Posts Tagged ‘Tony Blair’

Perhaps Blatter should take over the Banks!

It was dark and wet this morning, and I am not referring to Albert’s tea. Mornings such as this bring out the worst in us codgers – both keepers and hens act as if they would sooner be in their beds and the happy chat and lively spirits of those seemingly long-gone sunny summer mornings are but a distant memory. Amazingly hen production is still high, clearly our Columbian Blacktails have have not read the expert publications which devote many a page to explaining why the dark days before Christmas serve to switch off reproduction genes. We grumpy humans need no such enlightenment for ours malfunctioned back when Blair descended from heaven to dwell amongst us.

On mornings such as this the ‘hut’ represents our version of heaven, and as we dried out around the glowing fire our spirits lifted. It was time for our daily scan of the morning papers. We were intrigued by the Daily Mail which demands to know: “How many more murky deals is this grasping hypocrite keeping from us”. The saintly Mail is apoplectic at the “latest revelation of Tony Blair’s readiness to exploit past public office for private gain” in the form of a Saudi consultancy. Perhaps we can help. Our erstwhile leader has been contracted to be the keynote speaker at Mining Indaba, described as the world’s largest mining investment conference. His talk will cover “his vast experience as a global leader”. Mining Indaba’s ultimate owner is undoubtedly pleased by its coup in the hypocrisy stakes. Its name is the Daily Mail & General Trust.

Then again it has to be admitted that our daily news providers are all inclined to mislead us. A few days ago the Daily Torygraph paid much attention to the “first photographs” of a suspicious “Russian-made” cargo plane, an An26 , which had been intercepted and escorted into Stansted airport by RAF fighters. Alas! The picture was not of an An26, or of any other cargo plane, or indeed of the supposed incident. The aircraft pictured was a Russian Tupolev bomber being intercepted many moons ago. So far the editor has not managed to find space in the letter columns for the many corrections sent in.

Never mind, none of us is perfect. Not even the once proud leader of the British banks, Barclays. Yesterday the ringing of the telephone had me scuttling downstairs only to discover that I was the recipient of one of those intrusive automated calls extolling the virtues of, er, Barclays. Given that they are now once again up to their necks in scandal it is surprising that they have the time for such unsolicited pestering. Their latest offence involves manipulating the foreign exchange markets.

Almost four years have passed since Bob Diamond sat in the Commons and told MPs : “There was a period of remorse and apology for Banks. I think that period needs to be over”. Diamond was the king-pin of Barclays but stood down when it was found to have rigged the Libor rate. His punishment? Zilch. His bonuses that easily totalled £100 million are safely stashed away, he’s launched a new African banking venture, and his daughter’s recent wedding in the South of France was eye-popping in its opulence.

Barclays, and many of the other Banks, were the prime factors in the financial crash yet have continued to mis-sell and fiddle the markets. Unabashed, they have also continued to hand out massive salaries and bonuses to their so-called experts whilst reducing their rewards to savers to pitiful levels thanks to the oodles of public money poured their way via ‘quantitive easing’. Despite all the revelations of criminal fraud on a grand scale no banker has gone to jail. Contrast that with the retribution rightly dished out to people found guilty of benefit fraud.

This government is fond of appointing quangos led by ‘czars’. Perhaps it is time to do the same for the Banks. The obvious choice would be Sebb Blatter, a paragon of virtue by comparison with the new breed of Bank leaders.

Then again it might consider Jeremy Hunt. The disadvantage would be that he is honest, but he does share the financial sector’s tendency to be clueless. Yesterday he staked his claim by trumping his wheeze to pay GPs a bonus for diagnosing dementia by announcing that the GP and A & E crises are down to people queuing up to seek treatment for colds. Can even he really believe this?

Call us as daft as Edwina Curry if you must, but we codgers still harbour a secret admiration for John Major. Yesterday he uttered more sense on our inability to cope with immigration than the rest of our less-than-esteemed leaders have managed in the past four years. With him back in charge and Blatter overseeing the Banks what would we have to fear?
QUOTES FOR TODAY; ” If an Englishman gets run down by a truck he apologises to the truck”….Jackie Mason/ “An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one”….George Mikes/ “An Englishman’s mind works best when it is almost too late”….Lord D’Abernon/ “The Englishman has all the qualities of a poker except its occasional warmth”….Daniel O’Connell/ “The English have an extraordinary ability for flying into a great calm”….Alexander Woolcott.

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Charities gagged and abused by ministers!

Our allotments hut will soon have a very special feature. We codgers have purchased one of the ceramic poppies that have produced such a beautiful tribute to the fallen at the London Tower moat. Several of us remember the horrendous loss of family members during the second world war, and of hearing stories of earlier ones cut down in the insane slaughter of the first. Our poppy will serve to constantly remind us of the sacrifice made to thwart threats to the freedom of these islands.

To one of our number memories are tinged with bitterness. He lost a son in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict, and he finds no consolation in thoughts of a valiant defence. Like many others his loss was the result of the political ambition of one man, who lied to the nation and triggered an un-winnable war that achieved nothing and, far from defending our nation, put it at greater risk from madmen serving an imaginary and merciless God. It was perhaps significant that the Lib Dem party was the only one that opposed Blair. At the time its leading figures included several such as Ashdown and Campbell who had witnessed at first hand the senseless brutality of armed conflict. To Blair and our present leaders a war zone represents nothing more that a PR opportunity, a place to visit accompanied by armed guards and TV cameras.

With memories of yesterday’s two-minute silence fresh in our minds we were in a sombre mood when we retired to the hut this morning. At such moments we still draw inspiration from the leadership of Winston Churchill. Here was a man who had already experienced the horrors to which he was directing others. In his embrace of Stalin be knew only too well that it was better to sup with the devil than fight him if he could help in keeping a common foe from our shores. Contrast that with David Cameron’s constant verbal assaults on Vladimir Putin. Does a lamb constantly provoke a wolf if it represents no direct threat?

A stupid unthinking one does. But we can forgive that, coming as it does from politicians whose entire experience of life comprises university followed by politics. What we find harder to forgive is the abuse and intimidation of our charities, without which many of our ex-servicemen and women would struggle to survive. A few weeks ago Brooks Newmark, then minister for civil society, reacted to several charities that had spoken out about poverty by declaring that they should “stay out of the realms of politics and stick to their knitting”. Conservative MP Conor Burns reported Oxfam to the Charity Commission for campaigning on poverty in Britain, and Iain Duncan Smith warned the Trussell Trust that it could be “shut down” for highlighting food banks.

It is increasingly the case that controversial policy decisions are being left unchallenged by charities which fear retribution from ministers. One of Britain’s most respected charity figures, the disability activist Sir Bert Massie, has said that; “The government is doing its utmost to ensure that the right of the voluntary sector to campaign against harmful policies is increasingly diminished”. In a report released by the Civil Exchange think-tank, he said that ministers “have introduced many policies without consultation, ignoring an agreement for 12-week consultations to allow charities to make a serious contribution to the debate”. “It is hard to believe that the bedroom tax would have been introduced had expert voluntary organisations been allowed to offer advice”, he added.

All but the most daring of our major charities are falling silent. Nearly 40 per cent of their income now comes from government, and the threat of losing it is being unleashed the moment any charity implies criticism of government policy. Ministers conveniently forget two things. The reduction in charitable donations reflects the fact that millions are now trapped in the ‘prison’ of low pay, and the funding provided by government is our money.

Most disheartening of all is the attitude of the rich boys to the millions of volunteers who devote so much time and effort to supporting charities. Were they all to accept he advice to “stick to their knitting” this country would find itself in a very sorry state indeed. When Churchill inspired millions to volunteer for duties on the home front he did so not out of the kindness of his heart but because he knew that, when motivated, the people can be a powerful force for good.

