Sunday 31 July 2011


Jamaica Tower, Carnegie Tower, Wellington Tower and Maxwelltown Tower have dominated the skyline of Dundee for 50 + years, but over the past 20+ they have become increasingly run down, despite a concierge service being introduced.

Despite their beautiful views over the mouth of the River Tay, their dilapidation meant that they were no longer lettable and their degradation accelerated.

And so, today they were blown up...

What a sight. Four explosions, almost simultaneous, a second of calm, and then the cloud covering the surrounding houses, cars and streets with dust.... and a pile of rubble, which will doubtless help towards the supply of foundation for the V & A...and another chapter in Dundee's history.

Saturday 30 July 2011


It's a while since we had a full blown U-turn from the London lot, but after reading an article in the Daily Telegraph on the new English high speed train link from London to Birmingham, then on to Leeds and Manchester (what they call bridging the North-South divide!!), I think I can see that Mr Hammond will not be long in providing us with much merriment.

The scheme has been criticised by just about everyone and every organisation in England. Natural England, the Forestry Commission for England, English Heritage and the 13 councils running areas the length of the route from London to Birmingham (the first stage, due to cost £17 billion) have condemned it.

It is being described as deeply flawed, distorted and based on false premise and accused of ruining ancient forests, spoiling habitat and even endangering the water supply.

MPs of the constituencies along the route, including cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan, the deputy chief whip, a Foreign Office minister and a Cabinet Office minister have also criticised the plans, which, given its unpopularity in these constituencies, is not unexpected. The Presiding officer, John Bercow's constituency is also affected and the London Mayor has slated the project because of the bottle neck it will cause outside Euston Station, its London terminal.

A report for the "51M" group of local authorities along the London-Birmingham stretch, written by two leading transport economists, Chris Castles and David Parish, concludes that none of the government's claims on behalf of HS2 stack up.

Capacity on the existing West Coast Main Line, the main alternative to HS2, could easily be tripled, they argue, while building HS2 will lead to major disruption" and will overload the transport system all around Euston, the line's London terminus.

The report's authors scorn claims that the north-south divide will be bridged and say that this is not borne out by any evidence.

The report catalogues "a long list of errors and dubious assumptions in the government's analysis", according to Chris Castles, who also accused the 'pro' lobby or using "vague rhetoric, obfuscation and abuse." You have to wonder, at a time when the UK is so short of money, why the government is pressing ahead with a scheme so clearly unpopular, which is going to cost billions of pounds that the country doesn't have.

After all, when all this money has been spent, it will only take 15 minutes off the journey from London to Birmingham... Someone, somewhere must be getting something from this. It's certainly not the public.

Does anyone know if there is to be a Barnet consequential for this project?


It appears that Scots with Freeview are being denied the opportunity to listen to radio on their tv sets after 5pm, and all because the BBC has chosen to broadcast the tv channel BBC Alba from that time at in the evening.

Limited band space means that there is not sufficient capacity for the BBC’s 13 radio stations to be broadcast at the same time.

Apparently there have been “numerous” complaints made to Kazia Dugdale MSP, one of Labour’s Lothian list members and she has taken up the cudgels on their behalves.

“I’ve had”, says Ms Dugdale, “people say that they can no longer listen to the News Quiz, or this is how they get their classical music or their sports coverage. And they feel aggrieved because the licence fee is the same as it was 2 months ago” (before the BBC’s decision).

She goes on to say that she believes that the BBC should recognise that times have changed (although I’m not entirely certain what that has to do with the matter of Gaelic broadcasting, or the fact that some people listen to sport on their televisions). She fears, somewhat mystifyingly, that Scotland may be left behind if the population cannot listen to the News Quiz on their television sets. Left behind what or where, she does not say.

Ms Dugdale has written to no less a personage than Chris (now lord) Patten, who replied telling her the BBC Trust has decided that this was the most technically and financially viable way of enabling BBC Alba to be carried on Freeview.

He rather pointedly added that radio stations could still be listened to on radios after 5 pm.

I’m wondering, given that broadcasting is an issue reserved to Westminster, why Ms Dugdale did not direct these “numerous” complainants to their local MPs who represent them in the parliament in England which has power over these matters.

It seems that the BBC is unlikely to back down from its stance, given that Patten suggests that carrying Alba on Freeview will result in an increase of between 70,000 and 111,000 viewers, while only 50,000 radio listeners will be affected. And so, as well as Mr Patten’s advice that radio programmes can still be listened to on radio (purchasable for as little as £2 in Tesco), I can offer some comfort in that these programmes can also be heard at any time on-line, on many cell phones, and as a special sop to those who cannot bear to hear the News Quiz anywhere but on television, the programme, when being broadcast, can be listened to on Saturday at 12.30pm, well before Alba starts, and therefore, on tv.

It seems to me small minded and selfish to object to those among us who speak Gaelic having television in their own language when there is such a plethora of English language broadcasts on such a wide range of stations, receivable on a variety of equipment and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But some people have just got to have everything.

