Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’
Like most of our trains I am running somewhat late today. As excuses go mine is a reasonable one, having spent several hours at our local A & E department. One of my allotments pals developed unexplained pains during this morning’s hen-cleaning and Albert and I quickly conveyed him to the service that Jeremy Hunt is so anxious to close. I am delighted to report that it all proved nothing to worry about.
One only has to spend a while in the waiting area to realise just how important this service is. Whilst we were there two ambulances arrived and the staff responded instantly, calmly and compassionately. There may or may not be truth in the claim that centralised emergency centres would be more cost effective, but the extra time taken to reach them could well represent the difference between life and death. It is surely time for every family in the land to tell politicians in no uncertain terms that they have no moral right to endanger life by playing idiotic political games.
Whilst waiting for what proved to be excellent news, we thumbed through the dailies. The latest report from Iraq did little to restore any faith we once had in politicians.The nation was taken to war on the basis of a barefaced lie and many lives have been sacrificed. We tend to forget that, with the honourable exception of the Lib Dems, the vast majority of Westminster MPs nodded through the Bush/Blair madness. Since then successive ministers have told us that the new Iraq is a better place as a result of the bloodshed.
Really? Last week al-Qaeda fighters seized control in Iraqi cities. The strength of the fighting showed the extent of al-Qaeda’s resurgence across western Iraq over the past year. The militant’s reappearance has terrified local residents many of whom remember the beheadings and brutal punishments that took place when al-Qaeda last had control. The death rate has returned to more than 1,000 per month and there are clear indications that the Nato-trained Iraqi forces are in deep trouble.
Mr Blair is busy making millions these das. Many believe that he should charged with war crimes. But he was only able to do what he did with the tacit support of the majority of the political parties. They will never be forgiven by grieving families.
Of lesser moment, but revealing all the same, are the 1984 cabinet papers released to the National Archives yesterday. They tell us that there were moments during the government’s bitter year-long struggle when the nation “stared into the abyss” and contemplated the use of troops as violence reached its peak.
Here we had a power-mad Prime Minister locked in near mortal combat with a power-mad union leader. Both had hidden agendas, the former wished to destroy the unions, the latter sought insurrection. In reality no one won for the coal industry was totally destroyed and the cause of legitimate union membership likewise.
In their different ways Iraq and the coal dispute provide us with one important lesson. We are ill advised to unquestioningly accept what the likes of Blair, Thatcher and Scargill tell us.
The emergence of powerful protest organisations such as 38 Degrees is surely to be welcomed and supported. Millions have supported them in their demand for openness on issues such as the NHS. In them, not in Westminster, lies the best prospect for real democracy!
If our ‘mailbag’ is any indication we codgers are not alone in believing that our troops are being turned into the fall-guys for the fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this mornings news of a long series of human rights investigations into alleged violations in Iraq have heightened our paranoia. As we cleaned out the hens this morning, we began to wonder if any day now we will learn that the Taliban is to sue our commanders for infringing its human right to cut opponents into small pieces. But maybe it will hold back for fear of slowing down the talks aimed at restoring its right to resume control.
In fact it increasingly appears that the only people on earth to benefit from the wars born of political lies are the politicians. Of course we all hold Tony Blair responsible but we tend to forget that, with the honourable exception of the Lib Dems, almost the enture House of Commons supported his madness. Many of those MPs are still in office and they are about to receive a pay increase of 11 per cent. If it were not for their counterparts on the EU gravy-train we would think them somewhat greedy.
But their avarice pales by comparison with the EU’s foreign diplomatic service which, we learn today, is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a vast empire of overseas offices staffed by bureaucrats many of whom pocket salaries and benefits totalling more than £150,000 a year. They are part of what is known as the European External Action Service which employs 3,417 staff, whose work duplicates the existing diplomatic service operated by member states.
In reality this is but the first step along the road to Brussels assuming control of foreign policy. But that is only the beginning of the next stage of the growing Superstate. RAF planes and other military assets are shortly to be handed over to European Union countries under plans for a “Euro Army”. Many Conservatives fear that our dear leader is on the verge of committing Britain to deeper military involvement with the EU and they fear that the step will be an irreversible one. They are probably right, the text issued from Brussels yesterday makes clear that member states must “improve the availability of required civilian and military capabilities”.
Bernard Jenkins, the chairman of the Commons public administration committee, says that “any Tory prime minister should be wholely opposed to what is clearly intended. To sign the UK up to this programme is not just another blow to the UK’s beleaguered defence industries but is another step towards a euro army”. Perhaps he should have a word with Nick Clegg?
But all this was somewhat overshadowed this morning when we learned of the launch of yet another police inquiry into claims that Princess Diana was murdered by an SAS hit squad. We knew that Scotland Yard had checked out claims published by Soldier N, a former Special Forces sniper. Now a new French probe is to be led by Sabine Kheris, a respected judge who has overseen many high-profile cases with international and political links. In other words the French are taking seriously the new allegations of blinding lights being shone into driver Henri Paul’s eyes.
We codgers have never believed the endless conspiracy chatter. But like an undiagnosed pain it goes on and on and we begin to worry. The implications for the establishment are too horrendous to contemplate and we prefer not to even consider it. But sometimes long-term pain cannot be simply wished away!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” Building democracy as an imposition from abroad is a form of imperialism!”….Lech Walesa Nobel Peace Prize, 1983.
The part of our allotments dedicated to the chicken project has long been a no-go area for dogs. Most of us codgers own dogs and it is frustrating to have to leave them at home, but sad experience has taught us that letting them loose amongst hordes of hens is akin to permitting Eric Pickles free access to a pie shop. The truth is that, much as we like to see Fido as a canine version of the SAS, few domestic dogs are as well drilled as society requires. And we believe that the scrapping of licences has not helped.
There is one exception to our unwritten rule. Bill lost his sight some years ago but is still a regular visitor thanks to his Labrador guide-dog. His professionally trained companion never leaves Bill’s side. Albert regularly manages to fall into one of the ponds, thanks to ‘Lab’ Bill has never done so. Guide Dog charities always receive generous support from the rest of us who, when reading of the latest outrage committed by out of control canines, can only wonder why someone on high has not considered restoring licences with a requirement for owners to attend an elementary training establishment.
Sadly that is about as likely as Gorgeous George Osborne’s promised surplus. Yesterday he received a standing ovation from the Tory faithful who seemed unaware that right now he can only claim to have increased the deficit. Even by mad political standards, to applaud someone for merely promising an unlikely achievement in ten years time is going some. But it isn’t the succession of pie-in-the-sky utterances at party conferences that worries us, our growing concern is the absence of any references to the real threat to these islands, the enemy within.
As a nation we are now so brainwashed in the art of political correctness that every one of us hesitates to mention the name Muslim in the same breath as terrorism. In one sense this is understandable since most Muslims are as peace loving as the next man or woman, but the fact remains that British citizens are taking an active part in atrocities being committed in a growing number of countries.
In Syria thirteen of the brigades within the so called Freedom fighters have formed a new alliance that excludes the rapidly growing al-Qaida-linked group. Jihadi groups have rolled into town across northern and eastern Syria, and intense clashes have broken out as those fighting to rid the county of Assad have come to realise that their supposed allies have a quite different agenda and are prepared to indulge in the most appalling violence to achieve a Islamist state.
In their midst are some of our fellow countrymen who have been radicalised by madmen allowed their human rights to stay in this country, and to preach propaganda the like of which we haven’t heard since the birth and death of the third Reich. Having completed their insane ‘missions’ they return to the UK free to recruit more naïve and impressionable young men. Sharia law they cry, and we avert our eyes.
Anyone prepared to simply shrug and rationalise by suggesting that it is not for us to criticise young man willing to stand up for what they believe in should read this weeks edition of The Spectator. It contains a long account of the experience of a survivor of the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya, an atrocity believed to have been led in part at least by British citizens.
