Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Scottish Opera perform on Islay

Leaving home for an evening concert of opera when the wind is blowing at force 9 and driving 20 miles to the venue involves a degree of commitment. Scottish Opera are celebrating 50 years of existence and they are touring a celebration of that history involving four young singers and a pianist plus a linking script and a few props. Among their venues was windswept Islay. The team had been delayed by a ferry postponement the day before and they could rightly have been apprehensive about the turnout on a wild night. They need not have worried. Islay folk take these regular tempests in their stride. A full Hall awaited. 

The show was called ‘Opera Highlights’ and it was aptly named. The four artists performed the pieces really well. There were items that did not work quite so well for this listener but there was plenty of compensation, with some stunning singing and moving performances. All of the cast could really belt it out and it was thrilling to hear unamplified voices let rip - although occasionally the women singers in particular, threatened any crockery nearby with their high C’s. The newest work, a composition specially composed by the Company’s first ‘composer in residence,’ was modern opera at its best. Both performers played the piece really well and it was touching, thought-provoking and very moving. It was excellently staged and directed too. 

All in all, it sometimes takes events such as this to fully appreciate how lucky we are to have subsidised arts to enlighten, delight and savour. And that companies of this quality consider it important to get off the beaten track to spread the word. Opera can sometimes be highbrow, stuffy and distant. This was not one of those events. The Company set out to reach the audience and hopefully inspire others to follow in their path to an artistic career. All of the cast were very engaging and poked fun at themselves, at each other and some ridiculous opera plots. 

Top class performances and a great night out. 

Thanks Eleanor Dennis (soprano), Katie Grosset (mezzo-soprano), Duncan Rock (baritone), Nicky Spence (tenor) and the excellent pianist Ruth Wilkinson. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Up yours Leveson

Munching with Murdoch

The news that George Osborne and Boris Johnson attended a private dinner with the ‘dirty digger,’ aka Rupert Murdoch, last week should not come as a surprise to any sentient being. Gove too has recently been feasting at his masters table and Cameron had a lengthy conversation with Rebekah Brooks at a Christmas party. So its business as usual - or is it? 

There are now many, many cases and other related inquiries connected to the original phone-hacking inquiry with another arrest today of a Prison Officer. This follows the arrest last week of another senior Sun reporter. 

A little complication in the whole affair is that Boris Johnson is in charge of the Met Police. He is in a position to ‘influence’ the line an investigation will take. He may not need to do it overtly. There is nothing like a bit of self-preservation on the part of a senior cop who is ambitious and does not want to upset the boss......Don’t forget, this is the man who declared that complaints about phone hacking were, “politically motivated codswallop.”

Quite frankly this is yet one more example of how these Tory Bullingdon Boys (not you Gove, you little squit) treat the country as their personal fiefdom. They do not give a toss what we think. Cameron did not send all the email and text messages he sent Brooks to the Inquiry - - and what has happened? Bugger all. 

When Leveson was published we heard great claims from the government that we were entering into a new era of openness. Oh yeah. The truth is that promises to publish meetings between editors and Ministers or proprietors and ministers have not been kept. Off the record meetings have taken place without any minutes taken.

Last weeks dindins is just one more example of power being restored to the magnate. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

One Law for Them (Chapter 302)

Expenses ride again!

“We have moved on,” “lessons have been learned,” and “everything is so much different now,” are the kind of comments made by our elected representatives when the question of MPs Expenses is raised. It is true there is more transparency and most MPs publish some details of their expenses on their websites. But, and it is a HUGE BUT, there are still plenty of skeletons a lurking and malpractice a thriving. Take just a few examples mentioned by Private Eye in its latest edition. In an article bemoaning the incompetence/ineptness and general waste of space of the outgoing ‘parliamentary commissioner for standards’ (John Lyon) it said the following: –––

“Consistency was not his catchphrase. He was keen to take up complaints from the BNP, including one against Denis MacShane. But he let off lucky David Laws, who gave £50k of taxpayers’ money to his live-in partner in the form of ‘rent’  –– a fiddle no other member had been bright enough to think of.

Lyon refused to investigate some of the biggest examples of MPs’ boot-filling, such as the thousands claimed in so-called petty cash. Oddly enough, one of the most regular exploiters of the petty cash wheeze, which allowed MPs to trouser up to £250 a month, was Kevin Barron MP - who just happens to chair the standards and privileges committee that oversees the commissioner’s work, now better known at Westminster as the double-standards committee. Since we described Lyon in 2009 as ‘feeble’ and ‘an establishment stooge’ (Eye 1241), he has done nothing to prove us wrong. 

Well, almost nothing. In his last act before retiring, Lyon belatedly woke up to the worst abuse of the expenses system –– the massive claims for mortgage interest payments. He opened an inquiry into Maria Miller MP, who claimed £90,000 over four years for a house she already owned where her parents lived. The new commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, now has the delicate task of deciding whether to ask the culture secretary o repay the money and how long Miller might be suspended for claiming seven times the amount that forced MacShane to resign. 

If Hudson does take Miller to task, other MPs who made a fortune from the London property market before 2010 –– step forward again, Kevin Barron, who sold his taxpayer-funded flat for a profit of almost £500,000 –– will begin to tremble. Dare she antagonise the chairman of her own double standards committee, a challenge her predecessor conspicuously ducked? Watch this space!” P.Eye 25/1/13

Then there is Tory MP Peter Luff who rents a flat off Frank Lampard (which we pay for) while renting out a flat he owns in London..... 