I’m surprised that MSPs don’t have more important things to occupy themselves with.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Am I dreaming, or were we all told that the massive security cost to the taxpayer of the royal wedding back in April would be rewarded many times over by the shot in the arm (over half a million) that it would give to the “British” (for which read south of England) economy? Nope, I checked back, and it seems we were, in fact, told just that. So why is Gideon (Call me George) using his chums’ wedding as an excuse for the appalling mess he is making of running the financial affairs of the UK with growth figures a derisory fraction of comparable countries?

I was moved by the quiet demonstration of solidarity all over Norway in the wake of the atrocities in Oslo and on Utoeya. In Oslo alone, from a population of around half a million, it was reckoned that over 150,000 people took the streets carrying flowers to demonstrate that they want no change in the open and democratic society in which they are lucky to live.

I was listening to the 7 o’clock news this morning, wondering if I could doze for just a little longer, when I was shaken awake by Sarah Montague (no, it wasn’t a dream, but she was only on the radio) telling me that the Westminster government wastes vast amounts of money on IT. I could have guessed this, of course. After all they waste vast amounts on most things... but one of the examples they gave was the cost of a normal PC... something you or I could buy for a few hundred pounds from PC World, but which is (despite economies of scale) costing the government over £3,000. Question to Call me George: Why are you taking money away from people who are likely to die of the cold this winter, when you waste £2,500 on every PC you buy?

There seems to have been an extremely unhealthy relationship between News International on one hand and the UK government and its opposition on the other. Cameron, Miliband, Gove, Osborne and Hunt seem to have spent half their waking hours with management of media organisations, and a surprisingly large number of them with News International (and I don’t include in that Michael Gove’s wife who works for NI). I can only imagine that now that Cameron has ordered the statistics for such meetings to be published, the number of contacts will fall dramatically. Or do they intend to make prison visits?

Another government minister is in trouble. Jonathan Djanogly paid £5,000 to a private detective to monitor his constituents following the publication of a Telegraph article about his expenses. Now preliminary inquiries, conducted by the Information Commissioner’s Office, are underway. This is embarrassing given the prime and deputy prime ministers’ condemnation of the practice of “blagging” and his position in the Justice Department, tasked with overseeing changes to legislation regarding the use of private detectives to garner information. Of course Djanogly denies all wrongdoing (don’t they always) but I find it rather suspicious that the detectives’ report was sent to the offices of the law firm where, until recently, he worked (almost like he was trying to hide it), and that the report admit having used subterfuge to obtain the information it contains. Quite apart from the dodgy situation that this leaves a junior justice minister in, it begs the question: why was he spying on his constituents, his employers?

Monday 25 July 2011


The French government has cancelled a planned increase in gas prices and cut the size of electricity price rises in response to considerable public discontent with rising energy costs.

EDF (you’ll recognise that name, but maybe didn’t know that it stood for Electricité de France) requested the French government’s permission to have annual increases of 5.1% for the next four years, to take into account needed investments to upgrade France's 58 nuclear reactors.

But industry minister Eric Besson made it clear earlier this year that prices would rise only by a small amount.

According to the government's plan, electricity prices can rise by 1.7% this month and by 1.2% in the summer of 2012.

Likewise, France's main gas supplier GDF Suez (Gaz de France), which had been hoping for a further increase this month after a 5% rise in household gas prices came into force in April, was disappointed to be told that there would be no raise at all in gas prices.

In Scotland power companies are increasing the price of electricity by an average of 11% and gas by 18%..... because they can, although they trot out horror stories about increases in the gas bought on international markets. I guess the French must just go to better international markets.

I suppose it may also be because, Mr Ian Marchant, Scottish and Southern Energy’s big boss man, who was awarded bonuses of over £2 million on top of nearly £1M salary for reaching targets on profits. He’s an expensive man is their Mr Marchant. As my granny would say: “I’d rather keep him a week than a fortnight.”

I wonder how the greedy git would cope the government didn't allow him to put up prices by between 2 and 3 times inflation, and as often as he likes...or indeed if the public just said “Enough!”.

Open Letter to Iain Duncan Smith

Sue, at the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger has written this heart wrenching appeal to IDS to think again over Welfare Reform. She asks for it to receive as big an audience as possible and I'm happy to do my humble best to help her achieve that end. Not everyone who claims benefit is a scrounger, although that is the mindset that successive governments have been happy to foster. This, is what it is like for so many people, and this is what we are cutting funding for, while being involved in two wars.

The day you get that diagnosis is the day that the blood runs cold in your veins
Sound is muffled in your ears, shock runs through you and you know in that moment that nothing will ever be the same again.

Life, that always seemed so ordered and full of potential becomes precious. A gift greater than any you ever appreciated. A privilege, not a right. Your own mortality comes crashing in around you, redefining love and hope and dreams for the future. Everything will change forever in that one horrifying moment.

If the unthinkable happens to one you love, the sense of impotence and fear is worse. You want it to be you. You'd give anything to change things around, to take away all the pain and suffering. You want to take on every invasive test, every painful procedure. You want it to be you laying there, pail and weak, vomiting endless traces of chemo or morphine into a grey cardboard tray.

