Sunday, 30 May 2010


I was really delighted to hear the other day that Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg had clamped down on some of the expensive perks to which ministers have got accustomed over many years.

From now on ministers were to travel second class on railways as other MPs now have to do (unless they felt, as Mr Winterton did that the kind of people they would encounter in cattle class were completely beneath them, in which case they could pay for their own upgrade). No longer were they to have chauffeur-driven cars, we were told, to take them wherever they wanted to go. There was to be car sharing.

Whilst of course it is understood that there will be times when they will require to use cars, they were told by their bosses that, where it was possible, they should use public transport, share cars or walk. The idea was to save around £3 million on ministerial costs, and of course to set an example to the rest of us. The “we’re all in this together” message doesn’t really wash if it can be read as “you’re all in this together”.

So it was with disappointment that, only days after that announcement, that I heard that the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, was found to have used a chauffeured limo to take her the 400 meters from her home to her office. Now I would have thought that Ms Spelman’s coat might already be on a shoogly peg given Nannygate, and the fact that she charged £40,000 for cleaning bills (yes, she must be some dirty sod) for a second home, when her husband described it as their main home. And that’s without mentioning her over-claimed council tax, and the fact that her husband’s (and hers, according to Wikipedia) business may conflict with her current post.... So altogether, if I were her I’d be watching all my Ps & Qs before my backside got fired... but no, she summoned a car to take her 400 meters, because her boxes were too heavy... Awww. It was only 400 meters. I’d have used my gumption and made two or three trips! But she’s only a minister.

Another junior minister took a car, complete with chauffeur, to France for a Dunkirk ceremony, presumably because he wanted to look important turning up with his own chauffeur driven car, rather than depending on being picked up at the station by his French hosts. Clearly Junior Minister Mr Robathan needs a kick in his pampered backside from his boss. Incidentally, a look at his Wikipedia page does nothing to reassure me about him. He seems like runs off at the mouth, to the disgust of even his own side on occasions.... and he thinks that, as an MP, he was worth £110,000 a year! Nuff said.

Apparently, and quite rightly, it is unheard of for a car to be taken abroad. Ministers of the Crown have to be invited to go abroad on official business and cars are sent for them by their hosts. Wise-up fella!

It’s early days, and people will make mistakes at the beginning, but it’s little things like this, that even the meanest intelligence would find easy to solve, that start to really tick people off about up-their-own-backside, self-important ministers.

Messers Cameron and Clegg need to stamp their authority on these people tout de suite.


Danny Alexander may well have the record for the shortest time spent as a Secretary of State for Scotland; however it is possible that his tenure of the post of Chief Secretary at the Treasury will be even shorter.

It appears that Mr Alexander, whilst not having broken any laws (no pun intended), has been morally rather less than we would have hoped for in a Cabinet minister concerning his tax affairs.

According to the Daily Telegraph, which now sees its mission as the cleaning up of politics and the outing of anyone who has been less than 100%, our Danny has been using that old ploy of first home to the tax people (so no capital gains tax) and second home to the Commons, (so oodles of expenses to do the place up so that it could be sold at a vast profit).
Read all about it here.

The tax avoidance, whilst technically not illegal, puts him in the same sort of situation as the deeply unlikeable Hazel Blears, who when caught red handed, owing around £13,000 to the Inland Revenue, paid up with great ceremony waving her cheque and grinning like she was some sort of heroine.

What I find deeply concerning is that David and Nick don’t seem to have looked very far into the financial affairs of their chief secretaries. Nor does the Liberal Whips Office seem to have been particularly smart over it.

Nick Clegg very specifically said that that no Lib Dem MP profited from the expenses system. It seems that he didn’t actually check that fact before he made the statement.

I am not calling for his resignation, but it if it were me, I’d be gone by now out of sheer embarrassment!


According to the Sunday Post today The Rt Hon and Noble The Baron Foulkes of Cumnock has been making a bit of a twerp of himself, yet again.

During a debate last week on the possible new Forth Road Bridge, Highland MSP David Stewart took an intervention from his Nobleness.

Up he got and opened his mouth.... “Could my Noble Friend.. errrr...... Cou
ld my Honourable Friend....”

First of all the poor old thing woke up thinking he was in the House of Lords, then the House of Commons.....

Mr Stewart, who is at least in Foulkes’s own party and probably used to him, took the old fool’s blathering in good part, joking that the Dissolution Honours List was due at the end of the week, but he thanks the Noble Lord for his forewarning....

Ah well, there’s never a dull day when old George is about. At least he wasn’t pavement dancing with pensioners this time.

Michael Moore New Scottish Secretary

Scotland has a new Secretary of State in Michael Moore, after Danny Alexander was promoted to fill the shoes of David Laws. That must make Danny’s tenure as Governor of Scotland one of the shortest in history. So how does this fit in with the respect agenda for the Celtic fringe? Seems to be musical chairs at the Scotland Office and now we have to get used to a whole new SOS and clearly not the coalition’s first choice for the post. So we have to make do with second best again.

Moore, the Lib Dem MP for Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirk, was last night appointed Scottish Secretary, meaning that the former Tory shadow Scottish secretary David Mundell has once again been overlooked as Scotland's man in the Cabinet. Mundell, MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, remains stuck as a junior minister in the Scotland Office, having been leapfrogged by Moore, who was plucked from relative obscurity. Mundell said of the promotion: "There are a fixed number of Lib Dem positions in the Cabinet, so it was always going to be that way. David and Michael are in neighbouring constituencies, so they will work well together."

David Cameron apparently led the tributes to David Laws after his hardly surprising resignations last night. Tributes? He was only Chief Secretary for three weeks and made one speech. Obviously no honeymoon for the coalition.

There seems to be a lot of sympathy about for Laws but at the end of the day he is a rich man, and if he had not wanted his sexuality to be revealed it might have been a good idea not to have lied about his renting a room. He could easily have done that by simply not claiming the rent back from the taxpayer. I think it is terrible that people feel the need to hide their sexuality in this way, but if you are going to be the custodian of public financial prudence perhaps it might be a good idea to check your own personal one first.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Put A Chrysler Sunbeam in Your Life for 30p a Gallon: Never Again, says AA.

According to the AA, petrol prices are unlikely ever to go below £1.10 a litre in Scotland again, even though costs are on their way down and we are an oil rich nation. The reason is a combination of increasing fuel duty from London, and Opec’s measures to keep oil prices reasonable high, usually by restricting its supply. The organisation argues that we will never see prices fall below £1.

History shows that petrol in this country has, allowing for inflation, kept normally within a fairly narrow band price wise. But today, at an average price of around £1.20 a litre, the cost is about 40% higher than the long-term trend.

There have been two periods in the past 108 years when prices have been so high. In the mid to late 50s, shortly after a post-war period of petrol rationing ended, they were as high as today. And during the First War they were the equivalent of about £1.90 litre. Of course as only the aristocracy could afford cars at that time, it wasn’t a huge issue for the likes of you and me.

