Monday, 30 December 2013

Test Match Debacle or Far-Eastern Betting Syndicate?

A two-horse race between two well-matched runners producing such a one-sided debacle would result in the stewards becoming involved looking for nobbling. 

We know that betting is illegal in India and much of the far-east yet continues on a massive scale. The industry - for that is what it is - runs on a gigantic scale. The criminal masterminds behind the scams and spot-fixing do not get to be in charge without being either very nasty pieces of work or by employing others to do the vicious stuff on their behalf. As in Prohibition Era USA, the ‘crime’ of betting is not seen as being such a bad thing by many citizens. Blind eyes are turned, bribes paid, justice bought and sold and a complete infrastructure established to maximise profits. Legitimate banks of computers are devoted to speeding large sums of currency around the world.

In Britain our regulators have been found to be complacent and way behind the game. The Pakistani spot-fixing affair highlighted an area of betting unbeknownst to our administrators. The idea that a wide would be bowled at a given time or a no-ball sent down between the 6th and 10th overs of a match seems small beer. Until you know the amounts changing hands on just such an incident. There was a spell some years ago when football betting was still in its relative infancy that a popular bet would be the timing of the first throw-in. Hardened pros cottoned onto this in no time and before long the opening minutes of a match would feature an ‘ambitious’ pass from the kick-off just over the head of a winger on either flank. Kerching.

Where betting is legitimate it is somewhat easier to monitor how much is being wagered and on what aspect of the game. A sudden rush of money on an obscure semi-pro midweek game in the Midlands sets alarm bells ringing. This does not apply to the vast majority of the illegal betting industry.

The latest allegations involve a player being paid to get himself sent off. Apparently the ref did not see the first attempt to assault an unfortunate opponent so the poor sod had to be attacked again to achieve the red card. Others are reported to have been paid for yellow cards. Match fixing follows as night follows day. There was a remarkable story of a match in the Russian 2nd division between a side top of the league, hosting one from the bottom who had not won a match all season away from home. The Wednesday before the game a local investigative journalist discovered the plot. The top team would rest many of their best players. They would not attack all game and also they would try to give away free kicks on the edge of their area until one was converted into a goal. At this point the game would die as neither side would attack and the result would stand as a shock 1-0 win to the lowly opposition. Remember this all came out before the game. Most folks would think that having had the fix rumbled there would be a change of plan at the very least. Not a bit of it. The ‘game’ was played exactly to script. And before anyone mounts their white horse and harrumphs all over the place about greedy footballers, there was a far darker side to the story. 2nd Division Russian players are not well paid. The Russian mafia is a powerful organisation with its tentacles in many corridors of power. Players were paid very little to fix the score. They knew their families - their wives and children, mums and dads - were at risk of something horrible happening to them on their way to school, or the shops - if they did not follow the script. 

Corruption is all pervasive. Remember the shock when Hanse Cronje was discovered to be fixing matches? A more upright pillar of the cricketing establishment it would be hard to find.
If Cronje could fix matches, then who else could? And is?

There have been moments of genuine head-scratching in this latest series, none more so than the collapse from a position of strength to one of abject weakness in the last test at the MCG. One incident shines out among the gloom. Ian Bell walked out to bat with England in a bit of trouble having just lost 3 quick wickets. It is a situation he is familiar with. The shot he played for his first ball to an ordinary non-spinning slow bowler takes some believing. A defensive prod? A huge heave? An exaggerated leave-alone? None of these. He chose to gently push a benign delivery 30 yards into the hands of an Aussie fielder. First Ball. 

Others bear scrutiny. When discretion was needed and teamwork partnering Kevin Pietersen was called for we had slogs and appalling shot selection. The non-spinning spinner finished up with 5 wickets.

Now what price would that have commanded in the Indian markets? And what price would the Aussies have got for coming back from so far behind? Great odds.

It is a thought which seems to have left the great commentariat untroubled. 

The alternative? That the England players sheds have gone is also possible. But too much happened on that day three which was inexplicable ----unless the dark side is considered. It should be part of the Inquest.

Update 5/1/14
The shambles that was the second innings this morning confirmed that their sheds have indeed gone. No respectable bookie could risk engaging such an inept bunch of failures in any betting scam.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Food Banks and the Tories

“I went to the Trussell Trust food bank round the corner from the Observer's offices just before Christmas. If I hadn't been reading the papers, I would have assumed it represented everything Conservatives admire. As at every other food bank, volunteers who are overwhelmingly churchgoers ran it and organised charitable donations from the public.

But the coalition is not even prepared to play the hypocrite. Iain Duncan Smith showed why he never won the VC when he was in the Scots Guards when he refused to face the Labour benches as the Commons debated food banks on 18 December. He pushed forward his deputy, one Esther McVey, a former "TV personality". All she could say was that hunger was Labour's fault for wrecking the economy. She gave no hint that her government had been in power for three years during which the number attending food banks had risen from 41,000 in 2010 to more than 500,000. Her remedy was for the coalition to help more people into work.

If she had bothered talking to the Trussell Trust, it would have told her that low-paid work is no answer. Its 1,000 or so distribution points serve working families, who have no money left for food once they have paid exorbitant rent and fuel bills.

