Posts Tagged ‘Nick Clegg’

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.
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.
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!
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!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Any political party that includes the word ‘democracy’ in its name, isn’t!”….Patrick Murray

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In the absence of logic fantasies flourish!

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.

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Drivel unfit for a Queen!

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.

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Is there a cure for cynicism?

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.

Oh dear!

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.

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Extraordinary but what does it actually tell us?

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.

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All aboard the high speed gravy train!

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.

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When only tears are left!

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.

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Hot air finished – it is time for a grown-up debate!

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.

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All in what together?

For a very long time many of us allotments codgers have tried, and failed, to adopt the philosophy that serves to mark out Phil amongst a gang of compulsive worriers. Phil believes absolutely that Now – the present moment – is all there is. For him the past has gone and merits not so much as a thought. Nothing will ever happen in the future, it will always happen in the Now, a point at which he is in full control of his actions. Time and again he reminds us that we spend little time living in the present, but instead fluctuate between regretting the past which we cannot change or fretting about something that may never happen.

We know that he is right but even basic emulation escapes us. This morning we found that something had burrowed its way into one of the hen runs. After we had spent time mulling over the possible culprit and why we had failed to ‘bury’ the wire fence deeper, we moved on to speculation as to what the outcome could be next time around. Phil distanced himself from the recriminations and panic and eventually reminded us that the only worthwhile consideration was what we could do now. We then dug a trench and inserted a wire barrier deep enough to bar Arthur Scargill.

Perhaps there are disciples of the Now principle in the less-than-loved Department of Health. Yesterday the scandal of inadequate nursing levels came under the spotlight when the Mirror published the horrendous story of an elderly patient found to be dead when visited in hospital by her family. Instead of mounting the usual defence of blaming Labour, a clever official announced a new minimum level ratio for nurses (not ‘healthcare assistants’) to patients. Suddenly argument seems futile, although there is still scope for worrying about where the funding is going to come from.

All this rumination and fence-repairing left us in need of sustenance, and we were glad to retire to the hut for a dose of what Dr Pickles orders in the shape of tea and doughnuts. Being capable of starting a row in a telephone kiosk, Albert proceeded to point out that many things happening right now are cause for, if not worrying, an even worse state of mind called fury. We are all in what together, he asked whilst pulling crumpled dailies from his overcoat pocket.

His first example of hypocrisy on high concerned William Hague. The millionaire Foreign Secretary is costing taxpayers £2,000 a day to live in a luxury home in one of London’s most exclusive areas. Carlton Gardens would turn an Oil Sheik green with envy. And that is only Mr & Mrs Haigh’s weekday pad. They have a second official residence, Chevening in Kent. They share that 115-room mansion with Nick Clegg and his family. It is perhaps relevant to note that landlords made 47,220 possession claims in county courts during the first three months of this year.

Next up in Albert’s diatribe was Patrick Mercer, the MP who quit last week when he was found guilty of one of the worst breaches of the MPs’ code of conduct in history. Last June he was said to have broken the rules by accepting £4,000 to lobby for business interests. Now we know that a month later he was claiming for a laptop – and then another.

Then we were regaled with the story of Sir John Stanley, a Conservative MP who received thousands of pounds for consultancy work for Fidelity, one of the big City investors controversially granted priority access to shares in the give-away privatisation of Royal Mail. According to the Register of Members’ interests, Sir John trousers £300 per hour from the fund-managing company, which has donated in excess of half a million pounds to the Conservative party.

Albert’s list was a long as a rattlesnake but I will spare you more. Suffice to say that he quickly cast a shadow on our dabble in philosophy. It seems that even focussing solely on the Now does nothing to substantiate the fairy story about us all being in it together. In what?
A SATURDAY STORY! “When I was young and my intention was to go to medical school, the entrance exam included several questions that would determine eligibility. One question was “Rearrange the letters PNESI to spell out an important part of the body that is more useful when erect”.

Those who spelled SPINE became doctors. The rest ended up in parliament!”
(Thanks to reader G)

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Taxman – Gestapo-like powers but not for the rich!