All those who are about to suffer the loss of between £40 and £60 per week, who also happen to be on very low incomes, and who are worried sick about how they are going to get by, and put food on the table, should look no further than our MPs for an example of how to cope with austerity Britain. 

Cheat, fiddle, lie and defraud, but remember at all times to talk and act with the utmost sincerity. It works for them

Friday, 25 January 2013

Balls to Labour

Read it and weep.

 Anyone who thinks we live in a functioning democracy where the poorest and most vulnerable can look to Labour for salvation should read the passage below.

   “Private Eye and others were praised by name when Labour’s tax spokeswoman, shadow exchequer secretary Catherine McKinnell, spoke in the Commons debate on tax avoidance. But more useful would be some actual opposition to coalition policies.
A raft of recent measures, like the maximum 5 percent tax rate for financial profits diverted to tax havens (yes, the havens that were meant to have been closed after the financial crisis), make offshore tax dodging not just easier but arguably obligatory for British multinationals. 
     Yet despite the Eye having repeatedly pointed out the effect of the changes well ahead of their enactment, the Labour opposition has sat on its hands. Perhaps this is because its shadow ministers have been taking advice from the very accountancy firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, that most actively promotes offshore financing schemes –– as proved by the exposure of hundreds of its Luxembourg ruses last year (Eye 1315) on top of the multi-billion pound offshore set-ups it devised for Vodaphone (Eyes passim ad nauseam). 
    Shadow chancellor Ed Balls, meanwhile, has decided that, since the anti-tax avoidance bandwagon won’t stop rolling, he perhaps ought to jump on, prompting a blog last week on the shortcomings of government tax policy. The trouble is that the ‘light touch’ tax system that gave us the Vodaphone and Starbucks scandal (to name but two) was a New Labour creation. Especially rich was Balls’ complaint that cuts at HM Revenue & Customs had been ‘too far and too fast’, when the largest and most economically illiterate cuts were instigated under Gordon Brown’s ‘efficiency’ programme while his chief economic adviser was none other than, er, Ed Balls.”  Private Eye 25/1/13

So, ‘All in this together are we?’
Having read the insight above, and assuming that you are still a Labour supporter who happens to live in a Labour constituency, then please arrange an appointment with your MP and let him or her know what you think. If your MP is Blunkett or Miliband the elder, then don’t bother wasting your time. Even though they represent two of the poorest constituencies in the country they are both pre-occupied with making themselves very wealthy. Should you not have a Labour MP, then use every opportunity that arises to ram home just how deeply hypocritical and cynical the Westminster party has become. This may be to a local councillor or anyone who professes support for Labour. 

Judge the Labour party at Westminster by their deeds and ignore the rhetoric - it is mostly meaningless bullshit from a cynical bunch of bubble-dwellers who are a disgrace to the traditions and history of the Labour party. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

In Out Referendum

The 'Big Speech'

There are difficulties with the much heralded and anticipated ‘big speech’ this morning. 

The first difficulty is the person making the speech. This is the man who lied about re-organising the NHS before the last election. He has also promised a referendum in the past, and then used wriggly words to slither away from the promise. This is the man who was oh so cosy with the Murdoch empire and in particular Rebekah Brooks. He was spotted deep in conversation for well over an hour with the flame-haired harpie at a Christmas party in his constituency. He finally dismissively agreed that he had indeed met her, after a period of obfuscation. He gave the impression that the lengthy discussion was of no consequence. Oh yeah. This from the man who did not turn over all of his emails and texts to Brooks to the Leveson Inquiry. 

The question of Cameron’s honesty and what he actually stands for is central in this debate. What does he believe? Who is he really working for? The man is a proven liar - why should any rational human being trust him?

The Tory party have been in disarray for years over the Europe question. All Cameron has done is shut up the Eurosceptics for a bit. The raving right of the Tory party are a deeply unappetising lot. To conduct policy at the behest of the barking is suspect at the best of times. In these troubled times, it is short-termism at its worst.

Europe is a mess. The accounts have not been audited for years. The MEP gravy train makes our MPs expenses look positively saintly. Corruption and ‘scratchy-back’ politics are rife. The expansion of the Union without much voice by the people of Europe was a disgrace - even where there was dissent in Ireland they had to keep voting until they got the ‘right’ result with much financial threat behind the scenes. 

And yet and yet. The founding impetus for the movement came out of the ashes of the Second World War. The most destructive war in human history. From those noble beginnings the Union has slipped some considerable distance but the cause of peace is a very powerful plank in the Union’s favour. 

Reform is essential. The disgust at the gravy train is not limited to the UK. Across Europe there are many millions who also want reform - but within the European Union. Cameron should be working to mobilise similar kindred spirits to achieve reform but the parochial constant threat to take his ball home is very tiresome and ineffective politics. 

Cameron is appealing to the ‘little englanders’ in his party and the country who hark back to a supposed golden age that never was. Anyone who thinks that the UK is equipped to forge a brave new future on our own should look at many of our Captains of Industry and Commerce who would do the forging. What fine role models of greed, ‘spivvery,’ corruption and tax evasion they provide. 

