Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister’
I never thought I’d live to report it, but this morning David Cameron received a unanimous round of applause on the allotments. A few days ago we scratched our ancient heads at his choice of the financial sector as the UK’s red-line for the EU negotiations. We still do, but what we hadn’t anticipated was his willingness to slug it out in the face of what amounted to bullying tactics by the Germans, French and almost every member of the EU. If this was a tabloid it would have Cameron asking ‘Just who do EU think we are?’. But it isn’t and I’ll content myself with admitting that he has surprised us all, not least those who saw him as a PR guru and little else.
Of course, given the attitude of his back-benchers, the Prime Minister had little alternative to doing what he did in demanding some return for his support, but a whole series of his predecessors have rolled over when ordered to do so by the EU big guns. He didn’t flinch and we all have seen pictures of the animosity shown by Sarkozy and others. Few of us will lay awake at the revelation that if we refuse to bend to their will, the French and Germans just won’t love us. One spokesman for the furious EU gang has said that we will face revenge. If my memory serves me well they have tried that before!
Apart from the sudden transformation of the Old Etonian into a David happy to take on the Goliaths, one new truth has dawned. Whilst it is difficult to forecast the future given that the problems of the Euro still look insurmountable, one thing is clear. In an attempt to win German financial support most of the other Euorpean countries are surrendering their sovereignty. The deal leaves Britain in splendid isolation and the time has surely come to ask ourselves just what are the benefits of being members.
Such Lib Demmers as still exist will insist that we gain from influence at the Brussels table. That has now gone and suddenly the ‘for’ column looks empty. Trade? Hardly since we currently buy more from Europe than we sell to it and, in any case, manufacturers on either side of the channel will never turn down orders. Indeed, the talk yesterday of the new EU bloc freezing out trade with China and the USA sounds like commercial suicide that we are well out of.
The ‘ against membership’ column looks a tall one. Our subscriptions exceed our recipts by a large margin, and our industry is handicapped by a mass of laws. Our island is over-populated and there is nothing we can do to prevent EU citizens pouring in. Our laws are repeatedly overridden by the European Court and our agricultural and fishing industries are at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats. Viewed objectively, rather than politically, it is hard to spot the advantages of staying in the EU that will now emerge.
For this gang of old codgers the most puzzling aspect of yesterday was the response of Ed Miliband. Clearly it is politically dangerous to shower your opponents with even faint praise, but his claim that Cameron has got it totally wrong automatically triggers the question as to what he would have done. So far we have heard nothing on that score and we are left wondering if he seriously believes that we could allow ourselves to become even more enmeshed in an authoritarian and undemocratic organisation that will progressively assume control for every sovereign nation’s affairs.
Inevitably today’s right-wing press is demanding a referendum. It is likely that Cameron would not be averse to that since being able to speak for the whole country would help him when he has to respond to the inevitable EU backlash. Little doubt about the nation’s verdict when asked whether we should remain in Europe, but it would spell the end of the coalition and, given the apparent view of the Labour Party, would trigger an election. At this very moment Mr Cameron is probably reflecting on the fact that Churchill took on external threats only to be dumped when the ballot boxes were wheeled out in 1946.
But would the Lib Dems and Labour seriously consider going to the country recommending that we sign up to a ’Merkozy’ regime? Do turkeys vote for Christmas?
IT’S TIME FOR YOUR FAVOURITE WEEKEND QUIZ!; 1. How many times did Joe Frazier fight Muhammad Ali? 2. What was designed and made in a variable form by Sikorsky in 1941? 3. The TV series ‘Spooks’ is about which organisation? 4. Who had hits with “One Night in Heaven” and “Moving on Up”? 5. Which “dog like” peninsula formed Canada’s tenth province in 1948? 6. What was Coco Chanel’s Christian name? 7. Quilp appears in a book about what kind of shop? 8. In which European country are the Pindus Mountains? 9. If a creature is demersal, where does it live? 10. In which county was the first Youth Custody Centre set up in 1908?
??????????? ANSWERS TOMORROW ??????????????
When I penned my recent piece on the death of democracy I underestimated the willingness of at least some MPs to stand up for it. In last night’s debate in the Commons on the need for a referendum on Europe, an impressive number of Conservative MPs made it clear that having been party to a promise to consult the people, they had no moral alternative than to vote for a national vote. Despite a three-line whip imposed by the prime minister, 82 voted for a referendum and a further 15 abstained. In all about half of all Conservative members, outside the “payroll vote” of ministers and their aides, defied Davd Cameron and the barrage of threats to which they had been subjected. Of course the motion was lost since Cameron can rely on his lapdog Lib Dem partners, and his dormant Labour opponents, to support him.
The point here is that the vote was not about leaving Europe, loosening our ties, or staying in. It was simply about the right of the people to express a view on an issue that impinges on every family in the land. If truth be told when, in the run-up to the election, Cameron pledged to force a referendum at the “earliest moment” he was of course indulging in the type of politics that has brought the art so low in the public view. The reality undoubtedly is that whilst he does have reservations about Brussels, he has even greater reservations about the concept of listening to public opinion. For different reasons Miliband feels much the same way.
One of the most dramatic moments of the debate came with the resignation of Philip Hollobone, an aide to David Lidington, the Europe Minister. He pointed out that the debate was the result of a public petition and said that supporting the referendum motion could help to “restore public confidence in politicians and Parliament”. He went on to say: “Heres our opportunity to show people that actually the system can work; that representative government does actually continue to function in the land where it was nurtured and developed; that patriotism, putting your country rather than your own interests first, is not foreign to this House”. He was followed by Stewart Jackson, another PPS, who also resigned, accusing Mr Cameron of “catastrophic mismanagement in terms of my party”. He in turn was followed by a large number of other Conservative MPs most of whom emphasised the importance of keeping promises conveyd by them to their constituents.
None of them were heard by the prime minister who left the House after giving his own version of things. He didnt have a good day. His analogy of helping a neighbour to put out a fire was ridiculous. Yes, one would do that but that doesnt imply that one would also allow the neighbour to impose countless rules on ones own household. But, as is often the case anything daft said by the king of spin was more than matched by Ed Miliband. He said that when the French President told the prime minister to shut up he was speaking for Britain. Mr Miliband clearly hasn’t spoken to many of what he terms ‘ordinary people’.
A new poll out today reveals that almost 75 per cent believe that the British people should have the opportunity to express a view on the EU. Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have shown total contempt for that view, clearly they hold a very low view of the people and of the democratic process.
I suspect that their view of us all is reciprocated. I thought I would never say this, but I admire the 97 Conservatives who at least demonstrated that not all MPs are simply ‘voting fodder’ and there is some point in electing representatives.
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We were all tickled by the window smashing episode at Lords, particulary the Newton’s law defying explanations as to how a glove took off under its own volition. It reminded us of an episode in our shed/meeting room. An argument developed about the amount of compost required and Albert did a Prior. Having hurled his cup through the window he claimed to have suffered a muscular twitch whilst listening to Lady Gaga. At least it was a little more imaginative than the ECB excuse! But most of our incredulity today was reserved for the speech made yesterday about the Lansley NHS reforms.
I think we can safely assume that Lansley will soon be gone forever, rather in the manner of Albert’s hearing aid which fell into the hen’s bran and was consumed. In that case we never learned the identity of the villian since about fifty hens were rampaging. In the case of Lansley we have less trouble in working out who ‘done him in’. It was clearly Nick Clegg who was lauded in this blog a week or so ago when he spelt out his demands. The list of changes announced by the prime minister yesterday matched the Clegg list precisely.
I am quite pleased in the sense that the plan to massacre the NHS has been flushed down the drain. But what we have now is a formula for a cock-up to beat them all. GPs will no longer be obliged to become commissioners which means that most of them will opt out. But how is commissioning to take place in areas where that happens? Monitor is to be deprived of the Lansley role of promoting the private sector and will instead revert to its previous role as a , er, monitor. Having been very involved with the London based organisation that does not inspire me, my impression always was that it couldn’t monitor a chip-shop. But the biggest change is the barmiest!
