Posts Tagged ‘Tony Blair’
This website has been down for almost a week. Unfortunately it’s disappearance coincided with the disappearance on holiday of the only member with IT skills, and all we were able to ascertain was that the site had suffered ‘configuration’ problems. Since the only configuration we understood was Eric Pickle’s waistline we were, as they say in the Chelsea dressing-room, well and truly stuffed.
But you may be reassured to learn that all is well on the allotments. Apart from one of the hens swallowing one of Albert’s hearing aids little of note has happened. The bean, pea and potato crops are huge so all that moaning about monsoons was unnecessary. The pond reveals that the Carp were doing more than carp during the wet Spring; a host of minors now rise to the surface at feeding time. And the pigeon population is flourishing, a product perhaps of their joining the hens around the corn troughs.
Meantime we feel even poorer than when last we reported. Everyone we know talks of being skint, but the High Pay Centre has reported that the average pay for chief executives has climbed to £4.923m, a continued rise over the levels of the past few years. But perhaps they are also feeling poorer given the news that Sir Martin Sorrel of WPP pocketed £43m in 2014. Clearly making all those irritating TV ads is hard graft. But our dear leader is keeping his promise to reward hard working families – one of them at least.
Today those members who are Labour Party members will receive their leadership voting papers, and I am sorry to report that they intend to vote for Mr Corbyn despite the advice to the contrary from that great exponent of truth and justice Tony Blair. Those of us who are apolitical hate to take sides but it has to be said that at least the weapons-of-mass-destruction that the bearded one wishes to scrap do actually exist.
Just maybe he is right about renationalising water too. For two weeks now we have had to boil every drop before ingesting it or, in the case of those who still have any, cleaning our teeth. The suspicion is that United Utilities have downsized in headcount. But shareholders such as the French government expect their dividends, and executive salaries are somewhat higher than in the days of North West Water. We simpletons simply wonder how water can be regarded as a competitive market.
Either way we will soon be back to boring you, always provided that the several thousand readers of yesteryear return. If not adieu for keying up a Blog for the sole attention of Mad Mick of Bacup is somewhat pointless.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: “You know that children are growing up when they start asking questions that have answers”… John J Plomp.
A tribunal heard yesterday that the British intelligence agencies have been spying on MPs and peers in contravention of a 50-year-old convention prohibiting surveillance of politician’s communications. Dating back to the Wilson years it has always been clear that no parliamentarian’s phone will be tapped unless there is a major national emergency. But the spooks have decided otherwise. Putting aside the obvious black humour about this being the only hope of finding the truth about expenses, this bothers us. The temptation for ministers to gain political advantage will be enormous.
As we pushed the stubborn hens from their runs this morning we worried out loud about the increasing evidence that the warnings of Orwell are coming to pass. Yes, times have changed and there are now major peacetime security dangers, but are we really happy that everything we do or say is liable to be probed? The once land of the free is becoming a viper’s nest of voyeurism, and nosey people are having a field day.
Of course they had no need yesterday to tap the phone of Two-Jags Lord Prescott to hear his latest outpourings. The true-socialist turned ermine wearer was in full voice about his former boss Tony Blair who made “offensive” remarks about heart transplants and Jeremy Corbyn. Mind you he might have been better advised to leave Mr Corbyn to conduct his own defence. He simply said that it is time for grown ups to act as grown ups and to disdain “silly remarks”. We know little about the contender for the Labour Party leadership, but we are becoming increasingly impressed.
The need to believe what our so-called leaders say is rapidly becoming more important than their supposed ideology, and anyone who believes in honesty has our vote. Over the top? We believe not for it becomes ever more evident that the diet of lies we are fed very day exceeds the amount of corn that we stuff down a hundred beaks each morning. For instance?
A few days ago our dear leader announced to a roll of drums that his war against the head-choppers is under way, and the Defence budget is being increased to meet Nato requirements. Cue applause from President Obama who praised a man prepared to defy austerity in the interests of world peace. What he, and we, didn’t realise was that the new figures are pure fiction.
Unknown to almost everyone the government has decided to add the Conflict Fund to defence expenditure. The Conflict Fund has nothing to do with our armed forces but has been added to the 2 percent-of-GDP bundle. Properly named the Conflict Stability and Security Fund, it will add more than £1 billion in 2015/16 and hey presto the target is met. The money will be disbursed by “cross-Whitehall Regional boards for Africa, Americas, Asia, Middle East & North Africa, South Asia and Wider Europe”. Note cross-Whitehall, not MoD.
It is not new money, merely an internal budget transfer. Typical amongst its projects is an invitation to the Iraqi government to put in bids for “gender related output indicators” and “the promotion of social cohesion and dialogue within and between communities”. If these sound like international development rather than investment in the British armed forces, that’s because they are. In fact they were previously part of the overseas aid budget.
You can only admire the sheer cunning. At a stroke the public’s demand for more realistic investment in troops, planes and ships is seemingly met, whilst the hated aids programme cost is reduced. In reality nothing has changed and the emasculation of our actual defences can continue out of the public gaze.
All of which changes our reactions to the spooks and their listening devices. Presumably they heard chapter and verse of the Conflict Fund plotting. All they need do now to win us over is publish the text.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives”…. William James.
The joy of Spring is that every morning brings fresh discoveries. The dormant primroses are back with us, the tulips are taking over from the daffodils and the birds are gathering straw left lying around near the the hen-runs. In the greenhouses the sweet peas are clambering from the compost, and the geraniums are beginning their journey toward majestic beauty. Most exciting of all we spotted a shoal of tiny fish in the allotments big pond this morning. Now we face our annual challenge of preventing the less-than-proud parents from eating them. Forget the artificial connivances of an election campaign, our allotments refuge is alive again , and we old codgers have spring in our steps. All is well!
But try as we may we cannot avoid the darkening influence of man’s inhumanity to man, and as we gathered in the ‘hut’ for our daily tribute to the patron saint of doughnut eaters, the mighty Eric Pickles we couldn’t dismiss from our minds an appalling spectacle. On Monday, 144 people were rescued by the Italian coastguard when the boat on which they were fleeing Libya capsized in the Mediterranean. Arriving homeless and without prospects in a strange land, these were – relatively speaking – the lucky ones. As many as 400 are thought to have drowned. Add them to the tally. Thousands of desperate fellow human beings have suffered horrendous deaths trying to get to the West. It has become a phenomenon of our time.
