Posts Tagged ‘Nick Clegg’
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.
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.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “Israel’s bombardment of Gaza amounts to a deliberately disproportionate form of collective punishment” ….Nick Clegg.
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!
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
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!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Any political party that includes the word ‘democracy’ in its name, isn’t!”….Patrick Murray
We codgers seem to be drawn to the Beeb’s Springwatch like moths to a light bulb. Whether it is good for our health is open to question since the obsession of Chris Packham et al with urban foxes continues to raise our blood pressure, and last night’s edition was no exception. Exciting news, said the great man in the manner of someone revealing the discovery of honesty at the heart of FIFA. Following the progress of tagged vixens has shown an encouraging growth in the number of cubs in town and city centres. Encouraging for whom? Certainly not for chicken- food chain, says Mr Packham. Last week foxes broke into a neighbours hen-run and slaughtered all six of her children’s pet chickens. Only one was taken away.
We love wildlife as much as the next man but regard urban foxes as being in the same category as rats, and only members of the Abducted by Aliens society put titbits out for them. It is noticeable that the TV presenters never mention the dangers inherent in a burgeoning urban fox population, and in our book the portrayal is a classic example of fantasy resulting from an absence of hard facts, and cold logic.
Even our daily dose of what Eric Pickles recommends did little to calm us. But once we had exhausted the subject, and it us, we reflected that the same misrepresentation applies to everyone’s favourite row once someone has lit the touch-paper. If someone were to stack the amount of paper dedicated to the EU it would constitute a danger to low-flying aircraft, and almost none of it attempts an analysis of the facts. Equally daft is the verbiage. To the Cleggites the EU represents paradise on earth. To most Conservatives it is the exact opposite. The Labour leadership casts loving eyes in the direction of Brussels, and we all know what Ukip thinks.
This morning the outgoing EU president, Jose Manuel Barroso, has announced that the UK’s Help to Buy scheme must be reined in and indirect taxes such as VAT should be raised. Needless to say Gorgeous George Osborne and his pals are less than pleased, and who can blame them. The fantasy that Brussels knows best is just that. And now Mrs Merkel has let it be known that the next President is to be Jean-Claude Juncker, the former leader of Luxembourg. He is even further into fantasy than his predecessor and believe passionately that the whole of Europe should be merged into a single state presided over by Luxembourg acting under instructions from Berlin.
It is clearly time for a dose of Spock’s logic, which used to entrance us in Star Trek. If we were today setting out to create the EU what would it look like? How would we ensure that, say, Orthodox, post-Communist Bulgaria with a GDP per head of £4,670 and Lutheran, social democrat Sweden with a GDP per head of £37,195 are both at ease? How would we reconcile the historical demand in some countries for more integration, with the deep-felt desire by others for less? And how would we do it without sacrificing Europe’s greatest invention: democracy?
How would we deal with the most controversial issue of all: open borders? Putting aside all the hot air about supposed racism we would surely recognise the immigration is not a matter of ‘diversity’ or food variety, but of unsustainable numbers. We would surely recognise that free movement cannot involve mutual and unrestricted access to welfare systems that differ wildly from the needs-based model of the UK to the contributory systems found elsewhere in the EU. We would surely recognise that this would inevitably lead to the UK needing to tarmac over its green spaces to create sufficient housing.
Logic says that we would reach the conclusion that the EU should focus on trade. Benjamin Franklin once remarked that “No nation was ever ruined by trade”, and he was right. A single market would provide economies of scale and the benefit of competition. The single market should also include areas like services and energy, thus hugely benefiting from an expanded trading place. Companies within each member state should only be subject to the trading rules of the ‘Club’ when trading within it. We would almost certainly rule out a single currency. such a concept can lead to a prohibitively expensive one-size-fits-all development. Similarly, labour market rules – the result of centuries of national democratic discourse – cannot be micro-managed from one central point.
The reality, we believe, is that there is a positive case for a European-wide trading union. The problem is that we are not starting from here and individuals have developed a massive bureaucracy in pursuit of a fantasy that can never work to the satisfaction of the larger members who inevitably find themselves as donors.
