Saturday, December 31, 2011

And a Happy New Euro to everyone

As we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Euro – and let’s hope the damned thing doesn’t exist by this time next year – here’s a festive New Year Eurovision quiz (answers at the end).

1. In 2005, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest, an international panel chose the top 10 Eurovision songs of all time. At Number 8 was a song which did not win the contest in 1968. What was the song?

2. What was the name of the song which did win in 1968?

3. Why did La La La win?

4. In the all-time Eurovision Top Ten, what song came in at Number One and who was it by?

5. The first Eurovision Song Contest involved 7 countries. Did the UK take part?

6. Switzerland won at home. Who came second?

7. The 2012 Eurovision takes place in Baku. Where on earth is that?

8. Who was paid a fee of $90,000 for giving one speech in Azerbaijan?

9. Last year, Azerbaijan was condemned for “human rights violations and oppression of opposition forces”. Condemned by whom?

10. Our friends in Europe say we should lose the rebate to the EU. At the moment we are the second-highest net contributor at £4.1 billion. If we lost our rebate, how much would that increase to?

11. An analysis of voting in the Eurovision song contest by Surrey University shows there was “collusive voting” – ie voting for your chums – for six years between two countries, each of which won once during that time. Name the two countries.

12. From 1981 to 1985, there was “collusive voting” between Germany and two other countries. What were they?

13. There has been collusive voting between Cyprus and Greece and Sweden and Denmark. But Sweden’s victory in 1999 depended on three other countries in what became known as the “Viking Empire”. Name two of these countries.

14. There is now a clear Balkan bloc vote which determined the winners in 2003 and 2005. What were the winning nations?

15. In what year did Birmingham stage the contest?

16. Why was the winner, Israel’s Dana International, described as the “most controversial winner in Eurovision history”?

17. How many times has Norway received no points

18. Is Norway a member of the European Union

19. A total of 43 countries took part in the contest in 2011. How many countries are members of the European Union?

20. When did Greece first default on its sovereign debt?

Quiz answers

1. Congratulations by Cliff Richard
2. La La La by Massiel
3. The result was fixed by General Franco
4. Waterloo by Abba
5. No
6. All the others: Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Italy.
7. Azerbaijan
8. Tony Blair
9. The European Parliament
10. £12.4 billion
11. UK and France
12. Israel and Sweden
13. Norway, Iceland and Estonia. Half a mark for Finland, Latvia and Lithuania.
14. Turkey in 2003 and Greece in 2005
15. 1998
16. S/he was a transsexual
17. Ten times
18. No
19. 27
20. Some experts claim the world’s first sovereign default occurred in the fourth century BC when ten city states in the Attic Maritime Association reneged on loans given by the Temple of Delos, the mythical birthplace of Apollo. On the other hand it could be argued that it was in 594 BC precisely, when the poet Solon passed a law cancelling all debt and the enslavement of debtors.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Latest BBC rip-off scandal

Scandal of the day: Why and since when has the BBC carried advertising on its news website?
It’s scandalous enough that the corporation is destroying private sector regional news organisations by wasting hundreds of millions on its website.
It is even worse that the lumbering Leviathan is now creaming off advertising revenue to support its abominable nationwide poll tax of licence fee revenue.
I trust our politicians will address this question urgently.
In view of the comment below, please note: I did not view the website from abroad (unless you call Scotland "abroad"; I was in Edinburgh).

Friday, December 09, 2011

All Cameron has vetoed is a referendum

The BBC claims: “PM David Cameron has effectively vetoed an EU-wide treaty change to tackle the eurozone crisis, saying it was not in the UK's interests.”

That’s not what he’s done.

All he has done is avoid being forced to hold a referendum on the EU while allowing the rest of the Eurozone countries to do whatever deals they like irrespective of their impact on Britain.

He has talked tough and grabbed some positive reviews for his “handbagging” of our EU friends.

But he hasn’t prevented the creation of the Superstate and, as it progresses, it will become clear that we can’t continue to be both in and out of the EU.

Eventually we will have to resolve the question on way or the other once and for all.

The only question is whether the Euro collapses before then. Which it probably will.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?

What a marvellous idea – the EU wants to spend £900 million of our money on a computer to forecast future disasters before they hit. This is because the combined efforts of the world’s economists failed to predict the banking crisis or the Eurozone crisis.

They could more than pay for it by sacking all the economists and who cares if the computer gets it all wrong? It will be no worse than the self-styled best brains in our top universities and businesses. And here’s betting EuroHal would never have recommended a single European currency in the first place.

Actually, maybe they should just ask most people in this country what common sense dictates and save all that money they haven’t got.

Raising the bar

Am I alone in looking on the London Olympics as an extravagant nonsense that we simply can’t afford? At £7 million an hour for the opening ceremony alone, it’s a stunning waste of money which will, as usual, benefit only Londoners.

Death to life

When they abolished the death penalty for murder we were promised life would mean life. We all know it can mean nothing more than a couple of years in a cosy cell followed by a new identity and anonymity for life. Now they want to downgrade killing another human being even further. Pretty soon you’ll get longer for posting a Facebook message or tapping a celebrity’s phone than you’ll get for murder.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's grim down south

Variable pay in the public sector? That must mean the Government wants to pay people more to work in London and the South East and less if they’re north of Watford.

This is, of course, precisely the wrong way round. The Government would be much wiser to reduce pay for civil servants in London and the South East and/or increase it elsewhere.

At the moment, the capital city attracts too many people and costs the rest of us too much money.

A North-South divide in public sector pay would make that much worse.

Prices would rise in the South and fall elsewhere as the “regions” accustomed themselves to becoming second-class citizens.

The more affluent the capital becomes, the more affluent the capital becomes. It’s a vicious circle. It sucks in all the money we can spare so they can have Olympic arenas and cross-city railway lines.

It concentrates power and influence in the hands of those who already regard the possession of power and influence as a birthright. And it leaves the rest of the country out in the cold.

One small example: for every £1 per head spent on public transport in the West Midlands, they get £10 in London and the South East.

Londoners say that’s because their needs are so great, their city is so over-populated and it takes so long to get from A to B.

They’re right. But that’s because London sucks the lifeblood out of the rest of Britain.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

One of the few positive policies adopted by the London-centric media-political axis which runs the country was to force some of the luvvies at the BBC to move to Manchester.

It’s not grim up north but you wouldn’t know it from all the whingeing that’s gone on as a result of this modest adjustment in the way our money gets spent.

Favouring the South because travel costs are high and house prices are extortionate will not simply undo any good the BBC’s move has done. It will be a thousand times worse.

It will make it impossible for most people to move from the regions to London because they will never build up the capital required to find even the most modest lodgings in the capital.

It will entrench the privilege of London and the South East and leave the rest of the country even poorer in comparison than it is now.

The only answer is to reduce pay in London. Get rid of “London weighting” and then get rid of a bit more so that comparable public servants are worse off there than they would be elsewhere.

At a stroke, you would reduce overheating in the South East – where, even now, house prices continue to rise – and give a major boost to economies elsewhere in the country.

Overall, there would probably be a saving to the public purse as well. It would certainly be cost neutral.

People outside London and the South East should not be treated as the poor relations. We should not beg for crumbs at the rich man’s table. We should be given the respect, and the money, we deserve.

Yes, let’s have differential public sector pay scales. But not so that Londoners can be even better off than they are already.

Diddly-squatters' rights

The woman on the checkout at Budgens said it all: “Why do they think they can go on strike for better pensions when people in the private sector have ten per cent of diddly-squat to look forward to? If you ask me, I’d take away all their pensions.”


Welcome to plan B – more money for infrastructure, more money for businesses, more money for housing developments. But most of what will happen depends on the Bundesbank.


Why is the British taxpayer paying £110 million for redundancies at BAE?


With record immigration and the borders agency in chaos, when will the Government do something about getting the numbers down or have they abandoned the idea altogether?


Energy Secretary Chris Huhne says our fuel bills will fall even though he has agreed to let them rise as a result of pointless “green” taxes. He cannot justify his claims – unless we all freeze this winter. And how can we take the man seriously when the police are investigating his alleged motoring offence?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Auf Wiedersehen? Not yet

As Germany flexes its muscles and as the whole of Europe hangs on its every word, it’s worth wondering if Mrs Thatcher wasn’t, as usual, right to be worried about the resurgence of the country.

Amid all the euphoria at the time of German unification, she was nervous.

Lord Waldegrave, who was Europe Minister in 1989, says Mrs Thatcher was alarmed Germany would be an "unstoppable force" in an unbalanced Europe.

She told Russia’s President Gorbachev: "Although Nato had traditionally made statements supporting Germany's aspiration to be reunited, in practice we were rather apprehensive.

"All Europe is watching this, not without a degree of fear, remembering very well who started the two world wars."

Of course, she failed to slow the unification of Germany, admitting: "If there is one instance in which a foreign policy I pursued met with unambiguous failure, it was my policy on German reunification.”

In order the better to try to understand the Germans, she invited several historians of Germany to a meeting at Chequers on Sunday March 24, 1990.

According to the memorandum of the meeting drawn up by her foreign policy advisor, Sir Charles Powell, this included "angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotism, inferiority complexes and sentimentality".

As David Cameron meets Chancellor Angela Merkel and German MPs start attacking Britain’s approach to the EU, it’s clear the real power in Europe rests in the Bundestag and the Bundesbank.

You could reasonably argue that we are, at the moment, witnessing examples of this “aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying”.

The German Government and its bankers are calling the shots. They have deposed the elected leaders of Italy and Greece and replaced them with hand-picked, unelected placemen.

