Posts Tagged ‘Pals’
My legs seemed to weigh a ton this morning, and some of my pals seemed somewhat stuffed as we saw to our various hen-runs. Only the chickens seemed unaffected by the Christmas indulgences. Even Bill’s constant companion, the basset hound, seemed less perky than usual. No great surprise there, for it seems that whilst the house guests were enjoying a pre-lunch drink he spent time in the kitchen devouring the roast duck. Whether his lethargy is due to the amount he ate or what happened to him afterwards is less than clear.
But we are all genuinely pleased at the news of the Duke of Edingburgh’s improvemnt following heart surgery. Yes, the insertion of a stent is fairly routine these days but Philip is 90, an age at which routine becomes dangerous. One thing is certain, when something serious does afflict him he will be sorely missed by we codgers.
None of us would describe himself as a royalist, some of us believe that the time has come for the Royal soap-opera to come to its final curtain. We are no longer a major player on the world stage, and many of the trappings of power that surround a monarchy look absurdly dated. We are the only country in the world to have Lords, Knights of the Garter, orders of an Empire long gone et al and they no longer seem appropriate in the modern age.
But the Duke once gave us a warning that is well worth bearing in mind. He remarked that the value of the monarchy now lies in what they prevent. In times of crisis the people turn towards the Palace. They know that the Queen is above politics, is totally honest and genuinely cares. Were there to be no monarch we would have someone like Blair or Cameron as President, and every time they lied or fell from grace the stability of the nation would be threatened. In her Christmas address the Queen laid great emphasis on christianity, those monkeys would have ruled that out on grounds of political correctness.
The Duke himself has done a magnificent job. He entered the royal circle unexpectedly, in fact had it not been for an abdication he would never have been burdened with the exacting role of consort. As a young man he served in the Royal Navy with distinction and had a reputation as a man of action, truly his own man. All that he cast aside to provide his princess with total support when she was suddenly thrust into the role of head of state. And there he has loyally remained. No wife ever had a more steadfast companion.
From time to time the curtain has parted slightly and we have glimpsed the rascal that is in him, but everyone that has ever met the Duke of Edinburgh, and the number must run into millions considering the exhausting schedule he has always maintained, has nothing but praise for his friendly and unpatronising manner.
Some of those on the left who complain of the monarchy are wide of the mark. Without doubt the Queen and the Duke have done more to boost overseas trade than any Foreign Scretary or salesman ever could. And the cost of the Royals to the taxpayer are miniscule compared to those of the tax-dodgers, government blunders and self-seeking politicians. Why the royal household needs to include so many hangers-on is another matter.
Given the penchant of the Brits for gawping it is hard to read too much into the crowds that gathered at Sandringham yesterday. ‘Three times the normal’ scream the headlines, and add their interpretation that the popularity of the Royals has rocketed. The real explanation is probably the presence of glamour puss Kate. Why anyone would queue on Christmas Day to glimpse a version of Miss World is beyond comprehension, but rubber-necking is our passion.
So get well Philip, the country needs you. Without you the House of Windsor just might begin to take itself too seriously, thus providing amunition to its enemies. Whilst you are there the danger of that is minimal, after all it was you who describd the procession of the garter as “silly dressing-up but good fun”.
We codgers wish you a life longer than ours. Mind you, that is hardly overly encouraging!
This is one of those mornings when one looks back with regret at having refused the chance to emigrate. Someone near to the allotments had erected a mass of flashing Christmas decorations in their front garden, now they are draped along our boundary hedge. Inside our domain, roof panels compete with fallen leaves and two coops have sunk into a sea of mud. And as we struggled to restore order a bitingly cold wind carried away our curses. Chicks at Easter are the stuff of dreams and painted eggs, chickens in December are a recipe for POIS which to the unitiated stands for pissed off in spades.
But for most of the gang things could be a great deal worse. All around us we see people suffering great hardship, not least the young people, many of whom in these parts are searching for work. Today we learn that the government is proposing to apply pressure to cancer sufferers with the threat of taking away their disability allowances should they fail to satisfy ”back to work” panels that they are truly incapable of working. Clearly whichever halfwit came up with this wheeze has never endured the experience of cancer. The truth is that in their desperate search for more ways of reducing costs the government are looking in the wrong place.
As with their reluctance to tackle the nation’s big earners and tax evaders, Cameron and Osborne are also avoiding any move likely to offend their other supposedly big supporter’s group, the over-65s. But having the dubious privilege of being in that category does not necessarily mean that one is, as the Cockneys have it, brassic-lint. Some of my pals are reliant on the state pension and there is no possibility that they could exist solely on that. But the majority of us enjoy a company pension awarded before the government began to destroy such things. To be blunt, we can manage perfectly well without winter fuel payments, bus passes, free TV licences and special tax allowances. Of course we like to have them but with so many younger people suffering real hardship, as against a reduction in pleasures, we can see no reason for special treatment simply because we are ancient.
Of all the bountiful gifts bestowed on us by politicians in the grip of obsessions about ‘grey voting power’, the most ludicrous of all is the bus pass. Most of us have never bothered to obtain one but we know many who have, and few of them really depend on them to get them from A to B, a feat that would be unaffordable without a free pass. Most of those we know who carry a pass in their purses or wallets regard them as a ticket to ride purely for the sake of riding somewhere. One couple have developed a hobby of travelling the length of the land, a journey of, presumably, a zillion bus stations and irritable drivers.
Nick Clegg recently said that millionaires who happen to be old should forego benefits such as bus passes, TV licences, fuel payments etc. He went on adovocate means testing, an emotion-firing term if ever there was one. Some high-profile figures have already taken action, the ‘Surviving Winter Appeal’, supported by the likes of Michael Parkinson, Jonathan Dimbleby, Ann Widdecombe and Joan Bakewell, calls on the better off to hand over their winter-fuel allowance of up to £300 to those in greater need. The scheme is to be applauded but essential welfare decisions should not be determined by charity.
Neither should they be determined by means testing or ludicrous talk of millionaires (Clegg has become so close to rich ministers that he imagines they are typical citizens). The simple way to tackle this issue is to use the tax system. Anyone sufficently flush to be paying tax at 40% could be excluded from elderly benefits. It would save a good deal of treasury expenditure which could then be used to further assist youth employment and care of the elderly infirm.
There is inevitably a caveat to this generous proposal from a bunch of codgers. Real action must be taken to tackle bankers and the rest of the top 1% of earners. We realise that they are the privileged friends of very rich government leaders but so long as they are allowed to pocket their millions without paying any tax to speak of, no one will volunteer to help, no one will truly feel that we are all in this mess together.
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Which Gareth Gates hit contains the words “We’re caught in a trap”? 2. In which series did Mark Benton play a tramp called Sheldon? 3. Who produced the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels? 4. What is a firebat? 5. Where are your fontanelles? 6. Which American protest singer is linked to the “dustbowl ballads”? 7. Who wrote the stories subsequently televised as “Poldark”? 8. In which time device would you find an escapement? 9. The port of Archangel is in which country? 10. The Titanic was launched in which city?
This may be the new age of Kindle and Amazon but such developments have largely passed unnoticed by my allotment pals. Many of them are regular users of the local library and there are several reasons for this. They like the feel of a book in their hands, and many like the sensation of reading where others have read. Some can’t afford to buy books, and those who can prefer to experience the opening chapters before committing themselves. And , most importantly of all, most regularly search for non-fiction offering advice on anything from keeping livestock to joinery, books that one consults and returns rather than retains.