But then no one in power wants to talk to the trust. As the Observer revealed, Chris Mould, its director, wrote to Duncan Smith asking if they could discuss cheap ways of reducing hunger: speeding up appeals against benefit cuts; or stopping the endemic little Hitlerism in job centres, which results in unjust punishments for trivial transgressions. In other words, a Christian charity, which was turning the "big society" from waffle into a practical reality, was making a civil request. Duncan Smith responded with abuse. The charity's claims to be "non-partisan" were a sham, he said. The Trussell Trust was filled with "scaremongering" media whores, desperate to keep their names in the papers. But he had their measure.

Oh, yes. "I understand that a feature of your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I'm concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear."

"Ministers will not confess to making a mistake for fear of damaging their careers. But it is not only their reputations but an entire world view that is at stake. Put bluntly, the Conservatives hope to scrape the 2015 election by convincing a large enough minority that welfare scroungers are stealing their money. They cannot admit that a real fear of hunger afflicts hundreds of thousands. Hence, Lord Freud, the government's adviser on welfare reform, had to explain away food banks by saying: "There is an almost infinite demand for a free good."
My visit to the food bank showed that our leaders' ignorance has become a deliberate refusal to face a social crisis. Of course, the volunteers help working families and students as well as the unemployed and pensioners. Everyone apart from ministers knows about in-work poverty. As preposterous is the Tory notion that the banks are filled with freeloaders.
You cannot just swan in. You get nothing unless a charity or public agency has assessed your need and given you a voucher. The trust is at pains to make sure that the beggars – for hundreds of thousands of beggars is what Britain now has – receive a balanced diet. To feed a couple for five days, it gives: one medium pack of cereal, 80 teabags, a carton of milk, two cans apiece of soup, beans, tomatoes and vegetables, two portions of meat and fish, fruit, rice pudding, sugar, pasta and juice. That this is hardly a feast is confirmed by the short list of "treats", which, "when available", consist of "one bar of chocolate and one jar of jam".
Sharon Cumberbatch, who runs the centre, tells me that she is so worried that shame will deter her potential clients that she packages food in supermarket bags so no one need know its source. The clients, when I met them, reinforced her point that they were not the brazen freeloaders of Tory nightmare. They trembled when they told me how they did not know how they would make it into the new year.
Most of all, it was the volunteers who were a living reproof to a coalition that can cannot correct its errors. They not only distribute food but collect it. They stand outside supermarkets all day asking strangers to buy the tinned food they need or hand out leaflets in the streets or plead with businesses to help. Sharon Cumberbatch is unemployed but she works to help others for nothing. Her colleagues said they manned the bank because hunger in modern Britain was a sign of a country that was falling apart. Or as one volunteer, Richard Moorhead, put it to me: "I am gobsmacked that people are going hungry. I'm ashamed."
The coalition can call such attitudes political if it wants – in the broadest sense they are. But they are also patriotic, neighbourly, charitable and kind. They come from people who represent a Britain the Conservative party once claimed a kinship with, and now cannot bring itself to talk to." Nick Cohen 28/12/13 Observer
Another way of putting this is: do not trust the despicable tories and their slimy coalition colleagues. The rich must be protected and saved from paying their rightful amount in taxation. Meanwhile the poorest, the most vulnerable and the weakest in our society have what little they have taken away. 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Trust us

The Coalition Agreement between the LibDems and the Tories back in May 2010 has a few things to say about civil liberties:

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.”

Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.”

“Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.”

As David Bowie sang so memorably this year, ‘Where are we now?’ 

Where indeed.

As the Chilcott Inquiry hits the solid wall of Cabinet obstruction, being met with outright refusal to release papers showing who said what and when in the build up to the illegal Iraq War......

And as David Cameron reneges on an earlier commitment to have a judge-led inquiry into rendition and torture......

And as the deafening silence echoes around Whitehall as revelation after revelation exposes the extent to which GCHQ are deeply in bed with the American NSA --and as our neighbours and reported ‘allies’ become angrier and angrier at the way they have been snooped on.....

And as Jack Straw and the ex-head of MI6 cower behind the execrable ‘defence’ of national security  when the reality seems to be far more national embarrassment or even national crime.....

It seems that there is one law for us, the hoi polloi, and another for them, our rulers. 

Anyone unclear as to why any of this matters needs to wake up and catch up. In our name, innocent people have been sent to so-called ‘black’ prisons around the world where they were tortured. In our name the reverend Blair agreed to send back to Libya a couple of Gaddaffi’s opponents - in fact we sent back their families as well - so they could all be tortured - all so Blair could help his cronies in BP get their grubby little fingers on Libyan oil..... And in our name GCHQ bugs and snoops its way round the world listening in to just about everybody without any by your leave....

It appears that whenever one of our political parties assumes power in the UK they immediately jettison any commitments they made to civil liberties. New Labour were awful. Remember 90 day detention without trial? Now the Tories and LibDems have followed suit.

As for dealing with the secret services we are left with the pathetic toothless club of never was-ers and blazered fools to hold them to account. Really. No rigour, no transparency and no chance.

So what is the answer?

It is absolutely clear there is no way we can trust our leaders - of whatever persuasion - to do the right thing. The answer will have to come from outside Parliament.

A massive campaign of Reform, or...

