Friday, 30 December 2011

let's look at those control orders

the Reading Chronicle Arsewipe (hi Sally Stevens, sent any good threatening emails lately?  Still waiting to hear from your lawyers.  I'll be checking my own emails late on New Year's Eve, just in case) has published what is below.  My insertions in red, in what I hope is a helpful and illuminating update to the story.  My question is, why publish now?

A LANDLORD has launched a legal battle to force town hall bosses to explain how his property empire was stripped from him while he was serving a life sentence for murder. As well he might.  The sentence he received did not authorize the seizure of all his property, and not all the property seized belonged to him anyway, but to members of his family.
Reading Borough Council used control orders to seize six properties - in Catherine Street, Argyle Street, Western Elms Avenue and two in Waylen Street - from Ishtiaq Ahmed, and his brothers Bashir and Mushtaq, after he was jailed for the murder of tenant David Pickering in 1991. I remember it well.  I was a councillor at the time.  The use of control orders was fairly new then, and was intended to deal with rogue landlords, at which it had some success.  But this particular rogue landlord (which is what Ishtiaq Ahmed was, whatever else he might have done) was in prison by then, after a tenant of his was murdered.  Local MPs were pestered for years after that with protestations of his innocence, may still be, for all I know.  So what were the control orders for?  The properties, or most of them, fell under the management of Co-op Home Services, which was connected with Middlesex Housing Co-operative, after the control orders were executed.  Two serving councillors at the time were among those who went into the properties to execute the orders.  They went not in their capacity as councillors but as employees of Co-op Home Services.  They were the late John Cook and Martin Salter.  The properties were later repossessed by their respective mortgagees, even though the council had taken charge of collecting rent and paying the bills under the control orders why? whoever was receiving rent for the properties, in this case Reading Borough Council, should have paid it over to the property owner(s) or mortgage holder(s).  Why did they not?  What was that rent used for? Was the council aware at the time that Messrs Salter and Cook were responsible for tenant and property management?  So much so that later in the 1990s Mr Salter paid cash to an unemployed person of my acquaintance to do occasional property inspection work.  but five were subsequently sold to the council, and one to Middlesex Housing Co-operative.
The Ahmed brothers and their Reading legal team, from E J Winter & Son in The Forbury, claim the council has never paid any compensation - estimated at more than £100,000 - nor provided full accounts of income and expenditure as it is legally obliged to do. They might well ask. A reasonable question. They claim the reasons for the original control orders are not clear and they have been unable to establish what the council paid for the properties.  Or that it paid anything at all.  It is my belief that it did not, that the properties, having been physically repossessed from their legal owners, taking the opportunity of the imprisonment of one of them for murder, by two councillors acting on behalf of their employer, were simply handed over to the council so that Co-Op Home Services could place tenants in them who would otherwise be on the council's waiting list.  I'd be surprised to see any valid paperwork.
Mr Ahmed, from Beresford Road, who has continued to maintain his innocence since his release last year after serving nearly 20 years, said: "All these properties together are now worth millions of pounds. They have taken my livelihood and will not give me any accountability. From day one we have been writing to the council for an explanation, they are obliged by law to answer."
Britannia Building Society paid £16,000 - the residue after selling the Argyle Street property - into court because it was unable to find Mr Ahmed's brother Bashir.
Bashir managed to reclaim the money this year, but the brothers allege the council knew "full well" where he was.  I could have told them where he was, never mind the council, and I haven't lived in Reading since 2005. 
Yesterday, council spokesman, Oscar Mortali, said he was unable to comment.  I bet he is unable.  Are the Ahmeds' legal team going to make public the involvement of the then deputy leader of Reading Borough Council, Mr Salter, in the control orders, and in the subsequent management of those properties?  I would respectfully suggest that they do.  Not looking good, is it, 1990s Chair of Reading's Housing Committee Mrs Lovelock?  Still happy with your lobbyist, Angling Trust?

Middlesex Housing Co-Operative is registered at:

The Market Building
 195 High Street
Postcode:TW8 8LB

Thursday, 29 December 2011

my 2011 books

how do we look, chaps?
this is not a list, nor is it a "best of", it is really a musing on the books I read in 2011 that I considered in some way noteworthy. I won't mention everything I read. I began the year in Cyprus, as I would choose to begin every year, with Monica Ali  'In The Kitchen', which I did choose to review. It is a book about London, about immigration and migration, about difference, about work, and about mental illness. I thought it was splendid, in an unpretentious sort of way (the best way, I always think). Something I noted in it is that Ali describes the bemoaning, by the elderly white working class, of the disappearance of things they say they value - large, close families, home cooking, people clubbing together rather than going into debt, and everyone knowing everyone else's name, family and business. All these things are to be found today of course in the Asian families of Britain. Who are feared, sometimes hated, but certainly not understood, by those same elderly white working-class people.

Then 'Life' by Keith Richards (with James Fox, I suspect not that one), excellent on the music and a fluent, entertaining read. Worth reading again, which I will. Something I note in passing here is that Keef was on heroin for quite a long time, and that that drug, unlike alcohol, does not destroy memory, so he remembers everything, it seems. I noted too that he has not only had relationships with some beautiful and interesting women (in whose number I do NOT include Marianne Faithfull, whom I consider a tedious charlatan, and who is incidentally from Reading) but appears to have been kind to them, and to his children too, apart from the names he chose for them. Good for you, Keef.

A GREAT highlight of the year was re-reading (after more than 40 years) Huckleberry Finn, out of copyright and available free as an e-book. Too many delights to list, but a great many linguistic ones in his rendering of the more or less extinct Missouri vernacular, in such phrases as "humbug talky-talk" for women praising each other's cooking. The social mores described, in which idle men set fire to a stray dog for fun, and no-one is shocked, are shocking in a way that I do not believe Twain intended, but which can hardly be found depicted anywhere else, would probably have shocked no-one before about the 1980s. No apology for the number of "shocks" there.  On slavery I doubt that anything better has been written. And yet it is not a tract. Nor, probably, did it change thinking on slavery. That had already happened. I noted at the time that 'The Catcher In The Rye' owes a lot to this book. I meant to check whether this aperçu is a given in American literary criticism. But I didn't get round to it.

I did re-read 'Howard's End' by E.M. Forster in 2011, for the nth time, but only this time did I observe that most great English novels, most not-so-great ones, and just about all my favourites, are about money. That's it. Money. And houses, but that is money too. I went straight from there (or almost) to re-read 'Of Human Bondage' by Somerset Maugham, another gay male English writer of the first half of the twentieth century (why do you chaps not have proper first names?), and also about money. In a compelling and wonderful way. Why are gay men so good at writing about women's bodies? I wondered at the time, and did not note, and yes I knew that Maugham was married for many years. So was Oscar Wilde. Those were the times.

In between all this I read '5 Days To Power' by my successor as MP for Reading East Rob Wilson, about the formation of the 2010 coalition government in the UK. Well, interesting. Sort of. I imagine I betray my ignorance and lack of education by revealing here that it was from this book that I learned the phrase "confidence and supply" which I had never knowingly heard before. Though I was a Blair Babe and have never been in opposition, nor been defeated at an election, so what indeed would I know about coalitions, or opposition. Whatever.

