J&P Holidays, ROI duty-free, press freedom, guns and assisted dying

19 June 2022

Let’s celebrate:  all good news this week.  Well, nearly all.

The European Court of Human Rights overruled the Boris Johnson / Priti Patel plot to deport asylum seekers 4,000 miles to Ruanda, a country with a dubious human rights history.  J&P Holidays had organised a charter flight costing £500,000 to deport up to seven people who’d been stupid enough to believe Britain was a safe place to live.  The (huge) plane then sat on the tarmac in the sweltering heat until the ECHR ruled one of the deportations was illegal and other appeals should be awaited, so the flight never took off.

The icing on the cake was that a whole bunch of faith leaders had publicly condemned the decision to deport asylum seekers to another country without even a trial.  J&P’s response was to claim faith leaders shouldn’t get involved in politics.  Absolute bollocks of course but exactly what we expect from those two.  Where would Christianity be if Jesus hadn’t got involved in politics?

Johnson immediately suggested that Britain should withdraw from the ECHR to avoid similar interference in human rights as misinterpreted by him and Patel.  After all, after he’d intentionally infringed bits of the ministerial code of conduct, Johnson rewrote the code to ‘legalise’ his actions retrospectively, and that seemed to work.

So he’s now applying the same blasé approach to international law to his attempts to renege on his own agreement with the EU even though his own government publicly accepts its proposed Northern Ireland protocol bill doesn’t meet its obligations under international law.

And then we can have duty-free shops somewhere between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. 

We can only hope that people voting in next week’s by-elections ignore the no-confidence vote that so discredited and enfeebled Johnson.  He deserves a 58th chance to show he can do the job – be fair, he’s only had 3 years to get it right so far.

One slight niggle about his chancellor:  isn’t a ‘household’ a bunch of people, not a building?  If so, why does the chancellor seem to be contributing £400 to all houses even if they’re second (or third etc) homes which aren’t occupied for most of the time?  Wouldn’t one payment per family be better wherever they say they live?  Or couldn’t it be means-tested so the money that would have gone to richer households can be used to increase the payments to poorer households?

But back to more good news:  the journalist Carole Cadwallader won a victory for the free press.  She’d been sued for libel by Arron Banks, a multi-millionaire who bankrolled Brexit, but the judge decided Cadwallader “had reasonable grounds to believe that her intended meaning was true”.

However, Julian Assange is still up for grabs and Priti Patel has decided he can be extradited to America.

I find myself rather conflicted about Assange.  I’m in favour of a free press able to publish everything but I could be convinced that some things should be restricted if people’s lives are put at risk.  It’s just that America has been unable to actually find even one person who died as a result of the Wikileaks revelations … 

However, just imagine if all countries knew everything about what every other country was doing, from the number of nuclear weapons they have to the mental health of their leader.  Mightn’t life actually be much safer for us all?

(I don’t feel at all ambivalent about the accusations of sexual impropriety in Sweden which should, however long ago it was, be given a fair hearing in court, but nobody seems to care about this anymore.)

On 4 July, parliament will debate a proposal to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, a small step in the right direction.  I’m hoping enough MPs are bright enough to understand that this wouldn’t make it compulsory and it would just allow people to make decisions about their own lives for themselves, instead of suffering under laws made by people who have no experience of situations when this could improve dying for those that wanted to

America, of course, takes a radically different approach to ending life.  A lot of them are terribly keen to preserve what might be ‘life’ in utero but equally enthusiastic about letting everyone have guns with which they can end their own (and other people’s) lives.  At least death by chemicals just leaves a peaceful body while guns can scatter blood, guts and brains over the furniture.

Actually, a bi-partisan group of US senators are looking at how gun laws could be tightened.  It’s only another a small step but again it’s in the right direction.  The National Rifle Association, which represents gun makers and sellers whose profits will be reduced if guns are banned, has aired its entirely objective view and said it will “oppose  … initiatives that override due constitutional process … and deprive law-abiding citizens of the fundamental right to protect themselves …”.  Note that even the NRA doesn’t actually claim Americans have an unrestricted constitutional right to bear arms, though it does its best to imply this without actually lying. 

And a House select committee seems to be closing in on their own liar while Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler, aka the Good Liars have gained a well-earned reputation for taking the piss.  In one recent event, they told Donald Trump he was “boring” and, at an NRA conference, they were applauded for saying “the NRA … has provided thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. And maybe these mass shootings would stop happening if we all thought a little bit more and we prayed a little bit more.”  The satire was, perhaps unsurprisingly, lost on the audience, but not on Twitter where it has now had more than 10m views.

Still on lying, Johnson has just lost his second ethics adviser in a year and headlines in the Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian all referred to the additional pressure this puts on his position.  Happily, with typical Johnsonian defensiveness, he seems to have drawn the obvious conclusion that, if ethics advisers keep telling him he’s being unethical, he obviously doesn’t need one so he’s not immediately going to appoint a new one.  How lucky we are to have such a positive-thinking prime minister, even if he does still believe Ethics is thomewhere between Middlethex and Thuffolk.

And there’s an organisation called Henley & Partners that claims to have invented “the concept of residence and citizenship by investment” in the 1990s?  In other words, it enables (for a huge fee) millionaires to buy citizenships of other countries (such as St Lucia and Montenegro) that, for a suitably excessive payment, sell their passports.  Some of them even offer a “golden passport” giving visa-free travel to 145 countries, including the UK and the EU’s Schengen Area. 

It’s been estimated that more than 15,000 Russian millionaires will be leaving their fatherland following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.  Perhaps Ukraine could talk to Henley & Partners and raise money for its defence against Russia and for the care of people rendered homeless by Putin’s murderous attacks on civilians.  If I were very rich, I’d be happy with a Ukrainian passport that gave me free access to the EU even without the war.

The closing piece of good news this week is that some gentians, attractive plants with small trumpet-shaped flowers, can feel things and respond to certain touches.  A recent study showed that they can suddenly close shortly after being touched, opening again within a fairly short period. 

It’s been known for years that some plants can count, and remember things:  insectivorous plants such as Venus fly traps don’t move if their trigger hairs are touched once but, if they’re touched again shortly afterwards, they snap shut to trap what is, with luck, a digestible insect and not a researcher with a pencil.

Which means they can count to two; which means they also have a memory because they can remember they’ve already counted one.

Enfeebled PM, gambling, the monarchy, greedy pigs and one of the ungreedy

12 June 2022

The greased piglet is bacon.  Maggie Thatcher and Theresa May both faced ‘no confidence’ votes and got off considerably better than Boris Johnson did this week but they both gave up fairly shortly afterwards.  Jacob Rees-Mogg kindly explained that one vote is enough to win which is, of course, technically correct but completely ignores the political implications of losing the confidence of some 40% of your own MPs.  When May’s vote showed much more confidence in her, Rees-Mogg described this as “terrible” for her.  Well, why should we expect consistency from our politicians?

Even the ultra Conservative Daily Telegraph headlined the result “Hollow victory tears Tories apart”. 

Elsewhere, the law firm Harcus Parker (what a pity the other partner wasn’t called Parkus because then they could have been magicians) has filed a bunch of claims exceeding £18m from 1,500 investors who believe Link Fund Solutions* failed in its duty to protect investors who knew their capital was at risk.  Another law firm, Leigh Day, has already filed a claim on behalf of some 12,000 other investors.

The fund that went bust had been managed by Neil Woodford (see my blog of 30 June 2019).  For many years, he had been seen as a star stock-picker and was championed by the investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown.  Woodford himself isn’t the target of the action because he was fired when even his bosses realised he had made some remarkably stupid decisions and had no particular skills, it was just his luck had run out.