We hear little about life in the supposedly liberated Libya, but the fact that entire families are willing to risk the treacherous crossing gives a fair idea. Were the survivors being scooped out of the sea by the British coastguard, rather than the Italians, it might focus our minds on just how things have developed since David Cameron stood in Martyr’s Square in Tripoli and declared that Libyans had “no greater friend than the United Kingdom…We will stand with you every step of the way”. But we did nothing of the sort, it was judged to be too expensive. The new government in Tripoli failed to control the insurgent groups that flourished during our joint campaign against Gaddafi and now they are firmly established, waging bloody turf wars. The resulting chaos created the space for the beheading madmen of Isis to grow. One of its recent videos from the region showed 21 Egyptians being decapitated on the shores of the Mediterranean.
As Libya collapses into violence, its great friends in London and Washington have effectively turned a blind eye to the bloody outcome of what they started. As in Iraq, the ultimate victors look like being Islamic fundamentalists – from whom Libyans are now trying to flee in vast numbers. Italy, the closest European country, is taking almost all of the strain.
In many ways, Cameron made the same errors in Libya that Blair made in Iraq. He sent in forces to help remove a hated dictator, and did so on the premise that Britain is a country that shapes the world for the better. He trumpeted the elctions that followed, made a visit to the country he had helped to liberate – and then looked the other way as it slipped into merciless anarchy. As with Blair, initial bravado concealed a woeful lack of planning for the aftermath. The difference with Iraq is that there were no British casualties so the episode is easier to forget. We don’t have to live with the consequences. The Libyans do.
The election campaign has plenty to say about immigration from eastern Europe. Yet none of the parties have said what, if anything, they intend to do to help solve the nightmare of drowning innocents fleeing from the nightmare which we helped to create. Writing large cheques for overseas aid is no substitute for the support offered by a proper military. The Tory-Labour consensus on shrinking the military can only mean more botched jobs. Why is the Royal Navy ( and the navies of France and Spain) not offering to join the Italians in patrolling the waters and helping to save the lives of children? All these countries joined the 2011 bombing campaigns: do they not have a moral duty to deal with what has ensued?
Sadly we no longer have a navy, and these are not easy decisions to make. That David Cameron went in twelve months from proposing air strikes on President Assad of Syria to backing strikes on Assad’s enemies shows just what a quagmire foreign policy has become. But when choosing a leader we have the right to know how they will exert leadership. Cameron was right: Libya deserves friendship. Those who aspire to be Prime Minister should take just one day out from lying about their opponents to spell out just what our friendship is supposed to mean and how without adequate armed forces we propose to honour it.
It would be nice to close our eyes to those pictures of overloaded flimsy boats and the faces of bewildered and terrified children, of tiny bodies drifting in angry seas. But have we really sunk this low? If so we should withdraw from the fantasy of being a world power and stop triggering the living nightmares of others!
QUOTE FOR TODAY:” We have heard about the renewal of Trident, yet nothing about how the parties would approach a humanitarian problem like Libya. Why not?”…. Spectator,18/4/2105.
It was shirt-sleeves order as we cleaned out the hens this morning, and it seems a very long time since I last reported thus. What a difference a dose of Phoebus makes – suddenly life seems a pleasant experience rather than something akin to perpetual toothache. Even Albert seemed happier, and his tormentors the hens seem to have bucked up if the sudden increase in the number of eggs is any indication. We can now increase our donations to one of the food banks which our dear leader assures us are a figment of the opposition’s imagination.
But scepticism about anything that politicians say is second nature to us, and any interest we had in the election campaign has already faded. Yesterday the respective leaders flew from one part of the country to the other presumably believing that the mere sight of them will whip the natives into a frenzy. We suspect that apart from the very odd people that lined up with placards their efforts did nothing of the sort. Who believes any of them seems to be the general mood.
However as we sat on the wall – another novelty – with our mugs of Yorkshire tea one piece of political gobbledegook did catch our eye. It seems that the Labour Party has produced a poster parodying the long-gone one of their opponents which portrayed queues of plebs seeking employment. It shows equally long snakes of patients waiting to see a GP. It coincides with a letter published by 100 top doctors which describes the NHS as weaker and more fragmented than at any time in its history. They catalogue the closure of walk-in centres, A & E units, ambulance stations and GP surgeries. And we all know what has happened to mental health services.
Our dear leader responded as he left one of his flights, and given what he said we were left wondering if he had arrived from the planet Zog. It seems that the coalition has increased tenfold the number of doctors and nurses and made family doctors available around the clock. That may be true on Zog, but it certainly isn’t true in our neck of the woods where GPs are now as rare as hen’s teeth. The only hope of gaining an appointment is to ring at 8.30 am when the phones are jammed. If you fail in this lucky dip there is only one option – to head for the hospital A & E department. We are not making a political point here, merely stating the hard facts. Our GP services are in meltdown and the remaining practitioners have only one desire. One such now regularly joins us at the allotments, having leapt from the chaos at 55, thankful to be still relatively sane.
We don’t believe for one moment that the doctors now going public about their despair are playing politics. The vast majority of them devoted many years to studying medicine and feel a great commitment to the treatment of the sick. But the meddling of successive governments has turned a caring profession into a living nightmare of top-down bureaucracy and ever-increasing waiting times. And they are sick and tired of being used as political footballs. The failure of any political party to offer positive solutions is proving to be the last straw.
Even this morning’s news that Danny Alexander, the deputy to the Chancellor over the past five years, is predicting that child benefits for 4 million families face the axe is of no greater magnitude than the loss of the reassurance that every family has always treasured – that if disaster strikes the NHS is at hand.
Never mind, we are assured that prices of everything are going down. Clearly SuperDrug has not been told. Yesterday I bought a packet of Olbas pastilles the price of which has climbed by 30 per cent in just one month. So we don’t believe that tale either. But in the cause of truthfulness the Labour Party has brought back its greatest exponent of the virtue.
