Posts Tagged ‘Muck’
The monsoons were back with a vengeance this morning and it has to be admitted that the cleaning out of the hen-runs was less than thorough. Muck and mud underfoot and a cascade from above plays funny tricks on the mind, and our oft quoted ethic of animals first seemed to recede faster than the tide at Southend. It meant that we had more time in the shed, more time to scan the papers. Given our boycott of The Times and Sun which always dominated, and divided, our group, the organs most in evidence were the Telegraph and Mirror.
The latter predictably carried criticism of Cameron but it was the Telegraph, often referred to as the ‘Torygraph’, that astonished us. The main headline reads ” Cameron, Coulson and a weekend at Chequers”, and back up columns and pages galore reveal that the prime minister invited Coulson to Chequers for a weekend in March, just ten days before two News of the World executives who served under Coulson were arrested as part of ‘Operation Weeting”, the new police investigation into phone hacking which was launched in January.
A statement from Downing Street told the paper that “The Prme Minister has made clear that Mr Coulson was and is a friend and that is why he was invited. It was to say thanks for the work he had done for us”. But the revelations don’t end there. The Telegraph has established that since taking office Cameron has held a whole series of get-togethers with the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks, some of them described as “purely social”.
But it is the editorial that will be causing the greatest angst in Downing Street today. Regular Telegraph readers tell me that they cannot recall such a lambasting of a Conservative prime minister by its greatest advocate. It talks of a Prime Minister who “moralises in Parliament, trying to distract attention from the fact that he has been spending family holidays with a disgraced CEO” and whom he employed, despite warnings, as his personal adviser.
The editor continues by contending that Cameron should have dismantled “this quasi-masonic circle, with its conspirational deal-cutting and back-scratching”. Instead he “invited the circle into Downing Street”. Coming from so firm an ally, this is powerful stuff.
The overall theme of one of the longest editorials imaginable is that together with policemen, Cameron and his kind have diminished Britain. A nation that once boasted, with justification, that it was the least corrupt in the world, is suddenly regarded as amongst the most venal. The government’s reputation for probity is in tatters and it is now engaged in “the shallowest form of crisis management”.
The paper’s summary is breathtaking. Large swathes of the British establishment have been implicated in this scandal. The shady characters who have been expoosed – policemen, politicians and News International executives – have so far only revealed one aim. That is to avoid giving a straight answer to the public. The suspicion is that they are all “living in fear of what may yet be revealed”
During my many years at university, studying political history, I can recall only one similar attack by a government-backing newspaper on a serving prime minister. To find that I have to go back to Ramsey MacDonald.
And we all know what happened to him. Cameron is not yet mortally wounded but his credibility is in tatters and it is not difficult to imagine a leadership challenge if the polls continue to heavily favour Miliband. Meantime Nick Clegg, who a few days ago forced Cameron’s hand by supporting Miliband’s Commons motion, would be well adivsed to widen the gap with someone no longer trusted by even his party’s most ardent supporters!
YOUR WEEKEND GENERAL KNOWLEDGE QUIZ; 1. Which animal can be described as ursine? 2. Who was the older when he died, Graham Hill or James Hunt? 3. Which prize for fiction was instigated in 1969? 4. Which Jackie Wilson hit was No 1 nearly thirty years after it was made? 5. A tarpon is a type of what? 6. In the pop charts of 2004, how was Yosuf Islam known when he was last in the charts? 7. If something is vernal, what is it connected with? 8. Where do Southend United play their home games? 9. How did both James 1′s mother and son die? 10. The sidewinder belongs to which group of snakes?
Whenever I fly I look down on the mass of clouds and realise that when we speak of the sun having vanished we are wide of the mark. What has happened is that a curtain of gloomy muck has interjected itself between us and that feel good factor of sunshine. And so it is today. As we cleaned out the hens, Albert remarked that it wouldn’t do to have sunshine every day, it would lose its novelty. I think I would be happy to risk that! But right now a bigger risk assails us, the NHS on which so many of our group depend, is at risk of total meltdown.