What’s interesting about all of this is to look at who actually made money out of the debacle.  Peter Hargreaves, who helped a friend set up Hargreaves Lansdown in 1981, is now a billionaire;  Neil Woodford is a multi-multi-millionaire;  and the lawyers are going to make a mint.

Investors don’t see themselves as gamblers but the only real difference is the people who risk their money.  Investors are people (and organisations) with too much money who want more.  Investors use vehicles like investment funds who buy things with other people’s money, hoping to get lucky, taking fat fees for the themselves on the way whether or not they’re successful;  gamblers are people who are so poor they need a big win to survive but don’t believe how heavily the odds are stacked against them.  So the investment managers, agencies like Hargreaves Lansdown and the bookies are the only ones who end up rich.

I asked my Conservative-voting friend recently if they still thought Johnson was a good prime minister and the right man to lead his party and the country and they said ‘yes’ (note tactful absence of exclamation mark).  Following Monday’s no-confidence vote, I asked how they felt about the result and my friend said they felt no sense of either relief or disappointment at the result.  I thought this rather went against their earlier claim that Johnson was the best person to be prime minister, but who knows?  Maybe they actually don’t care who runs the country and have just been trying to wind me up.

The latest plan to encourage people to vote Tory is to let occupiers of social housing buy their homes at large discounts blatantly ignores the social and economic problems caused by Maggie Thatcher’s first bash at doing this which transferred almost 2 million units of social housing into private properties.  A 2017 survey published in Inside Housing magazine found that 40% of the former social housing was then being rented out by private landlords who were charging more than twice the rent charged by local authorities and average property prices were twelve times what they had been in 1980.

Only 5% of the stock sold off by Thatcher has been replaced, which is why we have an ever-expanding vicious spiral and some very rich property developers.

Turning to the equally disastrous policies of gun control in America, I recently learnt that the Washington Post humourist suggested a “Gun Control Plan” back in 1976, which would have required everybody’s trigger fingers to be amputated at birth.  He said “The constitution gives everyone the right to bear arms but there is nothing that says an American has to have ten fingers.”

I was talking to another friend this week about the monarchy after my comments last week.   They’re staunchly republican but, as we talked and I thought about it afterwards, I realised I get much more exercised by the distribution of wealth than about whether we have a monarch.  Royals do of course cost us money but only on a tiny scale compared with the money stashed in the mangers of very rich dogs who want to defend them against the people who actually need it to stay alive.

(Prince Charles himself may have swayed people’s feelings about the monarchy this week when, in a private meeting, he apparently described the government’s decision to ‘process’ asylum applicants in Ruanda as “appalling”.   Of course he was right but, until now, royals have never commented on political matters so this may be the beginning of the end.  Or possibly a move towards taking more power into the monarchy which, with the frightening things Johnson’s government has done, from removing rights to peaceful demonstrations, to refusing to make the rich help the poor, to increasing police powers, to immigration generally, to breaking an international law that has its own signature on the bottom, to cronyism and corruption, to its clear wish to move power from government into the hands of the prime minister, might not be a bad thing.)

So this week’s Fat Cat / Greedy Pig awards go to Dominic Blakemore of Compass, John Pettigrew of National Grid, Simon Roberts of Sainsbury and Steve Rowe of Marks & Spencer.  Blakemore was given £3.2m, Pettigrew £6.5m, Roberts £3.8m (triple the previous year) and Rowe £2.6m plus shares worth, at today’s share price some £4.1m that he can cash in over the next few years.

However, M&S showed their magnanimity by increasing their shop workers’ minimum pay to £10 an hour in a year when it made a pre-tax profit of nearly £400m, equivalent to more than £25 per hour for every single one of their employees worldwide. Ummm.

But worms are turning.

Morgan Curtis is a scion of a wealthy family descended from first and early settlers in what wasn’t then called New England.  In her mid-20s, she realised that her wealth and privilege were “inextricably linked to what has been stolen from the labor of enslaved African people, the rights of workers, lands of Indigenous people and the health of ecosystems” and decided to do something about it to help build “a more just world”.

After deciding she had a moral obligation to redistribute her wealth, she gave her money to grassroots social movements and now lives at Canticle Farm in “occupied Ohlone territory (known as Oakland, CA)” where she works to build “communities and movements in service to justice, healing and reconciliation”.

Morgan my hero, I love you.

*          I decided years ago that any business incorporating the word ‘solutions’ in its name wasn’t to be trusted to solve anything.

70 years of H Gracious M – what next?

5 June 2022

Thursday saw this year’s greatest fancy dress parade (with the possible exception of North Korean marchpasts) as hundreds of soldiers rode on horseback past their “colour” so the survivors would recognise what flag to gather under after the battle was over.  It took hours.  By the end of it, an enemy would have had the lot of them.  Perhaps it goes back to Plantagenet days when the king was the one with a bunch of greenery (plant à genet) stuck in his cap.

I found myself wondering why some of them carried modern guns with a bayonet on the end.   If you’re selecting historical weapons, surely bows and arrows would have been more decorative, and much more effective if you’re more than a bayonet’s length from the person you’re trying to kill.

But the rain held off and the whole event was brightly coloured – ceremonial pomp is probably one of the few things that Britain still does well.  A lot of people turned out to wave flags and watch as much of it as they could see while millions more watched it on television.  To cap it all, the queen appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to watch the fly-past and appeared to enjoy the spectacle, inspiring thoughts like “she’s a game old girl” and “not bad for 96”.

The fly-past itself was the only bit I actually watched and I’m sure the queen turned to Charles and said “That’s lovely” as the Lancaster (or was it a Wellington) flew over.  I thought it was a pity that none of the 1950s V-bombers (from memory, the Valiant, the Victor and the Vulcan) were fit enough to join the flypast but I have to admit I enjoyed the planes that flew in the 70 formation.  I also wondered idly what would happen if one of them crashed into the palace courtyard before exploding just under the balcony. 

Justin Welby, the Canterbury Archbish, had tested positive for covid and couldn’t lead the service in St Pauls and I’ve been cheered by how many other people have commented on Prince Andrew’s own fortuitous and entirely coincidental positive covid test that prevented him from appearing anywhere and saved everyone a lot of embarrassment – unless a plane had crashed in the courtyard and exploded.  King Andrew?  Doesn’t bear thinking about.

The respect in which he’s held can be judged from a song called ‘Prince Andrew is a Nonce’ by a group called the Kunts that hurtled up the charts last week.  Its words include “The grand old Duke of York, he said he didn’t sweat / So why’d he pay 12 million quid to a girl he’d never met?”

When Harry and Meghan appeared, they got more cheers than jeers, unlike Boris and Carrie Johnson who managed to inspire the exact opposite. 

Welby had earlier made a plea for society to be more “open and forgiving” which is a commendable sentiment except possibly when applied to Prince Andrew who is, he said, “seeking to make amends”.  I know from very painful personal experience that it’s only possible to forgive someone if they have admitted and accepted responsibility for their mistakes and apologised, and there isn’t much sign of that so far from Andrew (or even, after several decades, in my case).

In some ways, it was a sad day because it was almost certainly the last time we’ll see a similar celebration.  The next big event will probably be King Charles III’s coronation, whose enjoyment will be tempered by mourning for the queen’s death.  (I wonder if Charles will change his name when he becomes king?  After all, the prince known previously as David became King Edward VIII and his brother Bertie became King George VI.  At one time, there was a rumour Charles would choose to be King George VII but there’s now another George further down the line.  Perhaps he should choose a contemporary name.  Dwayne should do it – King Dwayne I.)