We live in a global world - we have to learn to work - and live with it.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Scottish Independence for an extra £1 a year.

'Capital City'

Kevin McNamara made an interesting case for Scottish independence in this week’s Observer. He states an original take on our ‘capital’ city. 

“London has already broken away from the United Kingdom and now exists as a world super-state governed by the greed of unhindered capitalism and recognisable as British only by its taxis and bad service. As the world's most newly minted oligarchs continue to colonise the independent state of London, it becomes almost impossible for families on less than £250k to live decently there. Poor London families made homeless by the coalition benefit cuts are being evacuated as far north as Middlesbrough.

Last week, Goldman Sachs, one of the banks with its fingers in the till when global economic meltdown occurred, awarded an average bonus of £250,000 to each of its employees. The gap between the richest in our society and the poorest stretched a little more and we were reminded yet again that the UK government, despite its promises, allows greed, incompetence and corruption to be rewarded. (How many people do you think will go to jail for the Libor rate-fixing scandal?) Meanwhile, Westminster politicians are dividing the poor into categories marked "deserving" and "scum".

The most common wet dream of every Bullingdon Tory is the national lottery. And what a jolly wheeze it is: get the poor to fund our biggest capital projects in exchange for a cruel fairy story. Now they've doubled the stake to £2, confident that the benefit cuts are increasing their customer base daily. In Glasgow, the boss of a council-run regeneration agency was given a £500k pay-off at a time when the Citizens Advice Bureau is reporting almost 1,000 calls a day from people whose families have been impoverished by the benefit cuts. Life for millions of people under the most rapacious and reactionary government in 150 years has diminished. To prevent the peasants revolting, however, they have been treated to exaggerated displays of unity euphoria such as the Olympics and assorted royal jubilees.
Labour in the UK long ago gave up any pretence at being the party of the marginalised and the vulnerable. Instead, it throws rotten fruit at the SNP when it says what Labour should be saying......

......Earlier this month, the UK Treasury declared that, following a period of intense and prolonged analysis of the economic numbers, each of us would be £1 a year worse off in an independent Scotland. Put another way, for £1 a year you will never have to endure the economic privations of a Conservative government ever again. You will not be penalised for being poor or old and nor will you suffer the pain of watching your young boys being killed in illegal wars or occupations.

We won't be lacking friends, either. Of matters concerning oil and Europe in an independent Scotland, the Norwegian government officials I met in Oslo last month were very upbeat. "Come and talk to us before you commit to the EU," they said, "and let us advise you how to manage your oil fund and how to negotiate with the oil companies."
 Kevin McNamara, Observer 20/1/13

Would that it were all so simple. Does the man not realise that if all he wished for were to come to pass, then the greedy shysters who are alive and well and living in Scotland would come crawling out of the cess pits they live in, and exert their malign influence on newly empowered politicians. The same politicians in the main who do so little to fill us with confidence now. 

Has he forgotten that pillar of greed and incompetence Fred the Shred? 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Algerian Gas Plant

“Small earthquake - no Britons killed”

Listening to the coverage of the Algerian Gas plant terrorist attack it quickly became clear that anglo-centric news is alive and well. Even this morning when the siege is apparently over, the emphasis has been on the three British killed, the three still unaccounted for and a mention of the one who died on the first day. While sympathy goes out to the families affected, this is not the full picture.

There was no mention whatsoever of the total number of casualties, or of other nations with their losses or even much appreciation of what the Algerian special forces may have achieved. The implication throughout the media is that they screwed up. 

There are hints that there is another side to this story. The fact that hundreds of Algerian citizens and foreign workers were rescued swiftly and safely seems irrelevant to our media and government. The implication throughout was, ‘How dare this independent country use its own forces to solve a tricky situation - without either using our crack troops or even asking us for our advice?’ Algeria has a long history of dealing with Islamic fundamentalists. Perhaps they felt they had more than enough experience and expertise to tackle an urgent threat.

By searching the news websites it appears that about 23 hostages may well have been killed. That is 17 non-British casualties. These casualties were airbrushed out of BBC Radio 4 and Radio 5 news bulletins. While this may go down well with unthinking Brits it does not play too well with our neighbours. Norway, Japan and the US have all got missing casualties. You would not know this from the country’s leading media outlet. You would not know that Algeria are reporting that all 31 terrorists have been killed. 

To travel for 3 weeks in India recently was informative in so many ways. One unexpected insight was the lack of UK news on world news sites. It brought home just how tiny and mainly irrelevant we are on the world stage and how few stories actually made it - even on to BBC World. One story did get coverage for a day and that was the launch of the Leveson Report. It stood out for featuring in several bulletins on different channels.  

It is salutary to consider just how irrelevant we are on a world scale. The parochial coverage of this story reflects badly on our media and government. It also perpetuates myths that need shattering. We are no longer an Empire and despite the worst efforts of Reverend Blair, we are no longer a world power. 

We need to learn to co-operate so much better with other countries. 

The portents as far as Europe is concerned are not good.

As Michael Portillo said on ‘This Week’ about Cameron’s postponed ‘big speech’ : 
“ He (Cameron) is heading for a car crash.”

We have a lot to learn but we seem to be stuck with a government (and a media?) incapable of doing so.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Democracy? What democracy?

