Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Just because he's a decent American broadcaster - in stark contrast to anything broadcast by Fox News.
The mid-term elections are just next week and the filthy tactics employed by the Republicans and the Tea Party beggars belief.
Their campaign is based on ignorance, lies, misinformation and racism. I shudder to think what will happen next week.
‘It’s estimated that 200,000 people will be forced out of major metropolitan areas as a result of the government’s niggardly proposals on welfare reform, which will turn London into Paris, with the poor consigned to the outer ring.’
Such a plan would mean such people were ‘socially engineered and sociologically cleansed out of London’, he claimed.
It’s not often I feel sympathy for Nick Clegg; he is an over-bearing, unctuous man who has complacently dropped most of his party’s major policies for the sake of power and sentenced the Liberal Democrats to an agonising electoral death. But even this government’s worse critics cannot imagine they just want to kill all poor people.
And using such inflammatory language simply distracts from the very genuine issue at hand and provided Mr Clegg with a perfectly easy way of avoiding answering the question.
But the proposals are in very real danger of creating rich and poor ghettos. One of the charms of London is that rich and poor areas alike are thrust together. Under these plans, this would be consigned to history. 82,000 people are set to lose their homes and farmed out to outer London boroughs; victims of an expensive rental market due to their being insufficient properties for first time buyers and high property costs.
Don’t take my word for it. According to Mark Field, the Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, 80 per cent of his constituents receiving housing benefit are already above the threshold and in the debate this morning he described the proposal as ‘unsettling’.
Mr Field, while a supporter of the plans, not only recognises the huge shift of people would be costly, overwhelmingly difficult and damaging for those councils who are currently housing these families but also for those to where they might be shifted - like Dagenham.
His views are echoed by the excellent Karen Buck MP, who represents the neighbouring constituency in London, and Simon Hughes, who is based down in Bermondsey.
And this is what those arbiters of fairness think, the Institute for Fiscal Studies:
'It will make the benefits system more complex and less transparent. The incentive it provides to local authorities to encourage low-income people to move elsewhere is undesirable.'
Another Tory MP told Cathy Newman on Channel 4:
'It’s pretty important that Iain Duncan Smith [the work and pensions secretary] realises that London is going to need some kind of transitional arrangements – an elongated time frame for London or a higher cap. We are going to be packing trains full of the poor and most disadvantaged and packing them off to outer London.'
She went on to say that some councils were already 'booking bed and breakfast accommodation on the coast to house people who are driven out of their homes'. It's an absurd situation.
There appears to be some understanding of this view from Iain Duncan Smith, who has miraculously transformed himself from political no-hoper into the coalition government’s most thoughtful speaker. Certainly there were hints yesterday and today that some elements of the plans might be ameliorated, but Prime Minister David Cameron dismissed such suggestions during Prime Minister's Questions today. There are rumblings amongst the Lib Dem benches so this is one to keep watch; there are splits in the coalition.
But if Mr Bryant wants to make a political point he would do better bringing back the spectre of Dame Shirley Porter and her cronies at Westminster Council in the 1980s who indulged in gerrymandering. It was her who sold off old council homes to potential Tory voters, shipped poor families out of Westminster, in some cases to asbestos ridden towers. There are certainly echoes of this in the coalition's policy and it was only at the weekend one senior Tory was quoted as predicting the housing benefit changes could destroy Labour support in city centres.
This is what Chris Bryant should attack, bare-faced gerrymandering, rather than cheap jibes over 'cleansing'.
Postscript: There's a nice comparison here made by Hopi Sen
Thank God for good old Blighty; if it wasn't for us Arizona would not be able to execute its felons.
Yes, that's right. A British company is selling supplies of sodium thiopental to the US state as the US is suffering from a nationwide shortage. Forget aid supplies to Haiti, or flood relief in Pakistan, this is where the real money lies.
Obviously British business making a killing on, er, killing is nothing new; after all we have one of the most successful arms industries in the world and have done so for decades. One major difference is we are generally aware which company has flogged ground to air missiles, machines guns, tanks, helicopter gunships to whichever disreputable regime who wants them to use on their downtrodden masses. In this case, however, the company which is supplying Arizona with its vital killing fluid.
'This drug came a from a reputable place,' said Tim Nelson, the chief deputy attorney general of the state.
'There's all sorts of wild speculation that it came from a third world country and that's not accurate.'
Phew. That's alright then. As long as Mr Nelson is satisfied with this sordid arrangement.
It's the first time a state has acknowledged receiving the drugs from a foreign country and there are legal implications as without knowing the provenance of the drug, lawyers are perfectly justified to question whether the drug has been safely produced and kills, erm, efficiently.
The only US supplier of the drug is Hospira but it has said it will be without supplies until January at the earliest after suffering problems with its raw materials.
But anyway, secrecy is the key and legal concerns have yet to have a major impact.
At about 6.30am today Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona using supplies of the drug sourced from Britain. This severely brain damaged fellow, who grew up with an alcoholic adoptive mother, was convicted of a 1989 murder and there was concern among the legal profession that due to Mr Landrigan's mental health situation he should never have received the death penalty.
But no matter, he's dead now. And I'm not really trying to make a point against state execution, though there is no doubt it is a stain on a civilised society; indeed, in my opinion, renders a state inhumane and brutal, puts the US alongside China.
Clive Stafford Smith, in the Guardian, writes this:
'One question that immediately springs to mind is whether it is criminal for the British corporation to profit from such a killing: while the language is loose, EU Council Regulation 1236/2005 takes a step along this path, making it illegal to "trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture, or other cruel, in human or degrading treatment...".'
Hopefully the company will be reminded of this when its identity becomes clear.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
It’s obviously the way to protest at the moment. Ever since Iraqi reporter Muntadar al-Zaidi slipped off his Hush Puppies and flung them at the head of former President George W. Bush, it has become the de rigueur statement of disgust and hatred for an individual.
The next victim was the Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari who was pelted with a pair during his ridiculous visit to Britain while his country drowned.
And now we have John Howard, the former Australian prime minister, a man of inexplicable popularity who introduced some of the most unpleasant anti-immigration legislation ever by an apparently civilised Western power, leading to a catalogue of abuses and even prompting asylum seekers to sew up their eyes, ears and lips in protest.
It would appear relatively clear all of the above received exactly what they deserved; in fact if only their assailants had made contact. But, to be fair to both Bush and Howard their response was precisely what it should have been. Both were calm and dealt with the shoes with grace and good humour. The same cannot be said of Zardari who first denied such an attack had taken place and then tried to hide the reports; indeed I haven’t found a video decent enough on the web to attach.
This kind of abuse is exactly what politicians of all colours should expect though its power might be somewhat devalued if we all did it. Peter Mandelson was perhaps most impressive when Plane Stupid activist Leila Deen threw green custard over the former Business Secretary. He warned people not to overreact after the attack, suggesting security didn’t needed to be stepped up. He said at the time: ‘I suppose in a democracy people are entitled to have their say but I would rather people said it to my face rather than throw it.’
John Prescott should take note.