Failing that revolution will follow - with all the uncertainties and unforeseen consequences and correlated damage which will do irreparable harm to the nation. 

So reform it is then.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

What Would Mandela Do?

Listening to the shower of humbuggery cascading from the tory benches this week at the Mandela eulogy,  stretched credulity way beyond reasonable. The unprincipled and shameful support of apartheid, cheer-lead by Thatcher, Tebbit et al - was mysteriously forgotten. No surprise there - this bunch are adept at rewriting truth and would have amazed even Orwell with their terminology. 

As events unfold with continued attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society this government is turning out to be one of the nastiest and divisive in our history.

Not convinced? Compare and contrast. 

Homeless numbers = up. Bankers responsible for financial chaos = untouched.
Food bank take up = up. Bankers arrested for fraud = none.
Children in poverty = up. Tax avoidance = increasing and encouraged.
Benefits supplementing income = widespread and essential. Labelled ‘scroungers’.
Millionaire cabinet introduce bedroom tax.  No mansion tax for the wealthy. 
NHS under siege.   Private medicine = encouraged.
Over 1 million young unemployed.  Rich offspring can take up unpaid internships.
Zero hours contracts = up.       CEO’s paying themselves mega bucks = up.
Distrust of politics/politicians = up. Policies of all 3 main parties alike. Leaders ‘out of touch.’
Public sector = hammered.         Private companies can do no wrong - despite doing         
                wrong.      Again and again and again.

Mandela did not simply campaign for freedom. He was also indomitable on poverty and the causes of poverty. With his experience he had a deep sense of injustice. The cutting back on legal aid for the poorest whether in civil cases, employment tribunals or the criminal justice system is yet more evidence of squeezing the poor. 

The more the suits spoke, the vaster the gulf appeared between them and Mandela.

In all this unfairness and division there is one over-riding fact which should be borne in mind at all times:

We are many - they are few. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Do Tories Teach Their Children To Share?

And If So, Why?          

Thanks to Busfarehome (Guardian Online) for the thought

This little gem arose in a discussion thread following an article reporting Boris Johnson’s support for Gordon Gekko and hailing greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity.”

He is yet one more ‘swivel-eyed loon’ to fawn at the feet of Thatcher somehow forgetting that it was the Tory party who defenestrated her. 

“Johnson called for the rich to be hailed for their contribution to paying for public services as he said that the top 1% of earners contribute 30% of income tax. "That is an awful lot of schools and roads and hospitals that are being paid for by the super-rich. So why, I asked innocently, are they so despicable in the eyes of all decent British people? Surely they should be hailed like the Stakhanovites of Stalin's Russia, who half-killed themselves, in the name of the people, by mining record tonnages of coal?"
The mayor added: "It seems to me that though it would be wrong to persecute the rich, and madness to try and stifle wealth creation, and futile to stamp out inequality,Guardian 28/11/13

There is an alternative to BoJo’s greed manifesto.

Collect in all the tax from the tax-avoiding mega rich and corporations.

Cancel Trident.

Put the basic rate of Income Tax up to 60% for all those getting (note, not ‘earning’) over a million p.a.

Levy a 90% tax on Banker’s Bonuses ....... and Hey Presto!

Crisis? What crisis? 

Austerity? Who needs it? 

Isn’t ‘sharing’ grand? 

This is the last blog for a while as an appointment with the surgeon awaits. The knee that has been such a pain for the past four months is about to go under the knife. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

446 Fatalities and Rising

To date, well over 400 British forces personnel have been killed in Afghanistan. The war that began with the then Defence Minister, John Reid’s statement that “not a shot will be fired in anger” is coming to an end. The lies and half-truths we have been fed are not quite on the same scale as the Iraq debacle - but not by much.

And for what principled cause have these brave young warriors sacrificed their lives and brought sadness to their families and friends?

Seemingly to bring back stone age attitudes and values.

“A senior British minister has called on the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to block a draft proposal to put stoning on to the country's penal code as punishment for adultery.

The international development secretary, Justine Greening, who has made cutting violence against women a priority for the government's aid operation in Kabul, met the Afghan leader the day after news surfaced of the proposal to revive one of the most gruesome practices of the Taliban era.

The stoning of women in a Kabul stadium, during the half-time break of football matches, became a symbol of the fundamentalist group's harsh rule.” Guardian 26/11/13

Great that. Notice the ‘stoning of women’ by a regime and a religion who are so petrified of women, to the point of killing them in the most barbaric fashion imaginable. These little-willied men have thought it all out. The size of stones is strictly controlled. Too small – and they will not be lethal. Too big – and they will kill the victim far too quickly. 

If you are going to use a barbaric and cruel punishment, then it is best to use it most effectively - otherwise what is the point?

The ideal size apparently are rocks and pebbles about the size of a tennis ball. 

As Little Willy Hague and Call Me Dave stood in all their solemnity at the Cenotaph recently, did it cross their tiny little minds that all the recent deaths in foreign wars have been pointless? 

Did they not have the tiniest smidgeon of doubt when they pinned on their poppies? 

Or are they happy to continue working as corporate whores for the arms industry?

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Labour and the spooks

There will be those among us who have wondered why, with all the revelations of spook skullduggery and invasion of privacy, the Labour Party have been so silent. Indeed they recently went so far as to endorse the government line. 