Now they are drawing up plans to take over failing economies via a European Monetary Fund.

It will only work – everyone acknowledges this – if there is genuine political union within the Eurozone, a Superstate with a centralised economic policy.

No nation state will wear this but that won’t stop the plan. It seems it even involves circumventing Cameron’s legislative pledge to hold a referendum on any change in EU treaties.

Chancellor Merkel says: "The task of our generation is to complete economic and monetary union, and build political union in Europe, step by step. That does not mean less Europe, it means more Europe."

Germany seems to think it can hide its own ambitions behind the façade of the EU. The truth is that Germany runs the EU and proposes to mould the EU in its own image.

You could argue that this is a positive development. The southern basket-case economies would be forced to submit to Teutonic discipline.

On the other hand, you could argue that Germany has exploited the Euro to make its products cheaper and more competitive.

It has, in effect, been pouring money to Spain, Italy, Greece and elsewhere so that these countries can afford to carry on buying Germany’s manufactured goods.

Who is to blame when the borrower over-borrows and can’t repay his debts – the borrower or the lender?

Obviously the borrower in the first instance but, if we castigate the banks for pouring away billions of pounds in unaffordable loans, why not also blame a wealthy country like Germany for encouraging its poorer neighbours to carry on borrowing to finance a lifestyle they couldn’t afford?

Germany is guilty of lining its own pocket at the expense of other Eurozone countries and therefore has an obligation to bail them out.

Indeed, the real solution to the crisis would be for Germany to withdraw from the Euro altogether and bring back the Deutschmark.

That’s not an attractive idea in Berlin and Frankfurt because, suddenly, German products would become unaffordable and German manufacturing would take a hit while all its rivals within the EU would receive a hefty boost.

That is a reasonable long-term alternative to a European Superstate.

And there is one snag with all these proposals for “more Europe” – nobody has actually asked the peoples of the EU if it’s something they want.

They don’t ask the question for a very good reason. They know the answer would be no.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Climb up here, Rolf, you'll soon be flying

He was awarded an MBE in 1968, an OBE in 1977 and a CBE in 2006 but the time has come – give Rolf Harris the knighthood he so richly deserves.

Rolf may be an Australian but that didn’t prevent them giving Edna Everage a Damehood so why not the man who gave the world the Stylophone, the wobble board and the digeridoo?

Rolf is an excellent artist – and at least you can tell what it is he’s painted – and he’s never flogged a decomposing dingo in formaldehyde for several millions and called it “Art”.

More to the point, Rolf is responsible for some of the modern classics which should be in every household’s collection of all-time greats.

Consider, for instance, “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” with The Beatles
or the famous “Waltzing Matilda”.

Then there’s the definitive version of “Stairway to Heaven”
as well as the world’s first ambient music track, “Sun Arise”,

He may be an Aussie but let's not hold that against him. Give this man a Knighthood now.

Monday, November 07, 2011

44 varieties of rioter

Why should it come as a shock to discover that rioters from 44 countries were involved in the summer’s riots?

This country has become the last refuge of scoundrels from all over the world.

Many of them come here to get as much as they can out of our welfare state. Some will lie and cheat to fiddle the system in their favour – and, in fairness, the system is set up to make that as easy as possible.

So if there’s looting afoot, no wonder they take whatever they can get. Smash-and-grab raids result in instant gratification and flat-screen TVs.

If you’re here to get what you can get in any case, it makes perfect sense to join your fellow migrants on the rampage through our towns and cities.

These people aren’t poor, starving, huddled masses. They co-ordinated their activities via Blackberry Messenger – what a pity the system didn’t crash earlier.

A friend saw a couple of them arrive outside the Bull Ring in Birmingham with a sack full of hoodies which they handed out to their fellow thieves so everyone could enjoy some anonymity from the CCTV cameras as they went about their rampage.

Admittedly the majority of the summer rioters were home-grown. But as the prisons fill up with those who have finally been brought to justice, 14 per cent are foreign.

They are from all over the world: the courts have jailed rioters from Afghanistan, Cuba, Ethiopia, Samoa, Jamaica, Somalia, Poland, Colombia, Iraq, Congo, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

They weren’t rioting over “the cuts” – they were just enjoying the feeding frenzy and taking what they could while the going was good.

The Government is supposedly planning to get tough on these rioters. The Immigration Minister Damian Green has said more than once that foreign-born criminals should be thrown out of the country.

He declared at the time of the riots: “We strongly believe that foreign-national lawbreakers should be removed from the UK at the earliest opportunity.”

It sounds pretty straightforward – conviction, imprisonment, deportation.

What could be simpler than that except, maybe, deportation without imprisonment? Why should we pay for their board and lodging even in an overcrowded jail?

But we know already nothing is that simple when it comes to the way this country bends over backwards to accommodate undesirable aliens.

Tough-talking Mr Green has been forced to tone down his rhetoric. He now says: “Foreign nationals who were convicted of offences during the riots will be returned home wherever possible.”

Note, please, the weasel words “wherever possible”. It’s Mr Green’s get-out clause.

You might think the Government Minister in charge of immigration would have some power to say what is, and what is not, possible when it comes to chucking out foreign criminals.

You would, of course, be hugely disappointed if you put much faith in the Minister’s pronouncements.

For Mr Green is at the mercy of the European Convention on Human Rights which, as we all know, won’t even allow us to deport terrorists.

All they need is some lame excuse and they get to stay in this country no matter what they’ve done.

They may have a boyfriend and a nice cat; they may already have convictions at home which they want to avoid; they may even have British children and wives.

It’s easy to wriggle out of deportation. New Home Office figures show that – excluding the rioters – more than 5,000 foreign criminals have managed to escape being sent home.

In May this year there were 3,775 criminals who had been released from immigration detention centres because there was “no prospect of them being deported in a reasonable time”, according to John Vine, chief inspector of the UK Border Agency (not that we can trust a word that useless organisation says).

Of those, 3,259 had served sentences for low-level offences, another 429 for more serious crimes, and 87 for the most serious offences – including murder, rape and paedophilia.

On top of that, 1,600 were still behind bars after completing their sentences – costing us £55 million a year – because nobody knows what else to do with them. Another 12 had simply disappeared.

Not everyone used the Human Rights Act to escape deportation. Some refused to say what country they called home or they were due to return to “unsafe” countries.

But Mr Vine says that between February 2010 and January this year, 425 foreign prisoners – a third of those who appealed – won human rights cases against deportation. The Home Office gave another 151 permission to stay.

How much all this is costing us in Legal Aid payments to the serried ranks of human rights lawyers is anybody’s guess. But you can be pretty sure it would more than cover the cost of repairing the damage caused by the rioters in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.

Mr Green is speaking for the vast armies of law-abiding people when he says foreign rioters should be kicked out of the country as soon as possible.

His party, he may recall, promised to scrap the Human Rights Act.

Luckily for the rioters, we have a Coalition Government and the Liberal Democrats won’t let the Conservatives do any such thing. Isn’t democracy wonderful?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Food, glorious food

Sorry but it needs saying: without the banks we’d all be broke.

It’s easy to hate the banks. We all need a scapegoat and City spivs with their snouts in the trough are the best targets of all.

That’s why the anti-capitalist activists who set up a camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London have won a surprising degree of support.

We are all anti-capitalists now – if that means we all deplore the excesses of a system which imploded a few years ago and has still not recovered.

It’s not in the least fair that the people who perpetrated this crime against capitalism still get millions in bonuses and keep getting bailed out by the world’s taxpayers.

The Eurozone crisis – and it will go on being a crisis for months to come – is the latest example of the two-faced hypocrisy of a system which rewards the failure of the rich by impoverishing the poor.

It’s wrong, it’s not fair. But what’s the alternative?

To find out, I visited the small encampment outside St Paul’s as Europe’s leaders were gathering for yet another failed make-or-break summit on Brussels.

If a couple of hundred middle-class crusties can close down one of the nation’s most imposing landmarks, I reasoned, they must know something I don’t.

There’s a famous wartime photograph of St Paul’s defying the Blitz. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, says we are now fighting an economic war so maybe it’s appropriate the anti-capitalists picked the cathedral for their protest.

But at 8.30am there are few signs of life from the orderly lines of cheap tents. The occupants haven’t surfaced though as most of them go home at night for a bath, a change of clothes and a decent meal, they probably aren’t there at all.

(There was no justification for the closure of St Paul’s, by the way. Worshippers and tourists could easily get in and out despite the tents.)

Commuters march past without glancing at the “occupy London” camp. The only protester in evidence is an apparently-drunk Pole singing loudly but tunelessly before breaking off to say to no-one in particular: “What the xxxx do you want?”

The posters are more helpful though their messages are confusing. One says simply “End wealth”, another demands “Let's have a maximum wage”.

We are urged to “Investigate the 13 families that run the world” while being assured “Capitalism is crisis” and “You are an artwork”.

The campers have a recycling centre, a first aid tent and another offering “tea and empathy”. It’s all calm and well-organised though there is a nasty smell of drains.

Early in the morning is clearly not a good time for an insight into the protesters’ plans for a post-Capitalist world.

But I think we can get the general idea from the poster which declares: “Capitalism so far embodies insufficiently damped positive feedback loops.” (Honestly, that’s what it says.)

In due course there will probably be an attempt to move these people on.

When that happens, there will be wall-to-wall TV coverage of the event and the usual suspects will have great fun playing to the cameras and getting themselves arrested – just as they did at the Dale Farm gipsy camp eviction.

