Thursday 31 December 2009
She started by criticising the huge salaries that some BBC executives get. 375 employees earn over £100,000 per annum, a tenth of these earning more than the Prime Minister.
Mr Thompson insisted that high salaries were essential to prevent defections to the private sector. He said that the controller of BBC One had a £1 billion annual budget, underlining the importance of getting “the very best person doing that job”. However Lady James was having none of that. Where, she asked, in the private sector would these people get better money? When Mr Thompson said that they might go to ITV she laughed at the suggestion, pointing out that ITV was cutting both positions and salaries.
Well done P D James. How many times have highly paid people defended their immense salaries by saying that they could earn more if they worked in the private sector? Please! If someone cares about money and could earn more in the public sector then that is where they would be. Not one of these BBC managers is doing us a huge favour by working for a pittance with the public service broadcaster.
The other matter in which Lady James went for the jugular was the duplication of managers’ tasks: “You have a director of marketing, communications and audiences who gets over £300,000, then there is a director of communications. One wonders what actually is going on here.”
Mr Thompson said that bureaucracy was a “real issue”, adding: “One of the things we’re looking at is whether we can make an auditable commitment to how much of the licence fee we can spend on content.”
Describing the corporation as a “large unwieldy ship” that was “bringing more and more cargo”, Lady James said that the BBC had changed for the worse since its inception in the 1920s. She told Mr Thompson that some BBC programming was indistinguishable from commercial equivalents.
Again I couldn’t agree more. The people in higher middle management in the BBC seem to have the most amazing jobs with fantastic conditions, salaries and pensions of unbelievable size, all of which they get from us, the public. Hopefully Mark Thompson will be as good as his word with regard to this.
P D James has risen immeasurably in my book. I rarely heard so much good solid common sense spoken in such a short time.
(Just an interesting little afterthought: P D James is one of the country’s best known, and much loved mystery writers, and sits as a Conservative peer in the House of Lords. Ruth Rendell is of equal rank in the murder mystery stakes, also much loved, and sits as a Labour peer.)
Wednesday 30 December 2009
Since ever I can remember I have been told that Scotland is too small to run its own affairs. Perhaps as a result of this I have always been interested in small countries that do manage to make their own way in the world. Add to that that I’m a great fan of railways.... (I love travelling by train...I’m not a train spotter!!!), and you'll see why I couldn’t resist this story which I found in The Times.
Bhutan is to have its first railway after the King agreed a plan with India to build an 11-mile link between the two countries. It will mark the country’s boldest step yet into the modern world. The Buddhist kingdom had no roads or telephones until 1960 and no television until 1999. The new track will offer one of the most breathtaking rail journeys in the world across the foot of the Himalayas.
An agreement was signed last weekend when Bhutan’s 29-year-old monarch Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, visited India on his first official trip abroad since he formally assumed the crown last year.
King Jigme, who was educated at Eton and Oxford, is keen to expand trade links with India, which accounts for 98% of Bhutan’s imports and about 90% of its exports — mostly hydropower.
Bhutan held its first parliamentary election last year, transforming itself from an absolute monarchy into the world’s youngest democracy. The new Government is under pressure to develop the fledgling economy. India, on the other hand, is trying to stop China challenging its status as the dominant economic and military power in the region. Bhutan has close cultural ties to Tibet, but its relations with India are underpinned by a 60-year-old friendship treaty that grants Delhi a say in Bhutanese foreign and defence policy in exchange for financial aid.
The new railway will use the same broad gauge as most others on the Indian sub-continent, as opposed to the narrower standard gauge used in China. India also offered to build new railway links to Nepal this year after China was reported to have proposed extending its new trans-Tibet railway to the Nepalese border and building an entire domestic rail network for its impoverished neighbour.
Bhutan has a population of 635,000, 60 per cent of whom survive on subsistence farming; 15,000 to 20,000 of them are monks. Archery is the national sport. Smoking is illegal, as is felling a tree or killing a fish. Bhutan caps its number of tourists at 10,000 a year — fewer than Antarctica. Every house is built in traditional style and most people wear national costume: for men, a wraparound robe worn with knee-length socks; for women, an ankle-length dress with jacket.
Despite, or maybe because of its isolated situation in the world, it is the eighth-happiest country in the world, according to a 2006 survey conducted by the University of Leicester.
There may be a lesson for Scotland there......
Over at http://www.charlesclarke.org.uk/ (Finding the Killer Instinct) the ex-Home Secretary lays out his views on the dilemma that Labour finds itself in today with regard to both policies and personlaities. I’ve never been a fan of Clarke’s but I found myself nodding at a large number of the comments he made.
Of course, as an English MP and an Englishman, he made no comment about the situation in Scotland, or for that matter in Wales, which I thought was a trifle remiss if he was indeed committed to an analysis of the overall situation. But Englishmen do see the situation in terms of England, and that is why we seek to have our own country, so there was no great surprise there.
Additionally at no time did he address himself to the inbuilt majority that Labour has. We know that around 10% lead to the Tories will give them a small majority, whereas a 6 or 7% lead to the Tories will bring in a hung parliament. A 3-4% Tory lead would probably still mean a Labour government.
These failings apart it is a good article and worth the read. He certainly says it like it like he sees it!!
Tuesday 29 December 2009
He is using something called Windrush Ventures No3 LP, a so called limited partnership. Thanks to a gap in the Whitehall regulations, this entity is not required to publish any accounts. Such partnerships must normally disclose figures, or face criminal penalties. Blair sidestepped the rules by inserting a second partnership as one of the notional partners, in a way the regulations do not cover. This second partnership, Windrush Ventures No 2 LLP, is a so-called limited liability partnership, a type of entity only invented in 2000, which, conveniently, the rules have not been updated to mention.
There is nothing illegal in what Blair has done, but he has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid having to publish accounts, and in doing so to keep his business arrangements private. What, we might ask, is he trying to hide, and can we trust him to be paying the correct amount of tax?
Given that while he is making all this money which he is so eager to hide from us, he is costing the taxpayer around £6 million a year in security in his role as one of the world's most hated men, I can’t help thinking that it is time that Mr Mandleson, as Business Secretary, or Mr Darling, as Finance Secretary, closed this loophole. I’m pretty certain it will be high on the list of the incoming cabinet!
According to The Times, China’s Ambassador in London, Fu Ying, was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office today to hear Britain’s “strong condemnation” of her country’s execution of Akmal Shaikh.
Mr Shaikh, a convicted British drug smuggler who is believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder, was killed by lethal injection early today, despite the personal intervention of Gordon Brown in a telephone call to Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier.
I’m not a supporter of the Death Penalty anywhere at any time. Not that I don’t think that some people don’t deserve to die for what they have done but because when the courts get it wrong, and they do all over the world, it's too late. So whether in China or Texas it doesn’t get my vote.
On the other hand, if you’re going to do a crime abroad, it might be sensible to check up what the penalty is likely to be. Just because you’d only get 5 years in the pokey here, does not mean that that is what you will get abroad. Where the death penalty exists, it exists. Because you are British it doesn’t mean you should expect to avoid it despite Prime Ministerial pleas.