This morning is a case in point. I picked up a Metro at my local station and paid the princely sum of 20p – I didn’t need a deposit – for the Independent’s new little brother i. I leafed through the pages of both papers, scanning the headlines, a longer look at Johann Hari’s piece on Barack Obama. To be honest, I wasn’t’ bowled over by i; the news digest on pages two and three was messy and difficult to know where to start reading and the lead on page five concerned mortgage lending hitting an 18 month low, hardly gripping stuff. But it’s only day one so I’ll be giving i more opportunities to impress.
Anyway, I digress. Having reached London Victoria, papers put down by the time I’d reached Brixton preferring my book instead, I had a T2 supplement, from The Times, thrust into my hand; a few steps later a City AM and before I’d reached the first set of traffic lights a Shortlist. When do they imagine I will find time to read all this stuff? Never, as it happens, because I tipped them all into a bin a short while later. After all, every other daily newspaper, including regrettably The Daily Star, was waiting for me in the office.
I know they are all aiming for the morning commuter crowd but I fear the morning market might be becoming a little bit saturated.
Monday, 25 October 2010
On Friday, I dropped in, for the first time, Oxfam Books and spent a happy hour there, leaving with at least six books under my arm to peruse at length while enjoying a restorative drink at the Herne Hill Tavern opposite. One of the books was The Nonconformers; Articles of Dissent; a fascinating glimpse into the birth of 1960s. It's a collection of writing put together at the beginning of the 1960s - the book was published in 1961 - and include pieces by Arther Miller, Martin Luther King Jr amongst others. Its introductory synopsis begins:
'Negroes shoot it out with the Ku Klux Klan - yet the news is not carried in a single newspaper/
'A base is set up for the invasion of Cuba in a Latin American country - A professor's report in a magazine is the first appearance of this information.
'THE NONCONFORMERS [their capitals] is a collection of the work of writers with the courage to blurt out the truth as they see it - no matter how seriously they may be wounding sacred cows.'
So, there we have it. An avowed iconoclastic statement in a book published at the start of a transforming decade.
One of the authors is Roy Kerridge who contributes an essay titled 'A Teenage Who's Who' and was published in the New Statesman in 1960. He was 19 when it was written and it is a handy cut-out and keep guide of the youth of the day; these days it would be accompanied by an annoying cartoon graphic no doubt.
It's a funny piece, if a bit too self-confident. Below is an extract:
From what you read about teenagers in the papers, it would seem no one over 20 can tell a yob from a raver, or a beatnik from a bank clerk. For the benefit of all would-be teenage spotters, I present this guide. Naturally, teenage types vary a great deal from place to place, and I apologize to any group that feels itself misrepresented or ignored.
First of all I will deal with what I call the 'fringers'. These are groups of adventurous or rebellious Grammer schoolites, minor clerks and apprentices and the like, who live on the fringe of the hip scene, usually making their headquarters in some sedate coffee house. They possibly belong to a youth club, and also make occasional forays into yob or beatnik haunts - the girls preferring yobs and the boys preferring beatniks. No official uniform, but many of the boys wear brown suede jackets and shoes, bright sweaters and blue jeans. This amiable group is much given to party-throwing, and these parties, which really mass smooching sessions, show a pretty fair section of British youth. No one stays a fringer very long - they either turn completely hip or completely square.
According to Mr Kerridge, yobs wear 'an Italian jacket, slim trousers (slightly baggy) and extremely pointed shoes, preferably with silver buckles'. Ravers are fans of 'that tiresome gentleman, Mr Acker Bilk'. Few Bohemians, meanwhile, have read Kerourac, 'just as a lot of Communists have not read Marx'.
And on it goes for a few thousand words. It's hard to think of many magazines these days publishing or even commissioning such a long piece from a teenager.
Mr Kerridge, it seems, enjoys being an outsider. Rather than become overwhelmed by 1960s radicalism, he appears to have spent a lifetime being a contrarian. So he became a 'Chestertonian', celebrating the work of GK Chesterton, a writer with whom I like to think I would have enjoyed disagreeing; rarely happier than when in an argument.
As the large publishers get fatter, richer and duller, the little ones get nippier, sharper and more vigorous. Roy Kerridge is the author of many books, but none of the grand publishing houses wanted this eccentric and highly personal guide to Britain, presumably because it lacks the amenable and forgettable polish of most travel books. Kerridge is charming, opinionated and a little bit mad. Excellent company, therefore. A lifelong ‘non- driver’, he strolls the lanes and by-ways of Britain with a stick, ‘cutting the heads off stinging nettles with clever whisks’, and singing ‘Zippety Doodah’, ‘useful for frightening wild creatures out into the open’.
So, just for this, it was a worthwhile and satisfying trip into this second hand book shop in Herne Hill.
One can only assume it was the result of many long, boozy nights; it the only excuse available to the Scotsman who, looking at the decapitated head of a ram, thought ‘I know, what a great place to store snuff that would be’.
For this indeed is what is on display at the Wellcome Collection, the fantastic museum on Euston Road. It would be hard to describe the collection as one of London’s hidden gems, but it was my first visit and truly fascinating.
The Ram’s head is set on wheels and the snuff compartment is made of finely carved silver; apparently it would be wheeled out at the end of a meal on ceremonial occasions; it’s a statement I’d quite like to emulate in many ways but quite what our guests might think if I vanished at the end of a meal and re-emerged from the kitchen pulling a grotesque snuff mull on wheels out I shudder to think.
As a museum, the collection reminded me of the Horniman, in Forest Hill, which, too, is the eccentric collection of a Victorian philanthropist. But Henry Wellcome appears to have had a stronger interest in medical curios, torture implements and sexual traditions; it is quite anthropological. There is an exquisitely and delicately realised ivory anatomical models dating from 17th century France; a skull topped cane that once belonged to Charles Darwin; a hideously violent torture chair from China; an ivory statue from China depicting a couple indulging in a bit of foreplay.
Mr Wellcome appears to have been a man who fascinated in the cultures and traditions of others and resisted the easy temptation of passing judgment.
I, however, cannot resist such a temptation; that Scotsman whose bright idea it was to replace a ram’s brain with snuff was clearly a whisky-sodden lunatic.
NB: The images are from the Wellcome Trust’s own website and all credits are to the institution itself and for the one below to Rama Knight.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
This is rather fantastic and credit goes to Muhajabah, someone whom I follow on Twitter, from bringing it to my attention. It is Barack Obama's motorcade as he sweeps into Wedgwood for his Seattle Backyard Conversation. It goes on and on and on and on and on.
And before anyone blames Obama himself; this is not his fault; his security arrangements are imposed upon him.
A wonderfully entertaining tale has appeared in the Birmingham Mail today; entertaining for me that is, rather than the characters involved.
The wife of John Hemming MP, Christine, has been charged with burglary after breaking into the home of a woman who she believed to be her husband’s lover and stealing the lady’s kitten, called Beauty.
I’ll let the paper take up the story:
‘The Birmingham Mail understands that CCTV cameras captured what appears to be a break-in occurring t the home. It is not known when the offence allegedly took place, but Mrs Hemming is understood to have been arrested by West Midlands Police quite recently.
‘Today’s court case will be a first hearing and theMP’s wife will not have an opportunity to enter a plea. The case is expected to be adjourned to a later date.’
Indeed, she didn't enter a plea.
Mr Hemming is a self-confessed love-rat, having voted for himself as Love Rat of the Year in a poll after he confessed with having a love-child with his personal assistant Emily Cox in 2005. She appears to be the victim of this unfortunate crime. At the time he said the six-year affiar was ‘about number 26’.