Simon and Amanda Belcher were on their way to a cinema at he Mall when they heard the sound of gunfire. Within minutes they were hidden under parked cars. Gunmen approached and – standing feet away - announced in perfect English that; “We have come to kill you Christians and Kenyans because you have been killing our women and children in Somalia. Any Muslims can go”. “I’m a Muslim!” shouted one man with children, and he was allowed to go. The gunmen then shot everyone else.
Suddenly the terrorists spotted the Belchers. Their eyes, the Belchers recall, were not crazed, they were cold and unemotional. They shot the hiding pair who feigned death and are are now being treated in hospital. Their recollections are chilling in the extreme, they are dominated by groups of gunmen walking the building searching for men, women and children to kill.
This all sounds very much like a story about some distant conflict which we Brits can observe with horror from the safety of distance. To an extent it is ,but the fact of the matter is that increasingly people who live amongst us are involved and it is only a matter of time before atrocities occur here.
It is time to abandon all the academic niceties about human rights, all the innocent potential victims have human rights too!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “During the last few days hundreds have died in al-Qa’eda attacks in Nigeria, Pakistan and Iraq. In some strange way Kenya was attacked because it is an important modern country, with a booming economy and a bright future”….Aidan Hartley
A sunny morning marked Albert’s birthday. It didn’t seem entirely appropriate for someone of a less than sunny disposition, but the nearest thing on earth to the late lamented Compo is our national treasure and we presented him with a new anorak and a power drill for the long-suffering Mrs Albert. Speaking personally I would miss the wee man very much, he provides a sense of balance since some of my eternally cheerful allotment pals always make me wonder just what it is I am missing.
Having said that I have to report that the ex-servicemen are less than cheerful this morning. They have read with incredulity the paper produced by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) thinktank obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act. It seems that the ministry is concerned at the adverse reaction of the public to its plans to blow up Syria and has been devoting time to dreaming up ways of ‘selling’ war. Yes, even the Generals are now besotted with the art of spin!
The paper focuses on ways of convincing us that war is not in fact a gruesome thing. It recommends that the practice of staging “repatriation ceremonies” be quietly abandoned, a clear reference to the processions of hearses carrying coffins draped in the union flag that have been driven thorough Royal Wootton Bassett and, more recently, Carterton.
There is a need, the paper contends, to “reduce public sensitivity to the penalties inherent in military operations”. It also urges that the public should be given a “clear explanation of the reasons for going to war”. It suggests that, when we are unconvinced of the relevance of a campaign we become “acutely sensitive to the level of casualties incurred”. For good measure it suggests greater use of mercenaries and the SAS which, it contends, enjoy less sympathy and attention.
The paper specifically mentions the level of public support for the Falklands conflict, and seems puzzled at the more recent reactions to Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps we can help here. The Falklands affair had a straight forward objective and was called for by a population comprising British citizens. The invasion of Iraq was based on an invented threat to these islands from weapons of mass destruction which could hit the UK within 45 minutes. And even Baldrick could work out that there was no possible end result other than a resentful culture which we simply do not understand.
The exposure of this document serves to remind us of two repulsive realities. At the highest levels of government there lurks a conviction that public opinion can be manipulated by the art of ‘spin’ first introduced by Blair, Mandelson and their motley crew. Secondly, politicians have no concern for lives sacrificed for actions that they calculate will enhance their own reputations.
Unsurprisingly families of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have reacted with fury at the MOD’s suggestions. Deborah Allbutt, whose husband was killed in Iraq, described the proposals as ” brushing deaths under the carpet”. She was not alone. And it was not only bereaved families that reacted bitterly, large numbers of people supported the view that war is never justified unless this country or its subjects are under direct threat.
Yesterday was a black one for the MOD and government. It was also revealed that thousands of British soldiers are being put at increased risk of psychosis and suicide because the authorities refuse to stop using a controversial anti-malaria drug that has been banned in the USA. Our troops are still being given Lariam – a drug described as a modern-day “agent orange” by doctors because if its toxicity. Lt-Col Ashley Croft, who served for more than 25 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps said yesterday that; “For the past 12 years I was saying that this is a potentially dangerous drug, but my warnings fell on deaf ears”.
Thankfully the Syrian reaction has demonstrated that the British public is no longer prepared to support the idea of sending young men and women to die in wars between madmen fighting over which has the best imaginary God.
The callous disregard for the welfare and lives of our service personnel tells us all we need to know about our deceitful and callous new-age politicians.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “How do wars start? Politicians tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read!”……Karl Klaus
THOUGHT FOR TODAY;
It is, I suppose, inevitable that a group of codgers with time on their hands will from time to time argue about the strangest subjects. This morning we buried a hen always known affectionately as Bald Eagle, because at one time it lost most of its feathers and took on the appearance of its kinsfolk in the Tesco fridges. As we dug the hole Andy remarked that she had gone to a better place. Our first reaction was Wigan, but we then realised that he was speaking of the unmentionable, Heaven.
Since humans consume millions of the creatures each year it sounds an odd belief. But where does the admission queue end? Dogs, cats, elephants ? Does it even bar people from the North? I throw in that additional point for Stephen Hawkins next pronouncement on the grounds that Gorgeous George Osborne’s father-in-law, Lord Howell of Somewhere South, yesterday suggested that such wretches are the right neighbours for fracking.
But our minds soon tired of the heavenly debate and turned instead on to the revelations resulting from the Bradley Manning trial about America, the land of the free. We find ourselves unable to take seriously the claim that Manning was hell-bent on betraying his country. He was perhaps naive, daft even. But at bottom line, he was for us a hero. Amongst the footage he exposed was a US military helicopter gunning down a father taking his children to school; evidence of a death squad operating in Afghanstan, dementia sufferers incarcerated in Guantanamo, an Apache helicopter targetting journalists …the list of horrors is a very long one.
Significantly the Obama administration didn’t merely go through the motions in pursuit of Manning. They brought a charge of treason, of “aiding the enemy”. A guilty verdict would have redefined the media as proxies for the enemy. It would have ended any distinction between a traitor selling secrets to the highest bidder and someone speaking to a journalist on a matter of conscience and for no reward.
Manning was often forced to exist naked in a cell in conditions described by the UN as a form of torture. The prosecution has represented, in essence, a proxy war on watchdog journalism. Rather than targetting reporters – for the moment – the administration has focussed on journalist’s sources. It is embarked on a slippery slope.
Over a decade ago, the US initiated two calamitous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with a terrible human cost that is still being paid.. It was always in the interests of the US elite to keep the consequences of their actions as far away from public consciousness as possible. The real aim is to stem opposition. Every US hawk still shivers at the photographs of naked Vietnamese children running from a napalm attack, which triggered the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Manning revealed the sordid realities of a war that the armchair warriors want sanitised. We admire his courage, he has taught us that the suppression of information by such as Putin also happens in the country so often lauded as an example to follow. He has also taught us that deceiving the people is high on the agenda of the world’s most powerful ‘democracy’.
The prosecution of Bradley Manning was inevitable. It is the attempt made to brand anyone shedding light on appalling conduct as a criminal that tells us all, and more, that we need to know about the dark side of the great American dream!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” The powerful know that if those who chip away at their authority are not undermined, or humiliated, or even persecuted, others would be emboldened to strike blows at them too!”….Owen Jones
The latest survey into national well being by the organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that the UK is down at tenth place in the world rankings. Top of the table yet again is Australia where 85% say they are happy and in good health. We are down amongst the also-rans in the seventies. The findings provided no surprise to our cynical bunch of codgers, we can only draw consolation from the thought that our flock of hens would probably provide a better ranking if only they could talk.