Most of us have signed the online petition to ‘Save the NHS’ being organised by 38 Degrees, the organisation that spearheaded the assault on the ludicrous plan to sell off our forests. We were also asked to trigger an email to our MPs. I did that, and have received a reply from the Deputy Speaker of the Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, who also chairs the influential Ways and Means Committee. He refers to the government’s pause to enable further representations to be made by the many bodies that oppose the Lansley plan. Now, Lindsay says, is the opportunity to influence the proposals.
His own view is that the govrenmnet’s proposals are ill-conceived. The proposed reform of commissioning will, he adds, result in a greater involvement of the private sector and could see a postcode lottery of health care provision as GPs determine whether to refer patients based on the cost of treatment required. The Deputy Speaker also notes that we are seeing a reduction in health service budgets, despite promises from David Cameron before the election that the NHS budget was safe.
My own experience of the NHS as a Trust Chair tells me that the part of the plan that involves the private sector will lead to many hospital closures. Take away the income from basic outpatient’s work and hospitals become unviable. The private sector will not treat anyone with a chronic condition and the patients with the worst prognoses will be obliged to travel long distances and will face longer waiting lists. My Conservative pals tell me that companies like British Gas have proved that competition works. I refuse to believe that it would do in the case of health.
So we have the pause. Frankly it is rubbish. The so-called “listening” panel brings together 43 hand-picked individuals, many of whom are known supporters of Lanlsey’s pro-market approach. It is chaired by Professor Steve Field, former president of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). The current chair, who has declared against the plan, is excluded. Three of the five GPs involved are those named in this blog some weeks ago as the regular visitors to Downing Street. The group looking at “choice and competition” is led by none other than Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the vigorously pro-competition Association of Executives of Voluntary Organisations.
In other words the “listening”panel is as fixed as the FIFA one that determined the World Cup venues. But it is worse than that, for David Cameron has set up an entirely different panel to adviser him on reforms. It is stuffed with former NHS chiefs and other fans of creating a market in healthcare. ‘Dave’s’ new advisers include Nicolaus Henke, head of global health at the McKinsey management consultancy. Also involved is former NHS boss, Nigel Crisp and the ex-head of ‘Monitor’, Bill Moyes. Niether is a doctor of medicine and, in my experience of them, neither is well suited to consider a patients-first strategy.
The formation of the second, and rather secret, panel suggests that should the Forum actually do some listening it will not in any case have the ear of Ministers.
Up until a few days ago there were persistent rumours that the prime minister was going to replace Lansley with Clegg, thus killing two birds with one stone. But the taunting by Ed Miliband seems to have reduced this posssibility and all the signs now are that, a few cosmetic changes apart, the Lansley bill will roll on and the Lib Dems will in effect be challenged to risk a U-turn from the signature Clegg appended to the Bill as now formed.
I find the whole thing quite frightening. the uproar thousnads of us supported has led to a pause and the pause appears to be skullduggery writ large. Ten years from now the days when one went to the family doctor, received independent advice and was sometimes referred to a nearby hospital will seem a distant dream. Lansley will be a cursed figure akin to Dr Beeching. But as with the rail network, it will then be too late.
Is anyone really listening? No, they are merely working on ways to mislead the public. My worry is that with the aid of stooges they will succeed!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. Motor cycling 2 To distil liquids 3 Stay 4 Kali 5 Canada 6 Vibraphone 7 Seventeen 8 Rosalyn 9 Geoff Hunt 10 Milton Keynes
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who designed the tapestry behind the altar in Coventry Cathedral? 2. An odalisque is a female what? 3. Who founded the record label Maverick Records? 4 Both Clive Woodward and Andy Robinson are linked with which university? 5 Which English poet had the middle name Chawner? 6 The Russian Revolution began in which year? 7 Which notorious serial killer was found hanged in prison in January 2004? 8 Who is the elder – Zoe Ball or Gary Barlow? 9 In the 1980s Greg Lemond became the first American to do what? 10 Whose one and only hit was “Little Things Mean a Lot”?
The sun was back with us this morning and, having sorted the squabbling hens, we made a start on planting out cabbages and potting tomatoes. There was a time when our long-standing ritual produced a huge surplus, but no more. A constant supply of chicken muck ensures an even greater supply, but the donors can always be relied upon to eat everything in sight once they evade a forest of forbidding but ageing arms. Labourers of old used to sing in unison as they toiled but we have yet to reach that stage of madness, instead we talk cricket.