This involves replacing the GP commissioning groups with something called ‘Clinical Senates’. These will of course include GPs, but will also include nurses, hospital doctors and managers. Now that sounds familiar. It should because it is a Primary Care Trust (PCT) under another name. That is going to be an expensive business for Lansley has already abolished most of the PCTs and handsome redundancy packages have been the order of the day. Most of the talented managers have left and the professionals have drifted back to working full time on their clinical work. So we are now going to recreate PCTs and, presumably rehire hundreds of the very dear departed. And since David Cameron insisted that there is no timetable a la Lansley we could presumably face a year or so with no one in charge at all.
I can imagine that you may be thinking that I have nothing constructive to offer. If you check back you will find that I proposed the abolition of the PCTs, Health Authorites and Monitor with full responsibility being held by the Department of Health through small regional offices. It wasn’t my brainwave but that of two very senior D of H officials that I dined with whilst still a Trust Chairman. It would have saved a fortune and would have obviated postcode medicine.
Now we face utter chaos. Thanks to Blair the NHS is well used to that but it represents yet another opportunity wasted. Blair? Oh yes, he was the master of cock-ups. When, soon after his election, I went to see him with a party of GPs I came away impressed. Local hospitals were to be freed of red tape and obliged to focus on delivery of service. What he actually did was to introduce 400 targets and toothless Foundation Trusts. They involved elected governors who would represent the people. Sadly he took away their powers and gave them instead to Monitor. Enough said! He also, via Patricia Hewitt, attempted to transfer outpatient work to private companies. That was a fiasco.
A lot of good people in the NHS are breathing a sigh of relief this morning. Back to square one was how one consultant put it to me. Not quite, I suspect he and his colleagues should take a course in living with cock-ups for they are about to enter one capable of making Whitehall farces look serious!
TODAY’S NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ; TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE ON TV SITCOMS!
1. In whose home is “The Green Green Grass” set? 2. “Thirtysomething” was set in which US state? 3. Who did “Casualty’s” George play in “May to December”? 4. What were Private Godfrey’s sisters called in “Dad’s Army”? 5. Which bookie did Vince Pinner work for? 6. Who had a wife, daughter and mother-in-law who were witches? 7. In which real-life town was “Jam and Jerusalem” filmed? 8. Who sang the theme music for “You Rang M’Lord” with Bob Monkhouse? 9. What was Richard’s mother called in “To the Manor Born”? 10. Which lead character had the nickname Privet?
CONGRATS TO DAVE BALSHAW WHO SCORED 100% IN THE LAST (ANIMAL) QUIZ!
A howling gale, no sign of Albert’s missing hearing aid, and the great escape by four hens all combined to take the level of grumpiness to new heights this morning. Only the fact that Lady Gaga’s new recordings are due out tomorrow saved the day for the King of Grumps is addicted to the music from planet Mars. For the rest of us this afternoon’s Premiership play-offs offer some diversion although we fear the worst for our heroes from Blackpool.
On days like this the flak directed toward whoever happens to be in government is considerable, and it has to be said that there is considerable scope for ire. The problem with the British political system is that the prime minister is forced to select his ministerial team from elected MPs which makes the choice rather limited, given that most of them have never run anything more testing than a raffle. By my reckoning David Cameron is sitting on five dud eggs and he must yearn for the chance to have a clear-out. But a coalition presents real problems in this regard.
The other problem is that the prime minister decided at the outset to practice the art of delegation. As a former chief executive I could have warned him that this can be a dangerous practice. The theory, as expounded in a thousand management textbooks, is fine but it is based on the assumption that the entire team is comprised of geniuses in the making. Any team selected from a pack of carpet-baggers, PR twerps and good-for-nothings is likely to include some real buffoons in the making and the present cabinet certainly does.
Ken Clarke headed the list even before this week’s ludicrous statement on rape and the idea of slashing prison sentences at a time when over 60 per cent of the population believes that they are already too soft. Next comes Andrew Lansley whose handling of the NHS has reached the point where Number Ten has been obliged to take the project over. Chris Huhne is close behind, having followed up his attack on the government of which he is a part by lurching toward a major scandal involving an allegation that he asked his wife to take speeding points for him.
Uncle Vince Cable will certainly be on Cameron’s secret sacking list, having been caught talking on tape about using his “nuclear” option of resigning and then performing more U-turns than a Brands Hatch driver. And then there is the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, who triggered national uproar with her proposal to sell off the nation’s forests without even consulting her leader.
David Cameron likes to talk about the ‘Big Society’, about our all being in this together. He would be well advised to try an experiment. Why not bring in Ministers who are not politicians but who have proven expertise in their specialist fields. Of course the political classes would object, turkeys never vote for Christmas. But at least he could then lead in the way he desires, by setting objectives and letting ministers get on with implementation.
Had he, for example, appointed one of the really successful front-line executives in the NHS they would have come up with improvements but ones that are possible and make sense. In every field there are experts who have been there and done it, people like Lansley and the others have no knowledge, no experience and no residue of goodwill to call on.
Certain it is that a cabinet reshuffle is overdue. If Cameron persists with this bunch of idiots or nincompoops he has no chance of winning the next election. Of course, should he lose, the Opposition will take over and bring back from the dead their own no-hopers such as those who paid out millions to private companies for NHS work that they didn’t perform. Unless someone breaks this ludicrous vicious circle we will continue to be the world’s greatest example of incompetence in motion.
I believe that Cameron has it in him to try something new along these lines. The worry would be that, given his penchant for delegation, he might invite Nick Clegg to organise it. Frying pans and fires come to mind!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. Groove between nose and lip 2. 1940s 3. Architecture 4. Joseph Black 5. Benjamin Britten 6. Ian Woosnam 7. Russia 8. Family Plot 9. Sri Lanka 10. Flushing Meadow, New York
Our first task this morning was to find a number of roofing panels that were blown off during the night. It was as if someone up there decided that we were allowed good weather for the big event, and should now be reminded that the British climate is not to be trusted. Having done that, we left Bob to perform his usual wonders with a screwdriver and spent a blustery hour digging trenches in readiness for the latest burial of chicken output. And it seems that we are not alone in doing a bit of burying. Yesterday the government decided to release some devastating news about the NHS in the certain knowledge that the media would have other things on its collective mind.
Monitor, the quango set up by the coalition to oversee all Foundation Hospitals ( a status planned for every hospital that survives the Lansley reforms), announced that each unit must face funding cuts of 7%, something of a change from all the talk of NHS funding being ‘ring-fenced’). Very few of the large hospitals have any ‘fat’ left after endless imposed ‘efficiency targets’ and several have already made clear their plans to cut services and extend waiting lists. This is a serious development but the spin-doctors got it right, no one noticed the press release on a day when William and Kate entranced us all.
And there was another piece of unwelcome news for David Cameron, which again won only small mention on a day when we were looking the other way. Remember Cameron’s ‘keep calm dear’ remark to Angela Eagle? She was attempting to claim that the story he was telling about a GP who fiercely supported the plan to transfer all commissiong to GP practices, was untrue. This one GP, he inferred, knew far more than the Royal College which universally condemned the idea. The prime minister appeared to be reading from a letter from a Dr Howard Stoate and those of us who know well the workings of the health service were impressed that he had managed to find even one GP prepared to speak out aginst his colleagues in such a forceful way.
It now transpires that the greatest PR man of them all read only selected extracts of Dr Stoate’s letter! The Doctor, and former MP for Dartford, has published a statement. “Doctors do not glibly accept every aspect of the health bill”, he says. He goes on to say that the prime minister was guilty of taking his remarks out of context and stating a conclusion that was “entirely misleading”. He concludes by demanding that “Cameron should stop using the health service as a political football”.
So the news that was buried on the nation’s day of celebration is very bad news indeed. It tells us that the NHS cuts are real and are about to prove very damaging. And it tells us that rather than staging a listening exercise, Cameron and Lansley are being extremely economical with the truth.