Well wonder no more. 

The latest revelations from Snowden show that the UK government signed a deal with the yanks,letting NSA have access to all UK citizens emails, phone records, fax numbers and IP records. It is reported that the deal was struck with the then Foreign Secretary. The deal was signed in 2007. Margaret Becket was Foreign Secretary at the time though it is likely that the groundwork was done by her predecessor, Jack Straw. And who was the Prime Minister? Step forward Reverend Blair, the madman with a mission.

NewLabour engaged in a ‘my willy’s bigger than yours’ battle with the Conservatives over Security and Anti- terrorism laws. So much so that the Coalition Agreement came up with the following:

The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.

Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

Further regulation of CCTV.

We now have secret courts; protesters being harassed by the police and authorities and little Willy Hague defending state snooping with the ridiculous ‘If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.’ And CCTV even more widespread.

The intoxication of power appears to be far greater and to last far longer than the values of liberty and freedom. 

Or, more sinisterly, Ministers fall under the blackmail threats of the spooks. If they have access to all phone records and emails, they will have access to some very juicy revelations and evidence of wrong-doing. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Chilcot Inquiry Sinks Into the Sand

Matt Carr: Author, freelance journalist and blogger
In the last fortnight a number of media commentators accused Russell Brand of naivete and political ignorance for his criticisms of the democratic system and the limitations of the right to vote.
This week however, the British public were presented with further evidence of how hollowed-out the democratic process has become, when the Chilcot Inquiry revealed that it was being denied access to 25 notes sent by Tony Blair to George Bush, and 130 documents relating to conversations between the two architects of the Iraq War, in addition to dozens of records of cabinet meetings.
There is no more serious decision that a government can take than a declaration of war, and there is no more serious test of a democracy than the ability to hold its leaders to account over why and how such decisions are taken, especially when a war is declared on false pretenses and results in a tragic and bloody disaster of the magnitude of the Iraq War.
The Chilcot Inquiry was established by Gordon Brown with the fairly mild remit to establish 'lessons' from the Iraq war, rather than 'apportion blame.' Much to its own surprise no doubt, it has shown more teeth than anyone expected, to the point when its investigations threaten the reputations - and the cash flow - of those responsible.
Today these noble statesmen have moved on. Bush now paints pictures of dogs and puppies, and makes donations to an organization that seeks to convert Jews into Christians. When he talks about Iraq at all it's only to say that like Edith Piaf and Dick Cheney, he doesn't regret anything.
Nor does his partner-in-crime, the Right Honorable Tony Blair, peace envoy and all-round money-making machine, who just gets richer and richer, and continues to urge on new wars with the same combination of bug-eyed fanaticism, ignorance and deference that once produced such sterling results in Iraq.
This week he picked up £150,000 for an hour-long speech in Dubai, whose subject, apparently, was something called 'global affairs'. To paraphrase Churchill, never in the field of human history has one man earned so much from the deaths of so many.
And people are still dying in the broken country and interminable battlefield that Iraq has become. This week, 67 Shi'ite pilgrims were killed and 152 more wounded in sectarian attacks on the Ashura celebrations in Karbala.
This year, more than 6,000 people have died in Iraq - exactly ten years after it was 'liberated' and its society effectively destroyed by the madcap free market experiment, the incredibly botched occupation, the lies and manipulations, the death squads, the suicide bombers and all the other disastrous consequences of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
That matters, and should matter most of all in the countries that made it happen. Yet now we find that the inquiry established to 'learn lessons' from the war will not be able to know what the two men most responsible for this bloody debacle were saying to each other, or what Blair was saying - or not saying - to his cabinet.
If a democratic society cannot establish mechanisms to hold its elected officials to account over a war that amounts to one of the greatest foreign policy disasters in British history - a war that according to the Nuremberg Trials amounts to a war of aggression and the 'supreme crime', then it is not serious.
If such a society allows those responsible to cloak themselves in secrecy on spurious grounds of reasons of state that are designed to protect them from scrutiny - then such a democracy is essentially a simulacrum, an elite-managed spectacle, a Derren Brown magic trick that provides the illusion, but not the substance of public participation in the political process.
It means that democracy is a kind of theatre, in which the public is allowed to play a limited role, like the audience in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or Strictly Come Dancing, and press a buzzer for this party or that party, but it cannot be privy to the backrooms where politicians and civil servants take decisions without consultation and without explanation.
That is why it matters that the US state department and Whitehall are conniving to keep Bush and Blair's machinations under wraps. One of the key individuals who is blocking the Chilcot Inquiry's access to key documents is Sir Jeremy Heywood, the UK's most senior civil servant, formerly private secretary to Tony Blair during the lead-up to the Iraq War.
To expect such a man to behave otherwise is a bit like expecting Macbeth to hold a public inquiry into the murder of King Duncan.
But Heywood should not be allowed to get away with it, and nor should the Coalition, which is also complicit in this cover-up. All of them clearly hope that Chilcot will just go ahead without these documents and produce some polite and-all-very British pseudo-criticism that Blair can agree to and no one will pay any attention to.
Then everyone will agree that lessons have been 'learned', when we won't have learned anything at all.
We shouldn't let this happen. Because it isn't just about them and it isn't just about Iraq. It's also about us. And if a government can get away with this, it can get away with anything.
Huffington Post 16/11/13
Cameron has just been accused of ‘throwing stones in a glasshouse’ by the President of Sri Lanka. Reading this article, the despot has a point.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Tories rewrite history

