Sunday, 30 June 2013

Review of the Week


Like vultures awaiting a feed, the world's media camped outside the hospital where Nelson Mandela, they thought, was on his death bed. Many have done so on each occasion he has been taken to hospital these past several months, presumably being unaware that elderly people tend to go in and out of hospital a lot in their final years. And still Mandela keeps fighting on. Good for him. If they want to give him a boost why not open the curtains and show the expense account legions awaiting his final breath.

Moors murderer Ian Brady appeared in court as he attempted to persuade a Mental Health Tribunal that he is not insane and should be transferred to a normal prison where he could then commit suicide, or at least try to before being sent back to the loony bin for attempting to commit suicide. We learnt that Brady's idea of a hunger strike is a peculiar one because he daily ingests toast and packet soups.


Brady, speaking in public for the first time since he was convicted of his infamous crimes in the sixties, claimed that he committed them for the 'existential experience' and that they were 'recreational killings.' To my mind Brady looked for all the world like the kind of personality who was indeed not insane, but was calculating and a moral vacuum. His is the kind of personality that is narcissistic and consumed by his own superiority. In another life he might have become a particularly ruthless businessman or a vicious dictator. This case was just another chance for him to indulge his self image, play to the gallery and alleviate the boredom of life behind bars that he has already been told will only end when he is taken out in a coffin. The tribunal decided that he should stay in hospital. Its reasons will be released at a later date, when Brady will probably appeal.

In an historic judgement of potentially Roe vs Wade proportions, the U.S Supreme Court struck down a Californian law that denied federal benefits to gay couples, thus clearing the way for gay marriage. The justices said that the Defence of Marriage Act discriminated against same sex couples, and, in a second ruling, left in place a lower court's striking down of California's prohibition of gay marriage: proposition 8. The ruling did not effect laws enshrined in the constitutions of some 29 states, but it was a symbolic victory for gay rights campaigners.

David Cameron headed to Brussels for the latest EU Council meeting, and was ambushed by the French at 1 in the morning as they tried once again to take Britain's rebate. Dave was having none of it, and was clearly irritated by this latest example of perfidy dressed up as European solidarity. Almost makes you want to call an immediate referendum eh Dave? More of that in the coming week.


In the almost as brutal and much more plain spoken world of Australian politics, Julia Gillard was deposed as leader by the man she deposed three years ago. Kevin Rudd is now back as leader of his party and prime minister. Gillard has said she will now retire from politics. And is Rudd merely back to lead his party to defeat in the general election which is only months away, but to which Ms Gillard was also careering in a less than dignified way? Still, the former prime minister will now have more time to finish that kangaroo she has been knitting for the royal baby due soon. Indeed that peculiar episode may have been the final straw for her party.



America's most wanted man, Edward Snowden, who revealed all about the PRISM computer monitoring program a couple of weeks ago, and has been holed up in Hong Kong ever since, showed he would actually have made quite a good spy. On Monday he was said to be heading to Cuba via Russia, but then the seat he had booked was empty and he was nowhere to be seen. All very Le Carre. He is said to be hoping to head to Ecuador, perhaps in the hope that he will one day be united there with Julian Assange. Let's hope so for the both of them. They deserve each other.

Speaking of spies, The Guardian had another expose on Monday, this time a little closer to home. It revealed that the Metropolitan Police had, in the aftermath of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, been keeping his family and friends under surveillance in an attempt to smear them. Peter Francis, a former undercover officer, claimed that he came under 'huge and constant pressure' to 'hunt for disinformation' to undermine those who were at that time arguing for a better investigation of Stephen's murder.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, called in the IPCC to investigate, but there were calls for more wide ranging and expansive investigations. Only days after the revelations about cover ups in the NHS, this was another branch of Britain's establishment under suspicion of the most appalling corruption, the sort we used to congratulate ourselves we were thankfully free of.


George Osborne revealed his spending plans for the period after the next election as the government began to concentrate its fire on Labour, who on the one hand tell us they will be ruthless about controlling spending whilst at the same time tell us how they will spend more on infrastructure and higher benefits for the over 50s. Osborne announced an end to automatic pay rises for civil servants, a further freeze in council tax, and a further 144,000 cut in public sector jobs. The spy agencies will however get a boost in their funds, and there will be no further cuts to the armed services. The Treasury released this picture of George hard at work putting the finishing touches to his plans with only the time for a burger and chips. What, no pasty? And it turned out that the burger in question was of the gourmet variety from Byrons and cost a tenner. Was this burger gate after pasty gate? Well the BBC's Evan Davies seemed to think so, as he pursued posh boy George on the issue. But it's a burger, not lobster thermidor or caviar and chips. A bit more expensive than McDonalds admittedly, but then ministers did their deals on spending so expeditiously that no all-nighters requiring pizzas were required. George spent the fast food surplus on burger and chips with red onion relish. Maybe next time go for a kebab for the full prole effect though eh?



At the start of the week it was a statesman with rather more lurid vices who was making the headlines. Silvio Berlusconi, former prime minister, former cruise line singer, businessman and bunga bunga connoisseur was sentenced to prison for 7 years by an Italian court for abuse of office and paying for sex with a woman who was an underage prostitute. And, in a move that will have brought sighs of relief to statesmen around the world, he was banned from ever again holding public office. Sadly, this being Italy, this is not the end of the story. The appeals process will now start. By the time it is over Berlusconi will be no nearer a prison cell. He may even have grey hair by then and a girlfriend who is in her 30s.


One of those vital scientific studies we all pay for out of our taxes revealed that yoghurt tastes better when eaten off a weighty and robust spoon. Quite why we needed to know this, or at least have it confirmed is a mystery. I am always careful about my choice of spoon. Indeed I have a favourite. Doesn't everyone? I may apply for a research grant.


A Labour councillor told ITV's This Morning that he lost his virginity to an alien when he was 6 years old. The alien fooled him by disguising itself as the woman from the Fry's Turkish Delight advert. Now you know why your Mum used to tell you to beware strangers offering sweeties. But the news that Labour figures are familiar with extra terrestrial life comes as no surprise. Indeed it goes some way to explaining the party's economic policy.


Wimbledon got underway with the usual multiple British casualties in the first round. But Andy Murray sailed through the week entirely untroubled and without dropping a set. This could actually be his year, or at least I thought so until I watched Djokovic on Saturday afternoon. Murray was joined in the second week by his doubles partner in the Olympics last year, Laura Robson. After an initial struggle yesterday, Laura overcame her opponent, New Zealand's Marina Erakovic, by 2 sets to 1 to head into the second week and the last 16.


Oh and US Open champion Andy has even shown he has a sense of humour by apparently challenging Serena Williams to a match. Jeff Tarango, however, opined that she would stand no chance of beating Murray. Has he told her? Did he do so from within a concrete bunker? I have to admit to finding Serena a touch intimidating, even when she is wearing a little white mini dress. And I'm not saying this is unattractive. Quite the opposite. But I would find asking her on a date terrifying, let alone facing her on a tennis court. I can safely say she would beat me. My serve has always been my weak link.



Finally, in what is becoming a recurring theme on this review, we finish with a tiger. This one is the best friend of animal trainer Randy Miller. Yes they are friends, honestly. This is all done for the movies. If only Ang Lee had known about them they might have appeared in Life of Pi instead of that computer generated tiger he won an Oscar for.