Tony Blair is back and, hey, if that doesn’t impress you nothing will!
QUOTE FOR TODAY ; ” I’m frank, brutally frank. And even when I’m not frank, I look frank!”….Lord Thomson of Fleet.
” Sometimes the sins you haven’t committed are all you have left to hold on to”….David Sedaris
” The Tory campaign talks of chaos should Labour win. Think of the chaos produced by the possibility, never mind the reality, of Britain quitting Europe. Jobs that are secure suddenly insecure; investment decisions postponed or cancelled; a pall of unpredictability hanging over the British economy”….Tony Blair.
“Our research indicates that even small amounts of vigorous activity could reduce your risk of early death. The benefits of vigorous exercise extend to people with weight problems and pre-existing cardiovascular disease”….Klaus Gebel, Cook University in Queensland.
” I appeal to Ukip voters to ‘come home’. I totally understand the frustration people have felt about issues like immigration where they want more done, and we will do more. And I understand the frustration about the EU – where the country deserves a referendum – and with me as PM they’ll get that referendum”….David Cameron.
“The best advice to people considering their pension pot is leave it there, do nothing. There are huge tax benefits from having the money in the pension. The idea is you CAN take your money out, not that you SHOULD take your money out. There is no rush”….Ros Altmann, pensions expert.
“If you live to be 90 in England and can still eat a boiled egg, they think you deserve the Nobel Prize”….Alan Bennett.
“It’s official. I’m middle-aged. I don’t need drugs any more. I can get the same effect by just standing up real fast”….Jonathan Katz.
“I have too much respect for the truth to drag it out on every trifling occasion”….Mark Twain.
Spirits amongst the allotments codgers are rising. The sun is out again this morning, the daffodils are back in all their glory and the greenhouses are transformed from storage dumps into rows of gleaming propagation trays all ready for every type of seed the catalogues can offer. I never cease to be amazed at the psychological effect of sunshine, even though its warmth is still far from its peak. Even Albert seemed perkier this morning, and the hens are no longer standin
g around in the gloomy manner of England cricket fans.
But outside of our little cloistered fantasy world all is far from well. For some time now Tom has been suffering from splitting headaches. Having waited three weeks for an appointment with his GP he has now been referred to a Neurologist. The waiting time to see him is, he has been told, three months and there is little doubt that the inevitable scan will involve a further wait of many weeks. The sad truth is that NHS services have collapsed in this region. And today we read headlines about yet another ‘shake-up’.
The latest gobbledegook involves a fantasy about transferring many hospital services into the ‘community’, under the care of GPs who are rapidly becoming as scarce as hen’s teeth. The simple truth is that there are no longer enough doctors and nurses to cope with a rapidly growing population. It is no coincidence that the EU rejected our dear leader’s nomination of Andrew Lansley for a top Brussels position. Neither is it a coincidence that our millionaire ministers all resort to private healthcare.
As the election campaign mounts we see more and more evidence that our politicians have lost all touch with reality. We hear little mention of the collapse of the NHS and social services, but a great deal about the ‘miraculous’ recovery of the economy. Gorgeous George Osborne is, we hear, the nearest thing to God here on earth. We are all in this together, and we all owe him a debt o undying gratitude.
But as we wiped the doughnut jam from our lips in the ‘hut’ this morning, we wondered if anyone bar us has bothered to read the analysis published yesterday by the Social Market Foundation (SMF). It reports that the average wealth of the best-off families rose by 64 per cent between 2005 and 2013-14 as they put more money aside to guard against future shock. They have average savings of £10,000 compared with £6,000 seven years ago. The proportion of people in this group with debts – apart from mortgages – dropped from 43 per cent to less than a third.
However, the SMF found that the poorest 20 per cent of Britons are less financially secure than they were in 2005, with their net wealth falling by 57 per cent and levels of debt and use of overdrafts and ‘payday loans’ increasing. Meanwhile, the inter-generational gap in incomes and wealth has widened significantly. The wages of those aged 26 to 35 fell steeply and they are far less likely to be property owners, with the proportion in this age bracket who are able to embark on buying a home falling from nearly three quarters to under one half.
On average, they have less than a week’s income in savings, owe 45 per cent more money than they did in 2005, and are increasingly running up overdrafts to pay their bills.
In other words the economic ‘miracle’ has divided Britain as never before. The rich are 64 per cent richer, the poor 57 per cent poorer. Throw in the top 1 per cent who have been allowed to turn tax evasion into a fine art and you have the perfect recipe for widespread disillusion and potential civil unrest.
Of course the findings demonstrate that the divisive trend began before the coalition came to power. But is anyone surprised to learn that Tony Blair was every bit as much in cahoots with the rich and famous as is the present bunch of well-heeled Old Etonians?
But sunshine is free, and we old codgers prefer to bury our heads in the warming sand. Unless the polling cards feature the words ‘None of the above’, we will not be voting. Our only inclination is to copy the example of the sainted Jeremy Clarkson of landing a few punches at the idiots that messed up Britain.
We suspect that we are not alone!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Mr Speaker, I withdraw my statement that half the cabinet are asses – half the cabinet are not asses!” …..Benjamin Disraeli.
Educational experts are launching a campaign to convince our schools of the need to teach charm. They argue that in today’s world, where interaction with others has been replaced with computer games, children are learning numeracy and the rest but lack the other essential for success of charm – eye contact and the ability to show interest in the opinions of prospective employers. It makes sense, but it has to be admitted that any lessons we codgers we once learned from the university of life were noticeably absent as we cleaned out the hens this morning. It was so piercingly cold that the only words we were inclined to utter were those of Titus Oates. I shall be gone some time was on many a lip as we headed for the sanctuary of the warm hut.
The combined effect of the fire and countless mugs of Yorkshire tea soon restored our circulation. Then the gripes commenced and first up, not for the first time were the antics of our future King. The new biography by Catherine Mayer paints a worrying picture of the household of Prince Charles, and reminds us of his rather hippy-dippy brimful of opinions. After so many years of quiet, uncontroversial conduct by the Queen, the book reminds us of the perils of the notion of one person seated on a gold-embossed chair, wearing a diamond hat, claiming God wants them to be Head of Everything.
