Posts Tagged ‘Nick Clegg’

Can the Union survive ?

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Our other question  focuses yet again on our outdated first-past-the-post voting system.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.

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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.

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‘The Crunch’ – a must read for sceptics!

Some time ago I accompanied a party of schoolchildren who had been invited to lunch by Alex Brummer, the City Editor of the Daily Mail, and former star at the Guardian. He was keen to meet the pupils who had pioneered a new programme of financial education on behalf of the Debt Advice Foundation, a northern charity doing ground-breaking work in not only providing free and independent advice to people in debt, but also  in tackling the key task of educating tomorrow’s generation on the perils of accumulating debts. Alex has an impressive track record including winning Business Journalist of the Year 2006, Newspaper Journalist 2002 and Best City Journalist 2000. He has also published a number of books well respected in the business sector.

At the coffee stage Alex invited questions and the youngsters seized the opportunity. What led to the financial crash? Our genial host didn’t hesitate. His answer was “Greed”. He went on to provide a compelling and clear narrative about the origins of the crisis and its implications. He provided simple explanations of technical banking concepts without at any time patronising his audience. He traced the course of the crisis from its origins in the American ‘sub-prime’ market to the aftermath of its explosion on to the international scene. The story we listened to that day was a shocking one of greed, mismanagement and dithering in which bankers were seeking to make a quick buck, regulators were engaged in turf wars and blame-avoidance. Governments were paralysed by the sheer scale of the problem, and effectively conspired to bring the banking system almost to its knees and to plunge the world into economic turmoil.

As we left Alex gave me a copy of his latest book, ‘The Crunch’, in which he recalls and analyses those scary days when the world crisis enveloped Britain. He quotes the sudden nightmare of Northern Rock when customers queued from 5.00am to withdraw their savings, and recalls the frantic nights when the lights burned late in Downing Street and the Treasury as Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown faced the fearful prospect of the whole banking system collapsing, and the economy with it.

Having heard over the past few days umpteen references by leading Conservative politicians to the “mess created by the Labour government” I dug the book out and took it along to the allotments this morning. Of course everyone already knew  that the propaganda was nonsense, but several of my fellow codgers were intrigued by the difference between what the politicians claim and what really happened. The clear inference of this eminently readable work is that far from causing it Brown and Darling took action to stem the bleeding. One can with the benefit of hindsight question whether stabilising the banks by injecting vast amounts of public money into them was the only solution, but the fact remains that over the next few days governments across the world, including America, adopted their suddenly constructed formula.

As we sat on the sunlit wall with our mugs of Yorkshire best this morning we did our objective best to find grounds for criticism of the government of Grumpy Gordon. It does appear that, in common with many others, it had failed to tighten the regulation of the Banks, and arguably failed to be tough enough with them as they subsequently continued to pay the very people responsible for what happened obscenely high bonuses. But the evidence is quite clear – the idea that in some way they caused the disaster is pure invention.

Revisiting Alex Brummer’s widely acclaimed work served to reinforce our disillusion with politicians. The villains of this terrible episode in our economic history were the Bankers, the very people that to this day Gorgeous George Osborne and his pals have resolutely continued to defend in the face of EU attempts to curb their excesses. Can we believe anything that any of them say? Sadly the answer seems to be no.

Yesterday they continued to plumb new depths. Nick Clegg, who has faithfully supported ‘Dave’ for five long years, warned that “Cameron alone will mean chaos”. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon chose to equate Ed Miliband’s likely reaction to Trident by claiming that the Labour leader would “stab his country in the back in the same way that he treated his brother”. He chose to ignore the fact that ‘Red Ed’s’ selection was the result of a ballot involving party members and MPs. It was pathetic gutter politics of the worst kind.

There must be something they say that we can believe, mustn’t there? How about inflation. We are told that prices for everything are falling for the first time for a decade. Yesterday several of us received a letter from Sky relating to our monthly payments. They are to rise by £4.50 a month.

Nothing that has happened over the past 24 hours has changed  our view that of all the posing political hopefuls only Nicola seems to stand above the petty morass of make-believe mumbo-jumbo. And the irony is that she will not be an option when we reluctantly make our way to the polling station.

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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Three little sentences will get you through life. Number one: Cover for me. Number two: Oh, good idea boss. Number three: It was like this when I got here”….Homer Simpson.

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We’ve fallen in love with Nicola!

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!

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QUOTE FOR TODAY : ” Patriotism is the conviction that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it”….George Bernard Shaw.

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Iraq report delay has to be a stitch-up!