There has been a deafening silence over the revelation in the inside pages of the Guardian earlier this week. Thanks to a Freedom of Information action we now know just how much influence our constitutional monarchy has behind the scenes. The FOI action was fought by the Cabinet Office for 15 months. Can’t have the plebs finding out that the tip of the toffs still hold the reins. 

It took a similar amount of time to unearth just how often Prince Charles contacts Ministers in ‘off the record’ letters or private briefings. Fair enough some said, he is the heir to the throne and he should keep abreast of events. But why the secrecy? And why should the business interests of the Duchy of Lancaster get special treatment, with the right to veto bills which may adversely effect his commercial interests? Have the poor had similar treatment over benefit cuts? 

“Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals' little-known power to consent to or block new laws. They also reveal the power has been used to torpedo proposed legislation relating to decisions about the country going to war.

The internal Whitehall pamphlet was only released following a court order and shows ministers and civil servants are obliged to consult the Queen and Prince Charles in greater detail and over more areas of legislation than was previously understood.
The new laws that were required to receive the seal of approval from the Queen or Prince Charles cover issues from higher education and paternity pay to identity cards and child maintenance.

In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member's bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.” Guardian 15/1/13

Quite staggering and an insight into what really goes on. The interests of the Crown come before the interests of the people.

Several days have passed. Have you heard any reaction or discussion or follow-up? The Westminster Bubble encompasses far more than politicians. Our compliant media who occupy back-scratching space with the political class has been remarkable in its silence.
It wouldn’t do to abandon deference and allow transparency to become the norm would it? The plebs may get ideas above their station.  

Talking of plebs, Christopher Chope, a tory toff MP, let slip what they really think about the great unwashed. He was  speaking about the cost of meals in the House of Commons when he said, "The service was absolutely fantastic, because there was three-to-one service – three servants for each person sitting down."

The posh-boy Etonians will not have welcomed that revelation. Chope can expect  a damn good thrashing any time now.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

One law for them.....Chapter 86


“Payment protection insurance is the biggest ever mis-selling rip-off of British consumers, far exceeding personal pensions, endowment mortgages or split-capital investment trusts.
Sales of the expensive but more often than not worthless policies to ineligible buyers supposedly covering loans, mortgages or credit cards were made to maybe as many as 20m consumers from the Nineties to 2010. The credit boom after 2001 saw an estimated £34bn of the hugely profitable PPI policies sold by the high-street banks, building societies, credit-card companies and other lenders. Compensation paid since 2011 is £7.5bn.
Yet this is a massive financial crime seemingly without criminals. Customers have been robbed; shareholders have been stuffed. But there have been no criminal charges of fraud, deception or theft (from policyholders, or from employers via PPI-driven bonuses) against any of those who peddled PPI. No director from a major lender has been sacked. None has been banned or even disciplined by the Fundamentally Supine Authority for mis-selling PPI. ....

....The regulatory response appears to be that compensation equals justice, that the guilty will pay. Except they don’t. Compensation is paid by the shareholders, not by those who profited from commissions and bonuses all the way up into the executive suite. PPI profit margins could be up to 90%, and at its peak, around 2005, PPI may have represented more than 50% of UK retail banking profits. Bonuses from the branch and call centre level to the boardroom were driven by PPI incentives.” Private Eye ‘In the City‘ 11/1/13 

The article goes on to detail at considerable length the bankers who benefitted from all of this - many of whom have since gone on to work for the government .....

Just before Christmas a city suit was challenged about the lack of criminal proceedings on the ‘Today’ programme. He was horrified to even contemplate such a process when it had all been ‘down to business.’ 

The Libor fixing scandal followed similar lines - the knowledge went right up to the top - fines are paid by shareholders not the culpable. 

And no-one has gone to jail. 

All the huffing and puffing about ‘welfare’ and ‘benefit fraud’ is as nothing when compared to the grand larcenies carried out by supposedly respectable institutions. The inaction of our egregious politicians can be explained quite simply. Many of them are cut from the same cloth and share similar values and backgrounds. 

On the take and on the make.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Corruption is alive and well and thriving in the UK

Just take this as your starter for 10.

What would you think if MPs and members of the House of Lords voted on issues which they themselves would benefit financially from? Would you think that this at best is highly suspect and looks dodgy? Or would you think that it is quite simply corruption practiced on a grand scale? 

For those who need some convincing of the latter try the following. It is culled from a variety of sources and put together by someone calling themselves :

In total 66 MPs have financial links to companies involved in private healthcare. Of them, 53 are Conservative MPs, 9 are Labour MPs, and 3 are Liberal Democrats, leaving 1 other from another party. This means, 79% of MPs with these links are Conservative.

The interests range in influence from donations made by individuals, shares in a company, or advisor to a company, owner, overseas visits and hospitality, and directorships.

These parliamentarians coupled with the 142 Lords with the same interests, make a total of 206 parliamentarians with financial links to companies involved in healthcare.

All of these public servants were allowed to vote on the Health and Social Care bill, helping it pass into Act.

Recent released research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed 124 members of the House of Lords ‘benefit’ from the financial industry.”

Visit the site for a full list of the 66 MPs and 142 Lords. There are also some ex-MPs listed who have gone on to benefit from their former roles (Hewitt, Milburn, Clarke). 

Pass the sick bucket. 

