Archive for November, 2009

Monday, November 30th, 2009


There  have been times in the last few years when I have wondered whether this country still had the community spirit and infrastructure skills which got us through the war. I mean WWII. Panic buying in supermarkets during the fuel blockade did not bode well.

Cumbria has proved there is nothing to fear. The spirit of the people is as indomitable as ever. Communities act as one. A railway station built in seven days. The Army’s footbridge well on the way. The people of Cumbria have shown us what we can do. What we really are. But they still need help. When you do Christmas shopping on line, spend some money on stuff from Cumbria. They deserve it.

Monday, November 30th, 2009


When Bear Stearns went down early in 2008, most people thought it was just a straightforward bank failure brought about by careless management. A few, very few, saw it a  straw in the wind, later to blow through the world financial system with hurricane force. Now we have Dubai, the first country, albeit tiny, in trouble. Again the rationale is explained. Over-gearing, excessive reliance on property, not much oil wealth.

So is this a one off? Or are other countries, bigger ones, due to follow? We already have Iceland, but that country’s economy was its banks. When they went down, there was nothing. Other names are now in the frame. Latvia? Ireland? Could it happen even to us? The answer is yes it could, but it need not. The way to avoid that desperate late night phone call to the IMF is to do something meaningful about Government debt. At the moment it just gets bigger.That is the road to Dubai.If we end up there, it will not just be straws in the wind. There will be flying oak trees up rooted  and spinning through the air.

It is important for our leaders to see Dubai as a wake up call.

Sunday, November 29th, 2009


More alarming news about the quality of care in the NHS. Trusts given the accolade of good and then found deficient. Today we learn that some 5000 people who go into hospital with routine non- threatening conditions die. This is preposterous. Let me repeat 5000 people, yes three noughts, 5000, are dying in hospital when they should have come home treated. Arguments are now breaking out in quango land as to which inspectorate is right.

I am one of the few who does not quiver with emotion at our wonderful NHS. I think it is outstanding, indeed wonderful, in any major crisis or emergency. It works like clockwork in a seamless drive to aid and treat the injured and the traumatised  with world class excellence. The reason for this is that is has all the skills and knowledge and has, in the emergency, suspended all its normal operational processes to concentrate on treating the patients above all else.

When the crisis is over it withdraws back into its hierarchical world of trusts and quangos, lists and targets with the shambolic outcomes we hear of every day, making it, on the judgement of effective use of assets, one of the most inefficient organisations in the world.

It is also one of the least democratically accountable. Considering its consumption of £100 billion of taxpayers money anually this is shocking. It is also unacceptable.

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Iraq War Inquiry

Sir John Chillcot and his team are making a very good start. Complaints have been made by the legal profession that there are no barristers allowed in this inquiry and the usual adversarial ding dong so much and wrongly admired as a route to truth, is missing. It is precisely because the method is inquisitorial that it is working so well. Questions are searching for answers rather than clever and witnesses have been much more forthcoming than is the case when they face cross examination. Already we begin to see that many of our fears for the integrity of the war and honest governance are justified.

In my book I am very critical of the record of Public Inquiries,  their failure to arrive at robust conclusions and their gravy train of lawyers’ fees. I propose a good many changes. Chillcot is much nearer the mark.

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009


I hate quangos and regulators, but realistically I know that in some places they are a necessity. One of those is schools. In my book I mention something about the Ofsted inspection process being too docketed and process driven, with a stock of phrases used for analysis which make very ineffective use of a language capable of much more dynamic application to paint pictures and describe events. Too much energy is involved in earning accolades in this curious regulatory-speak by teachers, who in consequences use their intuition and experience less. But in the end we need Ofsted and they do highlight the weaknesses, stubborn in many areas, which have to be overcome to deliver educational opportunity of a high standard to all.

When it comes to children in need, I am not so convinced. Ofsted is not the organisation to be involved. The Ed Balls educational empire with its folksy handle, now lacking the sharp intelligence of Lord Adonis, drags many issues under its roof and this is one of them. The assessment of risk of potential victims among vulnerable children, the legal process to which ultimate decisions are referred and the network, sorely understaffed and resourced, of the social workers who do the fieldwork in this life and death area is a combination unfit for purpose which is failing even more than before. Ofsted are not making things better and should not be involved here. Neither should Ed Balls.

Root and branch reform is needed. Knowing I would be more or less ignored, I proposed huge changes which, were they in effect, would transform this whole critical contribution to the welfare of the vulnerable. As the months go by the sense and value of my proposals, hidden in the bowels of a task force archive, grows ever more obvious. Until there is a proper, dedicated Child Protection Service it is impossible to fashion a timely and effective Inspectorate of its operations.

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Northern Ireland

I have never had much sympathy for the Unionists in Northern Ireland. This does not mean I am sympathetic to terrorisits because I am not. But I do look at the map and in the small island of Ireland I see only one country. When  Rev.Dr. Ian Paisley got together with Martin McGuinness there seemed real hope and this still sustains. Unfortunately Unionism is whatever form harbours bigotry and intolerance added to a large dollop of triumphalism. The benefits to the people that peace has brought has inspired the whole world. Peter Robinson must not let this go to pieces. Of course Policing must become a local responsibility.