And this morning Tom mentioned a brilliant article he had read by Scyld Berry in which he told of a visit he made recently to Taunton where he chatted to Dennis Silk, the chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board. Silk is currently working on a biography of Siegfried Sassoon and, unlike his previous biographers, he knew him well. Indeed, he played cricket alongside him at Heytesbury, the field that Sassoon bought as part of his acquisition of Heytesbury House in 1933. A rich aunt left the great man sufficient money to make the purchse and, Silk believes, he used the cricket ground to find solace in the sport of his youth.
Silk recalls a remarkable feature of Sassoon’s play. He used to field at mid-on and made no effort to get his hands to the ball, stopping it instead with his shins, over which he carried no protection. He would then amble across to pick up the ricochet. Sassoon was a very fit and agile man and Silk believes that in reacting casually to what most players would regard as extremely painful, he was doing some form of penance for moments that still returned to him in nightmares. It seems that these regularly took him back to moments in the First World War when he looked at his watch as the seconds ticked by to the signal he had to give to his men to go over the top. He carried only a pistol, he knew that few would survive the next few minutes. Against all the odds he did on several occasions, an amazing fact that won him the Military Cross in 1916. Like many survivors of the carnage he was plagued with guilt.
What sets Siegfried Sassoon apart from several other heroes of the Somme is the fact that when he returned on leave from the trenches he prepared a statement of protest against what he saw as the mad futility of the war, and this was read out in the Commons. Others, such as Bertrand Russell, had protested but he was the first participant to do so. Even the mad Lord Melchetts could not have a man with an MC court-martialled and shot, and he was sent to Craiglockhart hospital.
There he protested even more eloquently. His war poems stirred the public conscience and led to much heart searching by a government which sent men to die in their hundreds of thousands. Even today his words inspire us; “Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives. I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats, And in the ruined trenches lashed with rain, Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats”.
There have been few heroes to match Siegfried Sassoon. He was fearless in battle and fearless in exposing it for the obscene waste that it brings. He inspired a nation. He played cricket in a fearless way. Above all he was honest to the core. It is surely apt to turn to the old adage of they don’t make them like this any more.
But even then they rarely did. Siegfried Sassoon can even today provoke tears for millions who were led by people not fit to tie his boots, be they mud-caked or white ones!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; CRITICS: “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they are unable to do it themselves”…….Brendan Behan “Asking a working writer how he feels about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs”…….Christopher Hampton “A bad review is wonderful when it isn’t you”…..John Geilgud “A drama critic is a person who surprises a playwright by informing him what he meant”…….Wilson Mizner “I approach reading reviews the way some people anticipate anal warts”….Roseanne ”Don’t pay any attention to critics; don’t even ignore them”….Sam Goldwyn ” A bad review is even less important than whether it’s raining in Patagonia”…..Iris Murdoch
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Daily Express 2 Daily Mirror
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Caroline Wozniacki is the Workld’s No 1 ranked tennis player, despite not having won a Grand Slam. Who was the last woman to do this before her? 2. Who is the only footballer to have played under Jose Mourinho, Steve McClaren and Alan Shearer at club level?
There was an overnight frost but by the time I dragged myself round to help with the hens the sun was out and the world felt a good place to be. Unlike the economy, Spring is showing the green shoots of recovery everywhere. Even the chickens seemed in a good mood and my pals certainly were. Today’s headlines had given them something to laugh about, I’m not able to say that very often!
I have always loved the continual reminders that we Brits can muck anything up and the latest example is top drawer. It seems that someone up there in the Big Society decided that a diplomatic mission to demonstrate our support for the rebels now challenging our former friend Gaddafi would be a wizard wheeze. Two MI6 officers were selected for the task and they were to be accompanied by six members of the SAS.
Unfortunately William Hague forgot to brief the British Ambassador as to the method of arrival. Perhaps the Foreign Office didn’t know that the Ministry of Defence had decided to send the party in during the night and in a helicopter. It landed on farmland near to the residence of ‘Tom’, a British resident who apparently acts as a sort of mole. He, and a fellow mole, picked the party up and returned to the farmhouse where they were surrounded by understandably suspicious and trigger-happy rebels. The fact that six of the party were armed to the teeth did little to reassure them and they were disarmed and trussed up. The probability was that the SAS could have shot their way out but this hardly seemed the best start to a diplomatic mission.