For them, and millions of others across the country, the news that a landmark legal challenge to a council’s decision to close half its libraries has failed is very bad news indeed. The case in question was focussed on Brent after the council there announced its intentions to close the libraries, including one, Kensal Rise, opened by Mark Twain in 1900. With the help of people like Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman and the Pet Shop Boys, a pressure group there raised funds to apply for a judicial review of the decision, saying the council had not properly assessed certain needs, thus breaching the Equalities Act and failing to comply with its duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museum Acts.
The arguments were rejecetd by Mr Justice Ouseley, hearing the case, who refused a judicial review. Within two hours of the pronouncement Brent Council boarded up half of its libraries and dismissed the staff. The result will be that for many residents a visit to a library will now involve a journey by car or public transport. For the elderly that probably spells the end of their regular treat, a local call to spend a leisurely hour or so selecting next week’s entertainment.
But it is not only the elderly who value local libraries. Young mums do too, especially those who can’t afford to buy an unending series of toddlers books, each of which becomes redundant as the months of early development pass. Many young people access libraries too, and there have been a number of initiatives over the past year or so aimed at encouraging reading. And many retired, but not elderly, folk also find browsing a pleasant pastime.
Most libraries now offer regular lectures on a wide range of subjects including local history, and most provide controlled internet access. They are in many ways the centre of local communities and many a student has reason to be grateful for the help and advice provided by staff, most of whom always strike me as being uniquely helpful in an age where service standards continue to plummet.
But one statistic stands out above all overs. Every survey of users shows that women are the major users of libraries. And it is women who, as reported in a recent blog, are deserting the coalition parties in droves. Opinion polls show that they believe that whilst cuts are necessary, it is men who are dominating the decision making and determining priorities. And most of the men are from the ranks of those with deep pockets, no name no Osbornes.
The result is that we see mega-costly projects like high-speed rail being nodded through whilst low cost facilities like libraries and local clinics are closed down. So far as town halls are concerned the public watches open-mouthed as executives are paid more than the prime minister and endless beanos are organised with so-called twin-towns. At national level the stories of the extravagent lifestyle of people like Fox and his friend Werrity continue to remind everyone that ours is becoming a society of the haves and have-nots. Admittedly Fox has now gone but he is still said to have done a great job as Cameron does his latest u-turn
Following this depressing ruling we can expect to see the shutters go up on libraries right across the land. An inexpensive but central part of every community will be lost for ever. Politicians are not noted for their common sense – you need look no further than Andrew Lansley for proof of that – and they are rushing toward a total alienation of large swathes of the female vote in the manner of lemmings heading for the cliff.
But who cares about politicians? No one. But many care for the presence of their local library and many will look back on Brent as the place where the strange death of English literacy and community spirit was triggered.
Some once said that a good book is a constant companion. It seems that in the eyes of those who rule over us a Werrity is even better!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A miracle has happened! It wasn’t pouring down when we cleaned out the hens and the mud this morning, in fact we could even see patches of blue sky. But we were still downcast for the hoped for miracle of the privatisation of the NHS being stopped by the House of Lords didn’t happen. The attempt by David Owen to subject the legislation to deeper scrutiny drew the support of 262 peers, but the motion was defeated by 68. The reason was the decison of 80 Lib Dems to vote against!
They did so having been pressed by Nick Clegg to support his stance, this despite the Lib Dem conference having voted otherwise and national polls showing great opposition on the part of the vast majority of those who voted Lib Dem at the general election. Clearly he is still besotted by his right to sit at Cameron’s right hand in the Commons!
The effect of this latest betrayal of all that he promised during the elction campaign is that Clegg has aligned his party to the Conservatives. If the reaction of those amongst my allotment pals who voted Lib Dem is any indication, the other effect will be the total annihilation of the party come the next election. The message is now clear – if you favour Conservative policies vote Conservative, if you oppose them vote Labour. The Lib Dems have ceased to exist in ideological form.
The right wing press has this morning seized on reports of neglect of the elderly at some NHS hospitals as justification for Lansley’s bill. It is nothing of the sort. As it has shown only this week in Cumbria the NHS regulator, Monitor, has powers to deal with such unacceptable performances. It can, and has, put in a new management team with absolute authority to make whatever changes are necessary. Incidentally the Daily Mail claim that one in five hospitals were found wanting is somewhat dubious since only the 100 lowest rated were inspected!
The idea that bringing in the private sector will in some mysterious way ensure good treatment of the elderly reminds us of the recent revelations of the treatment afforded to residents in the care of Southern Cross homes. Once our elderly and vulnerable are bundled off into the avaricious grasp of for-profit companies the monitoring of their care becomes far more difficult, more obscure.
No one denies that those hospitals which fall short must be brought up to the stnadard of the majority of excellent NHS centres. No one denies that bureaucracy must be minimised. What millions reject is the introduction of private providers who will ‘cherry-pick’ the easier and more lucrative services, leaving NHS hospitals with the impossible task of balancing the books or of funding critical care in such fields as cancer, coronary or emergency medicine.
Several years ago the Labour government under Blair attempted to transfer outpatients services in the North West to a South African company called Netcare. When it became apparent that the effect of this would be to render insolvent the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals there was a massive public outcry. Led by Lindsay Hoyle, now Deputy Speaker, thousands took to the streets. A police presence was needed to control what followed and in due course the government backed down. Had they not done so, Lancashire would by now be quite the wrong place to be if you or yours were unfortunate enough to need emergency care.
So I am not making a political point when I say that the coalition are heading the NHS toward its destruction. Already there have been mass redundancies, already waiting times are doubling, already there are many advertisments for private medical insurance. Hopefully the chaos caused by Lansley’s incompetent handling of the bill will subside, but what will be left is a service of postcode medicine and preferential treatment for those who can afford it.
It would be wrong to blame right-wing conservatives such as Lansley and Liam Fox for all that is happening for their preference for private initiatives was clear for all to see. But Clegg and his henchmen supposedly stood for something quite different. As their president has made clear, they recognise that the profit motive and acute medicine make poor bedfellows. Like many of the politically uncommitted they see social injustice writ large in the American model and its giant private healthcare providers, some of whom are already being brought in to provide the commissioning services that GPs clearly are not equipped to handle.
Yesterday Clegg delivered his final death sentence on the national service that has meant a great deal to so many for so long. Serious illness is stressful enough without the added burden of worrying about finding the cash for good treatment. Our society will never feel the same again and for that we can thank the Lib Dems for selling their own principles for the illusion of power.
The ’38 Degrees’ protest organisation has mustered millions of signatures for its petition opposing Lansley. This week it raised £75,000 in four days to fund a special campaign aimed at members of the Lords. Sadly it underestimated just how far a Judas will go!
Interestingly immediately after the result of the vote was known the President of the Royal College of GPs sent an email urging 38 Degrees to carry on the fight. So much for Lansley’s claim to have clinical support! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Broadcasting House 2. Cable News Network 3. Radio Times 4. Reuters 5. Private Eye 6. Aberdeen 7. Advertising 8. Which? 9. Fred Basset 10. China
There was an air of disappointment on the allotments this morning. It emanated from the significant number amongst us who have been staunch fans of President Obama. Here, my pals liked to say, was an honourable man who would always put what was right before any political considerations. Perhaps distance does lend enchantment for the comparisons made between him and our lot have always been favourable. Suddenly, at a stroke, the American hero of the chicken-keepers has fallen from grace.
The feeling that maybe this, after all, is just a politician on the make like every other, has been triggered by the President’s announcement of the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, plus the remainder of the 33,000 “surge” troops by September 2012, smacks of political calculation rather than military judgement, indeed the US Generals have been quick to distance themselves from the decision.