That has its advantages in that it prevents some odious creatures such as Tony Blair sitting there, but what happens if that mighty and all-knowing one dabbles in controversy? Maintaining a monarchy is a fine art of smoke and mirrors, what happens if the mighty one begins to believe that his supposedly superior intellect entitles him to join in the messy claims and squabbles of everyone’s pet hates – the elected politicians?
We codgers would be desperately sad to see the end of the monarchy, which still serves to make this country unique in so many ceremonial ways. But we do fear for its future if and when Charles ascends to the golden throne. In saying that we are not unduly influenced by the work of Catherine Mayer who, under pressure, has admitted that she has spent less than one hour alone with her target. Our concern is with his constant preoccupation with alternative therapies, and the part he plays in boosting an industry worth $1.6 billion in the UK alone. Glance at its products and you will never see independent assessments of a treatments efficacy or dangers.
if you want a true measure of the man buy Edzard Ernst’s memoir ‘A Scientist in Wonderland’. Ernst has been the subject of a royal vendetta. He first worked in a German homeopathic hospital, and found that its directors believed that pseudoscience could achieve nothing beyond placebo effects. He came to England and began to publish more than a thousand papers, and received 14 medical prizes. But instead of taking a prestigious academic post, he applied for a professorship at Exeter University so that he could investigate the safety and effectiveness of alternative medicines.
Ernst and his team of researchers displayed great ingenuity in designing random clinical trials. They found that chiropractic manipulation of the spine was dangerous in itself. They tested homeopathic remedies, spiritual or distance healing and acupuncture and concluded that none had any medical benefits beyond placebo effect. His work quickly attracted the hostility of therapists. Inevitably Prince Charles raged the loudest of them all.
It was at this time that Charles promoted a diet that recommended curing cancer with coffee enemas. Professor Michael Baum told him: “The power of my authority comes with a knowledge built on 40 years of study and 25 years of active involvement in cancer. Your power and authority rest on an accident if birth. I beg you to exercise caution when advising patients with life-threatening diseases to embrace unproven therapies”.
No chance of that, as Ernst found out. He publicly warned the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health that it was promoting treatments without assessing their effectiveness. When the Prince persuaded an economist to produce a report urging the NHS to save billions by adopting quack remedies, The Times obtained an early draft. Ernst told reporters that the Prince was peddling misleading information and “over-stepping his constitutional role”.
The Prince’s private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, demanded that Exeter University discipline Ernst. After a 13 month investigation the university found no evidence to justify action against Ernst, who had by then made Exeter an internationally acclaimed centre of medical research. But royal displeasure mounted and Ernst was sacked. Britain had lost its only centre for evaluating the effectiveness of the ‘cures’ that cranks and hucksters push at the public.
It is a worrying story. An expert has lost his job and people continue to pour money into an industry that spawns an ever increasing number of ‘cures’, most of which are the product of fevered imagination and a desire to make money from the gullible. Check your junk mail!
This is a clear example of unfounded obsession backed by powerful influence. This is the action of our future King. It does not bode well.
Meantime our leading hospitals are reduced to refusing to accept their reduced budgets on the grounds that should they agree they will “no longer be able to guarantee patient safety”. This at a time when, encouraged by the Prince, people continue to pour money into alternatives that guarantee nothing.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” I see nothing wrong with power as long as I am the fellow who has it!”….Cecil King.
It has arrived. Having complacently returned the snow-clearing gear back to the shed we had to fish it out again this morning before releasing the hens, having decided that herding them is difficult enough without the added complication of trying to clear an area with them stubbornly refusing to extricate themselves from drifts. Not drifts deep enough to bury Albert mind you, but a considerable handicap if your legs are only six inches long.
Inevitably tempers frayed somewhat during the process, not least because having banked the cursed white stuff to form barriers around the feeding area, many of our charges decided to leap into them. Even David Attenborough would have been hard-pushed to wax eloquent about these feathered friends. But eventually order was restored and the coops cleaned-out, and with prayers of thankfulness we retreated to the warm hut where the aroma of hot doughnuts restored our sense of well being. Hot jam may not be everyone’s idea of paradise, but after two hours of re-enacting Scott’s last journey it felt that way.
But pent-up aggression had to find a target and I’m afraid that the Saudis drew the short straw, or more specifically those sycophants who have decided that the funeral of King Abdullah was the right moment to express their undying affection for them. The Obamas learned the hard way yesterday when the Sheiks refused to shake the First Lady’s hand. But our scorn was directed a little nearer to home.
After attending the funeral Prince Charles plans to return to the gulf state in February. A Tory MP has spoken for many in saying that his friendship with the House of Saudi is “repellent”. Louise Mensch suggests that he might consider raising issues such as public beheading, floggings, women not being allowed to vote, drive or breath without permission from men, or even not being allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperone. We presume to go one step further by asking what the hell he is doing going there at all.
Of course any strange behaviour by our future King pales into insignificance by comparison with that of our former Prime Minister, Mr Blair. Perhaps mindful of the need to maintain the level of his fees, the man that led us in search of imaginary weapons of mass destruction has issued a glowing tribute to the departed King. He was, intoned Mr Blair, a man “I admired greatly…a great moderniser”. Everything about the exalted ruler of the House of Saud and his thirty wives was “modern, modern, modern”. Really?
Perhaps we missed something? Maybe the previous sentence for Raif Badawi would at some distant point have been 1,001 lashes and the King reduced it to 1,000. Maybe the public executioners that carry out public beheadings now wear gloves to avoid hand-strain under modern health and safety laws. Maybe there is a new law ordering that women stoned to death or refused the right to drive can no longer be referred to as ‘birds” under new PC laws. Maybe compared to the 15th century the King was enlightened.
We codgers do live in the present age and recognise that trade links are important, but do our leading figures really need to heap Uriah Heap-like adoration on a regime that is an affront to half of the world’s population – to women? Do they really have to eulogise a regime by comparison with which the Church of England’s nonsense about male archbishops who lay hands on women bishops not being able to subsequently lay those hands on men seem positively modern and humane?
