Posts Tagged ‘Small Wonder’
Life felt good as I walked down the lane to the allotments this morning. The carpet of leaves felt comfortable for walking, and the sun added a sparkle to the berried holly. Even the notice in the window of Age UK offering bargain funeral deals failed to break my mood. As I went throgh the gate I could see Albert and Tom cleaning out the hens, and a small gang, headed by Phil, hard at work on a rather neglected hedge. Amongst the group were Danny and Jack, two lads who pocketed their degrees back in July and are now part of the appalling statistics that tell us that over 1 million youngsters are unable to find work. In the case of our young helpers it is not for want of trying, but even their attempt to become Christmas postmen failed, there being seven applications for every vacancy.
Both lads are well known to us and turn up each day to lend a hand. Yes, they earn a few bob but the real benefit seems to be the feeling of having a reason to get out of bed, to have a sense of purpose. Like all youngsters they enjoy their leisure hours, but are very aware that once every day becomes one of unlimited leisure the novelty quickly wanes. They prefer working for us to the lot of several of their pals who, under the government’s work experience programme, were directed to work for Argos who pay them nothing and have no obligation to employ them once the two-months period is up. They are doing 30 hours a week of unpaid labour, should they fail to turn-up they will forfeit their £53 per week jobseekers allowance. Small wonder that lawyers are working on a legal challenge to such schemes on the grounds that they represent a form of slavery under the Human Rights Act.
Yesterday’s release of the latest unemployment totals by the Office for National Statistics makes depressing reading. Unemployment has risen at its fastest rate for 17 years, and – surprise, surprise – employment fell even more preciptously amongst those aged 16 to 24. More than 864,000 people have been out of work for over a year, with the long-term jobless rate of 30% for what is now being called ‘the lost generation’ of youth. A large proportion of the million so affected have never managed to find work. The vast majority desperately want to gain employment but most are now totally demoralised after endless interviews and the sense of failure and rejection that can follow.
The coalition was quick to blame the crisis on the problems of the Eurozone. It is of course absolute nonsense. The labour market has been weakening for the past year, because most of the jobs that are being shed are not from the international trade sector of the economy, and because the real reason the economy has barely grown is due to the sluggishness of domestic demand.
Unemployment is what’s known as a lagging indicator of economic performance; it takes time for a slow-down in activity to feed through into the jobless figures. Europe’s crisis only really moved into its new, dangerous phase in late July and August, and would not have had any impact on yesterday’s employment data, which covers the period July to September. A much more plausible explanation for the drop of almost 200,000 in work in the three months to September is that consumer spending is suffering from the intense squeeze on real incomes caused by high inflation, rocketing fuel bills and January’s increase in VAT
The coalition inherited an economy where unemployment was coming down. It inherited a range of schemes which were helping young people to find work. It scrapped schems such as the Future Jobs Fund to save money and it completely miscalculated the extent to which the private sector could compensate for the draconian cuts in the public one. Does anyone now seriously believe other than that George Osborne has cut too hard and too quickly whilst taking no action to stimulate growth?
In Liverpool the situation is now bordering on the desperate. When David Cameron visited the city during the election campaign he pledged his support for schemes such as ‘Merseystride’, which employs young people within a business recycling and selling furniture. It is based in the Everton area where there is an unemployment rate of 40%, and crime and antisocial behaviour are problems. Now the fund which provided cash to help such ventures to get off the ground has been axed. Paul Brown, the founder and managing director of Merseystride says ; “We want to make this venture like Next or Ikea. David Cameron came here and made a lot of promises to the whole sector. Now he has reneged”. Alan Ricketts, 42, spoke to Cameron during his visit. He thought the politican was impressed at the various youth employment initiatives. He would now like to “see him again and tell him to his face what I now think of him”.
Right across the ocountry there are similar stories of initiatives that have been axed. Add the fact that the one area of employment that did not fall in yesterday’s data was that of foreign workers, the employment of whom rose by 6% ( to an actual of 2.56 million) and it is easy to understand the mood of resentment and despair that is beginning to infect our young people.