All of this is in the open. It is not subtle or discrete. It is the blatant buying of a significant policy by those standing to profit from the changes. 


Very, very smelly. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

Privatisation of the NHS

Early day motion 773

Lies, damned lies and Tory lies. “The NHS is safe in our hands.” Oh Yeah. Over the last few months there has been a shift from public to private health taking place across England. Many of these private medical firms lobbied and sponsored Tory MPs, Advisers  and Ministers. Now its payback time. 

To make matters worse, every time we have trod this well-worn path in the past as good public services went to rapacious private companies, the classic defence against transparency was the weaselly cry, “Commercial confidentiality.” This protected several serious wrongdoers from scrutiny. It is deeply concerning that this will be used to sell-off the jewels in the NHS leaving the dross to be covered by the taxpayer. 

A final thought. It will be interesting to see what job Lansley gets when he leaves Parliament. Should he go anywhere near a private health company he should be thrown into jail for corruption. It didn’t happen to Patricia Hewitt so do not hold your breath. 

In the meantime encourage your MP to sign early day motion  773 set out below. 

Early day motion 773
Session: 2012-13
Date tabled: 26.11.2012

“That this House notes that the most significant development that has followed from the Government's healthcare reforms has been the 7 billion worth of new contracts being made available to the private health sector; further notes that at least five former advisers to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are now working for lobbying firms with private healthcare clients; recalls the Prime Minister's own reported remarks prior to the general election when he described lobbying as `the next big scandal waiting to happen'; recognises the growing scandal of the procurement model that favours the private health sector over the NHS, by allowing private companies to hide behind commercial confidentiality and which compromises the best practice aspirations of the public sector;condemns the practice of revolving doors, whereby Government health advisers move to lucrative contracts in the private healthcare sector, especially at a time when the privatisation of the NHS is proceeding by stealth;is deeply concerned at the unfair advantages being handed to private healthcare companies; and demands that in future all private healthcare companies be subject to freedom of information requests under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in the same way as existing NHS public sector organisations.”

Thursday, 10 January 2013

PR Propaganda

Mid-term review

Where in all the froth and bovine excrement of the ‘mid-term review’ did it have anything about an apology for lying to us? 

Remember, “There will be no top down reorganisation of the NHS,” Camercon prior to the election........which he did not win. This, despite Labour being a shambles under the leadership of Gordon Brown. A party riven with failed leadership bids presented an open goal for the tories -- which Camercon and his toff chums duly missed. 

Wonder how many seats they would have ended up with if we knew then what we know now etc etc. 

No mention either that the nasty party are well and truly back - and continuing to lie and lie and lie again. This time they are scapegoating the poor and vulnerable.

Divide and rule.

A disgusting way to govern.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Pustulent Pustules

Thank you Mr Bell for getting Dungcan Smith spot on! -  -  - geddit?

“One of the good things Labour did between 1997 and 2010 was a serious campaign to eliminate child poverty in Britain. Targeted benefits and support for the poorest families were provided.
In 1997 26 per cent of Britain's children were living in poverty. By 2010, that was 17 per cent, and it was on a trajectory that would have reduced that to 10 per cent by 2022.
But there was a stark change in the graph as soon as the Tory-Lib Dem coalition took power. The child poverty rate rose immediately. It's now at 21 per cent and is set to rise to 25 per cent by 2017.
The effects of poverty on health are obvious. Studies by the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust show that in one of London's poorest boroughs, Tottenham, the number of children born with low birth weight was 12.5 per cent, compared with a national average of 7.5 per cent. In healthier countries it is lower - for example it stands at 3.8 per cent in Iceland.
Low birth weight often leads to further problems in later childhood and has been linked to underachievement in education.
So the benefits cap will keep child poverty rising. Who else is affected?
Disability benefit is affected slightly differently. However, the government's welfare strategy has still thumped disability benefits very hard.
Since the "emergency Budget" of 2010 £500 million has been taken from the pockets of disabled people.” Jeremy Corbyn MP for Islington writing in the Morning Star 9/1/13

A commentator calling themselves '1Essex' had this comment yesterday in the Guardian 'Comment is Free' section.

Who are the biggest benefit scroungers of all? Companies who won't pay their workers a living wage, so that they have to be subsidised by the taxpayer”.....

To which ‘Haward’ added
and , as a result of this miserly approach , they can pay their executives large enough bonuses for them to take advantage of the Coalition's tax cuts for the very rich

They can then use some of their ill-gotten gains to pay ('donate to')the Tory party thereby guaranteeing the gravy train rolls on. 

The whole shebang drive on our roads, use our health services and enjoy our protection and security - without coughing up so much as a Starbuck.

Monday, 7 January 2013

One Laws for them - another for the rest of us

Listening to the LibDem apologist for the government on this morning’s ‘Today’ programme was fascinating so much for what was not said. Harrumphreys did his usual chattus interruptus and pursued one particular line of attack. This was about the inevitable divorce of the coalition partners in the run up to the next election. The mouthpiece did his best to push his oft-repeated message that, thanks to the coalition - and the noble Liberal Democlots in particular - the country had been saved from a fate worse than death. 

His arguments were more than somewhat undermined as the mouthpiece was none other than David Laws. The man who had fiddled his expenses to the tune of over £50,000. He had resigned from the newly-formed Cabinet after 17 days and had to apologise to the House of Commons. Wow. 

