Posts Tagged ‘NEWS’
As we tidied up after this morning’s encounter with the hordes of squabbling hens we suddenly realised that the time has come for our charity effort. Each year we try to raise cash for ‘Crisis’, the charity devoted to providing succour for the homeless. ‘Crisis’ estimates that there are tens of thousands of hidden homeless people in the UK. These people never show up on government statistics and exist in hostels, squats and squalid bed and breakfasts. They often lead miserable, isolated lives and often suffer from debilitating mental and physical health problems.
Appalling though that is, it is not new. What is new, and equally appalling, is the plight of vast numbers of the housebound elderly and frail. When the coalition enforced huge cuts in local authority funding it did ‘ring-fence’ the money allocated for social care. However, it did niothing to enforce this and right across the country councils have slashed the amounts allocated for what is laughably described as home-care. The result is that many councils now have reduced the time allowed for a home visit to 15 minutes and axed travel expenses. The result is that paid carers – doing tough and unpleasant work – rush from one house to another, can’t cope, and many are giving up in despair.
A report due this week by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ERHC) will put flesh on the anecdotal evidence so far available. It will report on evidence of elderly people being left in filthy nightwear and bedding, of being left without a wash for several weeks, of being put to bed at 5.00pm and not helped to get up until 10.00am the next day. The picture that emerges is straight from the darkest episodes of Dickens.
Someone being supposedly cared for, and without family help, can lie for hours in their own mess, cold and frightened. They can be confused and haven’t taken their pills. They feel ashamed. They feel angry. It could be many hours before someone lets themselves in and washes them. The victim – for that is what they are – hopes for conversation but a carer with just 15 minutes to spare is hard pushed to even complete the basics. As quickly as they entered, they are gone. Silence, despair, all hope gone in an age where even the neighbours are often unknown.
Without doubt there is now a huge social problem, yet we hear little of it. These people can’t go out on the streets to march in protest, or camp outside a cathedral, or strike on November 30th. They are rarely mentioned on television, or interviewed on the Today programme. Anyone in a position of authority is much younger, has children at school and is desperately worried about their own job-security and financial survival. Frail old people are not even good vote-winning material. No one cares. Yet even if only for financial prudence they should, because inevitably this new hidden crisis is resulting in more and more elderly and neglected people being admitted to hospital, there to stay at high cost unless a beleagured social worker can find a solution that the meagre budget will facilitate.
I noticed a small paragraph in one of today’s newspapers. It describes how a pensioner spent two nights trapped in a cold garden shed after a fall. he had ventured that far in search of fuel. It was two days before anyone heard his cries for help and ambulance staff said that Ron Rogers from Rednal, Birmingham, was close to death after succumbing to hypothermia. Proud to be British? I think not.
Of course, now that the disgraceful situation has come under a spotlight the political blame game is underway. Paul Burstow, the care services minister and a LIb Dem MP, is demanding to know why councils are failing to pass on the funding allocated for the care of the frail and elderly. They are, he says, “clearly failing to act in the best interests of their residents”. They must, he thundered, “be held to account”. Indeed, two councils already have been. Sefton (Merseyside) and the Isle of Wight lost High Court cases to cut back on care for elderly and disabled adults. But should we really leave our hidden sufferers to the mercy of the Courts and posturing politicians.
At the last election the then Labour Party leadership demanded, during the televised debates, cross-party talks aimed at protecting the vulnerable from austerity measures. They saw the danger in this becoming an exercise in point-scoring. Andrew Lansley and David Cameron refused this. Now Labour is repeating the appeal and it must be heeded.
How can a society that once prided itself on care and compassion continue to spend huge sums on debatable projects, such as high-speed rail, whilst leaving vast numbers of those who, through no fault of their own, now lie forgotten and ignored?
We codgers realise that promoting the welfare of old ‘uns is not a popular activity. We realise too that some old folk can be difficult, and that there are many other vital priorities. But now the situation has been allowed to spiral out of control, and we are all unwittingly allowing suffering on a scale that has not happened in these islands for almost a century.