By April I was reading, some years after it was published, 'Arthur and George' by Julian Barnes, which was different from his usual in that it draws you straight in. It deals with England, and indeed Scotland too, and is about money. And houses. And, of course, railway journeys.  In a nineteenth-century sort of way.  Recommended.

I'm restricting myself to the fiction I read in 2011, you will be pleased to know, and not all of that either.

Herta Muller, Germanophone Romanian writer who won the Nobel Prize, two short books, sorry to say I read them in English translation, but glad to say the translations were there. 'The Appointment', published in Germany in 1997 and in English translation in the USA in 2001. A chilling story of human lives in a totalitarian state. Solzhenitsyn did this too, as not many others have, but at much greater length, and with less humanity. I have lived both in the Soviet Union and in its post-communist self (in Latvia in 2006, fifteen years after the end of communism) and I recognised the Romania of this book, everything the same, the endless tram journeys to stops where everything was the same, eternally and for ever.

My book of the first half of the year was 'Norwegian Wood' by Haruki Marukami, translated wonderfully into English by Jay Rubin. You might have seen the film by now. I haven't, yet. Great sadness. What it is to be young. An image of depression I will never forget. "...her eyes were absolutely flat. I had never seen them that way before. It was as if they had been painted on cardboard.". And, of course, a quite spectacular misunderstanding of the song.  Rubin is correct to translate the title as "Norwegian Wood", because the song title is what the writer meant, but what the writer wrote was 'Noruwei no Mori' which I would translate as "A Wood in Norway" - "mori" in Japanese means "wood" in the sense of a bunch of trees growing in the ground close to each other.  But hey, what do I know.  However, here is the Wikipedia (for what that's worth) on the song title in Japanese, which does seem to bear me out.

The original Japanese title Noruwei no Mori, is the standard Japanese translation of the title of The Beatles song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.[11] The song is often mentioned in the novel, and is the favourite song of the character Naoko. Mori in the Japanese title translates into English as wood in the sense of "forest", not the material "wood", even though the song lyrics clearly refer to the latter. Forest settings and imagery are significantly present in the novel.

And finally, as some might say, for the first half of 2011 I would recommend 'Germania' by Simon Winder. A work of non-fiction, the only one for this post, which is none the less the author's take on today's Germany, with fascinating and sometimes very funny observations. Did you know there was an Elector, or possibly a Margrave, who married a Spanish princess called Joanna the Mad?

Oh and Northanger Abbey.  On reading which I got the point of Jane Austen.  Sort of.  For the first time.  Thanks Jonny.  And yes, I know it is a piss-take.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 26

In which Emma B. lets us know that a confession has, at last, been mad

Lunch at The Fifth Column had been disastrous whichever way you looked at it.
Initially she hadn’t wanted to look at it. Or think about it. Or own that she was in any way associated with it at all.

Three women of late middle age (56, not 36), had voluntarily exposed themselves to scorn in a London club/restaurant. One had gone completely berserk; alcohol had been involved, and two of the capital’s nastiest journalistic cats had enjoyed the benefits of a ringside seat.

The days immediately following the lunch had taken a predictable course; miserably familiar during her Westminster career. It consisted of an aversion to the telephone; a terror of the email and a reluctance to open national newspapers.

In the years since she had lost her seat, an insidious new type of torture had gained credence in the form of the malicious internet blogs (notably Vlad the Impaler; he drinks at the fount of corruption), that had largely superseded print Diarists such as Peeping Peter.

The onward march of technology was a mixed blessing depending upon your perspective.

On the one hand, Vlad enjoyed a licence denied to The Crier’s Peter, whose activities were curbed by the libel laws governing print journalism.

Only last week, Conservative By-Election victor, Delphine Power, had put a Question to the Prime Minister, knowing full well that the theme of Vlad’s latest post was her victory party in the Select Bar, during the course of which she had been forcibly removed by her Pairing Whip after mounting a table; vomiting into a colleague’s handbag and treating the Terrace to a unique rendition of It's Raining Men.

However, this escapade, immortalised in the ether, would not prove to be as damaging in itself as Peter’s insistent inclusion of the words tired and emotional when writing about everything she did from then onwards, whether hosting a children’s tea party or giving a disquisition on the packaging industry. Four years later, Peter’s persistence was rewarded when Delphine secured her own footnote in history as the first Conservative woman MP to be deselected on the grounds of alcoholism.

Neither the malice of the internet nor the whimsy of Fleet Street had troubled itself with the former MP for Fengrove for a full six years - until the Bill Cornish affair had inspired Ponia Tindall to reprise the worst of the old cuttings. Now the full force of Ponia’s piece in The Crier returned with a vengeance, and she berated herself for insisting upon The Fifth Column as a lunch venue.

The combination of nostalgia and vanity that had inspired the choice had been wildly misplaced and she, Lynne and Sandra must have been an unforeseen gratuity for Jessica and Ponia – who would not have visited The Fifth Column
for the primary purpose of sampling its seared monkfish with a crabmeat timbale.

However, day one was succeeded by days two and then three and neither The Crier nor the internet made mention of the lunch. Maybe Sandra had recovered her dignity along with her bearings; unlikely, but possible, and in the absence of information to the contrary, it served as an acceptable fantasy.

What she could not escape was a growing conviction that perhaps it was time for friendships established nearly forty years ago to be quietly put to rest.

She busied herself with work – specifically the proofs of Linstead County Council’s Charter for Social Care, and enjoyed a rare lunch with Richard who was attending a Food and Beverage fair at the Bohemia Bay Golf and Country Club fifteen miles south of Fengrove.

The atmosphere was cordial; until she enquired whether or not he had spoken to Vanessa about her invitation to the reading of Paul’s Will:

No – and I’ve no intention of doing so. Frankly, Ma, you should ask her those questions yourself - or better still, MOVE ON with your life. I won’t be dragged back into that whole scene; Uncle Donald, Aunty Gillian, David, Susan – Ursula and her kids – just leave me out of it. Now must dash – eighty miles on the motorway and I’m interviewing tomorrow for new bar staff.

He was right, of course – but she was plagued by sporadic thoughts of Paul and his malign shade:

History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors and issues……..

which she dismissed as the fractious thoughts of a woman nearly old, with too much time on her hands.

Beyond her front garden with its For Sale sign that, like the owner of the property, had seen better days, life moved on.

The Fengrove Gazette lauded the selection of the Party’s new candidate for her old Parliamentary seat; Human Rights lawyer, Macey Cline.

Ms Cline, who is known to be close to beleaguered PM, Wendy Runcible, was the overwhelming choice of Party members, beating off competition from three local councillors. Party Chairman, Edgar Smith said:
Macey will be an MP to make Fengrove and the Party proud. She will be an outstanding tribune for the city and its residents.