As I have remarked before, the view of many senior clinicians is that the NHS is being thrown into a tailspin from which it cannot recover. For once I find myself in agreement with Alistair Campbell when he says that ; “the plans are not thought through, not popular with those who run the NHS or use it, and politically toxic, not least because they have no mandate for them”.
The whole episode reinforced my feelings of yesterday about the importance of the Monarchy. As I wrote then, it seems to me that the Royals have one advantage over any politican of today. They are honest. Meantime we should prepare for the death of the NHS!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; COMMUNICATION “I climbed a mountain and hollered, ‘Hellooo!’. A voice came back, ‘The echo is busy at the moment. Leave a message at the beep, and we’ll get back to you”…….Eddie Izzard “Mobile phones are the only subject on which men boast about who’s got the smallest”….Neil Kinnock “When I’m on a train and someone starts to bellow into their mobile phone I shout, ‘Quiet! I’m trying to travel”……Maureen Lipman “The concept behind the mobile phone is that you have absolutely nothing to say and you’ve got to talk to someone about it right now”…….Jerry Seinfeld “The cell phone people say there’s absolutely no danger from cell phone rdaiation. Boy, it didn’t tak ethose tobacco executives long to find new jobs, did it?”……..Bill Maher
ANSWERS TO THURSDAY’S QUIZ; 1. George Lucas 2. For her sculpture.
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. In which year did President Nasser die? 2. How did the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima die?
Despite the mild weather the football fans amongst our allotment gang seemed slightly uneasy this morning. On the one hand they all want their team to succeed but the price of doing so has just risen to ludicrous levels. Torres was deemed to be worth three times the amount that the coalition wish to save by selling off our forests and even a new boy on the block from Newcastle is apparently worth twice the saving. Express those amounts in policemen or nurses and you have the final proof that our society has lost all sense of values. Of course the money is being provided by cash-rich tycoons from abroad but it still leaves a nasty taste. No doubt the seemingly benevolent will hike up admission charges again for next season, so the fans will ultimately pay if they still have jobs to provide the readies.
Who knows, we may be heading for foreign ownership of the NHS once the overseas speculators tire of playing with Premiership football clubs. If the prestigious Lancet is to be believed the NHS is heading for an inglorious end so anything is possible. The Lancet is THE organ of the medical profession and is not given to hyperbole. It’s editorial is therefore worrying in the extreme. It predicts the end of the NHS and goes on to say that “for the Tories to call themselves the party of the NHS was a commitment that seems particularly hollow now”.
Yesterday the results of a survey carried out by the Royal College of General Practitioners were published. 1800 GPs took part and a clear majority said they were concerned the reforms would not improve patient care. Chair of the College, Clare Gerada, said that GPs are worried about the pace at which the reforms are being implemented, the danger of fragmentation of services, and the great emphasis on competition. She added “GPs fear that these reforms could cause irreparable and irreversible damage to the NHS”.
Having been involved as a Chair of both a Primary Care Trust and an acute hospiotal I had already realised that to make such drastic changes at the same time as imposing cuts of £20 billion will inevitably lead to chaos. Yesterday I learned that the government’s bill incredibly includes a payment from the NHS budget to private sector providers. For each billion contracted out, the NHS must pay a ‘subsidy’ of £140 million. The logic here escapes me, it is a further blatant example of the Cameron/Lansley determination to privatise services.
As I have commented before this will lead to cherry picking with the NHS hospitals left to provide acute services from a limited number of hospitals.Expect whiolesale closures, expect postcode medicine the like of which we have never seen before, expect waiting times to double, expect already overworked GPs to simply delegate commissioning back to the PCTs wearing a different hat.
Perhaps the most telling judgement of all came yesterday from a member of the health select committee, Andrew George. Mr George is a leading Lib Dem MP. He told the BBC that “most of the informed and authoritative commentators on this all agree this may result in a race to the bottom, and it certainly will. And I think it will compromise quality of treatment too”
Can everyone, including members of the coaltion, be so wrong. I think not. David Cameron remarked that even his brother-in-law (a doctor ) is apprehensive. We should all be, for on the rare occasions when the Lancet has taken up a position, it has always been proved right.
When every member of a family is in good health it is easy to laugh at the antics of someone like Andrew Lansley. But to current users the man is a walking nightmare. We should perhaps remember that there will inevitably be a time when the whole family is not well!. By then it may be too late and right now we have to decide whether we trust the professionals or Cameron/Lansley. Easy choice really isn’t it?
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; ” A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”…Florynce Kennedy ” Ask a woman how she feels and she will tell you all about every relationship she’s ever been in. Ask a man and he’ll tell you he feels like a pizza”….Diana Ford ” A man has to be Adolph Hitler to be called ruthless. All a woman has to do is put you on hold”….Marlo Thomas ” Feminism is a wonderful idea – until the car goes wrong”..Nicola Zweig ” The Woman’s Movement would be a lot more successful if men were running it”……. Alan Clark “In Newcastle being gay means ’owns a coat’ “….Jimmy Carr “Do men who like to dress up as women find that they can no longer parallel park?”…Roseanne “Its better to be black than gay because when you’re black you don’t have to tell your mother”….Charles Pierce “Most women are attracted to the simple things in life. Like men”….Sophia Loren ” Remember if you smoke after sex, you’re doing it too fast”….Woody Allen ” My wife and I were happy for twenty years, and then we met”….Rodney Dangerfield
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1.Michael Crawford 2. Last of the Summer Wine
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Where was Gough Whitlam once prime minister? 2. What organisation did the Rev ‘Tubby’ Clayton (died in 1972) found?
Different things mean different things to different people. Other than those with small children few ever give play-pit sand a second thought, but to we chicken-keepers it represents the difference between a series of enclosed swamps and nine versions of Blackpool beach. All we need now is a donkey and we could transport ourselves back to those long-gone wakes weeks when we spent seven days sitting under our brollies waiting for the rain to stop. They are memories enriched by the passing of time, the reality was less sanquine. I certainly remember an awful lot of back-biting, what else was there to do but be spiteful?
Of course politicians do not need boredom to drive them to character assassination. To them it is a non-stop activity. Any visit to the Westminster tea rooms is guaranteed to provide you with an hour or so of carping about the ministers of the day, indeed both Blair and Brown employed Mandelson as a constant look-out for anything more threatening than the habitual moaning. It didn’t always work because I know from experienec that his silky arrival invariably caused a sudden change in the topic.
But the rumbles suddenly building up against David Cameron are potentially more damaging. He isn’t well-liked amongst most Tory MPs but now they are beginning to gang up and there are a number of leading party members who are sharpening the axe, none more so that the renowned Chingford bruiser, Norman Tebbitt.
Cameron could be forgiven for feeling that he is between the proverbial rock and hard place. On the one hand he must do every possible to prop up Nick Clegg for were the Lib Dem rebel MPs to finally walk away the coalition would collapse. On the other, he needs to keep his own MPs on board and many of them dislike the Lib Dems more than they do the Labour opposition, for it is they who are watering down so many long-cherished Tory reforms. And it is they who are keeping Cameron wedded to their pet hate, Brussels.
The Oldham byelection has proved, surprisingly, to be the match that lit the fire of discontent with the leadership. Cameron made it clear that every effort should be made to secure a Lib Dem victory, or at least avoid the humiliation of their coming third. To this end he vetoed any real canvassing effort on behalf of his own candidate and spoke well of the Lib Dem candidate. His nightmare was the thought of Clegg’s men coming third, but worse still behind the Conservative candidate. By way of a cover-up he made a visit to the campaign but observers were quick to reveal that he gave low profile a whole new meaning.
And it worked. But the problem is that most of his backbenchers are aghast. And they have strong support. Yesterday Lord Tebbitt didn’t beat about the bush. He blasted Cameron and called the result “dreadful”. He said that “this was a very good result for Labour and Ed Miliband – and better than expected for the Liberal Democrats. It was a dreadful night for the Conservatives. Mr Cameron may be pleased that his decision to run a half-hearted campaign and offer good wishes to their candidate helped save the Liberals but Conservatives should be downcast. The Liberals fought an excellent campaign with the help of Mr Cameron!”. Strong stuff.