Low clouds and driving rain aren’t perfect conditions for hen-cleaning, or anything else for that matter. But they certainly served to speed us codgers up this morning, and before you could say Eric Pickles we were gathered in the hut for a brew and the chance to observe Bill testing his new false teeth on a couple of Tesco doughnuts.

On various occasions readers have asked why it is that we appear to be a men-only co-operative. The answer is quite simple – we would love to have an equal number of ladies, but to date the response to our invitation is that they have more sense than to spend their days wallowing about in mud in pursuit of a bunch of ungrateful chickens. There are of course many lady veggie plot holders. I am prompted to mention this by this morning’s hoo-hah about the right of women to fight on the army front line.

It seems to us that if there are women who wish to serve in this way, and if they are physically able to do so, there is no reason to exclude them. What intrigues us is the statement made by the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, in the Commons. Women, said our distinctly un-warrior like military bigwig, are fully entitled to “close with and kill the enemy”. It left us wondering not about women but about who it is he has in mind to kill. Since there is realistically no prospect of our undertaking any more Blair-like missions we can only assume that this is another implied threat to the Scots should they decide to break up the United Kingdom.

The news that put us in a rather more serious mood was the introduction by Gorgeous George Osborne of increased powers for the Taxman. The Commons Treasury committee yesterday expressed great concern at the new right of the tax authorities to access private bank accounts, and to withdraw payment for overdue bills. Even the Gestapo had to obtain authorisation for confiscation but no such nicety will impede officers of the HMRC. The committee did not like the further step into the world of Big Brother, and it pointed to HM Revenue and Customs track record of constant mistakes. The certainty is that fully compliant taxpayers can expect to be subjected to bullying and intrusion followed by a tortuous process of reclaiming their own money.

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chairman of the Treasury Committee, said that he found the development “very concerning”, and reflected on the occasion when officials lost discs containing the personal data and bank details of 25 million families. He added that HMRC regularly fails to ask for the right amount of tax, and predicted that: “Some taxpayers may find money taken from their accounts that later should be paid back”. He could have added ‘in the unlikely event that they ever manage to speak to anyone prepared to listen’.

But the Chancellor regularly tells us that times are hard and everyone should pay their taxes. Well not quite everyone. Time and again the tax authorities have negotiated cosy deals with major companies, often accepting part-payment. And we all know that many of our largest retailers – no names, no Amazons – pay no tax at all. Much the same can be said of most of those on The Times rich list. So the Taxman will at last be free to access their bank accounts? It seems not. Mr Osborne – once labelled The Artful Dodger by 38 Degrees – has no intention of allowing petty officials to poke around in the affairs of his peer group.

The other story that caught our rheumy eyes this morning features on the front page of the Daily Mirror. The family of Joan James arrived at the hospital bedside of their much-loved mum and grandmother to find her dead. The shocked relatives were told by staff at the Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham that Mrs James had not been checked by nurses for over half an hour.

Sadly this is what inevitably happens when nurse numbers are cut – over 5,000 have been axed following the chaotic Lansley ‘reforms’. The result of the £20 billion of ‘efficiency savings’ imposed by Lansley is that the patient to nurse ratios have been stretched to the point where nurses simply cannot cope. This is far from the first time that we codgers – many of us have been involved in the service – have warned that the NHS is dying, the victim of a thousand cuts. But HS2 must be funded!

Perhaps the lapdog Clegg will now reflect on what he has allowed his Conservative partners to do. Perhaps he would like to apologise to the James family should he have a moment to spare from his eulogising of the EU?
THOUGHT FOR TODAY: ” The story raises concerns about the proper care of a vulnerable old lady, and her family may well lose their faith in the standard of NHS hospital care”….Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern.

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The madness of King Clegg!

We codgers tend to start a little later on Sunday mornings, a habit we rationalise by suggesting that the hens deserve an occasional lie-in. One result of this is that most of my pals arrive at the allotments with a rolled-up copy of one of the tabloids in their pockets. That always makes for interesting reading when we gather in the hut, having cleaned out the hen-coops.