In a somewhat plaintive statement released today, Mr Hemming has described his domestic status as ‘unclear’.
‘I would just like the cat back. I have spent some time looking for the kitten and there is a reward for the safe return of the kitten. Her brother Twinkle is pining for her.’
A couple of days ago, while on a visit to the Black Country, the Bank of England governor Mervyn King described the next decade as 'sober - a decade of Savings, Orderly Budgets, and Equitable Rebalancing'.
'No, it will be drunk, Dull Recovery Under Negative Conditions,' Mr Stewart quipped when hearing the description.
It worked better on radio so it had me chuckling.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
After all the horrendous, reckless chopping of George Osborne, let's return to Bill Maher for a bit of alternative reality. The Tea Party is dumb, clueless, idiotic, desperate, pathetic, thoughtless, prattish, dangerous, nutty, stupid and simple.
Who needs the Republicans....
CCTV coverage became widespread, more so than anywhere else on the planet, without a whiff of decent consultation; a DNA database was created which stored the details of every individual arrested, regardless of whether they were convicted of a crime or not; demonstration around Parliament became a crime unless it had prior approval from the police; ID cards were introduced, justified with dishonest statistics and lies about the costs; people were prevented and threatened by police officers for simply taking photographs in the street; laws introduced to tackle terrorism were used to spy on people who put their bins out on the wrong day. These measures were just the starters.
It was the one thing to be hopeful for when the coalition was formed; the libertarian wing of the Conservatives and the Liberal wing of the Liberal Democrats might actually have an impact and reverse the spread of the police state. Indeed, one of the first decisions, which I heartily welcomed, was the cancelling, of ID cards. But it, with much greater haste than Labour, the coalition has already turned its back on civil libertires. appears not to have been the case.
One thing Brown’s government did decide to cancel back in December last year, was a plan to record every email, phone and website visit made by everyone in the country. The Secret Services would have had access to this database, to farm it for suspects and act accordingly. Terrorists would be lumped alongside film sharers, porn watchers, ebay shoppers, Amazon browsers, news gathers, all in one big database pot.
But, buried within the Strategic Defence and Security Review, announced yesterday, it appears the idea has been revived. The paper said:
‘We will introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework’
What this appears to mean, in effect, every phone call, email, text message and website visit can be intercepted and investigated if the security services think it might possibly be a security threat.
In the Coalition’s original agreement, they had an entire section on Civil Liberties on which they promised to ‘end the storage of internet and email records without good reason’.
It doesn’t appear to be worth the paper it’s written on.
I think it was Paul Waugh who first drew my attention to the table above which appears, nicely buried, on page 98 of the Comprehensive Spending Review. It is quite clear and explicit; the bottom ten per cent of earners will pay more as a percentage of their income than every other wage section other than the most very wealthy.
It's hard to look at this graph and think of this section of George Osborne's statement to the House:
'Fairness also means that across the entire deficit reduction plan, those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden. Those with the most should pay the most, including our banks.'
He clearly doesn't mean it, even from his own perspective.
What does the Institute of Fiscal Studies think? They, after all, are highly respected for their independence across the political spectrum; so much so that the Boy George stole their director Robert Chote to become the new head of the Office for Budget Responsibility. This was the case despite the IFS declaring, after doing the number crunching, that Osborne's emergency budget was 'regressive'.
This is what their acting director Carl Emmerson told the BBC today:
'The cuts to public services that the Treasury has been able to model impact those in the bottom half of the income distribution compared to the top. Why is it overall progressive? It's progressive because of the tax measures Labour set out that the new government chose to keep ... The stuff we heard about today, the new stuff today, clearly is not progressive on the Treasury's analysis. It's only once you add it in to the things we heard about in June and the things Mr [Alistair] Darling had already put in the pipeline for next year that it becomes progressive.'
Not particularly encouraging for Mr Osborne.
The Fawcett Society are very unhappy too believing, sadly all too accurately, the CSR will hit women hardest by the public sector cuts. Of local government workers, 75 per cent are women. In the public sector, 65 per cent are women. So of the half a million public sector jobs expected to be lost by the coalition, more than two thirds are going to be women. Last month 75 per cent of women signed on to unemployment benefit than men.
Ceri Goddard, the chief executive of the society, said:
'The cuts are so deep and will hit women so hard that they risk more than women’s financial security – they threaten hard fought progress we’ve made on women’s equality. The Chancellor’s plans undermine the status of women as equal partners with men in the world of work, home and society as a whole.
'The £18 billion a year cuts to the welfare budget, as outlined today and in the recent emergency budget will also see women bear the brunt as benefits typically make up one fifth of women's income as opposed to one tenth of men’s.'
It's quite hard to see how these stack up as fair.
The other big question is whether it will work. The forecast from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research this morning certainly didn't think so and it remains to be seen whether the cuts outlined by the chancellor can actually be pushed through the relevant departments at all.
Here is a fellow who possesses far more political insight and nous than the entire Tea Party movement and another welcome antidote to the ghastly George Osborne, who is sharpening his scissors as I type.
Jimmy McMillan, nicknamed Papa Smurf, is a bit of a fixture in New York elections and is the founder of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party and dominated this gubernatorial debate.
Away from the depressing main news of the day, George Osborne and his machete, I was pleased to be sent a link to a video featuring my local guitar shop this morning.
It’s a delightfully crap video, featuring well-timed winks and truly uninspired people talking about their inspiration.
But what I am eager to know is why there is no mention of the weirdy, new age book shop which used to be in the back of the shop?
That’s a nice phrase for massive cuts as the government wants to cut the budget deficit from its current level of more than 11 per cent by the end of this parliament.
It was the big argument of the general election; cut hard and fast now or recognise cuts need to be made and perform them in a slower, more balanced way. The first course was advocated by the Conservatives, the second by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Along came the reaction, the people spoke and, well, overall, Labour and the Lib Dems won. But that wasn’t the whole story, of course. A coalition between those two parties never added up and the Lib Dems joined a formal coalition with the Tories and at a stroke forgot all their policies.
But will the cuts actually succeed in reducing this deficit as much as George Osborne believes? Or is he, as Labour argue, taking a massive gamble?
The Office for Budget Responsibility, the apparently independent body set up by the Tories, has forecast the budget deficit will have fallen to 2.1 per cent.
But today, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) has issued its own forecast and disagrees arguing the deficit will still by 3.6 per cent of GDP. The main reason for this is cuts will lead to lower growth, and subsequently lower taxes.
It also reckons the remains a one in five chance of a double dip recession with output falling in 2011 as a whole.
Of course, it's just a forecast, but probably not what the Boy George and Beaker wanted to wake to read this morning.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
‘I cannot say I welcome the statement on this cash-driven defence review and I certainly can't possibly dignify it with the word “strategic”.
‘It will be viewed with dismay by our hardworking and operationally oppressed sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen.’
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union:
‘If 25,000 job losses in the Ministry of Defence is what is happening in a so-called protected department, the remaining cuts to be announced in the spending review will be truly devastating.
‘We have serious concerns for the damaging effect these cuts will have on the ability of civilian staff in the MoD to support our armed forces.’
Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament:
‘Pushing this decision [the replacement of Trident] back to after the next election will hopefully allow politicians to catch up with what the majority of the public and a growing number of military voices acknowledge - that nuclear weapons are a costly irrelevance to the threats Britain faces.’
Lieutenant Commander Kris Ward, to David Cameron:
‘I am a Harrier pilot and I have flown 140 odd missions in Afghanistan, and I am now potentially facing unemployment.
‘How am I supposed to feel about that, please, sir?’
His Dad, Commander Nigel ‘Sharkey’ Ward, who won the Distinguished Service Cross in the Falklands:
‘I think this is an absolutely appalling decision which reflects one thing, and that is the intent of the Royal Air Force to take away the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and supplant it with their own land-based capability, which of course it cannot do. So Kris is absolutely right.
‘What is worse is if this Harrier decision does go through and is not reversed, there is possibly going to be an exodus of the cream of our flying boys from the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and we are going to be left high and dry if there is a long gap before the next aircraft becomes available.’
Rear Admiral Terry Loughran, commander of Ark Royal from 1993 to 1994 during the Bosnian conflict:
‘Ark Royal is the best known ship's name to the nation and it's very sad to see the pride of the fleet to go in this way.
‘However, it is the scrapping of the Harriers that gives me the greatest concern and highlights that the review is far from strategic.
‘One has mixed feelings - the nation has its aircraft carriers but it is actually incoherent to get rid of the Harriers in advance of replacing the aircraft.
‘It is not the Navy that will be viewed as a laughing stock, it is the nation that will be viewed as a laughing stock to have built such a capability which reflects the (Government's defence) policy and then not to provide the aircraft to go on them.’
‘The fundamental problem is the public at large do not understand the role of the carriers, they see them as large and expensive.
‘These are still small alongside the American carriers but we actually have two-thirds of the capability for one-third of the cost.
‘They are a thorough defence asset, a national asset, for forging power and delivering humanitarian aid through providing huge flexibility for the whole of the armed forces.’
Professor Malcolm Chamlers, of the Royal United Services Institute:
'The full message that's coming from the government on the aircraft carriers is they wish they weren't in this situation, and if they could have cancelled them and saved a significant amount of money, they would have done.
'But I think there are going to be real difficulties with the morale of people operating that capability knowing that the government doesn't really think they are that important.'
Not exactly ringing endorsements so far. Has the coalition made anyone happy?
What a brave chap Nick Clegg is. Not only has he happily allowed his party to jettison practically all their pre-election policies so they can finally get their filthy mitts on the levers of power, but also today he has gone to Scotland to assure those dock workers who are currently building the two aircraft carriers.
Yes, today brave Mr Clegg went to the Rosyth docks with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore – another Liberal Democrat in the coalition, mainly because the Conservatives have only one MP holding a Scottish constituency – to share the good news with the plucky workers. Modestly, speaking on their behalf Mr Clegg said:
‘The workers are delighted to have heard we have now confirmed that the two aircraft carriers will go ahead because that means their jobs and skills are being safeguarded for the future.’
Yes, I’m sure they are delighted. And I’ll just gloss over the apparent oddness of the decision to scrap the HMS Ark Royal, a move, according to the ship’s former commanding officer Rear Admiral Terry Loughran, as ‘incoherent’ and ‘unstrategic’.
Less delighted will be those workers around Moray as the Nimrod aircraft have been cancelled; Mr Clegg, though, hasn’t bothered to visit those communities though he stresses the government will not ‘abandon the families and communities which are dependent for their jobs and their livelihood on those bases’. They can be reassured knowing how well the Conservatives looked after the industrial north in the 1980s; just think about the joyous, rejuvenated spots which once housed coal mines. Of these closures, and while not bothering to tell them to their faces, Mr Clegg said:
‘There's clearly an impact of some of the decisions we've taken.
‘Cancelling the Nimrod aircraft of course has a knock-on effect on the bases in Moray, but it's not the end of the story.
‘We're not going to abandon the families and communities which are dependent for their jobs and their livelihoods on those bases.
‘For instance, we're looking at the possibility of redeploying military personnel from Germany to the UK and perhaps using the bases for that purpose in the future.’
‘The bases clearly will be affected by the decision not to go ahead with the Nimrod aircraft because the bases are servicing and supporting those aircraft.
What I'm saying is that there are lots of other decisions which we're going to take such as the redeploying military personnel from Germany, which could provide a new future, a different future for those bases.’
Well that sounds well thought through, doesn’t it?
It’s sometimes hard, when living in London, to fully appreciate the joys and opportunities the city presents. Having worked as a hack for more than 10 years in the capital, I’ve often told visitors to avoid the Tube, instead urging them to walk or get buses; street level is the only real way to appreciate London.
But despite repeating such advice till I’m blue in the face, it’s all too easy to miss highlights oneself. Last night my wife and I headed to the Southbank to watch Corinne Bailey Rae in the Royal Festival Hall and it’s hard to think of an artistic quarter anywhere in the world as vibrant, as accessible and as thrilling anywhere else in the world. While a trip to the Southbank is not an infrequent thing for us to do – indeed just a couple of weeks ago we watched a performance by the Congolese dancer/choreographer Faustin Linyekula – every time I visit I am surprised just how successful and delightful a spot it is.
The concert itself was thrilling; if I knew her music better I would pen a review here and now but such is my general ignorance of her songs it would be doing her a disservice. Suffice it to say the musicianship was supreme, the songs infused with jazz, rock, funk, reggae, perhaps a tendency to melodrama, but very satisfying. Bailey Rae’s voice is at turns tender and powerful, full of personal feeling and searching for inventiveness. Perhaps my one criticism is she tries too hard to fill each song with similar inventiveness, but that might be a mite churlish.
While the architecture of the Royal Festival Hall and the Southbank centre divides opinion, in my opinion it really does work. Perhaps Denys Lasdun's Royal National Theatre is just too stark and brutal during the daytime, preferring the more sympathetic light of night; the neighbouring Royal Festival Hall is slightly less domineering. The buildings encourage wide views of the Thames; from the balcony of the fifth floor of the RFH, the view sweeps from the Palace of Westminster, passed the new bridges crossing to Embankment, the Savoy and a host of other fine buildings. The nighttime riverscape was alive with light, colour and life last night. Along the front itself, trees are cut sensitively to provide a natural canopy, dozens of bars and restaurants fill the parade, there a no cars and everyone, absolutely everyone, is having fun. There are art galleries, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, street performers. Public art, public buildings, public access; the only shame is the seat of London government is no longer in County Hall.
Monday, 18 October 2010
There is a tedious tendency around these days who disapprove of the BBC, forgetting its the world's foremost news gathering organisation and for years has been producing some excellent programmes - and BBC3.
So here's song from Mitch Benn mentioning many reasons to be proud of the corporation.
It might serve as a red rag to a bull too....
Project Prevention’s founder Barbara Harris claims she is motivated by concern for children born to drug addicted parents having herself, very laudably, adopted four from borne to crack addicts.
‘I got very angry about the damage that these drugs do to these children,’ she told BBC London’s Inside Out programme.
‘It was unbelievable. Isaiah could not sleep, he couldn’t eat, his eyes were big, noise bothered him, light bothered him. It broke my heart. I was angry at the mum and then my anger turned a little bit to where why did we allow her to do that?
