Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Insp Gadget falls in love.

Here's why

Gadget writes
I Think I’m In Love With Theresa May.
This is why Insp Gadget has fallen in love. It's because Theresa May said:
“I can also announce today that I am also scrapping the confidence target and the policing pledge with immediate effect”

“I know that some officers like the policing pledge, and some, I’m sure, like the comfort of knowing they’ve ticked boxes”

“But targets don’t fight crime. Targets hinder the fight against crime”

“In scrapping the confidence target and the policing pledge, I couldn’t be any clearer about your mission: it isn’t a 30-point plan; it is to cut crime. No more, and no less.”
And Insp Gadget wants all Police to write something in their notebooks.
“I can also announce today that I am scrapping the confidence target and the policing pledge with immediate effect” Theresa May MP, Home Secretary, June 29th 2010.

If anyone tells you different, it may well be an unlawful order. Check with the Federation Rep at your nick. I think I’m in love with Theresa May, and it doesn’t make me a bad person.
As usual, please visit Insp Gadget's site to read the whole post, and don't forget to read the comments too - there's interesting things there.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Germans prefer the Deutschmark.

According to this article a recent IPSOS poll shows that
A majority of Germans wants to scrap the euro and bring back the old currency
Comment, more information and some interesting graphs over at England Expects and something by Lord Pearson here

Monday, 28 June 2010

Time for the Police to snap out of it?

The Filthy Engineer mentions that yet another photographer has been arrested for taking photographs.

This time, according to the BJP
On Saturday 26 June, photojournalist Jules Mattsson, who is a minor and was documenting the Armed Forces Day parade in Romford, was questioned and detained by a police officer after taking a photo of young cadets.
Now take a look at the video for yourself, and listen to how this 'incident' is escalated by the Police, and how the supposedly 'criminal acts' change from one moment to the next.

Now you've seen that it's good to remember that this was, initially, the Police trying to prevent a teenager taking pictures of other teenagers who are Army Cadets - all of which took place during the Armed Forces Day parade in Romford. An event you would presume local people would want to record for posterity.

It's a pity, isn't it, that nobody had told those Police officers about Mark Vallee
A photographer and a videographer have each won £3,500 in damages from the Metropolitan Police after the pair were prevented from recording a protest outside the Greek Embassy in 2008.

The Met admitted that it breached Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights - and failed to respect press freedom - when an officer pulled a camera away from photographer Marc Vallée and covered the lens on a camera being used by videographer Jason Parkinson.

The pair were attempting to record a political protest outside the Greek Embassy in December 2008.

Marc Vallée told Amateur Photographer: 'This is the second time I've been forced to take legal action against the Metropolitan Police since 2006 and I would like it to be the last.

'The question to consider is: "Is the overall harassment of photographers by the police a deliberate policy or a series of unrelated mistakes?".

In 2008, Vallée won £4,000 in an out-of-court settlement after clashing with police while photographing a political protest outside Parliament.
Read the rest of that article at Amateur Photographer, and also see from their news archive how often this sort of thing is happening, and also how often photographers are being awarded damages.

In case you were wondering, a Met spokeswoman issued a statement to the BJP
"It is clearly not the intention of the MPS to prevent people from taking photographs, although, as the public would expect, officers will remain vigilant, particularly in crowded public places. Any allegations or complaints about police treatment of photographers are taken very seriously by the MPS."

She adds: "Anyone who is unhappy with the actions of individual police officers can make a formal complaint, which will be thoroughly investigated. Although at this time we have not received a complaint about this incident and no allegations of crime have been made, we will investigate the circumstances. Our officers do receive guidance around the issue of photography through briefings and internal communications and we continue to drive this work forward."
As always, please read the original article for yourself, because Mrs Rigby always changes the order in which things have originally been written.

Now a question.

What would you do if your teenager came home and related how they'd been treated by the Police, showed you some pictures and let you listen to a recording ... and then you later found out that the same Police hadn't even taken the trouble to record a crime?

It makes Mrs R wonder what all those threats were for ... because at the moment she hasn't a clue. She does, however, think it might actually be worth buying Amateur Photographer when it hits the shops on 6th July, because included with the magazine is a 'photographers' lens cloth". (Picture from Amateur Photographer)


To read Jules Matteson's own words please go here

For a transcript of the recording please go here

When an MP 'loses it'.

@obotheclown: OK obo, I admit it. I'm a c*nt.
I also don't seem to have got the hang of this InterWebby thing. I'm totally clueless about how to turn off admin rights to the comments section, so how I cope as an MP creating laws to f*ck you up the a*se with, I haven't the faintest idea...
And the reason for this immoderate outburst?

Obo had, on his own site, written this. It's a bit sweary, but it does make a good point.
There was a time, when he was in government, that Tom Harris was a good, interesting blogger. He made a reasonable fist of engaging with people, both people who sucked his pole as well as people who wanted him impaled on a pole.

He also managed to occasionally step off-piste on his blog, certainly more than he ever did in the lobby.

Then Labour lost the election.

And I think this shock really was a bit too much for poor Tom. Instead of powering out of his hard-won blogging credentials and laying waste to the ConDems with verve and wit, he turned into a pathetic "yah-boo-sucks" mong, blogging at the intellectual level of Bevanite Ellie.

Come on Tom. You and I will never, ever agree on pretty much anything. But this pathetic, infantile, tribal bollocks is really demeaning. You sound like a spiteful toddler every time you blog lately.
If you follow Mr Harris's blog you'll probably agree with Obo, because the tone of the blog has changed quite a bit since the election, it may be that he reflects the thoughts and opinions of a lot of Labour MPs who are, in effect, leaderless and will remain so until mid-September. There is no 'party line' to follow at the moment and no 'policies' of their own to champion. So all they can do, to keep themselves in the public eye and maybe hope to be noticed, is be critical of both policies and personalities - because that's how Labour behaved when in government.