Since the end of the 90s, crude oil has doubled in price, making this the main cause for fuel increases for the past decade. However, ten years ago, a government report found that, between 1990 and 1999, the price of North Sea oil fell 30%, yet fuel prices rose about 30%, and this was partly attributed to taxation. Today, 75p of the £1.20 that we pay for unleaded goes to the London exchequer.

So it's a combination of both plus greed of the oil producers that has caused our rapidly growing prices. This year we've had all of these. On 1 January 1 VAT went back up to 17.5%, which added a couple of pence to the cost of petrol. An increase to fuel duty and a scrapped subsidy has added about 2p extra from the beginning of April (with more due to come later in the year). Plus, according to the AA, wholesale prices went up 17% this year so far, which has put another 5p on top.

Petrol here is probably the most expensive in the world. I wonder if anyone reading this has noticed any country where it costs more...

As we couldn’t let a whole week go by without a wee bit of Petula, I thought that it might be an idea to look at how much petrol cost back in the late 70s.... well in this ad for a Chrysler Sunbeam, it’s 30p a gallon... about 7p a litre......

Oh happy days....


PS: Pic for Brownlie (nice legs, huh?). Promise I'll do Peggy Lee soon!

Friday, 28 May 2010


Good Lord... or to be more accurate Lords.

So, we are in the middle of a fearsome tightening of belts. Unemployment is high and growing, staff of every civil service department is to be cut (and whilst that’s not bad thing, we can all expect to be kept waiting longer on the phone while we are told how important our call is) and what is happening in Westminster?

Oh yeah, they are starting their own job creation scheme. They are in fact giving people jobs for life.

The outgoing prime minister is by tradition entitled to ennoble people; to send them to join the aristocracy, wear ermine, call themselves “Lord” (or Baron) something or other, their wives become “Lady” something or other and their children are entitled, for some unknown reason, to the style “The Hon” before their names.

After the fuss about money for peerages Tony Blair forewent his entitlement in that matter, but the worst prime minister in history has decided to make even more of a fool of himself by naming a list of second rate disasters and third rate fools to be appointed to the so called upper house.

Not surprisingly SIR Blair the Labour Plod, sacked quite rightly by Boris Johnson, is to go to the house of doddering old fools, where I dare say, he will be at home. The idiot Dez Browne, the man that was Scottish Secretary at the weekends, he told us, while, during the week, he ran two wars, or rather didn’t run them, failing troops by not fighting for more money for them. The patronizing old fool. John Celtic Reid is also going to the Lords, along with Two Jags, Tudor Beams, Toilet Seat Prescott. The bloody old hypocrite. What kind of Old Labour man wants to be in a house of toffs? Mrs Prescott presumably. John Hutton, another fraud of a man and failur
e as a War Minister, will be going upstairs to bed too. The full list can be seen here.

In total there are to be a further 16 Tories, 9 Liberals, and an amazing 29 Labour peers created, not to mention P C Plod and Ian Paisley, who only became human in the last year or two of his political life, and is closely associated with the odious pair that run Northern Ireland, when not sleeping with their friends’ sons.

So, all in all 56 new troughers! Best buy some new troughs and some more pig swill.

But, there’s more. We are informed that under the new coalition there is to be a balancing of the Upper House, needed because of the enormous number of Labour peers created in the last few years... you know, people like Alan Sugar, who just happened to double his contribution to Labour Party funds that year.... well, well.

And according to the
Times, because none of them can be got rid of.... (£300+ a day for life, and no one is messing with THEIR expenses), they will simply have to create even more Liberal and Tory Peers. The Times reckons that will mean a further 77 Tories and 95 Liberals. So another 172 on top of the 56 just appointed, and the current membership, will bring the compliment up to just over 900.

Now that is what I call the right way to show an example to us lesser people. You do with less and we’ll nip off to the House of Lords where you can call us Your Lordship.

Well, when Gorbals Mick went there the place lost its last shred of credibility.....
and what else would we do with the money?

What a bloody country.

Pictured: The Lords: Mr Blair who made such a mess of running England's main police force: The last deputy prime minister and chief pie eater, John Prescott.


It is good news that the Tories are going to tackle the problem of the people that, 30 years ago, they put on the scrap heap.

In a concerted effort to drive down the unemployment figures in the 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s Employment Secretary ordered Jobcentres to transfer as many people as they could from the embarrassing figures for those out of work, which were published each month. The favourite (according to people I know who worked in the Benefit Office), was to persuade them to go to the doctor and get “signed off”. They then immediately disappeared from the monthly figures.

Job done.

Well, except that these people were simply left to moulder on the “sick”. It was often in areas where one by one the traditional industries offering “men’s work” were closing down. Steel works, coal mines, ship building, heavy engineering, car manufacture, textiles, ceramics, bricks, glass.

The jobs that came along to replace them in the new, smart, clean Britain were insurance, banking, sales, call centres...... The men and the jobs didn’t go together: didn't match. So, no one from JC pestered them, and there were no jobs suitable for them, so their wives worked, they claimed Sickness Benefit, and as their mental health deteriorated they claimed Invalidity Benefit... and so it went.

Now it’s all to stop.

And that’s good.

People will not be allowed to moulder on the “sick”.

In a speech today Mr Duncan-Smith set out the new Tory strategy. And in keeping with IDS’s reputation for fairness, those who have spe
nt their lives on benefit, thanks to Mrs Thatcher, and who are now approaching retirement age, will be allowed to retire. Anyone else will be re-assessed and helped to get into work. The kind of work that is suitable: part time, very part time.... light duties.

I’ve a few words of caution for IDS. Firstly, with all the jobs that are going to be lost because of the bankers’/government's/FSA's incompetence, and the civil service pay offs, there aren’t going to be many jobs for the millions of people that you intend shifting off the sick list.

If and when employers do take on, they will want to do so from well qualified and job ready people, conversant with today’s way of doing business.... and there are any number of them available at the moment. They will be spoilt for choice.

Secondly Iain, what comes out of your office way up in the dizzy heights of Whitehall may be good and well intentioned. But by the time it has moved down about 18 levels of responsibility to the clerk, or the medical person... it has become a target. The guy sitting in front of them is no longer a person. He is a target to be achieved.

So, just make sure that you keep an eye on what’s going on. Remember that the tests under Labour were so strict that more than half the decisions to refuse benefit were overturned by tribunals. That’s time and money consuming not to mention a terrible thing to do to sick people. A tribunal can take up to a year to be convened.

Tell your staff that not everyone who is on Incapacity Benefit is a skiver, or a liar and fit as a fiddle. Just like not every MP is a liar, a cheat or a thief.

And please Iain. Forget the bloody targets. These are PEOPLE


Thursday, 27 May 2010

Dundee constituencies to get new names.