A junior minister Ivan Lewis saw the Ambassador and told her that the execution of Mr Shaikh was totally unacceptable and that China had failed in its basic human rights responsibilities in this case, in particular that China’s court had not considered the representations made about Mr Shaikh’s bipolar condition which is treated by medication. Mr Lewis who said it (the execution) made him “sick to the stomach” neglected at this point to mention the extradition of Gary McKinnon, another person with mental health issues, to the USA, which the same FCO could halt but won’t.
In reply the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: “No one has the right to comment on China’s judicial sovereignty. It is the common wish of people around the world to strike against the crime of drug trafficking. We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British Government’s unreasonable criticism of the case. We urge the British to correct their mistake in order to avoid harming China-UK relations.”
I suggest that only the first part of that statement was unreasonable and totally incorrect. We must have every right to comment on the way that China dealt with this situation.
Sunday 27 December 2009
The government of Gordon Brown has been inept, pathetic, incompetent, and laughable in turn since about 2-3 weeks after he was elevated to Prime Minister in his ‘Buggin’s Turn’ promotion in 2007.
Although there may have been more far reaching muddles and incompetence in the last two and a half years, no other situation has quite tugged at the nation’s heartstrings like the story of the Gurkhas.
We all know the story. Most people felt that if you were good enough to risk your life fighting for Britain, not as a mercenary, but in a constituted part of the British Army, then the least the British Government could do would be to offer you a home here in retirement. Labour felt differently; it would cost a great deal of money. And, being a government with a solid majority, that was that, despite opposition from both Nick Clegg and David Cameron.
But the Government reckoned without Joanna Lumley.
The daughter of an officer in the 6th Gurkha Rifles whose life was saved during the war by one of his men, Tul Bahadur Pun, Lumley was brought up in Malaya. Her acting career in Britain started in the 60s as a “dolly bird” secret agent type in “The New Avengers” and she went on to play similar roles including in “Sapphire and Steel” with "Man from Uncle" star David McCallum. In the 90s she became the beloved drunken druggie patsy in Absolutely Fabulous (the star of the show for me). Clearly, however, there is a deal more to Ms Lumley than that.
When you followed it on tv and in the papers, it was obvious from the start that Woolas and Brown didn't stand a chance. Brown told the Commons that the Government was looking into the case of the five Gurkhas who wanted to come to Britain “as a matter of urgency”, only for the five men to receive letters of rejection the next day. (Way to go Brown... How much more incompetent can you get?)
Lumley and her fellow campaigners were set to denounce the Government at an impromptu press conference when she chanced upon Mr Woolas. Negotiations were held and the two of them addressed the cameras. “I think we are all agreed that we are going to be able to help in the formulation of new guidelines,” Lumley announced, daring Mr Woolas to contradict her. “So that will be wonderful.” The minister blathered about “proper processes”, his face a mixture of fear and wonderment at this creature who seemed to have taken every ounce of any power he ever had. Victory was inevitable.
Since then Joanna Lumley has visited Nepal where she was feted as a national hero and had a mountain named after her. Today she was named The Times’s Briton of the Year.
Congratulations Joanna. Job done!
Way back in 2007 when the Labour party, without a vote, wished Gordon Brown upon us because it was his turn, his first address to parliament laid out his Britishness. It was a word he was to use over and over, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Every speech had British and Britishness in it more times than it had words like “and” and “the”. He even told an American interviewer that he came from “North Britain” in an obvious attempt to be acceptable to the English, and without thinking just how incredibly insulting it was to Scots.
He set up a programme, complete with road show, to promote Britishness, and discuss with the public, whether there should be a British Bill of Rights and Written Constitution. Of course, like everything else Gordon touches, it fell apart before you got it out of the box.
The first road show took place in Leicester, England, in December 2007 and was hosted by Jack Straw. It cost £37,000, and was attended by 10 members of the public! After that embarrassment, the Ministry of Justice restricted attendance at Governance of Britain events to people selected, and even paid, by the ministry. (Details about payments in Subrosa's article here.) According to the Conservatives, however, even that appears to have misfired, because in subsequent events, even those invited to and paid to attend failed to do so in bigger and bigger numbers, until at an event in Newcastle on 21st November, no one turned up.
English Justice Minister Michael Wills criticised the Conservatives for their attitude saying: “It’s disappointing that they (the Conservatives) have such little regard for what it means to be British and the importance of this identity in a challenging world.”
On the basis that only 10 members of the public out of a population of 60 million turned up to these events without being paid to do so, it seems the Tories got it right on this one. I think that says a great deal about being British.
We just don’t care.
Incidentally, the overall cost for the road show is expected to be less that £1 million. Very economical until you work out that that is £100,000 per member of the public that was interested enough to turn out.....
I wonder what conclusions the study will reach and when they will be published.
Saturday 26 December 2009
It’s another one of these “I just don’t believe it” moments.
It has been revealed in the Daily Telegraph that it costs the taxpayer around £6 million a year to protect Tony Blair from the vast array of enemies he has managed to collect over the years. Since leaving Downing Street Blair has taken a number of posts, for which he has to travel abroad regularly. He also is involved in 'charity' (or profile-raising) work in Africa, and of course the hugely lucrative 'personal appearance' work which he undertakes regularly. He is said to have earned in the region of £18 million in the last 2 years from this work.
Each time he goes abroad Scotland Yard has to send an advance team to carry out risk assessment, and he has to be accompanied by teams of police officers for round the clock protection. Apparently there is a team of some 20 officers assigned to Blair at a cost of £115,000 a week. Additionally members of his family receive protection. (The current Prime Minister has only 10 protection officers.)
Most of the foreign travel is undertaken for personal commercial gain. Apparently, like the bottom rungs of royalty, he rents himself out to open things and say a few words. It seems that Scotland Yard is not allowed to advise Mr Blair on what he should and should not do on the basis of cost; they are obliged to suck it up and pay out regardless of the bill to the British taxpayer. The only criteria for advice on whether to travel or not must be security based.
Not unreasonably the Metropolitan Police Authority have issues with how much this drains their budgets, particularly as Blair is out there making a vast amount of money, all for himself. The feeling is that he should be making a contribution to his security costs. It is feared that, after he has given evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry next year, the costs will rise again. When people discover more about how this man sent people to their deaths with little protection on the basis that God had told Mr Bush that it was the right thing to do, the hatred for Blair which makes him such a target, may well increase.
My view is that, when the ex-Prime Minster travels for the UK, or when he is operating on state business within the UK, he should be afforded the standard protection at our expense. However, if he decides to feather his own nest by travelling all over the world, he should be paying for that protection at commercial rates and from commercial protection organisations. We are not here to subsidise his family business.
In these hard times for our broke country, wished upon us largely by the likes of Blair, we all have to learn to live with less. Why is it that the people at the top seem to avoid any of the pain? The bankers, the other great cause of our misery, have us over a barrel. Pay us obscenely, or we leave and you’ll be even more broke. What’s Blair’s bargaining chip?
Friday 25 December 2009
It’s a rarity for me to agree with an Archbishop. In fact I’m not sure it has ever happened before. But I was amazed to find as I read this article in The Times that my head was nodding involuntarily at what Rowan Williams was saying.