Whilst on the theme of modernisation it is perhaps worth mentioning that we have received several comments from readers on the subject of the forthcoming general election. They suggest that the ballot paper be modernised to include the option of “None of the above”. Get real folks, that would lead to a rejection of our political posers by a substantial majority.
Other letters have pointed to the proposal by our dear leader to declare invalid any union vote failing to produce a majority representing more than 50 per cent of the total membership. The mathematicians have worked out that almost every parliamentary by-election ever held fails that democratic test.
Pots and kettles. But at least even Albert’s wife is free to drive or head off for Bingo without his permission!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The Labour Party can only win the election if it protects the Blair legacy by daring to be modern”….Alan Milburn.
FA Cup day always excites the football fanatics amongst us, and last night’s visit by the millionaires of Man United to Cambridge had provided a tasty trigger. As we cleaned out the hens this morning the Old Trafford faithful amongst us were desperately trying to rationalise the failure of their wealthy heroes to dispatch Cambridge United, whose total cost would hardly raise the eyebrows of a Tesco check-out operator. The humiliation was, they claimed, all down to a poor display by the referee, Chris Foy. We neutrals who watched the game on TV didn’t notice that, what we did notice was the refusal of the minnows to swap shirts at the end. It seems that had they done so they would have had to pay for new ones.
The usual argument about Premiership footballers being overpaid and over here had petered out in the usual stalemate by the time we settled in the warm hut, at which point we reached unanimity in selecting the news story of the day. It concerned 63 year old Tom Crawford who is suffering from cancer and was forced to retire from his job as a carpet-fitter two years ago. He lives alone in his bungalow at Carlton in Nottinghamshire. He is alleged to be in arrears on mortgage payments on the home he has occupied for 27 years – a charge he disputes. True to form the bonus-rich bankers have called in the bailiffs, whose strong-armed bullying tactics would have won applause in the Third Reich.
But when they arrived in their white Transit van and black Mercedes they were in for a shock. More than 500 local people had formed a human barricade around the ailing man’s only sanctuary, and they had no intention of allowing the persecution to take place. Press pictures reveal that this was no vigilante mob, there were more grey heads than baseball caps. These were ordinary folk whose patience has snapped at yet another example of vulnerable people being hammered mercilessly by a Big Brother state, the ministers of which are so out of touch that last week one responded to a similar story by remarking that the victim must face up to selling some of his artwork!
On this cold January morning it lifted our ancient spirits to learn that the old British community spirit and sense of justice is not dead. We would never advocate violence but the time has surely come for peaceful protest on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves.
The sheer injustice of such callous treatment of those forced into near-penury is illustrated every day. Today we read that Adrian Chiles was paid £1 million of licence payers money by the BBC to sit on a sofa in the ‘One Show’. We read of MPs rightly demanding details of the fortune being amassed by Tony Blair who travels the world exploiting the fact that he was once our Prime Minister, yet still has the gall to draw his allowance of £115,000. We read of bankers, whose recklessness led to the age of austerity, pocketing bonuses equivalent to ten years income of a hard-working family. We read of leading sports and business stars who take up residence abroad to evade tax. We read of Amazon…the list goes on and on.
Our society becomes ever more divided and a sense of injustice stalks the land. The good people of Carlton have reminded us that we still have a voice, that we still have the democratic right to come together to cry enough is enough!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” All politics are based on the indifference of the majority” ….James Reston.
Call us sad if you must, but we codgers are genuinely concerned at the implications of our dear leader’s plan to dig a tunnel under Stonehenge. Archaeologists have discovered traces of charcoal from the Blick Mead encampment, a mile and a half from the site, which dates from around 4,000 BC. The indications are that the site was originally occupied by hunter-gatherers returning to Britain after the Ice Age, when the country was still connected to the Continent. The site has also revealed evidence of burnt flints and remains of giant bulls, as well as flint tools. British pre-history may have to be re-written. We realise that an election looms but are we seriously going to destroy unique evidence of our ancestors who lived so long ago?
As we gathered in the warm hut for our brew we concluded that the answer is probably yes, for as a nation we are remarkably indifferent to our heritage. When I was in Australia a few years ago my friends took me to a pub which they proudly announced was over 300 years old. The pews in our parish church beat that, yet we seem to place no store in such things. Proud to be British? We seem to have lost the habit.
Even the more recent aspects of our history no longer seem to induce the old feelings of proud ownership. It is not long since polls showed that the vast majority were proud of the NHS and valued its traditions of care for all. Now we seem content to look the other way as successive governments proceed with its destruction. According to one of this morning’s stories Tony Blair “breaks out in a sweat” at mention of his alleged involvement with Wendi Deng, the former wife of Rupert Murdoch. It would be more appropriate were he to show remorse over what he set in train at the NHS.
In the early days of New Labour’s administration, he despatched Frank Dobson – then his first Health Secretary and seen as an obstacle to the privatisation agenda – to fight a doomed battle to become Mayor of London, replacing him with Alan Milburn. Milburn passionately advocated increasing the role of private companies in the NHS, including referring patients to private treatment at public expense. “The private diagnosis and treatment centres are being paid on average 11 per cent more per operation than NHS hospitals”, write Dobson at the time. “Outsourcing may be justified if it costs less. Outsourcing that costs more makes no sense at all”. These policies of marketisation meant more bureaucracy, not less, and the NHS administrative costs began to rocket.
One of the most disastrous forms of privatisation was the Private Finance Initiative, an accounting con first devised by the Major government and later pursued with enthusiasm by Blair. Private contractors were paid an annual fee to build and manage hospitals, which were then leased back to the state. Conveniently, such expenditure was not included in the nation’s public borrowing sheets. From the off, PFI would cost more money because private companies have to borrow at higher rates than the state. In a familiar story in modern Britain, it was the taxpayer who was expected to shoulder the risk. In 2011 the Treasury Select Committee concluded that it was “illusory” that PFI protected the taxpayer from risk, and in 2012 the coalition announced a £1.5 billion bail-out of PFI hospitals while the profit went to the privateers.
It is impossible to overstate how much of a monumental rip-off PFI has proven over the past two decades. The commissioned projects were worth £54.7 billion in total – but, by the time it has finally paid off the consortiums in decades to come, the taxpayer is projected to end up paying a barely believable £310 billion. The state has locked itself into thirty-year contracts, spending many years paying pure profit to companies.