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?
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QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” There are two kinds of truth – the real truth and the made-up truth”….Marion Barry, Mayor of Washington.
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Life expectancy falls – the ultimate solution?

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.
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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).
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Agree with Nick? Not any more!

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!
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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.
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Up to our ears in debt!

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.

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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” – I think the Prime Minister wants to govern Britain. – Well, stop him, Bernard!”….Bernard Woolley and Sir Humphrey Appleby, Yes Minister.
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Death and God – the great unmentionables!

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!”.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it!”…George Carlin.
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The mother of all crises awaits!

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.
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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
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Gamekeeper turned Poacher !

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.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” The ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination”….Voltaire.
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It’s NO, now stand by for the English rebellion!

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?
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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).
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This is where we came in !

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.
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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.
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Oh for a real United Nations!

Most of us codgers are inclined to live in our own little world from which we observe the follies of mankind as peacock-like politicians prove on an almost daily basis that in reality they are a major barrier to any sort of rational progress. They seem to us to have only one positive feature, their provision of thigh-flashing material for humour. But suddenly there is little humour in the sultry air, for yesterday’s events have cast a dark shadow born of man’s inhumanity to man.

The most appalling irony of all is that the likelihood is that those involved in the instant destruction of 295 innocent air travellers, and the merciless assault on the Gaza strip, believe that their foul deeds are carried out in the name of God, the very being to whom the distraught relatives of the murdered turn for solace in their darkest hour. It is almost as if madmen are determined to slaughter to prove that their imaginary God is in some way better than the imaginary deity of others. In the absence of any meaningful world leadership one can only despair.

Having cleaned out the hens this morning we retired to the hut in sombre mood. Someone attempted to imagine the scene on board the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, as the passengers enjoyed their coffee and gazed through the windows at a bright blue sky, seemingly safe from all worldly travails at 33,000 feet. But that cross-section of the world’s nationalities was but seconds from an instant death, and minutes later their bodies and possessions lay scattered across eastern Ukranian soil. It is early to reach conclusions but already we know that the plane was destroyed by a missile and experts tell us that the only one capable of reaching such an height was a Buk, part of a family of medium-range surface-to-air projectiles developed by the former Soviet Union. In service since 1979, it has been continually upgraded, improved and refined: it can fire missiles up to an altitude of 72,000 feet and can be launched from the ground extremely quickly.

It is believed that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have a Buk system and the near certainty is that the al-Qaeda element are the only logical suspects. The Ukanian government has no reason to use such weaponry given that their opponents do not use planes. It seems unthinkable that the Russian government would carry out such an outrage, not least because it would be illogical. But it has supplied such weaponry to what are supposedly pro-Russian fighters, but which in reality have attracted terrorists who see the conflict as another opportunity to wage ‘Holy war’.

Establishing the truth in such a chaotic region will not be easy, mainly because there is no world body capable of enforcing its will and maintaining the peace. The original concept behind the United Nations, when it replaced the League of Nations, was an exciting one. A small council comprising the most powerful nations on earth would act as a world police force which would deal swiftly with any aggressor. The reality has been total failure as the major members have pursued their own vested interests. Only the appearance of a threat external to our globe could ever have united them. Greed and perverted national pride quickly destroyed any hope of the UN becoming a force for good.

And not to be outdone in the killing stakes, Israel yesterday launched yet another major ground invasion of the Gaza strip, having already killed large numbers of innocents by the use of missiles. We are not so one-eyed as to imagine that the blame for this unending conflict lies wholly with Israel, but the fact remains that it has huge superiority in weaponry and seems unprepared to show mercy to vast numbers of people whose support for Hamas is tenuous at best. And Israel’s backers, the United States, show no inclination to order restraint.

The dream of an all-powerful United Nations is all that we have. If only America, Europe, Russia and China could find common cause Ukraine, Gaza and all the other blood-soaked areas of the world could be policed by a force infinitely too strong to be defied. Fantasy? Then that merely shows just how rapidly the human race is heading toward its own destruction. Alarmist? Remember that more and more countries are building nuclear arsenals!

Even we codgers cannot reasonably claim that all politicians are weak or evil. There are undoubtedly good men and women amongst them. But even they seem afraid to stand up for what they believe in. A small example is provided this morning by Ed Miliband. He has gone to great lengths to avoid accusations that he is planning to ‘re-nationalise’ the railways. This despite evidence that the state-owned Eastern Rail is efficient, and provides the treasury with a handsome profit return. Yet the vast majority of the electorate tell pollsters that they favour the sort of state-ownership operating across Europe.