It wasn’t long before others took Norman’s lead. MP Douglas Carswell said that the Tory candidate Kadshif Ali was “let down” by the leadership. MEP Roger Helmer said that many Conservatives were in despair and not just because of Oldham. “Clarke’s justice policies, our decision to decimate our armed forces while they’e still fighting and dying in Afghanistan are bad enough but we’re handing new powers to Brussels faster than Labour did and we’re not fit to call ouselves Conservatives” is far from Mr Helmer’s full rant but they convey the overall sentiment.
As yesterday wore on more and more leading Conservatives weighed in. When party chairman Baroness Warsi attempted a Cameron defence she was branded “Baroness Bonkers” both inside and outside the tea rooms.
To me at least the prime mimister had little option than to prop up his increasingly unpopular Lib Dem partners. But the post mortem shows just how delicate is the path he has to tread. He gives the impression of smooth invulnerability but he should surely beware. Even the Iron Lady eventually fell foul to the men in suits and when it comes to back-stabbing the Conservatives party has no equal. And that is no new phenomina. In 1845 Disraeli said that a Conservative government was “an organised hypocrisy…so much do the ideas of its head differ from the sensations of its tail”. Tuck that piece from the great man into your self understanding prime minister!
How should he play it? I haven’t a clue but it does seem to me that he may have to do more than pay lip-service to his party’s candidates in the next byelections not to mention the local elections in May!
MURDOCH’ BID TO DOMINATE THE BEEB INTENSIFIES!
The government was prepared to let the 2018 soccer World Cup be shown on Sky TV instead of free on the BBC and ITV, it was revealed yesterday. A report by the magazine ‘Broadcast’ revealed that at the request of Fifa, England’s failed bid contained a promise to give pay-TV companies like BSkyB first chance to bid. Neither the BBC or ITv were aware of the secret clause.
As each week passes it becomes ever more obvious that a lot of senior ministers are in Mr Murdoch’s pockets. And that includes not only his friends Messrs Cameron and Hunt but also the outgoing prime minster, who apparently agreed the original World Cup bid draft.
Polls suggest that most people wish to see the BBC preserved , indeed many cannot afford the high costs of pay-to-view. It is therefore entirely wrong for any member of the cabinet to make the irreversable decision rapidly approaching about the further expansion of Mr Murdoch’s empire.
The only way to ensure that the people feel that a fair and proper ruling is arrived at is to appoint a Judge. The judiciary after all is just about the only institution still trusted by most of the population.
IMMORTAL SOCCER QUOTES; Bill Shankly; “You say Tony Hateley’s .good in the air. So was Douglas Bader and he also had two wooden legs”. Joe O’Conner; “Football and sex are utterly different. One involves sensuality, passion, emotion, rushes of breathtaking ecstatic excitement followed by toe-curling orgasmic pleasure. The other is sex”
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. John LLoyd 2. Glenda Jackson
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What caused the death of Lord Mountbatten in 1979? 2. Of which country was Raymond Barre once premier?
Many people will empathise with David Cameron over the loss of his father for many have endured the same experience, the same numbing sense of loss. Ian Cameron, 77 ,died whilst on holiday in France where he suffered a stroke with heart complications. Sometimes the good we speak of others comes only after their death, almost as if by afterthought. But the prime minister has spoken many times of his Dad, a source of inspiration to him. This was easy to understand for Ian Cameron had overcome severe physical disabilities and proved time and again that if the spirit is willing anything is possible.
It won’t feel that way right now but David Cameron has much to be thankful for in the life of his father and the relationship he enjoyed with him. I know because my dad died when I was a small boy and throughout my life I have mourned the absence of a best male mate of my own blood. It of course doesn’t follow that being older necessarily makes the father wiser but it is not wisdom or advice that one misses, it is the feeling that when things get tough there is someone in the trench with you.
The most bizarre thing about such an early loss is that the departed remains in the mind as if frozen in time. From the little bit I can remember my Dad made shoes, was a ‘Jack-the-lad’, enjoyed a drink and regularly fell foul of football referees. And that’s it. I sometimes have to remind myself that if he had lived he would by now be gone, but the obvious fact never removes the image of a young chap nor does it end the speculation as to what sort of chap he really was or would become with maturity.
My Dad vanished – that is how as a boy I interpreted it – during World War 2 and for a time I clung to the friendship of evacuees who were billeted with us. By the time they had gone and we celebrated VE Day I was regularly reminded that I was now ‘the man of the house’. Before I had so much as a chance to become the happy-go-lucky teenager, I was a decorator, gardener and sole male presence all rolled into one. I suspect that my Mum compensated as best she could by heaping praise for my ability to do what Dad would have done and she probably never realised that that was not what I wanted. I wanted a ‘boss’, someone who would moan to me about the DIY chores and occasionally browbeat me into helping. But I had no wish for the premature responsibility.
You may disagree with this, and you may have good reason to do so, but I have always felt that a sound relationship with a Dad is every bit as important as with a Mum. The roles of the two parents are, it seems to me, quite different. When a friend recently lost his Mum he commented that he had lost his best friend, one who, had he committed some horrendous crime, would have believed whatever the evidence, that it was all ‘their fault’. I can certainly identify with this but it must surely be good to also have the counter-balance of a man who could well be less tolerant yet more imposing in steering a course for the potentially wayward. And, dare I say it, someone to wander down to the pub with and chat over the male angle to life.
One of my older friends at the allotment shed told me one day that he has no fear of his own demise since it will mean that he will once again see his Dad, his best mate. I would love to enjoy such a simple faith but it eludes me. But even if it didn’t, it would be hard to look forward to gazing on a face that has never been in clear focus. I have always placed reliance on self understanding but it helps me little on this. I simply know that though I am now an old man I still miss at least the memory of a male role-model, be it a good or bad one.
Because of our age many members of our group have lost parents as now has David Cameron. Not all have had reason to admire their Dad in the way that he rightly did. But they all have memories that, be they good or bad, I would give all I have to own. I guess the moral of all this is summed up in that old verse about treasuring whilst he is there followed by the poignant reference to the now empty chair.
In 1950 the poet Robert Lowell in ‘Middle Age’ wrote ” At 45, what next, what next? At every corner I meet my father, my age, still alive”. I sense his meaning and I envy those who can identify with it.
A V-SIGN TO US ALL FROM BARCLAYS !
Something of the old Vince Cable emerged yesterday when he launched an attack on the news of the appointment of Bob Diamond as chief executive of Barclays Bank. The Business Secretary said that the choice has heightened Government concerns over the ‘casino’ activities of banks. The controversial promotion ‘illustrated’ his concerns over retail banks having speculative investment divisions. For that is where Mr Diamond has made his large personal fortune, a career that led Peter Mandelson to describe him as ‘the unacceptable face of banking’.
I have been a Barclay’s customer for over forty years and the move came as no surprise to me particularly since the bank did not require taxpayerrs funding during the near collapse of the financial sector. But it has long shown scant concern for either its customers or branch staff. Mr Diamond stands to pocket up to £63 million in his new role. But his staff are poorly rewarded. His customers are treated even more badly, the bank has recently announced a reduction to the interest rates for its highly-promoted ISAs which from November 1st will pay only 2.23%.
It is regularly claimed that we are all in this crisis together. If you believe that you will believe anything!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Boston 2. Evonne Goolagong
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. James Chichester-Clark resigned in 1971. What position had he held? 2. In 1979 Warren Mitchell played the part of Willy Loman in which Arthur Miller play?
Almost every member of our allotment shed has experienced the mixed emotions that accompany every new arrival. It is truly a time of wonder, a moment that remains frozen in the memory. What experiences will this tiny mite have in a world that it will hopefully be living in long after we, who created it, are gone? We take our pictures or films to record a time that he or her will never remember unaided and pray that one day this tiny bundle will look at a faded print and say that we did our best for it. Perhaps sentiments of a similar kind are in the minds of the Camerons right now and we all send them our congratulations and good wishes.