Hospitals had to abide by comically absurd maintenance and service contracts. Profiteers were presented with the opportunity to milk the taxpayer -in one well documented case they were charging £333 for installing a new light bulb. It was, and is, a licence to print money at the expense of the NHS. Money is being diverted away from patient care and straight into private pockets.
PFI has left hospitals staring into the abyss of bankruptcy. By 2012 many such as South London Healthcare NHS Trust had been placed under ‘administration’ supervised by the non-clinical watchdog Monitor. The result was yet more cost-cutting, fewer nurses and doctors.
To quote Dr Kailish Chand of the BMA politicians have “mortgaged health care for generations to come”. But they have looked after number one – almost every former Health Secretary is now employed by private healthcare providers.
So if over the next few days you find yourself trapped in a besieged A & E department pay no heed to the claptrap from Jeremy Hunt and his cronies about the need for increased efficiency, think instead about the greatest rip-off of them all ; PFI!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” The carve-up of the NHS is a threat to the health and even the lives of patients. Unnecessary competition will destabilise complex, interconnected local health economies, in particular hospitals, potentially having very adverse effects on patients services”….Prof Terence Stephenson, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.
I imagine that I’m in the stage that the medical professions likes to label ‘Watch and Wait’, which broadly translates as we haven’t a clue as to what is wrong so lets see how things turn out. So this morning I entered into the spirit of things by rising like Lazarus and wandering round to the allotments to check on my hens. If they were pleased to see me they gave no sign of it, but that may have been due to their being in need of stilts. Sunday is Albert’s confession morning so he was absent, and I can only assume that his sins of omission list included a failure to dig over and aerate muddy patches. I shall return later to wield the fork, but must tread with care both literally and metaphorically for my grumpy colleague is a member of the ‘if you are well enough to do this you can do the rest as well’ school of thinking.
No warm hut and doughnuts for me. I was soon back in my front room which is now being aired in readiness for its annual occupation. Having no newspapers to hand other than the bible of she-who-must-be-obeyed, the Sunday Torygraph. if its content is any guide the whole country is devoting its day to studying pictures of the infant George, clad in a medieval romper suit. To a pleb’s eye one baby looks much like another but this one, we are reminded, is a future king. If my mathematics are correct he will be older than I am now before he assumes that role so the three wise men have no need for haste.
But the Telegraph is a strange mixture of sickening sycophancy and social campaigning and it deserves credit for the launch of its ‘Justice For The Elderly’ campaign. Triggered by the revelations about appalling neglect of vulnerable dementia patients at the Merok Park Nursing Home in Surrey, the paper has decided that enough is enough. The home was closed down by the police at the request of the Care Quality Commission and the residents suffered the final humiliation of being carried from their beds in their nightclothes into the cold evening air. It has quickly become apparent that Merok is not alone in neglect that would shame a third-world society.
The campaign will call for the proper training of care workers, properly licensed and paid care workers, better regulation of care services and a new, national, highly publicised care advice service. It is surely right – in a country where hairdressers and bouncers require licences to work it is incredible that those given the role of looking after the most vulnerable should be subject to no background checks and no formal training.
Many years ago I was part of the Care Homes inspection team employed by the old Health Authority. We were led by a wonderful lady who was a long-retired hospital sister. The first smell of urine triggered her cry of neglect and the management was immediately served notice of a repeat visit within 48 hours. The bedridden were checked for signs of bedsores and the skills of the carers – then often nurses – were observed and assessed. Above all Sister Vera checked for what she called ‘patient consideration’, and even the sight of two carers talking to each other whilst making the bed of a recumbent resident would trigger a fierce rebuke.
Since those long-gone days standards have descended into the gutter. As part of the so-called austerity measures contracts have been awarded to the lowest bidders and the cowboys have taken over. Of course there remain some kindly dedicated carers but for employers on the make anyone prepared to work long hours for very low pay is acceptable, no questions asked and no training given.
We all know that what has happened has little to do with austerity and everything to do with transferring power to the private sector. Given that both the Conservative Party and the post-Blair Labour party are committed to the ethos of Thatcherism there is little any campaign can do to change that. But that should not mean that rigid standards should not apply. Elderly people with dementia have no political champion. Society at large should fill that void, this new campaign should be its weapon.
Only when there is a new and valued qualification called Approved Care Worker, and homes owned by other than large faceless quick-buck groups, will we be entitled to sit back and reflect that people who once cared for us but now themselves require 24/7 care are safe and well-cared for.
A final issue raised by the paper that reinforces the prejudices of the chattering classes concerns the extent to which the dreaded Blair did or didn’t know about CIA torture. George W Bush gladly admits to knowing so it is inconceivable that his best mate didn’t. The man is not God. However powerful his establishment connections it is time to remove the kid gloves. Tony Blair should be obliged, under oath, to tell the truth. It will be a whole new experience for both him and his millions of victims.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” One lives and learns, doesn’t one? That is certainly one of the more prevalent delusions”….George Bernard Shaw.
Saturday morning loses its usual sense of eager anticipation without the prospect of a get-together with my allotments pals followed by an afternoon of providing advice to referees. What passes for excitement at the moment will be confined to sitting up in bed to advise others on where to get a Christmas tree and how to locate it – a poor alternative.
On such occasions escapism is the best option and for me that means a book. And the one I have settled on is spellbinding. Owen Jones latest is ‘The Establishment’, and if like me you imagined that you knew exactly what the British Establishment is I can recommend it, even if you haven’t been laid low by the accursed winter virus. It is of course impossible to sum up 350 carefully researched pages in a few paragraphs, but I will attempt to give you a taster.
It may well be that, like me, you have often paid heed to the utterances of the plethora of ‘think-tanks’ regularly quoted in the news media. One whose opinions have always drawn my naive attention is the Taxpayer’s Alliance. It sounds like the voice of the taxpayer when it condemns the latest example of waste or incompetence on the part of this or that public service. On the face of it the agenda is to save hard-working taxpayer’s money, the real agenda is to hammer home again and again the benefits of private enterprise.