In our neck of the woods charities such as the British Legion and Help for Heroes provide essential support for ex-servicemen and women. We all know what Save the Children achieves. Local voluntary groups provide massive support for the NHS, which only yesterday was described by Health Minister Norman Lamb as “nearing total collapse”. Countless other charities marshal their armies of volunteers to work for essential backing for every troubled sector of society. Without them the inadequacies of government would be far more visible.

Even more importantly charities involve, and are involved with, millions of people of all walks of life. They are in a position to act as a sounding-board. Had they been consulted on the half-baked scheme to transfer £2 billion of NHS funding to create a ‘Better Care’ community scheme in a bid to reduce hospital admissions it could have been based on real options. Instead the National Audit Office has branded it a “shambles” and a “total waste of public money”. Local charity members could have pointed to potential sites and opportunities and identified pitfalls.

All of the main parties in the Westminster bubble have lost touch with the people and, in so doing, have lost their trust and respect. Our voluntary sector is not a threat, it could provide a vital link with reality. Only fools would dismiss it as a knitting circle. But sadly the fools are running the country.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The public say they are getting cynical about politicians. They should hear how politicians talk about them!”….George Walden.


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Don’t apologise – swamping was the right word!

We codgers admit to being as scientific as the late president of the Flat Earth Society, so it is less than surprising that we find the latest pronouncements about the effect of global warming beyond our understanding. When the warnings about an ever warming planet first hit the headlines we those of us still possessing choppers took comfort in the thought that the days of their chattering on the allotments would soon be a distant memory. Today a report published in Nature Geoscience reveals that whilst the summers will indeed get hotter, the UK winters will head in the opposite direction.

Apparently the loss of floating Arctic sea ice in the Barents and Kara seas north of Scandinavia can affect the global circulation of air currents and lead to bitterly cold winds blowing for extended periods in winter over Central Asia and Europe, including the UK. Small consolation – the Japanese scientists have added that the cooling effect in unlikely to last “beyond this century”. It is time to buy shares in Long Johns Ltd.

It wasn’t a happy note on which to start another week on the allotments. Being ostrich like by nature we quickly turned our attention to other news, as we cleaned out the hens. Richard Carter, from Anglesey, is out selling poppies again this year and has said that his efforts are aimed at funding the expensive prosthetic limbs required for the lads who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Richard is 100 years-old. Perhaps if Mr Blair reads of this inspiring example he will donate the odd million from his fortune.

Even the news that Russell Brand is to seek election as London Mayor once Boris has departed to seek election as Prime Minister couldn’t deflect our attention from the end of the Afghan mission. In addition to all those now dependent on the efforts of such as Richard Carter, many families, both here and in the United States, now mourn the loss of sons and daughters and the death toll in Afghanistan itself is beyond contemplation. As a result we hesitate to join the chorus of those who claim that the whole venture was doomed from its bloody outset. But the signs from both Iraq and Afghanistan are ominous and it is difficult to foresee other than both countries returning to the grips of madmen. Once again we have intervened in cultures that we do not understand, once again politicians seeking self-glory have destroyed the lives of many brave and innocent people.

By the time we reached the allotments hut for our undeserved break my pals had shifted their attention to less weighty issues. And they don’t come less weighty than the new brand of Police Commissioners introduced by the coalition. When the idea was first muted we welcomed the idea of the police being held to account by respected pillars of society, but we predicted that the scheme would be hijacked by politicians. We were right for once. Following the belated resignation of the Labour PCC Shaun Wright in South Yorkshire, the new candidates are seeking votes. It is, the press tells us, a battle royal between Ukip and the Labour Party. Congratulations are due to our dear leader – he has now managed to politicise the police. Expect another farcically low turn-out from an outraged public.

Even news of the latest stage in David Cameron’s divorce from Aunty Merkel could not keep the supposed gaffe by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon from today’s front pages. Speaking to Sky News Mr Fallon said that towns up and down the UK are being “swamped” by immigrant workers. Many communities, he said, feel themselves to be “under siege from EU migrants”. Within hours Downing Street criticised the minister. He should, said the duty spin-doctor, learn to “chose his words better”. Rubbish.

Whatever the politically-correct brigade chose to believe Fallon was reflecting the views of millions. A friend lives in a community in the south of England and tells us that at first incomers were welcomed. Then the trickle turned into a flood and they began to feel like strangers in their own patch. The sheer weight of numbers led to tensions, now the smallest incidents turn into major hostility. Local services have been “swamped” and bigots are drawing attention that they could once only have dreamed of. Migrants pour in but, at a time of widespread funding cuts, services already creaking at the seams are reaching breaking point.

This has nothing to do with racism, everything to do with finite capacity. On last night’s BBC news a Labour shadow minister gleefully pointed out that “Cameron is backing into a corner from which he can only recommend leaving the EU”. True, but does he really believe that such a stance will be a vote-loser?

And now for the day’s biggest headline. The health promotion division of the chattering classes has announced that Cocoa is the secret to a long life. How we codgers have reached our late eighties without consuming the foul stuff remains a mystery!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” He’s on the mend, sitting up in bed blowing the froth off his medicine!” …Flann O’Brien.

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Anyone have a cure for cynicism?

Saturday morning is no time for cynicism – with the prospect of football on the box and a visit to our favourite local haunt, ‘Bygone Times’ where relics hunt for relics, we codgers should have been bursting with enthusiasm as we cleaned out the rebellious hens this morning. But not for the first time there was enough cynicism in the air to constitute a danger to aircraft heading for Blackpool airport had the new owners Balfour Beatty not closed it down this week.

Surprise surprise, my pals were for the umpteenth time up in arms about the treachery of politicians in regard to the service that means so much to so many – the NHS. The attempts at privatisation initiated by Patricia Hewitt on behalf of the Blair government were seized on with enthusiasm by Andrew Lansley whose ‘reforms’ (never mentioned in the manifesto) cost £3 billion, and were this week described by ministers as “the biggest mistake we have made in government”. Concealed within that demoralising mish-mash were the seeds of the privatisation programme, the existence of which is the subject of endless spin.

Now with an election looming we can expect puckered brows and denial to feature in every donor-funded broadcast and leaflet. You can certainly be sure that there will be no references to the first full-scale hospital privatisation. Hinchingbrooke NHS hospital is now owned scalpel, bandage and nurse by Circle Healthcare. In no time at all they have become headline-makers in the black book of the Care Quality Commission, which is overwhelmingly unimpressed by the deterioration in patient care.

The private health company itself is less than happy, its latest financial results show hefty losses in the first half of the year (£10m). It is impossible to be unsympathetic since costings for such as surgery are inevitably subject to wild fluctuations, and with no option to discontinue the service can ruin any budget forecasts. But it seems that the new owners are still excited by the opportunities that lie ahead.

The company report refers to “talks with the NHS as to its commissioning and contract intentions”. This perhaps explains its recruitment of Lord John Hutton, a former Labour health minister. During his reign the current boss of NHS England, Simon Stevens, was a special adviser to Labour health secretaries from 1997 to 1999 and Tony Blair’s health policy adviser from 2001 to 2004. So cosy negotiations lie ahead.

Tellingly Circle isn’t too hopeful of winning more hospitals yet because, it says candidly, “leading up to an election…the desire of government is to avoid significant attention on NHS services”. In other words our dear leader will not let more NHS control go to a company actually controlled by Tory-donating hedge funds including Odey Asset Management and Lansdowne partners at a time when the troublesome Mr Burnham might make it an election issue.

But those hell-bent othen transferring the NHS into private hands need only exercise a little patience. In its report the company reassures investors that “any effect of political uncertainty is likely to be a short-term trend. Whichever party or coalition is in power from next year…a provider remains an attractive service provider for the NHS”.