In real life, the survivors of couples who’ve been together a long time often die shortly after their lifelong partner;  the Duke of Edinburgh only died last year and his widow is already showing signs of ageing for the first time while she’s increasingly letting Charles take over her official duties.  I wonder if she’ll see the year out?  Weekly meetings with the prime minister we’v got at the moment?  Hmmm.

A bigger question has again been widely aired as the celebrations have been analysed:  the future of the monarchy.  Many of us think that the queen has done an amazing job throughout the last 70 years, scarcely missing a step, and she deserves our admiration.  But admiring an individual’s tenacity isn’t the same as supporting the monarchy.

I’ve never really had any strong feelings one way or the other – and I suspect many people share my apathy – but I wonder how things will change when the queen dies and Charles (or Dwayne) becomes king. The monarchy certainly costs the UK a lot of money but it also brings in a lot of new foreign money, especially for the fancy dress parades and other ceremonials.  However, it still has to overcome its legacy of supporting slavery and the genocide and theft involved in building the ‘empire’, and its inability to limit the racism its governments have consistently applied and enforced, even to the present day.

On the other hand, republicanism would require the election of a president and the wholesale reform of the constitution, and parliament.  This could allow positive changes such as proportional representation to be made if the reform was carried out by people with no vested interest in the outcome but look at the crippling system that, despite the best intentions of its creators, disempowers American presidents.  And just imagine us having presidents like Blair, Brown, Cameron, May and Johnson. 

Actually, now that Britain’s reputation has been so reduced internationally, it probably wouldn’t make any difference if a president did suddenly have stupid ideas like deciding to reintroduce outdated and illogical measurement systems that the last few generations were never taught and older generations have forgotten.  Perhaps presidential candidates could be required to take tests to measure their intellectual capacity and mental stability and may the gods forbid the election of a politician as president.  And perhaps candidates should also be required to demonstrate their lifelong lack of any involvement in party politics.  Or the military. 

The biggest problem is that anyone interested in becoming president is, by definition, unsuitable.

Somebody suggested Sir David Attenborough would make a good president but, apart from his age, he gave up running BBC2 because he didn’t like the job and wanted to return to nature.  So what about Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek?  She shares Attenborough’s interest in nature and is younger and much better looking.

Guns, diluting standards, Elizabeth line and typos

29 May 2022

19 young children and two primary school teachers have been shot dead, and three more young children orphaned when the husband of one of the dead teachers had a heart attack two days later.

The murderer was a teenager who wasn’t old enough to buy alcohol but had legally bought and registered two automatic weapons, practised by shooting his grandmother.

This was at Uvalde’s Robb elementary school in south west Texas, 10 days after another teenager had killed 11 people at a supermarket in Buffalo NY.

The school itself is said to have established and practised safety responses – locking the door, turning the lights out, hiding under desks and everybody staying very quiet – but this wasn’t enough.

Gun violence is of course endemic in America and, while a small majority of people believe gun laws should be tightened, the National Rifle Association spent almost $5m last year trying to convince people they are already too restrictive.  It’s also, of course, complicated by the lack of any federal law which restricts everyone, so states make their own laws.

In the UK, a murderer shot a lot of children at a primary school in Dunblane in 1996.  In 1997, the successive Conservative and Labour governments under John Major and Tony Blair passed a law banning the private ownership of handguns despite active opposition from the gun lobby and many on the political right (including one Boris Johnson) who argued that owning guns wasn’t the problem, even though the one thing that all such killers have in common is they own a gun.

Since then, gun crime in Britain has fallen significantly, fatal shootings are mercifully rare and these have almost all been individually targeted rather than mass murders.

International comparisons also show that the more households that have guns, the more gun-related deaths there are, and records of shootings in America show that having a gun in the house actually makes it more likely that a member of the household will be killed by one.

The laws vary widely between different American states, from Massachusetts where gun ownership is fairly tightly controlled (by American standards) to Texas where there are few controls.   Many who support gun ownership quote the Second Amendment to the US Constitution but others argue that these people either haven’t actually read the amendment or failed to understand its purpose and that the ‘founding fathers’ of the United States would be horrified to see how their intentions are being misinterpreted.

Just as worrying is the lack of any control on the sale of ammunition.  In a recent documentary, a British journalist asked one dealer how much ammunition he could buy.  The answer was “How much money have you got?”

I wonder how many gun owners are male and how many female.  My own prejudices make me feel that you’re more likely to see a man with a big penis-substitute in a holster than a woman with a Saturday night special in her handbag, but I could be entirely wrong.

The trouble is that the problem has been linked – probably by the NRA – with politics so, broadly speaking, Democrats want more gun control while Republicans want more guns.  The gun lobby thinks the answer is more guns, and teachers should be armed so that, if a gunman (I’m sticking with the sexism) enters their classroom, the children can watch a real-life shooting match in which real people get hurt and killed.

Their argument is that guns aren’t dangerous, it’s people with guns that are dangerous but ignores the fact that the country has conspicuously failed to educate gun owners so far.

Other suggestions include

  • incorporating the NRA’s safety rules in federal law
  • banning automatic weapons and extended magazines
  • perhaps even allowing only guns that fire just one bullet before they need to be reloaded
  • limiting gun permits to hunters
  • increasing the minimum age for gun ownership to 21
  • more background checks, including mental health histories
  • requiring a gun permit when selling ammunition and only selling cartridges for the gun in the permit
  • limiting the amount of ammunition that can be sold to any one person
  • requiring owners to be insured and responsible for all damage caused by a gun registered in their name
  • rewriting the second amendment to make it clear that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” is the prime reason for “the right to keep and bear Arms”.

Jacinda Ardern gave Harvard’s annual commencement address this week and was given a standing ovation after describing how New Zealand had tightened gun laws after the 2019 shootings in the Christchurch mosque.

Let’s hope Americans have the courage to make changes.  

The UK can do it: Boris Johnson rewrote the rules on Friday to remove the duty of ministers to resign after breaching the code of conduct and deleted the words “honesty”, “integrity”, “transparency” and “accountability” from the foreword, thereby exempting ministers from four of the seven (Nolan) principles of public life (adopted in 1995).  All this in an attempt to save the skin of a congenital liar who probably can’t even spell integrity and who believes being open about and accountable for one’s actions are for lesser people from cheaper schools.

The good news is that, after five months of pressure from the Labour party to introduce windfall taxes on serendipitous profits, the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has finally accepted they are necessary and done a U-turn, though actually he’s not imposing ‘windfall taxes’, he’s imposing a “temporary targeted energy profits levy” which is, of course, quite different.

Anything to divert attention from the details in Sue Gray’s report on ‘partygate’.

And, in another amazing coincidence, this week saw Johnson claiming credit for the opening of nearly all of the short central section of London’s Elizabeth line which was described by one commentator as being “true to the finest traditions of British infrastructure … years over deadline and billions above budget”.

I can remember Crossrail’s route being discussed in the early 1990s and, after years of negotiations, building work officially started in 2009.  While this was shortly after Johnson had been elected mayor of London, claiming credit for it seems to be rather less than truthful – good job he’s no longer required to be honest.

The only real success in the story is that some 3m tonnes of soil dug out from under London was taken to Wallasea Island on the Essex coast, creating a new wetland sanctuary for birds.