And what is the focus of ministers? Primarily on fighting the German proposal to tax bankers and tax-evasion. Despite misleading claims that the financial sector provides our largest income, the reality is that it provides just 9%. The truth is that both Conservtaive and Labour heirarchy are too involved with bankers and tycoons alike. Only Vince Cable highlighted the enormous benefits to be derived by taxing their excesses and tackling their tax evasion. Now he seems to have given up the argument.
The social stakes are high on the issue of youth unemployment and at the very least the government should take a leaf out of Italy’s book by appointing non-politicians to head up a series of major self-finding initiatives that give youngster’s lives meaning. Someone like Alan Sugar who, unlike Cameron and Osborne, has been there and done it, might be a good start.
Before our politicians say much more along the lines of what does Germany know, they should perhaps glance at yesterday’s numbers. Our harmonised unemployment rate, age 16-24, is 21.9%. Germany’s is 9.2%.
Get real Mr Cameron, the equivalent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic is not good enough!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Monday 2. Sven Goran Eriksson 3. Oxford Street 4. Egypt 5. Thick-skinned animal 6. None 7. Pluto 8. John Paul II 9. China 10. Dennis (Denny) Doherty
It would be nice to turn to other topics today but the News of the World scandal refuses to budge from our collective thoughts on the allotment. Having had time to digest the announcement of the papers immediate closure, we all seem to have arrived at the same conclusion, the closure is a giant con-trick aimed at drawing a line under the hacking affair. And, to quote Albert, who has returned from his abandoned holiday at soaking Blackpool, it just won’t wash!
We may be simple souls but even we can work out what the Murdochs are trying to do. Two days ago the domain names TheSunOnSunday and SunOnSunday.com were registered. Out goes the Screws and in comes the Sun. But the public are unlikely to swallow this, neither are the advertisers who were pulling out of the doomed paper. A thorn by any other name is still a thorn.
All that we have learned so far is that the Murdochs are ruthless. When News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks went to the News of the World offices to make the announcement to the staff she had a very rough reception and had to be escorted out by security staff. Small wonder, for most of them joined the paper after the hacking was at its peak and most felt that the editor of the day was culpable. How anyone can be expected to believe that Brooks was unaware of what was happening beggars belief. The same goes for her successor Andy Coulson but, like the staff, he has been hung out to dry by the Murdochs whose handed-over evidence will almost certainly result in his facing serious charges, especially now that the police have realised that backing villains is not wise.
David Cameron has had no option than to change his mind on the need for an enquiry led by a Judge. He tried hard to avoid it as demonstrated by the hapless Chris Grayling who, on Question Time, tried in vain to produce a rationale for what he then believed was his master’s position. Maybe it was the furious reaction of the audience and Hugh Grant that caused the U-turn. Either way the prime minister will not be sleeping easy for his personal friendship with Brooks and his close working relationship with Coulson may well provide insights that he would prefer remain hidden. There are this morning some bizaare theories on that point, one being that the appearance of all the leading Labour cabinet members on the police list of hacking victims may not be a coincidence! Perhaps this could prove to be a Wapping-gate?
But there is a bigger issue here. Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, Glen Mulcare and the Murdochs are neither the origin nor the limit of the problem, which is the unprecedented concentration of media ownership and power, and the corporate culture of arrogance and impunity that this engenders. It is now clearly in the public interest that News Corporation’s ownership of other media in the UK be broken up.
It is equally in the public interest that both Conservative and Labour politicians break off the social involvement that they have all nurtured with Murdoch. Yes, Cameron is the extreme example but even two weeks ago virtually every member of the cabinet and shadow cabinet attended a Murdoch party in London. Humble servants all, and it is totally inappropriate. To be fair to Ed Milband he is the first senior poiliticain of either party to stand up to Murdoch and the idea that he will now be targeted is repulsive. Who rules Britain?
Right now it is News Corporation, aided and abetted by government and police. For once the public has rebelled, what has happened has repelled even the most fervent reader of the tabloids. But we musn’t forget that the loss of a couple of papers is no big deal in the court of Murdoch, what he wants is ownership of BSkyB and the political power that brings.
