Posts Tagged ‘Leveson inquiry’
No prize for guessing what dominated our conversation this morning when we codgers gathered for the daily hen-cleaning ritual. Our dear leader’s latest U-turn is the most astonishing of them all. Whilst on visits yesterday both Miliband and Clegg had expressed confidence that a compromise on Leveson was close. It was the reporters who told them that David Cameron had suddenly pulled his party out of the talks. Clegg was clearly astonished and, on the spur of the moment, said that only David Cameron knows why.
‘Hacked Off’, the campaign for phone-hacking victims, accused the prime minister of a “shameless betrayal of victims of press abuse”. The group’s lawyers had been in talks with officials from the culture department when they were suddenly informed that Cameron had decided to end the discussions. The lawyers were asked to leave the building. Some of the victims took to the air to remind our dear leader that he had promised to meet them and had broken his word. Within hours a national furore had broken out, something that the PM must have anticipated. Perhaps a clue to his mysteriously sudden change of tack was provided by an immediate statement from The Newspaper Society, which represents some owners, which said that ” Mr Cameron is right to reject statutory regulation as it would threaten 300 years of press freedom”.
Freedom to intimidate, falsify and intrude illegally perhaps? It was noticable that a number of papers immediately disassociated themselves from the statement. Amongst them was the Guardian which suggested that reconciliation of the various views was close. It reminds us that just two principled points remained under discussion.
The first is whether to use a statute to give Cameron’s idea of a royal charter democratic legitimacy. Ministers can always unpick backdoor Buckingham Palace legislation and that should worry press and public alike. The second issue is independence. The Press Complaints Commission failed because it wasn’t a true regulator and it wasn’t truly independent. But some newspaper owners still want a veto over appointments to a supposedly independent regulator – that directly conflicts with the Leveson poposals and is clearly unacceptable.
It is clear that Cameron believed that a compromise was imminent. It is equally clear that something happened yesterday morning to force him to pull out quickly. We may never know what that was but speculation is rife. The words telephone, threats and Murdoch spring to mind. Perhaps not, but we cannot forget the revelations of his close links with the News Corp crowd at the time of the BSkyB bid. At best they were inappropriate, at worst corrupt.
Certain it is that our dear leader suddenly felt cornered. But having leapt from one corner he has landed in another. Even Nick Clegg is unlikely to bail him out this time and the Conservatives are in real danger of defeat in the Commons on Monday if the new coalition of Labour and Lib Dems muster their full total of votes. Of course there will be a lot of arm-twisting before then and it is possible that Clegg and co will decide to do what they did on the ‘Mansion Tax’.
Either way this is a remarkable betrayal by a man who promised to implement Leveson unless it was insane. Ask any member of the public and they will almost certainly say that it is entirely sane and necessary. The bully-boy tabloids are a disgrace going right back to Hillsborough through to Milly Dowler and the McCanns. Even as you read this yet more reporters are under arrest for phone-hacking.
The idea of the press barons controlling appointments to a new regulatory body is laughable. The issue at stake is not press freedom, but the freedom of every citizen to seek redress against lies and intrusion.
We all knew that David Cameron has become indecisive and pompous. Until now we Codgers had continued to give him the benefit of the doubt against charges of being in the pockets of powerful press barons.
We no longer do!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “A politician never believes anything he says, so is always amazed when other people do”..Charles de Gaulle
Acording to the weathermen heavy snow was due at 11.00am, so we hurried our hen-cleaning with a view to avoiding being buried alive. The Met Office is seldom as precise as this, and by the time you read this you will know just how wise they were to be so on this occasion. Our problem is that we have reached the stage of believing absolutely nothing that we are told.
If we codgers are in anyway typical a state of cynicism stalks the land. It is hard to put the finger on the origins of this common mental state, but the Leveson Inquiry gave us some pointers. Day after day brought clear evidence of both newspapers and politicians having reached the point where pure invention is the norm. Even worse we realised that the links between sections of the press and politicians run deep, where the latter will jump through a thousand hoops to win support and the twisting of news to manipulate the public will.