Back in the days of typesetters and hot lead, the Guardian contained so many typographical errors that Private Eye always referred to it as the Grauniad but the editors always took it in good spirit and apologised when necessary.  A columnist in yesterday’s paper repeated what she described as “the greatest correction of all time”:

“A caption in Guardian Weekend, page 102, November 13, read ‘Binch of crappy travel mags’.  That should, of course, have been ‘bunch’.  But more to the point, it should not have been there at all.  It was a dummy which we failed to replace with the real caption.  It was not meant to be a comment on perfectly good travel brochures.  Apologies.”

And the week’s other major event was Bob Dylan’s 81st birthday.  Never let anyone tell you that excessive use of drugs will shorten your life.

Wealth distribution, the Robin Hood Solution, FatCat awards and a kindness

22 May 2022

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of the people who live here.  If the land were distributed equally between us, everybody would have an acre (0.4 hectares) to themselves.

Of course this is oversimplistic since not everybody would want to live in Much Piddling in the Marsh, or on top of Scafell Pike, but it does show just how unbalanced life has become.

North of the border, a study by the Scottish Land Commission found that 4.2m acres (1.7m hectares) has just 87 owners and that another 6m acres (2.4m hectares) was owned by 1,038 owners, including ‘OK’ owners such as the National Trust for Scotland (a charity) and Scottish government bodies.

Three of the largest landowners in Scotland are the Danish clothing billionaire, Anders Povlsen, and his wife Anne, the Duke of Buccleuch (pronounced B’kloo and not like somebody trying to be sick, but I’m sure you knew that) and the Church of … er …  England.  The Povlsens are re-wilding their land and invest a lot in facilities for local communities.

The C of E and Buccleuch both see land as an investment and the Church has converted large areas of farmland into commercial conifer plantations that make money for them and sterilise the land underneath.  Buccleuch is selling a large parcel of grouse moor in Dumfries and Galloway and is asking an extremely high price for hills with lots of SSSI restrictions that can’t be covered with large forests or windfarms.  A community project, the Langholme Initiative, would like to buy the land to conserve its wildlife, woodland and peatlands but is having difficulty raising the money Buccleuch wants.

Sadly, rather than working together towards some sort of joint enterprise, the Buccleuch estate has said “We are a rural business and any sale of any property goes to reinvesting in other projects which create jobs and helps the rural economy”, the clear implication being that their “business” of helping the rural economy (i.e.  making money for the Duke and his family) would be hampered by the involvement of an actual local community-based project whose aim is to “restore globally important peatlands and ancient woods, establish new native woodlands and ensure a vital haven for iconic wildlife” on the estate.

We’re seeing the same imbalance in government with the government trying to concentrate more and more power in the hands of the unqualified and unworthy few.

We’re seeing them propose that politicians should be able to over-rule the Supreme Court of judges with vast legal knowledge and experience. We’re seeing them criminalising peaceful demonstrations.  We’re seeing Priti Patel, the home secretary, trying to interfere in local policing.  We’re seeing Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer, and his wife appear in the Sunday Times ‘rich list’. And we’re seeing Boris Johnson propose “levelling up”.  I can’t see how they can possibly begin to understand how poor some people are, and how they really do have to choose between heating and eating, and that some actually can’t afford to do either.

In any event, “levelling up” is, of course, an oxymoron and can never be achieved.  Since the Conservatives would never talk about ‘levelling down’ it’s just one of those meaningless phrases that are so useful for people who are too stupid to put action before words.  Think about it.  When everybody has been levelled up, we’d all be worth the same as the Sunaks and there’d be nothing to spend the money on because nobody would have to work or do Brexit-inspired paperwork.

Here’s a practical and workable alternative:  the Robin Hood Solution.

Charles Dickens had Micawber say “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.”  This is, course true for individuals at a personal level but, at some point, it got extrapolated to national levels and Maggie Thatcher, born of small shopkeeper stock, had it engraved on her heart.  Because she got a 2 for 1 offer, she had it written on George Osborne’s heart as well, and look at the damage they both did.

The proof can be seen in the Conservatives’ belief that people shouldn’t ask for pay rises while the cost of living overtakes and drowns them.  (This naturally doesn’t apply to people who effectively decide for themselves what they’ll be paid – see this week’s FatCat awards below.)

Rishi Sunak briefly saw the light as the coronavirus pandemic started:  “whatever it takes,” he said and poured billions into anti-virus efforts.  Good for him.  But he (and most politicians on both sides of the house) still cling to the belief that countries must balance their books.

We have to get things in proportion and accept that giving billions away in an economy worth trillions is irrelevant.

It’s not helped by the UK’s tax system having become utterly unfit for purpose.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s just take income tax and keep the existing structure so the change could be made very quickly.  Here’s a suggestion:

  • link the personal allowance (the amount everyone can get before they pay any tax) to the national living wage – just over £18,000 as I write – which would take a lot of people out of the tax system entirely
  • if their income (from all sources) is more than this, their tax rate would on the next tranche as their income increased (a principle that’s already established), perhaps as follows:
    • up to £18,000: no tax payable
    • £18,000 – £30,000:  10%
    • £30,000 – £50,000:  20%
    • £50,000 – £150,000:  40%
    • £150,000 – £250,000:  60%
    • then further increases up to £500,000 when a top rate of 120% would apply.

These suggested bands would result in people getting less than £30,000 paying less tax, those getting £30,000-£150,000 would pay the same, and those getting more than £150,000 paying more. 

The most important thing is the top rate, which should be more than 100%.  The principle is obvious:  anybody getting more than £500,000 would have to pay the excess straight back to HMRC and top it up from their personal capital, which wouldn’t half make big businesses think.

For example, using these figures, somebody with income of £145,000 would take home £42,800 while somebody with income of £155,000 would take home £40,800, £2,000 less.

(Income from overseas could be taxed in full at UK rates and the people concerned would be allowed to reclaim any tax paid twice from the other countries – there’s generous!)

National Insurance rates, benefits in kind, pensions and VAT could be similarly rethought, but this would be a start.

Windfall taxes would be imposed automatically on all companies who rip off their customers rather than return windfall (unearned) profits to them (which, according to The Times, our government has described as ‘ideologically unconservative’).

Think of higher education which is increasingly available only to students whose families can afford it and students graduate believing it’s OK to have debts (on which some of them are soon likely to be paying 12% interest!)   If the only criterion were ability, we would get better quality graduates and we wouldn’t end up with the cabinet we now have …

The money raised would of course be used to restore state funding for public services such as the NHS, education, local authorities, police, state benefits and social care and housing* back to the updated value of what they got in 2010. 

Which inevitably leads to this week’s Fat Cat / Greedy Pig awards which go to Ben van Beurden, chief executive of Shell, who was given £13.5m;  Simon Wolfson, Next’s chief executive (£4.4m);  and Andy Hornby, chief executive of the Restaurant Group (£1.2m, up from £518,000 in the previous year if the AGM approves it next week).

And finally, some kindness.  In 1999, a 12-year old and her 17-year old sister were on a flight to America, both of them refugees fleeing from the war-torn former Yugoslavia, when a woman gave them an envelope and made them promise not to open it till they were on the ground again.  Inside was a pair of earrings, a $100 bill and a short note, just signed Tracy.

The girl kept the envelope and has spent the last decade trying to find Tracy to say thank you and tell her what a difference it made to them, and how it’s still shaping their lives 23 years on.

*          Can anybody explain to me how a government that accepts the need for more social and ”affordable” housing reconciles this with their plans to reduce social and ”affordable” housing stock by selling it to occupiers at discounted prices?