Eventually the British Ambassador was alerted and managed to negotiate the release of those who didn’t dare. But Essam Gheriani, a member of the freedom fighter’s Benghazi organising committee was less than impressed. He told journalists that “dropping in in the dead of night with espionage equipment, recording devices, multiple weapons and a bag full of passports” led to the need for verification”. He added that the fact that he and his committee “didn’t know they were coming created suspicion”. He probably meant that he found it impossible to believe that anyone could be that daft.
The team ended up where they began, as passengers on HMS Cumberland which is en-route for the Portsmouth scrapyard. But not before another embarrassment occurred. A recording was released of a telephone call made by Richard Norton, the British Ambassador, suggesting that the whole affair had been a “misunderstanding”. Maybe, but Gadaffi is now going to make great play of the involvement of the British military in the uprising. Doubtless he will cliam that six hundred actually landed, we have given him the inspiration for a whopper.
I liked the reply of the BBC correspondent who, when asked on the News at Ten how such a fiasco could have come about, said that he suspected that some ministers have read too many James Bond novels!
But if this is an example of the Big Society I for one am all for it. No one was hurt and we all had a good laugh. Sadly with HMS Cumberland gone the next sortee will have to be on a hired Windermere pleasure steamer but at least that will look less threatening!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” Mr Ball? How very singular.”…..Thomas Beecham ”Some names have class connotations. I was born on a council estate but once I was named Jeremy we had to move”……..Jeremy Hardy “There are so many Smiths about because Smiths were good at unpicking chastity belts”……Brendan Cooper “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to”….W C Fields “The common Welsh name Bzjxxllwep is pronounced Jackson”…..Mark Twain ” Ah Mr Wilde, I passed by your house yesterday’ Thank you so much”….Unknown woman and Oscar Wilde ”The batsman’s Holding, the bowler’s Willey”….Brain Johnson “I will be so brief I have already finished”….Salvador Dali (entire speech) ” Making a speech on economics is like peeing down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else”….Lyndon B Johnson
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. A frog 2. Irish
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Whose fall and rise was written by David Nobbs? What did Ronnie Barker keep open all hours?
At last! We were able to dig trenches this morning and the mountain of chicken muck is now concealed. Even after several days of thaw the ground was still hard and we now have muscles to match those of Popeye. Or as Leonard Cohen used to sing, ‘we now ache in the places where we used to play’. After yesterday’s early clean-out I deserted the camp and, together with she-who-must-be -obeyed, drove down to Oxford to deliver belated Christmas pressies. Whilst we were with our relatives the cards that we posted well before the big day dropped through their letter-box. So we were not the only people frozen into inaction.
It felt good to make a trip unencumbered by snow or ice. Of course the English climate never tires of tormenting us and, by way of a change, we encountered thick fog through the Midlands. Some idiot had decided to drive blind and the resulting pile up meant that thousands of us spent rather a long time parked on the M6 but it still felt like freedom after weeks of frozen incarceration. And it gave me time to ponder on my vote for Person of the Year when on New Year’s Eve the chicken and ferret folk decide whose picture will adorn the allotment shed through 2011.
Of course no one gives a monkey’s elbow what we lot think but we still take our long-standing tradition seriously. Who impressed us most, cheered us up and regularly revived our sagging spirits? I will let you know tomorrow what we decided but you can be sure of one thing, it won’t be a politician!. It is usually the case that some leading names appear on the slips of paper but those days have gone. The revelations about expenses, the Clegg stance on pledges and the appointment of Lords of dubious character have created a sense of alienation from the ruling classes. I suspect we are not alone!
As if to drive the final nail in the coffin of politicians we learn today that the Telegraph was not exposing a sudden lapse from grace when it broke the news of greed and dishonour. Today’s Telegraph reveals that as long ago as 1980 the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, warned the Cabinet that there was a ” grave risk of serious public scandal” over the abuse of expenses by many MPs. Records of Cabinet meetings, published today by the National Archives, show that parliamentary pay and allowances were the source of great concern. The prime minister went on to warn that MPs should be seen to be accountable for the various secretarial, research assistance and travel allowances. She demanded that Ministers give the lead in tightening the system. There were many abuses and “it might be necessary to consider prosecuting MPs known to be guilty of abuse”. It was necessary to “expose publicly the full implications of MPs’ actions”.