Dundee’s two Scottish Parliamentary seats are to get new names following a review by the Boundary Commission. Instead of Dundee East and Dundee West the two will become Dundee City East and Dundee City West.

One wonders what it is they have to do all day at the Boundary Commission if this is what they come up with to justify their statutory existence. And this after what the Dundee Courier revealed as “lengthy considerations”. So now everything with Dundee East and Dundee West has to be reprinted to show the word “city” inserted.

In these times of straitened financial circumstances I am sure that I can speak for the people of Dundee when I say that in the Dunkirk spirit we would be quite happy to soldier on with the old names for the time being thus obviating the need for expense.

There is also to be some tinkering with the seats to make them more strictly apply to the boundaries of the Dundee local authority. Once again though surely a matter of common sense and hardly the result of a lengthy review.

The report now has to go to Scottish Secretary, Danny Alexander who will lay the document before the wee Scottish bit of the English Parliament (but English MPs can vote on it). Ridiculous though these changes are they are our changes and ought to be decided by our Parliament.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Conservative finance and public service reform spokesman at Holyrood, Derek Brownlee, has claimed that we are all in this mess together and that Scotland and the Scots should get behind the Tory cuts.

He went on to criticise John Swinney and the SNP for daring to defer the cuts till next year despite that being an election pledge of one George Osborne now Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I’m sorry but I am now going to quote Mr Brownlee at length. I ask you to bear with me and don’t switch off:

“Labour left the country’s economy in a mess, it is time to sort out that mess. We are all in this together and we have a role to play, that includes the Scottish Government. The UK Government has managed to come up with efficiencies worth more than £6 billion. The Scottish Government has been asked to make savings worth £332 million, that is 1p in every pound it spends. If the UK Government can make savings the Scottish Government needs to do the same or explain why it can’t. Delaying the inevitable will only put more pressure on the economy and front-line services in the future. In the spirit of the new mutual respect agenda, the Conservatives offered the Scottish Government much greater flexibility with its budget and that is now a reality. Alex Salmond needs to take that responsibility seriously and either make savings this year or explain why the Scottish Government is unable to do so. The SNP Government cannot make the same mistakes Labour made. Gordon Brown refused to make savings ahead of the UK election for political reasons, effectively mortgaging the country’s future to save Labour at the ballot box.”

How preachy is that? And all that from a party in disarray north of the border and one that seems to be seriously considering breaking its links with the English Tories. Why not get your own house in order before the sermon?

I think we were told to make savings Mr Brownlee, not asked. That's the respect agenda for you! They pretended that we would escape cuts this year. But after their aspirations for 12 MPs came to nothing, we were told that there would be twice as many next year. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

I love the way that anytime the UK is in a pickle the powers that be invoke the Dunkirk spirit and expect us all to pull together to fix their mess. I say get stuffed!

I think it's reasonable to question if we ARE indeed all in this together. We are, I suppose, all forced to be in it but when the good times were flowing, just how much of the fabulous money was coming OUR way?

Yes, Labour established a minimum wage, at, if I recall right, £3.60 an hour... hardly a fortune, but in the never ending boom that Brown assured us he had secured, the link between the average wage and retirement pensions, for example, was never re-established. It seemed that despite unlimited British wealth the old and the poor were not to enjoy any of the success of the booming British economy under Labour.

No, for sure we weren’t all in it together back then.

This crisis is the result of the ludicrous policies of an English Government pandering to the fat cats in the city of London and the need to bail them out when they became too greedy and too stupid. They all floated the UK economy on an ocean of bad credit and debt and blew a housing bubble of gargantuan proportions till the whole thing collapsed.

And before people say that it was Scottish banks that were the worst offenders let me knock that on the head. The two Scottish banks in question would be HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland. The former is Halifax Bank of Scotland and as far as I am aware Halifax is not in Scotland and the latter included the National Westminster as its larger partner, which is also not Scottish.

When are people like Mr Brownlee going to stop opposing the SNP Government because it is the Government, and start working to help address the problem?

If Mr B is so hell fire keen on the Dunkirk spirit and pulling together, then why does he not start with himself and his party? We don’t want fine preachy speeches, nor do we want a faux respect agenda and political gimmickry... and those things pretty much sum up Mr Brownlee’s fine words. What we do want, if WE are all to pull together, is that our parliamentarians set a good example by being a little less bitchy, and a little more constructive in THEIR pulling together. Let's have a bit more cooperation and not drag Holyrood down to the sort of beer garden politics that we have in the Westminster chamber

Oh, and by the way, I think a look at the books will show that Mr Swinney has already made very substantial cuts, so what’s the fuss about? Please respect our elected government by not attempting to blame it for your cuts.



Last weekend was a scorcher in Dundee. The temperature on Saturday was 22˚ C (OK, laugh if you will, but that’s hot for us and it was warmer than the Mediterranean), there was little or no wind, and Dundonians en masse, it seems, took to the local beach at Broughty Ferry. And rightly so!

What wasn’t so right was that they left the beautiful Blue Flag beach (pictured), one of only seven in Scotland, just days before there was to be a ceremony to celebrate its second Blue Flag year, like a tip. Rubbish was strewn all over; people seemed to think that, just because there weren’t sufficient waste paper bins that the beach was a suitable repository for their rubbish. Cans, and worse, bottles were left along with discarded food wrappers. Even dirty disposable nappies were left on the beach for other people to enjoy in the heat of the afternoon.

Worse was yet to come. Someone advertised a beach party at the children’s recreation park next to the beach on Facebook, and over 200 people turned up, got drunk and trashed the place doing an estimated five figure sum of damage to what was a fantastic play area for kids.

Apparently the response of the Tayside Police was to send two Community Support Officers down to tell them to behave. And as you can see from the picture, that didn’t work. I know the police are busy on Saturday nights, but given that there were 200 drunken kids in a park wrecking the place, I think they might have been able to muster more than two CSOs.

Several weeks ago the beautiful Barnhill Rock Gardens (pictured) were vandalized, not for the first time, by people who thought that that was a neat way to spend a Saturday evening. You have to wonder at what goes through the heads of kids when that is the way they choose to enjoy themselves. It really makes you hope that next weekend it rains and sleets. At least perhaps some of our hard worked for facilities might be left intact on Monday morning.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Promise of no Scottish cuts this year means they are only deffered after all (just like Wales)

Chancellor George Osborne promised in an election pledge that Scotland would not face a budget cut this year because spending commitments were already set. That was part and parcel of the supposed respect agenda.

However, it has now been announced that as part of the £6 billion cuts announced by Osborne, Scotland’s share amounting to £332 millions was only in actual fact being deferred.

It is claimed that implied in the original pledge, was that any reduction not implemented this year would be borne next year. But it wasn’t exactly made clear was it?

Why not just say you can defer your cuts this year under a Tory Government but there will be double next year? Not that difficult is it? But then maybe the Scots would not have voted for the Tories in their ludicrous aspiration to gain twelve seats in Scotland. That proved no more than illusionary. And so now the wheels can start to fall off the respect agenda before it is even out of the garage.