‘Typically, I just say to my critics: “If you believe these women should continue to take drugs and have children, then step up in line and adopt their babies”. It’s that simple.’
Oh, if only it were ‘that simple’. As a project this fails on so many levels it is hard to know where to being. Of course, being born into a family of drug addicts is not at all good for the child; their health and their life opportunities could be severely curtailed. The important word in that sentence though is ‘could’; there is nothing inevitable about it. It’s perfectly possible for that child to grow up healthy and lead a full and productive life.
Then think of the addict themselves. The charity is targeting them at a moment which must find close to, if not at, their very lowest ebb and asking them to take an irreversible decision about their lives. Were the addict to get over their addictions, the clock can’t be turned back. In many ways, not only is the charity saying addicts should not have children for fear of the lives they might lead, it is also saying to the addict themselves that their life is not worth living and is essentially pointless. Considering the report earlier this year that stigma holds back an addicts recovery, such a crushing blow to their self-esteem - already shot to pieces - this cannot help.
Then there is the £200 being offered. Lucky old 'John' is £200 richer and has pledged to spend the money on 'overdue rent and shopping'. I cannot be the only one not to be convinced by this claim. 'John' has been taking drugs since he was 11 or 12 and is still firmly stuck in the grip of addiction. I have no personal experience of drug addiction but £200 is an easy amount of money to spend; it would be a surprise if the vast majority of this cash was not used to buy more heroin to pump into his system.
The actions of Project Prevention either cross or sail very close to the line which demarcates eugenics And of course, the most disconcerting aspect of the whole experiment is where does one draw the line? After all, it’s very well documented that those born into poverty suffer reduced life opportunities and are more vulnerable to abuse? Should we pay the poor not to have children too?
The question can be posed about almost any group anyone might find objectionable and it remains indivisibly unpleasant.
The chief executive of DrugScope, Martin Barnes, spoke eloquently about this case today; I read it after I had written the above and am very pleased it echoes my thoughts precisely. Here is what he said:
‘It is a fundamental principle of the NHS constitution that all treatment should be both informed and consensual; we believe that offering cash incentives to often very poor and marginalised people in return for sterilisation runs counter to this. It is exploitative, ethically dubious and morally questionable.’
Such a practise, he argued, would further entrench ‘the significant stigmatisation and demonization experienced by this group, making it less likely that people will come forward for help and support when they need it most’.
‘And where should the line be drawn? Potential parents experience a range of problems or circumstances which may present risks for the welfare of their babies and children. Who would be targeted next – people who smoke, have mental health problems, or live in poverty.
‘Ensuring access to good quality treatment and welfare and safeguarding systems is the most effective, rational and humane approach to this complex issue, not sterilisation for cash.’
One can only hope that sane voices belonging to the likes of Mr Barnes manage to deter the likes of Barbara Harris and Project Prevention.
One can only hope that sane voices belonging to the likes of Mr Barnes manage to deter the likes of Barbara Harris and Project Prevention.
Thursday, 14 October 2010
David Cameron seems to be a bit off-colour at the moment - particularly so judging from the photograph in today's Guardian where he appears to have been lathering on the same fake tan as David Dickinson and Robert Kilroy-Silk. I can imagine the picture desk scouring images from the drubbing the Prime Minister took during PMQs, just to find an image which captures upon Cameron's visage the supersillious, complacent, sense of entitlement many suspect he actually feels.
But not only was there his lacklustre performance against a surprisingly acid Ed Miliband, but today Just call me Dave has been meeting and greeting Arnold Schwarzenegger. As the pair shook hands by the door of Number 10, the prime minister appearing taller than the Hollywood action man by standing on a step, Mr Cameron and Arnie stood shoulder to shoulder. Facing the assembled hacks and snappers across the street, the Prime Minister said: 'He's going to help me terminate the budget deficit.'
Oh God why? Why would an intelligent man, which Cameron undoubtedly is, inflict this appalling joke on people? There is no punning inventiveness, no display of wit, a display of staggeringly inept timing and a complete absence of originality.
Cameron is often compared to Blair; a reasonable thing to do as both are smooth media operators and have the benefit of not appearing to believe in anything other than their own sense of importance and desire to be at the centre of attention. But it is a demonstration of where Cameron falls very short of Blair, for Tony was a consummate actor who could easily have gone on to the stage or television had he been dealt a different hand. Blair's Comic Relief appearance of 2007 is a case in point:
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
I had a brief conversation with my mother last night and she wasn't impressed with one of the miners being rescued. After the collapse of the mine, 70 long days ago, it emerged that five of those trapped below had mistresses. Indeed, Yonni Barrios, the 21st miner to be pulled to safety, wanted to be greeted by both his wife and mistress which is very diplomatic of him. My mother's reaction was to suggest he should be left inside.
Now, while I sympathise with her motives it's a bit harsh considering that the accepted view of the rescue is that it's one of the great events of our age, a feat of human engineering, bringing a unifying smile to the planet. So bring him up and let him face the music; he'll probably want to go back down pretty sharpish too.
But this does present an opportunity. There were 33 miners trapped down there, 700 metres below the surface. Now the mine is empty it could rather be filled with detritus of modern society, a sort of 'I'm a stain on society, get me down there'. It could be a reality show in reverse. Keep them down for 70 days, then I suppose we could let them out.
So who would I select? Oh the choice is pretty overwhelming. But below is a starter list:
1. George Osborne - see cover of recent Private Eye for obvious reasons
2. Richard Desmond - for being a desperately unpleasant man and purveyor of the most rubbish media empire ever
3. Paul Dacre - for creating the most insidiously nasty paper in the country and making a success of it
4. Margaret Thatcher - the country hasn't recovered from her wrecking of the 1980s so it's the least she deserves
5. Tony Blair - failed to take advantage of the huge opportunities he had and carried out the appalling invasion of Iraq
6. Nick Clegg - for being egregiously unctuous and failing to understand what 'I pledge' means
7. Simon Cowell - Saturday night television was always appalling so that's not his fault but he is far too ubiquitous, supports rubbish music and has scary teeth
8. Russell Brand - for occupying far too many column inches and not being remotely funny
9. Carol Vorderman - simply for her appearance on Question Time, though everytime she opens her mouth these days she only provides more evidence
10. Michael Winner - so we are given a break from the ridiculous chap and I don't get stuck behind his stupid chauffeur driven car in Knightsbridge for a couple of months
11. George W. Bush - I know he's know longer President but being trapped underground for 70 days is the least he deserves
12. Glenn Beck - a fanatically idiotic man encouraging fanatically idiotic people to believe fanatically idiotic things
13. The Taxpayers' Alliance - all of them. They assume to represent taxpayers but they don't. They are rentaquotes, open like taps and if allowed there way would wreck the country more than the ConDems would
14. The Tea Party - for the reasons in the above two points, for being the victims of 12. and failing to be so cunningly appalling as 13.
15. Religious leaders - it could provide 70 days during which they could actually have a chat and settle their differences
16. Richard Dawkins - so he can spend time with 15. and be less of a fundamentalist
17. Jim Davidson - mainly because I remember what a terrible comedian he was
18. ITV - every single channel and all their controllers. Just think, they gave Jim Davidson programmes. ITV3 is excepted because it replays Jeeves and Wooster and Morse
19. Andrew Roberts - the revisionist, Tory, historian who suffers from delusions of grandeur and struggles to see the significant of historical figures other than the great and good, and particularly Churchill
20. Jeffrey Archer - an easy target I know and perhaps yesterday's man. But why not? And he does still write books
21. Liz Jones - the world's worst columnist and yet she still gets paid to write about her tedious life and weird mind. And who the hell ever cared about her disastrous marriage to...