It has to be said that David Cameron comes across on TV as a decent sort of bloke. He and Samantha deserve their blessing for, like two of our members, they have suffered a grievous loss. My pals liken the death of a child to a devastating feeling of empty hopelessness, one that turns to anger, one that cries why us. The lost soul cannot be replaced but the consolation of other offspring helps to provide comfort in the dark night of the soul. And soon the new parents will move from wonder to the forebodings that every parent feels. What do we wish for our new love above all else they ask. Usually the answer is peace, health and prosperity, or words to that effect.
David Cameron and his wife didn’t have priviledged service, their big moment came in the same way as it does for the rest of us. But in one respect they are fortunate. We all make our wishes and dream our dreams but as Prime Minister he has the chance to at least apply some influence to the society that their children will inherit. Hopefully he will seize the opportunity. Everyone does not share his political convictions but he seems a good man in the truest sense of the word. Unfortunately he is surrounded by what looks very much like the cast from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and he will need to keep a very close eye on the direction in which some of them seem to be heading.
Peace is usually our first wish. Of course we pray for peace of mind but in today’s world that quickly embraces security and freedom from violence. And here lies the first issue our new Dad must watch. His ministers are understandably preparing to cut the defence budget and given that we are never likely to be so foolish as to embark on another Iraq-like crusade it may well be right to reduce our army. But military experts are appalled at the plan to slash the strength of the RAF to its lowest ever level. If these islands are seriously threatened in future years the great will undoubtedly come through our air space. Fail to protect this and we will be at the mercy of madmen.
And what of health? The Camerons already knew of the excellent response of the NHS when emergencies occur and now they have experienced it again. I am sure that the last thing the Prime Minister wants is to see our most important service decimated but that is exactly what the ravings of Andrew Lansley will bring about if he is not restrained and his ad-hoc ideas clearly analysed and tested. Yes there is an ideological argument to had but the plan already underway is based on timings so ambitious that the only outcome can be total chaos. Yes the stifling bureaucracy introduced by the last government had to be cut but the fact that Primary Care Trusts are already proceeding with mass redundancies, long before anyone has worked out how GPs will take over their roles, is dangerous in the extreme. Experts with no political agenda are openly forecasting the collapse of the whole NHS infrastructure and no parent, Prime Minister or otherwise, should be willing to risk that.
And then comes prosperity. The way in which the present crisis is handled will have a huge bearing on decades to come. Of course there is still a big debate to be had about the rate of cuts but an even bigger one is needed about the role of the Banking sector which caused the worldwide calamity and shows neither remorse nor prudence even now. Perhaps greater than either of these factors is public acceptance of what has to be faced. And today’s papers, even those of right-wing persuasion, carry headlines featuring findings by eminent financial analysts showing that the Osborne budget punishes the poor out of all proportion. If Churchill left us any legacy worth carving in tablets of stone it is that the solution to any crisis can only be found if everyone feels fairly treated and valued.
But right now the Cameron family will be preoccupied with more mundane matters, indeed pleasures. He doesn’t strike us as someone afraid of nappies or disturbed sleep and the best advice we can perhaps give is to quote from philosopher and king of self understanding, George Santayana, who said in his Sililoquies in England of 1922 that “there is no cure for birth or death save to enjoy the interval”. May the new baby have a very long interval and may his Dad save us all from the fools that surround him in his work.
THE MOUNTAIN OF JUNK MAIL CLIMBS AND CLIMBS!
Do you seem to be receiving more and more junk mail? I do. This morning I received a letter from a company called ‘Global Prize Centre’ which asks me if I am available to come to Australia on 7th October 2010. The ‘urgent prize notice’ provides the news that I have a potential $4,000,000.00 to collect.
It is only after careful study I noticed the words ‘if you are announced the winner’. In other words I am one of zillions. Hopefully they will all decide not to subject British Airways to the sort of boom that invariably leads to a series of strikes!
O.D.E IS GOING CRACKERS!
The latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English suggests that the once ultra-conservative organ is heading in the opposite direction at a rapid rate of knots. One of the new words to be incorporated is vuvuzela which for the unitiated is the apian drone that almost destroyed our enjoyment of the football world cup before our inept players managed it anyway. Heaven forbid that it should come to cricket!
Surely time should be allowed to cover the possibility that the noun will fizzle out which ,in this case, I sincerely hope it does!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1 Art Garfunkel 2. Agony
TODAYS QUESTIONS; 1.In which 1970 race did Intrepid beat Gretel? 2. In which sport did David Wilkie of Great Britain set a world record in 1973?
On Friday, quiet crowds watched as Vera Lynn joined veterans who flew in the Battle of Britain some seventy years ago. Robert Hardy read that famous Churchill speech to Parliament on August 20th 1940 when he declared that ‘never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few’. The fortitude and courage of the RAF pilots was indeed remarkable and without doubt saved this country from invasion. But many of us imagine that it was as simple as that. History tells us otherwise.
There was more to Churchill’s speech than the need to pay tribute to valiant men, sincere though that was. After the fall of France the new Prime Minister was under immense and potentially overwhelming political pressure from Halifax and other leading members of the Cabinet to sue for peace with Hitler, possibibly using Mussolini as a go-between. The only way in which Churchill could avoid a defeat in the House was through the masses. By the sheer power of his oratory he succeeded in creating a national resistance to ‘appeasers’. He promised nothing but blood, sweat and tears but convinced the nation that death was better than any form of surrender.
There were no tales of advancing troops or victories at sea to inspire the people and the isolated Prime Minister, who did not even enjoy the unanimous support of his military chiefs, set out to create an air of invincibility around these islands. He knew that Hitler was preparing for invasion and that the British defences were inadequate but he also knew that any invasion across the English Channel could only be undertaken if Germany had mastery of the air. We now know from German archived material that Hitler had agreed that the destruction of the RAF had to be achieved before the vast armies being assembled along the French coasts could be launched. Hitler told Admiral Raeder on July 31 that” if after eight days of intensive air war the Lufwaffe has not achieved considerable destruction of the enemy’s Air Force …the operation will have to be put off till May 1941″.
By August the Luftwaffe had gathered 2,669 operational aircraft including 1,015 bombers, 346 dive-bombers, 933 fighters and 357 heavy fighters. The Fuehrer’s Directive No 17 authorised the intensified air war against England on August 5th. The German Naval Chiefs began to despair as the weeks rolled by for it was becoming claer that Goering had almost abandoned the invasion ‘Sea Lion’ and was instead focused solely on the British airfields leaving sections of the RAF to continue to attack and frustrate the assembling invasion force.
The early attacks were centered mainly on the Kent promontory and the Channel coast. So intense was the fighting as the British Fighter Command ‘scrambled’ time and again that Goering and his advisers concluded that the RAF was now down to a minimal force in terms of man and machines. To test this theory they launched on August 15th a daylight raid on the manufacturing cities north of the Wash. A hundred bombers and forty Me.110s headed for Tyneside at the same time as a raid involving more than eight hundred planes was launched with the aim of pinning down what remained of the RAF. What they didn’t know was that Seven Hurricane/Spitfire squadrons had been held back in the North. Of the hundred bombers headed for Tyneside thirty were shot down and many others damaged. In the South five major actions were fought and seventy-six German planes failed to return. It was to prove the biggest day of fighting and records show that the German high-command was devastated.
But the attacks on southern airfields continued and the exhausted British pilots, some now with little flying experience, continued to take a heavy toll. To German eyes the RAF was growing stronger, the reality was different. Spetember 15th is generally accepted as the day on which Goering advised Hitler that the battle for air supremcy was lost. On this day Churchill visited Uxbridge and watched the build up of enemy planes being shown in the control room. In his War Diaries he recalls that signals of ’40 plus’, ’60 plus’ and ’80 plus’ led to instructions to ‘scramble’ one squadron after another.