Given such timidity at the bottom of the worldwide political structure the possibility of world unity is distinctly unlikely in what is becoming a world of hatred and tears.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY; “Israel’s bombardment of Gaza amounts to a deliberately disproportionate form of collective punishment” ….Nick Clegg.
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No thigh-flashing for President Juncker!

As we codgers continually assure our better-halves during debates about our alleged aversion to Hoovers, our support for equal rights for women knows no bounds. Having said that we are unimpressed by our dear leader’s sudden enthusiasm for the cause. Yes, he has added to the solitary woman allowed to date to grace his cabinet table but, if his mouthpieces at the Daily Mail and Express are any guide, the terms of admission to what the former calls his ‘Downing Street catwalk’ seem even more patronising than exclusion.

The arrival of ‘thigh-flashing’ Esther McVey is, we are told, likely to send male pulses racing. The new Employment Minister is reported to have added a gloss over her lipstick and her eyeliner was, at the photo-call, more defined on the inside edge of the eye. Blusher had brought out her cheekbones for a “more sculpted look”. However, the thigh slit was a “touch too revealing for a serious Cabinet operator”, so it seems that Kenneth Clarke got something right after all. Penny Mordaunt had been brave enough to appear on TV in a swimsuit, but yesterday her ‘Viola’ dress was rather tight. Amber Rudd chose a £695 Anya Hindmarch tote, rather tight trousers topped by a rather bold neckline. Poor old Liz Truss looked a “little bit too Eighties airline hostess”. And so the rubbish rolls patronisingly on. David Cameron is reported to have told the assembled ladies to go forth and woo the voters. And to think we were so naive as to imagine this had something to do with improving the management of the country.

Back in what we codgers choose to see as the real world, we venture to suggest that the reshuffle was more Osborne than Cameron. We increasingly gain the impression of the Prime Minister being the non-executive chairman to his Chancellor’s Chief Executive. Retaining an impressively hands-off relationship with workaholism, David Cameron seems content to swan around as the figurehead, leaving the vital strategic and personnel decisions to George Osborne.

According to local Tory MPs, insiders at Westminster see the changes in terms of Osborne tightening his grip with both the coming election and eventual Tory succession in mind. And while admiring the depolyment of Philip Hammond as Foreign Secretary with the brief to bore a few figleaf concessions out of the EU, one recalls that this human tranquiliser dart worked closely with the Chancellor in opposition. Similarly whilst Michael Gove, who could start a fight in an empty telephone kiosk, appears to have been axed as a sop to teachers and parents it is worth remembering that he has made it clear that he will stay out of any leadership contest only so long as his best friend George is a front-runner. There is no better berth from which to maximise the Chancellor’s parliamentary support than that of Chief Whip.

In fact closer analysis of the Cameron night of the long knives suggests that, the Cameron thigh-flashing stunt apart, almost every change is part of the Osborne strategy to be ready for a leadership bid should Cameron fail again to win an overall majority. Only in one single instance did the Chancellor fail to get what he wanted. Iain Duncan Smith held on to the Work and Pension portfolio, for which Ozzy famously regards him as “too dim-witted”. Pity, because if one middle-aged white man deserved a move to a post more fitted to his intellect – undersecretary of state at the department of shoehorns perhaps – it was IDS. But our dear leader required at least one fan in high office.

Meanwhile there was neither thigh-flashing nor political trickery in evidence when President Jean-Claude Juncker ascended the throne of the EU. In a 50-minute address he unashamedly set out his plans for a United States of Europe. He would like to see the development of an EU army, even wider free movement of workers, a new commissioner with specific responsibility for the controversial Charter of Human Rights, total authority of the Strasbourg court over national ones and no free trade deal with the USA.

If there is to be any hope of Britain not being drawn ever further into the EU empire someone must make a stand. And someone did. Nigel Farage launched the sort of blistering attack that only he knows how. He told the glowering Mr Juncker that he has no mandate, and is nothing more than a “backroom dealer” and “stitch-up merchant”. NF pointed to the recent elections across Europe which saw unprecedented advances by Eurosceptic parties, yet the answer in Brussels is still, as always, “more Europe”.