There will be prosecutions galore and the idea that Hunt can still wave through the takeover is bizaare. If he does that the government could fall, no one will tolertae such power being ceded to people who oversaw the secret violation of the families of murdered children and slaughtered troops. Nothing will atone for that but the extension of the empire of the vile perpetrators must be stopped. Murdoch and his colleagues should be debarred from running, or owning any company in the UK. It can be done, it must be done, however close Cameron may be to the mogul.
This might be an appropriate time to re-show Melvyn Bragg’s interview with Dennis Potter. In it Dennis tells us why he named his cancerous tumour Rupert!
TODAY’S PUB QUIZ; GENERAL KNOWLEDGE; 1. Had Theo Walcott played in the Premiership before his 2006 World Cup call-up? 2. Which duo had hits with “Mrs Robinson” and “America”? 3. What is the fear of enclosed spaces called? 4. Which Suday comes before Easter Day? 5. On TV, which night featured a show from the London Palladium? 6. Alphabetically, which is the last of the calender months? 7. What would a palaeontologist study? 8. Which Disney creature nickname was given to Tony Blair? 9. Which veteran comic Bob celebrated his 100th birthday on 29th May 2003? 10. When Eric Weiss escaped from his name he was known as who?
It has to be admitted that we chicken-keepers are to be numbered amongst the masses who help the tabloid press to rake in the cash. We have always realised that many of their exclusives are based on information obtained illegally but, to be honest, we have never been too horrified at the revelations about pop-stars and the like. They take their millions and must expect intrusion probably sums up our view, always assuming that we had one at all. But suddenly we really are horrified at what Labour MP Tom Watson yesterday described as a “despicable and evil act”.
Today’s Guardian reveals that the News of the World hacked Milly Dowler’s phone during the police hunt for the missing schoolgirl. Even worse it deleted voice mails to make room for more incoming frantic appeals to the young girl, an action that led friends and relatives to conclude wrongly that Milly might still be alive and risked destroying evidence. Small wonder that the Dowler family yesterday issued a statement describing the paper’s action as “heinous” and “despicable”. In effect the News of the World was listening to, and recording, every private word, every desperate plea for Milly to get in touch. When her voicemail box filled up, the newspaper’s employees deleted the messages left in the first few days after her disappearance.
According to the Guardian, the paper paid a private Hampshire investigator, Steve Whittamore, to track down phone numbers, two of which were “blagged” illegally from BT’s confidential records. Then with the help of its own private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, the paper began its “hacking”.
At that time the editor was Rebekah Brooks, now Rupert Murdoch’s chief UK executive. The deputy editor was Andy Coulson. Both have strong links with David Cameron, the former having entertained Cameron at her home over Christmas, the latter having been his media adviser. It seems extremely unlikely that they did not know what was happening. Indeed Paul McMullan, one of Brook’s assistant editors, is on record as having said that he personally commissioned several hundred acts that could be regarded as unlawful and that senior editors were aware of this. Former showbusiness reporter, Sean Hoare, is also on record as telling the New York Times that he was actively encouraged by Coulson to hack into voicemail. Clearly the paper had come to see itself as above the law, in fact Brooks claimed at one time to have paid the police for information.
Since this latest, and most shocking of all, revelation has come to light during the period when culture secretary Jeremy Hunt is deciding whether to nod through the bid by Murdoch’s News Corp to take over BSkyB, one would have imagined that even he would be concerned at the conduct of what will become the major media organisation in the UK. But it seems not. The only MP to speak out has been Tom Watson who told Newsnight that leaders of all parties received “plenty of hints” that something murky was going on. “That’s the biggest scandal of the lot”, he said. “Politicians are frightened of News International and they need to act”. The only other dissenting voice was that of John Prescott, himself a victim of hacking. He revealed on Twitter that he was writing to Hunt demanding he block News Corp’s bid.
But they may prove to be voices crying in the wilderness. The Labour Party stopped short of calling for a re-examination of whether News International could be regarded as fit and proper to take over BSkyB. The Conservative party did the same, an inevitability given the personal links that its senior members have with the Murdoch organisation.
Just how close are we as a society to being corrupt? We have the gutter press plumbing ever greater depths, we have police who clearly have been very reluctant to investigate, we have politicans at the top who appear to be in cohorts with the alleged perpetrators of what Milly’s grieving family call “heinous” crimes.