Incredibly nothing was done and it was to be thirty years before the truth was told by a national newspaper. So for three decades many politicians have deceived the people that elected them. The whole system of government was rotten to the core. To be fair there are honourable parliamentarians, but if even a combatative character like the sainted Maggie could not hector them into honesty and openness the lack of integrity was clearly deeply embedded.
The fact that change is now under way reflects no credit on an institution that was clearly happy to embrace dishonesty. Had the Telegraph not decided to act in the public interest we would have continued to pay taxes to fund moats and duck houses. In our book the only title open to politicians is crook of the year!
Between now and tomorrow why not ponder on your own choice of someone who impresssed you, someone who seemed genuine, a role model for your youngsters. There are some such folk out there although I suspect that your list, like mine, will not be a long one!
A fantastic performance by England in Melbourne has ensured that we retain the little urn. The England team was superior to the Aussies in every respect, it is a long time since we have been able to honestly claim that when visiting down under.
We should perhaps spare a thought for Ricky Ponting. He has been a superb batsman over many years and drew the short straw in captaining a team bereft of talent. With the possible exception of Mike Hussay and, occasionally, Mitchell Johnson this Australian side is one of the poorest to wear the baggy green.
But they came up against an England team led as never before by Flower and Strauss. Fitness levels are high, morale likewise. Now all they have to do is put on a repeat performance in Sydney starting on Sunday!
CAMERON’S PAL CONDEMNS PACE OF CUTS!
It is predictable that opponents of the coalition are busy condemning the sheer pace of the financial cuts. Slightly more worrying are the concerns expressed by financial pundits. Extremely worrying is the latest news of a fierce attack by a leading charity figure and key supporter of David Cameron’s ‘big society’.
In an open letter to the prime miister, David Robimson, the co-founder of the Community Links charity, has warned that the massive public spending cuts will doom Cameron’s main social policy initiative to failure and will create a ‘Hurricane Katrina’moment for the coalition.
Robinson, whose charity was described by Cameron as “one of Britain’s most inspiring community organisations” writes ” forcing an unsustainable pace on a barrage of uncoordinated cuts that hit the poorest hardest is not an act of God. Why let it be your Katrina?”
This surprise attack came on the day of a less surprising one. Ed Miliband wrote that “many people feel powerless in the face of these decisions that will affect their lives, families and communities. The political forces in Whitehall that have made these decisions appear forbidding and unheeding”.
Perhaps Robinson’s attack will cause someone in government to pause for thought. One can only hope so for the economic readings suggest that the cuts are too rapid and, equally worrying, the trade unions have awoken from their decades of slumber, even moderates such as Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services Union are openly plannibg major strikes. Katrina moment indeed!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The USSR 2. Whether or not to stay in the EEC
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What year was the Watergate burglary in Washington DC? 2. Which Olympics were hit by terrorists who attacked the Israeli athletes?
Having heard that the arctic weather is to return in a few days time we decided to dig in the muck accumulated whilst the ground was rock-hard. Sadly one probe with the spade revealed that the ground is not as it appears, a soft top conceals granite. A robin followed our abortive efforts but worms were off its menu yet again, we could offer only corn as consolation. It has taken to following us into the shed and we are beginning to wonder if it is some kind of spy, micro-chipped by the Guardian perhaps. If so it learned nothing today other than that most of those gathered loath both Clegg and the violent students equally.
Without the mindless violence yesterday’s London protests would have been an impressive demonstration of the strength of feeling against the increase in tuition fees. Sadly the thugs – were they really students – have turned the bulk of public opinion against the protesters. The statue of Winston Churchill was defaced, the Cenotaph mocked and damaged, the heir to the throne attacked. And a lot of young policemen, many of whom have not had the privilege of several years of relative leisure at the taxpayers expense, were badly injured. It was for most decent people an absolute disgrace.