Eventually Churchill turned to the controller and asked “What other reserves have we?”. The answer was “none sir, that is all we have left”. The valiant Fighter Command was on the ropes. From now on its ability to fight back would diminish rapidly. But that very day Goering proposed the indefinite postponement of ‘Sea Lion’ and the switch to bombing of London in an attempt to break the spirit of the British people. The next day the bombs rained down on London. Air Vice Marshall Keith Park later wrote that “London was ablaze and I said thank God for that. It was a horrid sight but the RAF bases were saved”
If the German understanding of the real state of the RAF on September 15th had been accurate the outcome of what we call The Battle of Britain might have been different. Britain was alone and contrary to popular belief there was an overwhelming opposition in the United States to any form of help. As at the earlier time of Dunkirk we were saved by the belief on the part of the enemy that we were much stronger than we actually were, a belief fuelled by the rhetoric of the greatest wartime leader these Islands ever had.
None of which detracts in any way from the overwhelming fact that a numerically overwhelmed Fighter Command achieved a super-human miracle of fearless defiance and bravery the like of which has seldom been encountered in the annals of history. My self understanding tells me that, although an RAF man, I would never have had their courage. During the period of the ‘battle’ no fewer than 779 British planes were lost. Indeed, we should remember them!
THE SCANDAL OF OUR DEMENTIA SERVICES
Yesterday I met John Walsh, the author of ‘Who will Sing the Old Songs?’. He told me that he has recently met David Cameron who was moved by the story that John felt compelled to tell. And well he might be for here is a terrible indictment of the Britain of today, one that seems content to leave the most vulnerable people in society with no help, no services and conditions inferior to those operating in our prisons.
There are almost a million people living with dementia in Britain and the bad news is that number will double over the next twenty years. Virtually no funds are availble and the service is bordering on disgraceful, uncaring and inhuman.
John’s story should shock us all. His parents had been happily married for sixty years when suddenly, without warning, dementia exploded into, and ruined, their lives. Eighteen months of social services, doctors, hospitals, care homes and utter frustration followed. John was horrified by what happened to his parents, shocked by the lack of support and by a system where pensioners are forced to sell their homes to fund extremely poor standards of care whilst young men who have never worked a day in their lives stand happily at the bar drinking their way through hundreds of pounds of benefits.
Once I have read the book in detail I shall return to the subject for it is the greatest indictment of those who have supposedly run this country. Their uncaring neglect deserves nothing but contempt.
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Muhammad Ali 2. West Indies
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1.Whose 1971 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream became legendary? 2. Which former model appeared in a 1971 film of The Boyfriend?
My old Gran always told me to see the best in everyone and to leave judgement to God and whenever the conversation around the allotment shed turns to Tony Blair I do my best. But it ain’t easy! The greatest damage to his reputation occurred at the time of the illegal (I quote the deputy Prime Minister) invasion of Iraq. It was arguably one of the most shameful episodes in Britain’s recent history and to say that the then Prime Minister and his colleagues were economical with the truth is an understatement of monumental proportions. But at least we are giving Iraq its freedom was the feeble last cry of the apologists surrounding Blair as they scuttled for cover.
Sadly that one possible mitigating factor has vanished together with the supposed weapons of mass destruction. Yesterday came news of the last US combat troops pulling out after a war longer than the titanic Second World War and the fact that the convoys had to do so under a veil of secrecy and a massive sweep for roadside bombs says it all, not to mention the massive slaughter of 59 men two days previous when terrorists were able to attack a queue for enrolment in the new Iraqi army. Iraq is now almost back to the brutality of Saddam Hussein.
July was the bloodiest month in more than two years, with 535 civilians reported killed and the Iraqi army’s chief of staff Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari said only this week that his forces will not be ready to take control of security until 2020, in other words he doesn’t believe that they ever will. No surprise there for the Iraqi army is split between sectarians and the corrupt and there is still no firm government months after the much lauded ‘democratic’ elections.
So the end of term report on Mr Blair’s great deception has to be that nothing has been achieved, thousands of families have been destroyed and the UK is now at much greater risk of terrorist attacks. Perhaps we can find some other mitigation in the way that our late leader gracefully ended his parliamentary career. Sadly no. In fact, unlike most former Prime Ministers he simply shot off.
In his splendid book ‘The 50 people who buggared up Britain’, which has become a sort of bible in the allotment shed, Quenton Letts describes what happened. It was 28 June 2007 at 10.34 am when an announcement was made to a near empty Commons that the Rt Hon Member for Sedgefield had accepted the office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham. In other words the man was off, pronto, no looking back.
The archaic stewardship of the Chiltern Hundeds is one of the limited number of emergency exits from the Commons. Chitern Hundred’s stewards may not also be MPs so at the first chance Blair had done something unmatched by his recent predecssors, he had suddenly given up on his parliamentary obligations. John Major, Margaret Thatcher, Jim Callaghan, Ted Heath and Harold Wilson all remained to see out their obligations to their constituencies, indeed Heath stayed so long that he became ‘Father of the House’.
Quenton points out that only back in 2005 the electors of Sedgefield had voted for Blair in the expectation that he would be their MP for a full parliament. He dumped them just as he dumped Labour Party supporters nationally who had thought he would serve a full third term. And why? Had he remained an MP he would have been obliged to declare his outside earnings ( £7 million and rising), his interests, patrons, freebies secured by him or his wife. And there would have been the tiresome business of having to hold local surgeries and attend to his constituents needs. C’mon guys, I’ve been Prime Minister fercrissake. Why would I want to hang around for years helping poor people with their pathetic problems and their pathetic lives when I’ve got the chance of an international role thanks to my friend George W Bush no less?
Oh dear! It seems that even our one-time-hero’s departure was not particularly praiseworthy. It all leaves us wondering whether back in those heady days of ‘New’ Labour a brilliant actor fooled us all or whether somewhere along the track he became intoxicated with power and fell from grace. Only his self understanding can decide and he does genuinely seem to believe that he was right. It isn’t much in the way of mitigation but it is the best I can manage dear Gran!
LITTLE REWARD FOR HARD GRAFT!
A-level pass rates are up again and despite what the cynics choose to say that is the result of thousands of kids being prepared to study a darned sight harder that my generation did. Sadly the effect of the draconian approach of the coalition to the economic recovery means that many of them will struggle to gain a place at University. So what is to be their reward for a huge effort followed by triumph?
According to Edcucation Minister David Willets they should settle for voluntary work. he says he will enhance their CVs. He quotes as an example volunteering to look after the sick which would stand them in good stead should they ever have the chance to study to be doctors.
Much though I admire the successful school-leavers I am not enamoured with the thought of their looking after me when I finally succumb but given what the government is proposing for the NHS it may be the only option in town. But what are they going to live on?
Perhaps that small detail has escaped Mr Willets who seems to have become infected by the Nick Clegg habit of saying the first thing that comes into his head.
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Organisation of American States 2. Laos
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who was the young actor who appeared in Porridge and Rising Damp and died young in 1979? 2. What was the title of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book about the Soviet slave labour camps?
Mark Borkowski, a leading public relations expert was quick to give us what sounds the perfect summary of Tony Blair’s sudden largesse. It was, declares Mr Borkowski in this morning’s papers, ” a stroke of PR genius-probably the best PR stunt I have seen all year”. The expert goes on to describe Tony Blair’s ‘brand’ as a toxic one but offers a crumb of comfort to the former Prime Mimister who will be pleased to know that the move will ‘deflect a certain amount of criticism, it is a genius move”.
The fact that the only sort-of-praise to appear amongst the early reactions to the announcement of Blair’s gift to the Royal British Legion comes from a practitioner in the dubious art of public relations says it all. It is hard to imagine that this is other than an attempt to repair a damaged reputation, it is equally hard to imagine that it will succeed, history will surely conclude that the God-fearing Mr Blair mislead a nation in pursuit of international glory and caused the death of vast numbers in a futile war.
