Posts Tagged ‘Nick Clegg’
The weathermen tell us that the heatwave is over and we can now expect temperatures of 22 degrees. Ye Gods – that is a heatwave by our standards on the usually arctic-like allotments. If every morning for the rest of this summer is like today we will gladly settle for that. The giant begonias were ablaze with colour, the grasses were swaying gently in the breeze and the resident bees were busily dashing from one runner-bean row to another. And the scattering of corn attracted more than the hens as blackbirds, sparrows and blue tits descended in impressive numbers. In short all was well in our little sunlit world.
We have long believed that paying attention to birds of every variety could be more than an indulgence. Their navigational skills and powers of survival are surely no coincidence – there must be lessons to be learned. And today we have a classic example. Researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have revealed the outcome of an extensive study into malaria. It tells us that the species of mosquito that transmits malaria in sub-Saharan Africa actively avoid feeding on certain animal species using their sense of spell. And chickens are no-go areas.
It seems that sleeping next to a chicken would render the idea of a mosquitoe-net obsolete. Hardly a practical solution, but used in combination with other methods of combating malaria, odours emitted by chickens and other species could provide the long sought safeguard against a potentially deadly disease. Mosquitoes actively avoid certain odour cues and this revelation opens the door to the development of a preventative process previously undreamed of. And to think that we imagined chucks to be of no value beyond eggs and burgers!
The news increased our tendency to cheer at reports that the RSPB has lodged a successful legal challenge against the proposed offshore wind projects in the Firth of Forth and Firth of Tay. Although the RSPB is a supporter of renewable energy, it was left with no option to court action given its fears that the ‘farms’ would lead to the slaughter each year of thousands of gannets, puffins, kittiwakes and other sea birds. A legal expert has said that the RSPB now holds “all the cards”. It can either kill off the projects or kill off the vast number of birds in the areas concerned. In our humble opinion man does not have the right to slaughter wildlife for his own ends and, given the malaria revelations, would be better employed looking for lessons to be gleaned from creatures that know no borders.
But as we enjoyed our gargantuan breakfasts in the hut we reflected that the response of many to our fascination with the natural world will be “get real”. But so-called reality has lost its appeal to us. Each day brings more headlines about deluded madmen. Today we learn that a self-proclaimed Brazilian jihadist group has pledged to launch attacks during the Olympics. This is not reality, it is insanity writ large.
Less lethal but equally insane is the obsession now developing in some quarters here about ‘Brexit’. None of the catastrophic outcomes predicted during the referendum campaign have come to pass, but still the prophets of doom continue. Yesterday a Commons Select Committee described the man we used to call “Our dear leader” as irresponsible, having discovered that his government failed to make any contingency plans for a ‘Leave’ vote. That probably explains why the new prime minister yesterday announced that negotiations will not even commence until 2017.
Either way nothing will actually happen for almost three years so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that we end the hysteria. And that is the only word to describe the announcement that Nick Clegg is making a comeback to “save the nation”. The inmates have taken over the asylum.
As if to prove that we had to explain to Albert that having a chicken in his bedroom is unwise given that malaria is not to be found in the imaginary Northern Powerhouse. And that Mrs Albert may feel that one odorous companion is enough.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Undoubtedly, we become what we envisage” …. Claude M Bristol.
As we cleaned out the hens on another pleasant, if cloudy, morning there was much speculation as to what Vladimir Putin is up to in Syria. It amounted to little more than idle speculation, hardly surprising since even our all-knowing leaders seem completely bamboozled. All we know is that despite such super-beings as our dear leader describing his intervention as a major threat to world peace he has achieved, for the time being at least, a period of peace in the nightmare of Assad’s kingdom. Now they tell us that VP is not to be trusted, so at least he shares one characteristic with them.
Given what he appears to have achieved thus far we should perhaps ask the Red Fox to take a look at our greatest domestic calamity – the NHS. Since penning yesterday’s piece several of us have spent time with the teams struggling to administer our regional cancer services. The network which facilitated a pooling of ideas and services has been scrapped, crucial medical and diagnostic vacancies are unfilled, and the once simple task of getting approval for innovations has become bogged down in a morass of new bureaucracy. Morale is at rock bottom.
And there was little reassurance to be found in yesterday’s assessment by the Public Accounts Committee. It concluded that “long term damage” has been done to the NHS by “unrealistic” savings targets meted out to struggling hospitals. MPs went on to raise serious concerns over the NHS’s ability to cut a further £22 billion from its running costs by 2020 because estimates of where savings can be made are “seriously flawed”. The committee’s overall conclusion is that there is “no convincing plan to save the service from a funding “black hole” and it is sliding into “financial ruin”. The simple fact is that if the United Kingdom continues to allocate a percentage of GDP to healthcare far below that of countries such as Germany and France, whilst at the same time allowing population size to rocket the NHS is doomed to a decline and fall of Roman proportions. Who cares? It seems that even the Labour Party, the traditional defenders of the creation of Aneurin Bevan, has shrugged its shoulders.
Having passed our time of toil by mulling over things we find beyond the understanding of, to quote our dear leader, “ordinary people” we retired to our equivalent to Chequers and consoled ourselves with a breakfast fit for an Eric Pickles, if not even a king. In no time at all we were into a subject about which we do have a smattering of knowledge. University degrees.
Back in the days before Blair took to hanging pictures in bus shelters and calling them universities, several of us did devote several years to university life and its mixture of study and dubious pleasures. There was no question of debt then, other than that of our long-suffering parents, and we eventually entered the world of work armed with certificates which demonstrated our supposed diligence in the art of dedicated assimilation. Of course in the case of medicine and law the qualification was an essential step in a career path, but I often wondered if my first in ancient history helped me in any way whatsoever in the man-eats-man motor industry. But never mind, it was a pleasant enough way to spend formative years and cost me virtually nothing.
Today the situation is very different. Tuition fees were first introduced by Labour in 1998, with undergraduates obliged to pay £1,000 per year. This rose to £3,000 in 2004 under the Higher Education Act. But it was the trebling of this sum that resulted in a seismic shift in attitudes: the monetary value of a degree was now being called into question. And finances were not the only considerations; the educational and lifetime value of an undergraduate degree was also challenged.
The situation for today’s students is about as bad as it gets. Average debt at graduation is an eye-watering £44,035, and a recent study has shown that three-quarters will still be indebted into their fifties. Is it worth it? Do the fees reflect the educational experience that today’s proliferation of universities provide? Or is the undergraduate degree a waste of time or money for all but those for whom qualifications represent a stepping-stone into a well paid profession?
Last summer the Higher Education Statistics Agency published a report that found that a third of graduates worked in “non-professional” jobs that do not require a degree. And more than 18,000 graduates were unemployed six months after completing university. Despite paying huge amounts to get a higher education, many are eventually forced to take on lower-skilled jobs.
Talk to graduates and you get conflicting views. Tom’s granddaughter studied animal psychology at the University of Wolverhampton. She says that the cost of £3,000 per year struck her then as high, and to do so now at £9,000 would be “ludicrous”. She works in a coffee shop. Bill’s grandson now works in the building trade, having studied theology at York University. He says that whilst his job does not require a degree, he benefits enormously from the skills he acquired – “analysis, evaluation, thoughtful response etc”.