Of course it reflects Mr Obama’s ambivalence about the Afghan strategy that he unveiled at West Point in December, 2009, after months of agonising about what to do following General Stanley McChrystal’s stark assessment that the United States was on course for defeat. On that point there was probably widespread sympathy for the man who had inherited a war that few believe can be won. But to now announce withdrawal dates is astonishing. To have them as secret targets for the military is one thing, to tell the enemy with whom negotiations are the only realistic hope is another.
The effect may well be to leave the 70,000 troops in Afghanistan to fight and to be killed without any prospect of achieveing anything because they lack the “force density” required for a counter-insurgency offensive. The withdrawal of all the “surge” troops announced at West Point risks a reversal of the fragile gains they have made, leaving the Taliban to slip back into areas being relinquished.
And above all else it will surely shatter any hopes for the talks now under way with Mullah Omar’s Quetta shura faction of the Taliban. Omar was clearly under great pressure from the “surge” but will surely now ask himself why he should negotiate. All he needs to do is wait for the American troops to leave. And for ordinary Afghans, why side with Nato forces or their indigenous allies if the Taliban will soon return?
Ultimately, Mr Obama will be judged not on how quickly he pulled the troops out but what kind of Afghanistan they left behind. For all its political adroitness, the President’s decision could lead to escalating chaos and civil war and the country could once again become a base for Islamist enemies of the West. We can all undertsand his reluctance to be in Afghanistan, not least because it is an unpopular war with the American public and an election is due next year. But what we cannot understand is what amounts to the torpedoing of the only real hope of securing a better Afghanistan; negotiations, for no one really believes that the corrupt and incompetent government forces will be ready to beat off the Taliban in the short term.
So it would appear that yet another major politician has feet of clay. Needless to say the Italians, French and Germans have been quick to follow suit. Britain? But of course. In fact William Hague went to great lengths yesterday to strees that we will not be involved in conflict at all from 2015. Again he is right with the decision but wrong to tell the enemy. It is almost like Churchill having told Hitler we will not battle on beyond 1945!
Without changing one iota of their intent Mr Obama and the other leaders could have said that they will not ease back until the Taliban sit down to agree terms. At least that way they would have retained a strong bargaining position for the next six months, and that just might have been enough. We surely owed at least an attempt at a face-saving formula to all those who have died in this futile, misguided conflict born of Bush and Blair.
Now they have ensured failure and further jeopardised the morale and safety of all the Nato troops. But then given a choice between their own political skins and those of the troops we are not surprised at their choice are we?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. Lancashire 2. L.B 3. Kent 4. Rum 5. Locum 6. Argentina 7. Dog 8. Northamptonshire 9. D H Lawrence 10. Apple
We were busy this morning battening down the chicken-hatches in anticipation of fierce wind and torrential rain. Not that unusual for June in this country, but the sort of spell that makes predictions that holidays abroad are losing their appeal look wide of the mark. I’ve noticed over the years that our topic of conversation tends to reflect the mood of the weather, it certainly did today because several of my pals were mulling over the Terry Pratchett documentray ‘Choosing to Die’.
In the programme the 63-year old writer, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, went to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to see Peter Smedley, who has motor neurone disease, take a lethal dose of barbiturates. Asked why he wanted to make the film, Pratchett said that he was appalled at the present situation. Assisted dying is practised in the United States and at least three countries in Europe but our governments have always turned their backs on the possibility of adopting the same practice here. Pratchett is a patron of ‘Dignity in Dying’, which campaigns for a change in the law to allow assisted dying. Its chief executive says that it is about choice and protection..”People suffer at the end of life, and therefore people take difficult decisions about their own deaths. We need to face up to reality”.
Most of us that work daily on the allotments are of advanced years, and perhaps that is why the programme aroused so much emotion. Opinions were divided. Several shared my view that my life belongs to me and I have the right to end it if existence has become unbearable. I can easily identify with Terry Pratchett’s view of a disease such as Alzheimer’s.
But I ended up sitting rather uncomfortably on the fence because the case argued by Albert, Tom and others is that were assisted dying to be legalised a lot of elderly and infirm people might well be persuaded that they owed it to their carers to agree to end it all. Relatives wouldn’t do that would they? Oh yes they would, or at least some would. I have regularly encountered problems with relatives blocking the discharge of an elderly patient from an acute hospital ward to a nursing home. I was shocked at first but came to accept that the number one priority for such people was money not the quality of life of their parent.
Yet – here I go again swinging to and fro on the issue – I can see no earthly reason why someone who is rational, and capable of making their own decision, should be obliged to exist on when they wish otherwise. Perhaps the compromise should be a certification by a senior doctor that an applicant for assisted dying is terminally ill, is of sound mind,, has self understanding and is capable of making his or her own decision irrespective of the views of others. Under such a scheme no other applicants would be considered. The doctor would not be asked whether the decision was the right one, that judgement can surely only rest with the individual.
Michael Nazir-Ali, the popular retired Bishop of Rochester had no doubts. This was, he said, “science fiction”. The organisation ‘Care Not Killing’ said it was “a recipe for elder abuse and also a threat to vulnerable people”. Itts director, Dr Peter Saunders, accused the BBC of constantly portraying suicide in a positive light. The BBC itself received 898 complaints.
It is indeed a complex and emotional issue. Clearly there would have to be safeguards but I cannot shake off the conviction that someone like Terry Pratchett has the absolute right to end his life at the point where it is becoming, for him, unbearable. It is, after all, his life and his alone.
I have given this a lot of thought and can only conclude that there is no simple answer. Certain it is that I can’t imagine forgoing even one more day to see all that is beautiful in life. What do you think?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1.Queen Elizabeth 11 2. Wales 3. The species 4. England 5. Jailhouse Rock 6. Hair 7. Cleo Laine 8. The Teletubbies 9. Shaken but not stirred 10. Hadlee
OVER 8 OUT OF TEN…..TAKE A BOW AND LET ME HAVE YOUR NAME!!!!!!!!!!!
People often ask why a group of elderly geezers commit themselves to raisIng chickens, indeed there are many wet and cold mornings when we ask ourselves the same question. But the answer is simple, we need a reason to get up. Not every pastime provides this when the curtains are pulled to reveal Dantes inferno, but the involvement of animals leaves no option but to groan and rise. We were mulling this over today in the light of news that the quality of care for the elderly and vulnerable in this country is rapidly descending to third-world standards and worse. Last night a Panorama investigation provided an insight into the performance of the private sector so beloved of Andrew Lansley and his pals. Clearly they are right to claim that switching to private companies will increase choice, what they didn’t tell us is that torture is on the menu.
As the result of a whistleblower the Beeb managed to install a reporter on the staff of Winterborne View, a care home near Bristol for adults with autism and learning disabilities. The home is run by Castlebeck, a company with a £90 million turnover which runs more than 50 such units. The company charges the NHS and local authoritiues up to £3500 a week to provide care for patients.
But what we saw last night, thanks to a hidden camera, was an appalling catalogue of cruel abuse. In fact a watching expert described what they regularly did as torture and one didn’t need to be an expert to realise that. Patients were pinned under chairs for long periods, had water poured over their heads, given cold showers when fully dressed, treated as punchbags…one disgusting abuse followed another. A woman apparently attempting to commit suicide was told “Come on I’ll keep the window open for ya. I like watching you lot try to jump”. Another member of staff said “If you are on your own you have to smash her”. Another chanted “Nein, nein, nein” as someone placed his knee across a patient’s throat.