The article was accompanied by a picture of Macey, in red silk shift with matching bag and heels in the vice –like grip of Edgar Smith with his characteristic crocodile smile. She had never met Macey but wished her the joy of her new Party colleagues – and all the inevitable soul-searching when she discovered that they were impossible to please; impervious to persuasion and intent upon deselection should she succeed in wresting the seat from its present incumbent, Tory MP Baxter Welch.

On the national scene, with barely a year before a probable General Election, the Party’s prospects could scarcely have been worse. Informed opinion placed the Tories on course for a majority of at least thirty seats and Baxter Welch could anticipate a further term as the MP for Fengrove.

Wendy Runcible had been a charismatic vote winner; indeed, the first woman Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher had proved herself to be a formidable politician.

But a stagnant economy; a disastrous foreign policy initiative against a rogue African state and protracted disputes with telecommunications workers had eroded public confidence. The new Tory Leader, Colin Poole,who had risen from the depths of a humble Housing Association estate, was seen as an attractive alternative to Oxbridge and Yale-educated Wendy.

The Crier, The Courier and even the loyal Sentinel lampooned a tired team; reliant upon the likes of Bill Cornish, Terence Gale and Derek Kingsmill in place of former titans like Ainsley Beadle and Del Kemp.

And there had been problems with ‘personnel’ – traditionally the hallmark of a fading regime.

Last year’s Speaker scandal was one for the Tories; Hugh Waverley Tench was a Cabinet Minister in the old Conservative Government.

But Deputy Speaker Mackay (a former Government Whip) presided over business accompanied by persistent murmurs of Scotch on the rocks and this corrosive display of disrespect on behalf of the House was available to all in Vlad if not in Hansard.

As the years had passed, a vibrant Wendy had acquired a rather unappealing and worldly cynicism, and her office behind the Speaker’s Chair, once accessible to all MPs following Prime Minister’s Questions, was now a repository for Assistants and Assistants to the Assistant. Wendy remained at Number 10 with a coterie of ‘advisers’, who were at a remove from the Party, let alone the people, and restive colleagues were alternately courted by Haydn Groat with his union backers or the populist Gretchen Andrew.

Potentially vexatious matters such as the Cornish affair and the Wicks selection conference were landmines waiting to happen…

This was the political backdrop for Derek Kingsmill’s party in Westminster Hall’s Sceptre Room in honour of 25 years' unbroken service on the Front Bench.

Derek had fought the solidly Conservative Vale of Oakshire in 1979, after completing his D. Phil and becoming an Executive Housing Officer on Dorlich Borough Council.

It was an undistinguished electoral outing, because he lost his deposit. However a subsequent transfer to the northern city of Lowerbridge as Director of Housing coincided with the retirement of the sitting Party MP and Derek’s instalment as candidate. He scraped home in the 1983 General Election with a greatly reduced share of the vote.

It was his darkest hour, because Derek Kingsmill took to the House of Commons as a duck takes to water. For no discernible reason, apart from a talent for expediency akin to that of a chameleon, he was a fixture on the Front Bench from 1986 onwards. His credentials as a possible successor to Wendy were further enhanced by marriage to his amiable Constituency Assistant Lois, and the production of three charming children.

The invitation on her doormat (a cream card with gilt edging, encased in an envelope lined with green tissue), was a bolt from the blue.

Despite, or probably because, of their shared experience at the long-gone student conference, she had spent eight years at Westminster having little or nothing to do with Derek Kingsmill.

Even during his brief tenure as her Regional Whip, he had relied upon pager message or email in preference to personal contact, and to all intents and purposes had avoided her – even eschewing a courtesy nod in the Division Lobby or the Committee Corridor.

The scrawled note from his researcher to the effect that Derek was hoping to reconnect with all his old Regional teams did not convince.

However, she was hardly awash with invitations and in such circumstances, curiosity trumped prudence.

She wrote a polite acceptance; emailed Gissy, and calculated that if she worked tonight as well as tomorrow, she would have discharged her duty to Linstead County Council and could therefore enter The Sceptre Room with an unspotted conscience.

The Sceptre Room, in Westminster Hall at the top of a stone staircase, was the venue for promotional launches and some private parties.

Businesses, Non-Governmental Organisations and Charities who could cover the cost used it to corral MPs who had time to spare between votes.

In return for free comestibles, most Honourable Members were happy to while away half an hour listening to presentations on renewable fuels, breast cancer or the pharmaceutical industry and might then be persuaded to champion the cause in the House.

As a general rule, the quality and style of refreshments was a determinant in the calibre of attendees. Red and white wine and basic canapés would attract a good range of Backbenchers; champagne, hot and cold platters and deserts could tempt a sprinkling of Lords and Cabinet Ministers – and a reception offering tea, coffee, sandwiches and biscuits was a deplorable waste of resources because no self respecting politician would be seen dead at it.

Recently, all parliamentarians had been more discerning in their consideration of such invitations after Vlad posted an account of a stellar turn out at a reception hosted by the manufacturers of surgical stockings.

It was standing room only and Wendy herself had been forced to listen to proceedings from the outside staircase – whilst inside, colleagues of varying ages and degrees of seniority, jostled each other to get at the foie gras, pure black truffle, piedmont hazelnut chocolates and champagne.

According to Vlad, it was Westminster’s unique interpretation of the cliché: snouts in the trough - but it played badly in the constituencies and thereafter, MPs with slender majorities exercised an uncharacteristic degree of restraint.

Unfortunately, Gissy was not on Derek’s guest list, so they met for aperitifs in The Golden Cockerel, opposite Westminster tube station.

This haunt of choice for interns, researchers and some journalists was experiencing a lull in trade at that time and they repaired to the cellar bar for two glasses of chardonnay.

She had not spoken to Gissy since the press revelations, but the latter was showing the strain. Her nail polish was chipped; she had neglected to retouch her roots and, toyboy or not, she looked what she was; a fifty-seven-year-old woman at risk of redundancy.
She was aggrieved that colleagues like Derek, who assumed that her deselection was a formality, were treating her as a pariah.

It’s not as if Valerie Pringle is a cross between the Virgin Mary and Mother Theresa!

‘Clean living’ my arse!
I suppose you’d better be ‘clean living’, if you’d served eighteen months in a female Young Offenders’ institution twenty three years ago for master-minding a pre-pubescent shop-lifting squad! And she punched her grandmother while under the influence of drugs, although that was hushed up.

I’ve never even had a parking ticket – well, if I could drive I wouldn’t have had one - and its just so FUCKING UNFAIR!!

So opined the woman who had championed a Health Select Committee decision to add a Loire Valley wine-tasting weekend to an investigation into French methods of combating alcoholism on grounds of strengthening the Entente Cordiale……

More to the point, her raised voice was unwise because the Cockerel’s employees were frequently prey to the blandishments of the journalists who formed the bulk of their regular clientele – and who were now beginning to drift through the door….

She suggested that Gissy should combat the Pringle threat by planting a spoiler in The Sentinel, courtesy of Maurice Cantor, and then relay the information about Valerie to Chief Whip Terence Gale.

Gissy was a serial rebel in the Division Lobby, but Pringle was an ex-convict. In the pre-Election period, there could be no contest.