For many years I have chaired recruitment panels for non-medical posts in the NHS. I have to confess that I pay no more than passing attention to the candidate’s degrees, if any. Within the scoring grid they have little weight, and the emphasis is on psychometric testing, attitude and demeanour. I often wonder if the young person facing me feels that their debt is worthwhile.
In the end it is, I suppose, down to individual choice. I simply hope that in reaching that decision potential students are not influenced by political promises such as those given by Nick Clegg. If their chosen career path does not require a degree they should really think hard about the cost of a piece of paper that now is as common as a first-class stamp, and remember that a second-class often arrives at its destination almost as quickly.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Whether or not to go to university is a dilemma that almost every A-level student faces. Given the major financial burdens that beckon and the bleak employment market, it is likely that more and more young people will reject the path of Ucas and instead enjoy the daunting luxury of finding their own way”…Constance Watson.
Clear skies, no rain, no wind, no frost – what more could any allotmenteer desire? The mood amongst my fellow codgers was distinctly upbeat this morning as we cleaned out the hens. Even they looked quizzical, as if to ask why the new day was devoid of challenge. But their mood quickly changed with the arrival of the resident magpies, whose rat-a-tat greetings always spook them. Once the Arthur Scargills of the avian world had flown off to torment others the Columbian Blacktails soon settled to share their breakfast with the usual assortment of sparrows and bluetits.
We lesser mortals – that’s how it often feels to minds that lack the wisdom to live in the Now – cast one last look at the unusually tranquil scene before retreating to the hut where today’s ‘duty caterer, Tom, had laid out an impressive array of such health-giving fare as doughnuts and pork pies. Time for our daily gossip, one activity at which we seem to have increased our capacity at an age when so much else has diminished.
First up was our delight in seeing the Flying Scotsman back in action. The restoration has taken ten long years, but the odds are that all those who have laboured felt it all worthwhile as the magnificent giant swept all before it on the way to York. If only Dr Beeching had had the foresight to retain sections of the steam-powered lines – the Isle of Wight comes readily to mind – millions would now be flocking to experience the sense of magic that only steam-drawn carriages can create. But at least the King is back from the grave, and we have reservations for a day to remember.
A day to remember of a different variety occurred on Wednesday. Some of us are sad enough to regularly watch our dear leader’s Question Time, and this one was a corker. With the nation facing multiple crises, the two supposedly most powerful politicians in the land were facing each other across the despatch box. It is a weekly affair, one that reminds us that we Brits are sensible and have a grown-up democracy. Or does it – is Donald Trump quite as daft as we claim? We ask that because most of the allocated time was devoted to Jeremy Corbyn’s suit. “My mother would tell you to wear a suit and tie and to sing the national anthem”, cried our favourite Old Etonian.
You could see his point, because decent people such as Mussolini and Reggie Kray were always nicely turned out in a suit and tie. Idi Amin was always immaculate before he had someone boiled alive, whereas Ghandi was a scruffy urchin, which is why no one took notice of his views on healthcare. In any case the bearded one was wearing a suit and tie, and had he too received years of training in the art of PR would surely have replied: “Well, if your mother tells people to wear a suit and tie when they’re already wearing one, no wonder she signed a petition against your cuts”. He would also have responded to the maternal call for a rendering of the national anthem.
It would have seemed odd during PMQs, but needs must. But did she mean just one line, or all the verses, most of which none of us can manage without an autocue. Perhaps JC should at least have made an attempt. “God save our gracious Queen, I have a question from Gladys of Surbiton about street lights, God save our Queen, Bert from Reading wants to know about ten-year old potholes”. Frankly, and with all respect to the matriarch of the Cameroons, it was a pretty silly idea to install in her beaming offspring’s head.
But then the man that rose to be our leading star and mentor is impressionable. We only know this having read this morning’s article covering an interview afforded to the former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. It seems that his early infatuation with his coalition partner faded. The man he hero-worshipped turned out to a scheming political rotter. However, we should perhaps treat young Nick’s intelligence with caution since he ends his confessions with the warning that entering into a formal coalition spells death for the junior partner – something that most of us predicted within minutes of that infamous marriage ceremony in the Downing Street rose garden.
The one subject that they all steered well clear of was immigration, although Nick did mention that his former boss had returned from Brussels with “thin gruel”. And in passing, Dracula (aka Michael Howard, former Tory leader) has let it be known that he supports a ‘Brexit’.
But without yet again boring the pants off our readers, we have to say that this subject is rapidly becoming a major one. For the second year in succession the net UK migration has sailed past the 320,000 mark – the equivalent of two very large towns. As in Rotherham the establishment averts its eyes from a subject that they fear could see them labelled as racists. But that is pure nonsense. The developing crisis is not one of race, colour, religion or gender, it is one of capacity. Every public service is now collapsing as a result of funding cuts combined with a dramatic increase in users. Unless government can increase funding in line with demand, our hospitals, schools, roads, local authority services and all will seize up.
Michael Gove, the most studious of men, yesterday remarked that unless we reinstate border controls to let in only those whose skills we need we face disaster. Fiddling around with benefits will deter no one from Eastern European countries for whom the UK ‘living wage’ represents untold riches. Unless even at this late stage David Cameron can reach agreement on closed borders his referendum is in reality a straight choice on population growth.
Ironically we are far from the only EU state worrying about open borders. In Germany and many other countries now struggling to cope with incoming numbers, at least half of which are not refugees, right-wing parties are climbing the polls at a frightening rate. Nowhere is that more evident than in what was once Merkel territory. Politicians who once held EU dreams are feeling very insecure. In today’s edition of The Spectator, the editorial wonders if in just two years time there will be an EU to leave.
We suspect that our dear leader’s “best friend” Boris has realised that.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Hopefully, voters will decide to leave this disastrous and stifling union”…Peter Hargreaves, co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown.
A windy Monday morning on the allotments but we are unsure as to whether it is a Gertrude or Henry blow. It is all very confusing, life was much simpler when rain was rain and hats heading for Manchester airport were merely signs of wind. But either way it is irksome and best ignored on the day when for unfathomable reasons we codgers are at our grumpiest. Something buried deep in our sub-consciousness tells us that Monday mornings equal the blues, and we can only draw back our lips in apologetic leers and get on with our self-inflicted chores.
In theory we should be agog with excitement for the Daily Torygraph tells us that a new EU offer on migrant benefits is, as we speak, being thrashed out over the croissants at 10 Downing Street. Sadly we find the whole charade wearying. Of course we understand why our dear leader is keen to get the referendum over quickly. Things are still going well for him, and the bearded one and his crew are busy fighting each other. The ‘in’ campaign will draw heavily on his personal authority and the public is not (yet) fed up with him. But the polls show a large number of undecided voters. So this may well be a campaign where a great many are open to persuasion and hoping for a high-quality debate. They will have been disappointed so far.