It is now being spun that SNP’s Finance Secretary John Swinney has the choice of whether or not to implementing the cuts now or defer them till next year. It seems that John suspected all along that respect was not what was on the agenda and has in fact wisely allowed for the cuts next year.

Swinney believes he is trying to prevent a worse economic decline than is faced elsewhere in the UK.

The position adopted prior to the election by both the Labour and the Lib Dems was of course something very similar. That was naturally before Nick Clegg’s financial epiphany concerning the terrible state of Greece and the Euro, that he was unaware of 2 weeks ago. And that have caused him to do a volte face and swallow Conservative doctrine in one huge gulp and then regurgitate it as "New Politics"®.

But with no serious upturn in the world economy in sight, there is no escaping the fact that cuts not made this year will have to be made next.

So why doesn’t John want to face the pain right now? Could it be that he thinks the SNP won’t be in government next year and bad news can be blamed on the incomers? That is a bit disingenuous is it not, after all John might very well be in power next year. And if he is not it will be Labour and their policy if I remember correctly was to defer the cuts as well. (As was the Lib Dems.)

Is Osborne really sticking by a promise that spending cuts would not apply to Scotland because it had already set its budget. That promise would only have a value of about eight months anyway because early next year the Scottish Government will have to set its budget for 2011-12.

Yes he did make it clear that there would be no cuts this year. But he did not make it clear that there would be twice the cuts next year, or if he did I didn’t hear it.

Good old respect!

State Opening of Parliament in England: Let's Hope that it's Value for Money

So six months before we were due to do it all again, this morning Her Majesty the Queen made her way in procession in a coach to the House of Lords (she is the Duke of Lancaster after all, so maybe that earns her a place there) and reads a speech prepared for her by Prime Ministers David Cameron, Nick Clegg and their teams.

For the second time in 12 months the show of fabulous wealth, of a crown whose sale would go a fair way to clearing our debts and save millions of people suffering deprivation, is given to the people from all over the world. The best we can hope for is that, as it’s happening at this time of the year, thousands of tourists in the London will be treated to a real live view of the Queen in her finery, as she rides to Westminster.

How much will all this cost? It seems ironic that this Queen’s Speech which is all about austerity; all about cutting to pay back the unimaginable debt that the last government and its mates, the City, got us into, should be flanked at both ends by this display of grand wealth. Doubtless millions of people catching snatches of it on tonight’s tv news will be warmed by that memory when they are shivering next winter, out of a job and with less social security money to keep them from hunger and cold.

The Queen will introduce the theme of David Cameron’s Big Society, according to
The Times, saying that the measures will herald a stronger and fairer society that encourages individual and social responsibility. Small government is good of course, but the fear is always there that those less fortunate are left unprotected, while the rich pay for the services that the state would have provided.

The Queen will highlight the Government’s priority to reduce the deficit and restore economic growth and to accelerate the reduction of the structural budget deficit,
with five Bills from the Treasury. It’s bad news then that the last quarter’s figures actually showed even smaller growth than the one before.

There will be measures to block the rise in employers’ national insurance contributions; return supervisory powers over the City to the Bank of England; and set up an Office of Budget Responsibility, all of which sounds sensible to me.

Another theme is expected to be “freedom, fairness and responsibility”, with Nick Clegg’s Bill to get rid of Labour legislation opposed by the Tories and Liberals over the last years, including the rolling back of the “surveillance state”, scrapping ID cards and regulation of CCTV cameras and DNA. Again, I can’t argue with any of that. I just hope that where the cameras are removed, there will be suitable policing, as cameras were often a cheap method of crime control.

Legislation requiring referenda on future treaties of the EU is
also anticipated and, in my opinion will mean that the UK will end up blocking all future movement on the union for good or bad.

A pensions and savings Bill is thought likely to restore the link between pensions and average earnings, which, nearly 40 years after Thatcher removed it, is welcomed. The misery and poverty that that measure has caused over the years is incalculable, but of course none of it ever hit the millionaire Thatcher.

According to The Times we can also expect legislation to provide compensation for victims of the collapse of Equitable Life and to provide support for armed forces families along with, very rightly, much domestic English legislation. It’s a pity that the parliament will not bring forward legislation to create an English parliament.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Another Royal Scandal

Another story that is grist to the republican mill over the last few days has been that the Duke of York has been dropped in the soup by his ex wife. He faced fresh controversy over his role as British business ambassador last night after it emerged Sarah Ferguson had been caught on camera offering access to him in exchange for £500,000.

There were fears that his position as Special Representative for International Trade and Investment had been compromised. That is the sinecure job that seems to be passed from one member of the royal family to another. The previous incumbent was the Duke of Kent who passed it to Andy in 2001.

The Prince, 50, arrived in Britain yesterday after visiting Malaysia to promote industry. He is expected to meet advisers at Buckingham Palace today and also to speak to representatives of the UK Trade & Investment department, which he represents. Time for a lot of damage limitation I think.

The Duchess of York, also 50, said she was “devastated” after being filmed by the News of the World, which is owned by News International, parent company of The Times. “I very deeply regret the situation and the embarrassment caused,” she said yesterday. “It is true that my financial situation is under stress”. I see, devastated at being caught offering access to an unelected holder of a government sinecure for a few hundred thousand to beef up your personal wealth.

“However, that is no excuse for a serious lapse in judgment and I am very sorry that this has happened, she continued. I can confirm that the Duke of York was not aware or involved in any of the discussions that occurred.” Lapse in judgment? No Sarah cynical attempt to grab money from your position I think.

Undercover footage showed Sarah, suggesting that half a million pounds would “open doors” before confirming that she was referring to her former husband, who met the “most amazing people”. Claiming that she was broke, she accepted $40,000 (£27,600) in cash. She gave the reporter her bank details for future payments, adding “then you open up all the channels . . . then you meet Andrew and that’s fine. And that’s when you really open up whatever you want.”

She insisted that the Prince was “whiter than white” but also claimed to have discussed her plans with him. “Andrew said to me, ‘Tell him £500,000’. He knows that he’s had to underwrite me up to now because I’ve got no money. So if you want to meet him, look after me and he’ll look after you . . . you’ll get it back tenfold.” The newspaper added that the Prince had no knowledge of the deal. So he did know then or at least suspected.

The Duchess ignored reporters’ questions when she arrived in Los Angeles yesterday after an American Airlines flight from Heathrow at 2.15pm (10.15pm GMT). She is attending an awards ceremony organised by the children’s charity Variety.