What the secret of the perpetual state of contentment down under is is open to speculation. Perhaps, after the weather, the fact that the government doesn’t delude itself that it is responsible for the rest of the world figures high up the list. That is certainly one of our negative factors as the terrible events of the past week have shown. Britain no longer rules the waves, is on its uppers, is beseiged with domestic problems but, hey presto, we immediately turn cartwheels in our desire to sort out every conflict that breaks out.
This is now the case in Libya, where even the Americans are maintaining a distance. For two years pundits have proclaimed the imminent fall of President Bashar al-Assad. High on Arab Spring they declared he would fall from the logic of history. Or he would fall because western sanctions would bring him down. Or he would fall because the media, as in the novel Scoop, were with the rebels and had decided they would win.
Assad has not fallen. He is still there, locked in the lethal Muslim schism that resurfaced with the demise of the region’s secularist dictators. These have now almost all gone. They had faults in abundance, but they did succeed in suppressing religious discord, instilling rudmentary tolerance and keeping the region mostly in order. This was in the west’s interest, and the rulers, like those in the Gulf, were supported accordingly.
Turning turtle and abetting their downfall may yet prove the most disastrous miscalculation of western diplomacy since the rise of facism. Prior to the Iraq war , Saddam persecuted the Shias, but their shrines were safe and intermarriage was common. After the war, Sunni and Shia are torn asunder, with a death toll of ghastly proportions. Similar agony may soon be visited on the Afghans, Libya’s Tripoli is more unstable now the west has toppled Gaddafi, its fundamentalist guerillas spreading mayhem south across the Sahara to Algeria, Mali and Nigeria.
Of course much of this might have happened without western intervention. But we undoubtedly have made things worse not least by sabre-rattling on to which neo-conservative Islamism could fasten. Al-Qaida was in 2000 a tiny group of fanatics. America and Britain have portrayed it as an all-powerful enemy, apparently lurking in support of every anti-secularist rebellion. Yet the reality was that there was initally no threat to the UK.
Given this general situation most European nations, plus America, have decided that wars in the region are not their affair, apart from providing humanitarian aid and the pursuit of diplomacy. A few days ago William Hague caused the ending of the EU arms embargo. His only support came from France, whose President is desperately looking for an overseas diversion from his domestic crisis. So little Britain is once again galloping to the rescue.
The coalition clearly believes that the answer to the Syrian crisis is to send arms to the rebels. The idea that these will only reach the good guys is absurd. The inevitable next step will be to send in troops and, before we can say George Bush, we will be fighting alongside al-Qaida. Worse still we will draw Russia into the conflict, which in turn will provoke Israel and so it will go on. The hoped for peace talks will be stillborn.
And none of this will help the innocent victims in what is becoming a bloody conflict. Indeed more weapons will inevitably lead to even more violence.
But over and around all this hangs one huge question. Why do we see this as our problem, our responsibility? To act as part of an EU or UN collaborative venture might be justified, to act alone is surely madness!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY ; ” The wider danger posed by the Syrian civil war is its capacity to suck other countries into its vortex. The involvement of Russia, Turkey, Iran (together with its proxy Hizbollah) and Israel make for a highly dangerous cocktail, even without the prospect of Western arms shipments. Furthermore the conflict is proving a magnet for jihadists – including more than 100 estimated to have arrived from the UK – who will return home to cause trouble, if they survive”….Daily Telegraph Leader article, 29/5/2013
The famous theory that there is a heaven and we are in it seemed even less plausible this morning when we began to dig out the old fish pond. We sank into the mud up to our knees and we were not wearing waders. Albert made an attempt at singing ‘mud, glorious mud’ but it did little to boost the morale of either us or the frogs who were leaping about in rage at the disruption. But we are only weeks from spawning time so it had to be done. One consolation was that this is not a complicated task which may be just as well because I have been trying in vain to understand what Andrew Lansley is talking about.
I had hoped that yesterday,s first session of parliamentary health questions would explain all about the massive – I think – reforms that the rather strange Mr Lansley is touting around. After all, I reasoned, MPs, being by nature simple creatures, are pretty good at asking simple questions. They did that but understanding the answers was another matter altogether. Most of the questions were about the distinct possibility of constituents dying as a result of the Lansley plan. They didn’t actually use those words but that was the gist of the often petulant enqiries. Sadly they were each given a dose of gobbledegook.
A typical example was the reply given to Mark Lancaster ( Milton Keynes). He wanted to be sure that doctors were going to receive sufficent funds with which to reconstruct a service that actually seems to be working well. Mr Lansley spoke at length about a ‘pathfinder consortium’. But, others wanted to know, doesn’t the word pathfinder infer a trial of a vague idea? It seems not, for there are apparently to be hundreds of pathfinders but the explanation as to how they will avoid producing hundreds of different schemes was so oblique that, despite having chaired two NHS Trust, I was totally bamboozled.
So confusing was the dialogue that Stephen Dorrell rushed to the aid of his mentor. He assured those MPs still awake that there would be ” improved core delivery of the efficiency challenge …reinforcing the interface”. So that’s all right then, these Lansleyites know what they are talking about. The problem is that no one else does and the stakes are very high!
Simon Hoggard of the Guardian ventures the view that the NHS reform plan was dreamed up by Andrew Lansley in his bedroom. He goes on to suggest that it is not so much a reform as a sellotape and string construction in the old British tradition of mad machines. Rowland Emett used to draw wonderful trains powered by kettles, weird collections of scrap which would make you a cup of tea, hit a golf ball or play dominoes. More recently Wallace and Gromit created devices to get you out of bed, pull your trousers up and make the toast. Or there is the Mousetrap game where the crank turns a lever, which hits a boot, which kicks a bucket, which makes a ball-bearing fall on to a seesaw. In the end the mouse is caught in a net. Or, more often, not.
Lansley’s reforms seem to be based on the same kid of connections and reactions. In theory they could just work but the worry is that quite a few people who should,know say that they won’t. Doctors, the British Medical Association, the independent Kings Fund and others see the plan as doomed, yesterday one gained the impression that most MPs on all sides feel the same. Of course they probably haven’t allowed for the ‘reinforcement of the interface’.
Certain it is that members were determined to be difficult. Some even went so far as to ask why none of this was in the manifesto or coalition statement of intent. Others wanted to know how GPs could find time to take on a zillion commissioning tasks whilst continuing to see their patients. Yet more were concernmed about postcode medicine. To all of them the answer was the same, reinforcing the interface would solve all problems.
As someone who regards the NHS as crucial for every family in the land I worry about all this. I realise that Lansley’s intention is to privatise the service but he doesn’t even seem to have a workable plan for that. In fact I came to a slightly worrying conclusion yesterday.
Perhaps the plan is as daft as everyone claims and suppose that Lansley, Dorrell and all are simply loopy. It would explain a lot but its implications are less than reassuring aren’t they?
IRAQ INQUIRY; THE PLOT THICKENS!
The Iraq inquiry rolls on and on and we all know the outcome anyway. But some of the revelations really are intriguing.
Yesterday it was the turn of former cabinet secretaries to give evidence. Predictably they claimed that Blair was economical with the truth only last week. Lord Turnbull said that no key papers were presented to the cabinet and Mr Blair was wrong to claim that ministers knew what was going on. When asked if there were proper cabinet decisions in the run-up to war, Lord Wilson answered ‘emphatically not’. In fact the cabinet was not asked to approve going to war until three days before the troops landed. Asked what the cabinet could have done Lord Turnbull replied that ‘they were pretty much imprisoned’. In fact the only option they had was to remove Blair. The final condemnation was reserved for the ministers who, with the exception of Gordon Brown and Robin Cook, didn’t seem to mind being left out’.