Interlude

Sunday Funnies

Interlude

Friday, 28 June 2013

Green Hot Air Won't Keep Our Lights On


Yesterday, Ofgem, our energy regulator, revealed that, next winter but one, it is increasingly likely that the energy companies, faced by a particularly heavy spike in demand caused by cold weather, may be unable to cope. In other words they would be forced to impose power cuts on us for the first time since the 1970s.

And which geniuses are responsible for this state of affairs? Step forward the present, and in particular the previous government and their obsession with wanting to appear green. Thus they have been allowing and indeed even encouraging the closure or mothballing of old power stations, particularly those that burn good old reliable coal, so as to chase the chimera that is climate change. The only climate that is likely to be changing in any measurable way, temperatures have stood still now for 16 years, is the climate in our homes. It was bad enough having to choose whether or not we can afford to put the heating on. Now it seems we may not even have the choice.

In reality of course what will happen is that homes will be given priority during a cold spell and energy guzzling factories will be asked to reduce their consumption temporarily to manage demand. But how is that helpful in a country trying to grow its way out of recession? It's bad enough that our energy prices have become so high in pursuit of this green madness. Now businesses are to be asked to close down altogether because we haven't got enough power stations.

As people like me have been arguing for years now, this was always going to happen. It has been so obvious you could see it with the lights out as you might have to. But not if you are a politician. Instead of doing the sensible and pragmatic thing of keeping the old generators in action until a viable alternative is found, they have signed up to draconian limits to cut CO2, ignoring the fact that the rest of the world is not following suit thus making our sacrifice pointless. They have been building and subsidising absurd wind turbines across the land, (one of which killed a rare bird, a white throated needle tail coming to our shores just this week) and trusting that they will somehow magically cut demand in a world in which we are using gadgets and computers remorselessly and in which modern flats have to use electricity to heat themselves as gas heating is not allowed thanks to safety rules.



Even if you believe fervently that man is creating global warming, and all but the most rabid fanatics are having to accept that there are question marks about the extent of warming and thus the need for such drastic solutions as were being proposed only 5 years ago, surely this also has to be weighed with other considerations? We are a society that needs power. We have, for five years in succession, had cold winters creating higher demand. Surely any government has a duty to consider that theoretical concerns about warming in the future are of lower priority to keeping people warm and our society operating in the almost here and now? On a practical level, how are we ever going to grow enough to pay for new generation capacity if you cannot guarantee stable power for businesses setting up and expanding here?

Rather like with this week's spending announcement, the government is reliant on theoretical efficiency savings and presumably hoping that the Met Office will finally be right about warm winters in order to keep our lights on. In fact they should only be allowing the retirement of old generation capacity once the new capacity is on line. We are even hesitating about the shale gas bonanza that will make energy cheap, reliable and cut CO2. Once again the greens don't like it and so our politicians hesitate.

This is a potential crisis entirely made in Westminster and Brussels because pygmy politicians are incapable of leading. Being green is one of those issues, like giving money in foreign aid, that is a mystery to most people, and looks like an unaffordable luxury that only concerns the metropolitan classes who call themselves progressive. Well think how progressive you will feel when the lights go out and people die as a consequence. We are already having to subsidise energy bills because they have been made unaffordable. This wholly avoidable crisis is coming and it is coming fast. Who is going to stand up and point out that the green emperor is wearing no clothes?

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Tired of the Game


George Osborne's spending review yesterday has got reasonably flattering headlines considering what a damp squib it was. And, to be fair to him, this is because, though the review was nothing like as comprehensive as its title suggests, it represents a pretty comprehensive victory over Labour and Ed Balls. They have gone from resisting every cut, talking of them being too far and too fast to abject surrender. Only a few weeks ago they were delightedly attacking the government over 'the bedroom tax,' now backbenchers are forbidden from mentioning it.

But this is all part of the dishonest game our politicians are playing. Osborne has shown himself to be every bit as mendacious and cunning as Gordon Brown was when at the Treasury. But we should all be fearful of that. The game is something that the Westminster village engages in. It is what they do instead of watching TV or Wimbledon. It delights them to watch every word uttered, every nuance. It traps opponents, it makes them commit to foolish promises. It costs us money we cannot afford.

Because, for all the talk of cuts and austerity, this is a government that will add £600 billion to the national debt by the time it asks for us to vote it back into power in 2015. There have been cuts of course, but they have fallen on those departments unprotected by foolishly erected ring fences, another example of the game. David Cameron, the great moderniser, wanted to look modern and 'progressive'. That meant protecting spending on a health service so awash with cash it can bribe people to stay silent about its failings. It meant ring fencing education spending, although thankfully it was put in the hands of a moderniser intent on forcing the education establishment to up its game. And, most egregiously of all, it meant that ring fence around international aid so that the government can look generous and outward looking and stop some of the criticisms coming at it from various aid charities and the Church of England.

And then there is welfare. We are paying out to wealthy pensioners because, thanks to the game played at the last election, Dave promised not to cut their benefits like winter fuel allowances, free TV licences and bus passes. And of course there is pensions and benefits. None of this was included in what George announced yesterday. It is, in the arcane language of these things, AME or Annually Managed Expenditure which cannot and will not be controlled without legislation, political bravery and blood on the carpets.

What this government has been doing is hacking at easy targets and avoiding, whilst talking tough, taking on the real issues that are costing the real money. True they have squeezed some welcome efficiencies out of those departments that have been cut. But surely that means that the real spenders, those like health, welfare, and even education are crying out to be made more efficient and to be better managed? The kind of savings seen in the smaller spending departments when applied to the big spenders would make a real difference. They would either cut the deficit radically, or could even see some of the savings shared and being reinvested in new buildings, new equipment, greater capability. Now that would be something for a reforming government to be genuinely proud about.

Instead, at the next election, they politicians will play the game. It will be a subtly different game than before because there isn't much money and because Osborne has forced Labour on to his territory. But if we were really facing austerity rather than merely talking about it, those same politicians would be having to face real tough choices and the resultant unpopularity. There remains no sign of that. It will take a crisis before that happens. Unfortunately, as the markets have shown in the last few days, that could easily happen.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

PMQs 26th June 2013 - The Bert, Ernie and Jeffrey Edition


Why does the Cabinet include in its number Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Osborne and Ross Kemp? Well, you need not worry, Dave has not done his reshuffle on the sly without us noticing. These people are in fact George Osborne (twice) and William Hague. The great British public, and the President of the United States were under the impression that this was the identity of the mysterious figures shown to them by opinion poll researchers. They say that politics is showbusiness for ugly people. It turns out that the British public agree, and so make their own unconscious substitutions to ease the trauma. On the plus side most people did recognise Dave, Nick and even that kid with the big nose on the opposition front bench. Oh and Boris. They nearly all knew who he was, although this may not be the case if he loses his famous hair as is said to be a danger. Then he will have to join the cast of EastEnders.

It's been a strange week since Dave was showing the world how he can go tieless and roll up his sleeves to achieve very little at international summits last week. There has been the emerging scandal surrounding the NHS and its tendency to not do its job very well and then cover this up and threaten or bribe anyone who finds this objectionable. There has been the revelation that our police are none to keen on being shown up either. Quite why politicians objected so vociferously was a mystery though. Trying to find material to smear and discredit opponents is what they do every day of the week. Only this week we have seen the publication of that letter left behind by Liam Byrne to his successor in The Treasury telling him awfully sorry old chap there's no money left. Unfortunately for him, and quite unexpectedly, his successor was a Lib Dem. They smear with the best of them and have to do it to both major parties not just one.