The main thrust of his piece seemed to be that we are making children grow up far too fast. In his Christmas sermon at Canterbury Cathedral he said: “The message being sent out to children today was: ‘We shall test you relentlessly in schools, we shall bombard you with advertising, often highly sexualised advertising, we shall worry you about your prospects and skills from the word go. We shall do all we can to make childhood a brief and rather regrettable stage on the way to the real thing, which is
And it’s true. The whole childhood experience seems to have disappeared over recent years. Everyone from about 8 or 9 is classed as a mini-adult. Education is less about fitting you for life, and more about fitting you for a job; kids are tested relentlessly (in England in particular) in order to provide the Department of Schools or whatever they call it, with figures, figures, figures to show that targets are being achieved... for the advantage of Ed Balls and his team, and the disadvantage of the children, who are, in any case, now called students.
He went on: “Parents should learn to enjoy their children’s dependence on them, instead of forcing them prematurely into independence.”
Of course that takes a lot more effort on the parents' part, and maybe that is what is wrong. More and more kids are mini adults, dressed in fashion clothes with fashion accessories, hairstyles, and accompanying electronic gadgetry: in fact mini-consumers forced to grapple with problems and aspects of life for which they are not prepared.
Every stage of life only comes once, and when it's gone, it's gone. Childhood should be one of the best times. Yes, above all it's a time to learn, but a time to enjoy, to play, to get muddy, to skin your knee, to fall off your bike, to run to your mum and cry, ......and to relish lack of responsibility; to be free from the big worries and decisions of life.
I suspect that children who have never had a childhood, at least not past 8 or 9 years, who have never really had that innocence that leaves you blissfully unaware and unworried about certain things, will have lost something very special from their lives. There’s time enough to worry about teenage things when you are a teenager, and when maybe you can cope with them. To force them on our children too early is a cruelty.
Thursday 24 December 2009
Wednesday 23 December 2009
Times are hard. Many people who were working this time last year in shops, factories, warehouses, even banks and insurance offices, and who are now on the dole know this. Many people being asked to reduce their hours or take unpaid leave just to keep their company afloat know this, and goodness knows poor soldiers out in Afghanistan on around £20,000 a year for risking life and limb on our behalf know this.
Why then is it that the Daily Telegraph is reporting that £130 million in bonuses has been paid out to Civil Servants in the last year? Some senior civil servants are getting as much as £50,000 in bonus payouts - twice as much as the threshold of the bankers’ bonus tax that Alistair Darling announced recently that he was levying on the City.
The new bonus figures will come as an embarrassment to Gordon Brown who recently talked about a “culture of excess” in some parts of the public sector and promised to bring about a new era of pay restraint in public bodies. He vowed to cut £100 million a year from the salaries of senior civil servants. Another Gordon Brown promise gone west?
The Cabinet Office confirmed that the bonuses relate, in the main, to the senior levels of the civil service, the “upper-middle management and above”. Well, I’d never have guessed, the people who make the decisions about bonuses are the ones that get them. The highest-spending department was the Ministry of Defence, while the Department for Work and Pensions paid out more than £23 million with a further £6 million allocated for in-year rewards. The Department for Transport set aside £12 million for bonus payments and the Foreign Office spent £7.6 million rewarding staff. One senior civil servant at the Department of Health received a payment of £49,004.
The bonuses are officially termed "non-consolidated performance payments". Ministers have sought to justify them by saying they were to reward "exceptional" performance and link pay to delivery across the year.
You wouldn’t mind so terribly much if any of these departments was working well, or even slightly efficiently. The Ministry of Defence has been criticized over and over again for deficiencies in the way it handles procurement and logistics among other things, for the troops in Afghanistan; the Dept of Work and Pensions seems almost totally incapable of getting people back to work; the Dept of Transport falls apart at the mere mention of snow. Excellent performance my posterior!
How much longer can we tolerate this nonsense?
The plan to summon Mr Brown to give evidence was revealed in a statement from the inquiry team working for Sir John Chilcot.
The statement listed witnesses who will be called to give evidence to the inquiry next year, who include Tony Blair, the former prime minister, and Alastair Campbell, his former spokesman.
Sir John’s committee will hold new evidence sessions in January and February, before pausing during the general election campaign that is expected to start in March.
The statement also explained that witnesses who are currently serving as ministers will not be called until after the election. It said the decision has been taken to ensure that the inquiry's work cannot be used for political purposes.
It seems to me that, before we make our choices about who should govern the country for the next up to 5 years, we should really be appraised of the part of these people in the war that killed and maimed so many of our soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens. There would be no reason not to call the members of the opposition parties who were also involved in decisions on a Privy Council basis, in order that no political advantage or disadvantage could be seen to fall to any party.
And there were we rather naively thinking that the Chilcot Inquiry was to be open, fair and independent of government.... silly old us.
Tuesday 22 December 2009
Thanks to the leadership of Lyndon Johnson (pictured) there is a government run programme whereby Americans over 65 years of age have medical coverage through the Medicare system, and the very poorest have some sort of coverage through Medicaid, but that still leaves some 40-50 million Americans with no healthcare insurance at all. And then those who do have medical insurance, paid for by their employers, can find that this insurance doesn’t actually cover the medical services that they need it to cover. We’ve all heard horror tales of someone being diagnosed with an expensive illness only to find that somewhere in the small print of their contract there is a get out clause, or that unfortunately they neglected to disclose (although they weren’t asked about) the fact that they once fell off their bike when they were 8, thus rendering their insurance invalid.
In order to get a bill through the Senate, over a minority filibuster, there is a need for the “for” vote to be 60 or more. The present situation is that the Democrats, who are sponsoring this bill, have 58 members and there are two Independent Liberals. All had to vote in the wee small hours of Monday morning in order to close off the Republican filibuster and move the bill to final debate.
What follows is almost beyond belief. I quote from an email sent to me by Danny, 1st Earl of the Ozarks:
So, during the past week, the Republicans had turned to prayer as a last resort. Only God himself could halt the awful prospect of health care for all (well, almost all) Americans. Oh GOD....save us from the Democrats by your mighty hand. Republican Senators hosted televised prayer vigils.
The vote would come in the early morning hours Monday.
It was the last chance......so Senator Tom Coburn (Republican of Oklahoma) took the floor Sunday afternoon and said:
"What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight," he said. "That's what they ought to pray."
They wanted God to ensure that someone couldn’t turn up and vote for health care for the poor? Can that be real? What did it mean? Did they want God to arrange for a Senator to die, maybe the elderly and ailing Senator Byrd (93) from West Virginia?
Well.... the time of the vote came, and 60 Senators, including poor old Senator Byrd, in his wheelchair, did in fact vote to close off the filibuster and move the bill forward.
So it appears that God wasn’t listening, or was listening and didn’t much care for the prayers of his faithful American Republican Senators. Maybe God was remembering that He was about caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, loving children, the old and people in general, black and white, rich and poor.....even Republican Senators.
I wonder if the Senators will be taking the fact that the Lord didn’t see fit to kill off one of their number in order to kill off this bill, as a little sign from Him.
Monday 21 December 2009
In an interview with the BBC’s Radio 4 flagship news programme, "Today", Speaker Bercow admitted that it had been a disastrous year for the reputations of politicians. Using words like cataclysmic to describe the situation, he said that he wanted to see reforms that would put MPs above reproach. He indicated that he didn’t see the situation as irreversible, but said that without any “payback” there would be no “comeback”.
I agree with him. It has been a terrible year for the reputations of our politicians and BOTH houses of parliament. They have made themselves the laughing stock of the world, and to some extent dragged us down with them.