A feature of all the official pronouncements on the NHS is that they invariably come from non-clinicians. Even the General Medical Council, once the voice of medical practitioners, now has at the head of its so-called GP revalidation procedure a lady who two years ago worked for the Traffic Penalty Tribunal as an appeals manager. Small wonder that GPs are less than happy at Ms Lindsey Westwood being in charge of a paper-creating politically driven exercise to check their fitness to practice.

So what do the real doctors think? We turned to Dr Max Pemberton, a consultant in mental health. He refers to the admissions by cabinet ministers that the Lansley ‘reforms’ were a huge mistake. He likens the current attitude to that fact as akin to a surgeon splaying open a patient and then walking away with a nonchalant shrug. He regards the introduction of the private sector as leading to an explosion of expensive bureaucracy. The more providers the more duplication, confusion and misunderstanding there is.

He reports that entire departments have sprung up in hospitals of managers writing bids and business cases to ensure that their department can ‘compete’. The amount of time spent by clinical staff on collecting or checking data now accounts for more than one third of their working week. Dr Pemberton frequently feels that he is “drowning in forms that demand to be completed, statistics that need to be gathered and boxes that need to be ticked”. His nurses, he says, are now buried beneath an avalanche of forms to be filled. The time they spend on non-essential paperwork has doubled since 2008, with 2.5 million hours lost a week.

What is needed, he says, is a clear out of Lansley-generated bureaucracy and the introduction of an evidence-based healthcare system. What we don’t need is either an internal or external market. What we do need is a simplified based solely on patient needs.

The infuriating aspect of all this is that all the parties choose to pretend that the first stage of NHS market-led privatisation is not under way. Our cynicism would melt if they put the case to the electorate and allowed it to choose. Several of us have spent many years of involvement in NHS administration and we passionately believe that healthcare and shareholder dividends are dangerous bedfellows. But we make no claim to total wisdom, all we ask is that the patients of today and tomorrow are given the truth and the opportunity to decide.

That would be the perfect cure for our cynicism. Sadly we fear that the condition will only be dispelled by the Grim Reaper, and we are not referring to Nigel Farage!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Women are like tea bags – you never know how strong they are until they are in hot water!”….Eleanor Roosevelt.
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Is someone pulling the Beeb’s strings?

We codgers had not realised that we have our very own tsar. So having learned, from this morning’s papers, that someone called Ros Altmann is the Government’s older people’s modern equivalent of those long-gone Russian benign rulers we felt ten feet tall – except for Albert who settled for six – as we assembled our hen-cleaning equipment. Ms Altmann has today let it be known that, as a result of the Chancellor’s flagship pension reforms, pensioners will soon be able to use their accrued money as a bank account, free to spend on whatever takes their fancy. It does sound to us like a recipe for penury by the time they reach their three score years and ten, but we decided to cast aside our glass half-empty tendency and rejoice in having someone up there whose entire young life is dedicated to fogeys such as us.

But by the time we reached the warm hut for our Eric Pickles tea-break we had dispensed with irony. We were very concerned at reports of trouble in some English cities. We codgers have long warned of the building sense of rage at swingeing cuts at a time when the highly paid are trousering massive pay increases, and it is hard to avoid the worry that hardened criminals may start to exploit this to incite mindless violence. Either way our constant complaints about the drastic reductions in police numbers may well be vindicated.

And that was not the only overnight development that soured the taste of our doughnuts. We have noticed with growing concern the increasing number of Conservative backbenchers calling for the inclusion in the party’s manifesto of a commitment to reduce significantly the BBC’s licence fee. We have also noted the pledge by the new director general to counter this. Up until last night our hope was that he would succeed, for we dread the day when our favourite programmes are continually punctuated by ridiculous ads featuring meerkats and fat idiots with waxed moustaches. But last night we watched Panorama.

For some time now what was once a classic example of balanced reporting has appeared to be degenerating into a tabloid-style hatchet job. Last night it plumbed new depths. Are we being paranoid or was this a character assassination attempt aimed at placating hostile politicians? Billed as the true story about the Farage ‘earthquake’ the programme hurled venom at the Ukip leader, and ‘revealed’ a stream of ‘dark secrets’ hitherto unknown by a gullible public. As one piece of trivia after another was detailed we sat transfixed expecting a final exposure of the fact that Mr Farage had at one time murdered Bank of England guards before escaping with the nations entire stock of gold bullion. But there was no punchline, no charge that couldn’t be levelled against every other politician in the land.

The Ukip leader was shown using and praising an e-cigarette just months after the manufacturers had donated to his party. He was shown being rude to the EU president. Two former colleagues sacked by Ukip were filmed claiming that the leader was inclined to stab his officials in the back. Ukip’s published accounts were pored over to reveal that the leader’s constituency received favoured treatment during the European elections. An attack by a Dutch MEP on Mr Farage was portrayed in dramatic fashion, and much was made of his reluctance to be interviewed by specific reporters. The underlying claim was that here we have a man whose cheerful fag-smoking exterior conceals secrets darker than those of Stalin.

Now sit quietly for a moment and ask yourself if any of these ‘sins’ can even remotely be claimed to be unique to Mr Farage. Only yesterday we reported on a £1,000 per head get- together with our dear leader by wealthy donors. Anyone watching PM’s Question Time will laugh at the idea that rudeness is unique to the Ukip leader. And the backbenches of all parties are packed with former ministers whose backs have been punctured. Everyone knows perfectly well that every party has spin-doctors who steer their leaders away from potentially troublesome reporters. And are we seriously supposed to believe that both Blair and Cameron were not in the pockets of the Murdoch clan?

We are not attempting here to mount a defence of Nigel Farage, who is probably tarred with the same brush as all the other political leaders. What we are attempting to do is to question the motives of the BBC in attempting to portray him as uniquely evil. We have always regarded the corporation of Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys and Robin Day as a fearless unbiased seeker after the truth. It is surely no coincidence that all political parties have regularly accused the Beeb of bias as it spoke unpalatable truths.

Suddenly in just thirty minutes our rose-tinted image of the BBC was shattered. At best this was pathetic sensationalised reporting. At worst it tells us that someone is pulling its strings, and if that is the case the cause of democracy has been struck a fatal blow.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” A journalist is somebody who possesses himself of a fantasy and lures the truth towards it!”….Arnold Wesker.

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The Queen makes a dangerous mistake!

Some of our allotmenteers were amongst the 75,355 who packed Old Trafford yesterday, and this morning they were in a state of euphoria. Louis van Gaal, they told us, is even closer to God than Fergie. In no time at all he has grown a team capable of beating the world. They dismissed out of hand our argument that opponents QPR looked incapable of beating a Co-Op egg, and refused to listen to Albert’s contention that given a hundred million quid he too could have bought instant success. One-eyed football madness runs deep – our pals freely admitted to booing Rio Ferdinand for his crime of desertion, despite the fact that he was shown the door by the new saviour.

Every Saviour requires an angel and, by the time we reached what Estate Agents would call the “surprisingly compact” hut for our brew, we had tired of the verbal recaps of the Di Maria variety. Somehow we managed to steer the conversation to the plight of local man Alan Henning, the latest captive in Syria of the ghastly jihadists. Alan was a 47-year-old volunteer who was snared when travelling to Syria to help refugees after being affected by images of their plight. Now the cold-blooded murderers are threatening him with the same fate as that of David Haines.

We are not alone in our anger and revulsion, and several leading politicians were quick to demand immediate military action. Predictably our dear leader let it be known that any action must wait until after the Scottish referendum vote, at which point he plans to attend the UN General Assembly to outline plans to combat “the growing threat from Isil”. Like other Western leaders, David Cameron seems incapable of grasping that diplomacy will do nothing to deter insane religious fanatics. Ironically the nation with least reason to fear the madmen is sending in a large detachment of troops. Once again the Australians are giving us a lesson in the art of responding to bullying tyrants.