What we see at St Paul’s is an incoherent howl of rage. It would be utterly insignificant but for the fact that the protesters chose such an iconic landmark, bamboozled the Church authorities and closed down the cathedral.

The fact remains, though, that while they have secured worldwide publicity for their protest, it is impossible to discover what alternative they propose to the capitalist system.

There was a horrible moment back in 2007 when it looked briefly as if every major bank in the USA and Britain – and quite possibly around the world – might go bust.

Never mind how we got to that terrible state, imagine how much worse it would have been for all of us if the banks had been crushed under the weight of their bad debts.

We are all paying the high price of the rescue in job losses, smaller pensions, fewer Government services and lower living standards.

It’s hard to believe but the destruction of our entire financial system would have been worse. We would all have been left penniless, jobless, with debts we couldn’t pay and assets turned worthless overnight.

Banks are a necessary evil. We need them to run even the most basic economy. We cannot live without them.

Banks are not to be confused with bankers, however. I have long believed legal action should be taken against some of the individuals who grew rich while plunging the world into the worst financial crisis in history.

They are not solely to blame, of course. Lazy regulators and over-optimistic politicians are just as guilty. So are those of us who borrowed as if there was no tomorrow.

Actually, the St Paul’s protesters are lucky we still have a capitalist system left to complain about.

Without it, nobody would have the time to stage juvenile demos on cathedral steps. We’d all be too worried about where our next meal was coming from.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Whatever happened to Euro stability?

I hate to say I told you so but I was looking back over my book “The Last of England” published in 2004 and now out of print.

In a chapter on why it would be disastrous for Britain to join the euro, it says:

The truth is that economically – never mind politically – the euro just will not work….

How is it possible to tie in the various economies of Europe so they are always marching in step and in the same direction? One answer is the imposition of a “stability pact” which forces all the Governments of the eurozone to curb their freedom to tax and spend, in the interests of the common good.

The euro’s supporters will tell anyone worried about the economy of the eurozone, and the single interest rate needed for the euro, to be reassured because this pact sets a ceiling on the level of public deficit allowed, at three per cent of GDP and aims to ensure no country boosts Government spending to a level which would have an impact on the Eurozone interest rate.

We are told … the Eurozone “stability pact” ensures the economies keep on walking at the same pace in the same direction. The pact in effect allows the European Central Bank to control tax levels and public spending in the eurozone countries.

The problem is that the stability pact is being undermined and ignored, even by those who first insisted on it. The IMF has said it is being “wrongly undermined by inadequate policies” in France, Germany and Italy. Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, said: “I know very well the stability pact is stupid, like all decisions that are rigid.” No wonder the Bundesbank says the problems are “definitely causing a dangerous situation for monetary union”.

It is no surprise the stability pact is being undermined. Consider what happened in Germany in 2002. Growth was down to half a per cent this year. The German Industrial Association said the economy faced “stagnation”. Germany wasn’t able to meet the stability pact demand for a three per cent limit on its budget deficit. Siemens threatened to cut investment in Germany because of the high taxes demanded by the stability pact. Germany, once the economic powerhouse of Europe, before the advent of the euro, is in a double-dip recession, endures unemployment of at least 4.3 million and, according to some people, 6 million.

It saw 40,000 insolvencies in 2002, the worst since the war, while one of its political historians has declared: “Today’s crisis can be compared to the end of the Weimar republic. There is no Hitler in the wings today but the symptoms of economic and political disaster are the same.”

And why is all this happening? According to the Nobel-prize winning economist Milton Friedman the answer is simple. In an interview in Germany, he said: “If it wasn’t for the euro, then Germany would not have its current problems. A single European monetary policy is not possible for the countries of the Eurozone.”

In France, the Government refused to accept the 0.5 per cent spending cuts required to meet its stability pact obligations and when it tried to cut public spending, there were riots in the streets, as there usually are when the French people dislike what their Government is up to.

In the summer of 2003, President Chirac officially concluded that, for France, the stability pact was a dead duck. He sent his Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, to Brussels to announce that France would not even try to control its budget deficit to keep it below the three per cent limit until 2006 at the earliest.

He argued that this was necessary because France needed to boost state spending as a way of breaking out of the recession which, not coincidentally, had been dragging back the eurozone economies since the creation of the euro itself.

Likewise, Portugal has seen strikes provoked by the spending cuts announced by the Government to stay within the bounds of the stability pact. Italy, too, has taken unilateral action which defies the stability pact agreement.

Meanwhile, even a Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown, supposedly dedicated to taking Britain into the euro eventually, rejected the idea that he should cut spending to keep in line with the stability pact requirements. “I don’t think the British public want the European Commission to cut £5 billion a year from spending, as is implied by these proposals,” he said at the time – and he is right.

No Chancellor will willingly abandon his freedom to fiddle with the economy and his ability to boost public spending in time for a General Election just to keep in step with the rest of the eurozone.

The truth is that the stability pact is a lovely theory but won’t work in practice.

It is sometimes argued against this that a currency union works perfectly well in the United States, so why shouldn’t it work in Europe? But there are big differences, according to Professor Martin Feldstein, President of the US National Bureau of Economic Research. For instance, the US has a flexible labour market, the EU does not; the US has a mobile labour market, the EU does not; and, crucially, the US has a centralised tax system. Without these things, according to Prof Feldstein, the EU will see “as a minimum” higher cyclical unemployment and “from a strictly economic point of view, they are liable to run into some serious problems ahead”.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The daring dozen

Congratulations to the following West Midlands MPs for not being creeps and yes-people and voting in favour of a referendum on Britain’s relations with the EU:

Tories: Dan Byles, Warwickshire North; Marcus Jones, Nuneaton; Chris Kelly, Dudley South; Jeremy LeFroy, Stafford; Karen Lumley, Redditch; James Morris, Halesowen & Rowley Regis; Mark Pritchard, The Wrekin; Richard Shepherd, Aldridge-Brownhills; Robin Walker, Worcester.

Labour: Roger Godsiff, Birmingham Hall Green; Steve McCabe, Birmingham Selly Oak; Gisela Stuart, Birmingham Edgbaston.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dumb and dumber

We won’t get a referendum on our continuing membership of the European Union.

It’s all been stitched up in advance. A three-line whip of Tory MPs scuppers any realistic hope of getting the vote through the Commons.

A decent minority of principled MPs will support a referendum – mainly Conservatives but with a smattering of Labour MPs.

The Lib-Dems should also vote in favour of the referendum because, despite their Europhilia, they have in the past acknowledged the need for the consent of the people to the creation of a Superstate.

But they won’t want to risk a No-vote in a referendum and will hide behind the Coalition whip.

In a free vote, it is still possible there wouldn’t be a majority in Parliament for a referendum even though we all know there is a sizable majority in favour of one in the country at large.

But we shall probably never know.

Monday’s Commons vote is a rare opportunity for MPs to “speak for England”. Alas, the majority will almost certainly remain dumb.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

...and another thing

How can the taxman get it so wrong and expect everyone to pay for his mistakes – when he can let giant corporations off millions with deals done over dinner? It’s the price we pay for a massively complicated system and IT systems which, as usual, don’t work. Why can’t tax be simple – then, perhaps, more people would pay it?
MPs are taking another week’s holiday. This is a cause for celebration. It means that’s another week when they won’t be able to meddle and make things worse.
I can't see anything wrong with a "boob tax" but with so many people now doing "cash-only" jobs is there a danger that surgeons may be pushed into the black economy? The real answer is to cut taxes.
As the London luvvies were getting excited about Liam Fox I met some soldiers at a Help for Heroes event who were much more concerned about their comrades being killed and maimed in a pointless, endless war.
The world's population hit 7 billion this month. Isn't it time all foreign aid was aimed at stemming the absurdly dangerous global birth rate?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Now who are the fruitcakes, Dave?

Who are the fruitcakes and loonies now? Those people who said the European Union was bad for Britain – or our beloved Prime Minister?

David Cameron, in one of his many unguarded moments when the PR façade slips for a moment, condemned Eurosceptics as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.

Now they have been proved right, can we expect an apology? Of course not.

Instead, a great fuss is being made about the promise of a Commons debate on whether to hold a referendum about Britain’s membership of the EU.

Will this be the liberating moment? Could it be the watershed when all that has gone wrong with this country because we are governed from Brussels starts to come right?

Don’t bet on it. Nobody knows what sort of referendum we’ll get. Should it be a simple “in or out” question or something more complicated about bringing back some of the powers we have lost?

William Hague called the Euro “a burning building with no exits” and, with the flames licking around Greece and Italy, surely nobody doubts he was right all along.

Yet the last thing the Government wants at a time of Eurocrisis is the infinite complications of a referendum which forces it to extricate Britain from the failure that is “ever-greater economic and political union”.

It’s not just the single currency.

We saw this week that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, thinks the European Convention on Human Rights is a ridiculous piece of law which should be abolished.

Admittedly she did her case no good at all by wittering on about an illegal immigrant from Bolivia who couldn’t be deported because he had a pet cat called Maya.

The flying fur over Mrs May’s catastrophic “kittengate” contribution to the Conservative conference should not distract us from the fact that we have a Home Secretary who abhors our human rights laws.

The country can’t deport convicted murderers and rapists because it may be in breach of their human rights. Mrs May spoke for millions when she said it was time to restore sanity.

While the Euro burns, the Eurocrats are busily working away at their plans to create a single Superstate no matter what the peoples of the EU might want.

Take another of their challenges to our country. The Government has been given a two-month deadline to bring our benefit payments into line with their demands.

It means we could end up paying billions more to “benefit tourists” from across the EU if they find themselves better off on our social security than they would be at home.