Two things emerged. The staff were using vulnerable patients for their own sadistic amusement. The staff were untrained, poorly paid and totally unsupervised. It was, to quote the watching Professor Jim Mansell, the author of the Government’s policy on disability care, the worst kind of institutional care, the kind that was prevalent in the 1960s. “The staff”, he added, “ don’t think that these are human beings like them”.
To me the most significant revelation was that a large private provider seemed to have no awareness of what was going on. Lee Reed, the chief executive of Castlebeck, said that the staff should have been suspended but were not. As in any private company the prime objective is profit. Inspections, trained staff and a supervised code of practice cost money. Having once been a member of a Health Authority inspection team covering private nursing homes I have to admit that I was not unduly surprised.
The simple truth is that private companies enter the healthcare field to make profit and unlike, say, a retailer have no opportunity to increase volumes once all beds are occupied. So they can only improve their margins by providing less costly care than that tendered for.
This government is not alone in believing that the private sector is some kind of potential saviour for the NHS. The last government paid out millions to companies for operations they never performed. And amongst those that were carried out any complication was immediately passed on to the nearest NHS hospital. Caring medicine and maximum profitability are disastrous bedfellows.
The police are now involved in the situation exposed by the Beeb. That is good news. Equally pleasing is the insight it provided into the dark world of private medical care. Lansley’s plan deserves total opposition!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. What my Heart Wants To Say. 2. Monkey 3. Ailurophobia 4. Turkey 5. Rudyard Kipling 6. One 7. Senegal 8. Theme from Harry’s Game 9. John Prescott 10. Fruits .
One of my allotment pals, Alan, has a grandson serving in Afghanistan and whenever we work together I always ask after Alan junior. His tour of duty will end in a fortnight and, hopefully, my pal’s brow will be less furrowed then. But for now he understandably worries. His tension is undoubtedly increased by two other factors. Like many, Alan senses that young men are losing their lives for a cause that cannot triumph. Like many, he feels outrage at the daily proof that the government is providing inadequate support, is indeed destroying what morale still exists out in that harsh and unyielding environment.
Last week the Ministry of Defence issued redundancy notices via email to some of the troops involved in this vain struggle. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it has today announced the immediate withdrawal from service of the entire Tornado ground attack fleet including the eight planes operating in support of our troops in Afghanistan. Can you imagine how men and women facing the daily propsect of death feel about announcements such as these?
I openly admit that if my son or grandson was killed or mutilated in Afghanistan the last thing I would ever be prepared to acknowledge was that they died in vain and there is an ever growing number who, understandably, resist any talk of failure to match that of the Russians who for ten years fought and failed there. But another group continues to pedal the story that all will be well, the politicians. They know the reality but prefer to save their own political skins than risk damage to their reputations. The reality is that eventually handing control to the Afghan army and police is merely a prelude to the return to control of the Taliban.
I have just read a fascinating book published last year and written by Sergeant Pen Farthing. It is called ‘One Dog at a Time’ and is primarily the story of one brave man’s attempt to rescue dogs that were being treated with appalling cruelty. But it also details life in a remote outpost in Helmund Province at a place called Now Zad. There a detachment lived under constant attack and in the most primitive conditions. They had no cook, little variety of food and no comforts of any description. They shared the compound with newly recruited Afghan troops who showed a reluctance to engage the Taliban in any way. On a personal level the best one can say is that the two cultures will never find a meeting point.
Sergeant Farthing also makes telling comment on the stories fed to us at home about the help provided. He remarks that he “always shook his head in mock amusement when politicians announced that they had improved the welfare of squaddies in combat zones”. In outposts such as his, improvements of any kind were hard to see. And he also comments on political posturing. “We had been told that Tony Blair had recently visited Afghanistan as a morale boosting exercise. From where I stood and looked around the compound it was clear that no one gave two hoots as to whether Blair had visited or not. It made no difference. We would have been more impressed if they had given us a share of the money it cost to get him here”.
Yesterday a Whitehall source described the military situation as a “complete mess”. The government wants the military to “play a role on the global stage, but the MOD is running out of money to meet its commitments”. Complete mess indeed, and brave young men are dying as part of it.
It seems almost nightly that the TV news bulletin tells of another death in Afghanistan. Surely even this chaotic government cannot allow this to continue. It must either bring the troops home now or stop the cuts that are putting even more lives at risk. At least we have the consolation that this will be the last British force ever to be so used for our armed forces are being reduced to the point where such mssions will be beyond them.
Yesterday there was yet another twist to this tortuous story of betrayal. When I saw pictures of David Cameron in Egypt I at first imagined that he was making an ad hoc visit following the uprising. In fact he was leading eight British arms maufacturers hoping to sell weaponry to undemocratic Gulf states. It is previous excursions such as this that explain why it is that some of the weapons being used to kill and maim our troops are British made for once they are acquired by ‘rogue’ elements they can end up anywhere.
Betrayal, lies and a lack of concern are the only words to describe what is happening. We either have armed forces or we don’t, the time for a decision and action is here. For every day that the politicians dither and pretend more British blood is spilled in a place that we do not even understand let alone have the potential to influence!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “I like being President. The pay’s good and I can walk to work”…J F Kennedy “Love your neighbour but don’t pull down your hedge”….Benjamin Franklin “The most popular labour-saving device today is still money”…..Joey Adams “The house was full of dry rot. The only reason it still stood was that the woodworm obligingly held hands”…Daphne Du Maurier ” I can’t believe this. Both my boy friends are cheating on me”….Lucy Wilde “How many husbands have you had? You mean apart from my own?”…Zsa Zsa Gabor “When a man steals your wife there’s no better revenge than to let him keep her”…..Sacha Guitry “When I’m on holiday and am asked what I do I say traffic warden. That makes me much more popular”….Steve Pound MP “I like work. I can sit and look at it for hours”…Jerome K Jerome “Behind every successful man stands a woman and behind her is his wife”…..Fay Weldon “Paradise Lost is a book that once put down is very hard to pick up again”…..Samuel Johnson “If voting changed anything they’d abolish it” …Ken Livingstone
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Snooker 2. John McEnroe
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What nationality was the composer Malcolm Williamson? 2..Which organisation did Norman Willis belong to?
If anyone mentions Bob Diamond again I shall, like Violet Elizabeth of Just William fame, scream and scream until I’m sick. It seems that the Barclays boss is about to get a £9m bonus and some of my pals seem affronted. As a cynic, who has long believed that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, it doesn’t surprise me and my self understanding had me carrying on with my ‘mucking-out’ when for the umpteenth time my mates opened up again. They seem unable to grasp that the coalition ministers are in no better position to curb the Banks than the opposition to curb the unions. For both are their respective paymasters. Over half of the Conservative Party funding comes from the Banks and big business, an even bigger percentage of Labour income from the trades unions.
What few realise is that the pay-back by the present government to their sponsors is reaching astronomic levels. Yesterday George Osborne announced a supposed increase in tax levy on the banks but it was miniscule. The increase of £800m is less than total bank bonuses alone, and less than a fifth of the extra money being dragged out of us via the VAT rise. The Banks put on a display of anger but it was a false face, for they know what few of us do, this government has just made massive tax concessions to their rich pals.
In fact the coalition has quietly plotted with Banks and businesses to engineer the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle to the ultra rich that this country has seen in a century. At the moment tax law ensures that companies based here, with branches in other countries, don’t get taxed twice on the same money. They have to pay only the difference between our rate and that of the other country. For example if Big Bank plc pays 10% corporation tax on its profits in Ambrosia, then shifts the money over here, it should pay a further 18% in the UK, to match our rate of 28%. Under new proposals, companies will pay nothing at all in this country on money made by their foriegn branches.