The system has had to take a lot of the blame and in all fairness so it should. Who among us is capable of total self regulation? They should never have been left to decide their own terms and conditions. It was also irresponsible to refuse proper salary increases to MPs in order to appear “prudent” but to turn a blind eye to the use of “allowances” to top up salaries.
Drastic changes to the way that the Commons and the Lords are run are required. Allowances and expenses need to be brought into the 21st century and MPs and Peers must be treated like other government employees. That is, after all, what they are. We need to remember that, but above all, THEY need to remember it.
Many of them are fond of telling us how hard they work, for very little money and that is why they took the expenses system which they set up and they policed, to the limit, and then some more. Those that think that they could get more money in the City or the Law Courts or private industry, and care more about the money than the job, should resign immediately and make way for people who wish to serve.
The incoming government should promise to continue the work of modernising the Lords into a 21st century senate, without all the titles and flimflammery. It’s maybe pretty but it serves no purpose and it’s expensive and classist.
MPs’ and Senators’ salaries should reflect their job descriptions, and their expenses should reflect the fact that they may require temporary accommodation in the English capital, but should also be mindful that they are public servants of a hard up little country. They need to remember that they work for us. They are not our rulers. They do not require to travel First Class, to live in large prestigious London apartments, or to furnish these places from John Lewis, at prices 3 or 4 or 10 times the cost that the average person would pay.
All over the country, what they like to call “ordinary” people are losing their jobs, taking reductions in salary or hours, working extra for nothing. MPs and Peers, many of whom are held in contempt by us “ordinary” people, must be seen to do the same sort of thing. They should do so with humility. They’ve had it good for a long time, now when they are asked for pay back they should show some dignity.
Sunday 20 December 2009
Danny, 1st Earl of the Ozarks’ great post on this blog yesterday reminded me that a couple of years ago, while George W Bush was President of the United States, I bought a calendar with a countdown to the end of his reign. On each of the days there was a quote from the man himself, a lesson on how to mangle English, sometimes to such an extent that it is rendered completely meaningless. England has John Prescott, the USA has DubYa.
From time to time I’ll share a quote or two with you, especially when I can’t find anything interesting to post on, or when I’m too busy (or too lazy) to do any research. I hope you’ll enjoy them.
Washington D.C.: September 19, 2005: “If it were to rain a lot, there is concern from the Army Corps of Engineers that the levees might break. And so, therefore, we’re cautious about encouraging people to return at this moment in history.”
Aboard Air Force One: June 4, 2003. “I’m the master of low expectations.”
Washington D.C.: May 31, 2001: (Remarks to the University of Nebraska Women’s Volleyball Team. National Champions 2001) “It’s important for young men and women who look at the Nebraska champs to understand that the quality of life is more than just blocking shots.”
Des Moines, Iowa: August 21, 2000: “I don’t know whether I’m going to win or not. I think I am. I do know I’m ready for the job. And, if not, that’s just the way it goes.”
Washington D.C.: December 11, 2002: “There’s only one person who hugs the mothers and the widows, the wives and the kids, upon the death of their loved one. Others hug but, having committed the troops, I’ve got an additional responsibility to hug and that’s me and I know what it’s like.”
Saturday 19 December 2009
I recently read an interesting piece on New Right blog about Hillary Clinton. I commented there that I had an American friend with a strong interest in politics, and that I would ask him for his point of view on Mrs Clinton’s current position, and her future. I speculated whether I could prevail upon my friend to write something on the subject. I did, and he agreed to write a guest article. My grateful thanks then to Danny, 1st Earl of the Ozarks.
Hillary Clinton’s emergence as the star of the Obama administration cabinet is full of personal and political irony. As Secretary of State, she has indeed shown the world that new “tone,” if not hugely altered substance, of American foreign policy. Of course, with her unparalleled name and face recognition, and the message that George W. Bush is no longer in charge, she was sure to be well received on the world stage. But her personal popularity at home, even as the president’s approval ratings have plummeted, was less predictable and perhaps more gratifying.
Hillary was awarded the prize position in the cabinet. It is after all the seat once occupied by Thomas Jefferson. But for Hillary, it was a consolation prize. After all, she had been considered a shoo-in to be the 44th President of the United States, until eclipsed by the rock star popularity of the junior senator from Illinois. But she might well have been chosen to run for Vice President on the Democratic ticket. This could have been a shrewd political calculus on Obama’s part to unite his eternally fractious party for the general election, after the bitter and hard fought primary campaign for the Democratic nomination. But having Hillary down the hall from the Oval Office might have absorbed some of the presidential glory. More importantly perhaps, she would have brought some negative Clinton era political baggage to the ticket. And her supporters were likely to vote the Democratic ticket anyway.
So Senator Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, got the nomination instead. In fact he had been offered his choice of the Vice Presidency OR Secretary of State. Hillary received no such choice. But she’s been loyal to Obama and has attacked the job at State with enthusiasm. She’s shown the flag abroad and made few missteps while clearly setting the new tone for American policy. At some point Hillary may be expected to show some tangible progress on the intractable problems of Iran, North Korea, the Palestinians, and of course the enduring Bush legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan. But that time is not yet.
Hillary has been a team player and professes no future ambitions except retirement. But time will tell. With a continuing unemployment rate over ten percent, and a history of losses in mid-term elections by the party of the president in power, the Democrats face tough congressional elections in 2010. They could even lose control of the House of Representatives. This would be a disaster for Obama’s future legislative program. And what the political landscape will look like for Obama’s second term bid in 2012 is anybody’s guess. Perhaps a newly popular and reenergized Hillary could play a part in reviving Democratic fortunes.
Historically, presidents have shuffled vice presidents for political convenience. FDR had three different VP’s in his four terms. But more recently, this hasn’t been the pattern. A move to elbow Biden aside in favor of Hillary, with an eye to a Clinton run in 2016, would carry its own dangers within the factions of the Democratic Party. And Hillary will be 69 years old in 2016, an advanced age for a physically taxing presidential run. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan did it in 1980, at the same age.
As for a possible Supreme Court appointment for Hillary, this seems less likely than a presidential run. An individual who serves on the Supreme Court has life tenure, and can nullify the actions of presidents and congresses with the stroke of a pen. Consequently, the Senate confirmation process is the very next thing to a political blood sport. Distinguished jurists emerge from the process bruised and bloodied. Her degree from Yale Law notwithstanding, she is fundamentally a politician, not a jurist. FDR could and did make such appointments, but it’s hard to imagine a modern president doing so.
So, a future for Hillary beyond her leadership at State seems problematical. Maybe, at the age of 69, she really will be ready for retirement. But, I wouldn’t wager big money on it either. She’s a tough lady, and might not be ready for the rocking chair.
Friday 18 December 2009
I thought I’d post something entirely different tonight. Something which I came about by accident, but is, at least for me, fascinating.
I was doing a little research whilst on the phone to my mum tonight about how you pronounce the Danish capital city’s name. (It turns out to be Kopen-Hay-Gen... and not Kopen-Ha-Gen, as both my mum and I had thought, but that is beside the point of this post.) A little more research about Denmark brought me to Kalaallit Nunaat, or Greenland, and its recent semi-independence from Denmark.
