Wednesday 30 December 2015

Drumming Up A High Note

As well as rising water levels the rain has raised many questions about what governments are for, what their agencies should be doing, who makes the real decisions and how much notice do they take of those people most affected.

There is a long list of items for spending projects at present and no shortage of debate about which might have priority.  The list is growing and the discussions are becoming shriller.  A lot of items have dropped off the radar of the main media but they are still going on.

An interesting example is the proposed new major concert hall for London.  We are said to "need" one in that some major cities have grand new ones which are better than any of ours.  Also, need seems to related to the status of those involved and who will most benefit.

The concert hall project has come up again because Sir Simon Rattle, our Liverpool national treasure conductor of classical music is leaving the Berlin Phil' and is wanted by the LSO, the London Symphony Orchestra, leading candidates for such a hall.

His price includes a commitment to build one.  The present estimate of building cost is less than £300 million, that is just to put it up.  What the annual running costs etc. will amount to is not known.  At present you could run Everton Football Club for that given the deal at present on the table.

These ten questions are asked by Jessica Duchen, the music maker and writer.  She would be expected to be strongly in favour and admits her wish for such a hall.  But she does ask real questions and points to some aspects that do not make sense.

One crucial matter is that she is clear that the money for this will have to impact on other spending areas and there are real costs there which are worrying.  Also, what else could this kind of money be spent one?  She does not actually say "vanity project" but she is not far from implying that this is what it could amount to.

Certainly, having had long experience of going to London venues I would like to see a splendid new hall with all the facilities and technical bells and whistles, but the probable real cost building figures and then running and performance costs look scary to say the least.

The bigger worry that this is just one item and far from being the largest in a long list of projects that will not yield earnings but entail major continuing liabilities for the future.

Sir Simon however can point to the other projects and their costs among them football ones.  West Ham United who are moving into the Olympic Stadium in effect have been gifted hundreds of millions of taxpayer money.  What Chelsea and Tottenham might do at Wembley when their stadia are being rebuilt is likely to be in the same league.

But football now at the top level has become something for the oligarchs and the property and financial moguls.  It has a place in the geopolitics of our time, in that the men involved are close to the persons and pockets of our politicians, the people who build on the flood plains but have stopped dredging the rivers and clearing the drains.

Perhaps it is time for some lateral thinking.  There could be new football stadia in place in London in the near future.  With retractable roofing, the right design and the acoustics taken care of might it be possible for the LSO to ground share with Chelsea or Tottenham or even Crystal Palace?

Could Sir Simon change his tune?

Tuesday 29 December 2015

2016 Christmas Message First Draft

So this time last year you thought that 2015 was bad and it couldn't get much worse?

Monday 28 December 2015

Memories Of The Weather

Late in the Autumn of 1946 the weather was quite wet and there was a great deal of flooding.  It was not a good period for the weather to give us a hard time, things were bad enough already.

Going into January 1947, as the month went on we all thought the winter would soon be over. But then there were a few wisps of snow.  The street know-all told us it would soon melt and be gone so we did not worry.

Then there was more snow and then quite suddenly a lot.  It was serious.  The rationing did not give us much to eat but it became difficult to get even that.  The railways were brought to a juddering halt and there was little or no road transport to carry the goods.

The power went off and more or less stayed off.  This was made worse by many of the newly nationalised miners preferring to stay at home.  And the snow kept coming right into March and it was only later that month that it began to go, rapidly.

Which meant we had all the flooding again.

Thursday 24 December 2015

A Christmas Story

Santa belched, groaned and heaved himself up with difficulty.  He should not have had the second bottle of Malmsey but it happens and took his mind off the urgent business.  He realised the elves were standing by the bed looking grim.  They were supposed to be happy and joyful and more to the point, at work.

"Oh higher being is it time already?" he asked.  The elves looked at each other, then one spoke.  "There are issues." He said, flatly.  Santa groaned again.  Ever since he was stupid enough to fall for a proposal for KPMG to run the rule over his operations and put in hand a scheme for changing everything, there had been issues.