In fairness we are not yet sure of the identity of the morons. Those interviewed on TV did not strike one as students, if they were the intelligence levels of those at university have sunk somewhat!
All of which was a disaster. The cause is just and deserved massive support with which we could all relate. The cause of the cause was easy to identify. The Lib Dems built up the hopes of the National Union of Students by signing their pledge. All politicians use weasel words but they actually signed their names to a commitment to oppose any increase in fees. Clegg duped the students and their rage is understandable, if not their method of expressing it. When the vote came, half of the Lib Dem MPs acted honourably and either voted against or abstained but those in the cabinet were talked by Clegg into voting in favour.
This morning’s polls show the Lib Dems with their lowest ever rating and it is hard to envisage a recovery. In effect Clegg and Cable have become stooges to a Conservative group that must be privately rubbing its hands with delight. Unpopular and unfair policies are being rushed through and their subservient partner is picking up the tab of blame. Last evening’s Question Time featured one of Clegg’s cronies who said that when they signed the pledge they did not envisage being in government. That makes the action even less honourable. And his subsequent claim that Labour also favour the increase was irrelevant. It was the Lib Dems, and they alone, who signed.
Under the terms of the coalition agreement all Lib Dems were free to abstain. Why Clegg refused to do this is a mystery, in so doing he has split his party and condemned his own career to the lost deposit file. His actions are every bit as shameful as those of Phil Woolas who has been banned from politics.
The coalition scraped through but it was a hollow victory. The antics of its junior partner has created a situation every bit as volatile as the Poll Tax. And if that proves an accurate analogy the tuition fees will never be implemented. However the leaders of the protest movement must find a way of staging peaceful demonstrations for public opinion is becoming soured by the mindless and gleeful violence. Desecrating the memorial to millions of young men and women who gave their lives for freedom is a sure way of making enemies of the vast majority of the population which has never seen the inside of a university.
And Nick Clegg? He clearly lacks self understanding for the only way in which he can save his party and avoid driving the final nail into the coffin of an already tainted democracy, is to resign. But a man who cares not for even his own pledge is unlikely to do that. In which case it is, to misquote the two Ronnies, goodbye for him and goodbye for them.
NHS “CLOSE TO BREAKING POINT”
The Federation of the Royal Colleges of Physicians ( RCP) yesterday said that the NHS is on the verge of collapse. Attendances at A & E departments have climbed by 5% this year and the number of patients being admitted to hospitals likewise. Since 2004 the workforce has increased by 12% but the workload has climbed by 19%. And implementation of the European directive on Junior Doctor’s hours has made a bad situation even worse.
The NHS is now being forced to make savings of £20 billion and the most dramatic changes ever are being imposed by Andrew Lansley. The result is forecast by the RCP to be wards closing and waiting times lengthening to the point where patient care reaches depths previously unknown.
The RCP is not known for exaggeration and it is surely time that Lansley gave serious consideration to his present policies which will ultimately hit every family in the land at a time when they are most vulnerable.
What do you think? Is the NHS safe in Andrew Lansley’s hands?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. In an air accident 2. Aldo Moro
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What firsts did Ann Hays and Elizabeth Hoisington achieve in the USA? 2. Where was Clifford Dupont sworn in as president?
Few understand exactly what David Cameron means by a ‘Big Society but we brainboxes in the allotment shed know exactly what our great leader is banging on about. On wet and miserable days – the majority of them – it doesn’t feel big as we slide around in the mud and muck, but we are a self-generated group and we all help each other out. It’s as simple as that but the problem with the national launch is that it is coming through the mouths of politicians and I can honestly say that I can recall no time when they have been so universally distrusted. That is not a party political point for everyone seems to distrust all of them.
But whilst we continue merrily on our way – slight exaggeration with the word merrily – we do have some inside information on the progress of the Cameron version. Not, mind you, inside as in the regular leaks in the Telegraph, but a telling one nonetheless. It came via Peter who, you may recall, has hung up his dog collar for one of the ferret variety. Peter is a supporter of something called ‘The Big Society Network’(BSN) and recently went to the grand opening of its tour around the UK to preach the gospel of bigness a la Cameron. It was held in Stockport and was hailed as the first of a nationwide tour of town halls.