Oh and we also learnt this week what Wallace would do in the event of seeing a celebrity chef being manhandled by her husband. Would he tell her it served her right for being the daughter of a Tory who once cut tax to 40% and forced his party to keep it there until they were about to leave power? No, apparently he would march up to the table and demand to know what was going on. No, really. He might have to run it past the unions first and triangulate it all to ensure everyone was on board, but that is his clear policy. Labour are very clear that they will be decisive and forthright where these issues that took place two weeks previously are concerned. Indeed, even if he had been there it would have taken him that long to formulate a policy anyway.

Still, this new willingness by Wallace to go to the aid of the defenceless, even those related to men who are climate change deniers, may be good news for Dave. He invited his opposite number to the National Security Council Meeting yesterday to hear secret intelligence about Syria. Presumably, after hearing that, and making a few phone calls to the TUC, Wallace will be chomping at the bit to intervene. Much like he would have been had he been in Mayfair.


Dave has been given a bit of an easy ride the last couple of weeks at PMQs. Last week, although I only got to see it after the fact due to an unscheduled visit to my local hospital, Wallace barely turned up at all. And, in a slow week for news, what would be the subject of today's interrogation? Now that Labour are signed up to keeping to the spending limits about to be outlined by Jeffrey George Osborne they can't even moan about cuts any more. They can of course tell us that their cuts would be better cuts , but the British public seem disinclined to believe them, especially when they can see what all of that cash achieved when shovelled at our baby killing hospitals under the previous government.

The first question came from Gordon Henderson asking about keeping interest rates down. Labour would borrow more said Dave, will the kid with the big nose admit when he stands up.

The kid with the big nose duly stood up - and asked about spending on schools. Dave missed a trick here. Wallace was saying they aren't spending enough. But the PM chose instead to tell us how much the country has 'invested.'

As usual the line from Dave here was a variation on the theme that Labour made a mess and he and his government have had to clear it up. True enough of course, but hardly original or interesting. But here was Wallace effectively rubber stamping his peculiar push-me-pull-you approach to public spending in which they claim ruthlessness and then tell us how much more they will spend. But it took the PM until the end to point this out, evincing as he did the usual Wallace whinge that the PM is asking him questions, always a sure pointer to him not liking those questions.


And that was the way the six questions went, Wallace asked how many of the promised projects had been got underway, Dave preferred to talk about overall funding on infrastructure claiming that the government is spending more than Labour planned. This is a sure sign that the government is aware that this is the potential difficulty of their austerity programme. Labour are now signed up to it, but they 'reserve the right' to spend more on infrastructure. This one will run and run all the way to 2015.

There was a lot of shouting, oh and Dave compared Wallace to Bert out of Sesame Street (cartoonists please take note) Wallace deployed his sad shake of the head and patronising voice, but for once didn't tell Dave to calm down dear. Dave finally seemed by the end to remember that he was supposed, today of all days, to be pointing out that Labour are not to be trusted on the economy because they would spend more having not learned their lesson. He rounded off with a list of Wallace predictions that have all turned out to be wrong with regard to unemployment, immigration, crime. But, though he gave a decent account of himself, he was on the defensive more than in previous weeks. He really ought to be better able to deal with Wallace with a well honed joke rather than with the hackneyed attacks he rather lazily relies on every week.

The PM, asked about the Lawrence affair, said he was not ruling out a public inquiry, but argued that the police are not investigating themselves. And he was at his best when on the subject of the NHS. This time for once he was not telling us how much he loved it, he was telling us how Labour's addiction to spin and massaging figures had created a much loved institution that keeps killing people and covering it up. The problem for Labour is that, given what we know of their ruthlessness in power and their pursuit of those who detracted from the approved message, it all rings horribly true. Are they about to be put on the back foot on the NHS as well as on the economy. That would be quite an achievement, especially since Dave has been so late trying to make an issue of it.

As usual the PM calmed down a bit once his contretemps with Wallace was at an end, but this was not Dave on his best form. His performances tend to go downhill when he goes for a few weeks having to turn up every week. He becomes shouty and repetitive and less creative in his responses. He actually ought to take the advice of the opposition bench and calm down a bit. He might make more sense and score a win. As it was, this looked like a win for Wallace, not least because Labour had a point, albeit a hypocritical one: the deficit has not gone down and borrowing remains sky high. Spending on various big projects has been hit and miss. For all the talk of austerity, and today's announcement of cuts, we will borrow around £100 billion again this year. But that is because, for all of the protests of Labour, and all the talk of tough choices, we are cutting nothing like enough. It would only take a bursting of the bond bubble created deliberately by low interest rates and QE and we would be staring down the barrel of a Greek style disaster and Greek style proper austerity.






Tuesday, 25 June 2013

MEPs Sign In, Claim Expenses, And Sod Off - Oh, And Punch A Reporter

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Billionaire Scorned


Lord Ashcroft is having fun with his toy political website today, publishing another of his polls designed to piss off the Conservative leadership. It reveals that people don't know who most of the Cabinet are, even the higher profile ones like George Jeffrey Osborne, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt. People do know who David Cameron and Nick Clegg are. Oh and Boris, everyone knows Boris. Indeed were he to become prime minister one day he would probably be the first to score a recognition factor above 100%. It's unlikely the US president would get his name wrong. Boris is the only politician in living memory who is known only by his first name. He could be a pop singer if it all goes wrong.

For those still wondering if they should, if push comes to shove, throw their hats in the ring of a leadership election, this poll will be a little worrying. Theresa May is the only one even close to the one named politician. Or they could hope that Boris is indeed going bald as is alleged. When this happens, as William Hague discovered, you can easily be confused with Iain Duncan Smith or indeed Ross Kemp, the former Eastender.

It seems however that I am not the only man in the country struggling to create fame for myself. When Cabinet ministers struggle too there is clearly something wrong. Perhaps as an act of vengeance they should have a whip round and commission a poll or two about Lord Ashcroft (that's him above by the way). Who is he? What's his problem? And should he be sent back to Belize?

Human Ingenuity - Mind Over Bollards


There was a video doing the rounds last week about a fox cub that had put its head in a bottle and got it stuck. It then staggered down the road and came across a couple of men who freed it. Isn't it clever, people said, it went for help. Except it didn't of course, it was disorientated, frightened and confused and couldn't see where it was going through the bottle on its head and just happened to come across two men and couldn't run away. But all was well that ended well. They freed the cute little cub.

So now, just to show human superiority, here is a man who has got his head stuck in something, this time a traffic bollard. And, just like the cub, he also seems to know he needs help. Isn't evolution marvellous!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Nigella - Labour Announce Their Policy On Intervention Only A Week Late


Wallace has announced a policy. It seems that, a week on from the great Nigella scandal hit the headlines, he has let it be known that his policy, had he been there at the time, would have been to intervene.

He said: 'I thought they were horrifying pictures. Honestly, if you are passing by something like that happening, our duty is to intervene. If I had been in that situation, passing by in those circumstances, the right thing to do is to go up somebody involved in that and say 'what's going on.'