"Yes, what?" he asked.  The elf who was Elf One, simpler than the new Executive Managing Director Of Operational Functions, sniffed.  Elf sniffs are not just a nasal reaction, they are a warning.

"No can do." he said in KPMG speak.  "The major logistics needs are not functional and so we cannot meet our targets according to the...", Santa butted in despite the recommended inter personnel communication protocols,  "Just tell me, in very few words."

Elf One sighed; he always had this problem since the Great Change.  But the message has to be given.  "Carbon emissions."  "Yes," said Santa, "I have a bit of problem...", "Not you, the reindeer as well." said Elf One.  "But theirs is natural function!", "Not when flying high, they exceed agreed world aviation levels, they are grounded."

"Well, fine, we travel by earth."  Elf Two, Director of Organisational Entities came to the rescue of Elf One.  "Well besides Border Controls, earth means the reindeer have to be shod.  "Just do it." said Santa, who was becoming grumpy.  Elf Two shuffled a little.

"Well it's like this.  The EU issued a major document relating to animal movement and those on their own hooves, feet, etc. had to be protected.  It was a very long document after a great deal of internal discussion."  Santa interrupted, "Fine; do it their way."

Elf Two coughed, "But when the detailed regulations were issued, because the Saami software did not integrate with Brussels and our Gremlin computer people failed to deal with it, reindeer were omitted.  So while we have to shoe them we do not have the specifications for shoeing.  It will take a decade or so to sort out."

Santa was verging on losing his temper.  "So we use delivery services, my goblins will borrow the money from KPMG to pay for it, so all the gifts go by same day delivery from any service that can to it."  The elves looked at each other, Elf Three, Director of Finance and Monetary Services, who now had his hands over his face, was pushed forward.

"You really ought to know, Santa..."  "Yes I do really ought to know!" shouted Santa back, "We actually, at this moment in time, and looking at the relevant detail, have nothing to deliver. This is another issue we have to tell you about."

"How, how, how did that happen!"  Santa had moved up an octave or two.  "Well, it seems most of our gifts were gender based, so they are out, the others apparently offended someone or other, so they are out as well.  None of them can be transported or delivered anywhere."

"Ha," Santa cried, " Wrong, you have forgotten last March, when I stocked up on laptops, tablets, smart phones and such at rock bottom prices, for all the gizmo's that children could wish for."

The elves looked at each other and looked to Elf Four, Director of Human Resources whose job it was to give bad news. He coughed twice before speaking,  "We tried to tell you at the time, Santa, but you would not listen.  March is ancient history, gizmo wise, now all that stuff is junk that no youngster wants to be seen with."

"What?", Santa had reached high tenor.  Elf Four stepped back a little.  "Apple, as we expected, brought out whole new ranges in November for the Christmas market.  You couldn't give the March stuff away.  Oh, and because we went bust we had to bring in KPMG again as administrators."  Elf Three nodded and began to twitch as he spoke.

"They were very good, charging us one per cent less than the usual ninety for the work.  They decided that we had a viable brand name and auctioned us among major retailers.  We are now a wholly owned subsidiary facility for outsourcing actual delivery to local areas.  You are now a branch manager for one of the areas."

Santa shrank visibly, "Who, what, where?"

Elf Four pulled himself up to his full two foot height.  "Walmart, groceries, Deadwood, South Dakota, USA, your company identity is Wild Bill, look on it as an opportunity, not as a setback."

"So what is happening to you lot?" asked Santa with a hint of spite in his voice, "We are all KPMG interns, they tell us we have a future." said Elf One.

For the first time Santa smiled.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Old Army Song Amended

Tomorrow will be A Christmas Story, but not for the children.

For today a memory of Christmas and Boxing Day exactly sixty years ago when I was locked behind bars at Her Majesty's Pleasure with an armed guard.

At least I had a room to myself, meals brought in, a radio and peace and quiet.  I was on command duty, one of the few sober men between the Soviet Third Shock Army and the North Sea.  I skived for my Queen and Country.

This is dedicated to the Euro Army to come and Frau Merkel's Prussian Hussars.  There are slight amendments to the original, if only for decency.  The picture above is The Good Soldier Schweik (book by Jaroslav Hasek) a role model for life.