“The Conservatives have removed a decade of speeches from their website and from the main internet library – including one in which David Cameron claimed that being able to search the web would democratise politics by making "more information available to more people".
The party has removed the archive from its public website, erasing records of speeches and press releases from 2000 until May 2010. The effect will be to remove any speeches and articles during the Tories' modernisation period, including its commitment to spend the same as a Labour government.” Guardian 14/11/13

Don’t quote us on that: Tory pledges
* No big NHS reorganisation
'With the Conservatives there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down restructures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS'
David Cameron, 2009
(Andrew Lansley went on to launch one of the largest reorganisations in NHS history)

* Protecting Sure Start centres from closure
'Sure Start will stay, and we’ll improve it. We will keep flexible working, and extend it'
David Cameron, 2009
(Labour claims more than 400 Sure Start centres have been shut since the Coalition came to power) [Cameron’s constituency is set to lose one - he was challenged by campaigners this week] 

* Reforming the lobbying industry
'It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. I’m talking about lobbying. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism'
David Cameron, 2010
(The Government’s Lobbying Bill will not tackle in-house lobbyists and/or regulate contacts between special-interest groups, government advisers and most civil servants)

* Becoming the greenest government in history
'There’s increasingly an argument being aired that the public might put up with the green agenda when the going’s good, but not now that the economy is slowing and they’re feeling the pinch. But [that] should make it even more urgent that we act'
George Osborne, 2008
(Tories in government are enthusiastically pushing a “dash for shale gas” as an alternative to what they see as expensive green energy)

* No cuts to child benefit
'I like the child benefit, I wouldn’t change child benefit, I wouldn’t means-test it'
David Cameron, 2010
(The Coalition later abolished the benefit for higher earners and froze it for three years)
Independent 14/11/13

Update Friday 15th 
The Conservatives have changed their mind and restored their website. Fancy that!

They have managed the remarkable feat of reminding us what a lying bunch of bastards they are.. yet their broken pledges are still on line. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Sri Lanka: supporting tyranny

I was lying awake in the small hours a couple of nights ago trying to drift back to sleep. ‘From Our Own Foreign Correspondent’ came on the radio. FOOFC is a beacon programme from the BBC, which radiates professional journalism of the highest calibre allied to values of decency and humanity. Drifting off was out of the question as the journalist - sorry, did not catch her name - outlined a catalogue of horror from Sri Lanka. 

The coverage of the mainstream BBC News media has been to challenge the Sri Lankan government about events that took place towards the end of their 30-year civil war with the Tamils. The item is introduced in guarded terms, “both sides did terrible things to each other,” etc to which the government spokesbod invariably replies indignantly that the Sri Lankan government have never been involved in torture and similar flat denials.

The 5 minute catalogue of terror in the small hours was not about events towards the end of the war. It was about what is happening now. Today. In Sri Lanka. Police and security officials behave with impunity knowing they have the support of those in the highest positions in the government. Torture, beating, rape, disappearances, mutilation and mock executions are an everyday occurrence. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for an Inquiry into events which took place as the war ended and they have also put on record the testimonies of the many victims who are still suffering. 

None of this is unknown. Teams of journalists in Sri Lanka to cover the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting have been threatened by mobs of ‘government loyalists.’ The campaign of harassment broke pledges given by the Sri Lankan President before the event. The Chief Justice was been forced out of office by the Sri Lankan government. Journalists and editors have been killed for opposing the government. Police and security services have powers of unlimited detention. There has been a growing campaign of attacks and threats towards minority religions backed by the regime. 

Our government could have followed the lead of Canada, Mauritius and India and refused to give these torturers and abusers the fig leaf of respectability craved by despots throughout the ages. That they didn’t is perplexing. Do Hague and Cameron know what they are doing? By their very presence they are endorsing the abuse of the rule of law in the country. Cameron claims that he will raise the issue of an Inquiry into the end of the war but has said nothing about what is happening today. Cameron’s approach was dismissed in unflattering terms by a different Sri Lankan spokesbod. 

One thought: as the Arab Spring was in its infancy, Cameron and Hague set off on a small tour of the Middle East - flogging arms.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

John Major: he is the boy eh?

Just after throwing a well-aimed spanner into Cameron’s PR machine with his call for a windfall tax on greedy energy companies, Major’s gone and done it again. This time he has pointed out what most sentient beings had noticed - that our government is dominated by posh toffs from public schools. That this has taken so long to hit the headlines is largely down to a media who feature a significant number of chinless charmers themselves. Even when Nadine  ‘LOOK AT MEEE!’  Dorries described Osborne and Cameron as being ‘two posh boys who do not know the price of milk’ the fuss lasted barely a day. 

Then up pops one of the few politicians to merit ‘elder statesman’ to state the obvious. And lo! There is concern around the land. Scribes scribble and pundits ponder...
Or not. 93% of our population did not attend public school. 

To be judged by your ability, your performance and your character is the norm for most of us. The idea of relying on relationships, contacts and networks established before you were fully formed is not only weird, it is also anti-meritocratic. A glance at the loathsome picture of the Bullingdon boys says plenty about their values too. 