We would like to think that this is in line with the reforms that David Cameron plans to pursue. He will never have a more opportune time given that right across Europe voters have registered their dislike of the present structure. If he fails there is only one logical approach for the UK, and if that means that Nick Clegg has to wait for Heaven then so be it!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Cameron must move from badmouthing Ukip to addressing the real fears of its voters”…..Douglas Murray.
There is a small lake close to the allotments, and on beautiful mornings such as this some of us escape Albert’s rasping tones by wandering down to check on the progress of the signets. They are just days-old and as unsteady as Bill after a night of putting the world to rights at his cricket club. But their usually graceful parents never leave their side, and are extremely aggressive when any perceived threat approaches, a tendency amply demonstrated when two Canada Geese did just that.
This morning our attention quickly shifted to hundreds of damselflies, which were dancing in the sunshine just inches from he surface. These were of the common blue variety, about one and a quarter inches long and with a wingspan in excess of that. Most of us codgers spent our working lives sitting at desks and studying the equivalent of the entrails of sheep, and it was only after we made our final escape that we discovered the natural world. Now we are enthusiastic members of the Chris Packham school of lunacy, and have come to realise that sights such as this outclass any spectacle staged by man, despite our penchant for dressing up.
A good example of that will soon be upon us when the Queen attends parliament to read the drivel concocted by spin-doctors. Those sad enough to watch the affair will be treated to the sight of a ceremony carried out by grown men wearing breeches and attended by hordes of Lords dressed in ermine. We are always puzzled by the evidence that Lord Archer and the rest are superior beings but, we plebs must learn to know our place. Meantime we prefer the dragonflies.
But the strangest aspect of all is the fact that the Queen has no say whatsoever about what her ‘speech’comprises. One wonders how this will work with King Charles when he eventually ascends the throne – hopefully that is the correct term- but the Queen has achieved a miracle by keeping a straight face whilst reading fairy stories aloud. How one would love to hear the comments of Philip when the couple escape back to Corgi land.
The forthcoming edition will be a collector’s piece. The coalition has virtually split asunder and the Lib Dems have suddenly realised the error of their ways in becoming a doormat to ungrateful Etonians. With the prospect of every MP taking the Chiltern Hundreds they are now disinclined to agree to anything, and the result is that, to avoid the impression that the government plans to do sod-all, the speech writers have cobbled together a list of things the Conservatives would like to do if only Clegg would renew his vow of obedience.
The Queen will tell us of plans for collective pensions based on the Dutch model. Dutch political parties have recently called for collective pensions to be scrapped in favour of British-style individual pensions, so this is all a little strange. Pensions experts have been quick to warn that such schemes do not guarantee income and, at a time of falling share prices, could lead to reduced income.
Arguably the only real proposal is the one for an Infrastructure and Competitiveness Bill. This will change trespass laws to allow shale gas exploration firms to drill beneath private property without the owner’s permission. Hardly a vote winner but it will at least reduce the ability of a sceptical public to continue to harbour the myth about an Englishman’s home being his castle. Her Maj will tell us that in America this is standard practice, but will not be free to point out that the United States is somewhat bigger and the need to burrow under housing estates unnecessary. So let fracking commence but do complain to Mr Pickles if your house shows a tendency to rock.
There will be mention of a “Recall Bill” to allow voters to sack their elected MPs, but no one seriously expects this to gain sufficient support from the majority of MPs who last visited their constituencies at the time of the last election. Even less likely to make the statute books is the Bill guaranteeing a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Since Mr Clegg sees Brussels as the nearest earthly point to Heaven he is unlikely to back this one, and the younger Miliband has no intention of toying with democracy, our dear leader will promise to use the Parliament Acts to overrule the Lords and force a back-bench Tory MPs referendum Bill into law. The Queen will hopefully be given words to explain this nonsense.
There is one other possible inclusion. Highly paid civil servants and NHS executives will be barred from receiving bumper redundancy pay-offs before being rehired soon after. Sadly the horse has already bolted. Hundreds of executives were given fortunes when Andrew Lansley closed down the Primary Care Trusts. Just weeks later he realised that GPs would not actually run the new Commissioning Groups and the fired were rehired. Which reminds me that our dear leader’s choice of the new UK Commissioner to the EU is being whispered in official circles.
It is to be Andrew Lansley. If he has time to spare from ruining the EU he could perhaps take on the task of writing the Queen’s Speech. At least it would then hold our attention and give Philip a laugh!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; ” ‘In conclusion’ – the phrase that wakes up the audience!”….Herbert Prochnow.