Internationally, on June 21, 2009, Greenland assumed self-determination with responsibility for self-government of judicial affairs, policing, and natural resources. Also, Greenlanders were recognized as a separate people under unofficial international law. Denmark maintains control of finances, foreign affairs, and defence. It is a step towards full independence from rule from Denmark. The sole official language of Greenland became Greenlandic. I thought that it would be nice if this was happening to Scotland. (Well obviously without Greenlandic becoming our national language.)
The long history of the island can be read in various places on the net, but there is a relatively good article on Wikipedia, but a couple of things were of immense interest to me. Firstly, that the United States of America wanted to buy Greenland from Denmark in 1947. It seems that the States were interested in the position of the country during the cold war. The sum offered was $100,000,000, a fair old amount of money in these days.
The second thing was the photographs I was seeing on the Wiki site and associated pages. I have included a few of them here for your delectation. Of course I had seen pictures of Greenland before, and I was aware of the fact that the Greenlanders did not live in igloos, but my memory is of scattered communities with brightly coloured houses built on rocky slopes. However, the centre of the capital city (the most northern in the world) Nuuk (previously Gothab) was a bit of a surprise to me.
It looks like a lovely place. Seems to me that it would be fun to go there on holiday sometime.
Gordon Brown faced further embarrassment today over Britain’s recovery after it emerged that Ireland's beleaguered economy has emerged from recession.
Irish economic output rose by 0.3 per cent between July and September compared to the second quarter, official figures showed today, leaving the UK as one of the few Western economies still mired in an economic downturn.
The technical definition of a recession is two or more consecutive quarters of falling gross domestic product. A number of countries emerged from recession in the third quarter, including America, Japan, China, Germany and France.
However, Britain’s economy continued to shrink, falling by 0.3 per cent in the third quarter according to the most recent estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Perhaps Mr Murphy would like to address his apologies to the Irish President and the people of Ireland. A letter from Dover House maybe, or a television appearance?
If there are any Irish readers here, I’d like to apologise on behalf of Scotland. On the several occasions when Murphy came out with his ill-thought-out, rude, rubbish about how backward looking and sad Ireland was, I cringed. Please believe me, we’re not all like him.
Sion Simon, a Culture minister, told Parliamentary officials that a rented north London property was his “second home” for expenses purposes. The flat was owned by his sister Ceri Erskine, a management consultant.
Oh dear! MPs have been explicitly banned since April 2006 from renting properties from family members at taxpayers’ expense and the practice is now considered to have been unacceptable since 2004. However, Mr Simon continued to improperly make claims of £1,000 a month until 2008.
Last night, after being confronted by the Daily Telegraph, Mr Simon admitted that he had inadvertently broken the rules and agreed to repay more than £20,000 – one of the biggest repayments made by a minister during the expenses scandal. He apologized “unreservedly”.
How jolly decent of him.
Inadvertently? For all these years?
Between 2004 and 2008, Mr Simon claimed £81,000 in allowances for the flat, including £44,000 in rent and another £37,000 to pay for household bills and food. Mr Simon’s “main home”, which he funds himself, is a modest £135,000 terraced house in his constituency.
From April 2004, Mr Simon claimed £1,000 a month in rent for his sister’s London flat. She lives with her husband in Hampshire. He also claimed £150 a month for cleaning, £100 a month for council tax, £50 a month for telephone bills and the maximum £400 a month for groceries. He also claimed up to £250 a month for other utility bills. Most MPs submitted copies of mortgage or rent agreements and invoices to support their claims. But Mr Simon’s expenses files suggest he did not submit a single receipt for any living cost between April 2004 and April 2008, when he moved out.
Mr Simon also used his office allowances to pay more than £8,000 to a media consultant for “strategic communications advice”. MPs are banned from using office allowances to pay for “advice for individual members on self promotion or PR for individuals or political parties”. He also claimed more than £9,000 for four laptop computers and accessories, including top-of-the-range products from Apple.
Mr Simon, whose questionable claims were not uncovered by Sir Thomas or the Labour leadership, is now expected to face calls to repay more than the £21,000 he agreed to hand back last night.
Why is he still a minister?
No, like it says in the title, why is he still a free man?
Thursday 17 December 2009
The Telegraph reports today that the Australian state of Victoria is to dump the Queen from legal proceedings.
From the 1st January 2010 all criminal court cases in the State of Victoria will be brought in the name of the Director of Public Prosecutions instead of in the name of Elizabeth II as has hitherto been the case.
The State’s Attorney General and Acting Premier, Rob Hulls, said: “Having cases presented in the name of the Queen of England is an outdated colonial tradition that has really passed its use-by date”. He went on to say that "substituting the Director of Public Prosecutions for the Queen, or Regina, reflects the legal and political independence from the United Kingdom and its monarch that has been achieved by Australia".
Mr Hulls of the Australian Labour Party, who is an avowed republican, said: "This is all about making our laws and legal procedures relevant. It's no more or less than that".
The move follows two previous controversial changes to Victoria's legal system, scrapping the title Queen's Counsel and ending a requirement for new lawyers to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen.
Professor David Flint, the Convener of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, said: "It's yet another example of creeping republicanism. The people in 1999 took a decision in which they affirmed that we should remain a federal commonwealth under the crown. It's completely wrong for governments to remove all reference to the crown as a gradual sort of thing."
The controversy is due to overshadow a three day visit by Prince William which will include a keynote speech at a reception in Melbourne to mark Australia Day. This has incensed Australian republicans. David Donovan, of the Australian Republican Movement, said: "We would find it unbelievable that Prince William, who hasn't been to Australia since he was in nappies - and who as President of the England Football Association has strongly promoted its bid for the 2018 World Cup, in direct opposition to Australia's bid - would be able to speak to Australians on our own national day. You would think that just showing a little bit of subtlety with regards to this very important day in Australia's calendar would be the way to go."
Philip Benwell, chairman of the Australian Monarchist League, defended the invitation to the Prince saying: “Prince William will be King of Australia in the future and it's therefore appropriate that he's invited to speak".
Mr Hulls, however, denied that the legal change was a snub to Prince William, who arrives in Victoria on January 21 during a visit that has been described as “an opportunity to better acquaint himself with Australia”.
Good for Mr Hulls and the State of Victoria. So refreshing to see a Labour Party that has not gone soft in the head and weak at the knee where royalty is concerned. Such a huge pity that our own has sold its working class principles down the river for a few extra years in number 10 Downing Street, a few seats on the august red benches and a few of the tarnished baubles left over from the British Empire. The fact is that monarchy has had its day and monarchy by proxy like they have in Australia, Canada and New Zealand must have had it doubly so.
Wednesday 16 December 2009
Of course this post isn’t at all about Twiggy. She is but a bit player in it. The post is about advertising, and the power it has over us, and how far we should let advertisers bend reality in their effort to sell us what they want us to buy.
Twiggy comes into it only because she has been advertising Oil of Olay beauty treatments, one of which is a moisturiser of sorts which they claim, or rather she claims on their behalf, is the secret to her brighter looking eyes. This claim is accompanied by a photograph of Twiggy with wrinkleless eyes, sparkling out at us. However, the reality is that, pretty and youthful though the 60 year old looks, she has bags under her eyes, crows’ feet and a double chin, as seen in another picture of her taken recently.