The ‘in’ campaign has been up and running for months, and recently secured huge donations from Goldman Sachs and other American megabanks. But oodles of cash doesn’t seem to have improved the quality of the argument. Instead we have had the likes of David Lammy telling us that a million Indians died during the second world war “fighting for the European project”. There certainly was a project to integrate Europe at the time, but it was one the Indians (and others) helped to thwart.
Then we have had the tragicomic figure of Stuart Rose, who fronts the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign. He seems unable to even remember its name, bizarrely calling it the “Better Stay in Europe” campaign. It was surprising to hear that he had not even bothered to marshal even the most basic facts. Even worse is that the proponents of remaining manacled to Aunty Merkel until death do us part have not bothered to carry out proper research.
It has been making two main claims: that EU membership is worth £3,000 a year per household and saves the average person £450 a year through lower prices. One source is supposedly a 2013 ‘study’ by the CBI – which turns out not to be a study, but an exercise in cherry-picking other pieces of research. The £450 figure can be traced to an EU publication, which, in turn, came from a American paper called “Globalisation and the Gains from Variety” – an attempt to quantify the benefits of globalisation to American, not European, consumers.
How a well-funded campaign can be so slap-happy in its use of supposed statistics is baffling. But disregard for the facts seems to be a character trait of the pro-EU camp. Nick Clegg tells us that there are “three million UK citizens whose jobs rely directly on our participation of the EU”. This figure was derived from a ten-year-old study which simply totted-up jobs in businesses that export to Europe. Is anyone supposed to believe that all trade between us and EU states would cease if we voted to leave? Should we leave, the rest of the EU would have an even stronger incentive to negotiate a trading arrangement, given that they export to us far more than we export to them – £19.2 billion worth of goods against £11.1 billion in November last year, for example.
Given that we will undoubtedly soon be told that the public’s main concern of worryingly high EU immigration has, in some convoluted way, been resolved the odds are that the ‘in’ vote will triumph. But it is mightily disappointing that the overall case is being presented so shabbily and dishonestly. Given that the ‘in’ camp includes people such as the shadow chancellor who only this weekend argued that there should be no limits of any kind on new arrivals it may well be that Mr Rose and the other campaign leaders see no need to convince us. But this is a major issue and surely merits an intelligent debate. We are undecided, but would certainly like to hear more about the dangers of staying in an institution which many analysts suggest is disintegrating in the face of the migrant chaos.
But Monday morning is not a good time to consider such weighty matters and, as we settled in the hut for our daily re-enactment of nearby Harrogate’s Betty’s Tea Shop (minus the pretty waitresses) we turned to other news. Having reduced the Royal Navy to seven £1 billion warships we now find that they have the disconcerting habit of breaking down at regular intervals. Not that the homeless dwellers living in the secret subterranean “cave” in Manchester will have given much thought to that. Our friend Angela Penny Barratt regularly visits the cave to hand out emergency supplies, and tells us that it is “like the Dark Ages” – a time when presumably there were no high-tech ships of any description.
We did note with some relief that Dr David Grimes, an Oxford University scientist, has devised a mathematical model proving that the moon landings were not faked, thus postponing the final collapse of our sanity. Just as well for the news that the Government is fighting to preserve the tax-haven status of Bermuda had rattled it, not least because of the public reaction to the strange antics over the Google tax rip-off.
By now we were in a state of suspended disbelief and it therefore came as no great surprise to read that a Netmums poll has revealed that the vast majority of mothers have lost faith in the NHS 111 hotline, and now automatically take unwell offspring to A & E departments. Whatever happened to GPs? Perhaps they joined the navy and spend their days consoling sailors who develop paranoia when drifting engine-less on the high seas?
Then again perhaps they read the promises of unlimited immigration.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Often, in matters concerning religion and politics, a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s”….Mark Twain in ‘Eruption’, 1940.
As we gathered on the sunlit allotments for the hen cleaning this morning the election results were still coming in. Torrential rain is forecast for later, and we couldn’t help wondering if that is symbolic. As we sat on the wall with our mugs of Yorkshire tea three thoughts dominated our ruminations. Is there any point at all to the endless stream of opinion polls? For how much longer can our undemocratic voting system survive? Can the Union survive?
The third question is arguably the most significant one. Nicola Sturgeon was undoubtedly the most appealing of the leaders, but even she is surprised at her party’s landslide victory. Almost every Scottish Westminster MP represents the SNP, a party dedicated to taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom. For how long will the Scottish people accept the prospect of its entire body of elected representatives being outvoted by a Conservative government that has no mandate whatsoever from the land of the haggis? Our dear leader has announced that he intends to “bring the UK together”. Mission impossible. The EU referendum is not the only one likely to be on our headlines over the next year or so. Alex Salmond is a wily character and every move he makes in parliament will have but one aim in mind. By pouring so much venom over the SNP over the past few weeks the English political leaders have sealed the fate of the Union.
For weeks now the nation has followed every pronouncement of the opinion pollsters with baited breath. Once again they have proved to be fallible. It will be a long time before anyone again believes any prediction they make. All twelve of them constantly told us that the final result would be too close to call. And we plebs were not the only ones to be taken in. The likelihood is that Dave, Rebekah and the rest of the Chipping Norton set were as astonished as the rest if us when the exit polls appeared at 10.00 pm last night.
Our other question focuses yet again on our outdated first-past-the-post voting system. Ukip won 13 per cent of the total vote, and has just one MP – virtually no representation at Westminster. How can this be democratic? Of course the new government will be loath to change the system, but a nation in which millions of its citizens are effectively disenfranchised is hardly likely to warm to talk of healing divisions.
Like many more distinguished commentators we codgers got this wrong, but not in every respect. Many months ago we predicted that come May the Lib Dems would be able to hold their MP meetings in a telephone kiosk. We have heard much talk of suicide notes during the campaign, but by adopting the role of David Cameron’s lapdog Nick Clegg wrote the longest of them all. Now even Uncle Vince Cable is, like Danny Alexander, free to spend more time with his family.
And what of Not-So-Red Ed? He proved a more likeable and sensible campaigner than many expected. But he never mustered the naked passion that the defence of the NHS and the vulnerable deserved. And he was the victim of more personal vilification by the Murdoch press and the Daily Torygraph than the British media has ever mustered. Believe their rubbish and you can sleep easy tonight secure in the knowledge that babies are not going to be eaten or the Queen sent to live in Tower Hamlets. In his resignation speech Ed Miliband took “full responsibility” – he forgot to mention Murdoch. In reply David Cameron paid him a glowing tribute as he prepared to yell abuse at his successor. Had Alan Johnson led the Labour Party the result could perhaps have been very different, even Sun readers would have found it hard to believe that he is a posh geek.
But never mind, we codgers draw consolation from the prospect of another five years of our dear leader. Despite his destruction of the NHS and social services he has provided us with much amusement. The people have spoken and Burlington Bertie still rules the less than united kingdom.
QUOTES FOR TODAY: ” If the exit poll is correct, emigration looks a very attractive option”…. Austin Mitchell/ ” If Ukip gets four million votes and a mere seat or two, that’s a reflection on how dysfunctional our political system is rather than Ukip’s tactics”…. Douglas Carswell/ “The Prime Minister will outline the basis on which we can go forward with a secure and stable government”…. Michael Gove.