We are the Euro Army,
No blooming use are we,
The only time you'll see us,
Is when we're on the spree.

But when we parade and run away,
We'll shout with all our might,
Per ardua ad astra,
Blow you Jack, I'm alright.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Up And Away

Apparently, the figures are not looking as good as they should be.  Our Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ozymandias, formerly Osborne, who tries to keep the lobbyists happy by spending and the markets by not spending is chasing the dream.

It reminds me of the 1956 short French film, "The Red Balloon", in which a small boy is in thrall to a rubber thing with hot air in it; see it on Youtube at 36 minutes.  It is all very improbable yet convincing.

I first saw this late in 1958 in a private showing, when Harold Macmillan was fiddling with the budget to gain re-election in 1959.  He was lucky, but the signs are that Ozy may not be.  There are too many things going wrong.  Scandals in the party, the EU row, and a government that is finding out that to be pro-active necessarily means upsetting someone.

It leads me to remind people that quite often General Elections are lost, mostly by a government, rather than won by the other party.  The Tories under Botcher Cameron are already on course to lose given the way the markets are going and other matters.  One aspect is that it is claimed that Jeremy Corbyn cannot win.

But Corbyn may not intend to win.  It may be his personal ambition to create a Labour Party that will simply allow the Tories to lose and bring in a different Labour Party, then under a different younger populist Leader put in place by Corbyn and friends to win.  It could happen.

If a fervent Left wing party does come to power, one of the first things to go could be the Royals.  So who might be the honorary President, father of the New Republic, perhaps Corbyn himself?  What chances might there be?

"The Red Balloon" was a fantasy of course detached from any reality, but it was good to watch.  It is much more comforting than any of the fantasies at present on offer.

Monday 21 December 2015

Forward To The Past

On the wilder shores of the media there has been a finding in the "Lookalike" theme now one of the easy items for a story.  "Private Eye" which has long been doing this now goes to the lengths this week of a full page effort on Jeremy Corbyn.

But the one this is about appeals to many of the conspiracy theorists and believers in strange plots, happenings and all that if you are interested.  It is the question of the immortality of President Putin of Russia and integrated territories.

Pictures dating from decades before his birth of lookalikes allow the idea to be suggested.  It is very tempting.  But there are different kinds of immortality as readers of imaginative fiction will know.

One is a being who survives the centuries intact, but there is the other of beings who at the point of one death migrate to another birth.  There are others but this will do.  Some faiths allow many lives. 

Should President Putin be of the migratory immortality then there are many and various people in history he might have been.  One I suggest is Pope Gregory I circa 540 to 604, see Wikipedia, picture above.

It would explain a lot.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Who Governs Now?

The British Constitution as we have understood it in the past has changed in crucial ways and there are few, notably in the media, who understand what the present situation is.

Firstly, we no longer have "Cabinet Government" where the Prime Minister and senior ministers form a small group at the head of affairs politically.  What we have is a Prime Minister with a team of highly paid appointed advisers and media operators.  These relate to the big beasts in finance and the corporations firstly and others secondly.

Other senior ministers, notably at present, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, might have parallel teams which may overlap and interchange with that of the Prime Minister but they are ancillary  and in effect subordinate.

Secondly, the House of Commons no longer represents either the people as a whole or the major supporting groups of voters of the political parties.  It is now largely composed of members of a professional political class who know little and understand less and seek to apply a body of theory that is divorced from real needs.

In terms of the structure of membership of the House of Commons, the first past the post system has never delivered balanced entries but the situation is now much worse.  The electoral system required updating regularly.  This has not been done and the membership of the House is increasingly at odds with the electorate.

The House of Lords represents nobody except the inner circles of major parties, the quangos, and the major corporations with a few legacy hereditary peers.  Because the appointments made in the past reflected previous situations it has become a vehicle for the opposition parties to prevent the government from governing.

Thirdly, in its most senior ranks the Civil Service is neither civil nor a service.  It is almost a form of business operation with many and various subsidiaries.  They are given policy guidance largely from financial and lobbying bodies that are now part of the system, who are also meshed in with top party ranks, but finally answering to the Prime Minister's team and other teams.