As I say, I’m not having a go at Twiggy. She looks great for 60. And we all know that show business personalities, male and female, make themselves look younger in publicity shots, album covers, film posters, etc, by the smart use of soft focus, good lighting and special angles, not to mention all manner of technical things that can be done with computers.
What I wonder is, when a personality is advertising a product designed to reduce the signs of aging, should her, or his, photograph be so doctored? Is it fair to potential customers of the product? How many people looking at that photograph of the incredibly youthful, smooth visage would seriously believe that, with the use of this product, they could look like that?
Men and women in the UK spend an unseemly amount on cosmetic, age defying, moisturising creams of some sort or another. (I couldn’t find a figure for women, but men alone apparently spend £1.3 billion a year). How much of this money is spent as a result of misleading advertising.... and what can we do about it?
Today the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the advertisement could be misleading, but they thought that most people would realise that a woman of Twiggy’s age could not have achieved this kind of complexion by using this product alone. To be fair Proctor and Gamble, the manufacturers of the product have apparently replaced the photograph with one which is more realistic.
But no one has banned the use of misleading photographs in cosmetics advertising. I think it’s big business fleecing men and women who are vulnerable to the pressures to remain young forever. What do you think?
Tuesday 15 December 2009
I was interested by this interview with Daniel Hannan. I thought it would be good to link to it here from Calling England’s blog.
Dan Hannan is an interesting man, with a formidable brain and I have respect for what he says. I particularly enjoyed his speech in the European Parliament when, in front of the Prime Minister, he told him like it was, or at least like he saw it with no holds barred. Can you imagine how angry and humiliated Brown must have been at that?
But, I would have to say first off that I think he was wrong in his first assertion that socialist government always ends up like this. It’s only in Britain it always ends like that. Social Democracy has been pretty successful elsewhere in Europe.
He’s right, of course, about the bankers in that they have us over a barrel. They can do whatever they want and we can't do a damned thing. If they break the banks again next year, then we will have to bail them out again. These banks are far too big to go bust, and we need the money that they generate. If we tax them they can go to Singapore, Tokyo, Switzerland or wherever, lock stock and barrel. They can, and according to some, they will. The City will be left with a load of very desirable property, heading for dereliction. And we have built an economy with huge dependence on Financial Services.
So, here we are over this barrel. I’m interested in how we pay off the money we had to borrow to bail them out the first times. I accept that my understanding of economics is as meagre and naive as was Mrs Thatcher’s when she told us that she would run the country like she ran her household. So, I’m just asking how we do it. The next government will have to face this problem, and I imagine that they will not be in favour of a massive tax on wealth earners.
The people who have none of this global freedom of movement are the poor and the moderately off.... They haven’t got us over a barrel. Are we going to tax them more, reduce their pensions? They are nice easy targets, and in apathetic Britain they will probably put up with it, turn their heating down, eat less, and stop buying treats and moan a lot.
If we cut public spending, then we will have more unemployment, a lot of the moderately off will join the poor. The “economically inactive” figure is already at around 8 million. That’s costing a huge amount in welfare benefits, but it also causes considerable social problems: drugs, drunkenness, crime, prostitution, derelict shopping and town centres. Look at what happened in the industrial belt of Scotland when heavy industry was closed down in the 80s. Where will we find 8 million plus private sector jobs?
Monday 14 December 2009
According to The Times Mr Brown (clearly preparing for a meeting with his disgruntled constituents in the attached picture), is intending to be the first leader to arrive in Copenhagen, as talks there start to lose their momentum and developing nations stage a walk out.
Mr Climate Change Miliband (as opposed to Mr Foreign Miliband), says that it is a sign of how seriously he takes the subject of climate change. Right! So naturally, as we all believe everything Mr C C Miliband says, that must be it.
On the other hand, it could just be that, with an election in the offing, Mr Brown wants to show us “ordinary people” that he is leading the world through yet another catastrophe, thus cementing his status as not just “a” world leader, but “the” world leader.
With speculation rife that he will call a snap election early in the new year (which frankly I doubt), Downing Street might be hoping to use the Copenhagen summit to burnish the Prime Minister's image as a world statesman, especially if he can help to engineer a meaningful accord to tackle global warming, reports The Times.
It may have escaped Mr Brown’s attention, but the great bulk of the British population is suffering badly from the last disaster through which he “led” the world. Many of us don’t really have much time for a conference that has involved thousands of delegates from all over the world flying to Denmark (where the temperatures for this week range between 2 C and -8 C, so not much global warming there). Some of us aren't convinced of the 'man made global change' stuff, and even those who are may be wishing that Mr Brown would commit just some of that great leadership skill that he is determined to show, to sorting out some of the problems that exist in the United Kingdom.
Unemployment is soaring; soldiers are being killed and maimed in an unwinnable war using substandard equipment; postal and travel strikes loom; the national debt is soaring out of control; penioners, the low paid, sick and unemployed people are having to choose between heat and food; the country remains in recession after all the other G20 countries have moved out of it (except Spain, which isn’t in the G20, despite Mr Brown’s protestations to the contrary), etc, etc.
Why don’t politicians see that most of us don’t give a stuff about world statesmen and their prancing around acting like they matter, especially when they don’t?
Clearly Presidents Obama and Hu are the people who can make this thing work, or not. With their massive economies and huge political clout they can influence change. A broke and broken little island of the coast of Europe can’t. My message to Mr Brown is: Get back home and start tackling OUR problems and leave the big boys to sort out real or imagined world issues.
Sunday 13 December 2009
At the risk of becoming a crashing bore on the subject of MPs and their odious propensity to believe that their entitlements know no bounds, but mainly because I’ve read through the press and there’s not a lot to interest me there, I thought I’d recount this little story about the Shadow Defence Secretary...
When I say there’s nothing much going on, of course I suppose I could talk a bit about Berlusconi catching a left hook with a model of the Duomo in Milan, but frankly, apart from a wee bit of concern about whether it will spoil his good looks (snigger) and the temptation to suspect that his wife was behind it, it didn’t really interest me that much. There is the speculation in The Times that the UK Election will be earlier than had been anticipated, but we all know that Labour can’t afford two election campaigns, and with the May campaign for English councils being a fixture, it seems unlikely to me that Brown will authorise (or rather the Labour Party’s bankers will authorise) the spending involved in two campaigns.
Tony Blair who seems to poke his nose into everything these days has advised that even if the science is a bit faulty we should move forward with climate change measure. Shades of “even if he doesn’t have WMDs we should do what Mr Cheney says”. I wonder who’s paying him to say this. He sure as hell won’t be saying it because he believes it.
The Times also carries a story about Mr Cameron saying that he will make all Lords and MPs pay taxes in Britain. Now, I’ve heard the principle ‘no taxation without representation’, which as any 16 or 17 year old who works will tell you is a bit of a joke here, but it just makes you wonder what kind of country we are that has legislators who do not pay tax in the country over which they legislate. "You people can pay tax at 50%, I'm off to Belize where the rate is erm 1%. Bye." So not much to write about there....
So, back to this wee snippet which I thought I might just retell. It appears in Dominic Lawson’s column, again from The Times. As I said earlier it’s about Gerald Howarth , shadow Defence Spokesman. Lawson says.....