You want to be there. All the time. Every minute of every day. You want to protect the person you love most in the world, to fight for them, to arrange the very best care available. Suddenly work and meetings and focus groups are forgotten - irrelevant even - when contrasted with the battle for life.

Money won't save them. It might make things easier, speed up care or assure access to the most innovative treatments, but the battle is yours and yours alone. Together.

You grieve. Grieve for the carefree days, the easy confidence that good health brings. You grieve for the future, so cruelly and randomly threatened. You grieve for the love and support that always came first. You grieve for your children and the spectre that now hangs above their heads every minute of every day. Youngsters become carers and you grieve for the easy innocence they will never know again.

The luckiest of all might be able to leave work that very moment, rush home and gather up family in strong, caring arms. The luckiest will only have to face a battle with the disease now tearing their family apart, with little thought for other practicalities.

Most are not that lucky.

Most will find that just as their world falls apart, they must still pay the mortgage, still feed the children, still keep working hard. They will suffer endless, unimagined agonies as they try to keep all the balls in the air, desperate to fight side by side with their soul mate but unable to do so.

They might lose a wage. Suddenly and without warning their income may half just as they need it most. They may have no choice but to watch in terror as their modest savings drain away, placing fear of poverty side by side with the fear of death.

Is there anything worse? Could there be anything worse than finding your life turned upside down in every area? Job under threat, home at risk, ambitions and dreams destroyed? As your children's faces become etched with fear, do you tell them Mummy will be OK? Do you keep your financial fears to yourself? Do you take on every burden until the pressure gets too much? Do you try to do the work of 10 men? Superman at work, loving support at the hospital bed, devoted father and capable housekeeper? Can you bear the pressure or do you crack yourself?

There is something worse.

Finding that there is no cure.

Finding that there are no magic chemo bullets to stamp out the darkness, no dazzling operations to cut out the contagion. Treatments are patchy - the doctors tell you if you're lucky they can "manage" your condition, but from this day, life will be about survival. Forever.

The treatments won't stop in a month or a year, but they will still make you vomit or send shooting pains through your skull or make you so sensitive to sunlight that you can no longer go outside. No longer take your children to the park or dig sandcastles in the hazy summer sun. They might make you weak, or angry or depressed. They might cause more symptoms than the disease itself, but they keep you alive and "alive" is all those who love you need. Do anything Mummy, but don't die.

The boss who's been so supportive can't support you forever. 6 months, maybe even a year, but in the end, even the most caring boss will have to draw the line. What do you do? Who will care for your family while you work? Is you child old enough to call an ambulance if she has to? Would she know where the special pills are kept in case Mummy won't wake up? Can you teach her your work number or do you fret and worry through every day, never knowing what you will return home to?

Things won't improve. A grey faced doctor might tell you gently that they will only ever get worse. Functions will fail, dignity will crumble, every previously automatic task will need thought and support. There will be wheelchairs or oxygen tanks or feeding tubes. You will have to learn to change incontinence-bags or give injections or rig up sterile feeds. You will have to find money for a hoist or a voice recognition system.

One day, Mummy might not be able to answer. She may not be able to walk or leave her bed. Birthday parties will have to move upstairs to a fetid room that smells of the end, but you will smile brittle smiles and put up bunting, pretending that nothing has changed. You will all laugh a little too shrilly, jump just a little too nervously, but you will pretend. When the kids are safely tucked up and your partner is finally sleeping a tortured morphine sleep, you will cry great heart wrenching sobs into a cushion so nobody hears.

There are legions of us Iain. Probably millions. We fight great battles every day. We find resilience and love we never knew existed. We find pride in the face of indignity, hope in the face of despair. Our relationships are tested every day and every day we have to whisper "but I love them". Every day, that love has to win. Every day, love is all we have left to get us through.

We pretend the poverty doesn't matter and when faced with life or death, it's funny, but it doesn't seem to matter so much. An afternoon in a park at the beginning of spring, watching the children climb steps to great slide-summits, their joyous eyes flashing in the watery sun is almost too much pleasure to bear. The poignancy of knowing it could always be the last time makes the simplest things precious.

We pretend our ambitions and dreams were not important. Strange, but when your ambition becomes surviving to see your children married, it's true, they don't matter so much.

We pretend we're strong, but we only have the strength we all have, buried deep inside us. We just have to dig deep down to find it. Every day. Forever.


This is why you cannot decide, randomly, that after a year, our families must struggle on alone. A year?? Why Time Limit ESA to a year? Why remove all support from these vulnerable families after one year? Why not 6 months or 3 years or a day? It bears no relationship to the real world, it is policy designed by Dali.

This is why you cannot make us wait 6 months for Disability Living Allowance. Why 6 months? By then we may be bankrupt, we may have lost our homes. We may be dead. The state may end up paying much more through picking up the pieces than in supporting us fairly from day one.