It is not just that we are run by a cosseted elite. Many of them have never had what is commonly known as ‘a proper job.’

“In recent years, we have witnessed the 'rise of the spad' - the special advisers who went from carrying ministers' bags to becoming MPs and then ministers themselves. The leaders of all three major political parties - prime minister David Cameron, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and leader of the opposition Ed Miliband - were all spads prior to securing seats in the Commons.
So, how many cabinet and shadow ministers can claim to have worked in the 'real world', rather than the cosy political bubble of Westminster?
A HuffPost UK analysis of the employment backgrounds of the 33 people who attend cabinet found that 11 of those ministers (33%) worked, at some stage, as special advisers, political researchers or speechwriters before being elected to parliament. For Labour, it's an even higher proportion: the current shadow cabinet consists of 32 people, of whom 14 (44%) worked in politics, as spads or researchers, before joining the Commons or the Lords.” Huffington Post 14/11/13

For many of these bright young things, politics is a jolly game and the differences between public school educated tories and public school educated labour politicians is slight. 

The consequences of something as brutal as the bedroom tax are way beyond their ken.

Monday, 11 November 2013


Islay had the first wave-power machine in the world which, for a prototype, worked reasonably well but it ‘died’ principally for lack of public funding. It was built in 2000 and was shut down in 2012. 

                          Wave Machine - now closed
Given the huge amounts of public money currently directed towards ambitious renewable projects, the experience with the wave machine has been salutary. Politicians who came to laud the wave machine soon dropped it and turned instead to wind.

Scotland’s First Minister, ‘Wee Eck’ Salmond, has stated that he wants Scotland to be self-sufficient in renewable energy by 2020. He went on to say that he thought Scotland could become ‘the Saudi Arabia of renewables - exporting energy to other parts of Europe.” Hmmm. Granted there has to be some seedcorn spent in developing new technologies but – and it is a huge BUT – the subsidies should be realistic and not over-egg the development. Huge power companies like SSE(R) have seized the opportunity for risk-free investment. 
Marine Scotland Map showing Offshore developments planned for Islay
The map (above) from Marine Scotland, shows the extent of potential offshore development off the west coast of Islay. The Tidal Energy project is well on the way with a formal planning application due to be handed in on the 13th December. The SSER Wind Array scheme application is due in by August 2014. As this has already slipped by a year it will be interesting to see whether the deadline is delayed further. 

It was the shenanigans of SSER, in alliance with Argyll & Bute council, not forgetting the ineptitude of SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage), to get a ‘met mast’ built for their offshore wind development, that stirred Power4Islay into being.

The Islay Offshore Wind Array is scheduled to have 138 massive turbines, 7 miles off the coast. They will be easily visible from Islay’s wild west coast. There are considerable difficulties to be overcome. The sea area is adjacent to some of the roughest waters in the UK. When the wind direction is opposite to the tidal flow, enormous overfalls develop which are potentially very dangerous for shipping. Conditions at sea will test the structure and build quality of the turbine towers. Any power generated then has to be transported by special cable to the mainland - a very expensive process. Maintenance and repairs will not be easy, particularly in the winter months. 

As for wave power there are no plans as yet put forward. A lot of this technology is in its infancy and is still being developed as is the tidal turbine technology. The Tidal Turbine ‘Farm’ planning application from D P Energy has plenty of ‘maybe’s’ and ‘probably’s’ as they honestly accept they are proposing to do something that has not been done before. All the prototype turbines currently in use are single machines. The difficulties of linking 15 - 30 turbines out at sea, and then transporting the power to the mainland will be considerable. D P Energy have estimated they will need 20km of undersea cable just to link up their turbines. These cables will be laid in an area of fast-flowing tidal current - precisely the reason the site has been chosen - and their electro-magnetic presence will create as yet unknown consequences. If successful, D P Energy plan to extend the number of turbines to 400. They are currently swithering between having all undersea turbines (which Power4Islay prefers) to turbines with towers sticking well out of the water, or a mixture of both. A similar planning application to build a house would not grant the time of day to an application which said ‘we may build a bungalow or a block of flats - we are not sure yet!’ 

Power4Islay are in the process of lobbying Marine Scotland to ensure that all decisions made concerning renewable energy in the Islay area are clear and transparent. The deadline for submissions to Marine Scotland is this Wednesday (13 Nov. ’13). Comments, observations and concerns can be sent to 
Marine Scotland are a relatively young body tasked with the job of overseeing the administration and authorisation of the offshore development schemes. 

As a government department they will be under pressure to do the First Minister’s bidding. As concerned citizens it is our role to ensure that this is not done at any price - financial or aesthetical.