“I don’t imagine [he] enjoyed the publication of this plaintive memo that he sent to the Commons fees office: “I have received a letter ... challenging my entitlement to claim £25 per month for a Sky Sports subscription. I submit that as I already pay for that service at my principal home, I see no reason why I should have to pay twice when I snatch a few moments from constituency engagements to watch rugby or other sports not available on terrestrial TV.”
Hum.... as a mate of mine would say..... wee shame.
I have real problems understanding exactly how this subscription which so many of his constituents would like, but can’t afford, could be described as wholly, necessarily and exclusively incurred to enable Mr Howarth to perform his parliamentary duties.
Well, Mr Howarth doesn’t sound like my cup of tea at all. He took part in a protest in 1968 (at the age of 21) in favour of the American war in Vietnam, although he was careful to position himself close to a line of policemen. He is a committed Thatcherite. He was “gutted” when she resigned and admits that he remains and will always remain devoted to her. He has a record of voting that would make Norman Tebbit look left wing, and has said that when his party is elected he would like to be “Minister for War”. Mr Howarth was implicated in last year’s expenses scandal having over-claimed for furniture and a wall. Why on earth has Cameron still got this man on his team?
So... it’s not a big story tonight, but just another one of these little tales that demonstrates that our MPs consider themselves to be entitled to live in quite another world from the rest of us.
Saturday 12 December 2009
However, I have no gripe with the Queen personally. She’s an old woman who has done a job for us for nearly 60 years. She’s actually 83 and like most people of that age she’s starting to slow down. It’s not the personality of the Queen, but the nature of monarchy that I have a problem with, and I’ve always hoped that the independent Scotland that I feel will someday come, would opt for a more modern and democratic form of government.
With monarchy you get what you get, instead of what you choose.
So, whilst the Queen has done her job pretty steadfastly, sometimes even with a smile, and kept the crown out of politics, her successor has poked his nose in to all and sundry, fired off letter to ministers demanding meetings, involved himself in all manner of things including, most recently, planning permissions and generally ‘got political’. Furthermore, it has been reported that he would hope to carry this political involvement into the future and his kingship. Now Charles may sometimes be right, at least in the opinion of some people, but that doesn’t matter at all. In that the present situation has worked at all, it has worked on the basis of complete neutrality from the palace. Rather like the civil service, the monarch has to work with whatever government the people choose with no bias, and as far as we know the Queen has done that.
Both the Queen and Prince Philip have toured the world many times. In fairness to them they have never shied away from the work, even in recent years when they are both into their 80s.
Prince Charles insisted that he be allowed to marry Mrs Parker–Bowles, despite the fact that the Church of which he will one day be titular head could not approve this marriage, Mrs Parker-Bowles being a divorcée with a living spouse. He has also indicated that he wants her to be crowned Queen, when he becomes King. This will put the Church in a position where they will have to recognise their marriage, although it goes against their teachings. However Charles does not like to tbe thwarted and will probably have his way.
At the same time it appears that Mrs Parker-Bowles does not care for touring around the world on official duties. She recently pulled out of the final leg of a tour of the Far East and looked very far from happy on a recent tour of Canada. A palace source apparently said that the last thing that she wants is to have her calendar packed with foreign tours. There’s nothing she likes better than having her kids and grandchildren over for Sunday lunch. She finds the heat in the tropics unbearable and just wants to spend time with her grandchildren.
It might be as well for her to remember that she is in receipt of a large sum of our cash.... and has several homes at our expense.
I respect the views of the monarchists in our midst who wish to maintain Elizabeth on the throne, and personally, I’d be the last to throw an old lady out of her home, but I do feel that, when the Queen finally dies, we may need to consider whether or not we want a non-executive hereditary head of state who insists on being executive, and who insists on his wife being crowned Queen despite the fact that this will be contrary to the teachings of the church of which by that time he will be the head, especially when all she really wants to do is stay and home and have meals with her grandchildren.
Maybe Prince Charles has chosen the wrong woman for a wife, again. She seems rather badly suited for the work. The photograph above certainly suggests it.
Source for much of the information here can be read by clicking on title.
Friday 11 December 2009
Doesn’t officialdom sometimes make you sick?
There is an amazing story in the Mail about a World War II soldier. Just an ordinary guy, Bombardier Robert Key was blown up by a grenade in a field by a little French village. (Link in the title.)
Apparently he was on patrol and saw some children playing with the grenade. As he approached he saw that one little boy had pulled the pin and Mr Key grabbed it from him and cradled it in his coat as he made away as far as he could get from the children. The grenade exploded and he was blown to pieces.
Investigators sent to discover what had happened did not speak French and misunderstood the gestures that the villagers, who could not speak English, made to describe what had happened. So the investigators reported that he had been showing off in front of the children and had been killed as a result, and this was the information that was sent to his family. He was disgraced.
Meanwhile in the village of Annezin, Mr Key was considered a hero who had saved the lives of the children and in doing so sacrificed his own life. They had no idea that the Army had picked up a completely wrong version of the events.
This year the Mayor of the tiny village employed an English genealogist to trace Mr Key’s relatives to invite them to a ceremony naming a street in a new development after him. Fortunately he was successful and many of Mr Key’s relatives will be able to attend the event.
The family, who had been deeply ashamed of the reported behaviour, are overjoyed to find that he was in fact a hero. They have asked the Ministry of Defence to change his service record. His niece, Gill Mills said that the news transformed him from a villain to a hero.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said that they could not change the service record retrospectively, but if a member of Bombardier Kay’s family wished to write to the Ministry of Defence with the details, the letter would be included in his file.
Not nearly good enough in my opinion. The MoD needs to investigate this case with the authorities in Annezin and make a proper report, preferably conducted by someone with at least a rudimentary knowledge of French. A letter from relatives just isn't good enough.
Time, I would say, for a letter to Secretary of State Mr Ainsworth, and if he won’t or can't do anything about this brave man’s memory and the mistake made by slipshod investigators, then a letter to the Queen! In the days when honours are handed out to all and sundry, a medal for a young man who gave up his life so that some children would live would not be out of place
John Brown was convicted of murder at the High Court in Glasgow in 1976. He served time and, like most lifers, was released on parole. When he reoffended his parole was revoked and he was sent back to jail. Just weeks away from his second release, 6 months ago, and whilst on a routine “home visit” from Castle Huntly Prison (right), he escaped, causing considerable embarrassment to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and provoking calls for his resignation.
Now Brown has been found hanged in the small West African republic of The Gambia, a destination popular with Scottish holidaymakers.
So questions are being asked about how an inmate in one of our prisons could possibly manage to pick up his passport and flee the country. A spokesman for the Borders Agency, that much vaunted organisation supported so valiantly only the other day by Mr Woolas, when he allowed its management to award themselves bonuses of around £10,000 a piece for what he called “dangerous work” said: “If you are a prisoner, you are allowed to have a passport. When you become a prisoner, there is nothing that says ‘your ID’ has to be taken away. The only way that a passport would be stopped would be if that was asked for by the courts. And, if you are allowed to hold a passport as a prisoner, you are allowed to apply for a passport from prison.”
I’m not against the principle of home visits for prisoners close to their release date. It’s a sensible way for a long-term prisoner to re-integrate into life on the outside; a life that may well have changed immeasurably in the time that he or she has been locked away. But I have to disagree with the Border Agency spokesman when he says that the passport should not be taken away. A passport is not “your identity”. It’s a means of fleeing the country. Erm, you’d have thought that a Borders Agency manager might have grasped the significance of that.