We could soon be forced to pay child benefit, child tax credit, state pension credit, jobseekers' allowance and unemployment support allowance to any citizen of the Superstate.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Pensions Secretary, believes it could cost us £2 billion.

He says: “At a time when the British people are tightening their belts, and the European Commission orders us to open our doors to benefit tourists and pay them benefits when they arrive here, I have a simple message for them: No, no, no.”

If you think that’s expensive, what about the EU bailout fund? This started off at 400 million euros and has already rising to 2 trillion but even that won’t be enough if Italy goes the way of Greece.

Don’t think this is just a problem for countries which swapped their currencies for the euro. Some of it will be our money. We are, to coin a phrase, all in it together.

So our Government is planning to print more money. They call it quantitative easing but really it’s no different from going to a printing press and running off a load of forged £50 notes.

The impact is the same – inflation. Prices are already rising sharply and the Bank of England seems to have abandoned its job of keeping the rate down to two per cent.

Inflation is the only way the Governments of Europe can convert their massive debts into something manageable – inflation makes their debts worth less and hang the consequences for the little people with pensions and savings.

Chancellor George Osborne says Europe’s leaders “have got to get out and fix their roof, even though it is already pouring with rain”.

He also questions why they “plunged headlong into the euro without thinking through the consequences”.

He’s right, of course. It beggars belief that the most powerful and, you might have supposed, intelligent men and women in Europe should have been so caught up in their own fantasies they led us into this situation in the first place.

The very few who warned that it would all go horribly wrong were derided as right-wing Little Englanders.

These “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” have banged about the EU and been ignored, mocked or sidelined for years.

Now we have a Chancellor, a Foreign Secretary, a Home Secretary, and a Pensions Secretary all lining up to condemn our involvement in the EU.

It’s time they did more than complain. They must give us a referendum – in or out? They won’t – because they’re afraid of our answer.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


How is it possible that NHS spending has tripled over the last ten years and yet nurses are so over-stretched they can’t help to feed their patients?

The Government pours billions into the ever-open mouth of the health service – yet its staff are so rushed off their feet they can’t spoon food across the parched lips of the elderly and infirm.

Some nurses think of themselves as too qualified to care. The problem is they have degrees and they have spent hours in classrooms and lecture theatres.

They learn lots of theory and no doubt get detailed medical instruction but they’re not used to looking after people’s basic bodily needs.

In 2008, Tory Peer Lord Mancroft brought the wrath of the NHS down on his head when he recounted his experiences as a patient at the Royal United Hospital in Bath.

He said it was a miracle he was still alive after his experience of filthy hospital wards.

He went on: “The nurses who looked after me were mostly grubby – we are talking about dirty fingernails and hair – and were slipshod and lazy. Worst of all, they were drunken and promiscuous.

“How do I know that? Because if you’re a patient and you’re lying in a bed, and you’re being nursed from either side, they talk across you as if you’re not there.

“So I know exactly what they got up to the night before, and how much they drank, and I know exactly what they were planning to do the next night, and I can tell you, it’s pretty horrifying.”

Lord Mancroft’s experience may be rare. But Peter Carter, head of the Royal College of Nursing, still thinks nurses have too much work to do.

He plans to extend hospital visiting hours so relatives can feed patients, help them go to the loo and make sure they have something to drink.

One of the reasons for this, he admits, was that newly-qualified nurses were “simply not up to the mark” because they spent too much time in the classroom and not long enough on the wards.

At the same time, Dickon Weir-Hughes, chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, is complaining that the healthcare assistants who are regularly employed to do the nurses’ dirty work have no qualifications.

Professor Weir-Hughes wants this army of 300,000 people to be required to obtain a qualification – and be segregated from graduate nurses by being forced to wear a different uniform.

This kind of nursing apartheid is inevitable. The last Government encouraged nurses to become over-qualified.

As a result, some of them are not trained or encouraged to deliver the care which most patients assume is at the very heart of their profession.

You can’t blame nurses themselves. Many are wonderful, maintain the very highest standards of care and deserve the old epithet of “angels”.

But the NHS is designed and run for the benefit of its staff, first and foremost. It has been perverted from its original aim of looking after people and is now the most inefficient, indulged and indolent of all the public services.

We spend about £120 billion a year on the health service. The last Government tripled the budget from £37 billion in 1997.

The Coalition has pledged to “ring fence” NHS spending, despite the cuts, though this hasn’t stopped the healthcare industry warning of death and disaster as even they are asked to take greater care over how they spend our money.

Yet NHS productivity hasn’t improved and this is a national scandal no politician dares to address.

The inquiry into the deaths at Stafford Hospital shows day by day how low the NHS has sunk.

It is astonishing that Sir David Nicholson, one-time head of Staffordshire Strategic Health Authority, should now be chief executive of the entire NHS. Nothing succeeds like failure, it seems.

He admitted he appointed the wrong man as chief executive of the hospital where up to 1,200 patients may have died as a result of lack of care and he admitted he had no idea there was any cause for concern.

Lessons, he solemnly declared, would be learned.

They always say that, as if it makes the sacrifice, pain and misery of patients and their families somehow acceptable.

As the vast ranks of “healthcare professionals” manoeuvre in pursuit of pensions, pay and privileges, the long-suffering patient remains an inconvenience best left to someone else.

The nursing profession’s separation from patients was marvellously illustrated by East Kent Hospital where staff went around dispensing drugs while wearing tabards warning patients: “Do not disturb.”

The aim was to prevent nurses being interrupted as they made their rounds handing out pills.

Luckily the outrage this caused has forced an about-turn but even now the nurses will wear notices declaring: “Drug round in progress.”

It’s not quite as rude as the original but it’s still symbolic of how removed from their patients some nurses have become.

We need nurses to offer kindness, care and compassion. Qualifications are all very well but sometimes all a patient needs is a hand to hold and a word of sympathy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Coming soon - 'The Smoking Gun'

In "no-smoking Britain" the Coalition Government has stubbed out cigarettes once and for all. But it's politics as usual.

So why is MP Acton Trussell being forced to resign? Who stitched him up? Why does the Prime Minister want lipstick lesbian Lucy Loxley in Parliament? Will the Coalition’s ‘fixer’ Compton Dundon help Clifford Chambers slither up the greasy pole? Who planted the smoking gun?

A romp through the corridors of power and the streets of a Midland town as the Coalition Government faces a crucial by-election in the safe seat of Barset.

As old loyalties are tested and new alliances formed, is this low politics, high farce - or both?

My new novel is coming soon.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The BIG issue

It wasn't until I started going to the gym that I realised how easy it is to put on calories – and how hard it is to lose them.

Pounding away on a running machine gives you time to contemplate the fate of those of us who have put on a few pounds.

It’s boring, hard work and takes forever to work off the ill-effects of even the most modest-sized Mars bar.

The Health Police are getting more and more noisy about how obese we’re all becoming. And the latest survey listing the towns where kids are fatter than their parents isn’t flattering for those of us in the West Midlands.

It seems Tamworth in Staffordshire is the worst offender in the country. In at number one in the obesity league, almost one third of Tamworth’s children are larger than their parents. Cannock is ninth; Sandwell 12th equal.

A separate survey claims Wolverhampton is the fat capital of the region with one in ten people described as obese.

But, wherever you look, there is no doubt that people are getting bigger.

A walk down any High Street reveals an alarming number of people whose paunches, muffin tops and lardy arses are crying out for a diet.

A surprising number of fatties seem so unconcerned at their size they’re usually to be seen stuffing their faces with something containing over their body-weight in calories.

Before I started writing this column I thought it only right I should do two things which I have studiously avoided for years.

First I weighted myself and then I worked out what my Body Mass Index was.

BMI, as weightwatchers everywhere will know already, tells you if you are healthy, overweight, obese or – imagine – too thin.

I was surprised to discover I was actually nervous about checking out my BMI rating.

I know I’ve put on a few pounds over the years but it’s only because everyone’s making such a fuss about obesity that it’s started to bother me.

It turns out that the NHS and the World Cancer Research Fund agree. My BMI rating of 27.9 means I am overweight, which I knew already, but not obese, which comes as a bit of a relief.

It’s not good news but at least I can carry on moaning about the wobbling flesh we see around us with the superior air of someone who is – officially – not excessively gross.

The alleged epidemic of obesity is, of course, the result of living in a land of plenty.

Despite the new austerity, we still have enough money to eat ourselves stupid.

My 88-year-old father has a theory that his generation is so long-lived because they grew up in the 1930s depression and the Second World War when food was scarce. They had no choice but to eat small meals.

And they didn’t have the TV to slump in front of when they were young so they had a lot more exercise.

As a result, he and his contemporaries are living longer than any previous generation. He reckons the sedentary lives and indulgent diets of today will reverse that trend.

But if kids are putting on weight, are their parents guilty of child abuse?

The mad health police in Dundee want to snatch four children from their family home and send them to be “fostered without contact” because they’re too fat.

Three daughters, aged 11, seven and one, and a five-year-old son, will be ripped from their parents and given away, presumably to people who won’t feed them very much.

This is taking health fascism to unacceptable extremes. It’s not difficult to feel sorry for chubby children and wonder what on earth their parents are doing allowing them to get so fat.

The parents may well need more advice about how to feed their children. You could even imagine some earnest social worker standing over them at mealtimes dictating what they may and may not eat.

Even so, tearing the family apart because some of the kids are overweight is simply unacceptable in a free society.

What we really do not need are lectures from officious do-gooders telling us how to live our lives let alone breaking up families in the name of healthy eating.

