians took their little boats across the channel and ferried the trapped men to waiting naval vessels whilst under constant air attack. Indeed, many brought packed vessels back.
Many years ago I worked with an ex-officer, Philip Angel, who mounted a horse to help organised the vast mass of men assembled on the beaches. He told me that the most inspiring sight he had ever witnessed was presented by the site of hundreds of orderly queues. There was no panic, everyone fell to the sand as another wave of enemy aircraft swooped. These were men, he said, for whom the word surrender was totally alien.
Soon after this miraculous rescue Churchill flew to France in an attempt to persuade the French allies to fight on. He was told that the cause was lost and that soon this Island too would parley for peace. His reply was that we might well all die but surrender never. He was an inspiration that a nation followed and, against all the odds, victory was eventually secured. Marshal Petain and Pierre Laval, he later said, committed acts of ‘baseness on a scale to earn the lasting contempt of the world’. Sadly we cannot all be inspiring to the point of no surrender but thank heaven for those who are.
However, not all inspiring examples of no surrender come from battles or large numbers of armed personnel. Sometimes a single individual provides an inspiration to all who falter in the face of life’s disasters. One such was Nicole Dryburgh who died this week at the age of just 21.
Nicole was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 11. Her first book (The way I see it’) was published in 2008 and describes her attempt to rebuild her life after diagnosis. Her illness was treated successfully but Nicole was left blind and confined to a wheelchair. By the time her second collection of memoirs was published earlier this year Nicole had lost her hearing and could only communicate via deaf-blind signing.
Despite her afflictions this brave young woman became a tireless fund-raiser, making more than £100,000 for charities such as The Teenage Cancer Trust and Demelza Hospice for Children. She also raised over £74,000 for the Royal Marsden Hospital and more than £43,000 for Kings College Hospital, the centres at which she received her treatment.
Nicole was brought up by her mother, a dental nurse, who later gave up her job to become Nicole’s carer. After passing the 11-plus, Nicole was awarded a place at a grammer school in Canterbury but in 2004 moved on to a school catering for youngsters with special educational needs. She achieved a good grade in English Language and went on to realise her dream of writing a column in a newspaper.
When she was interviewed in 2007 she was asked if she ever felt angry at what had happened to her. She insisted that this had never crossed her mind. Her illness and charity work had , she said, opened up a world of opportunities. When the interviewer, Janet Murray, contacted her again a few years later Nicole emailed back to say that she was now deaf (due to tumours in her ears) and asked that the questions be emailed. It was, the Guardian writer reports, typical of Nicole’s positve attitude and determination to make the most of her life.
This brave young woman refused to surrender in any sense. Short though her life was it will always inspire all who knew her or who watched the BBC documentary, Nicole’s Story, in 2009.
At first glance Nicole and the men of Dunkirk seem to have little in common. Yet by their refusal to surrender and their determination to make the best of whatever befell them they share a special place in the select band of fellow travellers who have taught us that every hour is precious.
JOIN ME FOR A FEW MINUTES EVERY DAY!
Without doubt the first ever TV debate between the political leaders has made history and created a precedent that will stand the test of time. But what are the implications?
One surely is that the press has to an extent been disabled. Having heard it from the horses mouth will the great British public ever again unquestionningly accept what a prejudiced newspaper chooses to report? Will it ever again disregard a Party simply because it is frozen out of the frensied headlines? To be specific will a third Party ever again be airbrushed out of the public eye simply because it has no media mogul amongst it’s sponsors?
There is however another argument. Whilst the new age of TV debates may well rob the press of it’s ability to paint it’s own pictures it may also lead to a new judgement by a public used to deciding for or against on looks, dress and apparent affability. But do these really matter in the context of running a country? Certain it is that Churchill was a good leader during difficult years but he would have failed the test. As indeed would Clem Attlee albeit for different reasons.
What did we really learn fom the first debate? We learned, pehaps to our surprise, that Nick Clegg is easier on the eye than grumpy Gordon or Dashing Dave. He may indeed be better in every way but how can we tell? He could simply be a better actor.
But personality and the ability to get the best out of people is important in the role they all seek and he has that in abundance. And he is likeable, not a word one could apply easily to his two running mates.
Worries remain. Will Prime Ministers in the years to come all be handsome and experts in eye-contact? More importantly will they prove to be what they appear to be, will they really know how to balance the books.
Even as I type the gallant three are undoubtedly applying themselves not to the question of costings but to briefings about gestures and colours of their ties.
TV or not TV. The jury is out in more ways than one. I just hope the next edition does not clash with cricket or Manchester United!