The odds are that the perceived need to hold on to the support of Murdoch and the like is driving our dear leader and his colleagues to go to any lengths to ensure that Leveson’s recommendations are not implemented, and that the press barons will be left to exercise their own controls. One wonders if this was on the agenda just days before Christmas when Gorgeous George Osborne visited New York for a get-together with Robert Thomson, the new chief executive of the company that will control all Murdoch’s newspaper operations in Britain and the US. After a great deal of denial the Treasury spin-doctors have finally admitted that the meeting took place.
Meantime the press shows little sign of reform. Today’s Telegraph carries a four-page diatribe about the Swansea ball-boy who was booted by a Chelsea player on Wednesday evening. His parents climb from rags to riches, his own penchant for fast cars and daring emails are all investigated in minute detail. Invasion of privacy still seems to be the order of the day even amongst the so-called quality press. And the coverage of our dear leader’s promise of a referendum on Europe has had all the organs slanting the story to suit their own political agenda. Thus we ‘learn’ that Angela Merkel has welcomed ‘Dave’s ‘ plan to reform the EU. In reaity she said nothing of the sort, but favours must be repaid.
It is in regard to the dismantling of the NHS that the politicians and press alike are really having a field day in the lying stakes. Tomorrow will see thousands march through the streets of south-east London to protest aginst “ludicrous and highly dangerous” plans to close the A & E department at Lewisham Hospital. So intense is the anger that Millwall’s home match has been brought forward to tonight, and the club has made clear its view of the plan – “scandalous”.
The truth is that the closure is aimed at resolving the financial crisis at the neighbouring debt-mired South London Healthcare NHS Trust. The truth is that that hospital will not be able to care for the 125,000 patients of Lewisham. The truth is that ambulances face a one hour journey, and that local people seeking non-emergency medical help face the frightening prospect of having nowhere to turn to without first undertaking lengthy bus or car trips through congested traffic areas.
What we are being told is that this is all part of a plan to create bigger, and more technically efficient, crisis centres. South London isn’t that and there will be no local non blue-lights centre in Lewisham, something that the Department of Health claims is part and parcel of the move toward a new approach to emergency medicine. This pattern is set to be applied right across the country. It is based on an outright lie.
Unknown to most is the fact that the NHS ‘reforms’ are in the hands of management consultants who are rubbing their hands as the juicy contracts roll in. McKinsey is at the forefront of the plan to create a “commissioning market” and it pocketed the best part of £3million for last year alone. The work is led by Dr Penny Dash who was head of strategy at the DoH before movng on to the NHS competition regulator and promoter Monitor. Wheels within wheels, all well greased.
Come the election the NHS, not the EU, will be the major issue. There will be a new political party comprising clinical consultants. They will face a tough challenge as the politicians lie and their media friends oblige with tales doctored not by clinicians but those of the spin variety.
It is hard to know where all this will end, the country is in the last-chance saloon but has little awareness of the truth on any issue. Perhaps the only hope lies in the fact that today’s new generation do not read newspapers and have little respect for politicians.
Meantime we can console ourselves with the old adage that the truth will out. But when?
TODAYS QUOTES ARE ON MONEY! “In the midst of life we are in debt”…..Ethel Watts Mumford “Why is there so much month left at the end of the money?” …..John Barrymore “The difference between outlaws and in-laws is that the outlaws don’t promise to pay it back”…..Kin Hubbard “I once gave a waiter a tip – I told him never to step off a moving bus”…..Groucho Marx “My problem is how to reconcile my gross habits with my net income”….Errol Flynn “I gave him an unlimited budget and he exceeded it”…..Edward Williams “Saving is a fine thing – especially when your parents have done it for you”…..Winston Churchill “I’ve got all the money I need if I die by four o’clock”…..Henny Youngman “When a man tells you he got rich by hard work, ask him whose”…..George Bernard Shaw
It took many a bucket of hot water to give the hens access to their early morning drink today. One bonus for ancient codgers was that cleaning-out was imposible given that the muck was frozen, so we heaped liberal amounts of bedding on top. Like the national tax regime all looks well on the surface but underneath lies rather less pleasant reality. Thus freed from our usual chore several of us went down to the local garden centre in search of Christmas presents. Mistake. Cars were queuing for admission, people were jostling down the aisles. Little sign there of the dramatic fall in retail sales that we read so much about.