Before we know it, the Government will slap 20 per cent VAT on fast food, biscuits and other indulgencies.

We’ll be told this is in the interests of the nation’s health. In reality it would be in the Treasury’s interests bringing in about £5.6 billion-a-year in tax revenue.

The health police would argue that a “fat tax” would reduce consumption and create a healthier society.

Actually it’s just another tax and we already have far too many of those.

We all know about the perils of obesity. Those of us who need to shed a pound or two know what we must do and how to do it.

But lead us not into temptation. Stick a few chips under the nose of even the most dedicated dieter and their will-power crumbles almost as fast as a vegetarian’s faced with the delicious aromas of a bacon sandwich.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The triumph of hype over experience

The hype over PJ Harvey's album "Let England Shake" has been so relentless I felt it must be worth buying so I did.

Sadly this is nothing more than a feverishly adolescent girl's First World War history project set to what could be described as music. It's Kate Bush without the charm, imagination or musicality. Dreary is a polite term for it.

How it gets to be voted the best album of the year in the Mercury Music awards is beyond me.

The Virgin Pendolino trains look OK from the outside but they are dark and pokey within. That wouldn't matter too much if it were not for the fact that every carriage in steerage class (and quite possibli in Posh Class as well) stinks of what might politely be called "drains".

The loos are so badly designed it seems Virgin can't, or won't, rid their inter city services of the constant stink of human effluent. All very nasty and at £120 return a rip-off to boot.

Former Wolverhampton Poly lecturer Howard Jacobson's novel "The Finkler Question" now out in paperback and destined to be a best-seller on the strength of winning this year's Booker Prize.

If this is the best novel written in the past 12 months then we are really in trouble. It's about who wants to be Jewish and what sort of a Jew they want to be. But it is tedious, dull and how anyone could have described it as a "comic masterpiece" is beyond me. The only time I smiled was when I reached the end - out of relief that at last it was all over.

Am I really going to buy this year's Booker Prize winner?

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Euro - well into extra time

There is one thing we should all be very grateful to Gordon Brown for – he kept Britain out of the Euro.

As Chancellor, he refused to allow Tony Blair to lead us up the garden path to be swallowed by the giant Euro-monster.

If the economy is managing to keep its head above water, it’s only thanks to the fact that we have a cheap pound and we are not stuck with the Euro.

Manufacturing exports are one of the few bright spots in the gloomy economic landscape and that’s almost entirely because British goods are cheap compared with those made in the Eurozone.

Sadly, what happens in the Eurozone affects jobs in this country whether we like it or not.

The turmoil over the Euro-Pigs (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) has already led to a slow-down in British exports and the crisis is far from over.

There are only two options left for the European Union.

One is to wave goodbye to the Pigs, let them bring back the Escudo, Lire, Peseta and Drachma and create a hard core Eurozone of countries which can be trusted to run their national budgets properly.

The other – the one favoured by the Brussels empire-makers – is to continue bailing out the Pigs and impose new rules and restrictions on national governments.

The Pigs would be better off if they were left to sink or swim outside the Euro. They could devalue their currencies and enjoy the prospect of some sort of prosperity in the foreseeable future.

They would still be saddled with massive debts, of course, and they might go bankrupt. The problem is they owe billions to banks all over the world, though mainly in France and Germany.

Allowing them to escape the Euro straitjacket isn’t appealing to the Euro’s masters in Berlin, Paris and Brussels. The banks would be massively out of pocket and require yet another taxpayers’ bail-out.

The snag is that if the EU presses on with further bail-outs through its planned “European Financial Stability Facility” – a £400 billion slush fund – the Germans will not be happy.

The EU was formed after the Second World War as a French initiative to contain Germany’s ambitions and it’s done a pretty good job.

The Euro gave Germany a cheap way to sell its goods to a captive market. The country has grown rich thanks to the Euro.

The price is massive debts built up by the profligate Pigs of the Mediterranean.

The German people aren’t sure they want to prop up these countries any more.

They squander their money, they don’t pay their taxes and they retire early – at 50 for many Greeks and on 95 per cent of their working salaries.

Hard-working, prudent, industrious, law-abiding, tax-paying Germans are starting to wonder how long they will have to carry these spendthrift spongers.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is losing support from her own party and a recent poll said 76 per cent of Germans opposed a “Eurobond” bailout.

They don’t want to take on responsibility for other people’s debts – and who can blame them?

The problem for Chancellor Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Eurofanatics is that the creation of a huge collective debt – most experts think £400 billion is just the start – can’t happen without the voters noticing.

Brussels bureaucrats may be unaccountable but national politicians must eventually submit themselves to the will of the people.

The EU has – though another sleight of hand – recently inserted a clause into the Lisbon Treaty ruling out referendums on Euro-bailouts.

Even so, voters are not as dumb as their leaders seem to think.

A European debt union, which is what Brussels hopes to create, will not survive if public opinion in Germany and France refuses to put up with it.

The only way to keep the Euro alive is to create a single financial system for all the countries using the currency.

That means one tax system and centrally-imposed public spending limits – in short, a European Superstate.

For decades that’s been the ultimate aim of the Brussels elite. They see this crisis as a real chance to build that Superstate.

While that state may, in theory, be run from Belgium, the power will lie in Berlin.

Germany would call the shots and impose its own standards of financial restraint on its wastrel neighbours. But it would also be lumbered with debts which will take decades to clear.

Europe’s politicians refuse to admit the dream has turned into a nightmare. They will deny the peoples of Europe a say for as long as they possibly can.

But it can’t go on for ever. The Greeks, Italians, Spanish and Portugese won’t want their countries run by Germany; the Germans don’t want to run these countries.

The Euro will die. The only question is whether they insist on giving it a long, lingering and increasingly expensive death or they go for a short, sharp shock.

As the famous commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme said on a previous occasion when Germany was forced to admit defeat: “They think it’s all over… It is now.” It soon will be, anyway.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

It's Disneyland under martial law

A bonus-rich banker sits down for tea with an MP and a rioter. There are 12 biscuits on the table. The banker takes 11 of them and warns the politician: "Look out for that looter, he's after your biscuit."

Top bankers, all-expenses-paid politicians and looters have one trait in common – naked greed.

It's not surprising rioters are described as greedy.

That's just what they are – greedy for life's little luxuries: flat screen TVs, computer games, new clothes.

The nationwide outrage and righteous indignation at their behaviour is entirely understandable.

But what, really, is the difference between a hoodie skipping out of H&M with armfuls of clothes and a banker demanding bonuses running into millions even after he has brought the entire capitalist system to the brink of collapse?

And how does a lout smashing a shop window in pursuit of stolen goods differ from an MP forcing the taxpayer to foot the bill for trimming his wisteria?

The banker and the MP are both betraying the same basic instinct as the looter.

They both want to exploit their positions for their own financial gain.

They have no thought about the cost to other people, they just think that if they can get away with it, they might as well.

They would rationalise it by arguing that everybody else is lining his own pocket so they would be foolish to deny themselves.

That’s what the rioters thought, too.

They saw Londoners apparently smashing their way into shops and walking off unmolested with their booty so why not try it in Wolverhampton, West Bromwich and Birmingham? Especially as the police often stood back and did nothing to stop them.

They may well have had a sense of entitlement and a feeling of resentment.

We have all been aghast at the way our leaders have behaved in recent years.

Admittedly a few politicians have been jailed and a few more have lost their seats as a result of the Parliamentary expenses scandal.

But most of them got away with what, in other walks of life, would have been treated as fraud.

Our MPs may think the rest of us have forgiven and forgotten their systematic milking of the taxpayer. They would be wrong. Their greed is not to be dismissed lightly.

The bankers are, of course, an even more hideous example of how the law-abiding, tax-paying majority are treated as mugs.

The collective greed of top bankers brought the Western world to the brink of ruin. We will be paying the horrendous price for their folly for decades ahead.

We have had to come to their rescue – and it's not just the banks we now own which have been bailed out. They all needed our money to keep them alive.

Yet these masters of the universe, the untouchables at the very top, continue to trouser vast sums of money the rest of us can only dream about.

How do they manage to get away with it? Why is nobody answerable? How come bankers don't go to jail?

When confronted by so much gross and offensive injustice, it's not surprising the least well-off decide to take what they can when they can.

Isn't that what greedy MPs and bankers have been doing for years?

The differences are obvious. Some greed is entirely legal – the bankers, it seems, have not broken any laws. They are simply offending against what most of us see as fair, reasonable, moral and decent.

Some greed you can get away with simply by filling in a few expenses forms. There's no threat to life or limb. Nobody's hurt.

Young, ill-educated, badly brought-up thugs have no opportunity for subtle forms of greed. Their only option is the smash-and-grab raid.

It's criminal. It's wrong. We must crack down hard on them. But is it really such a shock when they have before them every day the example of their supposed betters?

Back in the 1980s, many people subscribed to the mantra "greed is good" even though the phrase originated in the film “Wall Street” and we were supposed to be shocked by such sentiments.

It seems the idea never really went away but there is a vast difference between hard-earned wealth and the bung-and-bonus culture which created this recession and destroyed our faith in politicians.

People who work hard, build businesses and create jobs are making the rest of us richer. They’re not greedy – they’re saviours of the economy.

But when the courts are handing out jail sentences of up to four years for a couple of kids posting some fatuous message on Facebook, it beggars belief that the people who ran our banks have got away with it.

The looters are being punished for their greed but most MPs got away with theirs while the people who created the greatest global recession in history are still making money hand over fist.

I don’t condone greedy looters but we all know where they took their inspiration from.