After spending two years on the backbenches he has been returned to Cabinet. He even had the gall to mention that there would be further cuts on the way but scrupulously avoided any mention of cheats, skivers or fiddlers. Fancy that.

Any common oik caught fiddling their benefits to the tune of £50k would not have been treated so leniently. Even his own father says Laws should have gone to jail.

There was also no mention - either from Harrumphreys or Laws - of tax evasion and avoidance. The one area of our society in most need of urgent reform, and the one area the government, with the collusion of much of the media, have done very little about. 

The BBC, for example, squirming over their mis-handling of the Saville affair, are more than a little anxious about the cosy little deals they struck with their star performers to pay less tax. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Hawks in Danger of Extinction

‘Just one breeding pair of hen harriers is left in England, warns the RSPB, which claims gamekeepers on grouse moors are being ordered by landowners to shoot the rare birds.’ Tracy McVeigh investigates Observer 6/1/13

“Only one pair of breeding hen harriers remains in England, according to the RSPB, which blames illegal persecution for what it fears is now the near extinction of the bird of prey in the country.
"It will be a tragedy if this bird disappears. It's a scandal that such a rare and iconic species has been deliberately persecuted to this extent," said Grahame Madge of the bird conservation charity. He said Yorkshire was now a "black spot" for British birds of prey, dozens of which were being targeted by gamekeepers on the area's vast shooting estates, who were under pressure to keep grouse and pheasant numbers high for their clients.
"It's like a return to the days of the Victorians up there; the landowners think they are a law unto themselves and the gamekeepers have to do what they're told or they'll be out of a job," he said. "And it isn't just hen harriers: our team of investigators are constantly uncovering evidence of other birds of prey being illegally shot, poisoned and trapped."
Madge said that the results which emerged a few weeks ago from scientific tests carried out on the carcass of Bowland Betty, a ringed hen harrier found in 2012 on Thorny Grain Moor in the Yorkshire Dales, proved what the charity has been saying for some time. "We found traces of lead in the bird's leg which proved what we have been saying: she was deliberately targeted, illegally shot. It may not have been the shot that killed her; she may have lingered on injured for a time, we can't tell unfortunately. But it is clear evidence, if any was needed, that there is deliberate, illegal persecution of our birds of prey ongoing."
He attacked the shooting estates for overbreeding game birds and called for the introduction of "diversionary feeding" on the estates – where food left out for nesting hen harriers and other raptors diverts the birds from attacking red grouse.
The RSPB last month launched an appeal to raise an extra £600,000 for its investigations team. The charity believes the unique heather moors of Yorkshire should be supporting more than 300 pairs of the birds, which are more common across the border in Scotland, although numbers there are estimated to be 13% below what they would be without human interference. In Orkney the numbers have reached a 10-year high with 100 females producing 100 chicks last year after efforts to reduce the numbers of sheep grazing on their habitat were successful.
However, landowners and others working in the countryside claim that the RSPB is ignoring the real story that is one of success with birds of prey in British skies.
Last week Adrian Blackmore of the Countryside Alliance sent out a letter to all MPs to counteract the RSPB campaigning on hen harriers, claiming the blame for the poor breeding success was not down to the gamebird industry.
"Many single birds have been seen throughout the uplands of England, including males and females in the Bowland Fells, its traditional stronghold. Yet even there, despite the best efforts of conservationists and land managers, still none bred successfully. This poor breeding success of hen harriers is, I am afraid, all too often blamed on grouse moors and their managers, regardless of whether or not that is actually the case. Heather moorland managed for grouse shooting only accounts for one-fifth of the uplands of England and Wales, and the breeding success of hen harriers on the remaining four-fifths, where no such management takes place, is no better."
Hen harriers were, he said, "susceptible to bad weather, disturbance, poor habitat and lack of available food, as well as factors that are as yet still unclear, as is the case on the Isle of Man, where the RSPB's 2010 Hen Harrier Survey found that the population had halved for reasons that remain unknown."
Blackmore said he did not deny that illegal persecution may play a part, but that there were other contributory factors. He said the species was doing well in other countries. "The RSPB often uses language that gives the impression birds of prey are rare and in trouble. In fact they are, on the whole, doing incredibly well and most are at their highest levels since records began. Why does the RSPB obfuscate on this?"
But the RSPB says that some three-quarters of those prosecuted over illegal killing of birds of prey are connected to the gamebird industry. And the National Gamekeepers Organisation [NGO] does acknowledge that there can be great pressure on estate workers to deal with birds of prey, which are a relatively new arrival on sporting estates after they were persecuted and poisoned into a decline at the end of the last century.
"There is some persecution of birds of prey and very regrettably some of it is done by gamekeepers. We condemn it," said Charles Nodder of the NGO. "In PR terms it is our worst nightmare. But it is numerically tiny. Even if we take all species into account, not just raptors, there are on average about four convictions of gamekeepers a year for wildlife offences. That is less than one in a thousand of the total number of gamekeepers." Observer 6/1/13

Islay still has a reasonable population of Hen Harriers although there were noticeably less last year than usual. To see them quartering the ground looking for prey is one of the great birding sights. It is possible that the Islay population has been affected by persecution. Many birds travel towards the south of England and the Norfolk area for the winter and spend time en route in suitable habitat such as grouse moors. 