I was reminded this morning of the old saying that suggests that if the cap fits one should wear it. As we cleaned out the hens we codgers were somewhat preoccupied with reports in the morning papers of a study carried out by Dr Anna-Maija Tolppanen, the lead researcher at the University of Eastern Finland, into the possible causes of dementia. The results add to the evidence that cynicism may be a major factor. Those taking part in the study were monitored for eight years, and those who believe such things as “it is safer to trust no one” proved to be three times more likely to develop dementia than such as those who this very morning refuse to believe other than that Lord Oakeshott and Uncle Vince Cable have been acting solely in the interests of Nick Clegg.
To a man we allotments codgers are doomed, for were there to be a world cup for cynicism we would emerge as champions. We should of course follow the advice of our hero Winston Churchill and take action this day. But our plight is similar to that of Eric Pickles in a sweet shop, everywhere we look there are temptations to be cynical, to doubt the true intentions of people who tell us that what they are doing is in our best interests.
A perfect example came last night when one of our members had cause to call an ambulance for a relative having an asthma attack. One of the paramedics remarked that response times will soon be considerably longer because the number of crews on call at night is about to be significantly reduced. The Department of Health has stated that the change will lead to both improved services and savings for the taxpayer. Bang goes our fresh start, for we find it absolutely impossible to believe that.
As with any victim of addiction we have to identify which of our daily habits contributes. That bit was easy. Talking about politicians is our equivalent of Eric’s wine gums. On taking our self analysis further we realised that one reason for our mistrust of those who rule over us is that every action they propose is aimed at “hard working people and their families”. Come to think about it that automatically excludes a big slice of the population covering pensioners, single people, the unemployed and the disabled. Are we therefore alone in switching off when the Chancellor opens his budget address by saying that; “Our only long-term aim is to give financial security to hard-working families?
Perhaps there is a problem with words as uttered by those we tend to mistrust. Turn to the Labour Party website and you will find a pledge by Ed Miliband to; “Leave the world a better place than we found it – we cannot shrug our shoulders at injustice, we can overcome terrible odds by working together”. The odds are that bankers seldom read the thoughts of Ed, but what do the words actually mean to the rest of us? Wouldn’t it be better to say; “Everybody has a right to the necessities of life – in particular an affordable home, good schools, reliable health services and proper care for the elderly and infirm”?. Perhaps the reason for the public being totally disengaged from our ‘representatives’ is simply a question of semantics?
If you shook you head at that the odds are that you too are infected with the deadly cynicism bug. If so it might be sensible for you to watch, as we plan to do, tonight’s David Bumblebee Question Time which is to feature Piers Morgan and Joey Barton. Neither has ever experienced self-doubt, both know everything there is to know about absolutely everything so a cure for cynicism will be child’s play for them. Then again, if you are as addicted to cynicism as we are, you may conclude that the real reason for their presence is the thought by the broadcasters that their known loathing for each other just might boost flagging viewing figures.
If we are to beat our scepticism addiction we will have to reduce our interest in the forthcoming soccer world cup in Rio. When England’s first kiss the three lions on their shirts the unrestrained patriotism won’t stretch to their tax payments. The greatest reward for a player at the World Cup is the boost to his footballing image, which opens the door to the most tax efficient deals with his club. Rather than receiving just salary and bonuses with the usual tiresome PAYE tax and NI deductions, the player can take a chunk of his money gross as a payment to exploit his image rights. The higher his profile, the more he – or rather his personal service company – can get without annoying the taxman.
If you love to watch the games, rejoicing in this rare evidence of players giving their all for good old England, try not to look up Frank Lampard Ltd, sitting on assets of around £2.5m, or Steven Gerrard Promotions Ltd, with more than £4m. Definitely steer clear of Wayne Rooney’s Stoneygate 48 Ltd, which trumps all others with £6m, including £3m cash. And avoid checking up on kit supplier Nike. They have their own neat swerve around the taxman courtesy of Nike European Operations Netherlands BV.