Meantime my fellow codgers seem extremely concerned about what they see as a huge misjudgement on the part of The Queen. Whilst many of us see the Royals as a privileged soap opera we have always regarded them as a far better option than a Presidency carried out by devious politicians. For us, and millions like us, the esteem in which the monarchy is held is down to the fact that Her Majesty has always been seen as being above politics, a leader of all the people, a neutral rock in times of trouble.

Yesterday, for the first time in her long and illustrious reign, she erred. She broke tradition when leaving a Sunday service at Crathie Kirk, a small Church of Scotland parish church. She usually stays silent between her car and the kirk but unusually members of the press were invited to come forward to hear her speak to onlookers usually greeted with no more than a wave. One lady joked that she was not going to mention the referendum, and this triggered a response that could have consequences. Whilst her comment that people should think very carefully about the referendum could be interpreted as a literal remark, its meaning was clear. Within minutes politicians were busy with their explanations. First up was Simon Danczuk, Labour, who said: “She means that the people of Scotland should stay with England and the rest of the United Kingdom”. In no time at all the No campaign was claiming The Queen’s support.

The first threat to the hitherto solid support for the monarchy will follow the outcome of the referendum, whatever it may be. If the No vote wins a very large section of the population north of the border will have a very negative view of The Queen. If the Yes vote wins, Alex Salmond and his friends will be tempted to head down a republican route.

Of course we should forget a once in a lifetime slip of the tongue, and we dread the thought of someone like Blair or Cameron posing as a people’s president. That would be a guarantee of around half the nation being opposed to everything, and the absence of a neutral safety valve would be lost for ever. And even the slightest indication of bias on the part of an unelected monarch increases that risk.

We codgers are ostriches in human form. We plan to convince ourselves that The Queen merely meant that she believes voters should consider the options carefully before shoving our bald heads back in to the sand surrounding the hen runs!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The Queen’s comment was not an unguarded aside. It was made in the full knowledge that it would be picked up by the media and would make front page news. With 62 years of experience, the Queen does know where the line is, and she will also have known that her choice of words meant she had stepped beyond it”….Gordon Rayner, Royal View, Telegraph.

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A container of human misery!

Back to the allotments! Well, not exactly back but at least I made it to the main gate this morning. Given that two weeks ago today I provided target practice for a surgeon, my expedition on a walking stick represented progress. And it was good to exchange insults with my fellow chicken-keepers. I was surprised to see such a transformation amongst the plants which are beginning to show the first signs of autumn, but there are still plenty of beans and onions to be garnered. My fellow codgers were in good voice and hastened to reassure me that I haven’t been missed – reassuring perhaps but not quite the welcome back that I secretly desired.

Clearly relieved by the end of his daily clashes with she-who-must-be-obeyed, Albert urged me to venture in. But since the place contains zillions of traps for the less than nimble-footed I declined his offer. Given that he later tripped head first into the compost heap, it was probably a sensible decision. But I did have time to gain an insight into what the codgers are discussing, and I relished that since this blog was born from the idea of reflecting the daily opinions of a cross-section of society, albeit a rather ancient one.

A lot of my pals were genuinely shocked by the story of the the 35 illegal immigrants discovered “screaming and shouting” inside a shipping container at Tilbury Docks. The stowaways were suffering from hypothermia and dehydration, and included women and children. One of the number died at the scene. Police described the group as “victims of the crime of people trafficking”, to us they represent a reminder that we in this country are a good deal better off than we tend to acknowledge. That fellow human beings are prepared to go to such horrendous lengths to get here says everything about the deprivation that exists in the Indian subcontinent. It may be the case that we cannot accommodate illegal immigrants, but we have a moral obligation to help to improve lives so dreadful that risking a terrible death is a reasonable option. One container of human misery has changed our view on overseas aid!

No such problems for the Blairs. Today we learn that Mrs Blair’s law firm Omnia Strategy is reviewing Kazakhstan’s “bilateral investment treaties”. We have no idea what that is but it clearly pays well. The first stage is worth £120,000, and the second £250,000. Meantime our former saviour Tony is busy as an adviser to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the all-powerful president who has ruled Kazakhstan ever since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It is good to know that the expertise needed to run 10 Downing Street translates so easily.

Meanwhile the present occupant has joined the scribes of the Sunday Torygraph. We may be in a minority but we believe that what he says makes good sense. He warns that the creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq, and extending into Syria, is not a problem miles away from home. It is our concern here and now, because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of the “exceptionally dangerous” terrorist movement, it will grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.

Unfortunately, apart from giving dire warnings of the fate awaiting British citizens who “walk around with Isis flags or try to recruit people to their terrorist cause, our dear leader is somewhat vague about what we should actually do. He is surely right to propose supplying weaponry to the Kurds, but we codgers tend reluctantly to the view that only troops on the ground under a UN mandate will stop the madmen who now enjoy weaponry donated to the Iraqi army. it is a tad unfortunate that the Government ignored military advice and reduced our armed forces to the point where G4S may have to be contracted.

Meantime my pals seem to be as preoccupied as I was with the chilling story of the collaboration between the police and the BBC in regard to the raid on the Berkshire home of Sir Cliff Richards. And they are not alone. Today Dominic Grieve, until recently the attorney general, has suggested that national guidelines have been breached. He can see that police might not want to warn somebody about a search, but sees the decision to tip off the BBC that they were carrying out a raid as “very odd”.

What happened, says Mr Grieve, was beyond understanding. The police violated their own ground rules and violated the rule that, save in extreme circumstances, the details of those arrested or suspected should not be released to the press or public. And Sir Cliff has not even been arrested or questioned. It is reassuring to learn from someone who has forgotten more about the law than we will ever know that the police have violated the basic principles of a democracy. Perhaps they should send for the Blairs whose experiences in Kazakhstan would appear relevant.

Never mind, the Premiership is back. A world in which the introduction of shaving foam to mark free kick distances can cause great excitement, and where one manager last night defended a mediocre performer by explaining that he is no star and only earns £37,000 per week!

As a mediocre performer myself I can only say that I could get by on that.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; “The golden rule when reading a menu is, if you can’t pronounce it, you can’t afford it!”….Frank Muir.

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Tony Blair in never-never land!

Another beautiful morning. When we arrived at the allotments the rows of sunflowers were beaming back at their God, and the masses of begonias were bathed in shining glory. At such moments we codgers are always reminded of the famous lines about Solomon in all his glory not being arrayed as such as these. It is quite a sobering thought that even in an age of a multi-billion fashion industry we mere mortals still cannot match the glorious splendour of plants that just three months ago were seeds capable of being blown away by the gentlest breeze. It always serves to reassure us that despite being scruffy we can still play a part in the creation of something that even Lady Gaga cannot outshine.

Having cleaned out the hens, and lifted another half-dozen rows of new potatoes, we settled on the wall alongside the shed for our tea and doughnut break. There was considerable amusement at the news that the officer in charge of police horses let slip the fact that Rebekah told him that the retired horse she acquired from them was for the use of David Cameron. Our hearts go out to our dear leader who this morning faces the dual task of persuading the decidedly reluctant Aunty Merkel to impose real sanctions on Vladimir Putin, plus explaining for the umpteenth time that he scarcely knew either Mrs Brooks or her horse. His life seems to be dogged by difficult women, and even the arrival of the thigh-flasher has done little to ease his burden.