This is why more people must qualify for long term support and go into the Support Group of ESA. Because at the moment, you are failing people with lives like mine. People with Parkinson's and Arthritis and MS. Mothers and sons, daughters and fathers. People with lupus, schizophrenia, bowel disease, kidney failure, epilepsy, personality disorder, heart disease, COPD and thousands of less well known conditions that destroy lives. Countless things as devastating as cancer and some more so.

This is not "welfare." Welfare means to fare well. It is the mark of compassion and evolution in a democratic society. It means no-one should be left in absolute desperation. Your policies are causing this total desperation and I'm sure it is not what you want to do or set out to do.

By all means reform. Goodness knows the system does need to change, but the great myth is that it needs bigger sticks to beat us with and stricter reasons to ensure we do not qualify. Please Iain, listen to me today. You have all beat us hard enough for many years. There is nothing more to squeeze or remove or deny. We live in poverty and uncertainly already, and we have reached a tipping point. Labour's ESA was disastrous enough and already failing. Time limiting, tightening the descriptors yet again and leaving a lengthy qualifying period for DLA is going to cause real hardship and suffering.

Please listen. Please think again.


Saturday 23 July 2011


What happened yesterday in Norway defies description and is beyond belief.

Information on the massacres is, of course, changing all the time but the last time I heard the news (having sat through three quarters of an hour of speculation, yes speculation, that Amy Winehouse was dead), was that 92 people had died and there were many still missing.

The apparent perpetrator of the crimes is Anders Behring Breivik, who is described by police as a 'Christian fundamentalist with extreme right-wing views', which just goes to prove, yet again, that regardless of which particular religion or political affiliation, the words ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘extremist’ should fill us with grave concern.

Those he murdered were kids; good kids who were spending time at a summer camp, talking politics, listening to senior international statesmen and women, of which Norway has a number disproportionate to its size, and discussing their views. They came from towns and villages all over the country, a small country like our own. There is hardly a family in the country which hasn’t been touched, by knowing someone, or knowing someone who knows someone, who was directly involved.

I have no idea what it must have been like on that island, or indeed in the political centre of Oslo. Nor can I begin to imagine how it must feel to be one of the parents, friends, relatives of a dead or missing teenager, or of a traumatised kid who has seen hell and lost friends in the most awful way. There’s no use me trying. You can’t unless you’ve been through something like this yourself.

I just know that it haunts me.

And I know too, that no one would have expected it to happen in beautiful, rich, sleepy, reputedly rather dull Norway. Rather like no one would expect it to happen in Scotland.

But it could.

Inadequate though it is, my thoughts are with the people of Norway who have lost or who have been hurt in some other way by this outrage.

Friday 22 July 2011


Going on buses is not something I do a lot of because I have the good fortune to have a car...and I'm lazy.

But recently I used a bus to get into town and I couldn’t believe my eyes at the price of tickets.

The fares information from National Express who “run” (and I use the word in its loosest sense) our buses (in their best interests) is as follows:

Cash fares are based upon 'fare stages' – the fare is calculated dependent upon the number of 'fare stages' in the journey.

Each bus route is split into a number of these fare stages, each one of which contains on average 3 bus stops. The fare goes up each time a new stage in reached.

Buses have an exact fare policy and the driver cannot give change, so you’re stuffed if you only have a tenner.

For children the fares are: 1 stage, 70p; 2-3 stages 90p 4+ stages, £1. For adults the respective fares are: £1.20, £1.60 and £2.00.

To be fair to them a child’s day ticket can be bought for £2.00 and an adult one for £3.00. But can you imagine the not unlikely scenario of a mum and dad and 2 children wanting to go downtown? The return journey, even using the day tickets, will cost £10.00.

On the other hand, from anywhere within Dundee the average family car can make the journey to the centre of town and back at a maximum of between 50p and £1.50 in petrol, and I’ve never been unable to find a space in the free car park at Gallagher’s shopping centre. The net saving is for our average family is, therefore, at least £8.50!

So what kind of sense does it make to struggle with you purchases on the bus when you can drive into town for a fraction of the bus cost?

And the added advantage is you miss the surly attitude of the typical National Express bus driver and the likelihood of having to sit on a seat that some ned has had his dirty feet on, next to a old nechter who’s spent the lunchtime in the pub and whose breath would strip paint.

But please note that dogs travel free, so if any canines are reading this.... you know what to do!

Just a thought!

Thursday 21 July 2011


There was good news this week when the MOD made a series of long term commitments to Scotland which included the retention of RAF Lossiemouth and the transfer of ex-RAF Kinloss and of RAF Leuchars to the army. Additionally Fort St George is to be retained.

The Army is to have a brand new mobile brigade formed from units returning from Germany. This new brigade will be based in Leuchars when the RAF's Typhoon interceptors move to Lossiemouth. Elements will also be stationed at RM Condor outside Arbroath when the Marines are transferred to England, and at Rosyth and Kirknewton, south of Edinburgh.

But, however welcome the increase in our population, bringing skilled-job salaries to the country and, as the first minister pointed out, bringing children who will be brought up in Scotland, helping to rebalance the ageing population, you do have to consider why the MOD's long term strategy is to more than double the number of regular troops in Scotland from 3,500 to 8,500 in the next five to six years, while in England they are reducing the number of regular troops and relying instead on Territorials.