And we're expected to believe that are we? From the man who never knowingly makes a decision on anything without caveats, running it by the unions and then changing his mind the following day? We are expected to believe that this nauseating dweeb would have marched up to that table and said 'what's going on?' when he changes his mind, umms and ahhhs and gives radio interviews refusing to commit himself to anything? Last week he told us his party in government would be ruthless on spending if elected. There will be no more borrowing. This week they have found that there might be more borrowing, but only for investment. We're going to have more schools, more hospitals, more broadband, more energy supply. But no more borrowing. Oh no. Oh and people over 50 are going to get higher benefits too. But that's probably investment, right?


So what do we think would really have happened had Wallace been strolling down that Mayfair street and seen Charles and Nigella? Well for a start he would have probably muttered something about them being rich bastards and Tories. But then he might well have wondered if he ought to say something. Harriet will not be happy if I don't. Then again they are Tories. And her dad was a famous Tory who cut things, including the top rate of tax. And he's a climate change denier. But on the other hand she's famous and a chef. It would get headlines. But what would the unions say? Should I even be in Mayfair without their permission? Then again her husband is a Saatchi. He helped Thatcher. That's it, we have a new policy. I'm going in.

But of course they left some time ago.


The NHS: It's A Matter of Philosophy


If only we had braver politicians the current crisis in the NHS would be a wonderful opportunity. This is particularly the case with the present government, for, even though this crisis is happening on their watch, it cannot be laid at their door. Why then have they not been making more hay? It's because of this peculiar veneration we feel, even now, for a service that is actually failing, and failing spectacularly.

But the greatest part of this opportunity is that it can be fairly and squarely laid at the door of Labour thanks to their attitude and philosophy towards the public services. The NHS, at least in part, is not fit for purpose, to use that modern cliche we deploy whenever various departments screw things up, but the reason that this is so is, in large part, thanks to the way Labour ran the NHS and much of government. Money was thrown at unreformed services, targets were created so that they could boast of their achievements, and their spin was deployed across the departments to send out the right message.

The result has been there for all to see. We have lots of shiny new hospitals, treatment centres, new GPs surgeries and yet the same old problems or worse. Labour's faith in centrally driven health care by diktat has created this monolith that has been great at creating well paid professional and semi professional jobs aplenty, but remains wanting in doing what it is supposed to do, namely treating patients. We have the GPs contract which enabled GPs to abandon their patients after 6pm and over the weekend, we have a target driven culture designed to tell a good story rather than create one, and we have this pervasive culture of obfuscation and cover up. Worst of all we have legions of managers and quangos who are ill qualified for their jobs but get to their positions thanks to a culture of acquiescence, keeping your head down and buggins turn. In some cases, it should also be noted, they get their jobs thanks to holding the right political opinions.

I cannot be the only one to have noted that this culture within the NHS, this see no evil, speak no evil is  not so very far removed from the culture of silence that is created in totalitarian states. I'm not claiming a conspiracy, but it is remarkable how monoliths like this become self enforcing, self aggrandising and ultimately end up doing the opposite of what they were set up to do because the culture becomes about the perpetuation and good name of the institution rather than the delivery of services.

The NHS, like so many of the public services, is run for the benefit of the staff who run it. It is inefficient, badly run and union dominated. And yet it is killing people. Something has to give.

And therein lies the opportunity. Nobody can claim that these things are happening due to lack of money. If a service can spend millions buying the silence of staff it is not short of cash. These things are happening because the NHS, all too frequently, has the wrong priorities and is poorly run. With what we are spending on it annually we ought to be seeing one of the finest health services in the western world, instead we have one where it is the luck of the draw and in which the molly coddled staff, accustomed to our blind reverence and gratitude, have become complacent and lackadaisical.

It is a theme that is repeated across the entire public sector, it's just that in health it is an attitude that kills. I know of what I speak. I have used the NHS a great deal these last few years. There is plenty of excellence and plenty of dedicated staff. But there is also a culture of take it or leave it, of them doing us a favour. It is endemic across so many of the services we rely on.

Over the weekend the ridiculous People's Assembly met in central London with their calls for an end to the austerity we are not enduring and of general strikes. This is the extreme end of the attitudes that created our awful public services. This is the mindset that says that anything publicly owned is inherently good, noble and altruistic and that anything private is grasping, venal and selfish. Of course at the same time they raise themselves to apoplectic fury when private firms avoid taxes to pay for those public services. They hate them but demand their cash, and can see nothing wrong or contradictory about that position.

But it is a philosophy that is remarkably common and it explains a great deal of what is wrong with the NHS and our public services. They are run by people who just assume, purely by virtue of their being publicly funded, that they are incapable of being venal, selfish and grasping. They then demand strikes to defend the status quo. And Labour are captives of this mindset. They are funded by them, although eventually it is by we the taxpayer. This government ought to be pointing this out forcefully.  

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Review of the Week


The G8 summit got underway in Northern Ireland with worries over Syria, tax avoidance, and why it is called the G8. After all there were all of the leaders of the member countries there: the UK, USA, Canada, Italy, France, Japan, Germany and Russia plus a couple of representatives of the EU. Why does the EU, which isn't a country, not only get to attend but send two of its  prancing, pretentious panjandrums along to parlay pointlessly? Still, Herman Van Rompuy, who is never knowingly interesting or illuminating, did inform us that the Euro crisis was over. So that was worthwhile.


These big summits are of course almost always a complete waste of time and a spectacular waste of money. But Northern Ireland looked pretty and picturesque, which will have come as a revelation to much of the world. And, though the communiques were bland and uninteresting, the leaders of the greatest economies of the world did get to set an example to the world of how to dress casually even when talking about grave issues. They daringly went tieless, perhaps because they were there to talk about stronger ties between the EU and US. But then Dave topped them all by going tieless, jacketless and rolling his shirt sleeves up. Truly he is the heir to Blair, and a trendsetter our island nation can be proud of. What was achieved, other than sending tie makers of the world into despair? Well they came to an agreement about tax dodging. Perhaps that's why they didn't want to dress like accountants.



Syria was of course the big issue, and the summit, as expected, resolved precisely nothing. Putin turned up and said nyet, and that was more or less that. He did also get to pose alongside cool dude Barack, but the body language between the two was as icy as the cold war these two nations used to engage in. Quite why Russia is invited to these shindigs is a mystery. Why not simply revert to the G7 next time?Oh, and wear ties.

The week got underway with a major furore about a celebrity chef being assaulted. No, it wasn't Gordon Ramsay at last getting his comeuppance for all of those expletives aimed at blameless kitchen assistants and sous chefs. This was Nigella Lawson being apparently assaulted in a Mayfair restaurant by her husband, Charles Saatchi, as captured on camera by fellow diners.


Photographs were sent around the world. Twitter was all of a twitter.  Charles accepted a police caution and claimed that it was all a tiff that looked worse than it was. Nigella however said not a word. Various newspaper columnists and 'experts' were outraged on her behalf and claimed that there was no way it was just a tiff. But how do they know based on a picture? It may well have been every bit as bad as it looked, but only the couple themselves know the truth. Why don't people mind their own business? We may never know what happened and why. Nigella spent much of the week holed up in a Mayfair apartment, away from her husband. Observers have noted that she is not wearing her wedding ring and has looked tired and pale, as well she might. But could that be as much down to being the subject of so much vicarious angst, and the recipient of so much unasked for advice? She certainly didn't deserve her treatment at the hands of her husband, but neither did she deserve to be held up as an example of domestic violence to be debated ad nauseum in the world's newspapers and blogs.