But our butterfly brains soon alighted on weightier matters. Yesterday, whilst Ed Miliband was hob-nobbing with President Obama, his perpetually dark shadow Tony Blair was giving the inaugural Philip Gould lecture to a rapturous audience of former Blairites. As ever the former leader managed to convey the earnest air of a latter-day saint as he emphasised that young Ed must be prepared to leave his “comfort zone”. He wasn’t specific but there were some outside of the worshipping throng who wondered if he had one or two invasions in mind. They probably wondered too about his claim that money is not important, something so often asserted by those who have acquired enough to take over the Bank of England.

We codgers know only too well that there is much to be said for casting aside old grudges. But we find it hard to forgive our former hero for the lies he told at the time of his joint adventure with George W Bush. Millions died in the aftermath of the supposed quest for weapons of mass destruction and to his day the carnage continues in iraq, with the repercussions still haunting those charged with the security of these islands.

But peace comes at a price say those who still cling to the illusion that whilst wrong in substance, Tony Blair was right in principle. Peace? Try telling that to the people of Iraq. Yes, many were relieved to see the fall of Saddam Hussain but what they didn’t grasp was that there was no rational plan to avoid their tortured country from sliding into an age of brutality that even Saddam couldn’t match.

A few days ago we were chatting to a Church leader who has spent time in Iraq attempting to assist the large Christian community in the north. He told us that the last Christians are right now fleeing from places where their communities have lived for almost 2,000 years. All of them face a deadline for them to convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed. And this is no empty threat. Isis, the new brutal and fanatical extremist ‘army’, lives by its statement that for those who fail to comply “there is nothing to give them but the sword”. Already thousands have been slaughtered.

Isis now rules an area larger than Britain and has already ‘eliminated’ many of the ancient Christian communities of eastern Syria. Those leaving Mosul, captured by Isis on 10th June, in order to seek refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan are being stripped of all their possessions. Our informant said that every Christian stopped at a checkpoint were stripped of everything they were carrying, but it was a better fate than that of those who were executed. Meantime the ancient Christian churches have been ransacked and the ruins now fly the black banners of Isis and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self appointed Caliph and wearer of expensive Rolex watches.

The rapid elimination of Christians is not of course the only nightmare building in Iraq. Females are losing their right to education and much else, and repressive dress codes are being enforced. On the spot executions of anyone inclined to protest are commonplace and kidnappings, such as that of two nuns and three orphans when they stopped at a petrol station, are an almost daily occurrence.

None of which was the responsibility of Blair or Bush. But the carnage which they triggered achieved nothing and in retrospect has nothing to commend it. The only meagre consolation is that we learned an important lesson, we should not commit military action to societies that we simply do not understand. The idea that Iraq would hold elections with an equivalent of the Lib Dems accepting the outcome was naive beyond words.

So we codgers cannot find it in our ancient hearts to forgive Mr Blair, his copy-book is spoiled beyond any hope of a clean page.

Of much lesser moment are the deeds of the England cricketers, but they didn’t entirely escape our censure this morning. Some of us still help with schoolboy coaching and the first lesson always is that you should leave the high or wide ball alone on the grounds that if you don’t hit them you can’t be out. Yesterday a constant procession of England batsmen did and they were.

The word pathetic rent the allotments air twice this morning, but the cricketers at least will hopefully prove us wrong.
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” Frisbeetarianism is the philosophy that when you die, your soul goes up on a roof and gets stuck there”…George Carlin.

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Delusional greed is not a pretty sight!

The Grim Reaper visited the allotments last night. When we released the hens one didn’t emerge, and it was time for Albert’s hole-digging talents to be pressed into service. We never kill our chickens, our reasoning being that they have served us well with eggs and are entitled to a comfortable retirement. Eventually, like us, they die and odd though it may seem each passing saddens us. Yes we know that zillions of their fellow chucks line the Tesco shelves but ours are not anonymous members of battery farms, they have individual personalities and traits and some even have nicknames. Perhaps we codgers are all slightly mad, perhaps we are living examples of Britishness.

That being the case we should perhaps volunteer to help our dear leader who, in the wake of the possibility that children in Birmingham are being prepared for insurrection, has ordered that Britishness must be added to the national schools list of compulsory subjects. But what is it? The head of all the Cameroons mentioned fish and chips and football which seemed to us somewhat inadequate. Over our morning brew we came up with queuing, talking about the weather, moaning and arguing about Duckworth Lewis. Equally inadequate. Some of us recently visited the magnificent thousand-year-old Lichfield Cathedral, an experience that prompted someone to add Christian heritage to the list. But that is hardly likely to appeal to the PM’s target audience. Perhaps Britishness is best defined as being so dense that we don’t know what it is?

But we hope that the affliction of delusional greed doesn’t appear on the final draft. It certainly exists in our society, but we like to believe that it hasn’t yet infected those who wear flat caps or breed ferrets. Be that as it may, every day brings examples of contamination. It started within the bankers who chose to believe that the financial crash was not of their making, and that they deserved record bonuses for clearing it up. In fairness it must be said that maybe they caught the bug from MPs who had become so delusional that they saw moat houses as so key to their jobs that the bill must be passed on to taxpayers.

Today the headlines centre around the greatest greedy delusional of them all. Tony Blair is alive and well and busy amassing a personal fortune from lectures on the art of peacemaking. For some time we wondered just how he reconciled that with so many deaths resulting from his lies about Saddam’s supposed arsenal of weapons capable of flattening London. We realise now that he still sees what he did as a triumph, and he seems to have no recognition of the fact that no attention was given to an exit strategy before his pal George W Bush launched his ‘shock and awe’ campaign. Now Blair is urging missile and air attacks on the al-Qaeda madmen, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are interspersed amongst the innocents that they are murdering.

We are not unduly surprised by the final evidence that power corrupted Tony Blair and left him deluded. What does surprise and disappoint us is evidence that senior executives in our beloved NHS have also caught delusioni-greeditis to give it its full medical name. Nurses are under enormous pressure in many disciplines as a result of cuts to their numbers and escalating numbers of incoming patients, but despite this they have been denied a 1 per cent pay rise by the Department of Health. The pay band for most front-line nurses ranges from £21,500 to £27,900 and there are many instances of their struggling to pay household bills.

A freedom of information request to NHS provider trusts has revealed that pay for executive directors has increased by an average of 6.1 per cent, and a number of trusts have paid out bonuses of between £10,000 and £15,000. An example of what has been going on behind closed doors – the government has no direct control of Foundation Trust pay – is provided by the Oxford University Hospital Trust. There six executives received huge bonuses while the chief executive received a hand-out of between £40,000 and £45,000.

All of this largess comes from budgets already under real strain, and inevitably leads to yet more clinical staff cuts. And the average hospital boss takes home £164,000!

This is a classic example of delusional greed. Delusional because non-clinical manager’s contribution to patient care is limited to the control of administration and systems, arguably the weakest feature of the NHS. Every trust has more executives devoted to non-clinical work than is justifiable, and to compound the scandal every Foundation Trust has a part-time chairman on around £50,000 plus six non-executive directors each pocketing over £30,000. My own experience as an almost unpaid chairman of 12 years tells me that if the whole bunch vanished tomorrow they would not be missed.

It is very unusual for us codgers to criticise the NHS but these revelations have infuriated us. Thanks to the botched-up reforms imposed by Lansley and Hunt the NHS clinical staff are undergoing a living nightmare in which it is near impossible to fulfil their professional duties. We had foolishly assumed that the senior managers were making sacrifices too. What they have actually done is to abet the betrayal of those they supposedly support whilst thrusting their snouts into the trough.

No we can’t define Britishness but we hope that Mr Blair and the NHS lay bosses are not examples!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Delusional, self-serving Blair is back. He backs democracy until it delivers results of which he disapproves”….Ian Birrell, Independent.

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Dare to be different!