Could it be that the English government’s seemingly generous act in stationing troops all over Scotland is an attempt to garrison the country? Could it be that they are creating a new brigade with no local allegiances and getting rid of long-established units that might not wish to open fire on a local population?

I find it hard to attribute to Mr Fox and the mandarins at the MOD an altruism that flies in the face of what they are doing everywhere else (i.e. cutting to the bone) without there being a hidden agenda.

Before the election in May we were gearing up for severe cuts and, then the SNP won a majority in Holyrood, an independence referendum is now a certainty, and suddenly we are getting three new army bases in the North East of the country, where the oil is (Leuchars, Kinloss, and Condor), and new mobile units at Rosyth and Kirknewton, handy for the capital. They are not expecting us to kick off if we don’t get our way in the referendum are they? Or are they planning to seize the oil in the event we win?

Monday 18 July 2011

Labour Councillor's Benefit Fraud Catches up with Him

We have all been so busy concentrating on the corruption involving News International and the Metropolitan Police, happening in far off London town that a case of corruption far closer to home, whilst not as life changing, is certainly serious, and needs a good deal of further investigation.

John Holden, a Labour councillor on Highland Council, awaits sentencing having been found guilty of stealing £43,000 of Income Support from the London government and nearly £10,000 from his own council in council tax rebates (council tax benefit of £6,925 and single occupancy of more than £2,309).

Mr Holden had claimed that he lived alone, that he had no savings and that he had no job, whereas the truth was that he was living with his wife, had (and you’ll love this) savings of £200,000...which he claims to have saved in the period 2002 to 2008... and had his council salary of £16,000 pa which he had been drawing since his election in 2007.

It amazes me, but apparently it is true, that he may keep his position on Highland Council unless he is sent to prison. It seems that you can only be removed as a councillor if you are unable to do the job for some reason: in this case because you have been incarcerated.

The thing that I found most strange was that he had managed to save £200,000 in a period of 6 years. Given that his income during that period amounted to £53k in stolen benefits plus his salary as a councillor, unless his wife is a merchant banker, a lord, or a member of the royal family, I suspect that we might want to ask how exactly he managed to amass this substantial sum.

But as Granny would say “Everything’s mixed with mercy. It is indeed fortunately for the taxpayers that he did manage to make savings, because he will find it easy to make good the ‘proceeds of crime order’ that has been placed on him confiscating the cash he has stolen. And I’d be surprised if there were not substantial costs to pay.

Friday 15 July 2011


Our trusty North America correspondent, that intrepid man about Washington, thought it prudent to let me know about (and explain in simple terms), the intricacies of the financial crisis which is currently threatening to shut down America, and with it most of the Western world.

As soon as the Republicans took control of the House, people who know about Washington realised that there was a potential for a major crisis. The necessary increase in the statutory national debt ceiling, which allows the federal government to continue to borrow money, would need to be approved. Normally, says Danny, that presents no problem. The debt limit was raised seven times during the Bush the Younger’s administration. Indeed it is raised all the time, by agreement of both parties.

In Danny’s own words: “Not raising it is simply unthinkable. It would force the United States Treasury to default on its debt obligations....traditionally among the most secure and highly rated in the world. The economy of the United States would implode, and with it, much of the economy of the western world. So the stakes are the highest in the world.....literally!”

So what, you might ask is the problem. Well, try fruit cakes... not literally of course, but it’s an appropriate appellation for people in the so-called Tea Party (which, of course, is not a party at all, but a right wing faction of the Republicans, populated by such nut jobs as Michelle Bachmann), members of which now sit in Congress.

They say no. NO MORE DEBT. It is, as Danny says, ‘religious heresy’ to continue to fund debt.

So the Republican leadership: in the House and in the Senate decided to tell the President that any increase in the debt ceiling must be coupled with huge spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit. And that this must be done by cutting social programmes. Absolutely no new taxes on the wealthiest America
ns would be agreed to by Republicans!

President Obama is calling their bluff. He said that he will not cut programmes for the most vulnerable in society while the rich enjoy no tax increases. There will be absolutely NO spending cuts without also increasing taxes on the rich, and corporations. (The GOP wants the social programs that benefit the poorest Americans to pay for it all.) Impasse.

The economies of the West are being held to ransom by people who want to cut the little that is spent on the poorest and the sick, and in many cases may even be stupid enough not to understand what is at stake.

Of course the mainstream Republican Party does understand the implications of allowing the economy to crash and burn...and that the biggest losers in that situation would be...the rich. So Republicans in Wall Street, for example, are telling the leadership to get the situation sorted sharpish.

The very last date for agreement is August 4. I wonder who will blink first.

(Sincere thanks to Danny for his email about this. Parts of the above post are copied directly from it.)

Pics: Michelle Bachmann looking completely mad, and sticking her finger right up that dude's nose. Barack Obama not doing any of that stuff.