On the same day that a hard hitting and weighty report set out a new tougher regime for bankers and their industry, another report, this time into the NHS, showed that a similar approach to that institution would be welcome. The CQC, an NHS regulator, failed to uncover serial failings at a maternity unit that led to deaths, and yet covered up, and even destroyed a report detailing these failings. They also hounded appalled whistle blowers out of their jobs. Why is it that bankers remain public enemy number one, and will now be liable to criminal penalties, while NHS managers can get away with close to murder and not even be named, let alone prosecuted? Furthermore their pension arrangements seem every bit as generous as bankers. Can you see how they deserve such colossal packages given their performance?

George Osborne (or Jeffrey as he is known in Washington), in his annual Mansion House speech before those dastardly bankers, gave a hint that Lloyds TSB may soon be returned to the private sector where he said it belongs. This, it is being hinted, will take place before the election in 2015. RBS however, which is nothing like so healthy, and still in need of therapy and possible amputation of its dysfunctional parts, will remain in the public embrace beyond 2015.

This coming week will see the latest spending review delivered to the Commons on Wednesday. As part of their new being responsible spin, Labour are making noises about accepting these spending plans, although they said the same in 1997, stuck to it for a while, and then got fed up and went wild with our money. They still claim that they didn't though, so why should we believe them? Perhaps they should watch this handy video Jeffrey George has released to explain deficits and debts and the need for spending reviews.


Labour performed another U turn, this time on education, whilst pretending to be doing otherwise. Education shadow Stephen Twigg announced that Labour, if elected, would allow Free Schools to continue but would call them something else, which of course makes all the difference. Education, education, education eh?


There have been widespread riots across Brazil all week as people took to the streets to protest about rising public transport fares, and the perceived injustices in an economy that is apparently booming and  now the 7th largest on the planet, and yet in which there is still grinding poverty. In particular there is anger about the money being spent on next year's World Cup from which ordinary people will be excluded thanks to the cost of tickets.

A teacher, 30 year old Jeremy Forrest, was found guilty on Thursday of the abduction of a pupil who was 15 at the time. The jury at Lewes Crown Court took just 2 hours to find Forrest guilty, and on Friday he was sentenced to 5 and a half years in prison. Just before the verdict was delivered, Forrest turned to the girl who gave evidence during the trial but cannot be named for legal reasons, and mouthed that he loved her. She buried her face in her hands as the verdict was announced, and mouthed that she was sorry as he was taken down to the cells. The prosecution had argued that Forrest was a manipulative man who had groomed the girl to satisfy his lust. The court had heard how the pair had gone from flirting to text messaging to a full on affair within a matter of months, and how Forrest had had sex with the under age girl in his marital home.


Stuart Hall, the 83 year old former television presenter, was sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty earlier in the year to the sexual assault of a number of girls, some as young as 9, in the 1970s when he was at the peak of his fame.

To the unrestrained joy of Nicholas Witchell and the Daily Mail, the Duke of Edinburgh left hospital earlier than had been predicted after his recent surgery. He will now spend two months convalescing and no further updates on his condition will be issued. A Buckingham Palace spokesman refused to comment on claims that this is because listening to Witchell's commentary might cause a relapse.

And to even greater joy that left the rest of us feeling like we are enduring a bout of morning sickness, we were treated to the details of how the imminent royal baby will arrive in its gilded new world. It will be delivered by the royal gynaecologists, who I suppose are like the modern equivalent of the Lords of the Stools, in a private wing of the hospital where I myself have received highly variable and often downright bad treatment. I don't expect the same will be true for Kate. Then, that tit Witchell informed us, when the great event arrives, a message will be passed to a royal courier, and an announcement will be posted outside Buckingham Palace on an easel. What the bloody hell for? Well, it's tradition innit?

Anyway, the nation, or at least the Daily Mail and the BBC, will erupt in joy, Witchell will intone gravely about events and dress up speculation as insider information. David Cameron will make a statement in the hope that he might conjure up a people's princess moment. Ed Miliband will make a statement and screw up the punchline. It's going to be unbearable. Thank god it's happening in the summer when we stand a chance of being away and on foreign shores.



Last weekend, Justin Rose won his first Major and became the first Englishman since Tony Jacklin in 1970 to win the U.S Open. Rose, who first burst on to the golfing scene at the British Open as a precocious teenage amateur, will now join the big league in earning potential. His emotional tribute to his late father will have endeared him to many too.

And this week it was Royal Ascot. The Queen's horse, Estimate, won the Gold Cup, and lots of royals were there to celebrate their good fortune - and the fact that their horse won. But I won't sport with your intelligence by writing of such things. That's what the Daily Mail is for. Instead here are some pictures of some nice looking women in elegant outfits that could have come from My Fair Lady.


And here is Victoria Pendleton looking a good deal more regal than those with alleged blue blood. Less toothy too.


James Gandolfini, known to millions as Tony Soprano, died of a suspected heart attack at just 51. Gandolfini was a fine actor who was given the opportunity to bring to life one of the single greatest characters ever created in any art form. But it was thanks to the greater scope given by a television series lavishly funded and given breadth and depth to develop those characters that Gandolfini was able to create such a memorable part. Why doesn't British television create this kind of series that has the whole world regretting the passing of an actor? Isn't this what the BBC, with its guaranteed lavish funding should be all about?


Finally photo bombing seems to be all the rage. Even the Queen did it a couple of weeks ago, getting into shot at the BBC as a couple of newsreaders tried to get on with their bulletin. And this couple had a tiger intrude on their nuptials. But then if you will get married in a zoo what do you expect? Still, they were said to think that the whole thing was grrrrrrrrreat.


Interlude

Sunday Funnies

Sunday Funnies

Interlude

Friday, 21 June 2013

Climate Change: Game Over For The Alarmists. We Await Your Humble Apologies


Watts Up With That has this fascinating and remarkably honest interview with IPCC lead author Hans Van Storch taken from Spiegel. Those who persist in calling sceptics idiots (yes, people like you Graham Linehan and Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) should read it.

Here are a few quotes for you, we await your apology:

'I'm not aware of any studies showing that floods happen more often today than in the past.'

'My impression is that there is less hysteria over the climate.' 

On the idea of having climate protection in the German constitution. Are you listening Mr Davey?
'It's a strange idea. What state of the Earth's atmosphere do we want to protect?'

'Unfortunately, some scientists behave like preachers, delivering sermons to people. What this approach ignores is the fact that there are many threats in our world that must be weighed against one another.'

'So far, no one has been able to provide a compelling answer to why climate change seems to be taking a break. We're facing a puzzle. Recent CO2 emissions have actually risen even more steeply than we feared. As a result, according to most climate models, we should have seen temperatures rise by around 0.25 degrees Celsius over the past 10 years. That hasn't happened. In fact, the increase over the last 15 years was just 0.06 degrees Celsius - a value very close to zero. This is a serious scientific problem that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will have to confront when it presents its next Assessment Report late next year.'

'In five years, at the latest, we will need to acknowledge that something is fundamentally wrong with our climate models.....There are two conceivable explanations.....The first possibility is that less global warming is occurring because greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have less of an effect that we have assumed.....The other possibility is that, in our simulations, we have underestimated how much the climate fluctuates owing to natural causes.

Excuse me while I dance a little jig at this point. 

Certainly the greatest mistake of climate researchers has been giving the impression that they are declaring the definitive truth....It's not a bad thing to make mistakes and have to correct them. The only thing that was bad was acting before hand as if we were infallible. By doing so, we have gambled away the most important asset we have as scientists: the public's trust.  