Gissy had faced far worse. She was losing her touch.

At the mention of Gale, Gissy shuffled her jade winkle picker shoes and lit another cigarette. It then came to mind that if she herself had barely spoken to Derek Kingsmill during the course of eight years – she had never seen Gissy exchange as much as a single word with Terence Gale……

Oh Gissy – you didn’t! Not with Gale? You couldn’t?!!

At least in the case of Derek, it would have been impossible to predict that the James Dean manqué of Dorlich would become the paunchy individual of today, complete with slip on shoes.

Shoes or no shoes (and Terence Gale had always favoured a lace - up brogue) the Chief Whip could have earned a crust as a Harry Secombe double, regardless of age.

There was no accounting for taste – but taste could not have entered the equation. If preferment was the aim, then why was Gissy hovering on the brink of deselection?

Gissy retorted that NO SHE HAD NOT – and that was precisely the problem.

She had first met Terence Gale three months before the 1997 General Election at a three day Spring Conference in the coastal town of Silvercliffe.

It was a Pre-Election Rally and her original accommodation had fallen through, so she had been allocated a room with two other women delegates in an apartment inconveniently located out of town.

Norma Shelby (who entered Parliament in 2005) was pleasant, but Alice Patterson must have cancelled because she was conspicuous by her absence for the entire weekend.

On the final night, Gissy attended the Conference Social and found herself in the midst of a group of union delegates who were harrying the Shadow Defence Minister about his abandonment of a Non-Nuclear Defence Policy.

Terence Gale wanted to flee and CND stalwart Gissy was astounded when he offered her a lift in his taxi – more so when it emerged that the Sheldrake Apartments were some distance out of his way.

It was late and raining. Terence Gale insisted on shepherding her across the threshold and into the small kitchen where he stood rather too close for comfort as he requested a coffee:

Before braving the elements.

It seemed churlish to refuse.

She located cups, milk, sugar and coffee and boiled a kettle whilst Terence visited the bathroom.

Some unmusical noises emanated from the living room; Gissy suspected a faulty radiator and was about to investigate when she was ambushed at the door by Terence Gale, swathed from top to toe in a grubby beige bath towel.

It was as if I was drowning – I could see my whole life flashing in front of me –
And then he whipped off the towel, swirled it round his head and yelled:

How’s this for POLARIS?!

and I just pushed him….

From his position on the floor, anger having succeeded ardour, the Shadow Defence Minister wished for nothing but escape.

Unfortunately, apart from a raincoat and brogues in the hallway, his clothes were in the bathroom and the door was locked.

And when I looked in the living room, it was covered, literally covered in vomit.
I found out next day that it was Alice Patterson; she got drunk at a Scottish ceilidh, threw up in the lounge and then locked herself in the bathroom. We had to pay extra to cover the cost of the cleaning. The sofa was completely ruined.

Marooned; cast adrift from his clothes, Terence had no choice but to vacate the apartment, in brogues, raincoat and nothing else, hoping that a friendly taxi driver would deposit him at his hotel rather than the nearest hospital or police station.

She was amazed that Gissy had never mentioned this initial encounter with the man who, in the post of Chief Whip, was feared and respected in equal measure.

Because if I had, every time we’d seen him, you’d have collapsed in hysterics – as you’re doing now, in fact…

It was true, she would – and was. They left the Cockerel and Gissy headed towards her office.

She was sorry, but the thought of Terence Gale en deshabille, apart from trusty brogues and raincoat, was so delicious that she scarcely noticed herself entering Westminster Hall and mounting the stone staircase. Outside The Sceptre Room, she was accosted by a small woman in a lavender suit who was certainly not an MP.

I wonder, is this the Sceptre Room? I’ve been invited to the private party of an MP called Derek Kingsmill.

The years had left their trace; the red hair now owed more to artifice than nature – but in essence, Belinda Lambton, nee Briscoe, was unchanged.

They experienced the shock of recognition and then entered a room together for the first time since they had walked into The Persimann Hall on the occasion of their graduation, thirty-five years ago.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011


must be a relief in these recession-hit times to get a Real Paying Job. As a Real Funded Lobbyist. Especially when there is only the parliamentary pension to rely upon. Look at this: (No prizes for guessing who is talking here)

" After an 18 month break to re-charge my batteries it's great to be back and fighting for fishing. I particularly grateful to Mark Lloyd at the AT and Naidre Werner at the ATA for giving me the opportunity to put my skills, experience and contacts to good use and for the benefit of the sport we all love.

My first job is to recruit some high profile ambassadors to help me raise the profile of the Angling Trust so that it can become a really strong and powerful voice for recreational fishing and the environment. I'm particularly keen to get some effective outcomes from the current Defra review of cormorant predation which has caused so much damage to fish stocks.

I am already lined up to attend a range of ministerial and other meetings and will be addressing conferences and supporting the excellent work of Angling Trust campaigners Mark Owen (Freshwater) and David Mitchell (Sea Angling) and the legal team headed by Justin Neal. I will be the main point of contact with my former colleagues on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling and will be developing and helping to implement a wider angling and fisheries campaign strategy for 2012."

Lobbyist. The Japanese company Daiwa has been vocal in its support for this appointment. Why? And do they know about the GBP 40K plus expenses fraud?

Anyway, congratulations, Martin. A word to the wise - when you put on the drinks bashes at the Commons don't let the promotion girlies get at the wine before the punters do. Oh and when you send out the invites check the affiliations of the MPs you are targeting. Those who are signed up to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (a UK organisation which has more members than most trade unions do) are unlikely to be keen on a Kill The Cormorants For Labour bash. Hein?

Hat-tip L9.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Vaclav Havel

the Czech Permanent Representation here in Strasbourg has opened a condolence book for Vaclav Havel, and I hope to get there to sign it before they close.   Hat-tip sig other for chivvying them into opening the book (if that is what happened) and Flashing Blade for the picture, as well as the message from my friend Stephen, who was my flatmate in Riga and is now working in Prague, describing Vaclav Havel as "the single best person I've ever met".  Stephen walked behind the cortege earlier today, and so would I have done if I had been there.  Europe is a poorer, darker place without you Vaclav, I say on this dark winter solstice afternoon. 

do you trust your phone?

I trust mine.  But then I hardly ever use it.  The great thing about an iPad, for me, is that it is NOT a phone.  Telephonic communication has never been my mode of choice, apart from a brief interlude in my teens when my Best Friend and I talked for hours every day after we got home from school.  And I have noticed from my regular travel on Strasbourg's trams, whose passengers for much of the day are mostly teenagers, that hardly anyone actually TALKS on the phone these days.  I even looked up yesterday when someone's phone rang and they answered it.  The person was of course a middle-aged woman.  The teenagers around her  were chatting in text language on their phone messenger services, listening to music on their phones, or gaming or going on Facebook and other social sites.  A few were texting, but that is going out of style too.  I am going to have to learn not to use email.  I have been in contact with both my children recently about travel plans to see each other, and both of them said - "OK, email me.  I'll check my emails tomorrow".  That exchange of messages was of course on Facebook.  Well, there you go.  But in the business world things are perhaps a little different.