My reference to the taxman was triggered by stories that have hit the headlines today. They concern a company called Abbey Forwarding of Woolwich. They operate a drinks warehousing business which was suddenly raided by 20 officers from the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs). The inspectors changed the locks, appointed a Liquidator and fired the directors and staff.
The woman appointed to liquidate was Louise Brittain who now works for Deloitte, charges around £750 an hour and is described as tough and experienced. Be that as it may she certainly subjected the family directors and their wives to an appalling experience. She rendered them bankrupt and subjected them to threats of losing their homes and everything they possessed. It was explained to them that fraud was suspected.
When directors are dismissed in this way they have no legal right to appeal, the only person that can do that is the Liquidator, who is appointed by HMRC. The tax authorites can apply to a judge at an ‘ex parte’ hearing at which the company it wishes to liquidate is not represented and so cannot defend itself. In this case that allowed HMRC’s counsels to claim fraudulent practice and to support this by stories of 301 occasions on which the company’s vehicles had taken out loads of drinks yet were empty when stopped. Therefore they were evading the payment of duty.
Because they were in liquidation the directors had no access to records or computers and no entitlement to representation. What they knew was that the HMRC and its Liquidator were lying. Meantime Ms Brittain showed just how tough she is by freezing their persoanl bank accounts, and maintaining a vicious campaign of intimidation. It was when she decided to sue the former directors for “malfeasance”that she made her first mistake.
The case was heard in the High Court before Mr Justice Lewison. For the first time the persecuted were allowed to contest the charges. The Judge found that the claims made by the HMRC were totally false. For example, Ms Brittain’s claim of 301 ‘stops’ proved to be a lie. There were in fact only 3 such events and in all three cases there was a valid explanation.
The Judge was astonished when one HMRC employee admitted that he had no evidence that Abbey had been involved in fraud, but maintained that he had no proof that it had not. The Judge pointed out that this is not grounds for liquidation or any other legal charge. He went on to describe the evidence as rubbish, and dismissed the charges.
For the family business the experience has been horrendous, one senior member recalls that he contemplated suicide. For them the battle goes on and they are en route for a case against HMRC for the loss caused by the company’s liquidation, which amounts to millions of pounds in legal and other fees . Meantime Ms Brittain has admitted that she had known for several months that the allegation that over 300 of the Abbey’s lorries had been stopped was false!
There is of course much more detail available, but I tell this summary of the story to illustrate that there is cause for concern at the sweeping powers allowed to the taxman. There is nothing new to this and for years legal experts have argued that the dice is loaded dangerously in favour of the Inspectors and their Liquidators. We have all tended to regard the taxman as someone to be feared, but we have generally assumed that the ‘Inland Revenue’ is a bastion of truth and integrity.
Clearly we were wrong! It is true that there has been some unease at talk of cosy deals with large taxpayers but now we face the grimmer reality, that our tax enforcers are dishonest bullies. Neither are they very effective if today’s announcement by Starbucks that it is to reconsider its tax-avoidance in the light of ‘customer misgivings’.
The cuts that are affecting almost everyone are the result of treasury income falling short of expenditure. The news that the body responsible for increaing income is both dishonest and incompetent is depressing.
If our dear leader ever extracts himself from his self-imposed Leveson crisis he should perhaps have someone consider this!
Albert was singing about his tiny hand being frozen as we cleaned out the hens this morning. It wasn’t the only part of my anatomy so afflicted. In the space of 24-hours we have moved from the new flood age to the new ice variety. It is on mornings like this that I tend to consider the option of being a more typical 80-year old. Pathetic surrender? Maybe, but the thought of lying under the covers for another hour or so has replaced my long-held fantasy about walking into the sunset with Zsa Zsa Gabor!
Once we had thawed out it was time for our daily moan around the hut fire. One of our pet hates is the energy companies, all of whom now have their own debt collectors who make the Third Reich look like Mother Theresa by comparison. When the latest example of this is revealed we often wonder how on earth it came to this. We have a system designed to ensure that the consumer comes off worst, with much of our energy having been effectively nationalised by foreign firms either owned or substantially assisted by their own governments. We can blame Thatcher but shouldn’t forget that our foreign masters flourished under Blair.
