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’ ?
Grey skies today but the colours of rebirth are everywhere. The forsythia around the allotments is a mass of sparkling yellow and the daffodils are raising their heads as if in triumph at surviving a dismal winter. The buds on the rose trees promise much and the snowdrops are hanging on as if reluctant to end their intro to Spring. The only thing missing is frogspawn in the ponds which is curious given that a mass of frogs have been perfroming their mating rituals for weeks. Is this a general trend?
Meantime we were truly sorry to learn from our faithful beat officer that his days of calling are almost over. It seems that over one hundred beat officers are to be withdrawn across the county and it is easy to feel concern when the Chief Constable says that anyone claiming that a large reduction in numbers will do other than lead to an increase in crime and a loss of public confidence is crazy. Yes there will still be squads of officers wearing body armour held ready to rush to any serious incident but that is reactive policing, most people have enjoyed the recent trend toward proactive practice with bobbies out and about amongst the community.
When I cast my mind back to those TV debates during the general election I recall Grumpy Gordon repeatedly asking David Cameron if he would guarantee police numbers. It seemed ominous then when Cameron continually refused to answer although his future stooge Nick did give such a pledge. Since then the prime minister has said that he is determined to protect the police front line. The dashing Home Secretary, Theresa May, has since repatedly referred to the plan for leaving ‘front line services untouched’ and the policing minister, Nick Herbert has echoed his boss. Howver there is a problem!
In response to a freedom of information request the Home Office was obliged to admit that it doesn’t actaully know what front line services are. Small wonder that the chairman of the Police Federation, Paul McKeever, has responded with incredulity. “How can you have all your policing policies based on the phrase front line without knowing what it is” he has asked. Good question. But the Home Office spin-doctors are never short of a few misleading comments and they reacted by saying that whilst the definition is unclear there is also a middle office and a back office, therefore the front line is everyone not employed there. And you’ve guessed it, the Home Office couldn’t clearly define those either, merely saying that the middle office includes a “variety of functions which provide support” and “the back one comprises finance and human resources”.
My knowledge of police work is akin to Eddie the Eagle’s medal winning but it seems obvious that if chief constables were to clear out the support structure the whole process would grind to a halt. There probably are some working practices that need updating but the only significant way in which workload can be reduced to front, back and middle is by changing laws that call for enough paperwork to constitute a danger to low flying aircraft if stacked. One arrest can involve an officer in hours of paperwork and the gorgeous Theresa has shown no sign of understanding this let alone legislating to change things. Any day now she will proclaim the police force to be a service and insist that the villains be renamed service users!
Being the bunglers that they are – one only has to remember the Forest sale fiasco to believe that – the coalition has contrived to add to the growing feeling of discontent by the police by announcing plans to slash pay, pensions and expenses. The timing seems questionable!
I guess that the negative public reaction to all this is down to the obvious bottom line. Clearly there is no such thing as a precise front line. Yes we will miss the comforting presence of our beat bobbie and his CPSO sidekick, and people in crime-ridden inner cities will feel very vulnerable when theirs vanish. But a force cannot function purely out on the streets for back-up services such as CID are equally important. The obvious bottom line is that police services are being slashed and even those who never encounter the police in any guise like the feeling that they are there, just a 999 call away.
As in all debates about ‘the cuts’ we end up with the contrasting views of Chancellor Osborne and Shadow Chancellor Balls. The former belives that the deficit must be cleared in the life of one parliament and that privileged sectors of society such as the banks and the corporate tax evaders must be protected with every penny saved coming from the public services and public. The latter believes that the deficit should be halved and that the banks and tax evaders should be hammered into the ground like old tent-pegs.
The truth probably lies somewhere between the two and that in theory is where the Lib Dems come in, but they appear to have no view other than that if Cameron shouts jump they ask how high.
Few of us are economists and even they disagree amongst themselves. All we know is that wiping out the police sounds a very dangerous thing to do at a time when domestic discontent and terrorism seems primed to reach new heights!
QUOTES OF THE DAY; “To write a diary every day is like returning to ones own vomit”…Enoch Powell “Good girls keep diaries, bad ones never have the time”……Tallulah Bankhead “Keep a diary and one day it will keep you”….Mae West “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train”…..Oscar Wilde “I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It’s about Russia”…..Woody Allen “Last time I went to Portugal I get through six Jeffrey Archer novels. I must remember to take enough toilet paper next time”….Bob Monkhouse “Many thanks for your book. I shall waste no time in reading it”….Benjamin Franklin “Poetry books are handy implements for killing persistent irritating flies”…..Geoffrey Grigson “T S Eliot’s face had deep lines. I cannot say the same for his poetry”…..Melville Cane “Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones dead’ to people who never knew that he was alive”……G K Chesterton “There are four sexes; men, women, clergymen and journalists”…Somerset Maughan
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Viv Anderson 2 Notts Forest
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which was Britain’s first all-seater soccer stadium? 2 Whose grave was vandalised by anti-hunting sabateurs?