Just the act of doing research for this article has convinced me that thinking well of every living being ain’t going to be easy. Dr Tolppanen stresses that believing others are motivated by selfishness or that they lie to get what they want is dangerous.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Judas’s betrayal did lead to Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection and the salvation of humanity. But that may be asking too much of Mr Clegg or Lord Oakeshott”….Oliver Duff, editor of Independent.
This proved to be an unusual Bank Holiday morning. We did our hen-cleaning in bright sunshine, a surprise in itself. And none of us can remember the sole topic of conversation on such an occasion being an election result. Even the hens seemed livelier than usual, perhaps they too are fired up by talk of the ruling cockerel’s fall from grace?
By the time we settled in the hut for our morning doughnut sampling my pals were still yapping on about Nigel Farage. As far as I know only one of them actually voted for Ukip but they all seemed mightily pleased by the morning’s screaming headlines, and even the news that Prince Charles is about to make a throne-rocking speech about capitalism failed to grab their attention. The big question on everyone’s lips was what does the first ever victory by an insurgent party really signify?
As ever in an EU election less than half the electorate bothered to turn out, an outcome similar to that across Europe. That could of course signify that the majority have as much interest in the Brussels brigade as Eric Pickles has in WeightWatchers, but we should perhaps remember that even on the occasion of a general election around a half of our fellow citizens prefer to watch Eastenders. So those who did bother to vote on Thursday represent the bulk of the prospective 2015 turnout, and their verdict provides uneasy reading for our so called mainstream parties. They have lined up to say that the Ukip success was merely a passing fad, a protest vote. They would be ill-advised to rely on that.
We are somewhat puzzled by the very defensive response to the Farage “earthquake” of the Labour Party. It increased its share of the vote by almost 10 per cent and has 20 MEPs. The much maligned younger Miliband immediately let it be known that he has no intention of offering a Referendum on EU membership which suggests that he is convinced that scepticism has no place in the hearts of Labour’s traditional voters. He may just have made a serious error of judgement.
Our dear leader and his band of Old Etonians have less cause for complacency. Their share of the vote fell by almost 4 per cent and they now have 19 MEPs, a reduction of 7. Clearly their promise of a Referendum did little to satisfy those who yearn to hear a repeat of the Iron Lady’s no,no,no when confronted with talk of a United States of Europe. There will be much soul-searching in Downing Street since, whatever happens in the general election, one thing is certain. Mr Farage will loom large in a referendum campaign!
Both Labour and Tories can, and undoubtedly will, argue that the result did little to damage their performance in 2015. Given the first-past-the-post system they may well be right. But what of the Lib Dems? It is hard to believe other than that they are doomed. They lost half of their share of the vote, came behind the Greens and saw their MEP count reduced to just one.
They have done some good things whilst in government but their failure to stop right-wing excesses over things like the NHS have destroyed any goodwill they enjoyed. Nick Clegg is now, rightly or wrongly, seen as Cameron’s lapdog and his blind support for the unpopular EU has been, for many, the last straw. It seems inevitable that Ukip will from now attract the traditional Liberal protest vote.
It all adds up to interesting days ahead for those with nothing better to do than follow the antics of our politicians. And even those who are less so inclined are concerned about the effect of open borders on the capacity of our public services, a subject that Farage has made respectable despite the efforts of the media to portray him as a rabid racist.
Come to think about it Nigel Farage deserves respect for what he has achieved. For week after week he has been subject to a witch-hunt with the lunacy of one or two of his hastily recruited candidates making banner headlines, whilst that of expense-fiddling ministers went almost unnoticed. But he stuck to his guns and won over more than a quarter of those that voted. Having said that he had of course benefited from the unprecedented general distrust of MPs of all colours. Ukip has topped the poll and has 24 MEPs, an increase of 11.
What Farage’s enemies seem unable to grasp is that character assassination impresses few of what our dear leader calls ordinary people. This morning Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has filled her column in the Independent with vitriol. Farage is, she writes, a “smiley, suited smoker and drinker”. You’ll need to do better than that Yasmin, your description could be applied equally to half the geezers we know!
Never mind, my pals eventually turned to the subject they hold dear – cricket. But they didn’t linger long – yesterday the ‘fresh start’ England team managed to get bowled out for 99 runs. Perhaps Nick Clegg should try his hand with a bat?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY: “The trouble with England is it’s being governed by idiots. But there’re an awful lot of idiots in England and they deserve representation”…..Rex Harrison.