Last night UK Trade & Investment said that the issue was a matter for Buckingham Palace and backed the Prince’s work. Stephen Alambritis, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The timing of this couldn’t be worse and this whole affair may affect the ability of the Prince to clinch those vital deals. When the pound is so weak and following the recent uncertainty about the election, his job is even more important than ever.” Not that old chestnut about the Prince opening doors to investment because he is a prince is it? How do the Americans manage without a royal family to be the richest and most powerful country in the world without a load of royal hangers on to open all these doors to trade that would otherwise be slammed in republican faces? And the Chinese, and the French and the Germans. And do the Japanese royal family rush around the world prostituting themselves for a few million quid? The fact of the matter is if British expertise and goods were so good we would not need a royal salesman would we?

He urged UK Trade & Investment and the Prince’s office to show that he was “above all this”. “Intrigue is not the way we do business.” Are you joking what about the Al Yamamah arms deal that set a bench mark in terms of bribery and corruption?

Last year the Prince, nicknamed Airmiles Andy, was paid £130,000 in expenses. He does not receive a salary. This year he was criticised for using a £1 million golfing villa in Abu Dhabi.

This is the problem when you have grasping royals and their hangers on, like this. Their personal unelected influence is, and always will be a magnet for corruption.

Saturday, 22 May 2010


MPs have again stuck two fingers up to taxpayers, claiming Parliament’s new expenses watchdog is treating them like benefit claimants. I am wondering why they think that they should be treated better than other citizens who are forced to claim benefits because they are ill or can’t find work. Seems that it’s ok for ALL benefit claimants to be assumed to be cheats and thus being treated badly, but MPs mustn't lumped together as expenses cheats, and must be treated better, even if they are.

Anyway our MPs are angry that the new regime requires that, like other people living and working in the country, and indeed working for the government, they are required to have receipts to back their claims, instead of us just taking their word for it. I wonder why we feel disinclined to do that.

There has also been a warning that the expenses watchdog staff will not tolerate abusive or threatening behaviour. Isn’t it an indictment on our parliament that a warning of this type has to go out to our lawmakers, because some, including ministers who are now standing for leadership of the Labour party, did bully staff into paying unjustified amounts?

Some MPs say a reduction in second-home allowances could lead to them staying in one-bedroom flats, forcing them to live apart from their children during the week, like many business people already do, and women MPs have protested that a ban on taking taxis before 11pm could force them to use public transport to get home at night. Men, presumably, have a magic wand that they wave to avoid this.

Labour MP David Winnick (right) said that it was disgraceful that Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is making members fund essential spending up front, as I have always been expected to do, despite never having had a salary of £65,000, and that staffing budgets have effectively been cut. Well, everyone is having to make cuts and work a bit harder Winnick; why would that not include you?

"The scandal that shamed parliament should never be repeated,” he said. “But this is another type of scandal.” No it’s not, you nelly. It’s what everyone is going through, and you brought it on yourselves in any case.

The rules come into force for this new Parliamentary session. The watchdog will pay salaries at the end of the month and the first expenses from June.

One of the most important changes is that MPs cannot any longer buy homes, claim back the mortgage interest, make improvements at our expense, and pocket vast profits when the properties are sold. Instead they can claim up to £1,450 a month in rent.

It seems to me that they learned almost nothing from last year. Perhaps the fact that so few of them have been punished in any real way has something to do with this. The older ones have retired, some having to pay back expenses overcharged, some not having to pay them back at all. Only four hapless and expendable Labour MPs and one Tory Peer have appeared in court over the cheating. Many of them have been returned to their seats by their grateful voters, including an MP who is about to appear in court charged with expenses fraud.

The IPSA have said rules were intended to restore public confidence in the MPs’ expenses system, but it would consider changes. It apparently is listening to feedback from MPs and the public on the rules.

So, if anyone from the IPSA is reading this blog, this taxpayer would like to say that he doesn’t want vindictiveness but he expects the new authority to safeguard the public’s money. Everyone is having to make do with less; everyone is working harder. MPs must not be any different from anyone else. Gone should be the days of their assuming some sort of superiority over the common herd.

“New Politics”® and jobs for the boys?

Danny in the back of 'The Sun's' own taxi driven by Grant Davis

Willie Rennie ex-Lib Dem MP for Dunfermline and West Fife is to get a job as a special advisor to the Scotland office now being run by his old mate Danny Alexander.

Willie sensationally won the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election in 2006 after the death of the sitting Labour MP Rachel Squire. His by-election victory rocked the Scottish political establishment at the time.

However, things reverted to type in the 2010 election when Willie lost to Labour’s Thomas Docherty.

But it seems that all is not lost for Willie as according to the 'Dundee Courier' Willie is to get a job from his old friend and colleague Danny Alexander the Scottish Secretary under the new Liberal/Conservative alliance. The more cynical among us might think this is jobs for the boys and hardly in keeping with the great dawn of “New Politics”®. Or is it a just reward for a job well done? Maybe it is a convenient tax payer funded shelf to sit Willie on until somebody in Scotland dies or resigns or something and then up can pop Willie to do his Dunfermline magic trick all over again.

What exactly will wee Willie be doing in the Scotland Office? An organ of government that the Lib Dems wanted to abolish.

Deputy PM to get own (Deputy) PMQs

Clement Attlee, First Deputy Prime Minister

According to the Times Nick Clegg (Deputy Dawg) is to get more than a shiny deputy badge in his hastily contrived role: his own Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions! He is likely to take the floor of the Commons once a week, to answer questions on his unique portfolio of constitutional reform and coalition trouble-shooting. Something to look forward to then!

The event, which has the broad agreement of the Speaker but is yet to be signed off by the new government, is likely to take place on Thursdays and be “bolted on” to Business Questions, where the agenda for the Commons is outlined. This will be seen as a sop to the Lib Dems who now sit on the gover
nment benches and lose the rights of opposition parties to cross-question the Prime Minister.

One of the complications of the new arrangement will be who sits across from Mr Clegg at the despatch box. Currently Harriet Harman, who has been appointed Labour’s acting leader, must lead for her party against David Cameron on a Wednesday. The role could be expected to pass to Rosie Winterton, who has succeeded Harbag as Shadow Leader of the House. I guess that Labour will have to have a shadow deputy dawg, but suppose that will be up to the new leader to decide.

John Prescott, the last deputy Prime Minister, used to have his own Question Time in the 15 minutes before Tony Blair took questions on a Wednesday. A kind of 'silly bugger' slot to warm them up you might say. However, this is not thought to carry enough prestige for the new holder of the badge. Nothing trivial for Deputy Dawg.

The office of Deputy Prime Minister was a made up job created, funnily enough, under our last coalition government for Clement Attlee. Clem went on to become PM in his own right. One of only two Deputy PM’s to do so. The other was Anthony Eden.

It is more like an office of political expediency and, where it exists, may bring with it practical influence depending on the status of the holder, rather than the status of the position.

It remains to be seen what Clegg will make of it with his rather nebulous brief of cooking the constitutional fudge and shoving it down the throats of his Tory colleagues and the British public! Let’s hope Labour put up someone who can give him a run for his money.