Of course, everyone is equal in the eyes of the law but, as Bob Geldof said: “Justice isn’t blind, it just looks the other way.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bleeding heads bleeding hearts

The most appalling sight during the summer riots was police officers in full Darth Vader riot gear standing aside and watching as criminals loot and destroy.

The helmeted officers, clutching their shields and apparently armed to teeth, had all the bite of a soggy egg sandwich.

They were not protecting life and liberty, they were merely directing the traffickers to the nearest electronics superstore.

Ineffectual policing is not the fault of officers on the front line. It’s the fault of their masters who have forced them to become an arm of the social services rather than the body employed to maintain law and order.

Their chiefs aren’t criminologists these days but sociologists.
They concentrate their efforts on what is known as “community policing”. That means sitting around listening to the whingeing of each and every allegedly oppressed minority.

It means offering a shoulder to cry on rather than stretching out the long arm of the law.

When police officers might think about getting tough, they’re intimidated by the threat of being pilloried by the BBC and Labour MPs or sued under European human rights laws.

In short, the police have gone soft.

The rioting of the 1980s may have been provoked by social conditions and youth unemployment.

But their result has been 25 years of appeasement-policing where officers are forced to pussyfoot around to avoid hurting anyone’s delicate sensibilities.

They offer care in the community even when the idea of “community” is highly misleading, because it implies one cohesive group of people and in most of our stricken cities nothing could be further from the truth.

In too many places, these “communities” are divided and discordant, with few shared values and very little sense of belonging – except, perhaps, for those in one of the violent drug gangs which too often seem to rule the roost.

The police know about these gangs. Indeed, it is because they were trying to deal with a leading thug that they ended up shooting Mark Duggan, provoking the first of the riots.

This may seem to counter the argument that the police have gone soft but if Duggan was a known gang boss – as we are led to believe – why wasn’t he banged up long ago?

Whatever the circumstances surrounding his death, the riots that resulted have nothing whatever to do with police brutality, Government cuts or social deprivation.

We have been witnessing opportunistic young thieves exploiting the police’s failure to control the streets.

When a woman can actually try on shoes before she steals them, a young lad can cycle home with a shopping basket of contraband and hooded youths can walk past riot police carrying stolen flat-screen TVs, law and order has broken down. This is anarchy.

It’s no use senior officers saying they will arrest the thieves later. Why not nick them in the act before clever lawyers and feckless parents can line up bogus defences for them?

The average policeman, for all his fearsome appearance, is afraid to act. Not because he’s worried about a bit of physical violence but because of the backlash if he happens to do these little darlings any harm.

When drunken 47-year-old paper seller Ian Tomlinson stumbled among the G20 rioters in London and died after being struck by a policeman, there was outcry.

No police officer is going to risk his career, pension and reputation by delivering a telling blow or two if he knows he’ll have to spend the next two years going through tribunals, inquiries and trials to justify himself.

We expect the police to protect us from harm but those who govern the country are not prepared to give them the ability to do their jobs properly.

Nobody wants to see a police state where officers are above the law and can get away with any sort of abuse.

But surely we have to accept that, in the face of lawlessness and looting, it is better to see the police crack a few skulls than to watch them stand back and admire the flames.

Most of those taking part in this riot of robbery were not much more than kids.

They have grown up, you can be pretty sure, without any discipline at home while, at many schools, teachers are in despair over their inability to control some of their pupils let alone get them to learn anything.

These thieving kids are used to getting their own way. The results have been seen on the streets of our cities.

They know no fear because they have little or nothing to fear. With the Government set to empty our jails and cut prison sentences, it’s not surprising looters laugh at the law.

These may be longer-term issues that need to be addressed. In the meantime, the police must win back respect for their office and the laws they are paid to uphold.

Robust policing is called for, tough and uncompromising.

Most appalled, law-abiding onlookers would like to see the a few more bleeding heads among the troublemakers and far fewer bleeding hearts among the ranks of the police.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A luxury you can't afford

The deadline for comments on plans for an HS2 train from London to Birmingham has now passed and I still don't understand the massive enthusiasm for it - especially as the trains will have to be built abroad and the real beneficiaries will be London, Manchester and Leeds (in that order) and I still find it hard to believe they can find the money.
The service will be the railway equivalent of the M6 Toll, smart and very nice to use if you can afford the price.
But with Virgin from London to the NEC now about £240 return (first) and £120 (second) how many people will stump up maybe £400 and £200 to save half an hour?
I know "time is money" but there are limits. Civil servants and other people who are not paying their own way will be the only users so the majority of rail travellers will see no benefit.
To make matters worse, the train goes to Euston so passengers will have to use the tube to Kings X if they want to connect with Eurostar.
Hvaing just endured a standing-room-only train from Bristol, I am more than conscious of the need for extra capacity on the railways. But when you get on a four-carriage push-me, pull-you going all the way from Penzance to Edinburgh you have to ask why on earth they can't simply add more coaches to existing trains.
HS2 is a rich man's dream, a taxpayers' white elephant and a politician's stab at leaving a permanent mark on the country. But with a bill running into countless billions it is still a luxury we cannot afford.

Friday, July 22, 2011

More people; no more jobs

Is it good news that the population of the Black Country has increased in the past 12 months by 4,500?

It’s supposed to be, at least for the Black Country Consortium in pursuit of its 20-year “vision”.

The Consortium is a quango run by the leaders of the local councils with other public sector worthies and a few businesspeople thrown in for window-dressing.

It is dedicated to increasing the area’s population.

So it will be happy with the latest figures showing there are now 1,096,500 people living in the Black Country (or “residing in the sub-region” as the officials put it).

It seems the biggest increase was in Sandwell where the population rose 1,800 to 292,800. Dudley is the most densely populated area, with 307,400 residents, while 256,900 people live in Walsall and there are 239,400 in Wolverhampton.

The Consortium’s stated aim is to increase the area’s population to 1.2 million by 2033 so it’s well on its way.

The question is why the leading lights in the Black Country should feel the need to state this as one of their main purposes in life when – without trying – they are bound to reach the target.

It surely hasn’t escaped their attention that the population of the whole country is growing faster than at any time in history.

It’s risen by 3.1 million in the past decade. The Office for National Statistics puts the country’s population today at 62,262,000.

The ONS reckons the population will rise by another 4.3 million by 2018 and hit 71.6 million by 2033.

These are massive numbers. They are due partly to everyone living longer, partly because young women are having more babies – especially the more recent arrivals into this country – and because of the unstoppable rate of immigration.

If the Black Country Consortium can’t entice another 100,000 or so to move to the area then it really will have been a waste of space.

As the population will soar with or without the help of a 20-year vision for the Black Country, the real question is what on earth will all these extra people do?

It’s all very well hoping for a bustling and busy metropolis with lots of shiny, happy people in it. But how is everybody going to earn a living?

The prospects are not good.

First off, the Consortium wants us to earn an average of £3,806 a year more (excluding inflation) than we do now. It’s a nice idea and one I’m sure we can all support.

Surprisingly, the Consortium thinks it’s already making progress. It says average pay in the Black Country rose by £228 a head – double the national increase – in the past year.

It’s hard to believe, especially when the number of people earning anything at all is on the slide.

The Consortium wants to create 112,613 new jobs just to bring the Black Country employment rate up to 80 per cent of the national figure.

But their own “state of the Black Country” report suggests we are further away from that than ever.

At the moment, almost one person in every five of working age has no work, compared with 12.5 per cent nationally.

That’s 124,890 people who could be in jobs but are actually workless.

The Consortium thinks it needs to get 39,578 of these people, almost a third, off the dole if it is to achieve its ambitions.

Unfortunately the number of workless people soared 16 per cent in the past nine years and there are few signs that the trend will be reversed in the near future.

There is only one way more jobs can be created and that’s if private-sector businesses grow and flourish – especially as public sector jobs are falling.

So there will have to be more companies setting up shop or expanding. At the moment there are still 32,350 businesses in the Black Country and let’s hope they all continue to prosper.

Last year 3,270 new firms opened for business in the Black Country but the start-up rate has fallen by a third in seven years. And the area needs 1,000 more new companies every year to reach the national average.

It seems the Consortium is pinning its hopes on a boom in advanced manufacturing, building technology and construction, aerospace, business services and – with depressing inevitability – green industries.

Let’s hope this analysis of the economy consists of more than simply looking at what businesses are doing well and hoping for the best – though I doubt it.

There are many excellent companies in the Black Country. Mostly they will live or die according to national, European and global economic trends well outside the control of a few local councillors.

What they need from the locals isn’t fatuous reports and pie-in-the-sky targets.

They need lower local taxes, better roads, cheaper parking and no bus lanes, easier planning permissions, fewer rules and regulations and better-educated school-leavers.

They need encouragement and opportunity – not the dead hand of bloody-minded bureaucracy.

It’s hard to believe encouraging more people to move to the Black Country is likely to help – unless all the newcomers are rocket scientists, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

MPs 0 Murdochs 1

What kind of security is that? How can protesters get through to attack someone at a Parliamentary hearing?

It sums up the whole fiasco of the phone-hacking inquisition which was largely a pathetic non-event.

The only person to come out of it well was the News International emperor himself.
Rupert Murdoch started off like a deaf old man who needed his wife to keep him upright. But gradually he became forceful, passionate and you realised how this man could have built himself a global media empire.

While the father was by turns humble, proud, forceful and self-righteous, James was largely rational, reasonable and realistic.

The MPs clearly had very little idea of how a multi-national corporation is run but James’s level of ignorance of detail was somewhat surprising, given that he’s had nothing else to think about in the past couple of weeks.