How unfortunate that this comes out now when in the last few weeks our Secretary of State for energy has been attacking sceptics and the media for reporting us (not that we have noticed) and of course calling us names. I expect Mr Davey will now apologise won't he. At the very least he should be moved elsewhere and replaced by someone who is less compromised and more open minded. After all this is the economic future of this country we are dealing with. Are we really going to continue on the present path our MPs tried to vote through only last week when the climate change science itself is at last acknowledging that it may all have been hype as we argued all along? Or is this going to be another area, like the NHS, when nobody takes responsibility for their actions and denunciations and for slandering those who have turned out to have been right all along?

 


'

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Charles and Nigella - Mind Your Own Business


I am never slow to criticise Nick Clegg. I generally dislike more or less everything that he says and all that he stands for. But I think he is right to be wary of commenting on the whole Saatchi/Nigella controversy.

We don't know what happened that day. A photo of someone with their hand around another's throat is of course objectionable, as is all violence against women. But we don't know that that is what was happening. We cannot judge by the pictures. Had we been there, had we seen what was happening instead of judging it after the fact and from pictures, perhaps we might have come to a judgement, and indeed we might have chosen to intervene. But it is impossible to do so post facto, and neither should we. Would we be credible witnesses in a court of law to this alleged crime? Or would our status as witnesses be impossibly compromised? In that case why are we justified in passing comment?

I speak as someone who has intervened in a case of a woman being assaulted by a man. For my pains I nearly got beaten myself. But I did so because it was clear that this man was intent on causing her damage. I was clear about this because I saw what was taking place and could hear what was being said. Later I called the police.

And what happened at that restaurant may well have been the same. The fact is though that we were not there, we were not involved and so we cannot possibly know. Charles Saatchi has sought to explain himself, and that explanation may well be utterly self serving and specious. Or it could be entirely reasonable and one that accurately reflects what happened and has since happened.

Violence against women by men is wrong, and is always wrong. But in our desire to be clear about this we should also be fair. It is impossible to be fair when we rush to judgement based on little or no evidence and a great deal of supposition. Pictures do not tell the whole story. Unless and until Nigella comes out and says what her perspective is, casting her as a victim who should speak out for the sake of all women is unreasonable and invidious. We should mind our own business. We weren't there.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

PMQs 19th June 2013


Apologies for the lack of a PMQs review this week. I was taken ill last night and fainted and so have spent several hours in my local Accident and Emergency Unit. I can however report that it didn't seem to be in crisis. The staff seemed as chillaxed as a certain leading politician I would normally be writing about.

Normal service will resume next week I hope. In the meantime here is the video, I could of course cheat and review that, but it's a live review or nothing.




The Next Dr Who?


Recently The Telegraph reported that the part of the next Dr Who has already been offered to Rory Kinnear. I have no idea if this is true, although it hasn't been picked up by the rest of the media since. It may be a perfectly decent if rather anodyne choice.

But if it's not too late, and assuming that I am not in the running (unfortunately running is rather difficult for me anyway, and it does seem to be a major part of the role) may I put in a word for Toby Stephens. His name came to me last night as I was watching a DVD of him playing Mr Rochester in the BBC's excellent 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre featuring the beautiful and talented Ruth Wilson. He would be a perfect Dr Who, with just the right combination of brooding moodiness, good looks and eccentricity. Something to think about, assuming the part has not already been handed out, or maybe for next time.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

G Five And A Half


Look at this picture. Just look at it. See who is disappearing off the edge? Angela Merkel, the only woman there, and she is being pushed off the edge. And why? Because they were having a dress down Monday and Tuesday and women never wear ties anyway. And she was the only one not wearing a non blue jacket. It's blatant discrimination. Wars have been started for less. I wish I'd joined in with those anarchist protests now.

Religion, Morality, Atheism and Barbarism. An Answer to Jonathan Sacks


In a remarkably tendentious and frequently disingenuous article in this week's Spectator, Jonathan Sacks tries the usual trick of the religious by slyly claiming that the new atheism as they like to call it, the new aggressive secularism, is endangering our civilisation.

'Future intellectual historians,' claims Sacks, 'will look back with wonder at the strange phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true, that the universe is more than 6,000 years old and there might be other explanations for rainbows than as a sign of God's covenant after the flood, the whole of humanity's religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards and we would be left with a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.'

Sacks is trying a little conjuring trick here. It's the smoke and mirrors of religious belief turned back on we atheists in the hope that we don't notice. First he tries to make out that our sole focus, our principal objection to his superstition is with the creation myth of Genesis, easily the silliest and most demonstrably false part of his belief system and the others it gave rise to. But it is by no means the only part that can easily be falsified. The exodus that didn't happen, the walls that never existed and so could not come tumbling down, the census that never took place, the miracles throughout all of the books. The list is as endless and interminable as the story itself. On every page we can easily point to absurdities, examples of moral turpitude, relativism and ancient beliefs now known to be false or at best misguided. It should however be pointed out that the myth of Genesis gives rise to one of the founding ideas of Christianity, the notion of original sin. From that we get the idea of the need for a Messiah.

But Sacks is attempting something more than this. He is attempting to argue that we should look past the stories on which his and the other Abrahamic faiths are based and see the greater essential truth at their root. Okay, he is trying with a straight face to tell us, it's all nonsense but it has a basic truth at its core. Well, how exactly?

If you can look at these stories and see them for what they are, as myths woven in a more sophisticated and remarkably successful attempt to create a common purpose, a community, obedience and adherence then that is all they are. Their essential truth is an illusion because their essential truth is just a power grab. Sacks claims that these stories have something to say about the human condition. And so they do, they tell us all we need to know about our human desire to influence, control and indoctrinate our fellow humans. Now that religion is failing to achieve this as we throw off its shackles and think for ourselves, now that religion is no longer able to threaten us when we fail to be obedient, is has shifted to talking about a new myth. We must now believe in this mysterious notion of the transcendence or the miracle of being. They can't bully us anymore and so now they want us to think that their belief system somehow makes them deep and spiritual rather than merely fanciful and naive. Okay, they say, the founding documents are myth and nonsense, but that doesn't mean that there isn't an essential truth. Spirituality and a sense of awe are the new shibboleths that only those who believe are privy to.



And then there is the next conjuring trick Sacks attempts, albeit not a new one. He attempts to claim that religion is the foundation of our morality. How's that again? These religions which were about conquest, enslavement, brutality towards non believers, women, homosexuals or those who eat the wrong type of food or fail to wear a hat at prescribed times? They have given us morality? But it's all right. Sacks invokes Nietzsche. He understood, says Sacks, that losing Christian faith would mean abandoning Christian morality. No more love your neighbour, instead the will to power. Oh well that's all right then. That settles it. No evidence required.

Of course this is arrant, and indeed arrogant nonsense. This notion that morality is some creation of the religions, the same religions whose founding documents are full of violence, moral relativism and invocations to war in the name of their god is absurd. Morality is something that has been tagged on to these religions long after, and of course is very flexible. The churches have taught different moral codes according to their times, which is perfectly understandable from a human and anthropological perspective, but please don't claim it is something unique to those who believe in a sky fairy and who now claim that their belief is reduced to nothing more than a warm fuzzy feeling.