The illegal persecution of protected species by the landed gentry - and the lack of prosecutions - is yet further proof (if any were needed) of how there is one law for the rich......

Saturday, 5 January 2013

An open letter to Kathryn Bigelow from Naomi Wolf

“The Hurt Locker was a beautiful, brave film; many young women in film were inspired as they watched you become the first woman ever to win an Oscar for directing. But with Zero Dark Thirty, you have attained a different kind of distinction.
Your film Zero Dark Thirty is a huge hit here. But in falsely justifying, in scene after scene, the torture of detainees in "the global war on terror", Zero Dark Thirty is a gorgeously-shot, two-hour ad for keeping intelligence agents who committed crimes against Guantánamo prisoners out of jail. It makes heroes and heroines out of people who committed violent crimes against other people based on their race – something that has historical precedent.
Your film claims, in many scenes, that CIA torture was redeemed by the "information" it "secured", information that, according to your script, led to Bin Laden's capture. This narrative is a form of manufacture of innocence to mask a great crime: what your script blithely calls "the detainee program"....

....You claim that your film is "based on real events", and in interviews, you insist that it is a mixture of fact and fiction, "part documentary". "Real", "true", and even "documentary", are big and important words. By claiming such terms, you generate media and sales traction – on a mendacious basis. There are filmmakers who work very hard to produce films that are actually "based on real events": they are called documentarians. Alex Gibney, in Taxi to the Dark Side, and Rory Kennedy, in Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, have both produced true and sourceable documentary films about what your script blithely calls "the detainee program" – that is, the regime of torture to generate false confessions at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib – which your script claims led straight to Bin Laden.
Fine, fellow reporter: produce your sources. Provide your evidence that torture produced lifesaving – or any – worthwhile intelligence.
But you can't present evidence for this claim. Because it does not exist.

Five decades of research, cited in the 2008 documentary The End of America, confirm that torture does not work. Robert Fisk provides another summary of that categorical conclusion. And this 2011 account from Human Rights First rebuts the very premise of Zero Dark Thirty.
Your actors complain about detainees' representation by lawyers – suggesting that these do-gooders in suits endanger the rest of us. I have been to see your "detainee program" firsthand. The prisoners, whom your film describes as being "lawyered up", meet with those lawyers in rooms that are wired for sound; yet, those lawyers can't tell the world what happened to their clients – because the descriptions of the very torture these men endured are classified.....

...In a time of darkness in America, you are being feted by Hollywood, and hailed by major media. But to me, the path your career has now taken reminds of no one so much as that other female film pioneer who became, eventually, an apologist for evil: Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl's 1935 Triumph of the Will, which glorified Nazi military power, was a massive hit in Germany. Riefenstahl was the first female film director to be hailed worldwide.

It may seem extreme to make comparison with this other great, but profoundly compromised film-maker, but there are real echoes. When Riefenstahl began to glamorize the National Socialists, in the early 1930s, the Nazis' worst atrocities had not yet begun; yet abusive detention camps had already been opened to house political dissidents beyond the rule of law – the equivalent of today's Guantánamo, Bagram base, and other unnameable CIA "black sites". And Riefenstahl was lionised by the German elites and acclaimed for her propaganda on behalf of Hitler's regime.
But the world changed. The ugliness of what she did could not, over time, be hidden. Americans, too, will wake up and see through Zero Dark Thirty's apologia for the regime's standard lies that this brutality is somehow necessary. When that happens, the same community that now applauds you will recoil.

Like Riefenstahl, you are a great artist. But now you will be remembered forever as torture's handmaiden.” Guardian online 5/1/13

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Dungcan Smith

The dark arts are essential skills for a modern politician.

Divide and rule has been the practice of the despotic through the ages. Our current shower of self-serving job-seekers are continuing the practice. To this end they set up false problems. The government’s own figures identify benefit fraud as a tiny proportion of the amount spent helping the needy, the elderly and the vulnerable

The myth
Benefit scroungers are bringing down the economy
And who says this? Well if it isn’t Iain ‘beware the quiet man’ Dungcan Smith! Just in case people with short memories are reading this, here is a synopsis of some of his ‘previous.’ 

Dung-can Smith. The man with the invented CV.
Just because Iain Duncan Smith said in his biography on the Conservative Party website, his entry in Who's Who, and in his entry in Wikipedia that he went to the Universita di Perugia in Italy and got a degree there, and it turned out to be all bullshit doesn't mean that he is a liar and a cheat.
It was probably just a simple typo, that's all.
Mr Duncan Smith's office admitted to Newsnight that he didn't get any qualifications in Perugia or even finish his exams, and all references to this unfortunate incident have been erased completely from Wikipedia.
His claims that he was educated at prestigious-sounding Dunchurch College of Management is only a little bit untrue. Dunchurch was the GEC Marconi staff training college and I am sure Iain probably attended a training course there when he worked for them.
This too has been erased from his now sanitised Wikipedia entry.
He is a very nice man. The Guardian's editor thinks so, anyway.
A Guardian editorial said in April (last) year The welfare secretary has emerged as the last man in cabinet standing up for the poor.
I expect the people about to be thrown into poverty by him will be very pleased to hear that, Mr Rusbridger”  
‘Gowvah’  writing in the Guardian Comment is Free section 3/1/13