I think that the Scottish Prison authorities might want to reflect before they let other prisoners out on licence or for home visits of any kind that it would be a good idea to confiscate passports. Surely with the electronic equipment available to them by now the Borders Agency could ensure that a prisoner's passport be confiscated electronically, if not for the entirety of their sentence, at least as soon as they are on licence and before they go missing.
If they don’t have a system for doing that, perhaps they should contribute that £300,000 that they took in bonuses for doing a wonderful job, and put that towards the installation costs.
A wonderful job my Woolas!
Thursday 10 December 2009
They are still at it. You’d have thought that they would have been scared off by all the fuss that was made by the Daily Telegraph in the summer, but I suppose many of them are past caring now. They are only here for the next few months. They may as well go out with a bang. So, less than 24 hours after Darling announced tax increases on people earning as little as £20,000 a year, documents showing a complete lack of repentance on the MPs’ and Lords’ parts was sure to rock the expenses scandal back on to the front pages.
Among the things that amused me most were:
• Quentin Davies (Labour) (pictured), claiming £20,000 for the repairs on his bell tower at his country mansion. Well worth every halfpenny of tax payers’ money Quentin old thing. We can’t have his bell tower falling on the serfs and crushing them. OK, he was refused, but he had the nerve to ask and he did get over £5,000 for roof repairs.
• Gordon Brown (Labour) got his downstairs toilet done up, at an amazing cost of £2,700. If that’s what it cost to redo his toilet, imagine the cost of redecorating his living room! Prudence obviously doesn’t stint himself when we're paying. Apparently he offered to pay back £500 for the painting of his summerhouse, admitting it could be “questionable”. Yup, remembering the maxum that expenses must be vital to doing the job, I think I can imagine somehow being able to be an MP without having my summerhouse painted...
• Jackie Smith (Labour) managed to get a new TV, DVD player and a double bed for the price of only £1,400. I’m seeing a connection here to some of her older claims...... wink wink.
• Peter Viggers (Duck House) (Conservative) (You’re going to love this). £8,000 for lawn feed and gardening (he must have a massive lawn, there are OAP couples that live for a whole year on less than that), and £669 for shutters (well, you can’t help your constituents if you don’t have shutters now, can you?)
The whole nasty, embarrassing mess is spread over a wide range of newspapers, but I got my information mainly from the Daily Mail. (Always good for a bit of pursed lip, shaking head and tutting disapproval is the Mail).
A lovely additional piece of information picked up on a comment on Lobbydog’s blog was the cleaning bills for a certain Graham Allen, Nottingham North:
It appears that Mr Allen among other things gets his shirts dry cleaned, rather than bother with the nasty nonsense that the rest of us have to put up with, you know, washing them, drying them and ironing them and then hanging them up. Maybe something about the delicate skin of a member of the ruling classes that just couldn’t be doing with that nasty soap and conditioner that the rest of us ordinary people have to put up with. But apparently, according to the receipts, we also have the honour of pay for his, or his wife’s, or... whoever’s blouses! Well, don’t that beat all!
It’s nice to see in this world of rapid change that there are still some things that you can count on....
It was an interesting result. Let’s be honest though, we’re not causing Yougov any sleepless nights here. With a sample of 43 on a blog with the word “republic” in its title we’re not going to change the world and I haven’t had the Palace of Holyrood House or Bute House on the phone.... yet!
So, here’s the way our 43 readers voted.....:
Republic the non executive President 30 (69%);
There were 33 votes (75%) for a republic, and 10 votes (22%) for a monarchy. (Yes, I know, these things never add up properly; that’s only 97 %. It’s the rounding up/down.)
Was I surprised? No. Not much. I think I expected a few fewer votes for the Republic, and a few more for Elizabeth, but the percentages are not far off what I expected. Now, should this feeling be mirrored over the country, I wonder how we would elect, or appoint our President?
Given that (s)he is, according to our poll, to be non-executive and therefore more of an ambassador for our country on state visits, and as a host to other leaders in Edinburgh, does anyone have any ideas about who he or she might be?
Thanks again for taking part.
Wednesday 9 December 2009
If Mr Brown had had anyone at all that he could have used as a replacement minister responsible for immigration, it would have been a good idea to have sacked the present incumbent pretty soon after he was made to look like a complete and utter muppet by Joanna Lumley over his ridiculous misreading of the “court of public opinion” concerning the Ghurkhas’ case.
Clearly, having trawled the back benches in the Commons and the Lords, and looked around anywhere and everywhere, under park benches for all I know, looking for someone, anyone, from anywhere, that could take the job, he has failed (again).
And that is why we were all entreated yesterday to listening to the unlovely Phil Woolas (OK, I’ve heard all the jokes... probably?), rumble on about how perfectly reasonable it was, in the current economic climate, for him to pay out bonuses of around £10,000 each to the senior executives of his Border Controls Agency.
He claimed that they were very brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us.
Firstly, I don’t want to put down the work that some of the members of that department do. There are hands-on people working undercover trying to find traffickers, indeed people who probably do risk life and limb in the pursuance of a good result. But we’re not giving them bonuses. The people who are getting the ten grand extra of our money are senior management.
Mr Woolas told the Today Programme “We’ve got a superb management team that is getting on top of what is probably the most difficult public policy area in political life. There are 285 million people who visit the United Kingdom every year, and organising that mass movement of people to protect our borders from the people who have bad intent is a huge job.”
He indicated that to do that job of protecting our borders from all these people with bad intent he needed to get the best people. Apparently, unless you pay massive bonuses to managers they just won’t do a hand’s turn. I’ve often wondered why governments of all political shades seem to find it necessary to pay vast amounts to get good managers (otherwise you just get rubbish), but seem content to have one of the lowest minimum wages in the EU for ordinary workers.
(In any case, it seems that all that extra money hasn’t really made any difference at all. We all know that the government’s immigration policy and practice went off the rails years ago. We have no idea how many immigrants are here; we have no idea how many released from prison are not deported... indeed, we have no idea......... of anything. Oh, and another thing, whilst it is relatively important to guard the borders, I'd think it was a bit of an exaggeration to think that it was the "most difficult public policy area in politics". Hmmm, talk about being up your own Woolas!)
Anyway, he added insult to injury by making the remarks on the day that the 100th death of a British soldier in Afghanistan this year was reported. Of course, I don’t make any distinction between the 100th and the 99th or the 3rd, but there is for some at least a symbolic importance to the number 100.
These front line troops are entitled to a bonus after 6 month tour of duty. It amounts to somewhere in the region of £3,500 for a normal infantryman out there fighting the Taliban. Now I wonder if Mr Woolas would like to compare and contrast the various dangers that a soldier in Afghanistan, on the front line faces with those of a typical manager in the Borders Agency moving his desk to that side of the room, or arranging his flowers on the coffee table we provide him with....
Like I said at the beginning, surely, surely in the whole country (coz Brown has long since given up trying to appoint ministers from the Commons) there must be someone with just a little more savvy that this dim-witted placeman, whose foot seems to reside permanently in close proximity to his mouth. He’s not even likeable; he comes across as a smug, self satisfied, supercilious moron. Phil Woolhead would be every bit as appropriate a name for him.