We are about to become one of only two countries in the world – Switzerland is the other – to allow money that has passed through tax havens to remain untaxed when it gets here. The government says it expects ” large financial services companies to make the greatest use of the new exception regime”. In other words, the Banks!
And that is not all. While these large companies will be exempt from tax on foreign branch earnings, they will, amazingly, be able to claim the expenses of funding foreign branches against any tax they pay in the UK. These astonishing concessions will accompany the already announced reduction in the official rate of corporation tax. By the time this government has done we will be lucky if the Banks and large corporations pay any tax at all!
This new scheme has had little publicity and even the opposition don’t seem to have picked up on it. But the concession is huge and the loss to the exchequer likewise. It certainly wasn’t mentioned in any manifesto so how did it come about. The coalition set up a committee to “provide oversight of the development of corporate tax policy”. It recommended the biggest concessions of all time and told Osborne to go ahead. And who sat on the all-powerful committee?
You probably won’t be too surprised that the leading figures were Barclays, RBS, Santander, Citigroup, Standard Chartered, Tesco, BP, Vodafone and British American Tobacco. Having won such a massive hand-out at the British taxpayer’s expense is it any wonder that they are awarding themselves rather large bonuses?
But this was no government oversight. It was part of the covert plan for wealth redistribution. We are on the way to being another Mexico, where the ruling elite wallows in unimaginable wealth whilst the rest suffer the death of a thousand cuts!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “No man or woman knows what perfect love is until they have been married for 25 years”…Mark Twain “When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving oneself, and one always ends up by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance”….Oscar Wilde “Burgundy makes you think silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk about them; and champagne makes you do them”….Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin “American beer is served cold so you can tell it from urine”….David Moulton “My favourite wine? Anything anyone else is buying”….Diogenes “I’ve only been drunk once before and that was from 1971 to 1990″…..Jim Davidson “It is now proved beyond doubt that smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics”….Fletcher Knebel “My Gran is 80 years old and still doesn’t need glasses. Drinks right out of the bottle”…..Henny Youngman “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative”….Maurice Chevalier “Old age is like waiting in the departure lounge of life. Fortunately we are in England and the train is bound to be late”…..Milton Shulman “I attribute my long and healthy life to the fact that I never touched a girl, cigarette or drink until I was ten years old”…..George Moore “An archeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her”…..Agatha Christie “As a young man I had four supple members and one stiff one. Now I have four stiff and one supple”….Henri Duc D’aumale “There are three ages of man; youth, middle-age, and “you’re looking very well”…….Red Skelton “Growing old is compulsory. Growing up is optional”…Bob Monkhouse
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Global Atmospheric Research programme 2. China
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. From which Party did Lord George-Brown resign in 1976? 2. Who was the royal commander of HMS Bronington?
QUESTION FOR READERS; AT PRESENT I DO WORK IN IDENTIFYING ‘THOUGHTS FOR TODAY’. IS IT WORTHWHILE? DO YOU READ THE FEATURE? COULD YOU LEAVE A BRIEF COMMENT PLEASE. MANY THANKS FOR YOUR HELP!
We saw the sun this morning if only for a moment, not enough to bring to mind images of Blackpool sands bathed in the stuff. But it did tend to remind us that we spend a great deal of our lives under clouds, not a cheering thought given that experts yesterday warned us that the effect of global warming will be for more cloud than we have ever experienced. Now that’s something to look forward to remarked Bill as he collected the eggs. Bill has undertaken this role, my pals having agreed to a little delegation. Mind you it won’t be many days before they begin to interfere in regard to washing, marking or boxing. In truth we are not as good at delegating as we like to imagine.
Neither it seems is big Eric Pickles, the communities secretary. A few months ago he won the approval of this site when he said that central government was going to “get out of the hair of local government and let councils take their own decisions”. It sounded a great idea although the more cynical amongst us suspected that it was a very handy way of handing down the blame when the cuts bite.
But already the new won freedom has been somewhat eroded. Yesterday Mr Pickles told local authorities that they must protect bin services for fear of “an army of angry middle England”. He told the New Local Govrnment Network conference that “we need to remember that rubbish is the most visible and most frontline service of all in return for what they pay in council tax”. No ifs, no buts, no passing reference to carer services, children’s services or even libraries. Most of those, the big man assumes, are used by the working classes whose vote has been lost anyway.
So despite all the promises to delegate decisions to local Trumpton Towers, big Eric is going to call the shots when political expediency demands it. The new localism appears to have had as short a life as a mosquito. And it also tells us something about the extent to which Westminster is out of touch with real life. Where we live the bin collection for domestic waste is fortnightly and seems to work well with recycling material collected alternately. It is certainly not the service that makes people angry.
Folk in these parts are far more concerned with plans to close down libraries, discontinue home care for the elderly sick and services for vulnerable children. Even meals-on-wheels has been chopped and we are told that there is much more bad news to come as a result of the massive reductions in government funding.
We may not be middle England as Mr Pickles defines it. We do not have long drives leading to posh houses or three BMWs per family. But we do have enough nous to work out just what the real priorities are. And if we have to choose between care visitors for dementia sufferers and having our wheelie bins weighing the equivalent of five elephants we will risk the hernia.
So come on big fellow. We have been numbered amongst your fans so far but suddenly we wonder if you may be as daft as the rest of the coalition folk who come from planet Zog. Either leave the councils to run their shows (and answer to the moans) or take back the control that you so recently surrendered to a smattering of applause. You can’t have it both ways!
SAVE FORESTS CAMPAIGN GATHERS MOMENTUM!
The coalition’s plan to sell off the forests presently controlled by the Forestry Commission has caused public outrage and the campaign being conducted by ’38 Degrees’ has already attracted 250,000 objectors to their on-line petition. If you go on to the website you will also notice that we are urged to approach our MPs. I did just that.
I had an immediate reply from Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. He is “deeply concerned by the plan”. Lindsay makes the point that if passed, the Bill could result in restricted access to our forests at a time when people are becoming more urbanised and rely on access to our open spaces. As a result the Deputy Speaker does not believe that woodlands should be privatised. As Deputy Speaker Lindsay will not be voting but he will be chairing the debates and will ensure that the government is held to account. He has already written to Secretary of State Caroline Spellman.
This lunacy will at best save £15m. We are not even selling the family silver, we are giving it away!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “It’s a pity more men are not bastards by birth instead of vocation”….Katherine Whitehorn “Men are those creatures with two legs and eight hands”….Jayne Mansfield ”Men hate to lose. I once beat my husband at tennis. I asked him if we were ever going to have sex again. He replied yes but not with each other!”….Rita Rudner “If they ever invent a vibrator that can open pickle jars, men have had it”….Jeff Green “Men do cry but only when assembling furniture”….Rita Rudner “Men are like car alarms – they both make a lot of noise no one listens to”…..Diane Jordon “It’s not the men in your life that counts – it’s the life in your men!”….Mae West “Where would men be today if it weren’t for women? In the Garden of Eden eating watermelon and taking it easy”….C Kennedy “He may have hair on his chest but sister so did Lassie”….Cole Porter
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. The Irish Republic 2, Uri Geller
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. A French actor, known for his suave style and tilted straw hats , died in 1974. Name? 2. In 1971 Fischer beat Petrosian – playing what?
A mini-monsoon greeted us this morning. We splashed about whilst the hens gathered in a large crowd rather like those we so often join at the Old Trafford cricket as we wait for the heavens to relent. Why in such dire straits the hens don’t retire to their coops, or we cricket buffs to the bar, remains one of the mysteries of life. An even greater one is why TV commentators cannot learn to keep their opinions to themselves!