It is hard for football fanatics to understand how anything so spellbinding as the Bend It Like Blatter world cup can be regarded by anyone as the equivalent of watching paint dry, but if some of my fellow allotmenteers are any indication that is how it is. As we cleaned out the hens this morning the addicts were waxing eloquent about last night’s Dutch upset and, inevitably, about tonight’s debut of the Hodgson babes. Others were tutting and attempting to switch the conversation to ways and means of increasing egg production.

Someone even tried to focus on Wimbledon, leaving me wondering for the umpteenth time why tennis fans are rarely into soccer. Phil mentioned his intention to occupy Henman Hill again, a less expensive venture than deepest Brazil. Tim Henman was born near to Phil’s former Oxfordshire home and, Phil told us, developed his tennis skills by playing alone against the side of his parents’ house. He went on to tell us that in Tims’first tournament he got all the way to the semi-finals, only to be beaten in straight sets by a garage door.

I was by now wearying of the airing of differences and headed for the hut to fire up the tea urn. As I did so I found myself reflecting that without our differences life would be a dull affair, a thought I mentioned as the other codgers joined me for a touch of the Eric Pickles. I should perhaps ease off on the Communities minister for once again yesterday he lashed out at those who believe – no names no Osbornes – that the green belt is the ideal place to build more and more houses. Big Eric is hurrying through legislation aimed at confining building to ‘brown field’ sites. Good for him!

Back on the subject of being different Tom made an interesting point. He contends that the fact that our mainstream political parties all seem the same explains, in part at least, the noticeable loss of interest and trust on the part of the great British public. It may even explain the attraction of Ukip which certainly has the hall mark of being different.

It is an interesting point and, as the chat developed many of us recalled with affection those long gone days when the policies and personalities of the Labour and Conservative parties were very different, and the Liberals occupied the middle ground. All of which takes us neatly to the plight of Ed Miliband.

Tony Blair was in almost every respect identical to Margaret Thatcher and ‘New’ Labour showed little empathy with the blue-collar supporters of the Labour Party’s formative years. Three years of Grumpy Gordon followed and then along came ‘Red Ed’. For red read pale pink, but even that tinge is being painted over by the crowd that surrounds him. And the polls tell us that the public largely sees him a Cameron minus the acting ability. It seems reasonable to argue that unless he dares to be different he will fail.

The pressure put on him to ape the toadying of Messrs Cameron and Clegg is indicative of what is going on behind the scenes. It was no great surprise to see our dear leader posing with a souvenir edition of The Sun since we are all well aware of his close association with Rupert, Rebekah and the rest of the Murdoch clan, not to mention his employment of Andy Coulson. And we all realise that the support of the Murdoch press can win votes. But we also realise that vast numbers of what we used to call working-class people are still consumed with bitterness at the lies printed by The Sun at the time of the Hillsborough disaster. Miliband betrayed his own potential supporters by lacking the courage to be different.

Now he is under enormous pressure from Ed Balls, Lord Sainsbury and others to woo the City in the manner of Blair and his so-called ‘prawn cocktail’ campaign. It seems that they are very concerned about Miliband’s criticism of the banks who he has warned to expect a “reckoning” over the financial crisis. He has also lashed out at tax avoidance on the part of big companies. Now, his internal critics tell him, he has to reassure City financial leaders that he is actually on their side.

It is almost as if today’s political establishment fears any indication of being different. The well used saying has it to thyself be true and we believe that the words should be nailed to every leading-lights’ desk. Miliband, Cameron and the rest should speak from the heart and let the electorate judge them. If Miliband distrusts the banks he should say so and plan accordingly. People will then have a real choice and if they prefer the pro-City stance of the Cameroons so be it.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, dare to be different for variety is the spice of life.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100!”….Woody Allen.

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Bush and Blair – the final condemnation!

Of such mornings is paradise made. Slightly over the top but arriving at the allotments in our shirtsleeves and seeing everything bathed in a golden glow lifted our spirits this morning, and served to remind us that the best things in life have no price label attached. Throw in the fact that tonight marks the start of weeks of wall-to-wall football on the box and you have a recipe for happy codgers, even allowing for the inevitable complaints from wives who incredibly prefer to watch the boys of Mrs Brown to those of Mr Hodgson.

Always the odd man out Albert was banging on about air travel when we gathered in the hut, having cleaned out the mutinous hens. His newly found preoccupation was triggered by his difficulty in renewing his passport, a prerequisite for heading off to New Zealand to visit his grandson. According to our dear leader the Liverpool office is busy right now, small consolation to Albert whose secret weapon, Mrs Albert, visited it yesterday. She was shown a pile of boxes which if stacked one on top of the other would constitute a danger to the near-empty 757s leaving Manchester airport.

But empty or otherwise today’s planes, according to Albert, represent a tribute to technology when compared with those of 1910 when Britain’s first commercial aircraft factory was established at Filton. There was produced the Bristol Boxkite which were used to launch routes going as far as the string would stretch. However, services were eventually cancelled when passengers became tired of having to climb out of a tall tree after every landing.

As with most of Albert’s tales this one sounded more the result of an over active imagination than research, and in no time at all he was talking to himself as the rest of us metaphorically applauded the government at the news that the number of people in work has leapt by 350,000 in just three months. It is of course true that the employment recovery is being fuelled by austerity with wages below inflation, but at last progress is being made. What troubles us is that many Conservative MPs seem incapable of recognising that the recovery is leaving in its wake a tide of poverty the like of which has not been seen in Britain for decades.

Yesterday Oxfam publicised its report on “Breadline Britain”. It featured zero-hours contracts, high prices, benefit cuts and energy prices. On Radio 4 the charity’s director said that there are families starving in Britain today. He spoke of children describing a “biting feeling of hunger” in their stomachs.

Within hours MPs such as Conor Burns and Charlie Elphicke reported Oxfam to the Charity Commission, and warned that the “lies” would alienate many Oxfam donors and supporters. The charity was, they ranted, playing politics. In fact it was simply telling the truth that most of us would prefer to be unmentioned. For more than 70 years Oxfam has lobbied governments of all parties. During the last Labour government, Oxfam criticised ministers over the Iraq war and refused to accept its “bloodstained” donations. Yes its work is political, but not party-political. We may not want to believe it but right now children are in poverty and the actions of such as Ian Duncan Smith have rendered them so.

It was the mention of Oxfam’s reaction to the Iraq invasion that reminded us that today brings reports from Iraq that finally confirm that what Bush and Blair did was a war crime of horrendous proportions. Blair won support for the invasion by lying about supposed weapons of mass destruction. They compounded that by brushing aside any calls for a strategy for dealing with the aftermath of an inevitably easy victory, and ludicrously claimed that Iraq would become a beacon for democracy and the rule of law in the troubled region. Over the years that followed countless lives were lost, including those of British servicemen. And £9 billion was spent.

With Blair and Bush consigned to history their successors perpetuated the illusion and we heard much about the exit strategy ending in triumph as the Iraq forces, now armed and highly trained, took over the security of the ‘rescued’ nation. Yesterday a horrified world watched as al-Qaeda-linked militants seized city after city and the new Iraqi army fled.

Saddam Hussain was a tyrant. But the idea that his removal would trigger a new democratic age was a fairy story. In reality it has made things even worse and served to bring terrorism to the streets of Britain. Politicians whose only motive was self-glory have sent young men and women to die in a country that they did not understand. The likelihood now is that the fanatics will spread their lunacy to the whole region, and their irrational and obscene beliefs to all corners of the globe.

The sight of Tony Blair posing as an envoy for peace is surely final proof that the world is slowly gong mad. As is the spectacle of our politicians wringing their hands. With the honourable exception of the Lib Dems each and every one of them supported the most ill-judged military action of modern history.
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “I have always made the point that I do not particularly see the point of going back over these issues. I voted and acted as I did, and do not see the point of going over the history books”….David Cameron, 11/6/14

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Blair exposed and Cameron talks of a moral mission!