Thursday 14 July 2011


I mentioned a few weeks ago that it seemed to me that there were few people in the UK who were avoiding the swinging cuts...
The royal family, as befits their position, were at the top of my list. Not only has the Treasury agreed that in future the royals can have a percentage of the Crown Estates money that previously went to the government, but the Duke of Rothsay has managed to increase his private income by over £600,000 and increase his state earnings by 40%. Nice recession guys.

The Lords were having a problem with people cheating (some would say 80%) on their expenses, so they introduced a new system whereby they pay themselves expenses whether or not they have expended anything, and needless to say, that now costs the taxpayer more. Brilliant way to not earn a living chaps and chapesses.

The bankers, fearful that their gigantic bonuses would be stopped by the government , awarded themselves massive pay rises to make up for the anticipated loss in income, only to find that the bonuses weren’t stopped after all, and so now they have both. Smart thinking lads.

And now, according to a report in the Telegraph, despite pleas from ministers not to do it, senior civil servants are taking bonuses worth between £8,000 and £20,000. The bonuses, which were agreed with the last government, seem to be set in stone. Although if I were the government I'd be inclined to tell them that they could fiddle for the bonuses. What are they going to do? Go on strike?

The total cost to the treasury will be around £10 million.

Helen Ghosh, permanent secretary at the Home Office (that bastion of efficiency) defended £10,000 bonuses for her staff as “not exactly big bucks”. She told a committee of MPs in the coherent manner you might expect: “The average was... I think the very maximum for the highest earners was £10,000.” Gosh Ms Ghosh. As people may be paid as much as 10% of their salaries, as salaries are as high as £200,000 pa, and as the bonuses are performance related, it is rather an indictment of the quality of staff in her department if they are only achieving £10,000. Why, at £180,000 pa, Helen's own bonus has the potential to be £18,000.

Not big bucks at £10,000 for Golly Ghosh, but twice what a pensioner gets to live on for a year and now the government has reduced their winter fuel allowance, regardless of the quality of their performance. And three times what the paid off civil servants all around the country will be collecting in Job Seekers Allowance.

What a grim, miserable, greedy, unpleasant country the UK is. Let’s get out of it.

Pics: Ms Ghosh and her shiny Home Office, which reminds me of Paris's Centre Georges Pompidou, to my mind, one of the world's most unlovely buildings.

Tuesday 12 July 2011


So according to the Met’s Assistant Commissioner, John Yates, the reason they didn’t re-open the investigation into the phone hacking allegations back in 2009 was that the ‘News of the World’ declined to co-operate with them.


So, does that mean that if a ned had broken into an off licence and made away with a couple of hundred pounds worth of drink, leaving his DNA all over the shop, and then the Met had picked him up and he had said: “Right, like I ain’t gonna co-operate wiv ya, right, innit”, the Man from the Met would have replied... “Oh, right son. We’ll not bother to follow this one up. Off you go then”.

I think someone might like to inform the assistant commissioner with ambitions to be the commissioner that that’s actually the way that police work often works. Usually criminals don’t much want to co-operate with the police. Indeed they have been known to tell lies and obstruct the police... No, really, they have.

Maybe it’d be better if he got that under his belt before he applied for the top job...although, judging by some of the wing nuts they have had in the past, for example Ian Blair, who said the phone hacking was just a "tiny fragmentary event... not seen as particularly significant",... in particular, he continued, when compared with the fact that they had had terrorists to chase!

I wondered who would come out with that old chestnut. The massive Metropolitan Police of the English capital, couldn’t, it seems, walk and chew gum. They were busy with terrorists, so the that police bribery and the fact that everyone who was anyone’s phone messages were being illegally listened to, just couldn’t be dealt with.

Just as well that when I was in London I didn’t lose my wallet. How far down the important list would THAT have been?

The trouble for these people is that they are lying to politicians, and if there’s one thing that most politicians are good at....

Pics: Yates of the Yard.... 10 times he asked them nicely to co-operate? Or maybe it was ten something elses.... and his then boss Labour's other Blair.

Monday 11 July 2011


David Cameron has warned that his patience may be limited with Scotland over the referendum question.

He has told the “Spectator” that, although he wants to continue to observe the “respect” agenda (I thought he’d already U-turned on that) he may pre-empt the government’s independence referendum if, as he says, the next few years become about tussling rather than governing.

I realise, of course, that Cameron is having a rough time with his backbenchers. He looks weak over the News International situation and is trying to look as if he is strong over something else. But it is a bit rich for someone who is making such a pig’s ear of governing within his own remit to be instructing a much more experienced politician who is doing such a good job within HIS remit that he was re- elected with a majority only a few short weeks ago.

There have been, since the election victory that was never supposed to happen, the most amazing series of u-turns over the referendum situation.

Firstly the SNP said in the manifesto, and it was much talked about in leadership debates, that there would be a referendum in the second half of the 5 year government. It was never going to be something about which a great fuss was made during the earlier part of the government when the UK (and as a result Scotland) was in such a mess with unemployment, social exclusion, and poverty.

But even before the result had been confirmed, the opposition parties were bringing it forward, as if it had been the only thing in the manifesto.