Sadly it didn’t go well. In fact it went so badly that the tour has been cancelled. The official statement from BSN is that the ‘open format isn’t working’. According to Peter, who claims to have stayed awake throughout, the meeting was addressed by Steve Moore, a prime mover in the network and a ‘specialist conference facilitator’. He quickly found himself being quizzed about BSN’s links with the government. Although the BSN insists it is independent of government and aims to establish ‘the largest co-operative or mutual in Britain’ the note inviting people to attend came from a civil servant at the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG). Not a good start but worse still, the Guardian newspaper had used the freedom of Information Act to establish that five CLG staff have been seconded to the BSN since the time of the election.
According to Peter, Mr Moore struggled to deal with endless questions about cuts. There seemed to be a suspicion amongst the good people of Stockport that this version of the Big Society is merely a political stunt aimed at replacing employed public sector workers with volunteers. The attendance of 200 was impressive but it quickly became clear that most had come along to raise concerns about council policies and cuts. Peter said it was lively and hostile whilst the editorial editor of the sector’s New Start magazine, Julian Dobson, said that “there are areas around which conversations can happen, but at the moment we are seeing situations where people are feeling assaulted – not surprisingly, because many of them are going to lose their jobs and their livelihoods”. Peter and, I am sure, Julian are too polite to put it any other way. In allotment jargon people saw this as political and said get stuffed!
Clearly Peter’s description of the reaction to Mr Cameron’s big idea was, if anything, understated judging by the press interview with Nicola Headlam, a Stockport resident and researcher at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. She reported that people were asking repeatedly “Who funds you? Are you funded by the Conservative Party?”. She says that the mood was quite ugly by the end. There was much anger about what the cuts are going to do to the voluntary sector”.
It certainly seems to amount to a rout for Mr Moore has said that big, open public meetings clearly won’t work given that people wish to discuss cuts. He has confirmed that there will be no more meetings of this kind although a fresh but more structured series may be created in time.
I hate to say we told you so but I will. The idea of channelling volunteer efforts into public services will fail given the public cynicism that it is simply a cover for cuts. Even those worthy souls who already carry out much valiant work in so many areas of want and distress have lashed out against the idea. They are caring people who give all the time and cash that they can spare to helping others, but to find one who sees that as a way of bailing out dishonest politicians is as hard as finding hen’s teeth!
Yesterday the Prime Minister was forced to apologise for measures not mentioned in the manifesto. He needn’t have bothered for such sleight of hand is expected. He can console himself that most regard the other parties with equal cynicsm. But he can only make things worse by banging on about Big Societies. Yes community efforts are part of our national life but the joy of them is that they are outside the remit of politicians on the make.
And for good measure he should also stop banging on about our all being in this together. Today’s Telegraph, possibly his least favourite ally, carries a revelation that at yesterday’s conference a secret ‘Petrus Dinner’ was held for the Cabinet members at which Petrus Wine that costs up to £1000 per bottle was enjoyed by all. Your idea of a big society seems a tad different to ours Mr C!
In fact your self understanding should have advised you against using the word society at all in a political context. You should look up the work of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos who warned, in 1792, that to achieve influence in society nothing more is required than to practice the art of adulation and ridicule with equal skill!
WELL SAID THERESA MAY!
Theresa May is not everyone’s idea of a perfect Home Secretary but she did well yesterday when she crispy lashed out at the nonsense of Ken Clarke who seems to be heading for a belief that villians should be free to do whatever comes into their heads.
Our new heroine said that vandalism isn’t anti-social behaviour, it is a crime. And it wasn’t only the suede-shoes man that she implicitly rebuked. She surely provided a clip around the ear for George Osborne who said that tax evaion is unacceptable in times like these. Tax evasion is a crime blockhead!
CRICKET; THE ASHES COMETH!
The England team will be off to Perth before we know it, good news for those of us who love lounging in the armchair in the night hours.
The even better news is that the Aussies are struggling in India, having been beaten in the first Test . I’m putting a fiver on England holding on to the little urn, at least I won’t have to worry that the result is already fixed!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Benjamin Britten 2. Composer
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. With which Beatle did David Essex star in the film ‘That’ll be the Day’? 2. Who presented a music programme on radio called ‘Baker’s Dozen’?