The third beautiful morning on the trot greeted us as we arrived at the allotments this morning. The daffodils are making their last defiant stand in a blaze of yellow, the Camelias a burning red and the Epimediums are appearing in an array of colours capable of making Joseph’s coat look insipid. The lower pond features frog-spawn galore, with its proud parents croaking their pride, whilst the Blackbirds are gathering house-making material with renewed enthusiasm. Only Albert was disinclined to rejoice in the illuminated evidence of the birth of a new season – perhaps he was mulling over the latest research that shows that short men are way up the risk table when it comes to heart attacks. But as we pointed out in the absence of a heart he has no need to fret.
The rest of us seem to have lost ours to Nicola Sturgeon. Yes she is that rarest of political creatures – a beautiful, demure and seemingly honest advocate but the suddenly blooming infatuation of a nation that cannot vote for her is down to more than that. We believe it’s the expression of a heartfelt frustration with the way politics is being played out nationally. It’s a yearning to vote for someone other than a member of the Westminster squadron who feel they should have complete control of every aspect of the kingdom.
For decades now, Westminster has removed more and more power from local government, under the vote-grabbing headline of freedom of choice. Housing, school curriculum and testing, transport and health standards have all been micromanaged by ministers and special advisers in London. Cuts have also reduced local government budgets by 30 per cent. More and more, what happens in Barnstaple and Leeds is determined by the priorities of the occupant of 10, Downing Street. It is no surprise to us that the further you get out of London, the moe national politics fragment into a series of diverse battles, between Labour and the SNP in Scotland, Tories and Lib Dems in the south-west of England, Labour and Ukip in the North, Tories and Ukip on the south-east coast, with the Greens darting in and out of various areas.
Is this not a healthy development since it recognises a diversity of needs for different parts of the nation? We don’t see this as some apocalyptic disintegration of the UK, but instead as each part of the country beginning to reclaim its right to argue for its own form of politics. The more Cameron threatens Britain with the prospect of a Labour and SNP pact, the more the SNP’s vote goes up in Scotland and the more Labour’s vote climbs in the rest of the UK. While some politicians paint nationalism as a calamity, the electorate increasingly sees co-opeation between parties as liberating.
We’re asked to view Nicola Sturgeon propping up a Labour government as a negative development on the grounds that it could lead to another referendum on Scottish independence. But that view is just one, very Westminster-centric , view of politics. Is it too much to ask that a non-Westminster scenario would have regional MPs of all parties starting to demand more power for their regions too as the price for allowing the SNP any say in the running of the UK? If that were the case, and we arrived at a more equitable UK, power-sharing across the four nations could yet give us a more interesting, content and stable united kingdom.
As we sat on the wall with our mugs of Yorkshire’s best we began to see the increasingly strident attacks on Ms Sturgeon from the all-male cast of Cameron, Miliband and Clegg as what may hopefully be the final attempts of the Westminster bubble to hang on to centralised power and to perpetuate the belief that it is better to abuse those who hold different views than to jointly explore ideas.
Scotland is unlikely to become a completely independent nation any time soon, but the UK’s favourite wee lassie has struck a chord with millions. If independence means freedom for individual countries and regions to run their own affairs what is wrong with it? Does anyone seriously believe that whoever enters 10, Downing Street in May really understands the priorities of areas they only deign to visit for the purpose of photo-opportunities?
But as the tide of Sturgeonism gathers pace we can expect a last-ditch stand by the Westminster mafia. They have already tried inventing alleged comments by her in regard to the abilities of Ed Miliband. When that was disproved they brushed it aside as “part and parcel of electioneering”. Now the whole weight of the spin-doctors is being devoted to claims that she wishes to leave us “defenceless”, something the massive military cuts by the coalition have already achieved.
Our new heroine has dared to question the wisdom of reducing our armed forces to near zero, whilst maintaining Trident nuclear submarines which cost zillions. But her question seems to us a reasonable one. The threats we will face are unlikely to be nuclear ones, and does anyone imagine other than that the massive American deterrent will always be enough to deter any nuclear madmen that emerge. And if not why would our relatively tiny fleet do so?
We don’t believe that the majority of Scottish people will ever decide to leave the United Kingdom. We do believe that they strongly demand the right to manage their own affairs and to maintain their own unique identity. And they are not alone!
QUOTE FOR TODAY : ” Patriotism is the conviction that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it”….George Bernard Shaw.
Our ancient teeth were not chattering this morning. Someone up there has clearly decided to turn the heater up a tad, and our inclination to chatter in the conventional way rose accordingly as we cleaned out the rebellious hens. The main topic of conversation was the letter written to our dear leader by Sir John Clilcot. Despite having spent six years conducting his Iraq inquiry he now requires several more months to complete the opus meaning that, by a strange coincidence, it will not be available until after the May general election.
A senior Whitehall official said that there is no suggestion that attempts were made to look at how this report could be “blocked or stalled”. Oh yes there is. A senior spokesman for Nick Clegg told the media: “Despite all their bluster, it suits both Labour and the Tories down to the ground for the Chilcot inquiry to be delayed until after the election. Neither party will want electors to be reminded of their full-throated support of the unjustifiable and illegal war in Iraq”.
Predictably the Labour and Conservative leaderships have denied any collusion, but speak of a “special channel of communication” being used by aides of Messrs Cameron and Miliband to “explore common ground” over publication. Norman Baker, the Lib Dem former minister has no doubt about the meaning of this; “..the Tories have gone behind the back o their government partners to stitch up an unsavoury deal with the opposition”. Sounds right for everyone already knows the Blair/Bush story but few now recall that the Lib Dems alone stood firm in questioning the lies about Saddam’s ability to strike London within 45 minutes, or all the gobbledegook about the introduction of democracy.
Perhaps this elicits from you the protest that honourable members would not contrive to put their own interest before those of the families who still mourn and yearn for answers. Perhaps, but you would have less doubt had you seen a series of pictures mailed to me by a reader yesterday you might hesitate. These show the benches of the Commons during a series of debates. For such subjects as Afghanistan, child sex abuse, knife crime, impact of welfare reform, the living wage and drug laws you could easily count on two hands the number of MPs present. For two other debates the chamber was packed to the aisles. The subjects were MPs expenses and MPs pay.
Back in our warm hut, once the daily row with Albert on the rights of man had petered out, we noticed another strange utterance by one of the Westminster bubble, this time a member of the deeply offended Nick Clegg contingent. Yesterday the largest poll yet conducted on EU membership showed that over 80 per cent have pledged to vote for exit if and when David Cameron stages his referendum. The whole idea of a referendum is “extremely dangerous” said Uncle Vince Cable. Perhaps his party should drop the claim to be ‘Democrats’? It seems to us even more dangerous for a party facing oblivion to warn against allowing the electorate to express an opinion.
But our politicians are adept at digging themselves out of holes. Even Ed Miliband is probably right now working on plan B having read the latest poll predicting the gaining by the SNP of 55 of the 59 Scottish Westminster seats. The spin-doctors are probably already drafting the revelation that he always wished for nothing better than to have Alex Salmond alongside him during Question Time. But are the Royals equally adept at the art of skin-saving?