The only punch-line we can offer to the politicians is don’t just talk, for mercies sake do something!
According to your viewpoint, old men are either all-wise or plain loopy, clones of Victor Meldrew and all that. Given the state of the daily issues we chicken-keepers mull over it is hard to categorise us that precisely. In reality we have become so bemused at the state of national and international affairs that we have almost reached the point where it seems that those who lead us are either so clever that their deeds are beyond our feeble comprehension, or they are all even loopier than us and are collectively driving us for the nearest cliff.
What has brought all this on? A glance through this morning’s papers was the last straw, the truth being that none of it makes sense. Our first source of such bemusement came with the latest adventures of James Murdoch. Yesterday he gave an encore to the parliamentary committee. He probably didn’t enjoy being likened to a mafia don, or compared to an Asda manager, but his demeanour remained unchanged. It is now apparent that even the tea-lady at News International knew that hacking was widespread but the boss, like Manuel in Fawlty Towers, knew nothing.
Even more puzzling is the fact that the dogs that should have barked – the police and regulator – stayed silent. Even more puzzling than even that is the fact that our government was about to allow Mr Murdoch to double his dominance in the UK, and our Prime Minister was employing one of the leading NI lights whilst spending interminable amounts of time socialising with the Editor. To compound all this we learned yesterday that all the members of the parliamentary committee were under surveillance, their every move noted and recorded. Of course James Murdoch knew nothing about this either.
And what about the Eurozone? Twenty years ago, Germans endlessly repeated Thomas Mann’s post-1945 wish to see “not a German Europe but a European Germany”. Today a telling variation is doing the rounds. Chat to most people in Berlin and you will be told that what is needed now is “a European Germany in a German Europe”! There can be no doubt that, alone amongst the EU states, Germany has practised the kind of budget, debt and wage discipline that is precisely what the whole of Europe need. No surprise then that Germans resent the prospect of giving away most of what they have achieved to nations that have failed totally. No surprise either that the price of rescue will be a German Europe. Just what David Cameron is trying to achieve is less clear. Is it his aim to be part of Rule Germania or is he trying to achieve the total expulsion so desired by his right-wing whilst being able to blame it on Aunty Merkel to appease the Lib Dems?
As if all this wasn’t enough to confuse us we then learn that the first ‘privatisation’ of an NHS hospital has been nodded through. You have to hand it to Lansley, he ploughs on with his reforms regardless of approval from either parliament or the medical profession and the fact that ‘Circle’, the new private sector owners, are known to be friends of his should take nothing away from admiration for his Liam Fox-like cunning. But he does seem to have missed some of the detail.
As more and more NHS hospitals fall under the control of private companies how will postcode medicine be avoided. Who will undertake the teaching and training of doctors? Who will handle the less profitable elderly patients? What is to stop Circle extending the number of private beds to the point where locals who cannot afford to pay have to travel to other areas? On last night’s ‘Question Time’ a seemingly half-witted lady panellist asked why it is that private hospitals are quieter, nicer places to be when you are ill. It just might have something to do with the fact that they handle about one-twentieth of the numbers that flood an NHS hospital, and handle no emergency work. Another panel meber said that Andy Burnham was planning to do the same. Yes he was, but the idea that that somehow makes the move sensible is very odd given that he is arguably almost as daft as Lansley.
Yes, it’s a funny old world as seen from the allotments this morning. But, as my old Mum used to say, we must look on the bright side. Doing that requires a belief that all the mighty know exactly what they are doing and the only reason we serfs cannot undertsnad is that we are denser that a hen-run post.
Let us hope that is the truth of it!
Home Secretaries come and go at a frequency matched only by football managers, and it has to be admitted that few find favour with my ancient fellow chicken-keepers. The latest incumbant bears a remarkable resemblence to the posh but loopy Lady Catherine De Burgh created by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice and, like her, Theresa May spouts on seemingly oblivious to the rights of anyone she considers beneath her station, which embraces everyone bar God himself.