We were making a door for the new hen-run when Billy asked if we had seen the byelection result from Barnsley. We hadn’t due to the fact that all of the coalition-supporting papers had conveniently forgotten to mention it. But his Guardian had squeezed it in on page 9. Small wonder that the headline included the word humiliated for the Lib Dems came rank bottom in a field of six. Labour held the seat with a 13.53% increase and their candidate (Dan Jarvis) was trailed by Ukip, Conservative, BNP, Independent candidate, with Mr Clegg’s party, which came second in the general election, bottom with a paltry 1,012 votes. And this despite their fielding an excellent candidate who is the son of the celebrated barrister George Carmen.
Sadly the party that promised to change the face of British politics has lost the respect of most of those that supported it. It has committed the cardinal sin of demonstrating a total lack of integrity. Most fair minded observers saw their entry into a coalition as reasonable but no one expected them to simply rollover and abandon every commitment they made. Clegg’s behaviour over tuition fees needs no reminder, but there has been a succession of other issues where they have shown feet of clay and a Conservative Party, which was not elected to govern, has been able to pursue arguably the most right-wing agenda for decades.
And today we have yet another example. Vince Cable had let it be known that he was determined to fight to the death the News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB, a plan that will create the largest private media company Britain has ever seen. News Corp is expected to have a turover of over £9billion by the time of the next election, that will be almost double of that of the BBC whose licence fee has been frozen by Jeremy Hunt, the minister who has surprised no one by deciding not to refer the bid for further examination.
Once Cable had been removed from the responsibility by Cameron it was always clear that Rupert Murdoch had won. The behaviour of Conservative ministers has been breathtakingly improper, and I am not referring merely to the Christmas visit that the Camerons paid to James Murdoch. Columnist John Crace probably sums up the natiuonal mood of cynicism today when he composes a mock conversation between Cameron and Hunt. Hunt tells the prime minister ” After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that if News Corp pretends to hive off Sky News then it can do what the hell it likes”. Cameron replies “Good show! I’ll tell James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks when Sam and I go round for dinner tonight”.
What has this to do with Lib Dem integrity. A lot. Just weeks after Cable had made clear that the party would “wage war” on this, the Lib Dem spokesman on media policy, Don Foster, was quick to declare support for the Murdoch deal. And from Uncle Vince not a word and no resignation as a minister.
Perhaps I am missing something here but I find it hard to understand even one thousnad voting for what has become a rabble prepared to pay any price just to share the trappings of power. Few will blame Cameron for doing what a Conservative government with a large majority would be expected to do, even if his judgement does seem to be all over the place. But he has no large majority, he simply has a large number of Lib Dem MPs as voting fodder and no willingness to stand up for what they supposedly believe in.
If what happened in Barnsley yeaterday doesn’t sound alarm bells ringing nothing will. These are early days but one poll predicting the wipe out of every single Lib Dem candidate at the next election doesn’t sound too far-fetched!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “ Obama has attacked Cameron for advocating a no-fly zone. Unfair, because what Cameron meant was he wants to rid Libya of all flies”…John Crace “Did you hear about the woman who stabbed her husband 37 times? I admire her restraint”…..Roseanne “I’m all for bringing back the birch, but only between consenting adults”…..Gore Vidal “John Prescott has the face of a man who clubs baby seals to death”…Denis Healey “Tony Blair is only Bill Clinton with his zip done up”….Neil Hamilton “Tony Blair has as much charisma as a pair of dentures grinning in a glass of water”….Trevor Bayliss “As God once said, and I think rightly…”….Margaret Thatcher “I wish my flat was filled by one big man in his blue underpants”…Edwina Currie on John Major “At least it wasn’t Ann Widdecombe”….Pat Dessoy, John Major’s sister “To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy”……Will Dufant “Success means having to worry about every damn thing in the world, except money”….Johnny Cash
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S QUIZ; 1. Join the European Community 2. China
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which USA President’s wife was named Thelma Catharine Ryan? 2. What was Saigon renamed in 1975?
