Posts Tagged ‘Tony Blair’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.