So we now know that there weren’t any discussions. Surprise, surprise! No surprise really but it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that Mr Blair should be tried for war crimes! Certain it is that Mr Cameron’s infatuation with him becomes stranger by the day!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY;” They say movies should be more like life. I think life should be more like movies”…..Myrna Loy. “Shakespeare wrote ‘ kill all the lawyers’. That was before Agents!”….Robin Williams. “I never go to movies where the hero’s bust is bigger than the heroines”….Groucho Marx. ” Night watchmen have a life expectancy in horror movies of 12 seconds”….Sam Waas. “Table for Five would be an ideal movie to watch on a plane. At least they provide free sick-bags”…..Simon Rose. “Watching a musical is like doing your own root canal work”…..Don Black “Very few pwople go to the doctor when they have a cold, they go to the theatre”…James Agate ” Nudity on stage is disgusting. But if I were 21 with a great body it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive religious experience”…..Shelley Winters.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Jack Hawkins 2. Sally Bowles
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. He directed ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘The Quiet Man’. he died in 1973. Who was he? 2. The musician Pablo Casals died in 1973. What was his instrument?
No rain, no ice this morning so we cleaned out and fed the hens without so much as a curse. But we did have a mild argument on the subject of honesty, that of politicians to be precise. It was triggered by today’s headlines about the Iraq Inquiry and the sudden implication by the former attorney general that Blair lied on his previous appearance. It was Tom who argued that it is impossible to be a leading politician and to avoid telling porkies. Perhaps the rest of us are as naive as Tom suggested, but it still seems a sad state of affairs.
In support of his case Tom cited Mr Cameron’s press conference of yesterday when he was accused by the BBC’s Nick Robinson of duplicity, having failed to mention his intention to smash up the NHS during his election camapign. Of course the truth is, said Tom, that he deliberately witheld the intention for fear of losing votes but he could hardly tell that truth yesterday could he? Eventually the argument petered out which, one imagines, is what Blair is praying will happen with the Iraq Inquiry. But will it?
Our former prime minister is due to reappear before Chilcott’s team on Friday and it will take all of his evasive charm to handle the fact that Lord Goldsmith, his most senior legal adviser at the time of the invasion, has alleged that his public statements about the invasion contradicted the legal advice he had been given. He said that Blair’s words made him “uncomfortable” and described how he was cut out of discussions over the drafting of the UN resolution used as cover for the invasion of March 2003. He insisted that had he been consulted he would have seriously altered the wording of the resolution. On Friday the greatest spin-doctor of them all will be asked why he made definitive statements disputed by Lord Goldsmith!
The attorney general’s evidence also suggests that Mr Blair may have misled Parliament over the legality of the war. Lord Goldsmith called into question some of the arguments used by Mr Blair during a crucial speech to MPs on 15 January 2003, as he attempted to convince them of the need to deal with Saddam Hussein. Amongst other things he said that “there are circumstances in which a UN resolution is not necessary, because it is necessary to be able to say in circumstances where an unreasonable veto is put down that we would still act”. This despite the fact that only a day before, Lord Goldsmith had told Mr Blair that the current UN resolution dealing with Saddam “could not be used to justify an invasion”.
Asked by Chilcott whether “the prime minister’s words were compatible with the advice” he had been given, Lord Goldsmith replied No. It is clear that both men cannot be telling the truth!. Interestingly the top legal adviser reiterated that “my views were nor sought in the perod between my meeting with the prime minister on 22 October 2002 and my telephone call with Jack Straw on 7 November 2002 when “the text of the resolution was all but agreed and during the period of my exclusion important changes occurred”.
If Lord Goldsmith’s evidence is open to debate it is less likely that new evidence from Jack Straw is. Yesterday the Inquiry released a secret memo form Mr Straw which, on March 25 2002, warned the prime minister of the “high” risks of his visit to George W Bush. It said that “a legal justification is necessary but is far from sufficient precondition for military action. And what will action achieve? Iraq has no history of democracy so no one has this habit or experience”. Yet more explaining for Mr Blair to do for many of us knew that the talk of free elections was hot-air!
The establishment looks after its own and few expect other than a whitewash. But yesterday has upped the stakes and it is perhaps not unfanciful to imagine that the summary could be that parliament and the nation was deliberately misled and many good people died.
Tom may be right in contending that politicians have to lie to survive but maybe, just maybe, we are about to learn that there is such a thing as a lie too far!
DESTRUCTION OF THE NHS IS UNDERWAY!
A major part of David Cameron’s defence of the sweeping NHS reforms was that he is following in the steps of Tony Blair. Perhaps no one has explained to him that Blair ain’t as popular as he once was! But having listened to him, the most eminent clinicians in the land made clear that “Approve or disapprove, this policy marks the end of the NHS”. And some one a little nearer to home had some cutting remarks to make.
Sarah Wollaston is in the unique position of being both a Tory MP and a GP. She said that the reforms are the equivalent to “tossing a grenade under the health service”. Dr Wollaston is a member of the parliamentary Health Select Committee and its overall verdict was equally hostile. MPs said they were surprised by the “significant policy shift” between what the coalition promised to do in May and what it is now proposing. There was “uncertainty compounded by apparently inconsistent messages”
Back in May, Cameron must have known he was planning the biggest reorganisation in the history of the NHS and its privatisation. He chose not to be honest and his defence that he is merely continuing along the path set by Blair is less that reassuring. And even now he is surely lying when he says that hospitals that fail to compete will be left to go into bankruptcy. No government could contemplate a large conurbation denied medical care. Or could it?
TAX AVOIDERS MAY BE REVEALED!
Are some of our super-rich tax avoiders about to come under the sort of spotlight reserved of late for MPs?
Yesterday the former banker Rudolf Elmer, who is due to appear in a Zurich court charged with breaking secrecy laws, handed to Wikileaks documents said to contain details of more than 2000 account holders who had used offshore tax havens to keep money out of the hands of the taxman.
The next fireworks night may come a little early this year!
A FEW THOUGHTS ON IT…..“Computers are like humans – they do everything but think”…John Von Neumann. “Bill Gates declared to the world, ‘I am Microsoft’. Mrs Gates had no comment”…..Whoopi Goldberg. “”A computer once beat me at chess but it was no match for me at kickboxing”….Emo Philips “The Internet is so big and so pointless that for some people it is a complete substitute for life”……Andrew Brown
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. It fell from 7.9 million to just under 7.4 million. 2. 1975
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who played the male lead in ‘Last Tango in Paris’? 2. Which much-loved jazz trumpeter died in 1971?
Vernon is fond of remarking that there is a hell and we are in it. I am suddenly inclined to agree. Four of us have just spent almost two hours digging paths through the snow which in places on the allotments stands almost two feet deep. Underneath it is solid ice and inside the chicken runs themselves the water-feeders could sink the Titanic. During a lifetime of keeping poultry I have never experienced such a battle. The sun is sparkling from a blue sky, but in terms of melting is as useful as a rattlesnake in a lucky dip. Clustered around the calor gas for a brew we concluded that our human rights to lie in bed are being infringed.
So crackpot is the present Act that we may well have a case. But to be serious, David Cameron should, to quote his sternest critic, stop talking and start acting over an Act that continues to cause outrage. The critic is heartbroken father Paul Houston of Darwen, Lancs. His 12 year-old daughter Amy was killed in a hit-and-run crash by Mohammed Ibrahim. He was already banned from driving, had no licence or insurance, and a string of convictions. Yet on Thursday a tribunal ruled against his being deported to his native Iraq since such an act would infringe his human rights. Clearly Amy and her grieving family have no rights, neither do all the troops who have died or been wounded fighting to restore order in Iraq!
In fairness to the Prime Minister, he told a press conference that his response is one of great anger. Here we have, he said, an Iraqi asylum seeker convicted of an offence that led to the death of a child and yet we are being told that there is no way this person can be deported to Iraq. It is wrong”. He added that Iraq should not be seen as a land too dangerous to deport people there. He added that ” Britain has spent billions of pounds and lost many, many good people to make Iraq a safer country”.