Dilbert, I got it from Language Log
A well-known Reading blogger did in fact get an article published on the same theme as the Dilbert here.  But I do like the "so help me Jobs".

a pimp for fascism

says "guest1", posting on Harry's Place.  No prizes for guessing who guest1 was talking about.  That's right, the man who saluted Saddam Hussein and pretended to be a cat.  The loathsome Galloway.  This is what a comment by "Greg" had to say, and I could not put it better:

Galloway is an unrepentant adulterer who is a demonstrable liar, a paid mouth-piece for theocratic extremism, an alleged thief from charities, a bigot and prancing peacock. He flaunts his hypocrisy as if others have no memory or written records don’t exist. He stands shoulder-to-shoulder with mass-murders and thugs and proudly partakes in criminal activity.

Yep.  Harry's Place also describes Galloway as a "pro-Soviet Taliban supporter".  Is that a contradiction in terms?  I reckon it is, though others disagree.  At least it shows intellectual confusion.  I didn't think you could be pro-Soviet and support the Taliban.  I wasn't exactly pro-Soviet myself, though I had my tankie moments when I was young and foolish.  When the Trots said "Neither Washington nor Moscow", I was more like "Nnnnooo, Moscow it is."  But that was long ago.  I did support the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and am unrepentant.  It was a Good Thing.  There is a generation of Afghan women now reaching their middle years who are doing stuff in public life because they can, because they were educated in Soviet times.  Girls in Afghanistan since have not had that good fortune.

Anyway.  The post with the link to Galloway's latest remarks about Hitchens (oh yes he did) is here.  The Gallstone is apparently pissed off that people paying tribute to the Hitch have often chosen to be horrid about him.  Diddums. That is because his views are loathsome and he is an intellectual opportunist, a political hypocrite and a whore of dictators.  Next?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

one day the axe just fell

the title of this post is a line from a song.  Which one?

Well, it has fallen on the chief executive of Reading Borough Council.  He is being booted out by the Labour Group.  Largely it appears because he dug his heels in on certain of the more outrageous uses of public funds for political campaigning (remember Mr Salter's "the council delivers my leaflets"?) demanded by that group.  Mr Coughlin is, by all accounts, a decent sort and not corruptible.  So obviously he had to go.   But the Labour Group should have a care.  When the shamed Trish Haines was chief executive the corrupt antics were so public and obvious, despite the local media's refusal to publish any of the facts of the matter, that she had, in the end, to go.  Don't try that again, boys.  It won't work.  There is a whole big cyber-web thingy out there which will not hesitate to put these things in the public domain, no matter how hard you try to keep them in the dark.  Lift up the stone, and you will see the creatures scurrying about their dark business.  You might want to start by looking at the council funds channelled to Reading Buses, not to run bus services but to make payments to the likes of Dictatorship Dave "moronic members of the public" Sutton. The picture on the right shows two unelected people running Reading.

council tax pays his mortgage
Howarth and Haines shredding documents

Monday, 19 December 2011

news, news, news

this is not a "review of the year" or anything so tedious.  It's just that in 2011 there has been so damn much of the stuff.  News I mean.  At the end of last winter we were glued to the TV night after night as the crowds poured out into the streets and squares of Tunis, Cairo, Bahrain, Libya, Syria... and the "uninstalling dictator" meme appeared on Twitter and elsewhere.  I was on a weekend retreat in Liebfrauenberg, which is on a hill in Middle of Nowhere, Alsace, when the first allied air strikes hit Libya in March.  I was probably the only one there who was on line at the time.  Arguably I shouldn't have been, as it was meant to be a retreat, and the iPad should have stayed switched off, but you know... and plenty of people were checking their emails on their phones, and the one public computer terminal had a queue to use it every night.  Of course it took months before Gaddafy was pulled out of the concrete pipe he was hiding in and shot like the mad dog he was.  In the meantime there were riots in UK cities in the summer - I remember a Facebook message exchange with my daughter, who lives in south London, in which she said that if she opened her window she could smell Croydon burning.  And then the Occupy stuff kicked off in quite a lot of places.  What's THAT all about then?  I'd really like to know.  Because unlike the British riots, which were about people suddenly getting the idea they could just, like, take stuff instead of paying for it, Occupy has made no clear demands.  Not keen on bankers. Quite a  lot of white folks with dreads.  Nice tents, too.  I don't think they looted them either.  All paid for.  Hmmm.

On and on it went.  The French Socialist Party had open primaries for its presidential candidate in October.  Well, maybe not in the same league as the above, but it interested me.  Galvanised the French public, too.  And Sarko DID NOT KNOW WHAT TO SAY.  Quite took the shine off him being the bravest man in Europe for leading the allied charge on Libya from the skies.  Pity the wrong candidate, "Monsieur Creme Caramel", Francois Hollande, was chosen, but the people had spoken.  They often say the wrong thing when they speak, more's the pity.  DSK was apparently set up in That Hotel Room in New York, did the Perp Walk, to the shock and horror of French people of all political persuasions and none, lost his job, and with it his chance of being the Socialist candidate for the 2012 presidential in France.  He could have beaten Sarko.  I'm dubious as to whether anyone else can.

What else?  A little book of political counterfactuals appeared (see box on right to click and purchase) with a chapter written by Moi.  Christopher Hitchens died.  Mourned.  Vaclav Havel died, and the sky went a little bit darker over Europe.  Kim Jong-Il died.  Not mourned.  Not much is going to change in North Korea either.  Kim died the old-fashioned way, of "natural" causes as dictators used to in the old days, not dancing on the end of a rope like Saddam Hussein or with a bullet in the head like Gaddafy or Bin Laden.  Who wasn't a dictator but who got killed by the Americans.  A legal act, because a declaration of war had been made, against the West, by him.  And still it comes.  The war in Iraq, if that is ever what it was, is over.  The Americans are leaving, and sharpish.  Job done. Iraq has an elected government.  Almost nowhere in that region does.  Stop The War are not celebrating the departure of the troops, because they are not glad.  They are not against war but in favour of it, wanting anyone who is fighting Americans to win.

I found out that for a little while I was going to have a second grandchild, but now I am not.  Mourned.  Found out that I was going to be, for the first time, an aunt by marriage (first husband was an only child so no possibility there).  V. glad.  Flew a plane for the first time, in April. Swam a kilometre for the first time since I was 13, in August.  Carried on doing it.  Made a (for me) historic trip to Australia in November, and the green fields and apple orchards of Tasmania, to say nothing of its sparkling wine, will always have a place in my heart now.

Reading went back under Labour control.  Mr Salter reappeared in the town, gurning for cameras with some children on council premises.  I started being threatened by Reading media, apparently under coercion from Mr S.  Well, none of THAT was new in 2011, I had just been enjoying a rather welcome break from it.

The Guardian gave up any lingering pretence at being a liberal newspaper, and gave itself over entirely to the hate-filled racist right.