Virginia Roberts, who claims that she and the Duke of York had sex when she was 17, has now sworn on oath that this is true. Will he also swear on oath that she is telling lies? If not what conclusion will every fervent monarchist reach?
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” There are two kinds of truth – the real truth and the made-up truth”….Marion Barry, Mayor of Washington.
There will be no references to the ‘warm hut’ today. After the rest of us had gone home last night our resident carpenter set to by torchlight to replace a door hinge damaged by yesterday’s high winds. He took the door off without first checking that he had replacement hinges in the jumble that passes for his store. On failing to find any he lashed out in rage and smashed the heater control panel. Now we have no door and no heating and the treasured sanctuary is a replica of Scott’s last journey. There are times when Albert is as useless as John Bercow in a basketball match.
The result was that our usual drawn-out tea, doughnuts and review of the morning papers was abandoned and our highbrow discussion was confined to the time it took us to clean out the hens before heading home. But given our advanced years one topic did focus our feeble minds. Health officials are investigating a “statistically significant and sustained” decline in life expectancy among elderly people in some parts of the country. Suddenly all those fears about ever increasing pressures on the NHS and pension deficits seem to be fading from our dear leader’s list of unresolved crises. But it is not good news for those of us who suddenly realise that statistically we should already be amongst that great gathering of chicken-keepers up yonder!
Figures obtained via a leak to the Health Service Journal show that the graph providing great hope for fogies and despair for national planners has turned turtle. if the trend continues we will rapidly return to those days when anyone reaching ‘three score years and ten’ will be regarded as fortunate indeed.
What can possibly have caused such a dramatic reversal? The off the cuff explanation offered by officials will not please ministers as an election approaches. When suddenly confronted by hacks they identified Government cuts to council’s social care budgets, a lack of capacity in general practices and added pressure in hospitals. One imagines that right now our dear leader is ordering further analysis with a view to creating less politically damaging reasons. But at least he can now claim that in the same way that Grumpy Gordon avoided the collapse of the Banks, he has saved our health services from a similar fate. And to think that we plebs criticised the Lansley plan – unknown to us it was the ultimate solution.
This of course becomes another reason for our esteemed Prime Minister to pull out of the proposed TV election debates. Whilst the star of the last series, Nick Clegg, can hardly use this since he has blindly supported every Conservative move, there is little doubt that upstarts such as Messrs Miliband and Farage will do so.
That apart his advisers believe that by appearing on equal terms with the riff-raff a Prime Minister sacrifices the aura that he or she builds up over five years of media attention, and becomes exposed to prolonged hostile questioning very different from that of Uriah Heap and his fellow political interviewers. This time around it also provides Miliband with the chance to demonstrate that he is normal, and Farage a platform to bang on about issues that most people identify with.
So now more than ever David Cameron needs to pull out. But he has to come up with a better excuse than the exclusion of the Greens, a group for whom he has less affection than he has for the anti-hunt brigade.
And there is still the danger that the broadcasters could change their minds on the Greens. Better by far he insist on the Salvation Army being invited to stand alongside Nigel Farage.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” The Tory leadership fears that just putting Miliband on the same stage as Cameron in a Prime Ministerial debate will make him look a more credible contender for the job”…..The Spectator (James Forsyth).
The Daily Express 80 mph winds appear to be emulating our local trains by running late, and we were able to clean out the hens in relative calm this morning. Even the temperature had moved up a few notches and Phil and Tom had forsaken their Eskimo kit to expose their faded “I agree with Nick” sweaters, reminders of the last general election when, in the wake of the TV debates in which the dashing Nick Clegg rang rings around David Cameron and Grumpy Gordon, a lot of my pals decided to give the Lib Dems a chance.
As we gathered in the hut it quickly became apparent that opinions have shifted somewhat. These are desperate days for Mr Clegg, a situation worsened by today’s polls which show his party on a mere 6 per cent and trailing the various ‘minor’ parties which he seeks, in an article for the Independent, to deride. What we should do, our fallen hero tells us, is “anchor Britain to the centre ground” and allow his party the chance to hold either Labour or Conservatives to account “in the cause of fairness and justice for all”.
What he seems unable to recognise is that the Lib Dems have failed utterly to exercise any restraint on their coalition partners. A classic example is the NHS. For several years we codgers have predicted its collapse, and now it has happened. The same paper that carries Clegg’s piece includes an interview with Dr Bernadette Garrihy, an A & E consultant in the West Midlands. She describes the scene that faced her at 8.00am yesterday when she arrived to take over her shift. The draughty corridor was lined with 12 patients on ambulance stretchers. The A & E department itself was full, and there were no beds available in the hospital. There were already 68 patients waiting inside the department and the overnight shift had been short of a doctor with a lone registrar describing the night as “the worst of my career”.
This is the hell awaiting the steady stream of mainly elderly patients arriving with conditions beyond the scope of GPs called out during the night, and almost all have one thing in common. Because of government cuts to council budgets spending on adult social care has been slashed by £3.5bn which means that help with basic things like getting up and down stairs, having a bath and cooking is no longer available. This in turn means that patients cannot be safely discharged from hospital and vast numbers of beds across the country are occupied by patients who, after treatment, could be cared for at home or in a nursing environment.
This ludicrous and cruel development was but one of the features of the so-called Lansley reforms which without the support of the Lib Dems for the new Health and Care bill would never have been enacted. On this and many other ill-conceived measures by right-wing ministers the Lib Dems faithfully trooped through the government voting lobby.
And this is in our view far from the only failure of the Lib Dems to recognise that being in a coalition does not involve automatically nodding through the whims and caprices of the senior partner. Today Clegg continues to peddle the nonsense about Gordon Brown “allowing the banks to crash the economy”. To say that is to rewrite history for political gain.
In September 2008 the United States Treasury and Federal Reserve Bank allowed Lehman Brothers to collapse. Officials on both sides of the Atlantic feared that the collapse of other major banking institutions would follow leading to conceivably the collapse of the entire world’s banking system. Hank Paulson, the American Treasury secretary, dithered. Gordon Brown acted and even his many vociferous critics applauded. The New York Times said; “The Brown government has shown itself willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and to act quickly on its conclusions. And this combination of clarity and decisiveness hasn’t been matched by any other Western government, including our own”
Since that near fatal day the Lib Dems have sat supinely by as the coalition has treated the bankers with kid-gloves on the grounds that the best brains could emigrate. The answer should have been the sooner the better, there are now millions of poorer people suffering misery as a result of what they did.
Mr Clegg also seems blissfully unaware that the national debt continues to climb and tax-avoidance likewise. In fact he continues to sound like an agent for our dear leader. So fixated did he become with the trappings of power that he led a great pioneering party into a trap. Nodding donkeys should confine themselves to Blackpool beach.
We codgers have no faith in any politicians but just for a moment some five years ago some of us believed that we had espied a saviour. We were wrong!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” When they say that they agree to a thing in principle they mean that they have not the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice”….Otto von Bismarck.