In fairness one has to concede that running the Home Office is rather like having a pet tiger. All can be fine for a while, but you know that sooner or later it will eat you. It has continued to so perform on a succession of Home Secretaries and associated ministers, despite most of them having the ethics of rattle-snakes. Remember Michael Howard? He anticipated Mrs May’s appalling behaviour in the latest scandal by blaming Derek Lewis, the director of prisons, for the 1995 breakout from Parkhurst top security prison. Remember Ed Balls? He sought to avoid blame after the shocking Baby P case by ordering the sacking of Harringey’s director of social services, Sharon Shoesmith, who was able to extract a huge compensation payout.
In fact it has become habitual for Home Secretaries, or their ministerial colleagues, to turn on their officials. John Reid and David Blunkett were shameless, setting out – seemingly quite deliberately – to destroy the constitutional settlement which had defined the realationship between politician and civil servant in the post-war period. The list goes on and on and the relationship between ministers and their officials is now, understandably, a fraught one.
The point at issue is that civil servants are bound by a code of confidentiality and cannot publicly answer back when ministers blame them publicly. Which is why Brodie Clark, a senior official at the UK Border Force felt obliged to resign before he could refute the trashing of his reputation that was Theresa De Burgh’s immediate reaction to revelations that Al Qaeda and all have been waved thorugh our so-called border controls.
A seemingly fine civil servant with 40 years unblemished service has been destroyed in an instant, and it is clear that his right to an impartial investigation has been taken away. The judge has pronounced sentence before hearing any evidence, Mrs May has shown that the only skin that matters to her is her own. All that we know is that either she or Mr Clark is lying. We are less than impressed at the sudden statement by another member of the Border Agency that Mrs May’s version is the right one. Clearly he has been persuaded that his interests are best served by diving in to her Ladyship’s rescue.
The debate in the Commons was a rowdy affair, but an unimpressive one. No one attempted to find the truth, the government and opposition focussed entirely on abusing each other. Tory MPs dutifully rose to read eulogies to the Home Secretary, their Labour opponents screamed ‘reading’ to point out to the watching public – as if we didn’t know – that the slips of paper being read all bore the fingerprints of Downing Street. And from there came the Old Etonian to declare that Clark was as guilty as Satan himself. Mr Cameron may yet regret his haste.
For me the only telling intervention was from yet another Home Secretary, Jack Straw. He asked how many ports and airports Mrs May had visited to check on the working of her trial system. “We allowed the informatin to come up to ministers,” she said airily which translates as “not one”.
The whole shabby episode tells us that not only is Mrs May an incompetent of Baldrick proportions, it also tells us that she is self-serving. But, more importantly, it serves to remind us just how low politicians have sunk when compared with their predecessors. It is almost 30 years since a British politician last resigned on a matter of honour. That was Lord Carrington, who insisted on taking the responsibility for Britsh unpreparedness ahead of the Argentine invasion of the Falklands.
In truth Peter Carrington was not even remotely at fault but the failure happened on his watch. We may sneer at the concept of honour but society is a poorer place without it. Carrington, unlike the present bunch of self-serving, dishonourable, rich incompetents, had extensive experience of life. He fought courageously through the Second World War and emerged with the Military Cross. He understood the importance of hnour and leadership in public life.
Compare him with today’s guttersnipes and you understand quickly why politicians now share with bankers the dubious distinction of being the least trusted people in the land!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ;
1. Arctic Monkeys 2. Carnoustie 3. Dog 4. Michael Howard 5. Rothmans 6. Geology 7. Damien Hurst 8. South Pole 9. Alcatraz Prison 10. Tibet and Nepal
I’m sure that when Burns set in train the fad for seeing ourselves as others see us he little realised just how painful a process it can be. I have never attended one of the zillions of courses aimed at teaching the art for I have no need. When she-who-must-be-obeyed is in full flow a dozen managemnt consultants couldn’t match her. This morning the paper-boy had staged one of his regular one-day strikes, which are always guaranteed to switch attention to me as I rush my cornflakes in readiness for joining my colleagues in the greatest chicken project since Kentucky.