To be honest we codgers have long since taken politicians as little more than material for humour, and over our brew this morning Tom came up with the perfect post-election scenario. In a last desperate attempt to fight off Osborne our dear leader has to settle for a coalition with Ukip. Farage as a deputy might be rather more entertaining than master Clegg!
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QUOTE OF THE DAY; ” Is this really the same woman who stepped out on Monday in a floral below-the-knee dress from High Street store Phase Eight, a dark jacket, thick black tights and bag worn across the chest, as if she was a student afraid of being mugged?> The next day Employment Minister Esther McVey was a thigh-flashing vision in grey check by Vivienne Westwood, which cinched in her waist and emphasised her bust. With similar Westwood dresses selling for £285, and jackets for £300 she certainly didn’t scrimp on her ministerial debut ensemble “…Daily Mail 16/7/14
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Once bitten, twice shy!

Albert’s brother lives on the Fylde and, according to our resident informer, is becoming obsessed with the prospect of fracking. Apparently there have been a number of protests about the possibility, and no one seems reassured by the reports of the process proving relatively harmless to communities in the good old USA. Albert Junior and his fellow discontents reason that America is somewhat larger than this island and does not face drilling within metres of local dwellings. Today their anxiety is teaching fever pitch because the Queens Speech includes a Bill aimed at letting shale gas companies drill beneath private property and without the owner’s permission.

Like a dog with a bone we Brits are inclined to gnaw away at a worry, and the prospect of going to bed knowing that you are snoring above a mysterious tunnel is arguably the last straw. An Englishman’s home may be his castle but only at surface level chorus the fretful northerners, and no amount of propaganda about energy crises is going to placate them. Spare a thought for the local Lib Dem MP who specialises in protesting about the iniquities of central government given that his hero Nick Clegg has signed up to the unprecedented invasion of private property!

The subject occupied the codgers through most of this morning’s hen-cleaning, and even when we retired to the hut for a spot of doughnut-eating Albert was still holding forth about politicians not listening to the electorate. Why he imagines that they were ever different was not clear, mainly because at that juncture Bill, a retired GP, updated us on the latest crisis to engulf the NHS.

We already knew that the majority of hospital trusts are in financial trouble and we already knew that many are now failing to reach the prescribed standards on waiting times, the result of the huge concealed cuts introduced as part of the failed Lansley reforms plus the inconvenient fact that we are all living a good deal longer. What we didn’t know was that come next April £3.8 billion – 4 per cent of the reduced NHS operating budget – will be taken away. This is to be transferred into a new fund to provide support for older and disabled people, thus keeping them out of residential care.

It is a laudable idea, one which in the longer term could improve care. But the problem is that April will be a cliff edge: hospitals will have to cut their costs despite no prospect of an early fall in demand for their services. To quote one senior health professional: “We are in a nightmare scenario”. Once again poor planning is at the heart of the downfall of the NHS, any planner worthy of the title will know that developments such as this require a ‘bridging loan’ to cover the period of transition.

At the heart of this looming calamity lies the constant fudge necessitated by the existence of a political coalition. Left to their own devices the Conservatives would by now have privatised large parts of the health and social care networks. That would, in our view, have been dangerous but at least everyone would have known the direction of travel. As it is the Cameroons have gone to great lengths to incorporate the Cleggites’ idea of a compromise and the result is a monumental mess with private healthcare firms being allowed to take over the easy/profitable hospital services whilst being free to return complex cases to the denuded NHS.

Which brings us to our main argument for today. Both our dear leader and his apprentice – for the less cynical that translates as Messrs Cameron and Clegg – have this morning waxed eloquent about the benefits of coalition government. To what extent this sudden rerun of the Rose Garden love-in has the support of their MPs and members is open to question, as is the reason for the PM taking this line. In the case of Nick Clegg it is surely a suicide note with prospective Lib Dem voters effectively being told that rather than vote Lib Dem they logically have to chose from Tory or Labour manifestos. And should they feel passionately about EU open borders Ukip is available.

We codgers have never warmed to the idea of a coalition, whichever parties it involves. It seems to us that the alternative of a runner-up supporting a minority government is a better option. In that way each party retains its own distinct identity, and has to demonstrate openly which policies it cannot support and the degree of compromise it is prepared to make. Simply muddling two distinct policies into one and then pretending that the outcome is perfection is nonsense, and we have seen more than enough of that over the past four years. For example? Try student fees or the ‘bedroom tax’. Coalition worked well in World War 2 but that was different, everyone had one single overriding aim.

The hidden truth probably is that Nick Clegg prefers coalitions because they bring with them the perks of high office. But we humble plebs believe that the saying so popular with our Grans is apt. Once bitten, twice shy!
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THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Any political party that includes the word ‘democracy’ in its name, isn’t!”….Patrick Murray
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