But Mr Houston is unimpressed. Before the election he received a letter from Mr Cameron promising that the present Act would be replaced by a British Bill of Rights. Being angry is for ordinary folk, Mr Cameron is supposedly in charge of the nation and, in contrast to his deputy, his word should be his bond. He should perhaps sit down and ask himself who is running the country; the EU, the Judges or the government.
The case of Amy is an appalling example of the Human Rights Act which must have been composed by Baldrick on one of his bad days. It is full of inconsistencies and scarcely a week passes but a vcitim is shown to have no rights and the perpetrator an unlimited number.
In expressing rage Mr Cameron showed that he has a heart and that he shares oiur outrage. But that is not enough. He has it in his power to scrap the bill and proceed with the replacement that he promised and which helped him to gather the votes that he did. We know that the Lib Dems are opposed to such a move but he should be prepared to take them on. He would in any case enjoy sufficient support from Labour to force the new Bill of Rights through.
Most people are sick to the back teeth of hearing about rulings from Brussels. This week the European Court overturned the 140-year ban on prisoners being allowed to vote. Enough is enough. Either the giovernment is prepared to defy, or break away from, Brussels or it should openly admit that it has no powers to bring sanity back to justice.
The tragedy of little Amy should be the trigger point for Mr Cameron and his colleagues to prove that they have spines. Will they keep their word or is Clegg now the norm?
ASHES TEST; PASS ME THE SACKCLOTH!
Which idiot described the England squad as invincible and the Aussies as the poorest Test side ever to wear the baggy-green? Yes it was me!
The Perth Test ended this morning (our time) in total humiliation for England who were twice skittled out by bowlers such as Johnson and Harris who most of us had seen as easy prey for what we believed to be a very strong England batting line-up.
Suddenly we are back to the old days when a visit to Australia was an ordeal for team and fans alike. But surely this Australian side can’t repeat the dose even on wickets that favour Johnson’s swing. Or can they?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Agatha Christie 2. Simon Rattle
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. From which musical came the song ‘You’re the one that I Want’? 2. With which poolitician did the press link Norman Scott?
It is cold enough to freeze a brass monkey this morning and if I had any long-johns I would definitely don them, but I turned down the offer of a loan from Albert not least because he believes that too frequent washing damages fabrics! The first signs of the promised return to Antartica are here and although she-who-must-be-obeyed constantly warns me against wishing my life away I find myself yearning for Spring. Perhaps that isn’t wise but just how wise are any of us? We may imagine that if we watch the news on the Beeb and scour the newspapers we are truly in the picture. And we would be wrong!
I have always suspected that there is far more collusion between the media and the government of the day than it appears and it seems that I was right. A good deal of information has now become public knowledge on the invasion of Iraq. We all knew that Blair and others lied, what we didn’t know was that the media did likewise.
In 2003 no fewer than 700 ‘embedded’ reporters and camera crews accompanied the invading forces. Embedded is the term used by the authorities for those being given full facilities and comforts in exchange for patriotic reporting. In other words the reporter only covers the things he or she is shown and does not ask difficult questions about scenes said to be damaging to the national interest. Standing outside 10 Downiung Street on the night of the invasion Andrew Marr said “Tony Blair said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating and on both points he has ben proved conclusively right”. In actual fact, even as the words were uttered, Iraqi civilians, men women and children were being slaughtered in huge numbers.
Rageh Omaar was there for the BBC and became a familiar face over the period of the so-called liberation. On the main news that night he said that “people have come out welcoming the Americans and holding up V-signs. This is an image taking place across the whole Iraqi capital’. In actual fact the bloody conquest and destruction of a whole society was taking place whilst reporters watched staged scenes of people toppling statues.
Today Omaar looks back with regrets. He says ” I didn’t really do my job properly, I hold my hand up and say that I didn’t press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough” He now describes how British military propaganda successfully manipulated coverage of the fall of Baghdad which the BBC News 24 reported as having fallen peacefully “17 times”.
Omaar is one of those now telling the whole truth. In studies of the television coverage, by the University of Wales , the BBC’s coverage was found to reflect overwhelmingly the government line and reports of civilians suffering were relegated, they simply didn’t happen.. Speaking now, Jeremy Paxman reflects on the whole Iraq reporting. Speaking to a group of students he said “I am perfectly open to the accusation that we were hoodwinked”. David Rose of the Observer is even more forthcoming. He reflects on articles that toed the government line of a link between Hussain and al-Quaida. “I can make no excuses …what happened was a crime. a crime on a very large scale” Does that make the media accomplices? Rose replies “yes..unwitting perhaps, but yes”
If deception on such a huge scale happened over Iraq how can we trust any other major coverage that requires government assistance to the media? The answer it would seem is that we can’t!
CUTS ARE UNFAIR SAY LEADING ANALYSTS!
If there is anyone still inclined to swallow the claim that the Osborne cuts are fair, they should cast an eye over today’s report from the highly respected Institute for Financial Studies.
It shows that on top of the 3.4% fall already experienced, middle-income families will lose a further £300 in real terms over the next two years, and at the lower income level more children and working adults will be pushed into poverty by 2014.
The report paints a stark picture for the poorest households. Cuts to housing benefits alone will force another 100,000 children into poverty over the next two years and a staggering 900,000 children and adults of working age will progressively slide into absolute poverty.
Financial analyses tend to be as interesting as watching paint dry but this one is startling. In effect it says that the coalition is either talking through its hat or is deliberately misleading the electorate. I wonder which it is!
AN INJUSTICE THAT SHAMES OUR COUNTRY!
At twelve years old Amy Houston had a long life ahead of her. But as she was walking to the local shops she was run over by Mohammed Ibrahim who fled leaving the child to die. He was already disqualified from driving, had no licence or insurance, and had a string of criminal convictions. He was sentenced to a mere four months but it was intended to expel him from the country.
Yesterday judges ruled that to do so would infringe his human rights and he is to be allowed to stay here. Not surprisingly, Amy’s father, Paul, is distraught.
In January he received a letter from David Cameron saying that it was clear that srrious mistakes had been made in this case and a Conservative Goivernment would replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. This would ensure that ” rights are better balanced aginst responsibilities”.
The sheer injustice of the case are breathtaking. And so is the coalition’s tendency to break every pledge that it ever made!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The Cupwinners Cup won by Rangers 2. A car accident
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which country did South Moluccan terrorists seize a train in 1975? 2. Which Western movie veteran finally won an Oscar in 1970?
Glory be, a mild morning! Since we allotmenteers are all inclined to be ostrich-like the forecast of a return to the ice age has been cheerfully dismissed and all is well with the world. Even the chickens seem more cheerful and, this morning, had more the air of rampaging students than supporters at Old Trafford waiting in vain for the rain to stop. Every book I have read on ‘allotment co-operatives’ tells of a good spirit amongst the members and ours is no exception. One for all and all for one, and not one enemy within. Which, it increasingly seems, is not the case in our national scene.
It has quickly emerged that the bomber who almost caused mass murder in Sweden was radicalised in Britain. Iraqi-born Taimour Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly blew up his car and then himself in Stockholm. He had spent much of the last decade in Luton which, according to today’s press, is a “hotbed of terrorism”. He studied for a degree in sports therapy at the university there and continued to live there with his wife and children.
The appalling incident raises yet again the question of admissions to UK universities, and the radicalisation of students when studying in this country. His Facebook page features an Islamic flag being raised over a world in flames and his website is said to have pictured Tower Bridge engulfed in an inferno.
Just what are the authorities allowing to develop? For too many years our society has been engulfed in rhetoric about political correctness and at all levels the agencies of law enforcement have become paranoid about taking any action which could be labelled as racist. They have quite rightly begun to crack down on such vile organisations as the BNP and the English Defence :League but they are only part of the unacceptable problem. Unless there is a huge crack down on universities that allow violence to be preached, there will be more and more outrages and the deaths of innocents.