We are, she told me, just a group of dopey old blokes messing around with an even larger group of dopey hens. Can you believe that? Well maybe you can, maybe you believe that Roman Abramovich is richer than Solomon simply because he happens to be a mate of Putin rather than the world’s shrewdest businessman. Oh dear, maybe you are right.
I yield to the possibility, having read yesterday the findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize. What he has to say is devastating to the beliefs that high fliers entertain about themselves. He claims to have discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. This idea is based on a study that he conducted over eight years of the results of 25 top business ’stars’. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero.
The results, he tells us, resembled “what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill”. His findings have been widely replicated. They show that, for example, traders and fund managers throughout Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. Given the total failure of the financial sector this comes as less of a shock that the various authors may imagine, but what of business at large?
In a study published by the journal Psychology, Crime and Law, Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon tested 39 senior managers and chief executives from leading FTSE British businesses. They compared the results to the same tests carried out on patients at Broadmoor. On central indicators of psychopathy, the bosses’s scores either matched or exceeeded those of the patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders!
The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for. Those who have these traits often possess great skill in flattering and manipulating powerful people. Egocentricity, a strong senes of entitlement, a readiness to exploit others and a lack of empathy and conscience are also unlikely to damage their prospects in many corporations.
In their book Snakes in Suits, Paul Babiak and Robert Hare point out that as the old corporate bureaucracies have been replaced by flexible, ever-changing structures, and as team players are deemed less valuable than competitive risk-takers, psychopathic tendencies are more likely to be selected and rewarded. If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a poor family, you’re likely to go to prison, If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a rich family you’re likely to go to business school. If doing down others by any means is your thing, you are likely to end up in a very highly paid job or even become Prime Minister.
It is certainly true that the chief exceutives of today behave like dukes of old extracting from their estates. What they extract is out of all proportion to what they do or the value they generate, sums that sometimes exhaust the business they parasite. They are no more deserving of their wealth than oil sheikhs. The rest of us gape on the sidelines and usually assume that, say, Bob Diamond takes more pay from Barclays than the sum total paid to one hundred of his employees simply because he is one hundred times cleverer that one hundred of them. But is he really?
In the UK, the money earned by the poorest tenth fell by 12% between 1999 and 2009, while the money made by the richest 10th rose by 37%. The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, climbed in this country by 26 in 1979 to 40 in 2009.
Someone has to be in charge of everything but what has changed is the amount of reward. Clearly that is all that has changed, for the shrinks suggest that those at the top are no different to the old autocratic duffers of my youth. They both cashed in on who they knew, rather than what. They both were, or are, happy to climb at the expense of others.
Think about it. Is you ultimate boss really a hundred times smarter than you? Would he or she really win Mastermind? When I apply all this in retrospect I have to confess that I most certainly was not as clever as many of the managers who really ran the ship, mind you the pay differential was not the ludicrous thing it now is!
Anyway I must stop now, it is time to head off for a team-building session with Albert and my other chicken consultants.
TEST YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WITH THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!
1. Who won the Best British Group award at the 2007 Brits? 2. Where did golfer Padraig Harrington win his first major, the Open Championship? 3. To which mammal family does the dingo belong? 4. Who preceded David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party? 5. Which tobacco company sponsored the ‘Football Yearbook’ from 1970 to 2001? 6. What is the study of rocks and rock formation? 7. Who was short-listed for the Turner prize for “Shark in Formaldehyde? 8. Is the penguin native to the North Pole or the South Pole? 9. Which building, built on an island in San Francisco Bay, is now a tourist attraction? 10. On which two countries’ borders is Mount Everest?