This is how the real work is done.  The political reports you have in the media and the press are largely of incidental, minor, personal interest and quasi entertainment elements that arise and are given publicity.  What happens in the Commons and Lords is either theatre or going through the motions.

This is the way "Botcher" Cameron and "Ozymandias" Osborne run the show.  It is not the same as Blair and Brown before them but an extension and expansion of their way of working.  During the period of the Coalition, 2010 to 2015, the Lib Dems ensured that there was more than enough blundering and stupidity to disguise the reality.

But none of the three parts above of the government system are in charge.  They might pretend or claim to be but they are not.  Because there is not only Europe, but all the other bodies in the world and obligations made, some using Europe as a post office, that not just limit but determine what our government can or cannot do.

For Ozymandias see the Shelley poem of near 200 years ago.  The good news is that this cannot last and any major crisis will finish it off.

The bad news is what is all too likely to succeed it.

Friday 18 December 2015

How To Buy Bodies

A market occurs when sellers meet buyers and exchanges take place.  The market theorists suggest that both parties can be satisfied with this and it ought to be beneficial for both if the correct strike price is agreed.

In our modern world money is usually involved, in that it eases the process so long as the substance used as money fulfils its functions.  But we have moved on.  A great deal of theoretical wealth is now money chasing money, or substitutes for money and complicated devices in lieu of money.

A consequence of all this is the "financialisation" of many things and activities to an extent that now surprises and baffles us.  Also, it may shock us.  Most are not aware of how far it has gone and that even the most basic needs are being taken over.

This way of investing has been brought to our attention by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  It is something that may be uncomfortable for those aware that the "product" or "investment opportunity" in question is beds for those in the final stage of life afflicted by a dreadful form of illness.

Given the questions that arise in what determinants might apply in the provision, managing, supervision and making of key decisions in relation to the individuals who are the "users" or "customers" or "units of account" as defined, the implications are ugly in moral and care terms.

For most people, I suspect, turning final care into just another ways and means of accounting, seeking better earnings on investment or achieving profit targets is going beyond decent humanity.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Seasons Greeting

Christmas Getaways, inward at the top, outward at the bottom.

Pity about the lack of trains though and with three hour motorway jams promised.

Also, Santa has out sourced to Amazon, the elves are shelf stacking and the reindeer replaced by drones.

As for the reindeer, check the content listing of your ready made Christmas dinner.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Sing A Song Of Sixpence

According to the media a complaint to the BBC Trust about anti Scots bias inherent in the failure of the BBC Radio Two show "Sounds of the 70's" to play classic items from the Bay City Rollers play list, has been found not proven.

The complainant said that they were the Scottish rivals to The Beatles, for me that would be quite enough, but tastes do vary and it seems that Johnnie Walker the disc jockey also has his limits.

Interesting though, where have I seen that name before?  It must have made the complainant see red, or black, or double black.  But I ask, why has the disc jockey ignored The Wurzels?  "I Am A Cider Drinker" is a wonder of its time.

Then there is Max Boyce whose classic repertoire is also ignored.  Who could not fail to be moved by this tribute to national identity?  At five minutes long you will be taken to another better world.  Once I was taken to see Max Boyce in concert by one of his fans.

I have never forgotten it.

Flying High

Good luck to Major Timothy Peake and his fellow astronauts as they go to the satellite space station.  I hope they have a successful mission.

I wonder if he is any connection to the Sergeant Frederick Thomas Peake of the 13th Light Dragoons who survived The Charge of the Light Brigade in The Crimean War, pictured above in 1855?

Monday 14 December 2015

Welcome Back Old Friend

According to reports the steam locomotive, "Flying Scotsman" may soon be back on track after a major refit.  It has taken some time to raise the money and then do the work.  I would prefer it without the blinkers (smoke deflectors) but at its current running speeds they are probably needed.

The figure given is over four million pounds and I suspect that if you added other costs, some hidden, some arising from voluntary or willing low paid work of various kinds, it could be a lot more.  This type of work was done in locomotive works and more or less hand built during the age of steam.