All of the comics for grown-ups have clear political affiliations and, this morning, Ed Miliband finds himself on the headlines. Having tired of the tale that Ed’s dad was a secret agent for Hitler – an unlikely scenario since he was a victim of the persecution of the Jews – the right-wing propagandists have returned to the equally unlikely story of ‘Red Ed’, a fearsome British Stalin, who is secretly planning the greatest oppression since Henry V111 made head-chopping a national sport. By way of contrast the left-wing comics devote many a column-inches to stories of ‘Brave Ed’, a man happy to fight a dragon should one turn up in Surbiton.

We hate to be killjoys but the younger Miliband strikes us as the sort of guy who spends his leisure hours breeding tortoises, and someone who takes giant steps to avoid crushing a wandering snail. It might have been more productive for the tabloids to focus on the horrendous allegations relating to the Cyril Smith scandal and the ‘fact’ that some of his accomplices are to be found in the House of Lords!

One surprising trend apparent this morning is the support expressed for the dashing Nigel Farage. That may well be down to the fact that Editors suspect that the 38 per cent Ukip support now reported by the polls may include a lot of their readers. Or it may be that they suspect that labelling over a third of the population as racist is not a terribly good idea. If this is their reasoning we can only applaud.

For years the British people have been bullied by all the mainstream parties who decreed that anyone who dared question immigration or voiced concerns about it should be branded a bigot. And they’re sick of it. They’re sick of being told that if they complain about our housing lists, schools and health services being at breaking point, that’s also racist. And they’re sick of being lectured about immigration by parties who flung open this country’s doors not because they give a damn about immigrants, but as a cynical ploy to grab votes. Farage has tapped into that anger. Instead of insulting the electorate he tells them they’re right to be worried. That controlled immigration is not racist. That we aren’t disgusting for wanting to limit the numbers coming here to match the spare capacity of our infrastructure.

Yes, Ukip attracts weirdos and racists, but that is not putting people off. Nothing sticks to Farage and the main parties have only themselves to blame. And the maddest of all is surely King Clegg. No one must so much as question the EU and its costly, bureaucratic ways, its control of our courts or its open-borders policy. At home no one must question the ever-growing forests of wind farms. No one must question the spending of a king’s ransom on HS2. And now no one must suggest such a draconian step as banning the carrying of lethal knives.

Clegg has managed to achieve the impossible, he has united the Conservative and Labour front benches, who have agreed to vote as one in support of an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, to introduce mandatory six-month prison sentences for repeat knife offenders. Any adult convicted for a second time would go to jail and any youth, below the age of 18, would be given a four-month detention in a young offenders centre. That would represent a huge shift from the present regime under which only one in four of the 16,031 cases of knife possession over the past year received a custodial sentence.

In the light of recent tragic events no rational person can deny the need for a major deterrent to the carrying of dangerous knives, yet this week Nick Clegg told cabinet colleagues: “We haven’t discussed it and I am not going to have it discussed”. Leaked documents reveal that he has had strong support from Danny Alexander and the schools minister, David Laws. No surprise there.

What Mr Clegg didn’t expect was the decision of the opposition to pledge its support. The backbencher who has proposed the amendment is Nick de Bois, MP for Enfield North. Today he describes two knife killings in his constituency and the terrible effect on families. There must be, he says, a clear message about the consequences of carrying knives.

With the thought of the murder of Ann Maguire even the most liberal-hearted must surely acknowledge that King Clegg has finally lost touch with reality.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY: “The support across the country should give the Deputy Prime Minister pause to reflect on his decision. It should certainly give the Prime Minister the confidence that he would be in tune with both his party and the country to support deterrents for carrying knives”…..Nick de Bois, MP.

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Is Farage more than a five-minute wonder?

Take any couple of dozen people and you will find a lot of good honest plodders fringed by a handful that are either impetuous or ultra careful. Our allotments group is no exception. Most of us carry out our hen-cleaning and horticulture with methodical attention and suffer few mishaps. Albert, on the other hand, leaps into every place where Angels fear to tread and suffers more mishaps in a day than most of us meet in a month of Sundays. At the other extreme Bert is both metaphorically and literally a belt and braces man.