We codgers have no plans to either leap on aircraft or buy new houses, so it was perhaps inevitable that there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for Gorgeous George Osborne’s Autumn Statement as we cleaned out the hens on another frosty morning. Some of us did tune in to the great event yesterday and, finding the raucous schoolboy-like heckling somewhat wearing, tuned out. The fact that these people are supposedly running the country is a sobering one.
As we gathered in the warm hut we noted particularly the absence of Nick Clegg. He was in Cornwall, having decided that he had “better things to do than sit in silence next to the Prime Minister and Chancellor”. Having sat dutifully there for four years his enlightenment seems to have come rather late in the day. Presumably the Lib Dems are going through a ‘what have we done to ourselves’ moment. According to the papers the dashing Nick’s boycott coincided with a blazing row between Uncle Vince Cable and Danny Alexander, so it does appear that the penny has finally dropped. Junior partners in any coalition invariably receive none of the credit and all of the blame. But it is too late now, and the odds are on the Lib Dems being able to stage their MP meetings in a telephone kiosk come next June.
If our calculations are correct the leading contenders for a coalition partnership after the votes have been counted in May will be the SNP. Either our dear leader or not-so-red Ed will find Alex Salmond a somewhat less obedient partner than Mr Salmond and his haggis-eaters. Add in the distinct possibility of the people’s champion Mr Farage also being part of the deal and you have the prospects of headaches all round plus the distinct possibility of a constitutional crisis. Maybe the Queen will have no other option than to ask the Screaming Raving Loony Party to form a government.
One thing is certain. Whoever rules, we are in for some very difficult times. Last night on the BBC news Nick Robinson remarked that the most remarkable feature of yesterday’s hoo-hah was the “lack of candour”. There was little objective comment about the ever-increasing national debt and no mention at all of the new report from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) which shows an estimate for the ratio of total household financial liabilities to total household incomes over the next five years.
What it presents is a dramatic picture of the household debt ratio rising steadily to 184 per cent of incomes, well in excess of the 169 per cent ration reached in 2008, shortly before the global financial meltdown. This is the first time the OBR forecasts have shown the debt ratio surpassing the levels of six years ago, which were themselves horrendous. A combination of millions of low paid jobs and a rising cost of living is leading us to a society more divided that at any time in modern history.
And the solution offered by the warring contenders for our votes? Further cuts to public services and widespread outsourcing to companies such as Serco and G4S. All that will do is make the lot of the already debt-laden even more burdensome. Will the last person to leave please turn off the lights!
Amidst all yesterday’s clamour one man alone seemed to be pointing at the real solution. Axe the horrendous costs of EU membership, axe HS2, reduce the pressure on our public services, increase taxes on those who either don’t pay or can afford to pay more.
The problem is that he was making his pitch from a pub and appears to be barking mad. Or is he, nothing said by his supposedly saner rivals seemed even remotely rational.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” – I think the Prime Minister wants to govern Britain. – Well, stop him, Bernard!”….Bernard Woolley and Sir Humphrey Appleby, Yes Minister.
Having been for many a year a part of a team of codgers who gather each day at our allotments collective, and whose conversation covers every conceivable subject, I have noticed that two subjects are never mentioned. With our life clocks ticking remorselessly on one would have expected what happens next to trigger interest, but no. We talk our way through countless sessions of chicken-care and self indulgent tea breaks, flitting from the egotistical Kevin Pieterson through to the delusional Nick Clegg, yet we never venture into the unknown. The day of our demise begins to loom but we never consider the options – a whole new adventure or total oblivion.
This morning I found myself wondering if tonight’s new series (Human Universe) on the box by Professor Brian Cox will trigger consideration. Early last year Sir David Attenborough himself hailed Brian as his heir apparent. “If I had a torch I would hand it to Brian Cox” said the giant of natural history programming. Time will tell whether Prof Cox can scale Sir David’s broadcasting heights, but he already has two things that the 88-year-old lacks; a professorship and a Number 1 hit in the pop charts. He has another plus – he dares to go where the great man and his millions of fans never go, he dares to speculate on the unknown.
Tonight Brian Cox will express his suspicion that another civilisation exists in the observable universe, given that it contains 350 billion galaxies. He also suspects that the next big discovery may involve finding life forms on Mars. And if such life were to have a different biochemistry, it would tell us that “there’s a sense of inevitability about life, because it would say that it evolved twice on two neighbouring planets independently”. Go beyond the observable universe and even his intellectual capacity is severely challenged. I guess a layman’s summary would be that most things up there are unknown, and our capacity to grasp concepts such as endless space is zero.
Refreshingly for a scientist Brian Cox is quick to say that there is total naivety in saying there is no God, no divine explanation for such mysterious wonders. People like Leibniz and Kant have considered this and they, he says, are “not idiots”. Science cannot prove or disprove the presence of a greater power. Proving the theory of the ‘big bang’ does not disprove the possibility that it was the work of what many call God.
And at this point the man who has captured the attention of millions around the world leaves us to our beliefs, or lack of them. Our problem is the greatest of them all – as the old hymn has it we cannot know, we cannot tell. So man has invented its Gods in its own image. Thus it is that the ghastly followers of the so-called Islamic State have invented a cruel and vengeful deity and added the attraction of paradise for murderers. In contrast people whose instinct is to to love their fellow beings worship a truly good man who died 2,000 year ago. But even here we find a paradox in that their church leaders perform man-made rituals and dress up in clothing that He disdained.
Because the subject is too complex for minds that focus on the known and tangible we codgers tend to avoid speculation. But every now and then something happens that seems to lift the curtain momentarily. Today a report from scientists at Southampton University have published the findings of a four year study into near-death and out-of-body experiences. Over 2,000 victims of cardiac arrests were questioned, and over 40 per cent described some kind of “awareness” during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted. Some recalled seeing a bright light; a golden flash or the sun shining. Regular readers will recall similar reported experiences after other studies.
None of which proves or disproves ‘God’. But scientific evidence of life after death seems to be growing. Those of us who wish to believe choose to see this as one step toward heaven. Those who do not, talk of headless chickens. In truth the only route available is belief or lack of it.
I confess that when faced with the greatest mystery of all I tend to escape into humour. My favourite story is that of the vicar being driven by a cockney cab driver who remarked that “you will feel a right twit if after denying yourself all the sins I enjoy you find that there is no one there”. But, replied the vicar, “not half as much a one as you will when you find that there is!”.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it!”…George Carlin.
I missed the hen-cleaning this morning. I cannot claim to have felt deprived since my love of chasing hens around in mud has long faded. The theory was that I would drive to Darwen and return at a rapid rate, but I reckoned without the capacity of our motorways to seize up at the first signs of heavy rain. Edging on to the M65 was challenging, progressing once having defied a legion of horns even more so. It seems that some bright spark had decided that reduced visibility was no reason to reduce speed, and the other zillion drivers were condemned to a long wait. The “We never stop supplying” van in front of me had done just that, and one can derive only so much pleasure from gazing at a pair of doors. Fortunately the lady behind me was giving a demonstration on eyebrow-plucking, and I passed the time taking a lesson via my rear-view mirror.