It is fine to bang on about the merits of a democracy but protection of the public must take precedence. The authorities have to face reality. At the moment they show few signs of that. There are currently eight suspects held under ‘control orders’ and Nick Clegg is said to be pressing for such ‘undemocratic measures’ to be scrapped yet MI5 have warned that, if released, several will ‘commit acts of terrorism’. And yesterday brought news of what appears to be a ploy to close down the moving events at Wootton Basset which occur as each service fatality is brought home from Afghanistan and Iraq. It suggests that someone in government feels that the constant reminder of a war brought about by lies is provocative and difficult politics. Our dead heroes deserve to be publicly acclaimed, those who feel otherwise are contemptable. Our reaction to such a move, and to actions like those in Luton when Muslim protesters spoiled the homecoming of soldiers of the 2nd battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment, should be to insist that the coalition finds a backbone, no mean task given that it includes the fractured Lib Dems, and states clearly that enough is enough.
The rule of law must be enforced on every section of the community whether they be students, Muslims, BNP, or mad anarchists. To do this David Cameron will have to part company with Kenneth Clarke who deludes himself that locking people up is a thing of the past. It isn’t. If the public is at risk it is the only way to ensure its safety.
And it is perhaps time to reflect that the people who go shopping in Stockholm, London, New York or anywhere, also have human rights!
TRUST IN GOVERNMENTS HAS DECLINED!
The most comprehensive survey of public attitudes, published annually for almost 30 years, has demonstrated that attitudes in one respect have indeed changed over the years. Surprisingly there is a distinct tendency now to oppose the benefit culture but in most other things there is a belief that things have improved not least in the NHS and our schools. The only national institution to have lost credibility is, unsurprisingly, the banks which are now trusted by a mere 18%.
But the huge exception to the general tendency to see betterment is in respect of government. Or to be more precise, in lack of respect. In the Thatcher years the survey regularly reported that only one in ten ‘almost never’ trusted the government. Today that figure has quadrupled. We are heading for a situation where half of the population distrusts its elected representatives.
This is surely a deeply worrying development. It seems that MPs are seen as pursuing a seperate agenda on issues such as the EU, immigration and the intrusion of the state in every aspect of life. But of course it was the revelations on expenses that did the greatest damage and any government from here on will face an enormous credibility gap.
Oh for a latter day Winston Churchill!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. William Styron 2. Malawi
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which prematurely aged corporal recorded ‘Grandad’ in 1971? 2. Which ex-Beatle made a triple album called ‘All Things Must Pass’?
I cannot remember the allotment having been such a muddy mess before. This morning we stood under lowering skies around the hen runs in a mood of near despair. Inches of mud everywhere brought a mood of rebellion and no one seemed prepared to do anything. Up stepped Albert who, with a barrow of gravel and a fork, began to tackle the nearest swamp. For the purpose of establishing the metaphor I seek I shouldn’t perhaps mention that he ended up on his backside in the process but even that broke the sullen mood. He now has fashionable spikey hair born of free gel. But he did set an example.
Back in 1796 Edmund Burke wrote that ” Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other” and his words ring true today. The country is in a serious financial state and there will be no escape unless everyone accepts the need for thrift and sacrifice. Right now the national mood is one of sullen resentment and the supposed leadership of the good ship UK is making things worse with its message of don’t do what we do but what we tell you.
I spotted a perfect illustration of this in a local newspaper yesterday. Someone called Francis Fitzgerald wrote a letter bemoaning the axing of PCSOs, police support workers who have been helpful in controlling what he calls “the yob element”. He contrasts that with a decison to provide the chief constable with a Jaguar car costing in total up to £90,000. Of course the reduction in the specification of one car would not fund many PCSOs, but the lack of an example is appalling.
Many years ago a company I was running hit a sticky financial patch. It was clear that unless reductions were made to our consumable costs we would be in trouble. I swapped my car for a Mini and took a pay cut. Only then did I begin my exhortations to economise. It is not what people do when you are present, far more important is their true attitude and unobserved actions. My gesture gave me a pulpit and staff rallied round.
Sadly it isn’t only chief constables who are failing to set a lead today. Lloyds, one of the banks to be rescued by the taxpayer, has announced the appointment of a new chief executive. Antonio Horta-Osborio is undounbtedly a star but how can anyone justify the awarding of an annual total pay package of £8million? Small wonder that a spokesman for the Unite union lashed out. “How can this be right when thousands of people are losing their jobs at Lloyds?” seems a reasonable question.
Never slow to find a sinecure for his pals, David Cameron added to the general sense of injustice yesterday by appointing Andrew Parsons and Nicky Woodhouse into Civil Service jobs that were not advertised. Both made Conservative films featuring Cameron during the election campaign. Small wonder that Ed Miliband questionned the judgement behind such extravagence when ” he (Mr Cameron) is telling everyone to tighten their belts”.
The worrying aspect of all this is that even if leaders do set an example the followers must believe in their sincerity and integrity. Right now there is widespread cynicism about politicians in general and one group in particular. An opinion poll in today’s Sun shows the Lib Dems on an astonishing 9 per cent. No political party has experienced a fall of this magnitude in recent political history. It seems that the decision of the likes of Clegg and Cable to unashamedly break their (signed) word on tuition fees has shocked even their most loyal supporters.
It may be pure fantasy to imagine the present establishment operating in World War 2 but one cannot help wondering how they would have fared. Churchill inspired by example. As the bombs rained down on London he stayed there and continually walked the streets. When he demanded that everyone fight to the end they responded because they saw his commitment to doing just that. Our present day pack of politicians, chief constables, bankers and all, would probably have headed off to Canada and exhorted us from there! Self understanding tells me that I would have been frightened witless by doing what Churchill did but would have recognised that action speaks louder than words.
YouTube HAS A LOT TO ANSWER FOR!
Roshonara Choudry, a gifted student who watched over 100 hours of sermons by the extremist cleric Anwar al Awlaki, was yesterday sentenced to life imprisonment for the attempted murder of MP Stephen Timms.
Surprisingly the police have released the transcript of the initial interview conducted with her by Simon Dobinson, a detective sergeant, and Syed Hussain, a constable. It makes chilling reading. It seems that Choudry had no contact with anyone else on the subject of terrorism but became convinced by the YouTube films. She started listening to the inflammatory lectures last year and “really got into it”. She came to believe that “as Muslims we’re all brothers and sisters and should look out for each other and shouldn’t sit back and do nothing while others suffer. We shouldn’t allow the people who oppress us to get away with it and to think that they can do whatever they want to us and we’re just gonna lie down and take it”.
And so she decided to kill those MP’s who supported the war against Iraq. The one attempt mercifully failed but Choudry, who refused to accept the authority of the court, is unrepentant. “I’ve fulfilled my obligation, my Islaamic duty, to stand up for the people of Iraq and to punish someone who wanted to make war with them” were her final remarks to the interviewers.
Yesterday the video sharing site said that it is taking down hundreds of hours of the poisonous lectures. Sadly, for one talented but brainwashed young lady, it is too little, too late!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Brazil 2. Punk rock
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who married Kathy Silva on stage in New York in 1974? 2. ‘We don’t talk anymore’ was a 1979 hit for who?
Dark skies and constant rain are not the perfect ingredients for a happy day but I still expected to find my pals in good humour as they sloshed up the allotment path. Every one of us is of pensionable age and ministers have just announced generous reforms to the state pension, the retention of our winter fuel payments and bus passes not to mention free TV licences. But it seems that we old ‘uns are a cynical lot for the consensus seemed to be that the politicians have grasped the fact that older people vote and younger ones often forget or don’t bother.
I confess that there is mathematical sense in that. ‘Grey Power’ is surging and the bulk of Conservative votes come from that quarter. That is a statistical fact although I can never work out whether that is because we become more conservative as we age or because Conservatism is dying out. Either way my pals regard with suspicion the largessse suddenly being heaped upon their creaking frames. Of course it has to be said that the level of trust in politicians of any colour now lies lower that a snakes belly, but surely the pension reform is to be welcomed.