Sunday, 10 November 2013

Chilcott Scandal

“When it was set up in 2009 by Gordon Brown, the inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot into how Britain went to war in Iraq was supposed to take a year to complete. Four years later, it appears no closer to drawing to a close, with some wondering whether it will ever report. The inquiry, which has cost £7.4m so far, was designed to examine the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003 and its aftermath, and covers an eight-year period between 2001 and 2009. At the heart of the latest delay is the refusal by the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to release records of some 130 conversations between Tony Blair, his successor, Brown, and then US president, George W Bush.
Included among the records being sought, according to a letter sent to David Cameron and published on the inquiry's website, are "25 notes from Mr Blair to President Bush" and "some 200 cabinet-level discussions", which are also being withheld.” Observer 10/11/13

Government shenanigans and rampant hypocrisy are vomit-inducing. Today at 11-00am our third-rate leaders will put on their solemn face, stand gravely to attention and ‘honour’ the dead of two world wars - not forgetting numerous other ‘engagements.’ There will be talk of 'dying for freedom.' There will be talk of 'not dying in vain.' There will be talk of 'the debt we owe.' Anyone within earshot of one of our duplicitous leaders spouting such garbage should be entitled to pour a bucket of said sick over the offender. 

Judge them by what they do.

“There is an ugly irony in the British government repeatedly telling us if we have nothing to hide we have nothing to worry about in relation to their widespread surveillance of citizens, but when it comes to the former leader of the country this espousal of transparency and accountability is not required.

The hypocritical shield for the perpetrators of what was a war of choice and therefore surely illegal has naturally contributed to the disillusionment and cynicism of the electorate. There is something rotten in the State of Denmark and forefront and centre stands Tony Blair. The deep state is still working against the interests of the people and anyone who cares about democracy should be deeply worried.

Blair is tarnished beyond repair and his latest incarnation as the PR spinmeister for some of the most despotic tyrants of the world indicates that the hubris and folie de grandeur that enabled Blair to tell us that God was informing his every decision has remained the hallmark of this dangerously superficial and deceitful man. Everything that he touches is shredded: from his expense accounts to his relationship to the truth and the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and the British troops too that he sent into battle with substandard equipment. The messianic and grotesque actions of this charlatan will be his abiding legacy- and must never be forgotten.

What is also indicative of a deep malaise at the heart of our system is the knowledge that there has been no admission of guilt for the illegal rendition of Libyan informants by the Blair regime and yet they were financially compensated. We are in a mess.

I was hoping against hope that Chilcott would contribute to the definitive search for truth, but now things are looking like the archetypical inquiry of this kind- a hat trick. What price democracy?
Ineluctable2u Observer 10/11/13

What price democracy indeed. 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Paxman lights the fuse

The Graham Norton Show last week was unusual for the interlude towards the end of the programme when a serious discussion broke out. This followed the usual showbiz banter and the puffing of the latest disc/movie/tour by Elton John, Dame Judy Dench and John Bishop. At this point Paxman arrived to promote the book he has written about the First World War. Not being an easy subject for jokes, the mood swiftly changed. Discussion centred on the ‘lions led by donkeys’ line which Paxman argued was mainly a creation of the 1960’s, particularly arising from ‘Oh What a Lovely War.’ 

The focus veered onto modern UK politics and Paxman gave vent to his feelings. He had recently interviewed Russell Brand and had been energised by the encounter. Brand had poured torrents of disdain on our political system. He despised our politicians and urged revolution. This, in turn, had provoked the bubble-dwelling chattering classes to circle their wagons and pour scorn and derision on Brand. Paxman expressed himself less than content with our current politics and politicians. John Bishop interjected that no-one should become a politician until they have had at least one proper job. This brought a roar of recognition and agreement from the audience. 

So far a storm in a teacup. Then yesterday, the PM programme under its intelligently astute presenter Eddie Mair, turned up the volume. Paxman has written an article in the Radio Times about his meeting with Brand. 

"There is a huge sense of disillusion out there. At the next election we shall have a choice between the people who've given us five years of austerity, the people who left us this mess, and the people who signed public pledges that they wouldn't raise student fees, and then did so – the most blatant lie in recent political history," wrote Paxman.
"It won't be a bombshell if very large numbers of the electorate simply don't bother to vote. People are sick of the tawdry pretences," said the presenter who dubbed the "whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster … a remote and self-important echo-chamber". Guardian 5/11/13 (my emphasis)

Mair trailed the item throughout the show giving snippets occasionally. It concluded with three Westminster worthies, Ming Campbell, Margaret Hodge and Tim Lawton, navel gazing together. The only one with anything of note to report was Hodge who had been threatened by the BNP in her Barking constituency and had taken them on by going down to pavement level and engaging with people on local issues and concerns. The other two typified the problem. Ming was back to his patrician best although he did admit that all three parties had shared values nullifying any sense of difference.  

The Falkirk fiasco has lifted a lid on the wheeling, dealing and downright skullduggery that takes place at constituencies up and down the country. Under our archaic system, barely 150 seats make a difference. 500 seats are in effect ‘safe’ and the selection process of the main parties candidate is everything. This at a time when party membership is collapsing. One of the outcomes is the flying in of ‘bright young things’ who left uni, went straight into Westminster as a researcher or adviser, crept, licked and crawled up the greasy pole, then became eligible for a safe seat. We are drowning in mediocrity. Perhaps not quite as bad as the old Rotten Borough days .....but there is not a lot in it.  

In last week's Newsnight interview, Brand asked Paxman: "Aren't you bored, aren't you more bored than anyone? Ain't you been talking to [politicians] year after year, listening to their lies, their nonsense, then it's this one gets in, that one gets in, but the problem continues? Why are we going to continue to contribute to that facade?"