Most of its working time was spent on the East Coast Main Line, but there was a spell in the late 1940's, early 50's when it was allocated to Leicester Great Central (code 38C).  On the major express trains on that line, notably "The Master Cutler" and "The South Yorkshireman", there were engine changes at Leicester.

When the railway system had steam hauled trains, passenger, parcels and freight it had a total of around thirty thousand steam engines.  All of them needed major refits after a period of years, say twenty, but some less or more.  But to that has to be added all the ongoing routine maintenance and minor work done in the engine shed to which they were allocated.

For a locomotive being worked hard and regularly, this was on a daily basis for the smoke box, firebox, sand boxes, boiler tubes and greasing and oiling all the many moving parts.  It was usual when a train stopped at any station for the fireman to be out with the oilcan squirting here and there.

Doing my back of the envelope calculation, I think that in today's values the total bill for works refits of all steam locomotives would be around £100 billion and the annual bill say somewhere between five to ten.  Add to that the local shed routine costs and you are looking at serious money.

So in 1946, at the end of World War 2, given that refits and routine maintenance were skimped, the size of the bill the four major companies were faced with was huge and this was inherited by Nationalisation in 1947.  In fact, the railway system was badly broke and the inbuilt running and other costs made it unlikely they would ever turn a real profit.

Some interesting accounting together with ignoring many cost features made it possible to dress up the figures to make them more politically acceptable and persuade the public that all would be well, given a decade or ten, but that never really happened.

"Flying Scotsman" is indeed a wonderful sight in full steam so long as you don't count the costs.

Sunday 13 December 2015

How To Stop Climate Change

It may have escaped your notice that there was a high level shindig in Paris in which world leaders agreed to change the climate.

The essence of their talks was their concern that climate might change, as it has done so often in the past, so they were going to ensure it stayed the same for all time, or at least until the next elections.  We could all ignore them of course and do it yourself.

It would mean going to bed a lot earlier, ceasing to buy lots of rubbish consumer goods which are soon discarded, changing some of our lazier and thoughtless habits, walk a lot more and above all, stop tourism.

In the UK and its highest levels of government the issue of runway space in the South East is consuming a great deal of time, effort and money.  One lot say we want another runway at Heathrow, to make it a mega hub, others want it at Gatwick, and there are other options relating to the many airfields in the area.

But it is pointed out that one of the main uses of these places is to fly UK people out to tourist destinations and to fly other people in to be tourists in England and other parts of the UK.  Tourism, once a quaint and limited pastime for those with more money than sense has become almost obligatory for many people.

There are many places where it has become the central and key economic activity but with low level work.  As this activity means simply churning money round the system and is highly vulnerable to changing fashion, it is not a form of real investment simply extended low level consumption.

What is missed in our assessments of its worth is the sheer scale of the damage inflicted on many of the eco-systems and vulnerable parts of the planet as well as it's command of scarce resources.  Also, it is common for many areas to subsidise the activity.

If you add up all the airfield provision, tax breaks and support for airlines and plane makers and a few other things, it is possibly one of the most highly subsidised trades on earth.  The taxpayers are helping people to wreck the planet.

What is interesting about the Paris Conference is that much, if not all, of what happened there could have been done online.

Saturday 12 December 2015

How To Stop A War

As we are into the season of goodwill to all men (and women and others) and peace on earth it seems churlish to complain that the Leader of The Labour Party lends support to a body named "Stop The War". He has been prominent in it for some time so why complain now?

Guido Fawkes gives a list of matters where this body is alleged to have misjudged situations.  What this list also tells us is the problem of deciding what war is going on, why, involving whom and to what purpose.  History tells us that a good deal of it is not new just repeating what has happened so often in the past.

Having consulted my dentist only yesterday, I can confirm that I am long and tender in the tooth.  But there has been war in the world ever since my first one appeared and had been before for at least a few millennia.  It is likely that on every day in my life armed conflict was happening somewhere for some reason.

In principle, the prevention and avoidance of war ought to be one of the highest aims of our leaders.  These days they do spend a lot of time talking to each other and we have not had major powers in direct conflict quite so much as in the past.  They realise the costs and the danger, not least of losing power.