Even allowing for grouchiness born of pouring rain and crochetty animals paddling in mud the reaction surprised me. The first point against was that it is not planned for introduction until after the next election which makes its announcement appear somewhat opportunistic. Secondly its funding is said by leading economist to necessitate the raising of the retirement age to 68, and thirdly it appears to be another ‘back of a fag packet’ plan along the lines of Lansley’s NHS reforms now being kicked into touch by about 80 per cent of the medical profession.
The onslaught of my pals weakened my first reaction that at last a government is moving toward the Chinese principle of revering the elderly, a hope reinforced by today’s announcemnt of a concerted effort to tackle the appalling lack of care and adequate treatment of people suffering from Alzheimers Disease. In that case the lack of funding and decimation of social workers had already watered down my euphoria.
At the heart of the growing cynicism about any so-called progessive reform lies the growing cynicism about those who purport to be pursuing it. Yesterday Vince Cable did his best to stoke that particular fire. Commenting on the repetition of the fatuous claim that the previous government was solely to blame for our deficit he pointed out that up until the election only he warned of the dangers of the reckless lending practices of the Banks, his reward was to be labelled an “eccentric” and ” party pooper”. He went on to remind us that before the election his new Conservative colleagues were supporting the very economic assumptions and actions that they now ascribe to Grumpy Gordon. Cameron et al were, Uncle Vince claimed, assuming that strong growth was assured for which they were planning new policies for sharing out the spoils. The punchline came when he reminded everyone that “the Conservatives supported the Labour government’s spending plans”.
Perhaps Mr Cable has seen the latest polls showing the impending death of the Lib Dems or perhaps he is staking a claim for the leadership. In fairness he may just be telling the truth but sadly our cynicism has reached the point of ruling such a praiseworthy act as impossible.
Whatever his motive The Business Secretary’s interjection did nothing to restore our belief in fairness or of all being togther in the same boat. Which is a pity since I for one would like to believe in the sudden conversion to the cause of those heading into old age. Shakespeare in 1599 spoke of “Age I do abhor thee, youth I do adore thee” and rather more recently, and less prosaically, Micheal Foot said that “Old age is not all it’s made up to be”. No doubt a vast number of others who, being both poor and old, are struggling to survive, echo those sentiments every day.
So I insist in believing that awareness of the nightmare of being old, vulnerable and uncared for is growing in high places. Having said that, what passes for my self understanding says that it should not rank higher than the needs of younger people, who seem to be the real victims of the cuts.
So mixed are my feelings on the response to the growing percentage of old’uns that I would make a hopeless Chancellor. Then again the present incumbant doesn’t seem too sure of himself either for the light he sees in the tunnel begins to appear ominously as another crash travelling at speed toward us.
ARMY INTERROGATION METHODS UNDER QUESTION!
There seem to be more leaks in the military arena than are to be found in an old bucket. Today The Guardian has laid hands on documents that deal with the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan that leave a very nasty taste in the mouth.
Training aids and documents tell trainee military interrogators that prisoners should be stripped before they are questionned and subsequently blindfolded to increase the sense of pressure. Also recommended are broken sleeping patterns, ear muffs and plastic handcuffs. One shudders to think what is recommended in documents yet to be leaked!
All of these practices are in breach of the Geneva Convention but, even more importantly, are surely likely to increase hostility to our troops on the ground. And the fact that the mad people on the other side are equally inhumane is beside the point. If we have nothing left to teach them about civilised behaviour we should get out now!
LIES AND YET MORE LIES!
On last Thursday ‘Question Time’ we had yet another loopy minister repeating the old lie about our paying millions of pounds in interest to foreign governments which then go on to build schools and hospitals with our cash. Do they really believe this tripe or are they simply lying? Either way it does nothing to increase confidence.
The truth is that 70 per cent of our debt is owed to British Insurance companies and pension funds, the Bank of England, and British building societies. Of the 30 per cent of gilts in issue held overseas there are no involvements directly with foreign governments.
How many more goons are going to trot out the well worn guff about funding overseas hospitals etc? For that matter how many more will claim that the recession was caused by the last government. That being so why are they rioting in France, Spain and the rest?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Thornton Wilder 2. Paul Revere
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which sport did the Chiefs beat the Vikings in 1970? 2. In which event did Ron Hill win European gold in 1970?
The allotment gang always strikes me as being a little like freemasonry without the funny handshakes. Everyone shares everything and that stretches beyond the obvious to include books. One such has been going the rounds for some time now and the copy of ‘Squaddie’ by Steven McLaughlin is decidedly dog-eared. Old soldier Harry is the owner and he bought it at a signing at Waterstones. Inside is inscribed “All the very best in life and good luck always”. Given the torrid time that the author, a 30 year-old private in the Green Jackets, endured he could well have wished the nation a less favourable outcome!
The book is published by Mainstream Publishing and, provided you are neither sqeamish nor prudish I can recommend it. Because this is a from-the-heart account of life in Iraq after the invasion the language is ripe and if you choose to believe that troops under attack talk like Biggles this read is not for you. But if you would like to know what our soldiers felt, as against what the Ministry of Defence said they felt, this is essential reading.
For me this is a book that is hard to put down. Almost every page screamed one question at me, how did anyone ever imagine that once the invasion was over winning the peace would be easy? The author sums it up by declaring that ‘by choosing to attack Iraq when it did, America may have opened up a 50 year conflict with Islam, not dissimilar to the struggle with Communism but potentially deadlier, because I believe religion to be a more powerful force than political ideology”. He sums up with a truly damning verdict. ” I am convinced that in years to come historians will look back on the debacle of Iraq and record it as grand folly on an epic scale” he says.
Strong words but one is inevitably drawn to the same conclusion when reading of the day-to-day atmosphere and culture of post-war Basra, which was where Steven McLaughlin served. His vivid description of the city is compelling. As a driver of one of the notoriously vulnerable Land Rovers he had been briefed on conditions but was nonetheless shocked by his first journey through the city centre. The scene of utter chaos and total mayhem on the roads could, he says, have come straight out of a Mad Max movie, and the abject poverty and clutter that was supposed to be a city looked more like a backdrop from ‘Black Hawk Down’. Never before had he driven with such aggression or disregard for the nrmal rules of safety – the streets were like a ‘dodgem track’ and he was fiorced to drive like he was in ‘Starsky and Hutch’.
In Iraq there are no driving tests, no MOTs, no road tax, no insurance and no rules whatsoever. Anyone can drive anything and there are no traffic rules. He and his colleagues were obliged to drive at breakneck speed because lurking amongst the teeming throng were terrorists whose favourite tactic was to try to isolate one Army vehicle, into which they would lob a grenade or spray some gunfire before disappearing as if invisble. As indeed they were because the author constantly reminds us that the enemy wore no uniform and almost every man, terrorist or otherwise, carries a gun.
Places where the troops felt most vulnerable were at police checkpoints and in traffic jams. Basra is, he explains, a sprawling and overpopulated lump of crumbling concrete and abandoned blocks of slum housing. A driver would keep his eyes on the chaotic traffic whilst the others had to cover alleyways, pedestrians, surrounding traffic, huge blocks of flats and shop doorways. On one occasion they spotted someone about to fire a hand-held rocket and screamed away whilst returning fire. The ‘soft-skin- Land Rovers had no protective armour and assailants merely needed to hit the driver. As the vehicle crashed a mob would do the rest.
Once clear of the city the greatest fear was roadside IED bombs. Every clump of rubbish or patch of shrubbery was a potential bomb. Their random and unpredictable nature took no account of any military skills and the most switched-on soldier in the world would die instantly if the vehicle drove over a hidden bomb.