What next?  Whither Syria?  Iran?  Bets on how long Assad will last?

Happy 2012, which still seems a long way off to me.  Coming soon, some of the books, films and music I have liked in 2011.  No lists though, I promise, that is for the boys.

Fatboy Kim

the Dear Leader
Kim Jong-il, the "dear leader" son of the "great leader" Kim Il-sung, is brown bread.  He died on a train, they tell us, of "fatigue".  The North Korean news agency KCNA has a rather splendid turn of phrase at times in its English-language service.  It likes, for instance, to dub the South Korean media "venal trumpeters".  When Germany was still divided an East German delegation visited North Korea and was told "We too know the pangs of bifurcation".  KCNA has also informed us at times of various miracles associated with the Dear Leader, such as rainbows appearing, triplets being born, slogans manifesting themselves on the slopes of sacred mountains, and so on.  This kind of stuff used to be fairly normal in the commnist dictatorships only about 20 years ago, now it looks very bizarre indeed.  Anyway, Kim is no more.  His son, the younger Kim (he is Fatboy Kim) is to take over, which the military are likely to support and China not to dissent from.  So, Fatboy, feed your people.  Oh and you could try letting them have a say in things from time to time.  Kim?  Kim?

Fatboy Kim
Did you know btw that one Korean in three is called Kim? And that Kims aren't allowed to marry other Kims? Kim being the surname, and it means "gold". In Chinese characters it looks like this:

and the Korean alphabet is a truly wonderful thing - find out about it here:

Last year I saw a truly wonderful Korean film called "Poetry".  Catch it if you can.

Friday, 16 December 2011

the Hitch is dead, long live the drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay

and I do not mean that in the sense that a Facebook friend appears to have done when she posted the title of this post on her status, prefacing it with "Ding, dong".  Whatever her problem might be, I hope she gets over it soon.  She works for the Guardian though, so I am not optimistic.

I met Christopher Hitchens once, in fact we were at the same dinner and talked about the monarchy.  He was against it.  I wasn't, having changed my mind on it.  We were both for the Iraq war.  He had previously, without knowing it, helped me to see Mother Teresa and her work clearly, and to despise her and it. Like me, he could change his mind and admit it, and say why.  There the resemblance ends.  I am not fit to tie his intellectual or political shoelaces.  Nor his drinking ones either, though I do my best there.

the pic is by Andre Carrilho
My university education did not teach me clarity of thought, though it tried.  If any one influence could have said to have done so, it was the rather small amount of Christopher Hitchens' writing I have actually read.  Permit me to quote from Ben Archibald's tribute to the Hitch:  There have already been many, and there will be many more.

Every speaker can gain from his lucidity and his application of occamite precision to his thoughts.  Every essayist can learn from his attention to source, to citation and his invocation of sometimes unexpected supporting material.  Every polemicist can learn from his willingness to be challenged

Well, you get the picture, I hope.

I was in London on 7/7 (as it has never really been called), in 2005, trying vainly to get to Kings Cross, and not knowing what had happened.  As the picture began to emerge more clearly, and we knew that London had been under terrorist attack and that quite a large number of people had been killed, I thought first of Christopher Hitchens.  Because war is when people you don't know are trying to kill you.  I was thinking of his collected essays, "Love, Poverty and War", and that I had experienced love, and also poverty, but not war, until that day.  A banal thought perhaps, but there you go.

I am so sorry that there will never be a new book, or an essay, or a new polemic from the Hitch.  What then must we do?

The epithet in the title of this post was hurled at the Hitch by George Galloway.

There must be a good last line to follow that.

Best Blessings of Existence 25

by Emma B.  In which - here comes Johnny!

The Crimson Rhombus was a wine bar in Horseferry Road; not stylish but conveniently situated near to the cinema where they had spent Saturday afternoon.

They had watched The Shining; a new and experimental Kubrick adaptation of Stephen King’s novel – and in retrospect it was an unwise choice.

Her appreciation of this cinematic milestone - a horror film bathed in light, was ruined by the performance of Jack Nicholson.

His rampant sexuality was unleashed by the character of Jack Torrance; an arrogant writer – come- caretaker, who masked the most appalling treatment of his family with a supercilious but ineluctable charm.

It might have been a study of Paul. When Torrance attempted to correct his wife at The Overlook Hotel, showcasing his limited literary skills in a manic typing session:

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

She felt thoroughly violated. It was as if Kubrick had directed his entire picture from a secret location in Dorlich.

For Lynne, Shelley Duvall, with Marty Feldman eyes and hangdog demeanour, was a Sandra Milford doppelganger and as Torrance wielded the axe with a triumphant cry of Here’s Johnny! her sympathies lay firmly with the abuser.

It was ridiculous to compare a miserable trip to Marrakesh with the implosion of a twelve month marriage, but Lynne managed it and would not be satisfied until she had disgorged every lurid detail of My Horrible Holiday.

She was selfish in the extreme.

Lynne and Sandra were not natural soulmates but had both relocated to London after university. They had fallen into the habit of the occasional drink after work and on discovering a double cause for celebration ( in Lynne’s case, a much desired Departmental transfer from Defence to Environment and for Sandra, a promotion to the elite Quality Testing team), had booked a budget fortnight to Morocco.

Disaster struck at Menara Airport due to the fact that Lynne’s suitcase, far from routinely preceding Sandra’s neat wheeled contraption on the luggage carousel, had been erroneously dispatched to Dubai.

Raiding Sandra’s clothes selection was impossible even if desirable because Lynne was four inches shorter and a size larger than her friend. The immediate but unfortunate solution was an emergency wardrobe of three unflattering kaftans, purchased in the nearest souk and destined for a charity shop on return.

A single underwear set necessitated daily hand washing, and Sandra’s reading material; the collected works of Ruth Rendell, Virginia Andrews and The Physical and Chemical Components of Food, was unappealing to someone who had anticipated an enjoyable fortnight courtesy of Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai and Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers.

They spent the first day aimlessly traversing the Djema el Fne square with its Barbary apes and snake charmers and then opted for a walk in the elegant, cool space of the Majorelle Gardens.

It was there, as they passed an ornamental fountain, that Sandra spotted her new Head of Section at Quality Testing, emerging from behind a giant cactus with a male friend and three Moroccan companions.

A welcome surprise for Sandra was the stuff of nightmares for Lynne, who then found herself abandoned for the next ten days – save for the interminable hour at breakfast when Sandra would regale her with tales of the wonderful clubs, restaurants and shops that she had visited with Bill Cornish, his friend Frank Creswell and the charming Moroccan youths who appeared to be functioning as amateur holiday guides.

It was a heaven-sent opportunity for Sandra to impress the boss away from the formalities of work; Bill was absolutely charming and so knowledgeable and his friend Frank was equally delightful.

In fact, it was a fortuitous meeting for all concerned. Nazim, Hassan, Abdullah and Mohammed were wonderful young men but perhaps a little too assiduous in their natural desire to be good hosts to the tourists. Her presence meant that it was so much easier for Bill and Frank to escape them in the evenings when they made up a threesome at some of the smarter restaurants in the French Quarter.