Friday, 21 May 2010


Canary Warf

According to the Daily Telegraph, “leading City experts” (Another lot of masters of the universe?) are raising the real prospect of "Great Depression II" amid worries that the European economic crisis could trigger financial chaos.

Markets across the world have fallen to new low levels as fears surrounding the fate of the Euro transmuted into worries about the wider global economic system.

Andrew Roberts, head of European rates strategy at RBS, said "Great Depression II" could now be approaching, adding: "It now has potential to speed toward its conclusion; a European $1trn package which does little and political panic tells you we are about to reach the end of the road. The world should be discussing deflation, not inflation." Of course there are people who might question what anyone at RBS knows about anything. I’d certainly be wary about their opinion on the weather never mind an economic crisis
, given their record.

The FTSE 100 nearly reached the 5,000 point yesterday, eventually finishing the day 5073, while the French CAC 40 index was 2.3% lower and Germany's Dax dropped 2%. The USA’s S&P 500 and the Dow Jones both suffered their sharpest one-day falls in more than a year. The S&P fell 3.9% to 1072, while the Dow closed 3.6% lower at 10,068.

These falls precipitated increases in the price of state bonds in Germany, the US and across the world with investors looking for a safe place to put their money. German 10-year bund yields fell to a record low, while in England gilt yields dropped to their lowest levels for nearly 6 months.

Although this rush for safety can be attributed originally to the Euro's difficulties this week and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to ban short-selling on its banks, worries that the deeper economic problems may be ahead have come to light because of fresh information from the European Commission showing consumer confidence falling suggesting that the Euro zone debt crisis is now affecting consumer confidence.

Unemployment continues to rise both in Europe and in the US. This is the norm after a recession, and it had surely been anticipated. There is always a lag between the downturn ending and the stabilisation of unemployment, given that employers have so little confidence in the continued improvement in the economic situation. The deterioration in the United States’ employment picture, however, coming after last week’s drop in inflation, has increased worries that we are facing the second dip in a possible global double-dip recession.


I was impressed with the solid good sense of Libby Purves in The Times the other day, brought to my attention by my mother. She wrote a sterling piece with which I agree completely (as does my mum).

Why on earth are we still whining about how many women there are in the Cabinet, or in senior Civil Service jobs? I could have understood it 40 years ago, but now with girls doing better at school than boys; going o
n to university and being entitled to equal opportunities and pay, and frankly more than equal opportunities in some jobs. So why, oh why, are we still talking about “all-women shortlists” and female quotas?

I would agree that government would be the better for having a wide range of input, but we live in a democracy... or so we are told. Nothing stops women... or anyone else putting themselves forward to parties for nomination to vacant seats; nothing, if they are chosen, stops them from standing; they can even, if the party is not interested, stand as independents. If elected they can be promoted into ministerial or shadow ministerial roles and in the end become cabinet secretaries.

One of the best politicians in Britain today is Nichola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health. And we know that Thatcher, whatever else she did, managed to get to the top in London, despite the Tory Party of the 1970s being
hardly receptive to the idea of women or change.

Why then do people like Harriet Harman bang on so about all-women shortlists? Her enthusiasm for them indicates that she imagines that women would not be chosen unless there were nothing BUT women to choose from.

It is so degrading to women, (not to say discriminatory to men). And where does one stop with all this equality nonsense? Was Harman serious when she said that from now on there should always be a man and a woman at the top in the Labour Party? For an obviously intelligent woman she says some daft things. She wants women’s opinions to be heard... so what about
minority ethnic groups, what about gays, what about people with disabilities, people from each generation? Should we have all of them at the top? Should there be all-Christian, or all-black (no silly, not the kiwi type) lists, what about all-working class lists? What nonsense.

People of talent will rise to the top in politics. Poor people, women, short men, gay people, and black people may find it harder... but maybe that’s because members of the public feel happier with a white, straight, middle class male as their MP.

Pics: Libby Purves, Harriet Harman with two other feminists, and the picture of the Israeli cabinet that orthodox newspapers altered, removing women.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Respect agenda? What respect agenda?

A Whitehall review of how treasury money is distributed across the UK has been signalled by government sources, which could ultimately lead to a reduction in how much money Scotland receives each year from London.

Westminster sources have suggested a needs-based assessment to replace the controversial Barnett formula will be flagged up in next week’s Queen’s Speech, which will lay out the Liberal-Conservative Government’s legislative plans for the coming session, and how funding for Scotland will be fitted into the “New Politics”® and the so called respect agenda.

Following discussions yesterday between the Chancellor and Danny Alexander, the Scottish Secretary, a decision has been made to set up a review to look at the Scottish Government’s request to receive a fossil fuel levy worth £185 million. A review? How long will that take? Either its Scotland’s money or its not. They are very quick to fire a starting gun on reform of the Barnett formula, that even Mrs Thatcher didn’t think was too outrageous in her mad rush to reform everything. But when it comes to letting Scotland benefit from her own natural resources we need a review. That will be like the Lib Dem supported Jenkins Commission that advocated AV+ in 1998 but was kicked into the long grass. And now the Lib Dems are happy to take a referendum on only AV which their alliance partners won’t be supporting. And what about Calman; Nick and Dave? When will we be getting the postage stamp tinkering with the Scottish settlement that, that promised? The respect agenda for Scotland is beginning to look like a lot more stick than carrot. “New Politics”® in action yet again but now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Conservative Party!

Meanwhile, David Cameron came under fire last night after making a bid to reform a key Tory committee that has historically been a focal point for backbench unrest. Conservative MPs are being balloted over whether ministers should be allowed to play a full part in the 1922 Committee. Traditionally, membership has been limited to backbenchers, when the party is in government. Not a cynical attempt to hobble the awkward squad is it? What happened to all that guff about decentralising government and parliament? Is there a point to that if at the same time you are going to centralise the working of your party to make it more easily controlled by the leading clique?

The surprise move could give the Prime Minister more control over the influential body amid growing disquiet about the coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats. What’s new about manoeuvring to control your own power base and scheming to stay at the top of the greasy pole?

Also the Lib Dems are apparently attempting to hold on to short money, a kind of tax payer subsidy to opposition parties to compensate for the fact that governing parties have the civil service and paid advisors to help them. But the Lib Dems are not in opposition any more. So is this just a fiddle?

This “New Politics”® is beginning to look more and more like just so much more of the old politics with a fancy name. And the respect agenda for Scotland is looking more like punishing us for not voting Tory, again!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

NEW POLITICS® in action!

Yesterday Mr Clegg endorsed David Cameron's flagship "big society" theme.

In a U-turn, the Liberal Democrat leader told a Downing Street seminar for voluntary groups he hosted with the Prime Minister: "What I'm discovering is we've been using different words for a long time – it actually means the same thing. Liberalism, big society. Empowerment, responsibility. It means the same thing." So there you are it’s all the same thing really. So what is the point of voting for the Lib Dems then? Everybody might as well have voted for the Conservatives and saved us all this bother.