If the DUP or the UU or the two in combination set out on a programme of confrontation with the Republicans, with whom I have sympathy, I would, if I were Prime Minister, invite them to No 10 for a short , very short, meeting. I would tell them to strike a deal or I would fix with the Irish Government to hold an Ireland wide referendum, north and south together as one, on Irish Unity. The Unionists, a noisy and intolerant minority on that island, would lose big. I would then cut Ulster adrift from the UK and give it back to Ireland.

The price of sustaining the Union is to face reality. Otherwise the’re off.

Friday, November 20th, 2009


Well its over. No President Blair. The dinner came and went in short order. Choices were made swiftly. Everyone went home smiling. Except for the Big Europe Federalists, upset that this unknown duo would cut no dash upon the world stage.

Yes there are those who smirk. Herman Van what? Baroness who? But as already discussed on this blog, the E U is a project in hand. To some extent it can be made, but to a greater extent it must evolve. The Americans tried to rush it and went headlong into civil war, before a durable United States emerged. During Europe’s period of evolution competent administrators/concensus builders/chairpersons is what is needed. This is what we now have. It not the time for the strutting or the motorcades.

Meanwhile of those in our country who scoff at the whole thing, one can never stop reminding them of the present stability among the European nations hitherto unknown, certainly not since the Romans. One can also note that the Eurozone did not fall into so deep a recession, have such a deep financial crisis or end up with such a high national debt mountain as we, the clever ones as we see it, have done. Also all the major countries are now out of recession. We struggle forward into a period of unprecedented cuts in public spending, which will cause us to limp further behind many of the leading economies across the channel.

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

State Opening – The Aftermath

This should never have happened. It has further diminished the authority of Parliament. It has tainted the Crown with a process which is clearly tacky. There is one piece of legislation which would have been universally well received, or several pieces as some say are needed, to ensure that this unending saga of MPs’ expenses was finally sorted out. Yet not a peep.

I am already on record and reported as holding the well researched view that this whole process was unconstitutional. To begin with ignored as a nutter, I am surprised at the speed at which support for this theme has developed and the unexpected sources from which it has begun to spring.

In the strange process of our unwritten constitution, precedent is everything. We have now established the precedent that the Monarch can allow to remain in being a corrupt and rotten Parliament, so that next time even I will have no grounds to raise an alarm.

Some people are no doubt pleased with this. They do not serve their country well.

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Dignity and Courage

It is impossible not to be moved and inspired by the dignity, courage and candour of Christina Schmid as she exhibits star quality in grief at the loss of her hero husband in Afghanistan. Like all the families caught in the sudden shattering of their lives, not just now, but through all those wars past,with their roll call of countless millions, comfort comes from that certainty of purpose, that the fight is a good fight, that sacrifice has meaning and after the tears, greater good will come for all to share.

Yet for me, as readers of my blogs will know, I am of the staunch view that this Afghan war is misconceived and is the cause, not the solution of the problems it seeks to quell. Therefore I am bound to see the deaths of brave young soldiers as wanton and unnecessary, even wicked, because those who divine that they should go into harms way, stay safe and cosy thousands of miles from the risk.

When I see a grieving widow, often clutching sobbing children, or watch the silent crowd lining that doleful highway through Wooton Bassett, united in tribute to these fallen heroes, I am tormented by the thought that this need not, should not, have happened. Yet I am removed from the core and intensity of this emotional turmoil. I am of the league of the cosy who are not a part of this. I have my views. I am sure I am right. 

But so are those who, as I write this now, risk their lives in the belief, and they do believe, that my freedom to blog in safety will be made more secure by the risks they run for me, for us all. That gives them a nobility of spirit which unites them with us, whatever we believe, so that in our respect for their dearest, no troubled thought shall dim the burnish of that golden thread that binds us as a nation.

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009


In one of those peculiar alleys at the end of which European democracy works over dinner, one is to be held tomorrow at which a Name is expected to emerge. The path will then be open for the Name to be ratified as the first EU President. For the motorcade factor the choice would be Blair, but this is thought to be very unlikely. Iraq of course. For the quiet wisdom and stewardship from someone of whom nobody has ever heard, there are several candidates sharing world anonymity.

John Bolton, at whose trigger happy views over the middle east I have railed at length, said a wise thing on the radio yesterday which has earned him a cup of tea from me if he should ever find himself passing my cottage whilst thirsty. He said that it was not yet determined whether Europe was a State or a collection of Nation States and although there was no denying there was a project in hand, it was not yet clear what the outcome would be.

It therefore made no difference who was the so called President of the Council, because that office was to lead an organistation which was a good deal smaller than the sum of its parts. Good stuff JB.

Of course some of the parts want to see a new State. Other parts do not. The odd thing is, this same difficulty was fudged in the U.S Constitution at its inception. The schism proved too wide to heal by peaceful means and cost six hundred thousand American lives to resolve in the Civil War. In Europe we had the wars first. Millions died. Now we want to go forward on a more enlightend path. Looked at  that way, the European Union is one of the most noble political movements in all of civilised history. Even more noble than the United States. We really should be interested in that Name after all.