And this had been the template for the holiday; drinks in the famous Churchill Bar of the Mamounia Hotel for Sandra; goat’s head tagine and orange juice for Lynne in the Medina.

By the time she was reunited with her suitcase, four days before the end of the holiday, it seemed simpler to remain in the kaftans. Worst of all, with the sensitivity of a rhino, Sandra had waved a cheery goodbye at Heathrow, accompanied by effusive comments about the holiday of a lifetime. But the most peculiar thing about it, concluded Lynne with a self righteous flourish, is that he was exactly like Leslie Potts, with that awful sense of slightly damp weediness! It took less than 48 hours for Sandra to begin every sentence with: Bill says ---- Absolutely excruciating! All very well for you – you were in Dorlich!

It was undeniable. She was. The unique focus of public report and ridicule as the 25-year-old woman whose new husband had done a runner with a grandmother.

When at last it was her turn to talk, she noticed that Lynne’s attention was less than engaged. She was tapping her foot, smoothing her new highlights, courtesy of Jean Pierre at Crimper Chicks and sucking on a Disque Bleu in her best Birkinesque manner.

I think, she said, picking up her glass and shrugging black denim Gloria Vanderbilt shoulders as she walked towards the corner of the bar It could be time for a refill ……….

Back at Conyham Crescent the following Monday, she felt refreshed, exhilarated and satisfyingly smug.

Vinnie and Joe were graphic designers from an alternative agency in Manchester and had popped into The Crimson Rhombus before hitting the town. Against the odds, they had beaten off the competition from more experienced teams and had won a lucrative account to design the logo of a major teen fashion line.

Whilst she had been lost in the mists of her marriage implosion, Lynne had observed them standing at the bar attired in cricket blazer; brown leather bomber jacket and faded jeans. They bore striking likenesses to Roger Daltry and Ben Bex-Oliver respectively and there was nothing for it but to head for the bar and lean elegantly at it, bemoaning the terrible service – so untypical for an early Saturday evening.

It was then an inevitable and entirely natural progression to accept the kind invitation to share pre-prandial nibbles of kalamata olives and hummus with the welcome accompaniment of a good bottle of Sancerre. After a year’s subjugation, courtesy of Paul, she was performing at less than her flirtatious best, but fortunately Lynne was at hand, on absolutely top form: Gosh – the two of them were just so ditzy that they simply never ate; this weekend, they’d existed on total starvation rations ---- nothing but tins of cold custard and baked beans!!

And yes, it would be super – and positively medicinal to come on board for a spot of dinner at the famed Trader Vic’s restaurant at the Park Lane Hilton where Vinnie and Joe were staying for the weekend…

Of course for her friend here, it might even serve as a little celebration!

She had been virtually a child bride; quite a lamb to the slaughter in the clutches of an older man, but had risen to the challenge, dumping her buttock-clenchingly boring pensioner of a husband on a woman more his own age and well really, girls just had to have fun!

If fun was to be had (and it had been singularly lacking since Paul had absconded with Frances), then Vinnie and Joe were the ideal providers.

They were in their late twenties and had been spectacularly successful since graduating with acclaim from Central St Martin’s School of Art.

The move to Manchester was prompted by shrewd business acumen and they were fast accruing the finance and contacts to go it alone in London. They were witty (Vinnie’s account of the time they gatecrashed The Bunny Club), wealthy and liked a drink (or two).

And easy on the eye.

In default of the original, Lynne’s acquisition of Joe proved to be an acceptable Ben Bex-Oliver substitute - for the next two years. Vinnie, meanwhile, with his sexily tousled Roger Daltry curls, was the physical manifestation of a land flowing with milk and honey out with the gates of Chudleigh. It was a cause for lament that such impeccable males had not been to hand (instead of Percy), for escort duties in The Compleat Snapper or 14a, Wellington Parade. Or The Falcon, Bunter’s and The Trade Winds Wine Bar. Or anywhere in Dorlich.

She wished she had brought her camera….

When she looked back upon that weekend (and the subsequent two visits that Vinnie had made to Dorlich in his black Ferrari Mondial ) she remembered food, drink, restaurants and music but, apart from the anecdote about the Bunny Club, little or nothing about who had said what to whom about anything.

Trader Vic’s (where they sipped Mai Tai cocktails in the Boathouse Bar), had served up a banquet of Wasabi Beef, Jumbo Prawns, Almond Crab and Steamed Octopus. On Sunday they sampled the equally desirable and completely different treasures of Hickory Smoked Chicken and Potato Skins at the Hard Rock Café.

Eric Clapton’s Red Fender Lead 11 guitar hung from the wall opposite their table and she had tossed her hair whilst laughing and crossing her legs in synchronicity with Lynne – as if they had rehearsed for weeks.

But not in the bedroom at the Park Lane Hilton - or again at Conyham Crescent after a meal with Vinnie at Vesuvian Nights…

She was on her own there – and if the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak The sight of the black and silver ribbed condoms in a pack of three, primed as it were, for duty, on the bedside table, occasioned an unaccountable tiredness. It lasted until she was certain that Vinnie was safely asleep and then she took refuge in the wheel-backed chair, smoking and drinking vodka until dawn.

Of course this was natural; only a month ago, she had been reprising the more athletic behaviours of Fiona Richmond in her role as enthusiastic young wife. .

But the temporal nature of her budding relationship became unmistakable when she realised that her pleasure in Vinnie’s company was contingent upon the presence of an admiring and envious audience.

In neither The Bear, The Trade Winds Wine Bar, Bunters nor even the arty new Japanese eaterie, Haiku, did she encounter anyone she had ever known.

She had fantasised about the exquisite delights of parading Vinnie, like a prize winning steer, before the covetous eyes of anyone and everyone who had witnessed her humiliation at the hands of Paul and his loathsome paramour.

When even The Falcon failed to surrender a Truscott, she knew that the game was up and said her farewells with regret and relief.

He was handsome, clever and rich and seemed to unite the best blessings of existence.

He was everything – and nothing.

It was not enough.

A week later, just like Johnny, Paul returned………………

Thursday, 15 December 2011

how will Obama run against Newt?

the excellent Marbury is interesting on this.  However, I do not think he has got it quite right.  Something I only understood myself after my time in elected office was over, and for which I am indebted to Drew Westen's fascinating book "The Political Brain" is that you do not campaign against an opponent on their weaknesses, but on their strengths.  Their weaknesses will be seen by the public, sooner or later, and you can leave the media to expose them anyway.  Their strengths are something they cannot defend.  They just are.  So, for what it's worth, Obama's strengths are his steadiness and coolness in times of crisis, and his ability to gain respect, and even affection, for who he is rather than for what he has done.  So Newt should run against him on precisely this, that when times are tough Obama doesn't roll up his sleeves and get on with the dirty work, he kicks back "like always" and takes it easy.  Being "loved in Africa" won't save American jobs.  And so on.  Yes, it will be borderline racist, but that is the American right for you.  And Obama's campaign against Newt?  Gingrich's strengths are, or appear to to me to be, his toughness in debate and his mastery of the machine.  In this he seems to me rather like LBJ, an unattractive character who was nonetheless superbly effective, and who was a man with no discernible principles whatever.  You can read about this in the excellent three-volume (so far) biography of LBJ by Robert Caro.  So, Obama should say "Come on, Newt.  Tell us straight.  What have you got stitched up for us today?"  And "Going to give us a 'contract with America', are you Newt?  Tell us about it."