National delusions, Starmer’s double bind, hopes for Ukraine but none for WAGs

15 May 2022

Boris Johnson has signed mutual security agreements with Sweden and Finland that promise the UK will help them if they’re threatened by Russia.  With his other hand, he’s breaking the Brexit agreement he signed when leaving the EU.  The latter possibility has worried America so much that they’ve sent a delegation to London to discuss Johnson’s plans to renege on the Northern Ireland protocol.  If I were Sweden or Finland, I’d be finding a more reliable and trustworthy ‘partner’.

“An Englishman’s word is his bond” is a saying that goes back many centuries in slightly differing forms (including “A gentleman’s word is his bond”, women not getting a look-in).  Not when Johnson is concerned.  Very sad to have traditional delusions exposed.

As the climate crisis leads to ever-increasing failures of companies and countries to put their money where their mouth is and ‘greenwashing’ is the order of the day, British energy companies are still hoicking prices up;  our bill has doubled in the last 6 months and seems likely to increase again.  They justify this by saying … I can’t remember … but then announce massive increases in profits and embarrassingly huge payments to their directors and increased dividends for shareholders.  What’s wrong with these people?  Shouldn’t all the increases in profits be handed back to the customers they’ve been ripping off?  And, if the only way of getting them to do this is for the government to impose a retrospective windfall tax, then go for it, even if it does cost you your seat in parliament.

There’s another example of nominative determinism buried deep in this news:  BP’s chief executive is one Bernard Looney.

The reaction to Sir Kier Starmer’s promise to resign if he’s fined for breaching Covid rules has been subject to mixed reactions although it seems sensible decision from a former lawyer, and it’s a great double-bind.  If Starmer is fined, he’ll resign and Johnson will look unprofessional for not having done the same when he was fined for breaking the law;  if he isn’t, it’ll show Johnson up for not having the courage of his own convictions as he described them before any fines were issued.

An article in Tuesday’s Rolling Stone claimed that, while he was president, Donald Trump repeatedly asked if China could be making hurricanes and sending them over the Pacific to damage America.  Trump was also reported in August 2019 for having said “I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?” about hurricanes despite an earlier article in National Geographic in 2016 describing the idea as “a really bad idea”.  Was there an award for Understatement of the Year in 2019?

According to unconfirmed reports, the Russian Telegram channel SVR has claimed Vladimir Putin has cancer.  He certainly seems to have put weight on, which might be linked to steroid treatments, and declining health might explain some of his less sensible decisions about Ukraine’s invasion.  SVR has reported that Putin will put Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian federal police’s Security Council, in charge while he’s out of action but ‘Viktor Mikhailovich’, said to be the pseudonym of a former Russian Foreign Intelligence Service lieutenant general who runs SVR, obviously doesn’t like Patrushev and has hinted that, if he comes to power, he and his allies will “make certain efforts” to stop things getting worse.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Kiselyov, a pro-Kremlin presenter for Russian state TV station Channel One has reported that computer simulations have shown that setting off a nuclear bomb underwater would cause a tsunami up to 500m high which, having wiped out Britain, would leave just a radioactive desert.  No point in worrying about that then.

In Israel, the Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Aqleh was shot dead by the Israeli military.  In East Jerusalem, her funeral procession was attacked by Israeli security forces after sympathisers had protested and waved the Palestinian flag, public displays of which are forbidden in Israel.

Why do so many other countries, including the UK, still support the police state that Israel has become? 

For some reason, this reminds me that, when I was 16 and in my first term in the sixth form, my father changed jobs and we moved a long way to a different school which I loathed.  The old boys’ society is setting up a reunion this summer for people who left around the same time as I did and they enclosed photos of the first cricket and rugby teams from one of those years (it will no doubt surprise you that I wasn’t in either of them).  I actually recognised one or two of the names, including one who bears a special place in my memory – not very bright (it was a direct grant school) and looked like a thicko.

Anyway, I was once ‘invited’ to attend a prefects’ meeting which was apparently (my younger brother has since told me) a terrible sanction but I decided to go and there they were, sitting at a long table.  I found another chair and sat down and they told me to stand and this chap said “That’s your whole trouble – you’re too laxadaisical” and, naturally, I replied “You mean lackadaisical”.

I have no memory of how they answered, or what I was supposed to have done, or why I was there, or what sanctions, if any, they imposed, but I’d have ignored them anyway.  Guess if I’m going to the reunion.

My own week was rather less eventful with a small medical procedure on Friday 13th that, after two hours in theatre, left with me quite spacey and very hungry.  I had to lie flat on my back for another two hours so a lovely young trainee doctor spoon-fed me a hospital lunch (and it was very good, thank you for asking).  We chatted about everything from how many brains an octopus has, to his plans to finish training in the army – sewing legs back on in Ukraine I suggested.

Trains running between Kyiv and Borodianka stopped when a bridge was destroyed as the Russians first advanced on Kyiv.  It’s now running again after Ukraine rebuilt the bridge in a month.  Crossrail and HS2 managers, eat your hearts out.

In Mariupol, Igor Pedin decided he and his dog Zhu-Zhu would walk the 140 miles to safety in Zaporizhzhia and, with the support of sympathetic Russian soldiers at various checkpoints, made it.  Which just goes to show what ‘normal’ Russians are like – kind and helpful, and not terribly enthusiastic about Putin’s war.  (A lot of conscripted Russian soldiers are apparently refusing to fight and, because Russia hasn’t declared war, all their commanders can do is transfer them to a non-combatant unit elsewhere.)

The DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal has now raised over £300m for people affected by Putin’s war and Ukraine won the Eurovision song contest.  I reckon they could have sung ‘Nellie the Elephant’ on an empty stage and still won because everybody wanted to support their efforts on the battlefield.  Actually, since I didn’t watch it, I suppose they might have sung ‘Nellie the Elephant’ on an empty stage.

Does anybody else fail to care who wins the Rebekah Vardy / Coleen Rooney sniping contest?  Indeed, does anybody else not know which one is which?

Abortion, crocodile tears, sport (!), nominative determinism and kindness

8 May 2022

Taking a life, or saving one.  This seems to be the basic argument over abortion, and which life is being saved and which sacrificed.  Whether to ‘kill’ a foetus or to allow the mother to live as she would wish to have lived.

In America, a federal judgement in 1973, Roe v Wade, established the constitutional right to abortion in American law and a 1992 judgement reinforced it.  Now a leak appears to show that, back in February, the US Supreme Court drafted a new majority opinion that this right should be removed.  However, it is just a draft and the leak is unofficial, it could change and may never become law, so let’s hope. 

I can understand that people have different beliefs about when ‘life’ is deemed to start and believe that, after that point, abortion could be seen as ‘killing’ an unborn child.  One of the criteria seems to be when a foetal heartbeat can be detected, even if the brain is undeveloped and any cognitive powers are extremely limited, with no more ‘consciousness’ than simple reflexes.  (Even plants also have reflex actions …)

At the other end of life, it’s known that consciousness can continue after the heart has stopped beating so taking the appearance of a heartbeat seems over-simplistic.

What I find more difficult to understand is why people believe they have the right to impose their belief systems on others.  There’s a difference between deciding how your god wants you to live and becoming a god yourself and telling others how they should live.

Even setting aside the uncertainty about when life starts, overturning Roe v Wade will effectively impose the personal beliefs of a few on the millions of others whose beliefs are different.  America, land of the free?  Sounds more like a large step towards a narrow-minded dictatorship deciding what everyone else must believe.

If the unofficial draft isn’t changed substantially, it’s thought at least 26 states (more than half the ‘Union’) would probably ban abortion and Louisianan Republicans are already drafting a bill that would treat abortion as murder. 