But at the same time many powers now often involve themselves in the many small wars and related disputes as an alternative.  Also, it provides a major source of profit for major powers with large arms industries.  These can be called "proxy wars".

One reason that this option is available is because in the world there are many groups that dislike and indeed hate each other for a variety of ancient reasons and some of these and others have land and water rights and boundary issues that they cannot resolve peacefully, or often do not want to.

Essentially, all you need is a mad or highly ambitious leader with cronies who see local or internal wars as necessary to their function or survival.  If they have enough spare loose young men to hand and they can be persuaded, a very easy thing to do, then you will have such wars.  Add a spice of political or other fundamentalism to it and you can keep it going for as long as possible.

In the late 19th Century and early 20th Centuries, the great powers of Europe divided up the world into "Empires" to try to avoid wars between themselves.  They did not succeed, but they did at least contain the waging of small wars within their fiefs.  It did not do them much good as the local populations were ungrateful.

You can only really stop these wars if the relevant sides have become exhausted or wholly ruined.  You might have a chance if their leaders can accept that all have too much to lose, but with mad or ambitious men this is far from easy.  One way much favoured in history is for someone to eliminate the other, see the picture above of The Last Stand Of The 44th At Gandamak.

Looking at the Middle East at present we have major powers with a "hit or miss" approach, minor powers adding to the confusion and internal groups with mutual hatreds that cannot be ended, only perhaps accepting an uncertain truce.

Worse is that some elements are now trying to export the conflicts of the Middle East to the home territories of major powers, albeit on a small scale.  But you do not need large scale activity, for example, to wreck a tourist industry or a property dependent economy such as that of the UK.

The Stop The War people are unlikely to succeed because what is going on over there could be one of those never ending wars like so many in past history.  It has all the hallmarks of this.  At the same time indulging in a low level proxy war with bombs is not going to stop small scale attack units arriving in Europe.

So finding the answer to the question in the title looks to be beyond the abilities of any of our political parties given their current other policies.  The radical change in thinking, policy and actions needed are alien to any of their ideas or structures.

Thursday 10 December 2015

The Last Trump

There has been a degree of excitement about Mr. Donald Trump's thoughts on violent extremism in America and its causes and the community from which it is alleged to originate.  So what is he doing?  Is it some kind of Last Trump Resurrection of Souls, see the picture above by Stanley Spencer?

He has entered the contest to be selected as the candidate for The Republican Party for the coming Presidential elections.  This means beating the boundaries from one state to another over the next months to collect enough pledged party votes to have a good chance of nomination.

You do not get pledged votes without media coverage.  You only get media coverage if you can hit the headlines in a way acceptable to the signed up Republican voters for the primary elections in the individual states in question.  To raise issues on terrorist actions in America will gain attention.

What then might happen at the subsequent party Convention to agree the candidate if nobody has a clear majority at the outset is all to play for.  It is quite usual for tunes to be changed, deals done and a different line being taken to enable a candidate to win.

If nomination is won then the party candidate for the Presidency will go into a big huddle with the teams of advisers and media consultants to come up with ideas and policies that will swing the vote for the Presidency.  These may vary from those at the start.

If, after all this, the person does make it to the White House, restored since my ancestor's brother-in-law torched it to counter Yankee extremism, what he or she will do in office may differ, perhaps a little, perhaps a lot, from what has been said in the many months beforehand.

What is engaging about the present row is that so many people still think politicians mean what they say and when they make promises will fulfil them.  The triumph of Obama has been the triumph of global corporatism.  The triumph of Eisenhower was the very industrial military elite he did not want.  The triumph of the Clinton's was years of the Bush.

Mr. Trump's mother was a Scot, a Mary MacLeod of The Western Isles, my ancestral Mary MacLeod from the Isles married in 1843 in Greenock. The SNP have disowned him, they may come to miss his money.  The relativist views of their leaders, Muslims good, English bad and to be bashed and banned and their hopes to out Merkel Merkel in welcoming those from the East are a puzzle if they want a Scots Scotland.