But we drew some consolation this morning from the news that this government is about to camp down on so called pay-day loan sharks. Many a desperate soul has been drawn into their seemingly attractive web without bothering to check the interest rates enforced should the next pay-day come and go without repayment. All credit to our dear leader on this one!
But the news today will undoubtedly focus on the Leveson report. As if on cue the Sun – who else – has payed out £400,000 to Louis Walsh, the X Factor judge, after publishing a false story claiming he had sexually assaulted a man in a Dublin nightclub. The Sun will also pay Walsh’s legal costs of £180,000.
Speaking outside the court after the settlement Walsh spoke emotionally of the effect that the lies had on him and his family. It is not hard to imagine, it is certainly impossible to forgive given that on the day before publication he told the Sun’s Gordon Smart that the story was a pack of lies.
The Sun based its screaming headlines on a story provided, presumably in exchange for cash, by unemployed dance teacher Leonard Watters. He was jailed in July for six months for admitting to wrongly accusing Walsh of groping him in the Dublin celebrity nightclub Krystle. He lied and the tabloid cheerfully assassinated the character of an innocent man.
The Murdoch paper has now unreservedly apologised and admitted that the alleged assault was a foul fabrication. The lawyers acting for Mr Walsh have made the point that had there been a regulator with power to appeal to the story could have been stopped before publication.
It is a timely reminder of just how out of control the tabloids are. When later today we hear leading lights talking about the need for press freedom we should perhaps reflect on the damage done to innocent people by newspapers prepared to print lies about anyone and everything.
Come to think about it the Sun deserves a regulator all of its own. Mind you, such a move would do considerable harm to our dear leader’s loving relationship with the Murdoch empire!
It has to be admitted that were we codgers to make a list of the things that we simply do not understand it would stretch from Sven-Goran Erikson’s front door to the nearest pole-dancing club. As we cleaned out the hens this morning we added what to us is another mystery. Yesterday the planning minister, Nick Boles, let it be known that the UK house-building programme is to be expanded by a third. The green-belt must be sacrificed to give people coming into the country access to affordable homes and, once the new Eastern EU nations are free to come, that means a lot of bulldozers. Mystery? Wouldn’t it be better to stop them pouring in? Now codgers, politically incorrect solutions are not allowed.
In truth we seem to have reached an age of political arrogance previously unknown. Minister after minister tells us what we should think, indeed most seem to have reached the point of delusion in which they genuinely believe that what they believe is what we automatically believe, a version of a Borg collective. So when our dear leader visits the flooded West Country and says that he is there to help, he clearly doesn’t expect us to grasp that had his government not cut the flood defence programme there would be no flooded houses to visit.
But that is a subjective view. Less subjective are the results of three opinion surveys published this morning. In the first one people were asked if they shared the Chancellor’s view that we are all in this economic mess together, that rich and poor alike are sharing the pain. In fact 62% disagree.
Meantime a whole load of politicians have published a letter in the media demanding that any recommendation from Leveson that the press be regulated by an independent body be rejected. The people, they tell us, demand the continuing presence of an unfettered press. Really? Today’s YouGov poll reveals that over 80% favour a new regulatory system by law. Even Daily Mail readers show 80% in favour, despite the paper being the most vociferous in its opposition to “interference”.
The third poll concerns the NHS. Successive ministers have told us again and again that the only reason for the Lansley reforms, and the £20billion cuts, is the need to become more efficient, to improve in the way that the public demands. Today’s poll tells us that over 60% of clinicians and patients believe that service standards are falling to dangerous levels, that the total collapse of the service is nigh.
Of course Ministers will brush all this aside. They will say that people they have spoken to believe that we are united in facing austerity, that no one will support regulation of the tabloids and that every NHS patient is delighted with the new age of medicine. Rather like the haf-witted minister who appeared on Newsnight last night to say that the Work Programme is a great success despite only 3% finding work. How can you possibly say that, demanded Paxman. Easily, since she believes that we automatically endorse every dopey thing she says.
Of course this is all very worrying for our dear leader who has just recruited yet another top spin doctor. Once he grasps that the plebs are not in fact merely lesser intellectual beings prepared to believe anything he may have to make another appointment.
Leonard Cohen once sang about the ‘Thought police’. Time to introduce them, for when the people show signs of thinking for themselves the tranquility of the Bullingdon club is severely disturbed!