The sad answer is : very close indeed!
TODAY’S NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ; GENERAL KNOWLEDGE; 1. In international soccer, what is the main colour of Holland’s shirts? 2. Who is older; Ruby Wax or Jennifer Saunders? 3. “Into the Groove” gave a first UK No 1 for which singer? 4. Which two cities were linked by the M1 whwn it first opened? 5. Which song was a British No ! for Jimmy Young, the Righteous Brothers, Robson & Jerome and Gareth Gates? 6. What is Britain’s smallest songbird? 7. How many sides are there in a pair of nonagons? 8. Which George was the main producer of the Beatles hits? 9. E W Swanton wrote about which sport? 10. Was Joanna Lumley born in the 1940s, 50s or 60s?
Our allotment association has always enjoyed a good relationship with the local Council and we were pleased to note that it is not one of those being fingered in this morning’s Telegraph. But many are and the latest revelations by the expenses whistle-blower would have turned our hair grey, if it wasn’t already that way inclined. As Albert reasonably remarked as we cleaned out the hens it is somewhat worrying that these are the very people taking decisions about local services. And it seems that some of them would rather close down care for the vulnerable than trim their own near-fraudulent use of taxpayer-funded credit cards.
Having been ordered to cut spending by almost 30 per cent, many council chiefs have clearly decided that they are not going to be the ones to suffer. The details revealed today show a situation every bit as bad as the MPs saga. Town hall chiefs have continued to indulge in dinners at Michelin-starred restuarants, trips abroad and expensive gifts including iPads and video games. Hospitality bills obtained under the Freedom of Information Act list dinners at Claridge’s, hog roasts and champagne receptions, as well as thousands of pounds on booking tables at award ceremonies. Over a half-million was blown on Tiffany jewellery, Gucci products and silk ties, while online shopping sprees racked up bills of more than £300,000 at Argos and £150,000 at Amazon.
The credit card spending of 186 councils over the past three years has been examined and their collective use of the taxpayer-funded cards amounted to an astonishing £40 million plus. The councils only agreed to release information disclosing exepnditure of over £500 so heaven alone knows what the grand total was. Small wonder that Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, has described the spending as “wild”. Obscene might have been a better description!
Top of the list of villains is Cornwall council which spent almost £9 million. It used its cards to fund travel to India, Thailand and Japan and spent £81,000 on hospitality and restaurant meals. It bought home cinema systems, disco equipment, fish tanks and musical equipment. There are many more details of wild extravagence at both this and other councils. However, there are many examples of councils that spent virtually nothing. Crawley, for example, spent just £1,268 over the three years and that was for IT training. So we have a true scandal here for no one can argue that the expenditure is par for the course.
The more one examines the details of the high spenders the worse it becomes. Pembrokeshire caught my eye. They spent on tickets to see the musical ‘Blood Brothers’ and to see ‘We Will Rock You’ at the Millennium Centre. Who exactly enjoyed these and other similar treats?
It is unfair to blame the coalition for this. They have only recently realised that each council has been allowed to draw up its own guidelines, and Whitehall officials are understood to be increasingly concerned that there has for a long time been little oversight on exependiture. Indeed accounting at some councils appears to have been lax in the extreme, Cornwall was unable to even identify currency used and the information they provided contradicted receipts obtained by the newspaper.
Council tax has more than doubled over the past decade as local authorities have insisted that they have struggled to maintain services. Yet many of them were apparently involved in extremely dubious financial practices which quite probably was not even know to all elected members. Officials have treated themselves to iPads, Macbooks and iPhones and run up huge bills at John Lewis, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer.
Meantime they are shedding more than 170,000 jobs, closing libraries and slashing spending on the elderly. Disgraceful is too mild a summary, the police should be called in. Perhaps whoever it was authorised tens of thousnads on Nintendo Wiis and Xboxes as well as on video games such as Guitar Hero would like to explain where those items are. Better still perhaps they should go along to one of the many protest meetings regarding care homes closures and tell the people there.