Some grieving relatives have suggested that the Legion should refuse the gift of the outcome of Mr Blair’s forthcoming memoirs but this seems illogical. The charity should surely accept money from the Devil himself since its sole aim is to help those wounded in the war who now face a desperate future. There seems to be great confusion as to how much it will actually receive in this case, as with everything that the late Prime Minister does there are many unanswered questions. Does the donation include the advances paid? Is it free of tax? What are the tax benefits to the donor? The list goes on but the simple fact remains that the important fund needs every penny that it can get to offset the lack of adequate support for heroes from government.
Of course Mr Blair is hardly making a huge personal financial sacrifice. He is thought to have made up to £20 million from consultancy, private companies and public appearances since leaving office in 2007. As well as lucrative advisory roles for JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services, he also set up Tony Blair Associates, which receives payments for advising both the Kuwaiti government and Mubadala, an Abu Dhabi sovereign fund. Former Prime Ministers are supposed to provide details of their income after leaving Parliament. But Mr Blair has fought a two-year battle with the independent scrutiny committee to keep secret his job with UI Energy Corporation, a South Korean oil firm.
He also commands six-figure sums on the international after-dinner circuit, where he is usually booked through the Washington Speakers Bureau whose stable includes his friend George W Bush. One speech alone in China earned him a reported £200,000. So it all adds up to a fortune made off the back of holding public office, not a crime but something that renews the stench surrounding our political classes of late. How big a fortune is unclear because, to quote Mike Warburton, a senior tax partner at the accountants Grant Thornton, “his network of companies make it impossible to establish his earnings. They are opaque and we don’t know where the money comes from or where it goes to, but at the end of the chain you have a company that does not file accounts”.
But whether he can easily afford it or not will the gesture mark a turning point in the realationship with a nation that once loved him and now regards him with at best great suspicion? Unlikely. Lindsey German, of the Stop The War Coalition, says that it shows that Mr Blair is worried about adverse publicity. She storms that “he lied about the Iraq war, refused to express any regret at the Chilcot inquiry and his attempt to salve his conscience will be of little comfort to those injured or who have lost loved ones”. The popular Falklands veteran Simon Weston, who these days campaigns for ex-service personnel, added that “if he donated £460 million it would not be enough to wash his hands clean of all the blood”.
In a strange way I almost feel sorry for Tony Blair. He is now hounded much as Dr Kelly was by the circle that surrounded the then Prime Minister. When, together with a group of Doctors I met him soon after his landslide victory I came away impressed. He seemed different to other politicians, he appeared open and caring, fearless almost. I can only conclude that he was a good actor with no self understanding or that at some later time he became infatuated with power and the prospect of being twinned with the most powerful man on earth. Undoubtedly Bush would have invaded Iraq anyway but perhaps Blair had fallen in love with the idea of being a world leader.
Perhaps we will never know what really motivated this flawed man. But we should remember one thing, he did not do it alone. At any time during those frantic weeks leading up to what Nick Clegg calls an illegal war either his Ministers or the Conservative opposition could have stopped him. They chose not to and their claims that he misled them do not ring entirely true. They must have known that no weapons of mass destruction had been found even before Dr Kelly revealed it.
Maybe our reactions will change over the passage of time but right now it is impossible to see this donation doing other than to bring even more condemnation for Tony Blair whose only virtue is that he stands by his decsion to go to war unlike many who shared it. But every black cloud has at least a small silver lining and some much needed money is on the way to help the setting up of the Battle Back Challenge Centre, a place made essential by a tissue of lies and the betrayal of a nation.
NEW PRIVACY LAW?
Britain could be on the way to getting its first privacy law to stop judges creating one by stealth through the courts. Lord McNally has suggested that the right to privacy could be enshrined in law after a number of celebrities were awarded so-called ‘super-injunctions’ to gag the press.
We will doubtless hear howls of rage from the campaigners for freedom of speech but the media have brought this situation upon themselves with the endless stream of ‘revelations’ about the private lives of familiar people. In the vast majority of cases there is no question of serving the public interest, the sole motive is to boost circulation by pandering to voyeurism.
But there need to be safeguards to avoid genuine public-interest stories being suppressed. Had such a law been in force at the time, would we ever have learned of the scandal of MP’s expenses?
DID YOU KNOW? The expession ‘sleep tight’ derives from the days when occupants of feather beds found themselves sinking into a hard, airless fissure between billowly hills. Support was on a lattice of ropes which could be tightened with a key when they began to sag. The practice ended in 1865 when spring mattresses were invented but the term sleep tight lives on.
YESTERDAYS QUIZ ANSWERS; 1 Benny Hill 2. Kermit
TIODAYS QUESTIONS; 1 Which President of Cyprus was forced into exile in 1974? 2. What voyage did Kenichi Horie complete in 1974?
Even scheming politicians surely realise that the early collapse of the coalition would be a national disaster, certainly the rest of us do. But on that possibility there is little to fear since the only thing that could cause it is the withdrawal of support by the Lib Dems and that isn’t going to happen any time soon since an election would see their annihilation. Their only hope is to hang in there, obey their Tory masters, and hope that the economy is stabilised. Then they can seperate and attempt to claim the credit, however implausible that appears. As my Gran used to say, they have made their bed and must lie on it!
The problem for those of us who trust no Party is that, whilst we see the importance of stability for the time being, we find it hard to fathom out what the coalition is really up to. Spokesmen will say that the only item on the agenda is to tighten the collective belt. But thta isn’t what informed observers believe is their real priority. And they don’t come btter informed than John Redwood who yesterday described the talk of 25 per centage cuts as pure fiction. It is neither possible nor desirable, he added.
If saving costs is not the principle aim then what is? Angus Maude gave us the answer yesterday. The coalition is , he said, more radical than either Thatcher or Blair. Whilst he sees the need for economies he sees also the need to ‘unleash a new wave of entrepeneurs willing to take over public services as co-ops or mutuals’. One suspects he almost added ‘or simply as private companies’. Iain Duncan Smith weighed in with the claim that there is only limited time to make reform happen, ‘if you are going to make change you must do it early’. He could have added ‘whilst the great British public is still in love with the coalition’.
In other words what is essentially a Conservative government sees the chance to use the smoke-screen of massive cuts to rush in the traditional Tory policy of privatisation. Apart from the fact that it did not receive an electoral mandate, no one can criticise a Party for pursuing its mainstream policies. The problem lies in implementation. Like many, I still remember the previous Conservative administration’s decision to privatise British Leyland. It was clearly the right policy but the implementation was inept, muddled and incompetent. The result was the gifting of vast amounts of public money to Euorpean companies such as DAF and entrepeneurs, all of whom failed to the extent of destroying. the once strong British Truck and Bus manufacturing.
The problem today is the quality of the Ministers suddenly given free rein. Unlike either Blair or Brown, David Cameron is a delegator. That has much to commend it but only if those to whom projects are delegated know what they are doing. And the problem there is that a Prime Minister has to select the heads of vast govermental bodies from around 300 plus MPs. Cross off 100 who are either too inexperienced or worn out, wipe off another 100 who are clearly all mouth and no trousers, and he has to select some 30 or so key players from a squad of little over a hundred. And Mr Cameron doesn’t seem to have chosen well.
Two areas right at the forefront of the privatisation push are Education and the NHS. It may be true that some degree of private sector involvement would help but both areas could easily topple over into chaos if the planning is not carefully considered and ordered. But here we have two Ministers, Messr Gove and Lansley, who give the clear impression of making plans up as they go along and seem to lack any self understanding. Some of my old civil service contacts tell me that there are no carefully worked out plans and add that the routine emerging is to announce an aim and then attempt to trnslate it into a plan that will not break either bank or public acceptance.
It is not hard to believe this. Michael Gove has already had to apologise on two occasions for providing false information. He completely miscalculated the number of school building projects being cancelled and he overstated by 1000 the number of schools applying for so-called academy status. He wasn’t trying to mislead, he was simply making things up as he went along. His aim is undoubtedly to move back to some form of selective education and many of the chattering middle-classes will support him. But there are two buts!