What matters in the USA at the moment is how good and how strong any of the other Republican candidates are and what they can offer.  If, and it is a very big if, Trump is nominated it then depends on whether the Democrats can come up with a candidate who makes a lot more sense than the Clintons.

At Dunvegan Castle, the seat of the Chief of Clan MacLeod, one of the treasured objects is The Fairy Flag said to have been given by Titania, wife of Oberon, King of the Fairies.  I suspect this will not play a part in his bid  for the Presidency.

Mr. Trump owns a number of golf courses so as he tees off from the first long hole of the Presidential course will he be an eagle or a bogey?

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Vote For Who?

According to reports Mr. Tyson Fury, an interesting name for a pugilist, is now Heavyweight Champion of The World, which implies he is the best in that business.

As he is of UK standing this has meant nomination for the award of BBC Sports Personality Of The Year. If the past is any guide this might mean he would be a favourite to win.  But there are demands that he should not be considered on the grounds that some of his personal opinions on sensitive matters give offense.

As someone whose expertise is limited by the fact that the last time I watched this award programme was before BBC2 was created in the mid 60's this is not an informed article; I skip awards programmes.  But using the net I looked for the listings.

Down the years I would judge that there are a fair number of the winners and seconds and thirds in the past whose personal opinions on similar and related matters then could be a source of discomfort now.  So why have they been allowed to retain their titles?

SPOTY in fact attempts to do something that does not make sense and that is to compare and somehow equate very varied activities with different demands across the class structures and status levels.  Basically, it is a bit of nonsense which just happens to chalk up the right kind of audience ratings.

Back in the 60's the BBC did a lot of equestrian coverage, the football authorities fearing falling crowd figures and avoiding TV, and in 1971 Princess Anne, a lady of forthright views, won the SPOTY award.  She had won the Gold Medal at the European Eventing Championship on Doublet.  Dark doubts were uttered in pubs and working men's clubs across the land.

The runner up was George Best, a highly skilled footballer with a private life that sold a lot of newspapers, and third was Barry John, Wales Fly Half and a great rugby player.  I saw them both play a time or two and wouldn't grumble.

Names that do not appear that I would have liked to have seen were Nobby Stiles of Manchester United and England, a gentleman footballer of the old fashioned kind.  But for my money the one who deserved it was the England front row forward, Fran Cotton, pictured above.

Mud in your eye.

Monday 7 December 2015

Who's Sorry Now?

It is reported that Tony Blair, doing the rounds with his begging bowl, was in India and gave a speech.  Anxious to please as ever, he apologised to India for all the problems that Britain has caused in Kashmir because of the decisions of 1947.

It seems that barely a day goes by without a headline hog politician making an apology for things they know little or nothing about.  The danger is that cheap politics for media exposure leaves many people with beliefs and ideas that are well removed from reality.

Blair was born in 1953 so anything he says is derived from other sources.  It does not take much to find out that the Kashmir issue in 1947 was very complicated, born out of a long history of proud warrior peoples and a situation that was fraught, very dangerous and needed an answer then and there.  As is so often the case, all the options had serious downsides with the potential for later conflicts and disputes.

Kashmir is and was a territory with differing population groups, religious and political as well as governing entities between whom agreement was normally difficult and could be impossible.  More to the point, Kashmir was one of the Principalities in which Britain did not have direct rule.  There was a monarch Prince, Marahajah Hari Singh, with a local administration.

By 1946 across most of the Sub Continent, Britain had lost effective control despite having nominal status and for many of the British there the only way was out and as soon as possible.  Not least the Army we had left there, many young conscripts, was unable to exert authority and the great majority of men just wanted to be on the next boat home.

So Prime Minister Attlee and his government sent in Lord Mountbatten; who had experience and prestige, to deal with it quickly and hand over power.  But he was faced with Muslims who wanted their own nation, Pakistan, and the Princes of territories with self rule some of whom were difficult to convince.  Kashmir was a notable one.