The so-called Taxpayer’s Alliance receives much of its funding from a shadowy organisation called the Midlands Industrial Council, which has also donated £1.5 million to the Conservative Party, as well as donating to a fund that helped get key Conservative candidates elected in marginal seats in the general election. Key members of the Council include leading right-wing businessmen such as Sir Anthony Bamford, Malcolm McAlpine and the betting magnate Stuart Wheeler. Here are powerful people who want to shrink the state and reduce the amount of tax they pay, and who are using their considerable wealth to undermine confidence in public expenditure. Through a ‘think-tank’ they are able to achieve this while largely remaining hidden from view, or without having to front a campaign.
A similar story emerges about most of the other ‘think tanks’. ‘Policy Exchange’, on closer examination, proves to be little more than a conclave of Conservative tycoons and bankers with a vested interest in so-called free-market economies. Hedge-fund manager George Robinson has handed over at least a quarter of a million to the Conservatives. The CEO of Next, and former advisor to George Osborne, Simon Woolfson, has given £383,350. Theodore Agnew, an insurance executive appointed by Michael Gove as a non-executive member of the Department of Education board, has donated £134,000.
An interesting case study is ‘Reform’, the think-tank that specialises in “objective” thought on the privatisation of public services. Its donors include corporate giants such as the General Healthcare Group, BMI Healthcare and Bupa Healthcare. Nick Seddon, the think-tank’s former director, was head of communications at Circle Partnerships, which describes itself as “Europe’s largest healthcare partnership”. Circle has now taken over Hinchingbrooke Hospital, the first NHS hospital to be privatised.
What is really surprising is that the Labour Party, once the bastion of state ownership and worker’s rights, is now enmeshed in this extremely complex and deliberately deceptive Establishment. In 2002 Margaret Thatcher told a meeting of her still vociferous followers that “our greatest achievement was Tony Blair”. As Blair continued the agenda of privatisation and dalliance with the wealthy he stifled all dissent by turning the party conference into a US-style political rally, and ignored the usual socialist resolutions. He sought to end the party’s dependence on trade-union funding and to replace it by the financial backing of wealthy individuals. In effect there is now little difference between the parties. When in 2007 Blair was interviewed by the police over the so-called ‘cash for honours’ scandal, it was the first time a serving prime minister had ever been so near to prosecution.
Two final points. When the Cameron government slashed the top rate of tax, polls showed that the majority of the electorate opposed such a move. The party admitted that there were few votes to be had by doing this, but for those who “fund the party it is important”. Prior to that Blair’s right-hand man Peter Mandelson was filmed holidaying on the yacht of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, together with someone revealed as George Osborne.
You need to read the book to comprehend the magnitude of its expose. In essence it is telling us that our two main parties are in a corrupt embrace with the wealthy and powerful. Not a happy thought!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Owen Jones displays a powerful combination of cool analysis and fiery anger in this dissection of the profoundly sickening corrupt state that is present-day Britain. He is a fine writer and this is a truly necessary book”…..Philip Pullman.
Having read of the north London thief who hypnotised a shopkeeper we codgers are wondering if the same technique would work with Albert. He is by far the most skilled amongst us and without him maintenance on the allotments would be difficult, but on freezing mornings such as this his aggressive attention to detail is irksome when our only desire is to be back in the warm hut. Unlike the hypnotic thief we have no wish to steal his wallet, we just wish to shut him up. The desire was reinforced by ten teeth-chattering minutes spent arguing about the need to update the latches on the hen-run gates.
But we escaped eventually, and gathered around the hut fire in the manner of England slip-fielders preparing to drop catches. Once our blood have thawed we turned our attention to an analysis carried out by clinical psychologist Ronald Bracey of the Christmas cards produced by the three main political party leaders. Flanked by Chelsea Pensioners David Cameron and the ever faithful Sam stands outside Number Ten, which appears like a halo over his saintly head. This, concludes Dr Bracey, is a portrait of power – a statement about how he sees his role in the country and world.
By contrast Ed Miliband plays with his young family at his kitchen table. It is sweet, says the analyst, but not the kind of strong image you would associate with a leader. Nick Clegg’s offering looks as if the snaps of him and his wife were taken in a photo booth and implies that he doesn’t give a hoot about the opinion polls. The good doctor doesn’t cover Nigel Farage and we can only guess at his conclusion about a geezer clutching a pint and a fag.
Just for a moment we attempted to apply the game to ourselves, but then realised that it is unwise to read too much into cards purchased by the criteria of biggest pack/ lowest cost. Instead we turned our attention to the news that the extra £2 billion handed to the NHS this week by Gorgeous George Osborne has been gobbled up by an overspend on compensation for patients whose neglect resulted from a “shortage of nursing staff”. Come back Nye, all is forgiven.
But enough of such inconsequential drivel. For us the real story of the day is provided by no less than the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Gwmgiedd. He was hearing an appeal by tycoon Philip Day, who is estimated to be worth around £300 million. He was fined £450,000 plus costs of £457,000 for destroying an ancient woodland, an act described by Lord Thomas as “destruction of part of the common heritage of mankind”. Not a penny has been paid within a 112 day time limit, and the Lord Chief Justice remarked that such defiance would mean prison for lesser mortals. “It seems to me”, he said, “that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor”.
To an extent that has always been the case, but never quite to the extent of today. Very few of the super-rich pay tax, very few wear other than ermine. The rich boys rule Britain as never before as wealthy ministers such as Ian Duncan Smith lecture Newsnight reporters on the need to crack down on benefits “scroungers”.
But spare a thought for that man of the people, Tony Blair. This week, stung by media reports describing him as a fortune-hunter, he announced that he is not rich. His bank balance, he told us, is only just in excess of £10 million. It suggested that he, in common with the rest of the ruling class, has a somewhat vague understanding of what poverty actually is!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “All I ask is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy!”….Spike Milligan.
Maybe one feels the cold more as one grows older. Either that or the temperature this morning was a la Captain Scott. By contrast the eggs felt very warm as we collected them, clearly feathers are more effective than long johns. Either way we codgers were wracked with guilt. For many a year we have enjoyed adding Grumpy to Gordon Brown’s name, and having heard of his decision to call time on his 32 year-long political career we cannot shake off the feeling that we have done him an injustice.