Mr Clegg took a rather different approach to Mr Cameron's big idea during the election. On 2 May, he said: "What is this 'big society'? It is a big society with a price tag attached. It's a bit like inviting someone to a party in a pub and finding that it's your card behind the bar paying for everyone's drinks." What’s so “New Politics”® about a U Turn then? That is certainly not a new political manoeuvre.

Mr Clegg is also expected to announce today what he will label a "big bang” of political reform. It looks much more like a damp squib with a load of Tory looking aspirations to roll back surveillance society and buried in it the vaunted referendum on changing from FPTP to AV (not even the AV+ advocated by the Jenkins Commission). That is a change from one majority system to another, no mention of PR at all. How is that going to maximise choice and make things fairer? Also in there is this gem of obfuscation: moves to “a wholly or mainly elected House of Lords”. What does that mean then? Not a fudge is it for some tinkering round the edges by any chance? Isn’t “New Politics”® wonderful?

Here is a list (from the Independent) of the other key aspects of the Big Bang expected to be announced by Deputy Dawg:

* scrapping the identity card scheme and second generation biometric passports;

* removing limits on the rights to peaceful protest;

* a bonfire of unnecessary laws;

* a block on pointless new criminal offences;

* internet and email records not to be held without reason;

* closed-circuit television to be properly regulated;

* new controls over the DNA database, such as on the storage of innocent people's DNA;

* axeing the ContactPoint children's database;

* schools will not take children's fingerprints without asking for parental consent;

* reviewing the libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) an international organisation of those developed countries that accept the principles of representative democracy and a free market economy has published a list of countries whose populations are content with their way of life. The top 12 are illustrated to the left <== (click on pic for larger image).

Now I don’t know how this organisation gathers its information, but I imagine that it is in as respected a statistical form as would be expected from a world body and no more or less so that the well known polling companies in the UK. (The ones that predicted a hung parliament with a Liberal/Conservative coalition.) The figures relate to 2009.

So, in view of that, I was interested in three things about the figures... and I thought that maybe Jim Murphy might be interested in them too. As a supposed socialist, after all, he should be interested in ordinary people’s satisfaction with life, rather than the state of the nasty Tory markets (snigger):

• His beloved UNITED Kingdom, with its supposedly wise and prudent government, steering us through the economic downturn with Mr Prudence Brown at the helm, does not appear on this list, suggesting that after 13 years of benign Labour rule, the people are not as content as he would have had us believe;

• Ireland appears as number 7 on the list. Despite Mr Murphy insulting Ireland’s economy and by association its government, the people of Ireland are 7th most content of all the OECD countries;

• The country at the top of the list is Iceland. Mr Murphy fair got ladled into Iceland; the failure of it, the basket case nature of it, backward looking and so on... and his boss Dr Brown, perhaps spoiling for a war that he might just win, used anti terrorist laws against this country, because an Icelandic bank’s English subsidiary, registered in London and regulated (or not as the case may be) by the FSA, went broke.... Well anyway, its people, despite the financial meltdown.. and an errant volcano or two, or three.... are the happiest in the OECD.

After Liam Muppet Byrne giving the Liberal-Conservative government an excuse for tax rises by admitting that he had left them not a penny piece in the Treasury, today it is the turn of Jim Spud Murphy to eat crow.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Liam Blunder Byrne strikes again..........

I always thought Liam “Espresso” Byrne was a complete toss pot. Anyone so completely up his own backside as to write and circulate to his staff a piece called “Working with Liam Byrne” could hardly be anything less.

Apparently it is normal for outgoing ministers to leave, for the person taking over their post, a short note outlining anything that they might feel was worth the new minister learning, and which they fear perhaps that the Permanent Secretary might not pass on. Even at a change of government: I imagine that, unless you are a sore loser, the country comes before your wounded pride.

So David Laws, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was not surprised to see an envelope on his desk from the previous incumbent of the post. He was surprised though when he opened the letter to find the idiot Byrne had written one line: “Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left”.

Mr Byrne claims that the letter was supposed to be funny. Ha, bloody ha! “My letter was a joke, from one Chief Secretary to another,” he said. “I do hope David Laws’ sense of humour wasn’t another casualty of the coalition deal.” Oh dear Liam, sour grapes that they didn’t do a deal with your lot methinks, oh, and to be strictly accurate, it was from an EX -chief secretary to the Chief Secretary.

Liam seems to think that it is a matter for humour that the government of which he was a member, and indeed a minister in the Treasury managed to leave the country in a state where, in fact, there is not only no money, but there is more debt than at any time since the end of the Second World War... and ironically that debt was only just paid off a couple of years ago.

Our Liam is one of these people for whom 'foot in mouth' was invented. Indeed this is the second time in a month that the loose-mouthed MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill has made a gaffe. During the election campaign, Byrne was caught swapping notes with Yvette Balls, the Ex-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, complaining that an event which they were attending was "second tier". Well, you know Liam; it says something for the state of the Labour party that a couple of third rate politicians like you and Mrs Balls were allowed to go to a second tier function. All the second raters must have been busy that day.

Never mind, now you’re a big fat nothing, you won’t get invited anywhere, except perhaps Hodge Hill Bingo and Sale of Work... should suit you nicely.

Working with Liam Byrne.... or NOT working with him any more actually.......LOL LOL LOL!

Pic: Liam the lovely..... being escorted from the premises... and just looking lovely again. As Spooks would say.... wee shame, isn't it.

Iain Gray hopes to benefit from “New Politics”®

First Ministerial wannabe Iain Gray is to target Liberal Democrat voters who have been “betrayed” by the coalition with the Conservatives that former leader Charles Kennedy has revealed he cannot bring himself to support.

Gray is writing to Lib Dem supporters across Scotland (although how he knows who they are is a mystery to me), who supported the party at the General Election, urging them to switch their allegiance in the Scottish Parliament elections next May. Vote Labour keep the Lib Dems out?

The move came on the day Deputy Prime Minister and LibDem leader Nick Clegg addressed a gathering of 2,000 LibDem activists in Birmingham who gave overwhelming backing to the coalition. Activists would though wouldn’t they? What do the actual voters think of the “New Politics”®? Well the Lib Dem/Tory alliance appear to have dented the party’s standing. A ComRes survey said about one-third of voters who backed the LibDems at the election felt Clegg had sold out, while an ICM survey has suggested LibDem support is down three points since the election, at 21% (quoted in the Herald). So there you are, “New Politics”® seems to have gone down like an old fashioned lead balloon with Lib Dem voters and it is them that count more than the nodding dog activists. How has the NP revolution gone down with Tory voters I wonder?