It is never pleasant when your hero becomes the target of ridicule in the press. Not a morning of hen-cleaning passes but we codgers sing the praises of Eric Pickles, who has emerged as the sole representative of the working class in a government of rich and overly posh characters who have suddenly developed a penchant for wellies. But we have to admit that our fellow scorner of the health promotion busybodies does seem to be developing a tendency for putting his foot in his mouth whenever he opens it, an unfortunate trend since he traditionally has given priority access to pies. We mulled this over as we gobbled our Tesco doughnuts this morning, and recognised that our campaign to install EP in Number Ten had suffered a set-back.

We know that some readers are puzzled by our obsession with the flood-controller, but the explanation is a logical one. Alone amongst all politicians EP lightens our days. We make no judgement on his political beliefs – if he has any – but laughter is the best medicine and he triggers bucket loads of it on the allotments. Just like his ancestor from Greyfriars school he lurches from one tight corner to another, and never hesitates to disown what he said just hours before the earth opened under him for the umpteenth time. But he never imagines himself to be God and via that one feature distinguishes himself from the rest of the top echelon of politicos.

And what a bunch they are. This morning anti-monarchists would do well to note the latest scandal involving the man many of them suggested as the democratic alternative to the Royals. Would anyone be comfortable with the news that President Tony Blair was so close to the Murdoch crowd that he offered guidance on ways and means of extricating themselves from very damaging accusations? Given that he was a Godparent to a member of the Murdoch family, the latest news hardly comes as a shock. But it is shocking that a former Prime Minister should be entangled in this way. His email to Rebekah Brooks also has sinister undertones. What does his reference to a ‘Hutton style report’ mean?

For at least a century our island has enjoyed an enviable reputation for many things, not least the honesty and integrity of its governmental structures. Suddenly we have cause for concern. We all know that the present Prime Minister was socially very close to the Murdochs, and that Jeremy Hunt was on the verge of nodding through the bid for BSkyB when the phone hacking story broke. We can only hope that they at least avoided the sort of astonishing toadying that has destroyed any remaining reputation of the man that took us to war by lying.

Only time will tell but meantime our dear leader has declared himself to be “on a moral mission”. He was responding from an attack by a large number of leading churchmen on the subject of benefit cuts. Of course there is a case to be made for the need to clean-up the overly complicated system, but every day brings new evidence that the total number of sanctions against benefit claimants is at record levels and conceals many actions that can only be described as inhumane. As if to prove the point independent tribunals have upheld nine out of ten appeals against the sanctions. But the process of appealing takes time and in many cases social workers are referring desperate clients to food banks or, in many instances, buying emergency food with their own money.

An example is provided by a court action against the Department for Work and Pensions by the Royal National Institute of Blind People. It concerns Robert, a man from Essex, who was forced to take out payday loans to feed himself after advisers stopped his employment support allowance and housing benefit. Robert is blind, but was only ever notified of the withdrawal of his payments by regular print letters. The deadlines came and went before Robert was able to get outside help to read the correspondence and advise him. The first he knew of the development was when his bank advised him that his direct debits were being ‘bounced’. Discrimination lawyer Samantha Fothergill, who is representing Robert, reports that she is getting complaints of this kind “all the time” and that the DWP’s system for sending out information is “appalling and not fit for purpose”.

There are countless examples of vulnerable people being treated in this cavalier fashion. A ‘moral mission’ that, however unintended, destroys honest people is a very strange one. Perhaps David Cameron et al should check the dictionary definition of morality!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY: “The most dangerous thing in the world is to leap a chasm in two jumps!”… David Lloyd George

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God save the Queen – from politicians!

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. We soaking wet codgers – this morning’s hen-cleaning was yet another paddling experience – were genuinely sorry to read of the dire financial straits of the royal household. A report from the Commons public accounts committee has revealed that the Queen’s household finances are at an “historic low” with just £1 million left in reserve, a fall of £35 million since 2001. On the very day that this news broke we learned that the state-owned RBS has squandered yet more public money but still proposes to pay bonuses of 200%, that yet more top companies are avoiding corporation tax and that the number of management consultants and spin-doctors employed by the government has almost doubled over the past three years.

I can well imagine that some readers are already itching to point out that the Royals are privileged and undemocratic. True but to quote the Duke of Edinburgh, their greatest contribution is what they prevent. Does anyone seriously believe that having a President Blair as head of state would really be better than someone who has no political affinity? Should a scandal a la Hollande or Nixon engulf our prime minister our society would suffer none of the chaos or paranoia that would ensue were he or she head of state.

Equally important is the fact that the Royal estate is a key part of our heritage. Right now both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are in a poor state of repair. At the former, staff are now forced to catch rain in buckets to protect art and antiquities, and the 60 year-old boilers are on their last legs. In total 38 per cent of the Royal estate is in need of maintenance and repair. The Victoria and Albert Mausoleum in Windsor is in desperate need of repair and is “getting worse”according to the Commons public accounts committee.

That body is chaired by the redoubtable Margaret Hodge, and it was no surprise that she took the opportunity to metaphorically machine-gun everyone even remotely connected with the monarchy and its estate. The treasury, which is responsible for overseeing the Royal Household’s finances is, she said, failing to oversee. The Royal household is failing to exploit the tourism market, and Buckingham Palace should be open to the public during the Queen’s absences. It should also increase its “efficiency savings”. I am tempted to ask if it should follow the example of the Banks but, in fairness, Mrs Hodge has been equally critical of them.

The final conclusion of the committee contends that the Queen must learn to do “more for less”. At this point my cynicism really does take over. Those are the very words used by Messrs Lansley and Hunt of the NHS which is now on the point of collapse. Others go to great lengths to defend the EU which continues to do less for more. And only yesterday we saw pictures of residents in Somerset verbally assaulting environment secretary Owen Paterson when he called to inspect their flooded homes.

It appears that his department has pursued the policy of more for less by almost halving the budget for dealing with the impact of global warming from £29.1m in 2012-13 to £17.2m for 2013-14. The inevitable result has been that dredging has been discontinued and flood defences postponed indefinitely. The strategy of doing more for less only makes sense when there is slack in the system.

We have seen little evidence that the executives of our large companies are doing more for less, indeed the cries of rage at the proposal to make them pay an extra 5% in taxes on their multi-million pound salaries suggests that they prefer to do less for more.

It all adds up to a concern that politicians are hell-bent on damaging the Queen, despite their enthusiasm for kneeling before her . We have no way of knowing how much slack there is to cut. But we do know one thing, we respect and trust the Queen, and we have no respect for politicians and trust them less than we would a ferret let loose amongst our hens!


THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Buckingham Palace is not ours. It’s a tied cottage!”….Prince Philip


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Iraq – Blair’s moment of truth draws near!

There is a hell and we are in it! That sums up the general reaction when we codgers arrived at the allotments to let the hens out. The glowering sky looked close enough to touch, the rain was coming down in bucket-loads, the howling wind was as cold as a debt-collector’s heart. Not surprisingly the hens refused to leave their coops and cleaning out became as fraught as Wigan’s town centre on a Saturday night.

Never have we rejoiced more at eventually retreating to our warm hut for a mug of hot tea. Thinking about anything other than the scene outside was a relief and first up was a story from Surrey. It seems that the PC brigade have been having a field day there, and organised cricket for young children has been given their insane ‘no competition’ treatment. The kids are taught the rules and allowed to stage matches but there are no winners or losers. Just when will these mad people recognise that every sportsman is competitive, and without an outcome sport would die. What they should be teaching is the art of modesty in victory and good grace in defeat. The chattering classes are a pain in the neck!