22. Nirpal Dhaliwal - a columnist of equal asininity to 21. and also managed to inflict his ridiculous marriage on people. Then he went to discover himself in India. Sadly he came back
23. Sir Andrew Green - the head of MigrationWatch, purveyor of all things anti-immigrant and litigious too judging from their recent uppity reaction when Sally Bercow was vaguely rude to them during a paper review. But oh God, they are so tediously predictable. And why on earth was he knighted?
24. Peter Mandelson - so he can have a chat with his mate George Osborne and drip poison in each others's ears. And he deserves a little bit of purgatory
25. St. Vince of Cable - he might be a saint but his brazen, staggering, u-turn on university fees shows he has as depressingly little regard for election manifestos as any other senior politician
26. Martin Bell - mainly for being extraordinarily pompous and especially in the Radio Four programme I heard this evening claiming he led a grassroots rebellion to win Tatton in 1997, without mentioning the huge support of Labour and the Lib Dems
27. Simon Hughes - for being a pompous prig on Newsnight this evening. A decent man, but a pompous prig
28. President Sebastian Pinera - the Chilean leader has been outside the bore hole inflicting his hugs on every miner rescued. Poor chaps have suffered enough
29. Geoff Hoon - never was there a more appalling minister. As Chris Mullin once noted, the problem with 'Buff' Hoon is that he would be just as fluent arguing the other side of an argument, yet so lacking in compassion
30. Kay Burley - the only thing they Chilean miners can be really grateful for is Sky News didn't inflict their afternoon anchor upon them
31. Gordon Brown - a decent man but fundamentally unsuitable for the role of Prime Minister and maybe 70 days with this lot might teach him more obvious social skills
32. Axl Rose - he buggered up a great rock n' roll band
33. Jeremy Paxman - so he can sneer at the gathered there down below
PS: John Redwood was nominated but he will probably meet relations and find it too comfortable so he was kept of the list.
Any other suggestions?
For those struggling to remember what a council cabinet is, it was one of those reforms introduced by Tony Blair’s government, championed by John Prescott who promised to ‘hand power back to the people’ when he rose up on his hindquarters to unveil the reforms in those halcyon days of 1998. Councils would have the choice of opting for a directly elected mayor, a cabinet-style council or the status quo. It was a never a particularly successful reform, elected mayors were widely rejected, though there are certainly echoes in the new Conservative government’s desire to give power back to the people. I don’t expect that to work either.
Never ones to shun an opportunity to make themselves sound more important, Westminster Council – then led by Sir Simon Milton with Kit Malthouse as his deputy, the pair now happily ensconced within Boris’ City Hall – plumped for the cabinet option.
But, as the body making all the big strategic decisions for council, it should really be meeting in public. Yet the last public event took place on June 28, three and half months ago. In contrast, however, eight ‘informal’ meetings of the cabinet have taken place on March 8, April 19, May 24, June 7, July 26, September 13 and October 11. All of these took place behind closed doors, with no press or public allowed. The next meeting was scheduled to take place on October 18 but this has now been cancelled. Now, the public have to wait until December 13 to see their cabinet meet in public. It certainly doesn’t appear to be particularly open or transparent.
Mr Dimoldenberg is a worried man. Westminster Council is apparently suffering a black hole of £20million in the wake of the economic crisis. I bet the senior economic figures there are pleased Kit Malthouse, when he was the cabinet member responsible for finance under Sir Simon, never succeeded with his bold pledge of becoming the first council to cut Council Tax to nothing.
And Mr Dimoldenberg wants Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to launch an inquiry into the city council’s secret meetings. I hope the leader of the Labour group doesn’t hold his breath. While Eric Pickles is keen to see the cabinet system swept away and said he would included such a clause in planned local democracy reforms, it’s hard to image the government picking a fight with one of the Tory Party’s flagship councils.
'As Labour slip in the polls, news that Ed Miliband is pocketing more than the PM: http://tinyurl.com/2g7ol9q'
The link was to a Daily Mail article which found that Ed Miliband is set to earn £159,293 this year, 12 per cent more than David Cameron who takes home £142,500. Ed's pay packet includes the £65,738 basic salary as an MP, the extra £73,617 for being the leader of the opposition and the one-off payment of £19,938 paid to ministers who lost their job as a consequence of losing their jobs at the General Election.
David Cameron, of course, is entitled to a wage of £150,000 and has volunteered to cut £7,500 off his salary in this hairshirt times of austerity; how the multi-millionaire descendant of William IV is going to get by is a mystery.
But what is particularly extraordinary about the above tweet is the reference to opinion polls. The General Election was only five months ago and if the coalition can cling on, there won't be another one until 2015 - though that might prove to be particularly tricky. Opinion polls are pretty much irrelevant at the moment. According to UK Polling Report, Labour had a three point lead on October 1; quite unsurprising considering the Labour Party conference finished a day earlier and parties always receive a boost from their annual jamborees.
And the latest figure from UK Polling Report gives the Tories a comparatively healthy seven point lead on 43 per cent, Labour are down to 36 per cent, the Lib Dems on a paltry 12 per cent with other on 8 per cent. The Tories will definitely have had a boost from their own conference - the last of the season - and the so far complete invisibility of the Labour opposition since Ed Miliband's election as leader. He has a bit of leeway to create his own team, policies and direction but he does have to get his act together pretty quickly to fulfill his promises about being a responsible opposition. Having said all that, it's not a particularly convincing lead considering the coalition remains in his honeymoon period.
But, as I wrote above, opinion polls at this stage serve no practical point and for the Tory Party press office to be tweeting about such things is fairly extraordinary. It would appear to reveal jitteriness at the heard of the coalition; the spending review comes on Wednesday and the cuts will bite over the next couple of years. And today, there is an unwelcome report from PriceWaterhouse Coopers which predicts 500,000 private sector jobs will go on top of 500,000 public sector posts; another one million unemployed.
One can only think the Tory press office fear the coalition might have reached the peak of their popularity and are clinging to a positive poll before the real horror of their plans become apparent.
Monday, 11 October 2010
Word reaches me that common sense has prevailed in Hackney, where it has been decided to retain the name of the CLR James Library when the facility in Dalston is moved to a new £4.4million location.
In their wisdom, the original name was to be dropped without any consultation with the black community, or even with his widow. Or indeed, as far as I'm aware, with cricket lovers.
So a campaign swung into action; almost 3,000 people signed a petition calling for the retention of the name and Hackney Council have confirmed the new library will be called the Dalston CLR James Library.
There are, of course, important reasons for keeping the name. CLR James was a remarkable man. A Marxist, a professor, a scholar and a passionate cricket fan. With his great friend Learie Constantine, James infused West Indian cricket with national pride and independence, recountered in his wonderful book Beyond a Boundary, which poses the question 'What do they know of cricket who only cricket know'? - hence the clumsy misquotation above.