As we broke the ice on the hen’s water this morning, Albert announced that his long-johns season has begun. Our resident pessimist went on to tell us that this is the start of a bitterly cold spell, but be not alarmed for his predictions are usually as accurate as those of Mr Fish of weather-man tornado fame.
The grumpy atmosphere thus engendered quickly led us to moaning about our favourite hate-figures, the bankers. I was able to report on an interivew on the radio conducted by our favourite hatchet-man, John Humphreys, with the Barclays supremo Bob Diamond. The latter was banging on about the mistakes made by his kind and the recognition that they have to be more civic-minded in future. Ah, said the hatchet, so what about taking a cut in your £1 million basic salary? Not a decsion for me ,said Mr Diamond, such things are fixed by a remuneration committee. But how can anyone pocket such massive sums and still be respected by junior staff and public alike, mused the hatchet. No reply. Greed rules OK.
Presumably because they themselves are mega-rich, Messrs Cameron, Osborne and the rest seem unable to grasp that the reason no one buys into their ‘all-in-it-together-mantra is resentment at the obscenely high salaries, plus bonuses, being awarded to those responsible for the mess we are in. And they are not alone. Clearly rattled by the spectacle of Church leaders now openly supporting the growing protest movement, Ken Costa, a former bank chairman and head of a newly appointed Chiurch committee charged with rebuilding links with the financial sector, has warned against all-out war. He insists that a flourishing banking sector is “essential to any successful economy”. Few would quarrel with that. He goes on to say that “you cannot regualate into existence a culture of honesty, integrity, truthfulness and responsibility”. Again, few would disagree. However, his punchline misses the point. “Financial incentives are both valid and effective” he concludes. This is where most would hasten to point out that they have to be seen as reasonable!
Over the weekend more clergymen emphasised this key truth. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said that he believes that executive salaries are creating a gulf between rich and poor that is “making our society less cohesive”. It is the sheer size of the salaries that is doing that and the example set by leading bankers is infectious amongst their peers. Last week we learned that the cheif executives of the top FTSE 100 companies have received increases, this financial year, of an average of 49 per cent.
Wherever you look at present you see an enormous gulf opening up between the haves and have-nots. I happened to notice that Alan Hansen is paid £40,000 for every appearance he makes on the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’. One newspaper claims that Alan Shearer enjoys an annual salary of £500,000 for equally brief performances. Not as much as the bankers cry their defenders, the bankers have established a norm for top people, whatever their ability or contribution.
Of course it is unfair to blame the banks for extravagence elsewhere, but if they really wanted to be public-spirited they could lead by example. If Bob Diamond decided that he could survive on a mere £250,000 per year it would be much harder for supermarket bosses and football pundits to do other than take cuts. Then the masses just might see their own hardships in a different light!
But in the same way that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas the greedy don’t leave the trough until it is empty. Only legislation will bring about a change. And, just for once, this site must sing the praises of the European Commission. Speaking on a visit to London Michel Barnier, the EU commisssioner in charge of financial services, said that it was necessary to do more to ensure bankers contributed “in a just way” to fiscal retrenchment. After a couple of years of calming down, the banks had gone back to “pre-crisis levels of distributing pay and bonuses that are seen by the public as unjustified”. He added that bankers are “feeding the sentiments of injustice too much”.
He is proposing to introduce a curb and warned that this can be adopted without the support of the UK government. He is also proposing to introduce a so-called Tobin tax on all financial transactions across the EU. On this he requires UK support, what he will get is a veto.
The fierce opposition of senior ministers to anything that is likely to cause offence to the bankers is not really puzzling at all. On the surface they claim that any such action would result in an exodus of talent from these shores. Pure nonsense of course because once Europe is not an option, where would they go? The real reason is that blood runs thicker than water, asking George Osborne to punish the banks is like asking one Premiership millionnaire to hammer another.
Once upon a time a new-hero called Vince Cable was going to take on the banks and to show the people that no one is immune from austerity. It seems that some champions are rather easily bought off!