Andy Gray and Richard Keys have established themselves as the anchor-men of Sky football and, given the sheer volume of it, seemed to be set for life in a job that many a soccer devotee would do for nothing given the chance. They have performed well but one always suspected that Andy Gray in particular was what we used to call ‘blokish’, the sort of guy who for so many years voted to keep women out of the Old Trafford membership. It is of course utterly irrational, a referee or assistant can be brilliant, average, or useless but their quality has nothing whatsover to do with gender. I hope they do survive but doubt if they will, either way I hope that the episode will bring them to their senses. Surely their self understanding should tell them that beliefs of the kind they revealed went out with the ark and if they can’t see how daft they are they should take up residence on one.
But stupid though all that was it made little impression on my rage-meter by comparison with the news about Dementia patients. Cuts in care services are expected to force as many as 50,000 sufferers out of their homes and into residential care. That will cost the taxpayer a fortune and is inhumane.
Many thousands of carers have struggled for years to look after their aged relatives in their own homes, and have just about managed to cope given support. This has been largely cut and now many patients are left bedridden, in unchanged incontinence pads and are malnourished. The carers in turn are at risk of stress, depression and other serious illnesses.
Chief Executive of the Alzheimers Society, Jeremy Hughes, has lambasted the government. It is, he says, “an absolute travesty that so many people with dementia are being forced to struggle without the care and support they need. The consequencies of this represent an unacceptable human and financial cost”. Amen to that.
Incredibly the care services minister, Paul Burstow, agreed and commented that many carers feel let down. What he is doing here is to shift the blame on to local authorities who have been forced by massive cuts in funding to slash services. It is hypocrisy, it is disgraceful.
We all know that Osborne and Cameron are determined to cut every public service to the bone. The wisdom of that is now widely disputed even by people such as Sir Richard Lambert of the CBI who yesterday launched a savage attack. But the economic argument apart, are the multi-millionnaires proud of what they have done to thousands of vulnerable people?
Proud to be British? Not when we allow callous cruelty of this kind whilst protecting tax dodgers!
CAMERON HAS OFFENDED THE NURSES!
One of our pals has been in hospital since before Christmas and for a time we were all worried about him. However, he is now back at home and is recovering from his operation.
When we called today with his eggs he was singing the praises of the nurses on the ward that became his home for nearly five weeks. Nothing was too much trouble, the place was spotless and the clinical care “brilliant”. But Alf’s report on the nurse’s morale is a different matter.
The so called ‘efficiency savings’ imposed by the coalition have led to enormous pressures and the nursing staff are near to breaking point. And they are angry at the talk of the ‘private sector taking over’ since they know only too well that the profit makers will certainly not be willing to become involved in acute medicine. But the final straw came a few days before Alf bade them all a grateful farewell.
The nurses that he came to admire were extremely angry at Cameron’s remark about the NHS staff being ‘second rate’. Any chance of a positive relationship between the coalition and those on whom we depend totally when trouble strikes has gone for ever!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “When we win an Olympic medal we’re English ; when we riot and throw petrol bombs, we’re West Indian”….Winston Price “Continental people have sex lives, the English have hot-water bottles”…George Mikes “The English aren’t really interested in talking to you unless you’ve been to school or to bed with them”…..Lady Nancy Keith “I would like to live in Manchester, England. The transaction between Manchester and death would be unnoticeable”……Mark Twain “Brighton has the perennial air of being in a position to help the police with their inquiries”…..Keith Waterhouse
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1.Washington 2. Emmerdale Farm
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1 Which film actor, who died in 1973, played the lead role in ‘The Cruel Sea’? 2. What part did Liza Minnelli play in ‘Cabaret’ ?
A flurry of snow triggered mass panic this morning. The fact that the December freeze was the worst for a century has not dispelled the paranoia and the chicken and ferret keepers alike see convinced that we will get another dose before the daffodils break surface. And you know what they say about being paranoid, it doesn’t follow that there isn’t something awful awaiting you. But for now a calm order has been restored and we were able to moan about something other than the Council’s invisible gritters. And what more topical subject could there be than VAT?
A couple of the gang once earned their crusts in accountancy and they are amazed that Osborne’s defence of the VAT hike has gone unchallenged. His case is that cash must be found to slash the deficit and no one is likely to dispute that. It is his argument that the only alternatives were National Insurance contributions or income tax rises. Rubbish is the view of my numerate pals. They contend that the chancellor is pandering to the powerful and by so doing has scored an own-goal. The VAT rise is unpopular and it will damage any green shoots of economic recovery. He is said to be cutting 500,000 jobs in the public sector, the VAT rise will make replacement posts in the private sector far less likely.
According to John and Alec the alternative was clearly to tackle the powerful, all the signs point to the coalition being scared of the big-spending lobbyists and particularly those in the financial sector. A couple of threatening speeches from Osborne and Cable were met with a barrage of threats about financiers heading for other countries and, hey presto, all is forgiven. The bonus tax levied by Alastair Darling was described at the time by most experts as too soft but compared with what is happening now Darling was the equivalent of Attilla the Hun.
Yesterday was a generally bad day for Mr Osborne. He returned from his widely criticised luxury Swiss ski break, which suggested limited self understanding, to find most of the national papers carrying adverts which portrayed him as ‘the Artful Dodger’, a campaign launched not by the Labour party but by the ’38 Degrees’ group which is non-political, already boasts 250,000 members, and alleges that the Chancellor’s family avoided £1.6 m.in tax Then he got himself into an awful knot in trying to explain why he believes that VAT is ‘progressive’ yet David Cameron sees it as ‘very regressive’.
Regressive indeed and the money that ministers are asking the public to raise could be raised in five minutes by calling the bluff of the richest section of the business community. So long as they shy away from this confrontation, and instead hammer the poorer sections of society, there will be widespread dissatisfaction. Few of us have the expertise of people like John and Alec but we know enough to realise that what is happening with banks is equivalent to pardoning the Great Train Robbers, letting them keep their loot, and applying a levy on everyone else to make up for the cash stolen.
The bankers have walked away from the debacle they caused scot free, with almost a trillion pounds of public money in their pockets. There was not so much as a compulsory lending ratio on their books. And the bankers rejoice. The big four are soon to reveal that some 200 in each of them earned over a million pounds last year. They have also rewarded themselves with personal bonuses of £7 billion over Christmas. That alone represented two fingers to the public and three times the money to be raise by the VAT rise.
There is no VAT or other transaction tax on banks. Money that properly belonged to share-holders and, in many cases, taxpayers , simply walked off the premises. It is as if a state-subsidised car manufacturer decided to allow its employees to take home half a dozen cars each Christmas!
Many of the cuts being applied by this government are justified for the waste of the previous regime was horrifying. Need an example? The multi-billion pounds NHS IT system that never worked will do to be going on with. But Osborne has fallen at an important fence. He needed to win over the public, to prove that we are truly all in this together. Visit any of the central London bars where the financial people gather and you will hear the popping of champagne corks.
They simply cannot believe that they have got away with it. And neither can the rest of us!
BUT IS AN AUSSIE THRASHING A GOOD THING?
England ended the day in a strong position at the Sydney Test. It is hard to know who to praise most in what has to be the fittest and most talented England team for many a year. The only slightly sad thing is that Paul Collingwood is nearing the end of his illustrious Test career, but there are a number of execellent young replacements waiting in the wings.
Australia seem to lack any back-up and, with the exception of the one brilliant spell by Mitchell Johnson, have looked a poor outfit. And that isn’t what devotees of Test cricket wanted to see. Yes, we longed for a winning series but we now worry about the effect of huiliation on Australian support through the turnstyles over the next few years. I worked in Australia and was surpirised to learn that not everyone down under is a cricket fan. Many are but I often sensed that the attraction was the regualar display of Aussie invincibility.