The Secretary for Scotland Michael Moore called for two referenda and was slapped down by the prime minister, and others have even said that it would be necessary for the English to vote in their own referendum before Scotland could be free (without thinking about the consequences for England in a future referendum on their EU membership).

Tory MP for North East Somerset Jacob Rees-Mogg tried to introduce an amendment to the Scotland Bill, currently going through the London parliament, demanding a referendum within four months and was slapped down by their Speaker. Whilst Cameron doesn’t agree with that he said he would not play games with Mr Salmond.“I won’t have a situation where it’s not about the health or wellbeing of the people of Scotland but all about a referendum to satisfy his needs”, he said.

How incredibly little he knows about what goes on here. I mean, it’s not all health and wellbeing anyway. It’s crime, prisons, education, local government and many other things, and there are Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers working hard to achieve this.

Mr Cameron should remember that he has no mandate in Scotland. He has one MP out of 59. And in the Scottish General Election an academic study has shown that it was the popularity of Annabel Goldie that gave the Tories the seats that they got...and they are about to lose her! Although there are many more Liberal Democrats, one only needs to look at the rump in parliament and the disastrous Inverclyde by-election result for the London parliament to see how popular they are in our country.

He should also remember that, rather like his illustrious predecessor, his words in Scotland tend to have the opposite effect to that which is intended. Even Malcolm Rifkind realised that the Scots don’t like to be bullied by bossy Englishwomen (or men) and the less Thatcher said, the better.

He would do best to take that on board and say very little.

Sunday 10 July 2011


Danny Alexander is a great fan of golf, and just to prove it here he is (above) at the Scottish Open, where he appears to have got into the swing of things by donning a lounge suit and taking off his tie. He fits right in don’t you think?

Some of the more cynical among us might say that this is a cynical ploy by the MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey to implement a policy of damage limitation after he claimed responsibility (indeed he was proud of it) for the Tory led coalition’s cynical tax grab that robbed £2 billion a year from the north east economy so that English motorists could have 1p off a litre of petrol. A tax drop that was wiped out in a matter of days as prices at the pump continued to rocket. Never mind! Danny has now taken great pride in implementing a £50 million a year U-turn that will give tax breaks to those exploiting the more marginal fields. You don’t have to be Chief Secretary to the Treasury to figure out that £2 billion minus £50 million is still a huge £1.95 billion hole in the north east economy. No wonder Danny has whizzed off to the Scottish Open to do a bit of glad handing. I’m amazed he has not claimed full responsibility for bringing the Open to Inverness.

In other Lib Dem related news failed Fife MP and leader of the Lib Dem groupette at Holyrood, Willie Rennie has been bumping his gums in the press again. How is it that with only five MSPs (less than the Greens or the SSP in 2003) Rennie manages to get so much media coverage when we really ought to be ignoring him and his “party”. This time he is getting all het up about Alex Salmond encouraging erstwhile Lib Dem voters to come over to the SNP, with more or less everybody else. Willie seems to think that Alex is poaching his voters. Willie if they don’t vote for you any more they are not really your voters!

Thursday 7 July 2011


David Cameron has made some errors of judgement since coming to power just over a year ago.

A coalition of his right of centre party with a left of centre party may have been the first, for, although it seems not to have hurt him in the country, he has made some dangerous enemies inside his party. From there on in he has U-turned himself into something resembling a corkscrew on health, welfare, law and order, crime and punishment, the environment, finance, the EU, the “respect” agenda, and on and on... so much so that whilst those of us who are of a different political colour have not known whether to laugh or cry, followers have found themselves with an easier choice and a bill for Kleenex!

I’ve always said that Cameron had no substance; that he owed his success to a mixture of wealth (and the clout that that brings), a distant familial relationship with royals (and the clout that that brings) and his natural ability as a PR man. He lacks depth and intellectual vigour and his upbringing has left him with as much idea of what goes on in the head of Monsieur Tout le Monde as I have of the passing thoughts of the Sultan of Brunei.

But perhaps the most important example of his lack of judgement has be
en in his choice of friends.

Every prime minister, it appears, has to make some sort of respectful concession to one of the country’s most powerful men, News International’s (NI) Rupert (I have a file on everyone) Murdoch, but David, because he could, decided to go farther.

Not only did he court friendship with Rebekah Wade-Brookes, inviting her to dinner, and dining at her home while her organisation was in the midst of negotiations to acquire BSkyB, over which the business and later culture secretary had the final say, but he insisted on employing, as press secretary, her disgraced colleague, Andy Coulson, who had resigned from NI over the scandal of phone hacking minor royals. “I believe”, he said, “in giving people a second chance”.

I wouldn’t have touched him with a tarry pole. He was damaged goods, and either he lied through his teeth to get the job, or Cameron believed that with the police in the pockets of NI, all would be well. The people at the top would look after each other, as they always had.

But bit by bit the stitching came apart. More and more people reported their phones had been tapped. This time “celebrities”, then politicians...then Coulson resigned, leaving
us to suppose that the worst was yet to come.
As come it has. Victims of crime have been hacked; police inquiries into murder have been hampered; police have been in the pay of NI, and the person who signed the cheques was Cameron’s boy Andy (Second Chance) Coulson.