Sacks also claims that atheists tend to mumble and shuffle about when asked where morality comes from. This is simply untrue. Richard Dawkins, whom Sacks claims to respect, has much to say on the subject, as did Christopher Hitchens. Both have made good cases for morality being innate to us rather than something that has to be created by a belief system. Indeed religions all too often create a version of morality that is inimical to good sense, good health, and simple decency. Blanket edicts on contraception, hygiene, abortion, sexuality and even on the food we eat are a peculiar argument for the superiority of religious morality. All too often the religions claim that simple belief in their imaginary friend makes them morally superior. We live with the consequences of that kind of belief and self righteousness every day.

Morality is something independent of religion and has existed, admittedly in different forms as attitudes change, throughout human civilisation. The ideas contained in The Sermon on the Mount can be traced back to previous civilisations and religions long preceding our own.

But morality is a necessary condition for civilisation. It would be meaningless without it. It's like a constitutional underpinning of it. For proof of this we only have to look at the world today. Morality in our more secularised world may be different from that we used to have imposed on us in the past more religious eras but it is demonstrably not absent. Indeed modern morality is in the process, in the teeth of objections from the religious, of extending itself to those who would, if the religious had their way, be excluded.


But you could easily argue that there is a Darwinian explanation for morality. Our societies, our civilisations demonstrably prosper when we cooperate and coordinate ourselves. Were we to regress to the laws of nature as Sacks argues would be the case, that prosperity would be endangered. Our civilisation prospers because we all specialise and cooperate, we trade our skills. In order to allow this to work we need a foundation of rules and of morality. Thou shalt not steal or kill or covet another man's ox is not something we need a god to enforce for the simple reason that it is makes perfect sense if our civilisation is going to function properly. These essentials of morality are basic and innate in us precisely because they are rational and make life tolerable. And neither is such cooperation unknown in nature. There are plenty of animals that cooperate as groups, have assigned roles and rules enforced by that group for the greater good of the whole, and thus a basic form of morality. It is innate.

But, says Sacks, the modern era of individualism, materialism and freedom is dangerous for a cohesive society. It is profoundly disintegrative. Nonsense. Modern technology is creating new ways of connecting, of finding friends and the like minded. The fact that we have lots of friends on Facebook but few we could rely on in a crisis proves only that technology still cannot replace proper face to face human relations. We are capable now of connecting to dozens or hundreds of people thanks to modern communications technology and our lifestyles. But intimate connections are still constrained by our human nature.

And what of materialism, another bug bear of those who claim that spirituality is superior to our modern life. There is no evidence that man has become more acquisitive than we were in past more religious eras. It's just that there is now a greater opportunity for us all to acquire things thanks to modern production and distribution methods. That is something to be celebrated. It's progress. Where once it was everyone's ambition to own their own Bible and eat regularly, now we want more entertaining pastimes and different taste experiences. Spirituality is just another invention of man with no basis in fact. One man's spirituality is another man's staring vacantly into space wasting time. Nietzsche did a lot of staring into space thinking about deep things, but does that make him a better person than those of us who prefer to read a good book, watch television or play on a Playstation? If so, how exactly?

Essentially Sacks's critique comes across as the complainings of a grumpy old man who doesn't like the way the modern world is shaping up. Instead of simply accepting change he claims that this is dangerous, that we are losing our morality and social cohesion. Yet the fact is that the most peaceful nations in the world, the places that overwhelmingly attract the world's immigrants, are the western, increasingly secular societies. As we throw off the shackles of religion we are becoming more prosperous, more peaceful, more open minded, more tolerant and more law abiding. God is not required, indeed we are much better off without him.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Science of Science Funding and My Study of Fame


Government, as we all know, is about choices. Most of those choices involve money. Ministers will, on a daily basis, be asked to decide which policies go forward and are funded. They will be required to choose between one scheme and another. They will be assailed by press releases from charities, most of which get their money from central government not from shaking tins on the street, claiming that enormous damage will be done should they have their funding cut. Indeed most of the press releases that arrive in news rooms these days are from charities, quangos, local authorities, hospitals, research funds, theatres, children's play groups, even businesses explaining why there would be the most appalling consequences should they be removed from the teat of public funding or be asked to make savings like everyone else.

And there's science. Science is always desperate for more cash. Science is expensive and labour intensive. It needs equipment, time and manpower. But that's okay isn't it. Because science is good. Science is for all of our benefit.

Or is it? How many times have you opened your newspaper and read about a study, a scientific study, into why we smile, or why we sleep on one side of the bed. Is it vital to the cause of mankind that we know why birds migrate and choose the route they do. It's vital for the scientists certainly, and may contribute to a quite interesting documentary on BBC2. But it's not going to change lives is it. It's not going to save any. It will contribute very little to the sum of human knowledge. At best it will give someone a Phd, which is nice, and will end up being a question on QI for Alan Davies to get wrong to the sound of a klaxon.

And then there's this latest scientific study into the faces of Legomen. What does this tell us? And can you be scientific about facial expressions? Is that something that can be measured, or is it subjective? Perhaps I should conduct a study. I think I'll need about 50k.

Seriously though, I am toying with the idea of a study on fame. How easy is it in this day and age when apparently anyone can become famous to achieve it? What is the best way of achieving fame? Is infamy easier than fame? Recent events would suggest that it is. It's a subject I'm going to pursue. If in the process I become famous, get invited to parties and premieres, on to television and am assailed by nubile young women, then that is a cross I shall have to bear. Look out for it on my Video Diary in the coming weeks.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Review of the Week


The result of the presidential election in Iran last night was as uplifting as it was surprising. A comparative moderate won, and by a landslide. The Glasgow educated Hassan Rowhani took over 50% of the vote, meaning that there will be no need of a run off. His nearest rival could only secure 16.6 %.

It was a surprise result for the reformist movement that has been bullied, imprisoned, beaten and sometimes murdered since the last disputed election led to protests, violence and brutal repression. Rowhani has vowed to put an end to the confrontational rhetoric against the West and to seek to end the sanctions that have so damaged the Iranian economy.

Another week, another vicious murderer put behind bars and told he will never be released. This time it was 30 year old Dale Cregan, a career criminal and sociopath whose vicious attack on two unarmed police officers,  Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, shocked the nation last year. He dialled 999 to lure the officers to where he had been hiding from police, and attacked them with grenades and a gun before handing himself in to their own police station.


Cregan was part of the Manchester gang scene and was wanted by police for the murder of two members of a rival gangland family. In a feud that started in a pub altercation, Cregan, who saw himself as a kind of hit man, avenged the disrespect shown to a matriarch of the family by bursting into the same pub a few weeks later and shooting two of his rivals. He then went on the run to Thailand before being captured on his return. Police had to release him on bail while they gathered enough evidence to prosecute him, but had decided to rearrest him just prior to the murders of the two police officers. Cregan, alerted to this, seems to have decided to go down in what he would have seen as a blaze of glory, and hatched his plan to murder the officers before handing himself in to avoid being executed by rivals out for revenge.

And yet the imprisonment of one of our own gun crazed madmen came in the week when America commemorated six months having gone by since the Sandy Hook massacre took the lives of 20 children and six adults. Since that awful day, 5000 more people have lost their lives to gun wielding criminals in America, while politicians and the NRA argue about gun control and whether it is guns or people who kill.