The upshot of this to have an agreement for Kashmir was for some poor man to be packed off to draw a line on the map very fast so that Nehru of India, Jinnah of Pakistan, the Marahajah Hari Singh and Lord Mountbatten could settle and avoid an outbreak of local hostilities.  Gandhi wanted a united Indian sub-continent and had a great deal of support.  Given the warrior histories and fighting capabilities of many of the population groups it would have been very serious and hard to stop.

In the Kashmir, the bulk of that territory that went to India there were minorities and the part that went to Pakistan also had many peoples.  The Maharajah who had hoped for a united India, then perhaps Pakistan gave in to Nehru and the option for India. By this time Mountbatten was in the position of having to concede to Nehru.

London had to accept what was done despite doubts and outcries against it.  Britain was powerless to impose its own policy whatever that might have been.  Mountbatten has many critics, but whatever he would have patched up at the time would always have them.

The British electorate, most of whom had left school at 12 to 14 could only watch and pick up the limited information about it all from their rationed newsprint papers and the few journals available.  Few of them knew much and fewer cared, that I do know.

Because Britain in 1946-1947 offered too many problems at home and abroad.  At home the rebuilding after 1945 had barely begun before that winter wreaked severe damage.  The Cold War had started requiring a major military effort in Germany.  There were many other demanding trouble spots, notably Palestine.

So where does "fault" lie in the Kashmir question?  There are no easy answers because there was too much and too many involved.  What we can do without in any serious discussion is easy come and easy go dodgy politicians on the make.

Saturday 5 December 2015

People Of The Past

Finding myself watching a documentary about Rembrandt, it was a pleasant and very interesting hundred minutes covering his art, his techniques, his personal history factually and avoiding comment or theorising and covering a good deal about the Netherlands of the 17th Century.

Long takes, no noises off, no pushy presenters, experts just clipped in to talk at their own level, no flashing lights or other tricks just allowing the viewer to relax, listen and learn.

One of the paintings caught my eye.  It was said to be "Old Man In Military Costume", above.  It vaguely reminded me of someone in the news recently.

But who might it be?

Friday 4 December 2015

Fiddling The Figures

The election result at Oldham and Royton came as good news to the Labour Party, leading them and much of the media to assume things are not as bad as feared, just some tidying up needing to be done.  But Mr. Farage of UKIP has not taken the result in sporting fashion.

Given his pugnacious  approach to matters, we might assume sour grapes but to those who like to see what the detail is, he could have a point.  If he is even only half right then it will call into question again the postal votes rules and what is going on in many places.

Being ancient and playing the old buffer being one of my key roles I recall a few years back when not long after moving in a nice man from the Lib Dem's called to say he wanted to help and if I agreed he would take care of our postal votes relieving us of the worry.

Not having postal votes I told him that voting was a day out for us but if he wanted to help I would be most grateful if he would personally ensure that at the polling station the toilets were clean and well supplied with paper.

Then just to spread the happy word I rang the local Conservative and Labour Parties to ask if they had a similar service to the Lib Dem's.  To my surprise the local paper not long after had a story about a major row over postal votes.

From reports at election times around the country it seems that fiddling the ballot has now become much more common.  At the same time the major parties, who must be aware of it, have been reluctant to tackle electoral fraud which seems to be increasing in scale and expertise.

More of concern appears to be the lack of willingness on the part of The Electoral Commission to be robust and enquiring when there are suggestions of malpractice or cause for asking questions.  It seems to have become more of a public relations outfit for our government rather than a disciplinary body.

Looking at the Oldham and Royton figures from long experience they could be explained by Labour having a strong and respected local man.  If he was able to call up enough foot sloggers to get the vote out, then it could account for the result.  But if these factors are not critical then the figures do not look right to me.

Even so, if the postal and false vote rackets were used, either this was on a large scale which would be very worrying, or if on a smaller scale it seems that Labour would have still won.  The worst scenario is that in some wards there was fraud but it turns out not to have been needed.

What might one former Oldham MP, Winston Churchill above, have made of it?  Short shrift is probably the answer.  Should the consequences of this and any findings of fraud result in another bye-election, then Labour will have shot itself in the foot yet again.

The real lesson to learn is how to stop what looks to be increasing and endemic fraud in many urban areas.