The reality

“Those at the sharp end are being hit hardest: from cuts to disability and housing benefits, tax credits and the educational maintenance allowance and now increases in council tax while NHS waiting lists are lengthening, food banks are mushrooming across the country and charities report sharp increases in the number of children going hungry. All this to pay for the collapse in corporate investment and tax revenues triggered by the greatest crash since the 30s.
At the other end of the spectrum though, things are going swimmingly. The richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by £155bn since the crisis began – more than enough to pay off the whole government deficit of £119bn at a stroke. Anyone earning over £1m a year can look forward to a £42,000 tax cut in the spring, while firms have been rewarded with a 2% cut in corporation tax to 24%.
Not that many of them pay anything like that, even now. The scale of tax avoidance by high-street brand multinationals has now become clear, in no small part thanks to campaigning groups such as UK Uncut. Asda, Google, Apple, eBay, Ikea, Starbucks, Vodafone: all pay minimal tax on massive UK revenues, mostly by diverting profits earned in Britain to their parent companies, or lower tax jurisdictions via royalty and service payments or transfer pricing.
Four US companies – Amazon, Facebook, Google and Starbucks – have paid just £30m tax on sales of £3.1bn over the last four years, according to a Guardian analysis. Apple is estimated to have avoided over £550m in tax on more than £2bn worth of underlying profits in Britain by channelling business through Ireland, according to a Sunday Times analysis, while Starbucks has paid no corporation tax in Britain for the last three years.
The Tory MP and tax lawyer Charlie Elphicke estimates 19 US-owned multinationals are paying an effective tax rate of 3% on British profits, instead of the standard rate of 26%. It's all entirely legal, of course. But taken together with the multiple individual tax scams of the elite, this roll call of corporate infamy has become an intolerable scandal, when taxes are rising and jobs, benefits and pay being cut for the majority.

Not only that, but collecting the taxes that these companies have wriggled out of would go a long way to shrinking the deficit for which working- and middle-class Britain's living standards are being sacrificed. The total tax gap between what's owed and collected has been estimated by Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK at £120bn a year: £25bn in legal tax avoidance, £70bn in fraudulent tax evasion and £25bn in late payments. (my emphasis)

Seumas Milne Guardian October 2012

Every time Dungcan speaks, remember his ‘creativity’ and that he is a Tory with many friends in the city. Judge them by their deeds not their words. The Tories, with the supine assistance of their sad accomplices, the Illiberal Democlots, have actually reduced the number of tax inspectors.

“..ministers are absurdly slashing the tax inspection workforce, and even introducing a new incentive for British multinationals to move their operations in business to overseas tax havens. The scheme would, accountants KPMG have been advising clients, offer an "effective UK tax rate of 5.5%" from 2014 (and cut British tax revenues into the bargain)” ibid

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Return to Islay

After another predominantly wet journey and a very full ferry, we landed back on a windswept Islay. The immediately preceding weather had been stormy and the forecast for later that evening was further gales and storms hence the packed boat. The crossing was bumpy in the middle but not as bad as it can be. Many of the passengers were visitors travelling to experience Hogmanay on a Scottish island. It is to be hoped they brought warm windproof hats with them.

The dominant feature on Islay in the winter is the wind. To date there have not been the same amount of damaging storms as last winter, nonetheless the wind is remorseless. It has been predominantly westerly, swithering between gale force and just below. Plants are buffeted, rattled and shaken around the clock. There have not been the knock-out blows suffered in major storms but the effect is cumulative and nearly as damaging. Most native species have adapted to this treatment by retreating below ground, swiftly dying back to a corm or rootstock. Any plant sticking up above a windbreak is gradually shredded. Grass becomes combed by the wind and can appear extremely well-groomed.

The isle of Tiree, a not-too-distant neighbour, is acknowledged to be one of the windiest places in the UK. Here on the Rhinns of Islay - a long finger-like projection sticking out into the Atlantic - conditions are very similar. It is the windiest part of Islay. There are benefits of this location. The Gulf Stream keeps temperatures above average. Snow and frost are rare but the downside is it is windy and frequently wet. Very wet. It is windy on average 6 out of 7 days throughout the year. There is even more wind in winter and it is much stronger too. Trees on the Rhinns are scarce and frequently stunted. Shorebirds and waders congregate in sheltered bays. Members of the Crow family and some Gulls seem to relish the chance to display their aerial prowess. Smaller birds however struggle to survive and use whatever objects they can to protect themselves. It is not uncommon to startle a sparrow or a chaffinch tucked behind a tussock of grass.

Coastlines are scoured by foaming seas. Everything feels cleaner. The times when the sun  does appear can be magical with low strong sunlight picking out huge rollers and spray. Moorland appears burnished and can have a beautiful golden glow. Then there are the rainbows, which although ephemeral are plentiful.

The village hall welcomed in the New Year with traditional music and dancing for a mixed group of locals and visitors. The festivities only really got going at 1 a.m. and continued in full swing until just after 4 a.m. when 'Auld Lang Syne' concluded proceedings. A wide age range enjoyed themselves.  A visitor of Danish origin felt that this was the best way to celebrate the turn of the year. 

Finally a stagger back home - it was windy again - honest - nothing whatsoever to do with copious amounts of strong drink  being taken......

And so 2013 was greeted.

Happy New Year.