Whilst they understand the desire of old codgers to remain active, readers often ask why our allotments gang is so obsessed with chickens. For most of us the interest goes back a long way, in my case to a cottage in what was then an isolated village on the Welsh border. The half dozen homes shared common land across which ran a cart-track, the only access for postmen whose approach was signalled by the sound of horses hooves. And there were chickens everywhere. I never fathomed out how the villagers knew which hens belonged to who, neither do I recall any debate on the subject. But imprinted on my memory are early morning scattering of corn and the later hunt for golden eggs which were to be found in the most unlikely places. It was a far cry from our array of reinforced wire fences, layer-pellets and disinfectant but it worked in accord with the mood of a time before society had moved into top gear and worked itself into a frenzy of activity.
The other explanation for our preoccupation with hens is the part-realisation of the fantasies that so many harbour throughout a working lifetime devoted to dancing to the tune of production lines and much resented management exhortations. Jimmy Reid once remarked that the rat-race is for rats but we are not rats. Sadly he was mistaken. As we dashed to work and dashed home again, having spent the intervening time dashing around at the behest of time and motion wizards, we frequently envied the more leisurely lifestyle of our rodent fellow travellers. And quite a number of our gang harboured a dream of being farmers. By the time we were free to pursue our utopia we were too ancient to handle large animals.
And so here we are, working in the great outdoors but nurturing creatures who prefer to dawdle and which can be controlled with the shake of an arthritic finger, and which provide eggs which haven’t been on a supermarket shelf for weeks. And there are no vigilant foremen to watch every every move. We are therefore free to disguise hours of gossiping as work. And this morning was no exception.
We are a disparate group and opinions on almost everything equally so. But we all agree on one thing – we hate racism and both those guilty of it, and those who have confused it with what we now call political correctness. This morning we noticed the hypocrisy of the BBC, supposedly the bastion of opposition to anyone crass enough to believe that the colour of a person’s skin is in some way a mark of superiority or the opposite. It seems that the powers that be at Broadcasting House speak with forked tongues. Jeremy Clarkson offended many when he used the N-word, surely the ultimate evidence of foul prejudice. He was given a “final warning”. Just weeks later he has been awarded a new 3 year contract guaranteeing him £12 million. It seems that being racist is okay so long as you attract large audiences!
It tells us a great deal about the organisation that has devoted weeks to branding as racists everyone supporting the argument against limiting the population to the level our infrastructure can cope with. In the wake of the local elections results many mainstream politicians have finally grasped that labelling millions of their former supporters in this way is not only untrue but unwise. Suddenly even Gorgeous George Osborne declares his respect for the dashing Nigel Farage. It seems that like the Beeb, our politicians regard racism as a subject to be used as proves convenient to them.
Today’s news also suggests that their double-standards extend to other fields. We are constantly told that every penny counts and everyone from our soldiers through to disabled people needing an extra bedroom to hold medical equipment must make sacrifices. But the same thinking doesn’t apply to pet projects, the object of which seems to be more related to vanity than to any positive outcome.
By the end of February, HS2 bosses had spent a total of £188 million on contracts for consultants – 86 per cent higher than the budget of £101 million. According to ‘Building’ magazine the leading riders on the high-speed gravy train include Capita, Atkins, Arup and URS. Put aside the thought that since there is no history of such a project in the UK the expertise of such beings must be theoretical, focus instead on the fact that each month brings more evidence that the budget is little more than a wild guess and the commitment to value for money a fairy story.
The only slightly dissenting voice has come from Ed Balls who has made a passing reference to value for money, but by and large the political establishment is united in its devotion. Perhaps at some point someone will agree to consider a lower cost, quicker alternative aimed at modernising the whole rail network but since Nigel Farage is the only advocate it seems unlikely.
So fasten your seat belt for more austerity turbulence and worry not about today’s announcement of the decimation of our rapid reaction defence force. If we spend enough there is a real chance that if you live in Manchester you will, in 20 years time, be able to travel to London in less time than you do now.
One final thought. Private Eye will be worth reading over the next few issues. It wouldn’t surprise regular readers if there proves to be a link between the highly paid contractors and members of the government. Then again it wouldn’t surprise us if come tomorrow morning yet more Lib Dem candidates are calling for Nick Clegg’s head!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY: “When I’m on a train, why do I always end up sitting next to the woman who’s eating the individual fruit pie by sucking the filling out through the hole in the middle?”….Victoria Wood.