I wonder how many of those who believe that abortion is murder support the death penalty, which is also murder?  How do they reconcile these two diametrically opposing beliefs?

The whole thing is, of course, 100% anthropocentric and I haven’t yet heard of any moves to ban astrakhan, made from the glossy, curly coats of newborn lambs, or the coats of unborn lambs which are even more prized, having a wavy texture and a luminous sheen, so the unborn lamb is aborted and their coat is removed.

The withdrawal of the right to human abortion also fails to consider the freedom of individuals to correct mistakes.  At one end of the scale, consider a drunken night or faulty or missing contraception that leads to an unplanned pregnancy.  Shouldn’t people have the right to choose to have a child or an abortion?

I know two people who became pregnant by mistake while they were in a relationship and chose to keep the child but not the father.  Life for single parents is tough, but it was what they wanted to do.  I also know somebody else who had a backstreet abortion in the 1960s, before abortion was legal in the UK, and suffered considerable pain while having to carry on as if everything was OK (though she didn’t know who the father was).

At the other end of the scale, what about someone who becomes pregnant after being raped?  I can’t begin to imagine living in the knowledge that you are growing a rapist’s child inside you and, every time you feel it move, it must remind you of when you were raped and the horror you felt at the time and every day since.  Then the child will be born with the rapist’s genes combined with those of the victim.  I wonder how suicide rates will be affected among women who have been made pregnant by a rapist and are denied an abortion.

(Perhaps rapists should be given a total penectomy.  Free.  Much cheaper than sending them to prison.)

Nobody is suggesting that abortion should be mandatory, it’s just that most people want women to be free to choose what’s best for them, whatever the circumstances of the conception.

If abortion is made illegal, the practical implications are frightening and will lead to all sorts of problems in American healthcare, from contraception, obstetrics and abortion care to the dangers of backstreet abortions and self-service attempts.  Abortions can be safely induced by drugs in the early stages of pregnancy or by vacuum aspirators, and both have the advantage that, if they go wrong, the symptoms are indistinguishable from a miscarriage, but this introduces legal difficulties for the medical profession if the patient admits responsibility.

The other option is to travel to a state where abortion is still legal and have it carried out there but this is expensive, time-consuming and potentially life-disrupting if you have other children.  And out of the question for those who can’t afford it.

Most rapists are men and their victims are usually women, and many men think rape is a sex crime rather than a crime of extreme violence.

Now look at who makes the decision about whether abortion should be legal:  they’re mostly men.  

One recent appointment is even demonstrably unstable and a nasty piece of work:  in a 40-minute statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2018 when he was auditioning for a place on the bench of the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh had to choke back tears when he got to the bit about how the accusations of sexual assault and misconduct could impact on his interest in teaching and coaching and, much more importantly, his chance of being ‘elected’ to the Bench.  Sod the women he allegedly assaulted.

This in a country that only recently got rid of a president who thought it was OK to grab women’s genitals but was actually just voicing the thoughts of misogynists everywhere.  This obviously disgusts most men but it’s safer to exclude them all to make sure those making the decision cannot be perceived as having a personal conflict of interest.   So only women should be allowed to make the decision whether to criminalise abortion;  and then only women who can set aside their personal political and religious beliefs for long enough to judge what is best for women of all political and religious beliefs?

I’m also worrying about the exclusion of Russian sports people from international tournaments.  Of course ‘the west’ wants Putin to hurt while he’s taking a page from Hitler’s book and occupying a foreign country, massacring its people, including children, and burying them in unmarked mass graves, so they’ve imposed economic and financial sanctions on Russia.  This is, I suppose, fair enough if they want to be able to make concessions by lifting them to negotiate a peaceful independence for Ukraine, leaving Putin with some self-respect.

But not all Russians support Putin’s war and many have abandoned their homeland or are demonstrating against the war.  Banning their sports(wo)men from international sports seems to assume they’re all Putin supporters.  Wouldn’t it be better to assume that they’re just sports(wo)men, some of them extremely talented, who are not necessarily Putin supporters, and let them give enjoyment to people who watch them play?

And let’s remember some of the good news:  a rather fine example of nominative determinism appeared in the latest round of government investments which included supporting a company converting hemp into cannabidiol products, founded by two brothers, Ben and Tom Grass.

But the best news for us followed the recent theft of a Ukrainian flag we’ve had pinned to our fence.   I put up a notice saying it had been stolen and, if the thief was so poor they couldn’t afford £3.99 for a flag of their own, they should call in and I’d give them £4 to buy one of their own.  Then, on Friday, somebody I didn’t know knocked on our door and presented us with a brand-new replacement flag, explaining he wasn’t the thief but he wanted to support our effort.

We now have a new notice up, next to the new flag, explaining what happened and saying thank you, and that the world needs more such acts of kindness.

A week of stupidity

1 May 2022

Almost the entire Tory party has been united with the opposition this week in condemning last week’s Mail on Sunday report that some senior Tory MPs had suggested Angela Rayner, deputy Labour leader, crosses and uncrosses her legs to distract Boris Johnson.

Rayner’s response was to describe the slur as “sexism and misogyny” by accusing her of “being a woman, having legs and wearing clothes.”  The Conservative chair of the House of Commons women and equalities committee, Caroline Nokes, also criticised the Mail for publishing a “dirty little story” and told LBC that the paper had a “long track record of reporting misogynistic stories about female MPs”.

Cabinet ministers, including the prime minister, condemned the report with Johnson tweeting “As much as I disagree with Angela Rayner on almost every political issue I respect her as a parliamentarian and deplore the misogyny directed at her anonymously today.” 

So far, so good.

Sadly, the power of Johnson’s response was rather diluted when the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, subsequently tweeted exactly the same words, implying either an amazing coincidence or that the words were drafted backstage and Dorries is so stupid she just repeated them word for word rather than thinking how she actually felt about the accusation.  However, it’s the best and most coherent response Johnson has made to anything for a very long time and the fact that he was willing to do it shows him in a far better light than usual.  Let’s hope he continues in this vein.

However, it doesn’t say much about Johnson’s reputation that his accusers believe he would be distracted by Angela Rayner moving her legs.

Another of Johnson’s MPs, Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton), has resigned after stupidly watching porn on his mobile phone while he was, technically at least, ‘at work’ in the House of Commons.  “It’s embarrassing for my wife and family” said the man who had chosen to watch porn in a recorded situation where people sit very closely together and those behind him could see what he was doing on his phone.

His defence was he was looking at tractors and pressed the wrong buttons.  Twice.

A female Welsh MP has accused a stupid member of the shadow cabinet who suggested she’d do well because women wanted to be her friend and men wanted to sleep with her (except they didn’t say ‘sleep with’).  Despite Labour’s promise to investigate if she made a formal complaint, she’s declined to do so because she said it wouldn’t be in her best interests.  So we now know where she’s at.

Meanwhile, 56 other MPs from across the chamber have been stupid enough to do or say things that have led to investigations into whether they’ve been guilty of sexual misconduct.

One of Johnson’s latest stupid ideas is to cut the costs of childcare by relaxing health and safety regulations to increase the number of children per members of staff in English nurseries.

Down in this neck of the woods, one of our local hospitals has erected a marquee for meetings to reduce the risks of sharing Covid but they’re not allowed to use it because their local Fire Safety Officer is stupid and hasn’t approved it.  It’s a tent for goodness’ sakes, not terribly likely to combust spontaneously, especially if it’s raining.