When Gordon took to the stage to rescue the No vote in the Scottish referendum campaign our minds went back to the passionate son of the manse, the old-school socialist that once wore his heart on his sleeve. That person seemed to vanish during the Blair years, possibly the result of inner conflict based on the emergence of ‘New’ Labour and its disdain for those who once looked to the “people’s party” to fight their corner. People who worked for him told us that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, but said that he always stuck to his principles. Never was this more evident than when he blocked the Blair plan to take Britain into the Euro. For that at least we should remember him with gratitude!
Proof that the old Gordon is still alive and kicking comes this morning with the news that he has refused the opportunity to become Lord Brown of this or that. Contrast that with other supposed socialists such as John Prescott or Neil Kinnock. Or even Liberals such as Paddy Ashdown, who bang on about the “undemocratic” Lords, yet grab the first opportunity to dress themselves up in the garb that they profess to despise!
So as we scuttled into the warm hut to partake of refreshments that the health promotion busybodies assure us will do us untold harm, we raised our doughnuts in tribute to Grumpy and concluded that he had good reason. Even the most cheerful amongst us would also lapse if faced with leading the ‘people’s party’ in the company of such as Tony Blair and Peter, now Lord, Mandelson.
But to be perfectly honest we simply do not understand politicians. A few such as Gordon Brown do seem to stick to the facts, however unpalatable they may be. But most seem to make it up as they go, a classic example being the welter of promises now pouring forth ranging from roads galore through to trains fast enough to outpace a meteor. Economists tell us that the already record national debt will be increased by £78 billion to cover these. Our debt is already greater than that of any of the ‘struggling’ EU economies so there must surely be a frightening moment of truth ahead. The biggest single problem is falling tax revenue yet neither of the main parties seems to have the will to tackle tax avoidance which is now running at record levels.
Meanwhile the National Audit Office (NAO) continues to publish a catalogue of waste. Its latest report covers the proposal to transfer £2 billion of NHS funding to social care in a bid to reduce hospital admissions. It tells us that the scheme was not workable and the money has been wasted. It would be easier to list those projects which have worked – for they are few and far between.
Perhaps our dear leader should turn to his usual source of advice, Andy Coulson who is out of prison and once again available. Perhaps he should also take a glance at this morning’s ComRes poll. The Ukip “fruitcakes” are now on 18 per cent and rising. Like the national debt they demand attention!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. ….Mark Twain.
A morning of mucky mist reminded us that November is racing toward its end. That fact in turn reminded us that our resolution to forget Christmas until December dawns will soon have run its course. Since its modern commercialised version seems to create more stress than goodwill, we codgers would prefer to postpone all thought of it until December 24th, but we all have grandchildren and will soon need to drag ourselves to the shops lest all those who do so from September onwards strip the shelves. As we ruefully mulled this over this morning only Albert confessed to having even given thought to a present list, but given that he has ordered a new set of ladders for Mrs Albert we concluded that our version of sanity was not entirely misguided.
Having cleaned out the squabbling hens we retired from the near-darkness into the brightly lit hut and settled for our daily tribute to our patron Saint Pickles. We noted without too much surprise that the head of the Government’s immigration watchdog, John Vine, has warned MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that the blessed Theresa has been busy burying news. Apparently various reports revealing that the flood is now running at twice the Government’s target have disappeared into the Home Secretary’s drawers – those on her desk we hasten to add given that this is a family blog. Since every other minister behaves in the same way we cannot find it in our hearts to condemn her.
That may well be because our entire capacity for condemning politicians is constantly exhausted by Tony Blair. He left Downing Street many moons ago, but scarcely a day passes but the headlines tell us of his latest exploits and resulting bank balance. This morning we are treated to two such. Given his supposed preoccupation with Godly matters we cannot avoid praying that he takes a vow of silence.
Perhaps unsurprisingly most of his edicts pour forth via his beloved USA. Today he has chosen the ‘Wall Street Journal’ to warn that leaving the EU would be “an act of suicide”. He goes on to advise Ed Miliband to focus on the “middle ground” and to “combine the politics of aspiration with the politics of compassion”. So far removed from reality has George W Bush’s pal become that he genuinely believes that ignoring the working classes and allowing our public services to be swamped is the secret to success. And compassion? Perhaps he has in mind the thousands of families now bereaved as the result of a war justified by lies.
Meantime our fallen hero has addressed the world from a New York podium. “Throughout all human history, never has been extinguished that relentless, unquenchable desire to do good”, he asserted. Which must be why he signed his notorious filthy-lucre deal to advise the vicious regime in Kazakhstan. But we should never underestimate the number of influential people who still swoon at his every pronouncement. Of course they include the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. But close behind him come the decision-makers at Save the Children, the charity that enjoys so much of our fund-raising capacity. Mr Blair was speaking at a bash modestly called the Illumination Gala, at which the charity awarded him a gong and the impressive title of Peace Envoy for the Middle East.
It is, we presume, sheer coincidence that the chief executive of Save the Children UK is Justin Forsyth, who for three years was a trusted henchman of our former Prime Minister. Either way, two hundred of the charity’s staff have signed a letter calling for it to take back the gong. The award, says the letter, is a betrayal of Save the Children’s founding principles. Meantime an online petition criticising the award has quickly attracted over 100,000 signatures.
The Save the Children staff say that the award “endangers our credibility globally”. In fact – apart from perhaps, arms-dealing and autocracy – is there any cause that wouldn’t be damaged by association with Tony Blair who had he, rather than Harold Wilson, been PM in the 1960s would undoubtedly have committed British troops to Vietnam ?
There are those who believe that if the Chilcot report – also hidden in someone’s drawers – ever sees the light of day Mr Blair may face trial for war crimes. Who knows. But one thing is for sure – the consequences for what he did threaten public safety to this day and those who, like one of our allotments gang, lost loved ones in Iraq will never forgive him.
Many who believe in forgiveness take a different view, but until he shuts up even they remain hostile to the hero of Save the Children.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” If Thomas Edison had gone to business school, we would all be reading by bigger candles”…..Mark McCormack.