You reckon?  In an American context it is probably OK to be called Newt.  I suppose.

la France et la politique

it's all kicking off today here in la belle France.  Former minister Rama Yade was on TV today.  Here she is (sig other thinks she is HOT).  She was sacked by Sarko for being an uppity black girl, as far as I can tell.  Anyway, there is a case against her for plagiarism in a book she wrote about education.  This being France, although she tells us that her private life has been invaded by investigators, her tax records leaked, and irrelevant personal details included in the accusation against her, nothing of this is likely to appear in the French media.  She is confident of this, saying in the interview that this is "the last time such things will be mentioned", and she is probably right.

Parliamentary elections are looming.  In French politics it is usual for a politician to be the mayor of somewhere, and for that role to be at least as important as their role as an Assembly member or senator.  A row is brewing, as Segolene Royal, losing presidential candidate in 2007 and defeated in the primaries this year, has been found a seat in the swanky town of La Rochelle.  There were some local boys who thought it should be theirs, and rather more who thought local party members should be able to vote on who should be their candidate.  Party leader Martine Aubry however had this to say:
"Ça suffit. On réserve la circonscription pour éviter qu'il y ait au moment des votes des tas de problèmes et qu'on salisse Ségolène."
"That's enough.  The selection for this constituency has been set aside to avoid any problems around a vote, and to stop Segolene being smeared".
That's them told then.

In other news today, Jacques Chirac, former president and former mayor of Paris, awaits a verdict in his trial for corruption.  He is charged with using public funds to hire party and campaign staff to non-existent municipal posts, and have them work on his campaign.  That, of course, never happens in politics, hein?  Chirac did not actually stand trial in person, being deemed unfit for reasons of failing memory and possible dementia.  My arse. A statement has been read out saying he didn't do anything wrong.  So that's all right then.  Update: Chirac has just been found guilty.  Ha ha and double ha.  He must be in tears.  Oh, he is (see picture below)

David Sutton
Former Reading council leader David "moronic members of the public" Sutton is a great friend and admirer of Chirac.  Especially for his stance on the Iraq war in 2003.  Remember that?
Jacques Chirac

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

I didn't think even the Guardian would sink this low.

I didn't.  I really didn't.  Wrong on so many levels. Sickeningly wrong.  Those four sentences are my opinion.  This photograph was taken in 2000.  Fallujah was a US army operation, with no British military involvement.  Those two sentences are facts.    Hate-filled, racist poison.  Even by the Guardian's standards.  Shits.  Utter, utter shits. Those three sentences are true.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

next year's bribe

In His Master's Voice (so it must be true) we read this , which informs us that an agreement must be reached by March 2012 for the new mosque at Green Road Reading, for which Reading Borough Council under Labour control donated the land, to be built.  March, yes, that's, er, just before the election campaign starts.  The Greens are fundamentally a racist party and will find it difficult to organise in the mosques.  However, if they don't you betcha others will.  Let's hope there is no return to hired thugs waving pictures of Martin Salter and punching election candidates.  Let's really  hope that doesn't happen.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

do politicians forget about the people?

Mary Riddell, writing in today's Telegraph,.is really full of it.  She quotes Abraham Lincoln  almost 150 years ago, saying "the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth".  He did indeed say that.  She says however "that democratic dream looks more perishable by the day."  What are these people on?  When there are beginning to be democratic governments in north Africa after decades of dictatorship?  OK, they are tending there to elect the wrong people, but that is another matter.  When international observers are critical of the elections in Russia?  How many international observers went to elections in Russia in the 1980s?  How many elections were there in Russia in the 1980s?

Riddell says that the gulf is widening between the governing and the governed.  Is that right?  As opposed to the golden age when the governing sat down for cups of tea with the governed?  All of them.  All the time.  Yeah, right.

While in Australia last month I had a chat with a member of the extended family who is about 22 years old.  He is Australian, of Spanish and British heritage, and was educated in the US for a number of fairly formative years.  He was much exercised about the oligarchic pressure (he did not put it like this) on democratic representatives in the US, and the effect that has on democracy - because money is involved.  And yet, it is in the US that you need to be seriously rich to have a hope of being elected to anything serious.  For him (the family member) it was partly about anti-Americanism, which is depressingly prevalent among those, especially the young, who describe themselves as of the left politically.  And part of it was anti-democratic.  Because that is what the Occupy chappies are about.  No ballot boxes for us, we are on the streets.  Well, no, actually.  go on to the streets, in any half-way free and democratic society you must not be prevented from doing so.  Well, not most of the time, anyway (see the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes a number of scenarios in which freedom of assembly and other freedoms may legitimately be curtailed).  But campaign for the changes you want in society through the democratic process.  There is no other way.

Mary Riddell goes on in her article to bewail the insufficient resources available for home care for elderly people in the UK who need that help.  I am quite sure she is right there.  She is also right to mention the fact that a jointly funded insurance-based elderly care system could be set up for the next generation (mine, probably), but that the present UK government will not do this.

France, where I live, has an utterly enviable health care system.  While sorting out emails the other day I came across one I sent in 2008, just after I had had my varicose veins removed (the NHS prescribed me a surgical stocking) which required five days in a clinic.  I described the last lunch I ate before leaving the clinic - white bean and carrot soup, supreme of guinea fowl with coulis of vegetables, bread and local smoked cheese, and mousse of red fruits with meringue, tisane to drink.  The portions were small but very tasty.  And elderly people in France get home care.  But they pay for it themselves, as everything here is insurance based.  The state system pays for a proportion, any "mutuelle" or top-up insurance the person has pays for most of the rest - but there might still be a gap, especially when a person goes into residential care.  At that point the person's offspring become legally obliged to pay the difference.  If they can show by notarised affidavits that they cannot do this (and people have been known to sell their own homes to pay for an elderly parent's care, not necessarily willingly) then the State will make up the difference.  But as a loan.  From the person's estate, to be recovered when they die.  This includes assets or property the person may have in another country.  There is some evidence that people of north African origin who have been French citizens for decades and who are now beginning to need elderly care are concerned about family property in Algeria or Morocco which is supporting other family members there.  Well, don't say I didn't warn you.

On the subject of health, there is currently a measles epidemic in France.  Because some people do not get vaccinated.  In Australia I discovered that if your children do not have the full complement of vaccinations there you lose a proportion of the equivalent of child benefit.  Good.  Pay something back for the risk you are posing to public health. There is a six-year-old child in a public hospital in France today who is seriously ill after contracting measles, and who is currently blind and may stay that way.  Well done, all of you who do not wish to pollute your children with vaccines.