Revolutions rarely turn out as hoped for. Egypt and Tunisia are two recent examples. But Reform, that is something else. A group of people united under the banner of Reform could surf this wave of disgust and throw out a great many placeholders and selfservers. 

There is plenty of time. Mair has promised a regular return to this subject.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Nick Cohen nails IDS

“Men lie for many reasons: to boost their ego, to hide their failings and to advance their ambitions. The sole impressive characteristic of Iain Duncan Smith – the winch that lifts him out of his otherwise incurable mediocrity – is his ability to lie for every reason imaginable, even when he knows his audience must find him out. If he told me that two plus two made four, I'd ask for a second opinion.

Last week, the work and pensions secretary announced on his department's website that he was "very pleased that the supreme court unanimously upheld" his programme to force the unemployed to work without pay or lose their benefits. "Ultimately, this judgment confirms that it is right that we expect people to take getting into work seriously."

If the judges had Duncan Smith before them, they could accuse him of the old misdemeanour of suppressio veri: the suppression of a truth he was duty bound to disclose. Nowhere in the government's propaganda did Duncan Smith admit that the supreme court had, in fact, found against him on every ground of appeal he had raised. Even though he had protected his department's hard line on the young by rushing through retrospective legislation, the supreme court still hammered him. The government had not provided "sufficient detailed prescribed description" of the work placement schemes on offer, the judges said. The unemployed could not make an informed decision on how best to find work. Their ruling will help young people Duncan Smith's department had pushed into quack schemes on pain of losing their benefit. As Public Interest Lawyers, the rather inspiring firm of solicitors that took on the test case said: "You should not believe the DWP when it says that the judgment makes no difference. Jobseekers who have not been provided with adequate information can now seek the repayment of their benefits."

Without a shred of hope of receiving a coherent answer, I asked a flak-catcher in the Department for Work and Pensions press office to explain his master's behaviour. Why had Duncan Smith just said that the supreme court had ruled that he was not guilty of pushing the young into "forced labour", but failed to add that it had condemned him on every other point? The wretched man blocked, stammered, dodged and weaved. I almost felt sorry for him. There must be better ways of making a living, even in these hard times.

If you think that such deceits are the normal stuff of politics, consider the story's sequel. As Duncan Smith realised he was losing the case, he went on the BBC to denounce Cait Reilly, one of the claimants who was challenging him in court. Despite receiving benefits, the 24-year old had refused to work for nothing in Poundland, he claimed. She was part of "a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff". A "job snob", in other words; a scrounger, who was not prepared to get off her backside and put in the hours necessary to secure remunerative employment.

If he had checked his facts, a task that seems beyond him, Duncan Smith would have discovered that Ms Reilly had been a volunteer at a Birmingham museum. She worked there gratis because she hoped one day to be taken on by a museum or gallery. Reilly objected to Duncan Smith's minions taking her out of the museum and sending her to Poundland instead because they were stopping her fulfilling her ambition for no reason at all.
Maybe I am over-sensitive, but I find the spectacle of a powerful old man falsely condemning an honourable young woman distasteful in the extreme. Duncan Smith threw out any allegation that came into his head just to do her down. On second thoughts, that is more than distasteful – it is disgraceful.

As I have mentioned before , Duncan Smith has form. He claimed that around a million people have been stuck on a working-age benefit for at least three out of the past four years, despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work. His claim was false. He claimed that his benefit cap had encouraged 8,000 people to find work. Not true either as the UK Statistics Authority pointed out in a stinging reprimand .

Why doesn't he give us a break? The short answer is that his department is falling apart and he has to spin and bluster to cover the shambles he has presided over. His once-grand plans for a universal credit to cover the whole country have shrunk to a pitiful pilot project. Hailed by Duncan Smith and rightwing London as the incentive that would propel the unemployed into work, universal credit has become Whitehall's equivalent of a layabout yob: nothing can make it work. His equally overhyped "reform" of disability welfare payments looks as if it is going the same way.

There is a danger here of seeing Duncan Smith's failures as examples of Tory dishonesty and bureaucratic incompetence. But we should not lose sight of the human suffering that accompanies them: the thousands driven to food banks because Duncan Smith's department cannot pay their benefits; the cheapskate firms that, with Duncan Smith's connivance, tell the chronically ill that they are fit for work when they are no such thing.
In Matthew D'Ancona's history of the coalition, George Osborne says: "You see Iain giving presentations and realise he's just not clever enough." He most certainly is not. Yet there is no pressure from the British right to remove him from office. On the contrary, Tories acclaim Duncan Smith and Michael Gove as the coalition's two heroes. As well as bellowing to hide his all-too evident weaknesses, Duncan Smith spins to encourage his supporters, who, incredibly, still admire him and praise him as a great reformer.

That he still wins such praise tells us much about the British right. It cannot believe any more that Duncan Smith is ending welfare dependency. It can no longer pretend that his tough love is helping the unemployed into work. His great schemes are in ruins. His reputation for probity is in tatters.

Conservatives continue to admire Iain Duncan Smith, nevertheless, for one reason and one reason only: he is cutting the money going to the poor, the sick, the handicapped and the young. That's it. That's all there is to him now. And the right loves him for it.” Observer 3/11/13   (my emphases)