But I am back at the allotments now having spent longer to travel 40 miles than Richard Branson has allocated for his Mars trip. And I found my fellow codgers in a reflective mood as they crouched around the fire over their umpteenth mug of tea. They had been mulling over an article by Ian Birrell in today’s Independent which leads with a somewhat disturbing prophecy. We are heading for an Eric Pickles sized crisis in 2015.
Ian’s case is that the May general election will result in a near dead heat between the two leading parties. Labour benefits from an unfair electoral system, yet voters do not believe that its “floundering leader” is up to the PM’s job. The Tories have a strong economic message, but the electorate sees them as a party defending the rich and fears that the health service is not safe in their hands. Meanwhile, insurgent forces have arrived on the scene and there is no longer a simple binary choice.
Few of us ponder the potential implications of multi-party politics crashing against a creaking two-party system. Ian suggests we consider what might happen after the election. His statistics appear impeccable and it certainly seems probable that a Labour or Tory victory will be a very slender one. This would not lead to good government at a time of domestic and global crises with either party being held to ransom by the self-serving silliness of their fringe members. The biggest party might be able to form a simple coalition with the Lib Dems but the Cleggites will almost certainly have too few survivors to make this feasible, and an alliance with the Scottish or Welsh nationalists would hardly fit with election promises of English votes for English MPs.
Civil servants are already planning for a second election given the probability of an inherently unstable government. But a re-run would probably produce the same result. Britain this faces a full-blown constitutional crisis – unless the two main parties swallowed significant personal and policy differences to form a grand coalition. Not our theory but it does make a good deal of sense. Last time round, voters wanted rid of Labour but did not fully trust the Tories. Now the public has lost all trust in all of them and seeks profound change to a political system that seems tragically stuck in the past.
AS if on cue a powerful alliance of doctors, nurses and charities has this morning published a letter asking ‘Who can save the NHS?’. They stress that the NHS is at “breaking point” and its “founding principles” are now at stake. The professionals paint a stark picture of collapsing cancer services, general care and describe the elderly and vulnerable, often suffering from dementia, as having been “cut adrift”. Thanks to the seldom mentioned £20 billion of ‘efficiency savings’ imposed by the coalition plus the flat-line budget plus rocketing demand, a large number of our hospitals are in deep financial crisis.
Even point-scoring politicians will find it difficult to question the views set out by an alliance that includes every clinical body, the Royal colleges, leading charities and eminent and highly respected individual medical professionals. And the truth is that the last thing the NHS needs is more ill-informed ‘reforms’.
It could be argued that this ties in neatly with the Birrell prediction. Since the likelihood now is that the two main parties will have to find a way of working together why not do just that with the NHS? Take it out of politics and make it answerable to a cross-body committee incorporating leading medical experts. The result couldn’t possibly be worse than the present shambles, it could be dramatically better.
Today’s politicians are in the main concerned primarily with their own interests but public opinion is turning against them. That apart even they would surely baulk at the final demise of our country’s greatest asset under a parliament incapable, after 2015, of governing anything.
Time will tell but as we listen in amazement to Nick Clegg lashing the Conservatives for actions that he supported and made possible it is food for thought. And maybe, just maybe, the links that the Cameroons have with the newspapers will prove telling. After our dear leader’s big conference speech the Sun screamed “Here Cams the Sun”, and the other big-circulation papers also screamed their praises. It was left to the Financial Times to say “Cameron trades votes for economic credibility”.
But something tells us that most people are disillusioned to such an extent that they will no longer dance to the strings of even so mighty a person as Murdoch.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” If you want to be a leader with a large following, just obey the speed limit on a winding, two-lane road!”…..Charles Barr
There was no rain but plenty of hilarity as we codgers trooped on to the allotments this morning. It seems that a sociological study has suggested that short men make better husbands, and my colleagues were wondering why it is that Mrs Albert turns up from time to time up to threaten our pint-sized leader. His retort is that short men only make better husbands if they marry short wives. Clearly he has been the victim of a mismatch over the past fifty years.
But one shouldn’t mock the afflicted and, as we cleaned out the rebellious hens, our attention moved from husband-beating to the legal action launched by Prince William against a half-witted paparazzi, Niraj Tanna, who devotes his time to taking photographs of Baby George and his nanny whenever they venture out for a stroll in London parks. ‘Baby seen in park’ is hardly a sensation yet this moron continues to leap from behind bushes to add to his zillion-strong collection. But the morons that really puzzle us are the readers whose day is incomplete without a new glimpse of the infant king. Ultimately the only people who can truly regulate the press are the people that buy the newspapers, and why they clamour for rubbish such as this defies logic.
Perhaps they seek diversion from the endless stories of hated and horror wrought by insane terrorists funded by people who now own half of London. If so they should perhaps try something even funnier than baby antics. As we gathered in the hut this morning we opted for the spectacle of a gamekeeper turned poacher. And where better to find such beings than the Lib Dem party conference? For over four years we have it seems mistakenly labelled Nick Clegg as our dear leader’s lapdog, but it now seems that he loathes the man. Yesterday The Deputy Prime Minister launched a vicious personal attack on David Cameron whose re-election would he, assured the world, lead to a “diminished Britain”.
He spared none of his coalition partners. Gorgeous George Osborne, he cred, “takes his axe to the welfare budget with no regard for people’s lives”. The plan being prepared by William Hague to prevent Scottish MPs from voting in English issues was a stunt calculated to give the hated Tories an electoral advantage. The NHS has been denuded of funds and near ruined. Tories had created a situation where bosses could fire “workers at will, no questions asked”. You name it and the Conservative governmnet is guilty of it. And to think that we imagined that they were only able to carry out such iniquities thanks to a Commons majority provided by Lib Dem MPs.
On Tuesday Paul Burstow will give chapter and verse on the scandal of our care homes. At a fringe meeting yesterday he provided a foretaste. More than 2,000 homes for elderly and disabled adults have no registered managers and lack the will to ensure that vulnerable people, including people with dementia, are properly cared for. “Would we be happy for any member of our family to be in these homes? I don’t think so”, said Mr Burstow. As with every other Tory iniquity tabled in Glasgow yesterday we can only assume that the nodding Lib Dems were only doing so because they were asleep.
Which is what some delegates accused Uncle Vince Cable of when they reflected on his failure to back the Coalition’s austerity cuts. As a result he is to be “put back in his box” during the election. In his place as the toe-to-toe opponent of Osborne will be Danny Alexander. Expect him to launch a fierce attack on the “wealthy friend of tax avoiders”. It will be quite a turnaround from someone who has pledged undying loyalty to the man with the Freddy Flintstone hairdo.
But, having demonstrated their latent hatred of all things Tory, the soon to be born again Cleggites will launch their masterpiece policy. We must, they will say, realise that our dear leader will proceed with his lunacy of an EU referendum. He will, warned his erstwhile Rose Garden lover, give the people the opportunity to “vote to withdraw from the EU”, and such a decision would spell the end of the country we all love.