If the team continues for several years to look born losers will the support hold up? One prays so for already attendances at Test cricket in most of the other cricketing nations is falling away sharply. In India the crowds now turn out mainly for one-day cricket, Pakistan has real problems, West Indies have lost most of their support and even South Africa is seeing a swing to one-day.
The lifeblood of Test cricket has always been the Ashes but it is hard to see other than one-sided games for some time to come.
But our side can only play what is fielded against them and they have been magnificent.
SOCCER QUOTE OF THE DAY; Alex Fergusson was asked if given a gun with one bullet would he use it on Arsene Wenger or Victoria Beckham. He replied ” Could I not have two bullets?”
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Airey Neave 2. 1971 (February)
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who won the Nobel prize for peace in 1979 for her work in Calcutta? 2. Which country won 17 of 29 track and field gold medals at the 1972 Olympics?
Our pin-up weather lady Eno said that today would see temperatures well below brass monkey levels. In reality it was somewhat warmer and wearing five pairs of underpants proved unnecessary, not to mention sweaty. So with the icicles staying on the shed rather than our noses we quite enjoyed this morning’s routine. Most days bring the same jobs but today the vaseline pot was out. At times of severe frost it is wise to cover chicken’s combs as a means of protection. They don’t seem to mind and if it works we might consider doing our own. Whatever we do we cannot possibly look as utterly daft as Vince Cable does this morning.
Two female reporters from The Daily Telegraph armed with a tape-recorder called to see him at his constituency surgery. They pretended to be constituents and proceeded to ask his views on the coalition. Uncle Vince is clearly pretty gullible, the only other person to fall for such a charade was Sven Goran Erikson! But we learn more than that Mr Cable is as daft as a brush, he is now revealed as someone who, is to say the least, rather devious.
He talked of being in the coalition as akin to being at war and went on to boast that he is prepared to use his ‘nuclear option’ to bring the whole thing crashing down. He revealed that behind the scenes the Tories and Lib Dems are fighting a ‘constant battle’ not least on the soft approach of Cameron’s pals to the banks. He also claimed that Cameron plans to scrap the winter fuel allowance for the elderly but had yielded over immigration. In Mr Cable’s judgement the coalition is travelling at too fast a speed on a wide range of reforms including the NHS. Many of them are ill-thought through. Now we all knew that but what we hadn’t realised was that madcap plans like those of Lansley are even opposed within the supposedly close-knit coalition.
Most dramatic of all was Mr Cable’s admission that he is fighting a war against Murdoch, the friend of Cameron. “We have declared war and we are going to win (to block his owning the vast majority of the UK media)” Uncle told the giggling reporters. Small wonder they were giggling for this was a real scoop to take back to the editor. For them Christmas bonus assured, for Uncle a caning by the Etonian head. In fact it all worked out rather well for Cameron who has switched the media portfolio to Jeremy Hunt, thus ensuring that he keeps his promise to Murdoch.
The coalition is clearly anything but close knit. Indeed everyone’s once favourite Uncle said that many of the government’s policy proposals are “dangerously out of control”. He likened what is happening to a “Maoist revolution comprising too many ideas and too little careful planning”. For good measure Mr Cable attacked the scrapping of child benefit for higher earners which was handled “in a rather cack-handed way”. And within hours other leading Lib Dem ministers had fallen foul of hidden mikes. Michael Moore, Ed Davey and Steve Webb all lambasted the decision to cut child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers and Moore described the tuitions fees decision as “the biggest, ugliest, most horrific thing of all”. He went on to say that “I signed a pledge. I’ve just committed the worst crime a politician can commit, now folk distrust us as a breed”. Moore added a punch line; “the Tory rightwingers hate us with a passion”
The moment the news broke that the two questioners were in fact reporters Uncle changed his approach somewhat. He “regrets the statements and is embarrassed by them”. He has “no intention of leaving the government and is proud of what it is achieving”. The problem with directly conflicting statements is that one of them must be untrue. Either way the person making them is telling lies.
What Cameron and his boy Clegg think of it all is plain, or I should say Cameron for what he thinks is what his lackey thinks. But it seems reasonable to assume that trust between the two parties has plummeted faster that the current temperatures. And it gives more credibility to rumours about schisms developing. I still suspect thet a poor result in the Oldham bye-election will bring the end of Clegg. But suddenly his replacement by Cable seems very unlikely to attract Tory support.
Many of us used to admire Vince Cable and saw him as a man of great self understanding, the cleverest and most honest of politicians. Sadly he now fails on all counts but it is hard to sympathise. Anyone daft enough to tell confidential stories to total strangers is hardly fit to be involved in governing the country!
Others will argue that the sooner he responds to Cameron’s public humiliation of him the sooner will come the restoration of at least some of the Lib Dem reputation for independence. Mr Miliband may need to sharpen up his act sooner that he imagined!
UNEMPLOYMENT IS THE KEY!
There are two theories about tackling the deficit. Osborne believes in massive front end cuts with additional employment provided by the private sector. Grumpy Gordon believes this to be dangerous in that it will spark more job losses and lead to lower retail sales. Who is right? The jury is still out but there are some worrying signs for the present chancellor.
A survey out today shows that a third of the 232 local authorities across the UK now have more than 1000 residents claiming jobseeker’s allowance. Pre-election the number was just 26! And total long-term unemployment has risen to 839,000, a 34% rise since the election and the highest level since February 1997. Across the country unemployed people outnumber vacancies by more than five to one.
By the Spring Osborne will be either humiliated or vindicated. It may be too early to forecast which but one cannot escape the view that a sudden burst in private sector jobs seems unlikely given the rise in VAT, power bills and all which must serve to restrict non-essential purchasing.
Perhaps we should ask the owners of Man City to consider a buy-out bid for UK plc?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Tsar Nicholas 11 2. Prince Charles
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Charles de Gaulle died in 1970. In 1940 he became the leader of which movement? 2. Which Nobel prize winner claimed that vitamin C could protect against the common cold?
The weathermen came under attack in Scotland yesterday but it has to be said that they got it right here. We had a respite yesterday from our now established thawing routine on the allotment but it was back to square one this morning. The surest way to kill poultry is to deprive them of water and we toiled for an hour using the age-old method of dropping ice-solid containers into a bucket of boiling water. It solved the chicken’s dilemma but did nothing for our blue digits. I should perhaps mention that Albert’s are black, the result of his once shaking hands with Lady Gaga and refusing to ever wash his mitts again. But the job is done and we are cheered by the forecast of above-freezing temperatures on Thursday. Everything is relative and after this ferret version of Ice Station Zebra, five degrees above will feel like the tropics.
One of our helpers this morning was retired GP Steven. Inevitably the topic as we thawed ourselves out in the shed was Andrew Lansley, the new disease afflicting the NHS as no other has ever managed to do. One of the first deeds of the new Health Secretary was to abolish waiting time targets. The view of Steven and his pals is that some targets were pointless and bureacratic but these were not amongst them. Demand huge efficiency cuts from hospitals and abolish their waiting time targets and guess what happens. Correct, the waiting times are already extending and thousands of patients are now facing the prospect of long waits to see a specialist. Things such as weekend ‘catch-up’ clinics have been dropped and the option of private treatment has crawled out from under the rock that was guaranteed waiting times. This is probably exactly what Lansley intended but what on earth is he trying to achieve with GP commissioning?