How can such a massive change be effected over such a short time scale without bringing several years of chaos to so many schools that are perfroming to excellent standards under the comprehensive banner? And how do we as a society live with the idea of effectively destroying the dream of many children from less priviledged backgrounds? Of course we all understand the difference between teaching chikldren whose parents strain every sinew to help them and those whose home life is damaging and unsupporting. But if we then seperate one group from the other the stimulus that the talented child receives from others is lost for ever.
Andrew Lansley gives every indication of being as inept as Mr Gove. He rightly decided to abolish the hugely bureaucratic and wasteful structure which Labour imposed on the NHS. But he announced it immediately without having any sensibly worked out plan to replace bodies such as Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities. He blurted out a confused idea involving GPs and predictably is now at loggerheads with the leading clinical bodies. Presumably what he is trying to do is to sub-contract much NHS work to American Health Care companies and has reasoned that GPs will be grateful to hand the administration over. Even this has further flaws since any transfer out of hospitals of the ‘profitable’ routine work will see many unable to fund the complex case work.
During the election Mr Lansley promised absolutely to stop top-down reorganisations of the NHS and the closures of hospitals and Accident & Emergency units. Now he is singing a different tune and the worrying part is not that he misled – they all do that – but that he is racing along without any clear plan as to where he is going. Morale in the NHS was low under Labour’s meddling, it is now at rock bottom under a regime that is seen as totally lacking in understanding of what happens on the front line.
There is of course a secondary worry surrounding all of the drastic reforms being announced one after the other. In the first couple of years they will not produce cost savings and they will almost certainly lead to confusion and poorer service. Grumpy Gordon may not have been the most popular guy in Whitehall but both as Chancellor and Prime Minister he had every change minutely examined and tested before approving its announcement. Mr Cameron would be well advised to leave diplomacy to the Foreign Office and to follow suit.
As we have all learned over many years, transferring essential services to the private sector do not necessarily lead to either lower costs or better service provision. It you doubt that try examining your bills for water, power and the like. Yes, it was right to privatise them but too much control was ceded, too few tight contracts drawn up. And now we are facing similar cavalier treatment for subjects such as health and education.
All men and women of goodwil,l and even ferreters, hope that the coalition will steer us thorugh to calmer financial times and recognise that its collapse and an early return to another dose of repressive state control and interference would achieve nothing. But many fear the worst if the early performance of Ministers, who have never run any large enterprise, is any guide.
I would be pleasantly surprised if this pseudo-Conservative reforming government survives long enough to show that the chaos it wrought was or wasn’t justified.!
AND ANOTHER THING; What a delight it has been to watch the performance of team GB in the European championships. Some of yesterday’s gold-medal successes were the perfect antidote for the sickenly poor show put on by our megastar footballers in the World Cup. And it was good to see the focus centered on the athletes rather than a Manager and even better to witness the genuine pleasure that all the competitors took from the performance of their team-mates. I admit to a preference for football and cricket but must admit that we come well short of athletics in terms of sportsmanship and sheer commitment.
AND A QUESTION? How in touch with public interests are the newspapers? Most carried exhaustive reports of the marriage of Chelsea Clinton and pages were covered with fine detail of the security, the guest lists, the air-conditioned tents,the vineyards that produced the wine and Lord knows what else. Am I really alone in not giving a twopenny piece about the whole extravaganza?
I had a dream. I had applied for a vacancy in the Office of Fair Trading for a regional Ferret Trading Adviser. The man across the table eventually offered me the position but added that the salary was only ten grand. When I commented that I would be better off on benefits he remarked ‘but not for long’ and added that times were hard. I did wonder if his suit really came from Tesco and then I awoke.
I remembered the dream when I read this morning’s papers. The chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading, John Fingleton, is paid £279,999 per year! And it is not just the office of my fantasies that has large amounts of public cash to burn. There are no less than 170 civil servants who earn more than the Prime Minister. The Ministry of Defence alone has 22 officials considered worth more that the man that heads up the nation. Small wonder that there have ben complaints about inadequate budgets for those on the front line.
It seems that even the Olympics is worth more than a bob or two. The Director General of the executive, Jeremy Beeton gets a cool £229,999. The head of National Savings (which has reduced interest levels to near zero), Jane Platt, takes home £190,000 and the boss of the dreaded Ofsted, Christine Gilbert, a mere £195,000. In fact the list rolls on and on and what is evident is that one huge increses has led to another and another ad infinitum. And of course one can add to all these huge pay-outs gold-plated final salary pension schemes which are worth tens of thousands of pounds.
The coalition Cabinet Office Manager, Francis Maude, has said that the decision to reveal all is intended to ‘pull back the curtains to let light into the corridors of power’. He is right there! Less certain is his claim that by being open ‘we can win back people’s trust’ One suspects that the reaction will be one of outrage especially on the part of people now desperately seeking any job and those who have accepted pay cuts or short-time working simply to hold on to a job at all.
It would of course be grossly unfair to shoot the messengers. Working out just who was mad enough to allow a scandal on this scale is hard but one thing is for sure, it wasn’t the present government! But by pulling back the curtain they have created a huge problem of perception. The coming months are going to involve enormous sacrifices by almost every family in the land. The knowledge that government employees are living the life of O’Riley is going to make the medicine hard to swallow.
A wave of national strikes and unrest was long forecast. The only thing that could inhibit this would be revelations that the Union leadership also has its collective snout in the trough. But even this may not be enough to persuade every working man or woman that belts have to tightened by many a notch.
In the aftermath of the shock waves created by these and subsequent revelations that Premiership football clubs are not alone in paying out money they don’t have some considerable bravery is required by Cameron, Clegg and all. If they were to announce that the maximum civil service pay must be not greater than that paid to the Prime Minister they would earn applause. They should ignore the warnings of mass resignations. Where would these people go? Like the grossly overpaid local authority Chief Executives they would already be in the private sector if it was open to them.
I would plead one exception to the cull. Almost all of those named so far occupy staff , as against line, posts. Sometime it is hard to distinguish the two but I always think back to a meeting I had at Chilwell with Army chiefs at the time of the Falklands war. One officer told me that he was a line officer. What it means, he explained is that I go out there to face the bullets whilst my staff colleagues stay here and send orders.
So in the case of the NHS for example it seems entirely valid to address the payof the Director of Workforce, Clare Chapman, who is paid £220,000, less so to begrudge whatever is paid to those in the daily line of fire at every large hospital.
Churchill wuild have demanded ‘action this day’. If no one has the guts to do just that they musn’t be surprised if the reaction to cuts hitting people on low incomes is negative in the extreme.
Have you noticed that despite employing a zillion spin-doctors the main Parties have failed to come up with a slogan that sticks. No one seems capable of producing a three-worder that refuses to go from the mind. Obama produced a sizzler with ‘Yes we can’, words that had one working at the question. By comparison our leaders are less than inspiring.
I wondered if the Tories were on to something when they opened with ‘Fighting for the great ignored’ but it hasn’t been mentioned since and one is left wondering if they decided to ignore us after all. Labour kicked off with ‘a Future fair for all’ but it seems to have faded possibly because many confused it with a future free-for-all. The Lib /Dems didn’t seem to have one prior to the TV debate but thanks to grumpy Gordon and dashing Dave they now have a beauty. ‘I agree with Nick ‘ seems to go for everyone right now.
Worryingly one hears one slogan repeated again and again . It’s source is unusual since it has not evolved from a desk of spin. Where it started is impossible to know but just about everyone I have chatted to proclaims that they ‘are all the same’. It is a sort of anti-slogan slogan. The great British love affair with politicians is truly over.
The loss of trust is such that it is hard to imagine either of the usual two Parties winning a huge vote of confidence. Young Nick we know not but he plays cricket and has no past transgressions to rationalise. Even the tabloids would have to work hard to set an interview trap for the last Liberal Prime Minister!