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.”