The last I read was that phones of soldiers killed in action may have been hacked. Just how much lower is there to go?

Mr Cameron is associated closely with the people at the top of an organisation which knew these things were going on no matter how hard they try to act as if they didn’t, despite everyone expressing “shock and horror”; Rebekah, David and even Rupert.

So, were all these people naive, gullible fools who just sometimes wondered where all these fabulous stories were coming from? Or are they hard hitting million/billionaires, who knew but didn’t care?

And are David Cameron and his premiership forever tainted by association with them? Indeed is it time to look for a prime minister with a little substance?

Wednesday 6 July 2011


“British Jobs for British Workers” cried Iain Duncan Smith at a recent gathering in Spain, echoing Brown’s flat footed attempt to encourage employers to recruit British workers instead of Poles, Lithuanians or Filipinos (supposing they can find any that are prepared to work under the conditions on offer).

But days later about half the workers at Bombardier, the last train-making factory in Britain (but owned by Canadians), are being made redundant, because the British government has awarded the contract for Thameslink trains to the German company, Siemens. British jobs for German workers?
This is a strange action for a government, the stated aims of which are to create a manufacturing sector renaissance in the country; a government professing a pro-industry agenda.

Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, was amusing in his interview with Evan Davis on the Today programme. It was, he said, all the fault of the Labour Government who set up the bidding process. We should look to the Continent of Europe, he continued, and copy the way the French and the Germans do business. French companies build French trains; German companies build German trains. So, within the constraints of the free market, of which he professed himself to be a staunch advocate, he wanted the government to "look more strategically" at how it can support domestic manufacturers by awarding contracts. British jobs for Canadian workers?
Hammond somewhat unwisely went on to scorn the fact that the last government had called the project “Thameslink 2000”, and that we were in 2011... Dangerous, I thought, given the anticipated forthcoming travails, and delays, concerning the high speed link between London and Birmingham!

The Bombardier plant at Derby employs 3,000 people, but its future is now in serious doubt. Its contracts to produce trains for National Express East Anglia, London Midland, and London Underground's Victoria line are due to be complete by September, leaving the Derby plant with only one contract to produce trains for the London Underground. It is doubtful that this will be enough to sustain the company’s plant in England.

I do agree that we should look at creating jobs in the domestic market. I personally try to buy Scottish made goods whenever I can. But we also need to look at the cost, the quality and the reliability of what we buy. I think it unlikely that I will ever use a Thameslink train myself, but I’m pretty sure that the people who do will be looking for as reliable a service as possible.

PS: If you were wondering about the Michael Fox reference in the title, I was just pondering what it is with politicians like Hammond (as he did in his "Today" interview) that they feel compelled to use the buzz expression “going forward” and then add “in the future”? I mean, you really can’t go forward in the past!

Sunday 3 July 2011


The more I hear from the London government, the more I worry that their manifesto was a list of proposals written on the back of an envelope during a drunken night out with the lads.

The latest to be shown to have been uncosted is the welfare cap. Whilst superficially supposed to cut costs, actually it adds to them, suggesting that it is political dogma rather than the necessity of deficit reduction is that motivation for the cuts.

Now a letter from Mr Pickles to the prime minister, leaked to the ‘Observer', draws Dave’s attention to some facts:

■ 40,000 families will be made homeless by the welfare reforms, putting further strain on services already "seeing increased pressures".

■ An estimated £270m saving from the benefits cap will be wiped out by the need to divert resources to help the newly homeless and is likely to "generate a net cost".

■ Half of the 56,000 affordable homes the government expects to be constructed by 2015 will not be built because developers will realise they will not be able to recoup even 80% of market rates from tenants.

Iain Duncan Smith has flatly refused to revise his policies up till now, but I suspect that a U-turn is only a matter of days away. What misery for the poor, the old and the sick this government has caused.
It was also revealed today that the number of summonses of Cabinet ministers and their lower level colleagues to Clarence House is becoming a matter of concern.

We are not allowed to know what subjects are discussed at these meetings as there is an exclusion, brought in by this government on any matters relating to the Queen, Charles and William. However it is suggested that Charles is interfering far too much in the governance of the country. This follows revelations yesterday that Tony Blair was driven by frustration at Charles’ constant summonses to attend upon him and his interfering in the running of the country that he had occasion to complain to the Queen.

It seems nothing can be done with this man. Given the Queen’s strict adherence to her constitutional role over 60 years, it seems inevitable to me that she will have spoken to Charles about it, and that he has ignored her instructions or advice to stop poking his nose into things that are nothing to do with him.

This is the first aristocratic government for a long time. It has already enacted legislation that will greatly increase the value of the financial arrangements for the royals, and has protected their secrecy. Surely there can be no doubt that the prince of Wales will split the country after his mother’s death by insisting that the Archbishop crown Mrs Parker Bowles and by continuing to interfere in the running of the countries of the UK, and who knows, farther beyond this island.

Let’s hope that the split is somewhere around Berwick...