Back in government, the MP with the most oxymoronic job title in recent history, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities, Jacob Rees-Mogg, stupidly didn’t engage his brain before opening his mouth on a recent visit to the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone when he proudly announced that the introduction of post-Brexit border checks on imports from the EU had been delayed yet again (for the fourth time), and this would save the UK £1bn a year.

It’s a bit like when you’re relaxing with a spliff and start to say something really interesting but forget what it is half way through saying it.  It’s way up there with his belief that Britain’s food banks are a wonderful thing.  So, all together now, in 4-part harmony, “if the UK hadn’t Brexited, this £1bn per year wouldn’t have been payable”.  (Did you know I’ve just saved £250,000 I haven’t got by not buying a Rolls Royce?)

Despite once being a great tennis player, Boris Becker too is stupid and has just been jailed* for two and a half years for hiding millions of pounds when being bankrupted in 2017.

While the UN Secretary General was visiting Kyiv this week, Russia fired cruise missiles into the city, making it obvious they’re trying to provoke the UN, the EU and other NATO countries until everybody else joins in Putin’s War and they all kill each other.  The only reason seems to be that Putin is so stupid he’s lost the ability to think things through to their logical conclusion.  RIP tutti.

At the same time, Elon Musk was asked how he felt about people who are (like me) offended by the distribution of wealth throughout the world and replied “I think there’s some axiomatic flaws that are leading them to that conclusion”.  This from somebody with assets of $300bn that, if distributed in lumps of $1m, could make 300,000 people millionaires.  Which just proves that being, reputedly, quite intelligent about some things doesn’t mean you’re not stupid in others.

But this week’s prize for sheer undiluted stupidity goes to an American family flying home from Israel who showed airport security an unexploded shell they’d found and were planning to take home as a souvenir.  In the ensuing rush for the door, one person was so badly injured they ended up in hospital.

*          I yearn to write ‘gaoled’ but don’t want to frighten the dog.

English society’s development, threats to democracy, golden visas and the Queen

24 April 2022

In ancient times, nomadic peoples didn’t own land;  they considered it one of the great god Ug’s gifts to humanity, like the air they breathed.  As the aeons passed, some got fed up with all the packing involved before the next move so they started building permanent shelters and staying put.

Some would even go so far as to keep strangers off their patch so the men could practise using their latest weapons while the women stayed behind and invented fire and the wheel.  Later, people would start fighting each other in earnest and, as the winners started to think they were more important than the losers, they decided this gave them the right to steal things from other people and the ‘ownership’ of land was invented.

Later still, the people who ‘owned’ land would take over land occupied by ‘lesser’ people, chuck the original occupants out and fence it off.  Then they invented monarchs and hierarchies of sycophants to surround them, giving some of them titles like Duke and Count and Marquis and Earl, and some bright spark invented tax so poor people had to start paying tithes to rich people for the right to stay on the land they’d thought was theirs anyway.

Then they invented politics which allowed monarchs to be removed and their sycophants replaced and estates would be ‘transferred’ to the new people.  So the ‘ownership’ changed from time to time but ultimately settled down and their descendants kept the lands that had originally been stolen by the self-styled ‘aristocracy’ (originally the rule of the nobility, or best!)  Despite countless examples that prove personal qualities are rarely inherited, the money that went with these ill-gotten gains did pass to the next generations by male primogeniture, which kept the estates together, and the second sons went into the church (the gels married chaps with similar bloodlines and had affairs with the gardener);  so we still have people with inherited titles who have done nothing to earn them living in land stolen from peasants by their ancestors.

Nevertheless, these people continued to act as if they were entitled to own land and, according to the National Office of Statistics* 99.999998% of the population thought they ‘owned’ 99.999998% of the land and they had the right to ‘transport’ peasants who ventured onto them to Australia where many of the aboriginal people were nomadic and didn’t believe land (or air) so they got their revenge (on the wrong people but who cares) by enclosing land for themselves and importing rabbits and cane toads.

In 1932, 90 years ago today, a large group of walkers demonstrated against this ‘dog in the manger’ approach with a mass trespass on Kinder Scout, Derbyshire’s highest point.  The police made six token arrests but the demonstration ultimately led to the designation of ‘the Peak District’, England’s first national park.

At lunchtime today, another bunch of protestors was due to swim in the Kinder reservoir to publicise ongoing disputes about the right of access to some rivers and inland bodies of water, claiming we should all have the right of access to open water. 

Elsewhere, of course, privatised water companies, whose aim is to make a profit rather than provide a service, spent some 3 million hours releasing raw sewage into English rivers and coastal waters in 2021.  If one slips in the wrong place when close to open water, one can now very easily fall between two stools.

England did recently think briefly about giving us peasants the ‘right to roam’ over open land ‘owned’ privately but the proposal to allow this was squashed by a government elected by people who thought countryside should be private and managed for profit, trespassers should be shot and the air they breathed should be taxed, if only they could work out how to do it, all so the nobs (knobs?) can continue to fish for “trite” in private streams and poison raptors on land where pheasants have been bred for sadists to shoot since it became illegal to shoot peasants.

After a white-tailed sea eagle was recently found poisoned, the unfinished investigation was suddenly closed and the Dorset rural wildlife and heritage crime police team was renamed the Dorset rural crime team.  PC Claire Dinsdale, the team leader, who had received the Queen’s police medal for her work on wildlife crime, suddenly went on leave and it’s believed she will no longer be a leader in that team when she returns.

Dorset police tried to justify the change by saying it was to “reflect the broader work we are undertaking to ensure we provide exceptional local policing to our rural communities” blah blah blah.  Utter bollocks.

Also this weekend, a cross-party committee of the House of Lords is trying to delete some clauses in the elections bill which they believe would reduce the independence of the Electoral Commission and allow political interference in the conduct of elections.  Taken with the government’s unlawful prorogation of parliament last year and ongoing attempts to allow the government to overrule the courts, it’s clear that the concentration of all power in the centre is increasing fast – Russia eat your heart out, England’s trying to get there using its constitutional powers.  Which means there’s something wrong with its constitutional powers …

“This country deserves better from its prime minister,” said Boris Johnson this week as he attempted an apology for Partygate.  Sadly, he omitted the next line which would have said “and I’m going to resign so it can find a better one”.  He said this just before Downing Street was forced to deny that he had not received another fixed penalty notice after the police said they wouldn’t release the names of any more offenders until after the forthcoming elections, which clearly implies that some senior ministers have had one.

Oliver Dowden, chairman of the Conservative Party, said this morning that replacing Boris Johnson now “would not be in the national** interest” and would lead to “instability and uncertainty”.  I was much comforted to hear that what we’re living through at the moment is a period of stability and certainty.

The archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s Easter Sunday address included criticism of the cruel scheme to send people applying for sanctuary in the UK to Rwanda. The scheme “must stand the judgment of God – and it cannot” he said, adding “We don’t need to build more barriers and cower in the darkness of the shadows they create.”

Nicely put, guv. 

Sadly, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for Brexit opportunities and a left-footer, thought he knew better and was able to put us right, claiming that the Church of England’s most senior clergyman “misunderstands” the policy.

After tweeting “Christ is risen, Alleluia. He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia” over the Easter weekend he then supported the Rwanda fiasco by saying it’s “almost an Easter story of redemption,” adding that the UK is “providing an opportunity to Rwanda” so the government’s policy “must be a good thing”, to which the cook and writer Jack Monroe immediately responded “Jesus would have flipped the table and driven you out of the temple.”  I’m with her.