It has stopped raining so miracles do still happen! But the weather over the past couple of weeks has been depressing. The condition known as SAD often kicks in at around this time and small wonder. However to describe those allotment members who have to visit several times each day to care for animals, the word sad seems inadequate. It is only when members gather in the shed that the mood rises a little, and then once Albert has passed round the flask to help the hot tea go down it soars. Of course if you gather a dozen or so men and women from all walks of life together it is not long before disagreements surface. In days long gone politics or religion were the flashpoints but no one seems to mention those anymore. Now it is usually the EU that divides opinion.
This morning Phil was talking about the latest EU financial crisis. Both Greece and Ireland appear to be in trouble and there are fears that the contagion could spread to other deeply indebted countries such as Portugal and Spain. In an extraordinary speech this week the President of the EU warned that it is now “locked into a crisis of survival”. He went on to warn that “if we do not survive with the eurozone we will not survive with European Union”. Even allowing for the fact that Herman van Rompuy appears to be as daft as a coot it was an odd thing to say. The result was an outbreak of panic.
More to prevent us going out into the rain than anything else i suggested that old Herman intended to trigger a panic. He may look like a clown but he is actually a shrewd operator bent on fulfilling his dream of a single European ‘superstate’. By whipping up fears of meltdown he can then argue that the only solution is deeper integration, the surrender of national sovereignty and stronger central control from Brussels. But would it really be disastrous if the whole bureacratic pack of cards collapsed?
One thing is for sure. The Euro has proved an abysmal failure. It has delivered none of the achievements that its creators promised. Instead it has engulfed its members in bureaucracy and excesive regulation. After 11 years the euro states are more ill-equipped than ever to meet the challenge of competition from Asia and South America. It has also failed completely to impose financial discipline across Europe. Instead profligacy and irresponsibility have become its hallmarks. And the grotesque waste and extravagence are out of control, as demonstrated by the current proposal for a near 7 per cent increase in budget.
In reality the eurozone was, and is, a political project rather than an economic one. Its aim is to allow an unaccountable elite of federalists to achieve their dream of unity. Judged from an economic standpoint it was always an absurdity to put into one pot such disparate economies as Germany, France, Greece and a good many minnows. The Irish crisis could have been averted had the nation’s central bank been able to calm the property market with interest rate adjustments, but imprisoned within the eurozone it was impotent.
Of course those who plot and plan for a single European state will continue to warn that a collapse would mean the end. But of what? It could well prove the beginning of a return to national pride and initiatives. It would automatically increase the wealth of member states whose contributions have climbed beyond any forecast levels. And trade? The idea that the EU in some way makes possible trade between the member states is absurd. It is no coincidence that the two most propserous nations in Europe, Norway and Switzerland, are both outside the EU. And Britain was the world’s greatest trading nation long before the EU existed. Trade would continue, nations have to buy and sell. And defence? We have already signed up to a long-term partnership with the French.
Of course some of my pals do not agree and they may be right. But it seems to me that the eurozone cannot be propped up for ever. Ultimate bailouts have to be paid for through more borrowing or printing money. Britain is not even in the eurozone but yesterday Osborne was keen to say that whatever is needed to avert a crisis we will be happy to help. For heavens sake, we are skint!
I am not a little Englander, nor an isolationist, but I do believe that the European superstate is nonsense and ultimately destructive of national pride and cultures. Let it collapse and within twelve months the major players will wonder why on earth they ever enlisted. Yes the smaller economies will miss the handouts and the guaranteed emigrations but those are follies that no one can really afford to underwrite.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT; THE MONEY WASTERS!
When it comes to self-indulgence and the wasting of public money the top people in local government would take some beating. In fact the Local Government Association, a pressure group that exists to argue for town halls to be paid even more taxpayer’s money, has a chief executive who earns a massive £302,000!
John Ransford is the man who must believe that Christmas dawns each day. And his executives are also earning the sort of money that most people can only dream about. Money may not make you happy but these folk can certainly be miserable in considerable comfort.
The Association is funded by town halls across the country which suggests that despite all the cant about service cuts, they can find cash when it suits them. It is high time that they applied cuts to Mr Ransford and his entourage. A fifty per cent cut would still leave them overpaid but it would be a start!
You might care to ask your local councillor to justify this obscene extravagence!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. John Stonehouse 2. Australia
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who was Jimmy Carter’s running mate in the 1976 presidential election? 2. Who wrote ‘The Honorary Consul’, published in 1973?
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.