As are all the so-called business leaders who have rushed to condemn the Ed Balls plan to restore the 50% tax bracket for those earning more than £150,000 per year. Of course he is playing politics, Labour having only introduced the level within three months of the general election. But given the financial hardship being suffered by so many families it is hard to sympathise with the indignant rich boys. Just how much money do they need? Perhaps they envy Wayne Rooney who is about to sign a contract giving him £300,000 a week. Viewed as comparison perhaps they feel great sympathy for the head of Royal Mail who is pleading poverty at a mere £1.5 million per year. Be that as it may, they all have one thing in common – greed.

But neither the do-gooders of Surrey or those able to buy honours from their back-pockets have worries to compare with the ultimate wealth accumulator, Tony Blair. He has spent the past few years as a sort of travelling expert in the art of government, a role that seems to involve extraordinarily large fees. Suddenly a cloud has appeared on his gold-dusted horizon in the form of the almost forgotten Chilcott inquiry into Iraq. Last week Twiggy Garcia, a London restaurant employee, attempted to place our hero under a citizen’s arrest. He was quickly swept aside but Chilcott may not prove so easy.

Incredibly the inquiry has dragged on for ten years, but it is showing signs of creaking to its end. It followed the first investigation by Lord Hutton but there is very reason to believe that it will be rather more critical, and key figures who have appeared before Chilcott are showing signs of nervousness.

On January 13, 2010, the day after one star witness, Mr Blair’s spin man, Alastair Campbell, appeared before the inquiry, it heard from the Cabinet Secretary at the time of the invasion, Andrew Turnbull. Now of course Lord Turnbull, he gave evidence, as did his predecessor Lord Wilson. By then the media circus had departed and what they said made few headlines. But the testimonies were devastating. Turnbull said that he and the Cabinet had essentially been deceived, “brought into the story…a long way behind” what had long since been agreed by what he described as “Mr Blair’s entourage”. The Cabinet never saw any papers at all, he said.

Lord Wilson, who left six months before the war testified that at his final meeting with the Prime Minister he had told Mr Blair that he a had “a worrying gleam of war” over military action. Lord Turnbull added that had Lord Wilson known the full picture – that a note had already been sent to president George W Bush promising that “you can count on us whatever”, he would not have described it just as a gleam.

The central charge that Chilcot appears likely to make is that the decision to go to war was the beginning, not the end, of the process; that an agreement on military action was made early, and secretly, with President Bush: and that it was done without evidential justification, proper procedures, legal advice or adequate military training or provision of equipment. All of these were later twisted to fit, most disastrously in the case of planning, which was kept secret for far too long , meaning that coalition forces were completely unprepared to occupy, secure and rebuild the country they had broken.

Parliament and the public was misled. Mr Blair’s key “sexing up” was not the statement that Saddam had WMD – but the claim that those weapons were becoming a “growing” threat, a threat so “current and serious” that urgent action, war, if necessary, had to be taken.

Twiggy Garcia has little in common with a mandarin such as Sir John Chilcott but when the young would-be citizen’s arrester said that “we all know the humanitarian angle of the war was retrofitted after the decision to go to war” he was probably very close to the findings of the inquiry.

This is no academic debate. Many thousands today lie in early graves as the result of one of the greatest deceptions in our long history.


THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “I was extremely uncomfortable about the way the 45-minute claim was seized on, It’s just so awful that that happened because it did refer to battlefield weapons that were no threat outside an immediate combat zone”…..Sir Richard Dearlove, MI6, giving evidence to Clilcot Inquiry.



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Austerity – what austerity?

There were puddles big enough to drown a ferret on the allotments this morning. Either we had a lot of rain during the night or the French-owned water suppliers have sprung a leak. Hopefully our new lake is not due to the latter since the record of what we still call the Water Board in repairing damaged pipes is akin to Eddie the Eagle’s in collecting gold medals. Either way we had to spend a lot of time digging holes in the vague hope that the water will drain down to Australia by way of payback for the humiliation of our superstar cricketers.

By the time we gathered in the warm hut we resembled a gang of drowned rats, and for the zillionth time asked ourselves why we do this. The question is of course a rhetorical one since we know the answer which is that the alternative is to stand about in the town centre talking about our aches and pains. In common with the rest of humanity we can’t ultimately thwart the Grim Reaper, but we have every intentionof giving him a run for his money.

Money – now there’s an interesting topic, and it occupied a lot of our attention this morning. It was an article about the chief executive of the Royal Mail that triggered raised eyebrows of Spock dimensions. Last year Moya Greene enjoyed a pay packet of £1.5 million but, according to the new chairman Donald Brydon of what is now a privatised company, is underpaid to the point where she will be tempted to move elsewhere. Her salary, he tells us, is “totally inadequate and the lowest paid to any top executive in the FTSE100″.

Once upon a time salary increases were related solely to achievement rather than comparisons with others. Were that to be today’s criteria we be wondering just what Ms Greene has done to merit earning more cash in a single year than most people earn in a lifetime. She certainly achieved privatisation, but given that it proved to be a give-away that hardly counts as a plus. She has strengthened the company’s financial state, but since that was largely due to the government taking over the pension liability that also fails to earn a tick on her appraisal form. Improved the service? We still only receive one delivery per day and the cost of postage has risen in the manner of the energy companies’ bills.

But we are nitpicking, for the reality is that Britain is now a nation divided as never before between the haves and have nots. We have heard a good deal from Gorgeous George Osborne about his commitment to improve the lot of “hard working people” but he has never defined the term. Given his reluctance to tackle tax-avoidance we can only assume that he is referring to the ‘haves’. If we are honest we have to admit that if we were in Ms Greene’s position we would be more than happy to pocket an extra million or so and merely echo austerity what austerity?.

But two things intrigue us. In our day – I can almost hear you saying here we go – the usual ratio of boss to workers on pay was five to one. I always felt that to be fair given the extra responsibilities and number of hours worked, but the employees representatives regularly described me as a fat cat, and they were not referring to my ample waistline. Now the ratio is both astronomic and indefensible.

There are still some examples of modest differentials. One of my fellow allotments codgers is related to the captain of one of our nuclear submarines. His responsibilities are truly awesome given that his is the finger that would have to press the red button, and that he is in charge of a crew of 126 which spends up to three months submerged in a ‘boat’ that could at any time malfunction some 300 metres below the surface. His pay is around the five-times mark when compared to the ratings.

Were it to be significantly greater it would probably damage morale in a unit that survives only because every man on board plays a crucial role. It would also impede the modus operandi of the captain who must lead in a disciplined manner, whilst maintaining a motivational relationship with the officers and ratings with whom he lives cheek by jowl. Irrelevant? Maybe but one wonders how the poorly paid employees of Royal Mail feel about the executive salaries. Would they go the extra mile with a glad heart?

The other aspect that intrigues us is the age-old question of how much is enough. A very serious study at Princeton University a few years ago suggested that around £50,000 was the optimum salary to bring both day-to-day contentment and a sense of satisfaction about one’s place in the world. The research showed that people are happier the more money they earn until they hit the £50,000 mark. After that point, they just accumulate more material possessions without any rise in their happiness quotient.

Interestingly, the high taxation of some Scandinavian countries, where there is widespread recognition of the fact that personal wealth does not equate to personal happiness, contributes to the sort of social cohesion that we Brits can only dream of.

The UK gap grows ever wider and one can only guess at the effect on motivation and commitment of all those who keep the show on the road. We can only hope that morale remains high since there is little chance of any change to the divided Britain. The leading members of the cabinet are multi-millionaires and Mr Blair is living proof of the fact that Her Majesties opposition is not averse to the super-rich clique.

We can only hope that Moya Greene is not too unhappy about her £1.5 million pay packet. At least she is probably spared having her grown-up children cluttering up her mansion as is the case for 3.3 million families!


THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Few of us can stand prosperity. Another man’s, I mean!”……Mark Twain



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