I didn’t know till very recently that the UK offers a “golden visa” to people with at least £2m in investment funds and a UK bank account, which grants them the right of residence in the UK and that, before 2018, few checks were made on where the money had originally come from – no wonder London became known as one of the world’s best centres for money-laundering.

At least 10 of these immigrants are now subject to the new sanctions against Russian oligarchs so, basically, the Home Office allowed people to buy the right to stay here with dirty money while shoving indigent migrants seeking a new life back into the Channel to drown.

Priti Patel might of course be hoping that some good footballers will wash up on Alderney where they can join the Alderney football team which annually plays Jersey and Guernsey for the Muratti Vase.  Alderney last won the vase in 1920 and haven’t won even a match since.  Still, with a population of 1,800 compared with Jersey’s 112,000 and Guernsey’s 68,000, even the locals tend to bet on one of the other two and the Alderney club’s chair says “The whole island lives in hope rather than expectation.”

I also came across a nice story about the Queen yesterday.  She was walking on the Balmoral estate with her protection officer, hooded up and scarfed against the weather, when an American tourist stopped them and asked her if she’d ever met the Queen.  “No,” she replied, “but he has”.

*          Not.  I made this up.

**        For ‘national’, read ‘Conservative Party’.

Siberian Sunshine holidays, non-parties, non-doms, welcoming migrants, genocide and peregrines

17 April 2022

Boris Johnson, prime minister of a small archipelago off the EU’s north west coast, visited Ukraine last week and met Vlodomyr Zelenskiy in a vain attempt to show what a great leader he is, Johnson that is, we already know that Zelenskiy is.  Sadly for him, this was swiftly overshadowed by Downing Street’s confirmation that he’d received a fixed penalty notice and been fined £50 for infringing the Covid laws that he had himself introduced.  Rumour also has it that at least three more Penalty Charge Notices with his name on them are in the offing.

His defence against people claiming he misled parliament may be that he genuinely believed he wasn’t committing an offence but this would be tantamount to admitting (a) he’s stupid – he didn’t know what his own law said – or (b) he’s stupid – he thought a birthday party with a cake was a legitimate work-related meeting.

Vladimir Putin’s response to this blatant insincerity was to ban him and several of his cronies from ever visiting Russia and they’ve all had to cancel their Siberian Sunshine holiday plans.

This all led to what might be called mild dissatisfaction within his loyal band of supporters and Lord (David) Wolfson, justice minister, resigned following the news;  not only because of Johnson’s own conduct, he said, but also because of “the official response to what took place” and because so many people had “complied with the rules at great personal cost, and others were fined or prosecuted for similar, and sometimes apparently more trivial, offences”.

He might have been thinking of, David Wilson, a Blackburn restauranteur, who was fined £1,000 in May 2020 for hosting an outdoor party he believes followed the coronavirus rules.   He’s still contesting this but fears his family business will have to close if the fine is enforced.

Next time you’re caught speeding, say you weren’t, and if you were, it wasn’t intentionally, and you misread the speedometer, and anyway it was only for ten minutes.  That’ll do the trick.

Rishi Sunak, the money man, also had a bad week, collecting a PCN of his own immediately after it had been revealed that his wife, Akshata Murty, had (legally) saved herself an estimated £20m of UK tax on money received from her billionaire father’s Indian IT company.  Once her arrangements had become public, Murty decided to pay tax on all her worldwide income from April last year, saying her tax arrangements were not “compatible with my husband’s job as chancellor”, adding that she appreciated the “British sense of fairness”.  What a pity her tax arrangements only became incompatible with her husband’s job after they’d become public knowledge, and that she’s not back-dating it.

Sunak wrote to the prime minister asking for his own tax affairs to be investigated so he could be seen to be squeaky clean.  Followed by which, he admitted that he had a US green card (as has Murty) and had declared himself a “permanent US resident” for tax purposes for his 6 years as a UK MP, including his 19 months as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Even the Telegraph took a dim view of all these shenanigans but just said “People have the right to expect better”.  The front page of the Daily Mail ignored the Chancellor and tried to distract attention from partygate by shouting in large capitals “DON’T THEY KNOW THERE’S A WAR ON?”  Yes mush, but it’s not our war, and we’re already funding arms for Ukraine.

We’re also preparing for World War III by upgrading military bunkers so they can be used to store nuclear weapons for America for the first time since 2008.  This ensures that the UK will be a target for some of Russia’s bombs, leaving fewer to fall on American soil.  Anybody worried about surviving a nuclear war should move as close as possible to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.

Mind you, Johnson’s latest brainwave beggars belief.  After Priti Patel, the home secretary, had flown there, Johnson announced that men seeking asylum here will be flown 4,500 miles to Rwanda for their claims to be processed and Patel hopes they will be so enchanted by the country, they’ll want to stay there instead (on their own).  A Downing Street statement described Rwanda as having “one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa which is recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants” – no mention of its human rights record.

Rwanda?   What’s the first word that comes to mind when someone says “Rwanda”?  To me, it’s “genocide.”  Remember the estimated million Hutus and Tutsis who slaughtered each other in 1994? 

Luckily the outrage at this decision has been expressed by everybody from the UN to the Archbishop of Canterbury and right down to MPs.

In Moscow, an artist has been locked up and will be held on remand until 31 May.  Alexandra Skochilenko’s crime was to replace supermarket price tickets with small pieces of paper protesting against the war or, in the words of a new law banning fake news about Russia’s armed forces, publicising “knowingly false information about the use of the Russian armed forces”.

In court, she was smiling and made victory signs at the courtroom although, if she’s found guilty (if??? – this is Russia we’re talking about!), she could face a fine of up to 3m roubles (£27,000) or between five and ten years in prison.  Remember Vladimir Putin jailed Pussy Riot for singing.

On a lighter note (spoiler alert:  pun intended), a highway patrol in San Francisco pulled over a car for driving without its headlights on and found it was empty – one o’ them thar autonomous vee hykles.  It then sped off into the middle distance and the police lost it.  Why do I find that slightly worrying?

And a Korean doctor has been quoted as saying that people who haven’t had covid yet probably have no friends.  Although my wife had it, I didn’t so, if you’re in the same position, let me know and we can be friends together.

And Royal Mail last year received more than 1m complaints from householders, the most for 10 years.  To celebrate this unworthy achievement of a company that was privatised to save the government (i.e.  taxpayers) money, they have just increased the cost of a first-class stamp by 12% from 85p to 95p which, for those of us old enough to remember when all letters went for 3d, is 19/-; or for those who aren’t old enough, 76 times as much.  Just think of the work this is saving you:  back then, you would have to write to Uncle Mac 76 times to spend what you’d now have to spend to write to him once.

And I recently visited an ENT consultant who confirmed his diagnosis in a letter to my doctor.  There was a disclaimer on the end saying “elements of this letter have been generated using voice dictation software” but I was comforted to know that a fibreoptic nasoendoscopy had revealed “normal you station tube openings”.

And finally, more than half the peregrine chicks that fledge don’t survive their first year and those that do tend to stay within 60 miles of their birthplace.  However, Osmund, the only male chick born in 2020 on Salisbury cathedral’s tower, has been seen on holiday in Guernsey. 

Male peregrines are often called tiercels (from the Latin word for a third, because they’re about a third smaller than the females).  Peregrines are, of course, the fastest animals on earth when stooping:  they close their wings and drop from a great height to spoil the day of some poor unsuspecting rodent out for a stroll.  In 2005, an American peregrine falcon was clocked at 242 mph while dropping from nearly three miles in the air.

Their eyesight must be much better than mine, spotting a small snack from 3 miles away …