The author recalls some good experiences. When possible the troops would stop and chat to children. In contrast to the adolescents who spat on the floor or hurled insults, the younger kids radiated goodwill and curiosity. Many were clearly near to starvation but the troops were frobidden to hand out even water for early precedents showed that when a crowd gathered an attack quickly followed. Some adults too were friendly but in the main the troops encountered hatred and a belief that even under Saddam people had felt less oppressed or fearful. Of course the soldiers could never be sure that the people they spoke to were not the very ones that had attacked them earlier!
But, for me, the most sobering part of the book is that which sums up what many of the British troops felt. It was, they believed, an unwinnable war and it was causing unending distress as a result of attacks on suspected terrorists which inevitably involved the death of many innocents. This in turn led to an increasing hostility. The author feels that Iraq has become a recruiting sergeant and cause celebre for Islamic fundamentalists across the world. Whereas before they dare not show their faces in Iraq, they have now taken up permanent residence. Many of the locals said that they believed the al-Qaeda line that the allies invaded Iraq for no resaon and stole its oil. The slogan of ‘join us and fight’; has won much support.
Of course much of what appears in this harrowing account applies equally to Afghanistan. Politicians may well ridicule what soldiers such as Steven McLaughlin say but they haven’t served on the ground in these hostile lands whose culture will never adapt to our version of democracy. The book ends on a truly sobering note. When at last the time comes to return home there is great relief and rejoicing. But no sense of success for most soldiers of self understanding see this as an unjust and unreal occupation.
Whilst he was serving in Iraq the author, despite being an athiest, read the bible for the first time. He selected words from Mark which he published for the attention of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, both of whom made much of their faith. The words read “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
BEEB UNDER ATTACK YET AGAIN!
The Daily Mail is fixing its guns on the BBC with its launch of ‘Whinge Watch’. The aim is to ‘highlight bias and ensures it reflects the interests of the private sector – which pays its bills – as assiduously as the concerns of the public sector of which it is the flagship’.
The series began with Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie accusing the BBC of failing to ‘truly represent the broad cross-section of licence-fee payers’. Will this latest excercise in nonsense last longer than the Telegraph’s ‘beebwatch’ launched with a similar fanfare in 2003? That faded out when the editor realised that the vast majority of the population value the dear old Beeb
In his recent speech Mark Thompson, BBC director-general, revealed statistics showing that 74 per cent of Daily Mail readers say they are glad the BBC exists, whilst 82 per cent of Telegraph readers say likewise. He added that the papers in question not only failed to reflect the opinion of the nation but even failed to reflect that of their own readers.
Strangely the Mail forgot that bit when it reported on Thompson’s speech!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Marc Bolan of T Rex 2. Diane Keaton
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which sport was Heather McKay dominant? 2; Which Welsh cricketer captained England?
“They’re just a pair of big girl’s blouses” muttered Albert as he shook the rain from his ferreting coat. It is a long time since I took an interest in blouses, big or otherwise, and his meaning was lost on me until others joined in the moan and I realised that the brothers Miliband saga is beginning to irritate my pals.
To the newspapers it is a soap opera of Lady Gaga proportions but even by those standards some of the explanations given for David Miliband’s decision not to serve under his young brother beggar belief. Most ludicrous of all is the claim that he wishes to spend more time with his sons, Isaach and Jacob. Does anyone seriously believe that he would have said that had he won? Almost as daft is the stuff about giving his brother space or being embarrassed by their conflicting views on Iraq. The history of Cabinets, shadow or government, contains hundreds of examples of ministers serving together yet retaining individual beliefs. No, the explanation is , we ferreters suspect, a much simpler one.
Older brothers find it impossible to accept their younger sibling, however much loved, as their boss. And who can fail to sympathise? Just imagine the case of the Milibands. David was born into the home of famous Marxist academics who regularly entertained the likes of Tony Benn, Tariq Ali and all. We read that by the time he was ten David was a regular participant in the discourse and it is easy to imagine that the much younger Ed was packed off to bed.
Anyone who has had sons, or is a brother, will know only too well the extent to which an older brother – four years is a chasm in early years – dominates and protects his younger brothers. Often he is asked by Mum or Dad to ‘set an example’ and , equally often, to keep an eye out for him at school or play. Often he enoys the role of playing ‘Mr Superior’ when passing on knowledge. Always there is rivalry and competition for parental approval. In all but disfunctional families there is always an underlying feeling on the part of the older boy of affection mingled with scorn at how relatively little junior knows about cricket. As the years roll by the intellectual gap may narrow but the innate feeling of seniority prevails.
By the time he was in his 20s, David Miliband was part of Tony Blair’s policy circle and it is not hard to imagine that thoughts of his young brother overtaking him in the political heirarchy would never have occurred to him. In fact he almost certainly enjoyed telling him of encounters with the then political elite. And as the boys became men the gap in seniority was maintained. Ed eventually entered parliament in 2005 but by then his brother was almost a household name. Again it is easy to imagine that David provided a good deal of advice on the peculiarities of Westminster.
Loyal by nature David refused to challenge Brown when the chance came but defeat in the general election opened up another opportunity and this time he made his move. Everyone around him would have assured him that his victory was a mere formality. And then his younger brother, his prodigy, announced his candidacy. That would have been a surprise but older brother probably regarded it with equanimity. If young Ed did well it would provide the chance to include in the Shadow Cabinet someone he could trust.
And suddenly the world of David Miliband is turned upside down. The lad whose ear he occasionally clipped had, against all expectation, won. Would he accept him as his boss? Impossible to live with such a notion. David is undoubtedly a man with great self undertstanding. He will quickly have realised that his only route to self pride lay in mounting another challenge in two years time. He could only do that honourably from the backbenches. At no time will he do other than support his younger brother but he must either challenge him or leave politics altogether.
Meantime Ed has his chance. Yes, he is considerably less experienced than David but there is little likelihood of a general election for four years given that the Lib Dems risk annihilation if they bring the coalition down. He has already shown good judgement in replacing the mischievous Nick Brown with Rosie Winterton as chief whip. Her powers of persuasion will help. But he has a way to go befiore convincing the electorate on his penchant for increased civil liberty, even if his condemnation of Iraq has proved popular.
I may be wrong but I cannot believe that David Miliband will ever be able to reconcile himself to serving under his young brother however much he loves him. If Ed manages to lead well the turbulant ranks of the Labour Party we may well have seen the last of the former Foreign Secretary in a political sense. On the other hand if Ed falters or even if he does well but loses an election we can be sure of two things. David will be back and Ed will be happy to serve under him.
After all that wouldn’t be a new experience! I suspect that when Wordsworth wrote ’how fast has brother followed brother from sunshine to the sunless land’, he had in mind that the leader would be the older!
BANKS ARE UNREPENTANT!
Today’s report from the Financial Services Authority makes interesting reading. Given their record of abysmal failure one would expect to learn of improvements all round. One would be wrong!
Over the past six months an astonishing 1.3 million complaints have been lodged. The subects include sloppy service, poor advice and the misselling of financial products. State-owned banks such as RBS-Nat West are among the worst offenders in terms of the proportion of complaints upheld.
Nice to know that they are still earning their bonuses isn’t it?
SO MUCH FOR NICK CLEGG’S WORD!
“After Labour’s long assault on civil liberties, we’ve scrapped child dention in the immigration system” boasted Nick Clegg in a letter to supporters attending the Lib Dem conference. Not true! Almost as delegates found their rooms, two children were reported to be locked up in the infamous Yarl’s Wood centre in Bedfordshire. And Immigration Minister, Damian Green, no longer talks of ending child detention but speaks of ‘minimisng’ it instead.
Get those tee-shirts out. It is Nick’s fault after all !
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. 1974 2. Amnesty International
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Whio was the author of the 1973 title ‘The Honorary Consul’? 2. In TV’s ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ whom did Mr Hudson marry in the 1975 showing?