And America is seemingly intent on handing weapons to a motley assortment of Syrians loosely termed rebels too. As the rebels increasingly look like losing to the pro Assad forces, America and her allies are wondering whether they should do anything. The spark for this is said to be that Assad is using chemical weapons, Yet he has killed 90,000 since the conflict started according to the UN. Is one method of death worse than another? Britain is still undecided about arming the rebels according to David Cameron. He did concede this week that parliament will have to be consulted.

The week started with a huge furore over America's Prism system, which may or may not have been used to spy on Brits as we Facebook and Google one another. Is there a system in the world that can cope with that much trivia? How much electricity is being needlessly expended storing the social arrangements of Britain and America's teenagers?


The man who blew the whistle on this less than startling news that spies spy, and use a computer program to do so, was revealed to have left behind his quite attractive girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who is upset. We know this because she posed for pictures without many clothes on to show this. Newspapers duly published them and I do likewise above, because I know what my audience likes.

Edward Snowden is currently holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong under the protection of the open and accountable People's Republic of China. The internet, though wonderful, does create problems purely because of the amount of haystack for authorities to sort through if they want to intrude on us. Probably, as a consequence then, nothing much to worry about. There's far too much for them to go through so your perversions or esoteric tastes on YouTube should evade their attention. It makes one want to LOL doesn't it.

And yet, if you wanted to ROFL this week, you should have headed to parliament where Michael Meacher demanded an urgent reply to a question about the Bilderberg conference in Watford last weekend. Ken Clarke, who is the least lizard like of the Bilderberg attendees - that in itself is probably a clever ruse - stood up and answered the conspiracy theorists with his typical good humour and bonhomie.


Speaking of conspiracies, a bunch of spectacularly dimwitted jihadists were sent to prison on Monday for trying and failing to start a civil war with a bunch of thick, neo fascist dimwits from the EDL. Fortunately for the police, the EDL and for the rest of us, the jihadist dimwits were too late to wage holy war on skinheads apparently for the crime of insulting their prophet. It seems that these holy warriors were not too good at getting up in the morning and so missed the march they had intended to attack. They also failed to insure the car they were using to transport them to fight the good fight and so were stopped and caught by police.



Still, they were in possession of thousands of items of extremist material and, since they were not the brightest, this must mean that such material is extremely freely available. The judge expressed his concern before handing down sentences ranging from 18 years and 9 months for Mohammed Saud, Anzal Hussain and Mohammed Hasseen and 19 and a half years to Jewel Uddin, Omar Mohammed Khan and Zohaib Ahmed. All of the men were from Birmingham and could easily, said the judge, have been given life sentences which they only just avoided.



In Turkey, after nearly two weeks of unrest as large numbers of people protested against what they see as an increasingly authoritarian government, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at first agreed to hold talks to resolve the situation before sending in riot police on Monday. By Tuesday, police were also laying siege to camps set up in a nearby park in an attempt to prevent it from being developed.


Here in London, there were also a few isolated moments of trouble as the usual anti-capitalist 'anarchists' protested about the upcoming G8 summit set to take place in Northern Ireland next week. These people seem to be very, very angry about something, but it is never really clear what. They made their usual sound and fury, disrupted a few capitalists which will have pleased them, and one was wrestled to the ground when it appeared he was about to throw himself off a roof. They are passionate certainly, but Istanbul or Tehran this is not.

Stephen Hester, the clean skin parachuted in to lead the rescue of Royal Bank of Scotland resigned as its chief executive on Wednesday. He will leave the bank later in the year. This was widely seen as a push rather than a jump, as the government prepares RBS for a nice sell off in the lead up to the election.


But in a sign that real innovation and creativity is possible in the world of banking and high finance, Japanese girl band Machikado Keiki * Japan will have skirts that become shorter the higher the stock market rises. This is genius. Perhaps it's what they were talking about at Bilderberg. Do lizards wear skirts?

It has been observed in the past that skirts generally get shorter during the good times and longer during recessions. Now teenage boys will be compelled to watch stock markets as well as the pop charts. It should be noted however that, since the formation of the band, stock markets have performed supremely well and so the girls will have to perform completely skirtless. Quite what happens if there is another boom thereafter is left unsaid, but be assured I shall be keeping a watchful eye on the situation.

The trial began of a teacher, Jeremy Forrest, who became the subject of a schoolgirl crush and then infamously ran off with his pupil to France last year. The schoolgirl, whose name was widely known at the time as police searched for her, but must now not be named,  has been giving evidence.  The two started flirting with one another on social networks causing rumours to circulate in the school. They were forced to block one another online. But the liaison continued secretly and became sexual during last year's summer holidays the court was told. The trial continues this week.


Did you know that there is a Shed of the Year Competition? Well if you stop to think about it, it's obvious really. We love our sheds in this country, and have been getting creative with them. The stand out one to my mind is HMS Victory, above. That would be a place to go to even if you hate gardening as I do. You could take a friend there called Hardy. The Tardis below should also receive honourable mention, although if we are being strictly fair the inside is far far too big to be a proper shed.


The writer Iain Banks died at the age of 59. Best known as the author of The Crow Road and The Wasp Factory, Banks endeared himself to millions with his often dark wit and self deprecation. He announced his terminal illness just 3 months ago in typically wry style, but asked his publishers to bring forward the publication of his new book, which deals with the issue of terminal illess from cancer, so that he would be able to see it before he died. Publisher Little Brown did just that, presenting him with copies of the new book, The Quarry, three weeks ago. It will be published on 20th June.

Sir Henry Cecil, tall and dapper 10 times champion trainer, died at the age of 70 from cancer. During an astonishing career as a peerless racehorse trainer, he won 25 classics including the Oaks 8 times, the 1000 Guineas 6 times, and 4 Epsom Derbies. He rounded off a career that had seemed to go into inevitable decline with the unbeaten Frankel, one of the greatest racehorses of all time.


Chinese censors provided proof this week, as they do almost every week, that they have no sense of humour. Chinese bloggers spotted the similarities between a couple of Disney characters and the presidents of the two most powerful nations on Earth. The Chinese authorities were unamused, which of course just makes it funnier. It's not as if we failed to laugh when we had our own Eeyore called Gordon as prime minister. It's just that Barack used to run away from him, and so no pictures of them strolling together exist.


In what was her penultimate engagement before she gives birth to the baby being anticipated by the sort of people who enjoy this sort of thing with a fervour that those of us with brains find bewildering, the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate, launched a ship. Now that is something that even I admit would almost make it worth becoming a royal for. Yes you may have to put up with Prince Philip's jokes and your father in law's advice about green issues and architecture, yes you may have to endure interminable evenings having constantly to check on who you have to bow or curtsy to according to who is in the room and who has gone out for a pee, but you do from time to time get to chuck a sodding great bottle of Champagne and launch a giant ship. That would almost make having to communicate with Nicholas Witchell worthwhile.



Kate's final engagement, in case you were wondering, before heading off to maternity was to attend yesterday's Trooping of the Colour to celebrate the Queen's official birthday. The birthday honours threw up possible proof that we really are living in a classless society. In among the usual baubles for businessmen and an astonishing number of Lib Dem MPs, was the award for Baldrick of a knighthood. Blackadder on the other hand must make do with a CBE. Was this a cunning plan that finally paid off?


Finally, you've heard of the expression you look like you've sucked a lemon? Well this dog thought he would try it for himself. He's this week's YouTube hit. Seriously, what did we do before YouTube? Achieved things and got work done probably.