Clegg said after the conference: “The stakes are high – for me personally, as well as the party. I came into politics to change things, and that means taking risks. Real, big change never comes easy. So it would simply be wrong for us to let this chance of real change pass us by – the chance to transform politics, the chance to hardwire fairness into our society, the chance to change Britain for good.” Transform politics by forming a coalition with the most stalwart advocates of the status quo? Hardwire fairness in by ditching policy in favour of rhetoric and allowing the Tories to kick PR into the long grass? AV is not PR as all it means is you have to get 50% of the vote. The safest seats like Tom Harris in Glasgow South would not be affected at all as he got 51% of the vote in the first round. And 49% of votes would still be wasted in every constituency.

The LibDem Scottish Secretary Danny Alexander said of Kennedy’s intervention: “It reflects that of course there are some people who have maybe a few misgivings about the direction in which we’re going.”. I saw him on the TV and had to collect my jaw up off the floor. I never thought that anyone could be worse than Jim Murphy.

Clegg was praised by Prime Minister David Cameron, who yesterday called him “clearly part of the inner core” of the new Government. But in his letter Gray writes: “People feel angry, betrayed and, in some cases, bewildered. As a minister in a previous Scottish Government, I worked with Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues, and found it a rewarding experience. But now they have thrown their lot in with David Cameron.” So no chance of another Labour /Lib Dem coalition under you then Iain? I do hope you enjoy minority government. But that might be good for the SNP in a roundabout way, with Labour in harness in Scotland and the Lib Dems and Tories in England there would only be the SNP left, wouldn’t there?

The SNP countered: “Many LibDems will be looking for another party at next May’s Holyrood elections and they will know that they have much in common with the SNP, such as a genuine commitment to a proportional voting system, believing the people should have a say in referenda and local democracy.” Very true: “New Politics”®, old stitch up!

Saturday, 15 May 2010


I NEVER REALLY felt terribly happy about the two Milibands being in Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. Nor was I in the least at ease with the idea that Mrs and Mr Ed Balls were both Secretaries of State. It seemed to me during my extremely brief encounter with the awful civil service that, if members of the same family were not allowed to work in the same office at the most junior of ranks, then it was plain wrong for people at the “top” to be allowed to. However, I put their inclusion down less to their invaluableness than to the dire shortage of any talent of any kind available in the Commons to Brown government. The appointment of Jacquie Smith and continual adding to the Lords of dubious ministerial talent was indication that there was little to be found of any use in the elected house.

Now with old Grumpy Guts out of the way, it seems that the same lack of talent presents itself for election to the role of leader of the opposition..... the only opposition, now that Nick Clegg has deserted it for the Deputy Prime Minister’s seat.

So it was without much surprise that I heard today that along with his brother David, Ed Miliband was to run for leader. He announced his bid for the top job at the Fabian Society, telling his audience that the party had lost touch with its “values and people". He also criticised Labour’s recent record on civil liberties, including the ID cards scheme, and claimed its election campaign suffered from having “too many men and not enough women”. (I wonder if that was a bid to get the Harridan to vote for him.) So he was happy about the ID cards and now he’s not.

(I wish people would stop going on about not enough women, or not enough minority ethnics or gays or penguins or whatever. There’s nothing stopping people of either sex, of any sexuality and any ethnic origin getting involved [ok, there are issues over penguins]. Either they don’t want to or no one votes for them. It’s a democracy. Eat it up and get over it.)

Fortunately for all of us Yvette Balls has ruled herself out, but her husband is still testing the water, which would suggest he has no intention of standing unless he thinks he’s going to win, or at least not be humiliated like Peter Hain was when he came last in the Deputy Leadership race. I assume that Harriet Harman is not going to have the good grace to stand down and give the party the chance to elect a new team.

I’d like to see the New Politics (DaveNick) bring in a rule that will stop members of the same family being in the same Cabinet. I don’t think it is right that two brothers might have the top two jobs, or if Balls were to win that he might appoint his wife to some task well above her limited abilities to keep her sweet... or indeed sack her because she burnt the dinner!

Pics: The Brothers Miliband and the Balls.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Getting Britain Back to Work: The Challenges that the Politicians Don't Know About

One of the biggest problems in trying to find work for people who are Long Term Unemployed is employability.

It’s awful easy for political parties to boast that they will get everyone back to work, but the politicians and their advisors who promise this never actually meet the people that they are supposedly going to get working.

I start with the premise that if you can work; you work. It’s not a choice (unless you can find yourself a rich partner). There should be no choosing a life on the dole. So you must work. That’s how the world works. We can surely all agree on that.

But then we come to the stumbling blocks. As I’ve said I’ve worked for 10+ years on a variety of projects with 15-16 year olds, 45+, with people wanting to return to work after illness, and on general programmes which include anyone unemployed.

In many of these projects I’ve worked with employers
too and I’ve been shocked at the expectations on both sides. There is a lack of realism from employers as to what they can expect for, often, the minimum wage. On the other hand how little some people expect to do for their money and how much they expect when they offer so little by way of skills, is quite incredible. We need to bridge that credibility gap. Companies need to be encouraged to play a part in the society in which they operate, but looking to employ locals.

People of all ages who have been out of work for a while face real problems, especially when there are so many recently-redundant people, who are used to the disciplines of work, in the job market.

But quite apart from that we are faced with a mismatch of talents/abilities and skill demands. We used to be a manufacturing nation.
There were in my own town, jute works employing thousands to do skilled, semi skilled and unskilled factory work. The same could be said of the engineering works and the boat yards, the jam, chocolate and frozen foods factories, the battery factories and the ones that made fridges and false teeth or printed newspapers...... Thousands and thousands of people worked in these jobs and on the farms that surrounded the town.

Now there is Michelin, which I guess employs only a few hundred people.

The people of the town haven’t really changed. Most of them still want, and feel they can do, that kind of job. They are uncomfortable in the call centres for Tesco, BT, Tax Office, Work and Pensions office. At the risk of being politically incorrect we
stopped having the jobs, but we didn’t stop having the people who were at home doing them.

We have people of all ages who can’t read, write or count, and some who do not have the social skills for face to face work with customers, and, although stores provide, as Allan said, warehouse work, the numbers are tiny by comparison.

But there are many people who are unemployable for other reasons than skills mismatch. Put yourself in the place of an employer. Do you want the guy who is just out of prison; the mother with 5 kids; the man who clearly has a drink problem; the girl on a methadone programme; the painfully thin, ill looking girl; the grossly fat boy; the disabled person for whom they are going to have to do structural alterations; the person with the disfigurement, or the skin problem; the guy with the front teeth that have rotted; the person with so much debt that she’s made it clear that the wage is not going to be enough, or the lad with a worry about the Child Support Agency coming after him?

For sure Mr Duncan Smith will have problems getting these people into work. I’m available as an advisor... at a price Iain, if you’re reading this.

Top pic: Cox's Stack. Lochee's jute mill employed at one time 5000 people. The mill is now gone but the stack remains as reminder of more prosperous times for the suburb of Dundee. Jute workers were notoriously badly paid, so it wasn't the workers that were prosperous.