Regular readers will know that politicians are not held in great esteem by the allotment codgers, and will not be surprised to learn that their various reactions to yesterday’s local election results caused a great deal of amusement when we cleaned out the hens this morning. Last night they queued up on Newsnight to reinterpret the results and to declare themselves well pleased with their performances. The Beeb are presumably party to the fantasy for Ukip were conspicuous by their absence. We imagine that on Sunday night Nick Clegg will be on screen explaining the positive aspects of losing his MEPs to a bunch of fag-puffing fruitcakes.
Back in the hut for a mug of Rosy-Lee we noticed that Michael Fallon, the Conservative energy minister, took the opportunity to take more measures in regard to fracking whilst attention was focussed on the new political Messiah – do Messiahs really defy the chattering classes by smoking? Mr Fallon announced that fracking must go ahead in the area covered by the South Downs National Park. By way of reassurance he added that owners or public will have no right to block fracking beneath their properties, and seemed undeterred by the claim that Robert Gatliff, of the British Geological Society, has warned that the outcome is likely to represent no more than 220 million barrels, less than half of one year’s UK consumption.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the government is determined to go ahead with a project that is dubious at best, and is opposed by the majority of the public. Perhaps Mr Farage should adopt an anti-fracking commitment thus ensuring that only Eric Pickles survives the 2015 contest. Good combination – fags, doughnuts and beer at the heart of government.
But our chosen headline of the day is not a subject for levity. Our former cricketing hero Beefy Botham has, in an interview with Judith Woods of the Telegraph, given a moving account of the death of his much-loved father Les. Ian Botham found it near-impossible to visit his dad during the last six months of his life. Les was dying, very slowly, from dementia in hospital. “Unless you’ve watched a loved one being ravaged by this disease, you can’t understand how horrendous it is”, says the man who so often faced down the fastest bowlers in the world. “I didn’t want my memory of him to be distorted by the illness that robbed him of himself”, he adds before going on to describe the heartbreaking situation in which the man he worshipped lost all control of his bodily functions, and had no idea who Ian’s Mum was. “Even a six-month-old would have had greater comprehension of what’s going on because at least a baby knows when to eat”.
Ian believes that his mother’s death, in 2012, was hastened by the agonising ordeal of watching her husband die. “My mum aged years, she would cry after every visit, emotionally exhausted”, and poignantly Ian adds: ” That’s the terrible thing about dementia; you watch someone die twice over!”.
There are many people who can tell similarly dreadful stories. A diagnosis of cancer is dreadful but dementia is even worse. With the former there is always hope to a greater or lesser extent. With dementia it is the signal for despair and fear. And for relatives it is a slowly unfolding nightmare – Ian Botham first noticed signs when his father, who taught him to play golf, suddenly asked when standing over a ball what he should do next.
You may wonder why we should choose to darken a Saturday with such a depressing narrative. The answer is that we find the lack of intensive research and the inadequate dementia services almost beyond comprehension. The government has indicated that an attempt will be made to increase funding, but that is woefully inadequate. Are projects such as HS2 really a greater priority than elimination of what amounts to torture.
Everyone will have been delighted at the news of the latest research breakthroughs on the understanding of how tumours develop, paving the way for ever more effective cancer treatments. But dementia research, given adequate funding, could be less complex than cancer.
If the so-called mainstream parties wish to win back public acclaim they would be well advised to make commitments to tackle this worst of all afflictions, and spend less time banging on about money-burning and potentially useless projects such as HS2 and Fracking! They would also be well advised to stop idiots such as Jeremy Hunt from telling TV audiences that our hospitals now have record numbers of doctors and nurses!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “We consider it vital that at the 2015 election the party should be led by someone who will receive a fair hearing about our achievements and ambitions for the future. It is clear to us that this person is not you!”…Letter of today from #libdems4change group to Nick Clegg.