And it may well be he’s had the wool pulled over his eye by his executives from time to time.

He should have known more and found out more before his appearance but still, the
MPs weren’t exactly penetrating.

This won’t put the scandal behind them but the Murdochs certainly didn’t do themselves or their empire any harm.

This will be pored over for weeks but really it was a dreary piece of afternoon telly.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

1. If the Head of the Met resigns for employing a News International deputy editor who was not, at the time, implicated in the phone hacking scandal, where does that leave the Prime Minister?

2. The claim is that, unlike Sir Paul Stephenson, Cameron was not responsible for investigating the allegations and is therefore in a different position. But is that right?

3. Was Cameron warned and warned and warned again about the dangers of employing Andy Coulson (originally on £400,000 a year)?

4. If he chose to ignore the warnings, why was that? Was it because of the overwhelming desire to ingratiate himself with News International and the Murdoch empire?

5. If that was the case, was it justified as the only way he could win power?

6. If the answer to that is yes then how come he didn’t actually win and was forced into this unholy alliance with the Lib Dems?

7. If Cameron were forced to quit over the scandal – unlikely I know but not, now, entirely impossible – would Nick Clegg become Prime Minister?

8. Why is no-one talking about the much bigger scandal at News International – the fact that it pays scarcely any tax in this country? When will someone address that question?

9. Which is most hypocritical: the BBC’s gleeful coverage of the whole affair; Steve Coogan’s spluttering and incoherent rage; the idea that somehow Ed Miliband has come out of this well; or Gordon Brown’s rant against the evil empire?

10. Is anyone surprised to learn that some police officers accept a bung now and then from News International reporters?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

British railways hit the buffers

This story has been sidelined along with many others by the witless witterings of a world holding its hands up in dismay like a maiden aunt at the phone hacking scandal but any day now, the nation which gave the world the railway will no longer be able to build a single carriage or engine.

The nation which created the world’s greatest train journeys – across Canada, India, Africa, and South America – is giving away the last vestige of its proud heritage.

The nation which built France’s railway system and sold them 6,000 steam engines by 1880, the nation which not only built but drove Germany’s first train, is consigning another of its once-great industries to the history books.

That nation is, of course, our own. The Government has chosen to hand a multi-billion-pound contract to build trains for London’s new Thameslink line to Germany.

As a result, Britain’s last surviving train manufacturer is to lose 1,400 jobs at its Derby factory and the remaining 1,600 employees are working on borrowed time.

The Canadian owners, Bombardier, will run-down the plant while it finishes existing contracts.

Then it will almost certainly have to close – another nail in the coffin of this country’s once world-beating industry.

There are many reasons for the long-term decline of the British rail manufacturing. If the Derby train works were still British-owned, the bosses might have fought harder to save it.

But responsibility for this rests squarely with our benighted Coalition.

Its decision is unbelievable, inexcusable and unforgivable.

It’s unbelievable because no other industrialised country would let it happen. French railways buy French trains, German railways buy German trains, Japanese railways buy Japanese trains.

Only here are we prepared to destroy our own industry and throw away good, well-paid, productive, home-made, high-skill jobs.

The decision is inexcusable because Ministers are feebly trying to shift the blame for this pathetic decision onto either the last Labour Government or the European Union or, preferably, both.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond refuses to discuss the details of why Germany’s Siemens bid was better than Bombardier’s.

He claims that, if they had wanted to protect British manufacturing, the last Government should have adjusted the tender document when it first asked companies to bid for the contract.

And he says he might get sued by Siemens if he went back on the deal now.

These excuses won’t wash. The Government has had a year to do something about this before making a decision on who wins the contract.

In a complicated £3 billion deal it is not beyond the wit of even this witless crew, to secure British jobs, British skills and British expertise.

Labour and the EU may be partly to blame – but that is no excuse for this craven Coalition’s bid to pass the buck.

Mr Hammond points out that Siemens will create 2,000 jobs in this country as a result of the contract – but those jobs would have been created in the supply chain if Bombardier had won so that’s irrelevant.

The decision is unforgivable because Prime Minister U-turn-Dave has been trying to convince us his Coalition is devoted to the development of British manufacturing industry.

In March, he shipped the entire Cabinet to Derby in a PR stunt which managed to fool some captains of industry into the delusion that the Government actually cared about their future.

Yet the writing was on the wall a year ago when the Government cancelled an £80 million grant to Sheffield Forgemasters aimed at helping the company develop products for the nuclear power industry.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was accused of betraying his own Sheffield Hallam constituents.

He preferred to spend £80 million on a pointless national referendum on electoral reform, which shows where his priorities really lie.

The economy is struggling to recover from recession. Living standards are falling. Public sector workers are planning an autumn of discontent.

Why, then, would any half-way competent Government fail to take advantage of a rare opportunity to boost this country’s manufacturing industry?

The truth is the Government doesn’t give a fig about manufacturing. Its economists think our future is in selling services to other countries – we’re particularly good at banking, they say, to ironic jeers all round.

They think it’s “protectionist” to spend taxpayers’ money on our own manufacturers. And it would be – if there were a truly free market anywhere else in the world. But there isn’t.

Our political masters don’t care if companies like Cadbury and Jaguar, our sea and airports, our leading football clubs or our national newspapers are all foreign-owned.

Before he became a national joke, Business Secretary Vince Cable promised us a “Cadbury law” to protect British companies from foreign ownership.

But like Mr Cameron’s Cabinet meeting in Derby, he wasn’t serious. It was all to look good and grab a quick headline.

It’s still not too late for the old LMS works in Derby. Perhaps some of our MPs can earn their money for once.

U-turn-Dave could reverse this decision especially as it pulls the rug from under one of the Coalition’s other dreamtime schemes – the colossally expensive high-speed rail link between Birmingham and London.

If the trains aren’t even going to be built in this country, there goes yet another excuse for our political masters’ vanity project of the century.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Why I will buy the 'News of the World'

I shall buy the “News of the Wold” this Sunday for the first time in years – as a small protest at the nauseating hypocrisy of our politicians and the BBC.

The phone-hacking allegations aren’t good. If it’s illegal, it should not happen.

But the queue of MPs desperate to condemn News International via the BBC – effectively a commercial rival of BSkyB – is even more dismaying.

Usually, they fawn on Rupert Murdoch and employ his cast-offs like Andy Coulson but now they pretend they want to prove they are somehow more moral than him and his organisation.

Actually they want to seize the opportunity get their retaliation in for the stories his papers have written about them in the past – and the stories they fear may be written about them in the future.

Of course, those other papers not involved in phone hacking – largely because their editorial budgets wouldn’t stretch to it – are sanctimoniously clambering aboard the bandwagon in the hope of settling old scores.

But the real victim of this flammed-up furore will be press freedom. The result will be new regulations on the press, a reduction in the ability of newspapers to make mistakes – and a sharp increase in secrecy, concealment and hypocrisy in high places.

It’s what politicians want. It’s what Hugh Grant wants. It’s what the BBC seems to want as well.

Buy the “News of the World” and support freedom, democracy and the right to know (even if it does mean supporting the right of newspapers to make mistakes sometimes).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why subsidise lazy Londoners?

Yet another Government U-turn is expected, this time over the plan to limit the amount of money a family can claim in benefits to £26,000 a year.

It seems this is not enough money to keep the undeserving poor in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

So there is every danger that David Cameron, who must giddy from all the U-turns he has completed in the last couple of weeks, will order yet another.

It would be one of the most unreasonable and unfair of all the twists and turns his Coalition has taken so far.

How could anybody complain that £26,000 a year in benefits isn’t enough money for the average work-shy family when most families in the Black Country already make do with less?

Wages in the Black Country are below the average for the West Midlands and they, in turn, are below the national average which is, itself, below the £26,000 benefits cap.

Average pay levels across the Black Country are running at £22,369 – and even that varies between £21,200 in Sandwell and £23,155 in Dudley (the figure for Walsall is £22,537 and for Wolverhampton it’s £22,584).

Yet the average for the region as a whole is £23,807 while the national average is £25,520.

So, under the Government’s existing plans, anyone who lives on benefits can secure an income – tax free, please note – which is almost £4,000 a year more than the average Black Country worker gets.

Last year, Chancellor George Osborne announced the £26,000 cap arguing it was unfair 50,000 families received more in handouts than the average family earned from going out to work.

The limit, which won’t be imposed for another two years, would apply to the total received from jobseekers' allowance, income support, employment support allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit, child benefit and child tax credit.

It means that some people now living in expensive rented accommodation, especially in London, will have to move somewhere cheaper.

Yet it seems the “London lobby” is now demanding changes to the plan because they claim the cap is unfair on the poor of Kensington and Chelsea.

The Government is right to want to reduce Britain’s massive benefits bill – it hands out more than £164 billion in benefits yet revenue from income tax comes in at only £140 billion.

Someone on the average Black Country wage of £22,369 can expect to pay £4,795.72 in tax and national insurance.

This is a huge amount from a relatively modest pay packet – especially when the money is being used to subsidise people who don’t work at all and prefer to live off the State.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, condemns the Government for bringing back the idea of the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor – as if there’s something wrong in that.

There’s no doubt many people on benefits are perfectly capable of fending for themselves, they just prefer not to.

The snag is, as even Labour leader Ed Miliband has finally acknowledged, we live in a culture where it is perfectly acceptable for some people to milk the system and do nothing in return.

“Red Ed” admitted Labour was guilty of supporting “those on benefits who were abusing the system because they could work – but didn’t.