To Steven and several current GPs that I have spoken to ( as an ex PCT chairman I made many friends amongst the local GPs) the whole idea is a complete mystery. But today Lansley will announce the creation of the first 52 GP consortiums who will replace Primary Care Trusts and will assume control of commissioning. In other words they will decide how the £80 billion budget is to be allocated. According to the press releases millions of patients will take greater control of health care. How will they? In our patch none of the 130 GPs will be involved in the consortiums and no one seems to know who they will comprise. So how do their patients suddenly take control?
But the greatest mystery for all that Steven and I have spoken to is how the enormous unfairness of massive postcode medicne will be avoided. To an extent it has always been a bugbear but at least the Department of Health has co-ordinated the Primary Care Trusts. Left to their individual fancies the hundred or so eventual consortiums will opt for different priorities and the fate of some patients will vary accoridng to where they live. This cannot be right.
There is a suggestiuon that to avoid this, Lansley may impose a central body and encourage each consortium to recruit experts from the defunct Primary Care commissioners. But if he does that the poossibility of finishing back where he started is a real one.
The main medical authorities such as the BMA are refusing to have anything to do with the project which is therefore being driven by politicians supported by some GPs who prefer not to practice hands-on medicine plus a few who have an axe to grind. One suspects that the hidden agenda is to open the door to privatisation, something Patriciaa Hewitt played with with disastrous effects. But it won’t even achieve that. So far as anyone understands the revolutionary plan it will simply result in a giant mess and a situation similar to schools where people move home to be in a catchment area offering what they seek.
The NHS has made enormious progress over the past few decades but it had become choked with bureaucracy and red-tape. This needed treatment but what is happening is not treatment, it is slaughter. The one redemming feature is today claimed to be the transfer of power to patients. How will it do that? Greater minds than mine are completely bemused and simply cry it won’t!
I am rapidly coming to the view that the loner Lansley should carry a health warning on his rumpled coat!
WIKILEAK; WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON?
Various governments are now threatening all sorts of action against the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. It is inevitable that people around the world are wondering if the sudden appearance of charges of sexual assault on two women in Sweden is a co-incidence. Yesterday a district judge refused him bail
In truth we have no idea, but one thing is for sure. The Americans, who are the most strident in condemning the daily publication of embarrassing cables, are the people really responsible for this fiasco. A soldier was able to download thousnads of secret documents on to a Lady Gaga disc. Clearly the security in Washington is lax beyond belief. The people ultimately responsible are the American authorities.
The views of the website range from concern at the repression of information through to amazement that diplomats would be so stupid as to commit such nonsense to written form. And many abhor the activities of the website. But one common view prevails – the Americans should get their security act together!
ASHES; NOW COMES THE BACKLASH!
The Australian press is tearing Ricky Ponting to pieces in the aftermath of the thrashing by England. But it is hard to see what more he could have done with the bunch that he has, other than to score runs himself. Some Aussie papers are campaigning for the return of Shane Warne who still plays IPL cricket. That seems a retrograde step given that the wizard is 41. Certain it is that England would not be overjoyed since even at that age Warne is light years ahead of the present choices.
Looking back to my predictions I have to confess to gettimg most things wrong. My self understanding tells me that I should stick to the day job! I certainly didn’t expect to see Finn as the leading pace bowler with nine wickets after two Tests!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1 Argentina 2. Cyprus
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. On which island did Noel Coward die? 2. Which was Roger Moore’s first Bond film?
Today is my 240th blog in 240 days but today feels a bit special. The site has just recorded its 200,000′th hit. When I nervously set out on the task of writing a daily piece I vaguely imagined that I might eventually reach one tenth of that total. My interest lay in playing a part in building the web into a forum for discsssion on topical issues. Could an amateur make any impact with the big professionals commanding the attention of most surfers? It seems that it is possible.
I have to confess to disappointment on the discussion bit. Of the large number visiting the site only a handful have left a comment and most of those are know to me and my pals. Clearly many will disagree with my views and my dream was, and still is, to provide a total view, a debate. Will I go on to aim at 300,000? Yes – if the comments increase. If not I am less sure for it is a little like performing before an audience that may or may not be there. My greatest delight has come from the small number of comments I have received from those I don’t know and I have taken care not to publish their details unless they wish me to do so.
Several have asked about the allotment that features regularly, no great surprise since I have to visit it at least twice every day. Ours is a relatively small association but larger versions are springing up all over the country. My favourite book is ‘View from a Shed’ by Michael Wale. This was published in 2006. Michael spent many years living and working in London as a TV and radio presenter, and journalist. Four years or so ago he became involved in a fight to preserve allotment sites in west London. It was an experience that encouraged him to concentrate more on environmental issues in his journalistic work, moving away from his old speciality of sports-journalism. Now he spends time each day on his allotment which is ten minutes walk from where he lives in Shepherd’s Bush.
If you need convincing of the pleasure that involvement in an allotment association can bring you could do worse than get hold of Michael’s story. His book takes the reader on a tour of the seasons of an allotment world and introduces him or her to many of the characters that toil and harvest there. Like our humble version, Michaels’ has many who keep poultry or other animals and just sometimes, like us , their frustrations at the vagaries of the English climate show through.
What I am trying to do on this site goes well beyond the allotment. We live in a troubled world and often find ourselves at the mercy of politicians whose lack of trustworthiness can be infuriating. I comment on the daily twists and turns of fortune and try to incorporate the views of my pals. What I perhaps fail to reflect regularly enough is that there are a lot of good people out there. Yesterday a small congregation at a Unitarian chapel handed to me a cheque for £500 made out to the Rosemere Cancer Foundation, a charity dedicated to obtaining the latest equipment, to fight cancer, that is not readily available to the NHS. This gesture was the result of a lot of effort. Such people make life seem as good as the obscenely rich owners of football clubs make it bad.
Such stories deserve to be told, far more so than those of Blatter and all his devious works!
HOWS THIS FOR A GOOD TALE?
A travel agent had enjoyed a bumper week and, as he closed on Saturday, he spotted an elderly lady standing alongside an even older man, both looking enviously at a poster.
His delight at a week of high profit overwhelmed him and he called both woman and man in to the shop and presented them with a fabulous holiday for free. It was in the UK but involved a whole week in a five-star hotel in the Lakes.
A month later the elderly lady popped in to thank him for a fabulous holiday. “It was marvelllous” she reported, “just one thing puzzled me – who was the old man I had to share a room with?”
HOW STUPID CAN THEY GET?
A survey is due to be sent to 1 million households by TNT and it is sponsored by N-Power, Unilever, Talk Talk and others. It consists of a five page list of questions covering medical and financial details. Incredibly the ‘blurb’ asks people to leave the completed forms on the doorstep in an unsealed plastic envelope.
Neighbourhood Watch organisations have asked recipients not to comply. Clearly there is a risk of identity fraud or worse. Equally clearly the major companies in question are utterly stupid and irresponsible!
ASHES TEST; ENGLAND TRIUMPH!
News to warm the coldest heart! England achieved a massive and historic victory in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide. In winning, this England team achieved what no other England team has managed for 23 years whilst a series was still alive.
And this one is very much alive. Such was the superiority of England with both bat and ball it is hard to imagine other than a series win. Doubtless the Aussies will give it all they have got but have they the resources to beat what is increasingly looking like the strongest all-round England side for many decades.
Yes, we have to acknowledge that this Australian side is a mere shadow of the giants that for so long dominated the cricket world stage, but we shouldn’t allow that to detract from what was a very fine performance.
We needed some good news and by heck we have it!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Biba 2. Iran
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Where was Charles Lockwood captured in 1973? 2. Where was President Makarios re-elected?