The Westminster expenses revelations proved that our politicial structure is rotten to the core. Sadly we can now add local government! Big Eric Pickles never seems afraid to throw his considerable weight about, he should start today by transferring the authority for credit card use to his central department. Unworkable? Not for the many who spend virtually nothing!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1. Richard 2. Five 3. Alexander Selkirk 4. US President 5. The Strand Magazine 6. The Verve 7. Chamonix, France 8. Albert Reynolds 9. A fusil 10. Only once
This amazing spell of weather continues! After cleaning out the animals we headed down to the nearby lake where we were greeted by white legs of various ages and size, all having their first exposure of the year. When you think about it legs don’t have much of a life, they spend the majority of the year in total darkness yet land the irksome job of carrying us around, pot bellies and all. But our minds were fiocussed on foxes, we had a visit from one last night.
Fortunately it didn’t managed to get into the coops so presumably the chooks slept unaware of how close they were to becoming instant food to the worst vermin of all. After much examination of our CCTV, we identified the weakness in our defences and have brought in reinforcements. But it does irk us when reporters on programmes such as Springwatch report on the growing number of urban foxes as if it is the new marvel of the age. The urban variety are proving dangerous to humans and lethal for pets and poultry. Live and let live? Not on your nelly, we say death to every long-tailed one of them!
But we were cheered by the news that there are masses of spare cash in the Osborne vaults. Last week David Cameron visited Pakistan and promised to donate over £650 million to schools there. Our response to the financial debacle in Portugal was to offer a guarantee of £4 billion should the country fail to meet its debts, a development every bit as certain as dead horses in the Grand National. We have of course already put £6 billion on the table for Ireland and have made it clear that we are happy to bail out Greece and Spain too.
Small wonder that many Tory MPs, lead by Bill Cash, are demanding a recall of parliament to ask why young George omitted to mention any of this in his budget statement. The answer to the EU pay-outs lies of course with the Lib Dems who, incredibly, are still advocating that we join the Euro!
But that apart the prime minister clearly likes to splash the cash we haven’t got. Latest figures covering the Libyan fiasco show that every Tomahawk missile we fire costs £900,000. And all in support of what? Yes we need to help protect civilians but we are now hell-bent on spending a fortune backing the ill-disciplined rabble which we are told contains a lot of people definitely not pro-British.
To be fair the prime minister and chancellor are far from the first to enjoy strutting around abroad hurling taxpayer’s money in all directions. But they are the first in recent times to do so at a time when things at home are so tough for so many. This comment will probably prompt readers to suggest that Labour would do the same. Yes. they probably would, but that hardly makes it right.
Perhaps, before Cameron or Osborne give us another pep-talk about everyone pulling their belts in, someone should give them a clear indication that if we are to do that we need an assurance that every last penny spent abroad is re-examined. Libya, Pakistan schools and Portugal may all be deserving cases but we are stony broke.
A few days ago I learned of the death of several elderly and terminally ill people in the North East. The few comforts traditionally granted in such cases have been withdrawn. How dare our supposed leaders hand out money abroad when we are now reduced to even cutting comforts for the dying in our own land?
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “Never work before breakfast. If you have to work before breakfast eat your breakfast first”……Josh Billings “I don’t like work even when someone else does it”……Mark Twain “All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest hour’s work”….Sgt Bilko “I’m as busy as a one-armed taxi-driver with crabs”….Sir Les Patterson “A job is death without the dignity”……Brendan Behan “Work is the refuge of those who have nothing better to do”……Oscar Wilde “I’m as busy as a whore working two beds”….Lily Savage “I’m so against working that I won’t even take a blow-job”…..Gretchen Cole “Sexual harassment at work; is it a problem for the self -employed?….Victoria Wood “A foolproof plan for not getting a job – show up for your interview wearing flip-flops”…….Alan Davies “There’s not a single job in this town. There’s nothing, nada, zip. Unless you wanna work 40 hours every week”…….Jeff Daniels “Hard work never killed anyone, but I figure why take the chance”…….Edgar Bergan
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. +Colin Dexter 2. Paris
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who was the oldest actor ever to win an Oscar? 2. Who won an Oscar for his role in ‘Save the Tiger’ ?