“We did too little to ensure responsibility at the bottom. I say – no more. We will be a party that rewards contribution, not worklessness.”

Successive Governments have been content to sit back and watch the benefits culture grow and blossom.

Many people regard a life on the dole as a perfectly reasonable career option – especially when, as some do, they can supplement their income in various shady ways.

When even the leader of the Labour Party realises something has to give, it offers a little encouragement for the vast majority of grafters who slave away to keep their financial heads above water.

Some people must wonder why they bother to work at all when they can see their workless neighbours living high on the hog.

A friend of mine was complaining only the other day that the “workless” family over the road has a better car, Sky TV and foreign holidays which he and his working wife simply can’t afford.

Where, he wondered, did all their money come from?

One answer is that it comes from him and the millions like him – honest taxpayers doing their best to make ends meet and look after their families.

If thousands of families want more money so they can continue living in London, the answer is not to lift the £26,000 benefits cap. It’s to encourage them to get a job.

It’s not as if work in London is in short supply. At the moment, all the low-paid jobs go to immigrants (legal and illegal) because they are prepared to put in the hours and make the effort required to earn a living.

If lazy Londoners really can’t be bothered to work, they should move out and go somewhere where the rents are lower.

Not that they’ll be coming to the Black Country to work – they couldn’t afford the drop in income.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Which is the lesser evil: starving or freezing? That will be the choice facing some pensioners this winter as fuel prices soar higher than ever before.

Very few old people starve to death and very few die of cold. But it happens.

And you can be certain the latest price rises announced by one of our six monopoly gas and electricity companies will make matters worse.

Most of us won’t be faced with quite the same life-or-death dilemma but a staggering increase of 19 per cent, or £200 a year, does make you wonder how the power companies are allowed to get away with it.

There are only six companies and between them they represent a price-fixing cartel which is supposed to be policed by a quango called Ofgem, the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets.

Ofgem is a £50 million-a-year organisation which claims: “Protecting consumers is our first priority.”

This is, of course, the usual corporate bull. It claims to regulate “the monopoly companies which run the gas and electricity networks”.

But instead of tackling what Ofgem itself calls a monopoly, it busies itself worrying about global warming and “helping the gas and electricity industries to achieve environmental improvements”.

All very nice and cosy – another neutered watchdog with no teeth.

No doubt the failure of Ofgem to protect consumers is one reason why foreign investors are so keen to buy up British energy companies.

Of the “big six” gas and electricity suppliers, only Centrica and Scottish and Southern Energy are British-owned.

E.ON is German so is NPower, Scottish Power is Spanish while EDF is French.

They clearly view this country as a profits goldmine and why shouldn’t they when the watchdog responsible for policing them is so hopeless?

Ofgem flounders around whimpering feebly: “We are concerned that energy companies still have not done enough to make the market work on behalf of consumers.”

And it trumpets as some kind of triumph the news that it has forced energy companies to give us 30 days’ notice of price rises. Whoopie-doo.

These companies don’t need to sit down in a room together to fix prices.

They simply wait for one of them to lead the way – as Scottish Power has done with its 19 per cent hike – then they all pile in afterwards.

There are price comparison websites and it’s easier to change suppliers than it once was. But they still manage to pull the wool over our eyes.

My own experience with Scottish Power is not unusual. Over the past 12 months, we were paying them £215 a month for gas and electricity.

At the end of the year, we got a statement telling us we were £574.49 in credit – in other words, we were over-paying by almost £50 a month.

To add insult to injury, they slipped into the statement the news that our monthly payments for the following year would be £231 a month – an extra £16 when we were already paying too much.

We called to complain and, immediately, without question, they offered to reduce the payments back to £215. But we tried E.ON and the bill is now £146.50 a month.

No doubt we are under-paying but I’d far rather owe money to my utility company than use it as an interest-free savings bank.

Many people don’t shop around and suppliers rely on consumer ignorance to boost their little profiteering scams.

Ofgem would no doubt claim credit for allowing us to switch suppliers. But the quango’s own statistics show what a feeble job it’s really doing.

It produces a quarterly report on energy prices which breaks down the customer’s bill into various components: the actual cost of the gas and electricity, VAT, environmental costs and other charges and the companies’ operating costs.

It then shows the profit per customer – what it calls the net margin – that the energy companies actually make.

According to Ofgem, in March this year – before the latest round of price hikes – they were making a profit per customer of £75 on an average fuel bill of £1,170 a year.

Back in March 2007 – only four years ago – the average bill was £955 and the companies only made a profit of £20 per customer.

In other words, our bills have risen 22 per cent which is bad enough. But energy company profits have risen 275 per cent per customer.

If Ofgem was doing its job, it would have already enforced a price cut of £55 per customer.

If the cost of producing gas and electricity has risen, it may be reasonable to expect the customer to pay more. But why should the profits of these companies be allowed to soar at the same time?

Of course, if you complain about excessive profits, Ofgem and its clients, the energy monopolies, will witter on about security of supply and investing in the future.

These are necessary evils and the industry is supposedly spending £200 billion over the next decade to secure our “low-carbon energy needs”.

That rather suits an ineffectual watchdog like Ofgem because boils down to a lot of hot air and wind.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Private sector bad; public sector worse

All the criticism around Southern Cross is aimed at the American private equity firm Blackstone, which bought the business in 2004, floated it on the stock market two years later and sold all its shares in 2007 at a huge profit. But what none of these complains seems to recognise is that a seller needs a buyer. If it was such an asset-stripping scam, how come investors put money into it? The new owners are not entirely stupid, are they? If between them they found £425 million to buy Southern Cross, they must have thought there was money to be made despite the sale of the company’s properties. If blame is being handed out and everyone is looking for a greedy villain, surely the buyers and owners today are more culpable than the people who sold them the business.

Opponents of the private sector are rubbing their hands with glee over the potential collapse of Southern Cross, the largest provider of old people’s homes in the country.

The company crisis has led to demands for the Government to step in and rescue the business in much the same way as it was forced to bail out the banks in the depths of the recession.

It would be mad to do so. The taxpayer cannot be expected to step in every time some badly-run business gets into trouble.

And while this is not a particularly good advertisement for private-sector provision of public services, it doesn’t mean the State has to run things.

It’s not a good time for the private sector. Apart from concern over any collapse of Southern Cross, there’s the BBC’s exposure of a care home for people with learning disabilities and autism.

“Panorama” revealed “torture” by staff at Winterbourne View in Bristol, the police have been called in and the owners, Castlebeck, say they are “shocked, disgusted and ashamed” by what’s been going on.

Meanwhile the “Financial Times” says care at one in seven privately-run homes is “poor” or only “adequate” compared with one in 11 in the public and charity sectors.

Critics are queuing up to attack the private sector for putting profits before patients, for inadequate levels of care and for threatening old people with being turfed out of their homes – and with some justification.

The Southern Cross debacle is based on an over-expansion in the days before the recession, when the company in effect borrowed to expand.

It provides care for 30,000 old folk in 750 homes and is now desperately trying to cut its rent by 25 per cent to stave off bankruptcy.

It may succeed because the owners of these properties have been enjoying over-the-odds income from the company for some time and if they rejected the move they would probably end up even worse off.

There is a danger, though, that even this rescue won’t succeed and Southern Cross will go to the wall. The company’s share price has already plummeted. It’s now worth about £12 million compared with £1.1 billion in 2008.

Clearly the business is deeply flawed. The expansion plans drawn up at the height of the Brown-Blair boom have been blown out of the water. The company is struggling to keep afloat.

The people who run Southern Cross are not victims. They are guilty of bad planning and abominable business skills. They wouldn’t make it past round one of “The Apprentice”.

But if the company does go broke, that doesn’t mean its homes have to close. It doesn’t mean the public sector should step in. And it doesn’t mean the taxpayer should be expected to cough up even more money.

Southern Cross, like Castlebeck, relies on the taxpayer for its income anyway. It’s a substitute for council-run care. It has a secure income as long as it can provide good care for old people.

If it went into administration, other companies would want to snap up its empire at knock-down prices. It would be a valuable opportunity for a buyer which wasn’t too greedy or reckless.

The residents themselves, elderly, frail and settled in their homes, would not necessarily see any difference at all.

The worst thing for them would be months of uncertainty over the fate of the roof over their heads.

The private sector stands accused of poor levels of care. But the Government has armies of inspectors responsible for ensuring standards are maintained.

If they are inadequate then the Government, as the ultimate paymaster for these businesses, has sanctions it can impose. If Government inspectors are failing, they must share the responsibility for low standards – just as bank regulators were asleep on the job.

Of course, a case like Winterbourne View is unforgivable and, for all we know, it may not be an entirely isolated incident.

But care, whether of the elderly, children or people with mental disabilities, is fraught with difficulties. Among the hardest tasks is recruiting and keeping genuinely caring members of staff.

Low pay is part of the problem – if employers insist on cutting wages to the bone they shouldn’t be surprised if the only people who will work for them are the desperate or the dubious.

All of this makes the Government’s plans for more private-sector provision in the NHS look even more controversial.

Yet there is nothing wrong with the profit motive itself. Companies can make decent returns on their investment while at the same time providing good quality care for their customers. There are many excellent private homes for the elderly.

We would be in terrible trouble if we reverted to the old “public sector good, private sector bad” attitude of the taxpayer-funded classes.

At the Alexandra NHS hospital in Redditch the Care Quality Commission found patients weren’t even given water to drink – something I know to be true because doctors there turned their backs on me when I was searching for a tap to fetch water for one of their parched patients.

And that’s in the public sector.