On mornings such as this it is hard to agree with those who claim that ‘things were better in the old days.’ As we cleaned out the hens in driving rain my mind went back to family holidays when we frequently spent many an hour watching the windscreen wipers slide to and fro as we sat in beach car parks, with the kids on the back seat becoming increasingly fretful. I used to sit behind the wheel alternately glancing up to the tearful heavens and down at my cheese sandwiches. Things were anything but better, in today’s world we would have squeezed on to EasyJet and headed for warmer climes.
Which thought provided little consolation when we retired to the hut bearing a resemblance to drowned rats, and feeling as out-of-sorts as David Moyes on a night out. And the Royal Mail give-away was not the best choice of subject. Just weeks ago we expressed suspicions about the choice of priority investors, most of whom sold their bargain shares within hours of receiving them. We also wondered just how long it would be before the newly privatised company declared itself unable to maintain its less profitable rural delivery services. This morning’s papers provide the answer – not long. The new millionaire owners tell us that competition from ‘cherry-pickers’ is making service cuts necessary unless the government grants exclusivity. So already we face the prospect of an essential service being in the hands of a privately-owned monopoly. Some years ago ‘The people that buggared up Britain’ became a Christmas best-seller, it is time for a reprint!
By the time we had finished mulling over this latest cock-up, not to mention our Eric Pickles tribute, the first local election results were coming in. The indications were that Mr Farage’s promised “political earthquake” was beginning to rattle the cups, and the political establishment. Some exit polls suggest that Ukip may well be top of the poll on Sunday when the MEP vote is counted. If that proves to be the case it will be the first time in nearly a century that an outside party has won a British election. That would mean that millions of Brits have put their cross in the Farage box.
Which will make the views expressed on last night’s David Bumblebee Question Time seem even dafter than they did at the time. A succession of panellists and members of the audience burbled on about Ukip supporters being extremists, racists and sexist. It was left to Chris Grayling to bring a touch of sanity to bear. He pointed out that whilst Ukip has its share of weirdos, its success will be the result of the majority of the electorate supporting it. Are we really suggesting that so many are beyond the pail, he asked. He suggested that the time has come for the mainstream parties to ask themselves why so many are disillusioned. And he had sane words on EU migration.
The minister argued that to be worried about the capacity of our infrastructure to cope with ever-increasing numbers is not racist. He was clearly aware of the news that the number of immigrants arriving from Europe has surged by 27 per cent over the past year. A total of 201,000 EU citizens arrived in the UK, compared with 158,000 the previous year. In 2013 a total of 526,000 people arrived here and 314,000 left, a net rise of 212,000, the equivalent of a large town. The Office for National Statistics said that the “significant increase had been fuelled by the number of people coming here to look for work. Ironically the economic recovery is making Britain a tempting target for people in Eastern Europe whose economies are in tatters.
It is not often that we codgers rush to applaud a Conservative minister, but Mr Grayling was right. If our borders are to remain open we have a straight choice. Either we have to pump significant amounts of money into the NHS, social services, roads and schools or we have to accept that they will be swamped and continue to deteriorate.
A perfect example is provided this morning by a warning issued by Dr Channd Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association. He reports a “crisis” in GP workload, workforce, premises and morale. He says that ten minute appointments are an “insensitive insult” to many patients – those with long-term, complex or mental health problems. GPs are, he adds, now forced into providing “conveyor belt medicine at breakneck speed up to 60 times in a day”, and workloads are “unmanageable, exhausting and unsustainable”. The same can be said for both hospitals and social services, and many parents know only too well of the increasing sizes of classes.
Is it too much to ask that, having completed their weeks of propaganda, politicians of all parties begin a grown-up debate about population size? This has nothing to do with racism, and everything to do with capacity and quality of life.
By and large we codgers are content to be part of the EU, although we recognise as nonsense the supposedly dire consequences of leaving portrayed by Nick Clegg. But unless our dear leader can renegotiate the issue of open borders we see little alternative to leaving.
The clock is ticking and the chance of finding billions of pounds to expand public services is a remote one. If the mainstream parties refuse to come to grips with the issue they shouldn’t be too surprised when Mr Farage’s ‘political earthquake’ continues to disturb their reverie !
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “It is no surprise that people want to come and live in Britain. Our vibrant culture, exciting cities and growing economy make it an attractive place for people from around the world. But when it is uncontrolled mass immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion, puts pressure on public services and forces down wages for people on low incomes.”…..James Brokenshire, Immigration Minister.