To us codgers that doesn’t sound like a threat at all. But then again someone who loves ministerial trappings will clutch at any straw, and being a well-read bloke our Nick will be well aware of the old adage about laying down ones friends for ones life.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” The ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination”….Voltaire.
The people of Scotland have spoken, or at least a whopping 84.5 per cent if them have. All of my fellow allotmenteers were early on parade this morning, so one can only assume that they decided against sitting up all night to listen to hours of political waffle. But, as we cleaned out the hens this morning, there was sympathy for Alex Salmond and those who dared to believe that small could be better. We will never know whether the poll that two weeks or so ago predicted a happy ending to their dream was accurate, but it seems reasonable to assume that it triggered the Westminster establishment to quickly patch together a present list capable of making Santa look like Ebenezer Scrooge by comparison.
Our dear leader was quick to don his mask of humility and reverence as he told his still united kingdom that now is the time to reunite and build the new Jerusalem. But one imagines that, as he tucked into his muesli, he paused to rub his hands and begin to scribble out a list of businessmen to whom he now owes honours for services to the art of scary threats. But if he then turned to the morning papers his sense of relief may well have dissipated somewhat. Even before it became clear that by a majority of 383,937 the haggis-eaters had rejected full independence, leading members of his party made clear that they have no intention of backing his largesse. Claire Perry, an ally of Gorgeous George Osborne, was first off the mark: “Scotland must have no party bags containing a whole raft of goodies that will be paid for by us, south of the border, to appease the Yes voters”.
As he gloomily gazes into his porridge this morning, Mr Salmond should console himself with the thought that his Assembly has gained independence in all but name. Being mischievous he may also reflect on the old adage that he who laughs last laughs loudest. He will certainly do so if he reads the early comment from leading Tory backbencher Philip Davies who says that he and his colleagues will not vote for the “devo max” deal under any circumstances. It was, says the MP for Shipley, “done in a panic when the polls narrowed and I am not prepared to give a blank cheque to Scotland that my constituents will have to pay for”. Minutes later John Redwood declared that what is fair for Scotland is “also fair for England, Wales and Northern Ireland”.
With our dear leader suddenly feeling the heat with which his spokesmen threatened the bouncy Alex, he may draw comfort from the thought that Messrs Miliband and Clegg supported his eleventh hour salvage act. Dream on. Those two worthies now have their eyes fixed on May 2015. Pale pink Ed has to hold on to the significant number of Labour seats north of the border to earn the right to pick the Number Ten curtains, but he also has to avoid alienating his English seats. He also faces the prospect of Scottish MPs being barred from voting on issues unique to England, a situation which would probably render a Labour government impotent. Even worse he has to resist pressure from the born-again Brownites. And Nick Clegg? Like apple-pie pastry his promises are easily broken.
We are too close to the outcome of the referendum to even hazard a guess as to how the resulting constitutional crisis will ever be resolved. But John Redwood is right, what is fair for the Scots is fair for the rest of us. The idea that the Westminster bubble can be other than burst is laughable. Maybe, just maybe, the frightened No voters of Scotland have done us all a favour.
Almost unnoticed in all the clamour the Archbishop of Canterbury chose to tell the world that he has doubts about the existence of God. He is now in an even tighter corner than David Cameron. Perhaps both of them should give the rest of us a break and head, hand in hand, into the sunset?
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” We’ve been given this amazing opportunity. If it’s a No vote, I will feel ashamed to be Scottish. Even if there is a No vote, David Cameron has some serious questions to answer”….Benjamin Cluness, a student from the Shetlands living in Glasgow (Quoted in Independent).
I walked round to the allotments just in time to watch my fellow codgers wheel the output from their hen-cleaning away, a process that involved Albert losing control of his barrow and depositing his load on a prize flower bed. It reminded me of those long gone days when even the smallest town had several cinemas, then accurately known as bughouses. Ferret racing apart, there was little to do then and few bothered with the niceties of starting times. You simply rolled up when it suited you and watched whatever was flickering on the screen. You then sat tight until the film started again and at the appropriate moment muttered “this is where we came in” and staggered out of the smoke-filled palace of escapism. Knowing how the story ended didn’t seem to diminish the pleasure of finding out how it started.
Come to think about it little has changed. No, we wouldn’t wish now to know who shot CJ without first watching the build-up, but in our national life we are well used to announcements heralding this or that governmental triumph without having the faintest idea of the story behind it. Take for example the recent rejoicing at the news that Nick Clegg has championed the “most progressive change to our school system for a long time” in the form of free meals for all four to seven-year-olds.
Of course we knew that many parents can well afford to pay, but everyone liked the idea of avoiding stigmatisation and the universal benefit of nutritional content determined by experts. Three cheers for Mr Clegg, we cried, he clearly isn’t as daft as we imagined. Unfortunately we came in on the story a little late.
We now learn that no funding was provided to support this wizard wheeze. Cash-strapped local authorities have been told to find the wherewithal from their already diminished education budgets. Last night headteachers condemned a “reckless failure” in planning, and warned that they are now in an “invidious position”. The cash will have to be taken from the repair programmes aimed at improving facilities in classrooms and, in many instances, repairing ageing premises with leaky roofs. And there is the need to expand kitchen facilities.
Another ending without the beginning is provided by this morning’s news that the Home Office, having already shelled out £259.3m on a computer system to monitor immigration that didn’t work, has now to hand over another £224m to the American company Raytheon for breach of contract. Had we seen the story from the beginning we would have known that the company signed a nine-year deal with the Labour government in 2007 to provide the e-Borders IT system, which would record all people entering or leaving the UK. It seems that the then governmnet failed to specify its requirements, a basic starting point for any IT project.
When Theresa May took over she terminated the contract without realising that the “not fit for purpose” UK Border Agency had itself contributed to the foul-up. The result is that an arbitration court has ruled that Raytheon is entitled to a substantial payout for breach of contract. Can you imagine any other walk of life in which the squandering of £483.3 million would be shrugged aside as ‘disappointing’? Clearly Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, can’t for he yesterday said that those responsible “should be held to account for failing the taxpayer in such a costly way”.
Perhaps the old Ealing Studios should be commissioned to make one more film. We could arrive to watch the ending first and see schools serving hot food cooled down by leaking roofs, whilst in London town an odd bunch of people in posh suits were pouring millions down the already swollen drains. The problem would be that when we watched the beginning we would complain that it was too ‘far-fetched’.
At least we are about to see the first part of the story in which the police and BBC flouted every rule in the book by staging an SAS-style raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s Berkshire home. Both the BBC director-general and the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police are to be summoned before MPs to reveal the story’s beginning! Right now they will be commissioning a script about suspected Isis terrorists hiding behind the singer’s sofa.
Our dear leader will have noticed none of this, and not merely because he has headed off on his second holiday. He has been busy explaining his policy on Iraq. Few of us understand it, but this of course is where we came in.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Critics get hate mail from people when they reveal too much about the endings of thrillers. Here is the ending of ALL thrillers: the bad guy gets killed”….Rich Elias.
FACT FOR TODAY; Six million people arriving by train do not undergo advance checks. 20% of sea passengers and 5% of air travellers are allowed to slip through the net by what remains of eBorders.