The thread of this pride can be seen in the making of Frank Worrell as the first black West Indies captain and through the great line of captains and players from the 1960s to the early 1990s; Sobers, Lloyd, Croft, Richards, Holding, Marshall, Garner, Ambrose, Walsh.
James, of course, retired to Britain and his activities here dated back to the 1930s when he first came to Lancashire and was a friend of that other great cricket writer Neville Cardus.
And having, of course, having a library named after such a literary and interesting figure can only add colour to an area.
Thursday, 7 October 2010
It's a day old but it is still delightfully funny. Kay Burley shows why she is a such an appalling presenter and Harry reveals he's dreadfully rude and doesn't suffer fools gladly. I don't know who to feel more sorry for.
'O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'.
But instead of setting my mind to writing love sonnets to my wife, deep and meaningful haikus or Larkin-like confessionals, I have resorted to limericks, possibly the highest form of the poetry art, and our political leaders seemed the perfect subjects.
So Just call me Dave:
Who told everyone else to save
But he would sip on champagne
Again and again,
While his butler gave him a wet shave
Who was a bit of an unctuous tick
Would fluster and bluster
But couldn’t pass muster
If only he wasn’t so thick.
And slightly rouge Ed:
Of whom little was often said
He was a new generation
But had little penetration
Though at least he said he might wed.
There, I've said it. It needed to be done. It's something I've lived with since I was a child and a birthday treat included a ride and lunch on a steam train. And they do say it's best to acknowledge these things.
But I don't see it as a problem. It's a condition I can live with and with careful handling can provide years of unadulterated, simple pleasure. After all I'm not a complete nutter; I don't own a mac, or hang about in stations with a note book noting down numbers, I don't watch videos called 'The Age of Steam: the Crewe Edition' or collect train books - though I've got a couple - or stick crumpled antique tickets in scrapbooks.
So let's concentrate on the pleasure. As I sat reading my book on my train to London Victoria this morning I glanced up and on the adjacent line was a steam train; The Bittern. For those that are interested it's an A4 Pacific, designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, built in 1937, served LNER and bears the number 60019, having originally been marked as 4464.
The train I was on is symbol of the modern age; shiny, bland, characterless, powered by electricity but bereft of passion. And there on platform 2 was a symbol of an altogether greater age; an immense feat of engineering, a bristling, snorting, piston-pumping, passionate brute of a machine. Standing on the platform were a gaggle of men - it's always men - snapping away on the phones, storing photographs they will barely look on but occasionally stumble across and always provide a flicker of pleasure. A few feet behind them are women, some with prams, several filled with children bawling their eyes out, terrified of the noise, the smoke, the whistles and the steam.
You can be sure in 73 years, there will be no crowds hovering to catch a glimpse of the tediously functional commuter train where we crowded, squeezed in like anchovies.
Modern trains are not built to last; in fact they're barely built to cope with anything like inclement weather. A sniff of a flood or a splattering of snow sees the words 'Delayed' and 'Cancelled' flash up on the display board. Such matters are of little concern to the steam train, able to plough in practically all weather. To prove the point I refer to the wonderful tale of rescue and derring do last winter. One of the harshest in decades, snow laid on the streets of London for weeks at a time, train timetables stripped to the bare bones, delays frequent, tempers frayed. And on one particularly snowy evening last December, trains were unable to leave London Victoria, but on Platform 2 was the Tornado, a proud achievement of recent years being a steam train completed in 2008.
It was heading down to Kent to host special Christmas dinners but rather than being indifferent to the poor commuters stranded in central London it provided a means of escape carrying 100 extra passengers to their homes along the line.
As Mark Allatt, chairman of The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, said at the time:
"Monday’s Cathedrals Expresses were Tornado’s last main line trains of her first year of operations. Not only are we delighted that she was able to brave the arctic weather to haul two of the few trains to run in Kent on Monday but we were pleased to be able to help some of London’s stranded commuters to get home in style."
The only way this story could have been better was if I had been on board.
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
As it happens, I haven’t fled in horror. I do find myself picking up rubbish, reading planning applications posted on lampposts – though once being a local hack this is a bit of a habit anyway – I’ve chaired and AGM and committee meetings, distributed leaflets and even been press-ganged into a murder mystery performance in which I was, very unreasonably, the only character to be bumped off.
It’s quite good fun. One of the most remarkable aspects of the little area of south east London where we moved to three years ago was its very strong sense of community spirit. We dine with our neighbours, go out for drinks with them, fed one another’s pets, we even say good morning to each other and pass the time of day. To be a member of the committee seemed an almost natural thing to do.
What I did not do, at any point, was think 'wow, I should really do this because I'm inspired by David Cameron's Big Society'. The Big Society is a big vacuous hole of nothingness introduced by Tory strategists in the hope the country might not notice the scheming, dogmatic cuts which are about to take place. After all, this is coming from the party whose leader once famously declared 'there is no such thing as society' and spent most the 1980s destroying communities and introducing an underclass.
Volunteering is a wonderful thing to do. But it certainly appears Just Call me Dave's vision of the future seems to see it as something which can replace the public sector, rather than just doing it to make the world that little bit better. An email from Dave was sent to thousands of people shortly after his speech pleading for the 'whole country to pull together'. He wants to 'stir a spirit of national unity and resolve; to lift the national heart to the challenges we share'. It's cringeworthy. We don't need the faux exhortations of the wartime spirit to do a bit of volunteering. And anything I might do has nothing to do with this, or indeed any, government.
So I would hate it if anyone thought I was a member of this committee because of David Cameron. It almost pushes me in quitting the committee and growling at society, just to spite him, though I fancy I might lose more than the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, it would appear the Conservatives are rather sneakily using the Olympics for political gain. Towards the end of his speech Just call me Dave said: ‘Three weeks ago volunteers were asked to come forward to help with the 2010 Olympic Games. You know how many applications have come in? 100.000.’
By complete coincidence, a short while later London 2012 announced there had been 100,000 volunteers for 70,000 places. What an amazing stroke of fortune. They wouldn’t have held that figure back until David Cameron could announce it would they? Lord Coe isn’t a Conservative peer is he?
At the start of David Cameron’s speech today he has a poke at the Conservative’s critics over the last few years and references Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch.
‘Remember what they said about us?’ the Prime Minister said. ‘They called us a dead parrot. They said we had ceased to be. That we were an ex-party.’
It was The Sun in 1998 planted William Hague’s head on the body of an upside-down parrot as it declared the Tory Party dead, but as far as I am aware the Dead Parrot sketch’s first foray into party politics was by Margaret Thatcher, who could kill a joke like no other, at the 1990 conference in Bournemouth.
I don’t know the first thing about the X Factor or Gamu Nhengu, never having watched an episode or heard her sing, but this morning I read that she faced deportation to Zimbabwe after her mother’s visa has expired. They haven’t lived there for five years, her mother trained as a nurse in Scotland and Gamu has spent all her teenage years here. And now the UK Border Agency has declared the her and her family must return to Zimbabwe. A spokesman said:
‘The applications made by Ms Ngazana and her family were considered in line with the published immigration rules. Ms Ngazana’s applications was refused as it did not meet all of the conditions for approval. Her family, who had applied as her dependants, were therefore also refused.’
And with that their fate is sealed. More than 200,000 people have apparently signed a Facebook page calling for Gamu to have another chance on the X Factor, but such appeals are likely to fall on deaf ears.