I was reminded of this when the two us went to B&Q in search of a bolt to replace one wrenched from its post by Albert who saw red when it refused to slide open. People’s traits quickly reveal themselves when they are behind the wheel of a car, and I noticed that Bert flashes his indicators to thank a fellow motorist, just in case they missed his mini wave, thumbs up, arm raise and hazard lights. I enjoy the company of both men but in an emergency, calling for rapid but logical action, would tend to give them both a miss.

I only mention this useless information because this morning we codgers spent our tea and doughnuts break mulling over the sudden rise in the attention being paid to Nigel Farage. Open the paper, turn on the TV, log into Twitter and there he is. Like him or loathe him you have to admit that he has rather more charisma that the three main party leaders rolled into one. Look behind the jaunty grin, beer and fags and, however reluctantly, you have to admit that what he says accords with your view. Look carefully again and you realise that, despite appearance, this geezer is neither impetuous nor overly cautious. He is a calculating vote-gathering machine, and he has the political establishment rattled. The main parties have tried ignoring him, abusing him and inventing supposed indiscretions – all to no avail. If the polls are to be believed a lot of the people out there are identifying with what he says.

Yesterday a friend retweeted a Farage email. He doesn’t hate the rich, but he hates the way they always manage to avoid paying proper tax. This, he says, is England and we like the way it is so others should stop trying to change it and, if they dislike it so much, should go elsewhere. He believes that everyone should be free to pray to his or her God when and where they want to. Being a minority, he says, doesn’t make you noble or victimised – get over it and join in with majority. The House of Commons is the seat of our biggest problems.

He goes on to describe an incident in which some pupils replaced the Union Jack on the school flagpole with a foreign flag. Other pupils restored the British flag. Guess which pupils were punished. Other evidence that we have all taken leave of our senses involve Christmas and Easter celebrations being watered down for fear of giving offence. And of course there are references to the surrender of our courts to the EU and the uncontrolled flood of Eastern Europeans into an already overcrowded island.

Old diehards such as us instinctively want to condemn the new political upstart, but it is hard to disagree with what he says and seemingly believes. But the upsurge must be down to more than that. During the boom years, the benefits of open borders and market liberalisation were obvious to a skilled, affluent and mobile elite. They were less clear to those at the sharp end of competition for work and housing. In reality there was less divergence of economic interest than there was cultural polarisation. The liberal determination to expunge prejudice from public discourse was interpreted as denial of permission to be cross about immigration. That feeling seems to be specially strong among older, low-skilled, white men who talk of being “left behind”.

Already disillusioned by the economic shifts that left them lagging behind other groups in society, these voters now feel their concerns about immigration and threats to national identity have been ignored or stigmatised as expressions of prejudice by an established political class that appears more sensitive to protecting migrant newcomers and ethnic minorities than listening to the concerns of economically struggling white Britons.

This anger extends beyond race. It includes a range of prohibitions, some real and some imaginary, imposed by faceless arrogant officialdom. It covers “political correctness”, “health and safety” and “human rights”. A focus group of Ukip supporters conducted by Michael Ashcroft, the Conservative financier and former deputy party chairman, typified the growing number of Ukip supporters as “pessimistic, even fearful, and they want someone to blame. They do not think mainstream politicians are willing or able to keep their promises or change things for the better”.

Mr Farage is ploughing fertile soil. This is particularly true on his main emphasis – the EU. Nick Clegg blindly accepts membership as the only option, Ed Miliband seems to have no opinion at all and David Cameron talks of a referendum without spelling out what reforms he seeks. Only Farage is crystal clear – he wants out. And that reflects the view of many.

The majority of we allotmenteers do not wish Ukip well, but we acknowledge that it just may prove to be an unstoppable force, if our main parties continue as they are. They will need to do a great deal more than label Mr Farage and his friends as lacking integrity at a time when even cabinet ministers are being exposed as expenses fiddlers, and each week brings TV pictures of behaviour in the Commons that would shame St Trinians!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “I’m not that interested in Nigel Farage”….Ed Miliband. “Perhaps he should be!”…New Statesman.

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