For the fact is the UKBA is one of the most loathsome organisations in Britain, having emerged during the Labour government in a desperate attempt to appease the hateful, immigration-bashing, tendencies of the Daily Mail and similar papers.
Just the other day by Victoria I watched as a couple of UKBA officers, booted and body-armoured like members of a Colombian militia, hovering on a street corner clearly about to swoop on some poor unsuspecting fellow. They didn't take kindly to me standing and watching them as they glanced furtively around corners.
Almost every day I see new stories emerging from their tediously depressing press office as they proudly proclaim how their 'brave boys' in Dover have prevented a desperate fellow from entering the country after spending thirty hours strapped to the undercarriage of a lorry. Never is there a mention of what might have actually driven a person to undertake such a risk in order to enter the country. Not a word.
Not only does the country deport people to Zimbabwe, we send them back to the Congo, where rape as a weapon of war is hideously frequent, to Iraq, in case you failed to notice it's a peaceful happy place these days apparently, and a whole host of other countries mired in violence, corruption and poverty. Such matters are of little significance to the UKBA.
And they do the job so poorly too. In July, an report found 'significant weaknesses' the agency's family removals section. Another report, released the same day, on Pakistan, found a 'significant number of cases sampled not being decided correctly'. In Chris Mullin's latest diaries (yes, sorry for the umpteenth mention) the most useful thing he appears to do during his final years in parliament is fight for the right of some of his constituents to remain in Britain. In 2009, he was fighting to allow a woman from Benin to remain in this country with her 17-month-old son. The UKBA wanted to deport her to Nigeria, a country in which she had never placed a foot. He writes:
'If she goes she will be destitute. The toddler, presumably, has none of the immunities needed for life in a Nigerian slum. No one seems to have given a thought to what will become of him. It's literally a matter of life and death.'
A few days later, despite Mr Mullin's efforts, the UKBA regional director confirms the deportation will go ahead. He told the MP 'we've been in touch with the Nigerian social services', in a prattish attempt to ameliorate the appalling decision. Goodness knows what has happened to the woman and her child.
And while this new government might talk a good talk, and the end of the detention of children can only be a good thing, they are introducing a stupid and utterly arbitrary immigration cap so now we can start deporting people who have good steady jobs just to avoid going over a number which has been plucked from the ether.
So, after all that, and not really knowing anything about her, I say let Gamu stay, just to spite the UKBA.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Really enjoying watching lefties coming out in defence of top-rate taxpayers, who, they believe, should be receiving benefits
While it is certainly true there is considerable disquiet on the left about the proposed benefit cuts changes, those shouting loudest dwell on the right.
This can be seen with a quick look at today's headlines:
Daily Telegraph: 'Stay at home mothers hit by benefit cut'
Daily Mail:'Fury of stay at home mums'
The Times: 'The benefits revolution: Osborne's political gamble hits Middle England'
Daily Express: 'New "Tax Raid on familes: Child benefit cut will cost middle earners thousands'
Financial Times: 'Osborne risks wrath with child benefit axe'
And not forgetting the Daily Star of course: 'x Factor Katie's kinky naked video'
I imagine it was the last one which cheered the Boy George most over this morning's cornflakes.
UPDATE: Boris at the top tonight, showing his violent side
Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, is clearly no shrinking violent on the football pitch as he has been caught unceremoniously kneeing an opponent in the groin during a football match just yards from the watching eyes of the referee. Clearly he's a bit of a thug.
The game was between the president's eleven and a team led by La Paz Mayor Luis Revilla who, having once been an ally to the left-wing president, is now a critic.
The final score was 4-4, with two players from each side sent off, not including, unsurprisingly, the president himself despite the proximity of the referee to the incident.
His victim, Daniel Gustavo Cartagena, did receive a red card and to make matters worse the president's security detail tried to arrest him after the game. This was only prevented by the intervention of the Le Paz mayor.
Mr Morales is not the only thuggish political footballer that leaps to mind and this provides me with a great excuse to repost Boris' crowning moment as a footballer:
Any other political sporting thugs anyone can suggest would be much appreciated.
Monday, 4 October 2010
As soon as we are off the road, it's green rolling hills, horses grazing, the sound of a shotgun frequently puncturing the air. And all within the M25.
Not far from Keston is the Wilberforce Oak, the spot where, according to legend, anti-slavery campaigner, and one of William Hague's political heroes, William Wilberforce first resolved to campaign against the trade while in conversation with Pitt the Younger, who lived in nearby Holwood House - though that property no longer survives.
The tree now bears little resemblance to the picture above having blown down during a storm in 1991. Now just a young sapling growing from the dead remains of a once mighty tree. Nearby is a bench and an inscription, once spoken by Wilberforce, which reads:
“At length, I well remember after a conversation with Mr. Pitt in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holwood, just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston, I resolved to give notice on a fit occasion in the House of Commons of my intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave-trade.”
It's frustrating not to be aware of such delight snippets of local and national history, but a joy, nevertheless, to discover them and a fitting starter before embarking on the main course of Charles Darwin.
Oddly, for such large property, it's not an architectural gem of house. I suppose too functional, unsympathetic curves, a lack of notable features, too many extensions, sympathetic though they are. But it's in a fine spot with a wonderful garden. It's a bit pricey to get in, however, at £9.30 an adult head; was sorely tempted to join English Heritage there and then.
I was also intrigued by the conflicting names; the house is Down, the village is Downe. According to the excellent guide available - an extra £3.95 - the village, in the 1850s, decided to alter its name by adding the 'e' to differentiate from County Down in Northern Ireland. Darwin decided to depricate the name feeling, not unreasonably, that it would be hard to confuse a tiny little Kentish village with an entire county several hundred miles away on a different island.
A nice little snippet from the latest edition of Chris Mullin's diary, Decline and Fall. Written following the enormous bailout of Britain's banks, on October 8, 2008, there is a certain amount of glee in Mullin's description of the grim faces of Tories, the 'political wing of the City' according to Frank Dobson. Apparently even George Osborne had his smug smile wiped from his face.
Anyway our story resumes in the Tea Room:
'a brief exchange with Alistair (Darling), in good shape despite only three hours' sleet last night. "Congratulations on delivering the 1983 manifesto,' I said.
"Yes," he said cheerfully, "and with Tory support."'
And just a few days later, Monday October 13, Mullin wrote the following entry:
'What extraordinary times we live in. Today, cheered on by the Tory party and the City, we nationalised three high street banks. The headline in tonight's Standard reads "SHARES RISE IN BANKS BUYOUT" over a story which begins: "A wave of relief surged through the City this afternoon after three high street banks were effectively nationalised." Wonderful. Dear old Harry Perkins [Mullin's fictional Socialist Prime Minster in his novel, A Very British Coup] would be green with envy.'
The 1983 manifesto, when dear old Michael Foot was Labour leader, was famously described as the 'longest suicide note in history' by Gerald Kaufman. And there were the sullen faces of the Conservative Party effectively voting for the nationalisation of banks.
It's all to easy to forget, especially during the Tory conference, how voiceless and inept the Tories were during the credit crunch. Against the bailout of Northern Rock and toothless and spineless when it came to the crucial 'Balti Bailout' (so called as it was hammered out over late night curries).