Criticism of government policies is what 'The Opposition' is supposed to do, but this criticism is supposed to have a purpose - it isn't meant to be empty, whining rhetoric. The 'Opposition' is supposed to use their time in Parliament and in committees to temper legislation that they think goes too far by being positively proactive, because all MPs of whatever political colour are meant to be there to represent the best interests of their electorate. Trouble is that for 13 long years the Labour government had too large a majority to have an effective opposition, so were able to do almost what they wanted - and whilst in power they always seemed to tell us not what they were about to do, it was always what the horrible Conservatives might have done. It was almost always alarmist stuff, and always empty words - because the neither the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems were in a position to do anything much and the Labour government had its' own way, and did precisely what it wanted. Responses to opposition MPs were almost always put-downs, worded in a 'we know best' and 'you're stupid' sort of language.

It must be very difficult, having wielded such power and authority, to suddenly find yourself powerless, not really knowing what you're meant to be doing in Parliament, leaderless and rudderless and with only one or two long-standing MPs who have experience of being in active opposition. So the rules are being made up as they go along, and are based on what they know best - what they did before - name-calling in an attempt to distract, to cover up the fact that there are no policies.

The new creature in government is called a coalition. A coalition is always built on compromise and negotiation. The business world is used to making compromises and we, the electorate, know the Lib Dems had talks with both Labour and the Conservatives. We know they opted to go with the Conservatives instead of joining Mr Brown's 'Rainbow Coalition of all the parties'. We're still not 100% sure it was the right thing to do, but we do know we'd had enough of Labour and didn't want the more of the same.

Some sections of the media and some MPs don't seem to want to understand the process of negotiation, which tends to involve withdrawing from a previous high horse position to reach a compromise, and they're criticising both parties of 'breaking manifesto promises' - which is a bit rich really, because Mr Brown taught us that manifesto promises can be broken, there's a Judge's Ruling that says so.

The blog in question also has several posts complaining about IPSA, including an indication of bad-mouthing by MPs that, if it were an ordinary member of the public could lead to arrest for abusing a civil servant. These complaints come at a time when almost everybody except Labour and the Unions seems to realise Britain's in the middle of a serious financial crisis - and we should all be counting the pennies, and reducing spending, not trying to line our own pockets or create mountains out of molehills.

Mr Harris's own comments policy includes this
Want to try out some really, really clever put-down that you’ve been constructing in your head since last August? Do it somewhere else.

And if your comment is, in my view, needlessly offensive and snide, I’ll delete it without explanation or apology.
So, let's backtrack a bit to when Mrs R first saw this comment. She, naturally, thought the site had been hacked - it happens, and she had expected the comment to disappear. She sort of expected some sort of disclaimer, or an announcement condemning those who had done the dastardly deed that undermined Mr Harris's credibility and niceness.

But, that's not what has happened because it looks as if Mr Harris has been back to his blog since. Later (moderated) comments have appeared, he's also left another response ... and those words remain in place. So Mrs R reckons it's reasonable for her to assume these are his own words, deliberately written, and intended to be read by anybody who reads his blog and decides to also read the comments.

Mrs R would be furious if her MP was putting stuff like that on the internet, even as a joke, and she'd let them know what she thought. Unfortunately Mr Harris is able to moderate comments out of existence, so it's unlikely her words would see the light of day - hence this post.

Mr Harris is not Mrs R's MP, but he is paid by Mrs R's taxes and maybe it's 'old fashioned' to say this, but she doesn't expect people whose wages she pays - especially MPs - to use language like that in public. And, a blog is public, if it isn't protected by a password and only viewable by a select group of by invitation-only individuals.

So, Mr Harris, don't wriggle and pretend it's a joke. You are a public servant and we expect better from you. Either take that comment down, tell us it was 'hackers' or apologise to those you've offended - because Mrs R isn't the only one.

* Asterisks courtesy of Mrs R.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Eric Pickles 'Profile'.

What makes Tory political heavyweight Eric Pickles tick? Gerry Northam reports.
His 'Profile' on Radio 4 - here - 14 minutes of interesting listening.

h/t comment @ Guido's place

Other Radio 4 'Profile' broadcasts are here

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Armed Forces Day

Click image to visit the website

Friday, 25 June 2010

General Strike? - It'd save money!

When workers take strike action they aren't paid by their employer, their unions give them a subsidy that's meant to make sure they don't lose out financially.

BA crew were paid a whopping (*sarcasm*) £30 a day whilst on strike. RMT probably pays about the same. This works out at £210 for a 7-day working week. For a 5-day week it'd be £150, for 3 days it'd be £90. (Yes, it's easy Maths, but it's handy to see the numbers written down.)

Back in May Thisismoney said Signallers ... earn up to £65,000 a year for working a three-day week, presumably this would be for controlling somewhere really complicated or even, say, the whole of the East Coast Line, which means that very few signallers would earn that much, but using that as an example it works out at an average of, umm, 52 weeks x 3 days = 156 days. Ooh, that's a bit more than £393 a day. So, even if either LUL or TfL gave the unions £30 a day to pass on to the RMT strikers it'd save quite a bit - maybe as much as £360 a day for the highest paid employees.

So Mrs R wonders if we could persuade all the very important union bosses to get their angry workers to go on strike - especially those whose wages are paid out of the public purse? It'd save a fortune.

Worried about the impact on local, regional, and national services? No need!

If the strikes are as successful as the two day walk-out by RMT we wouldn't notice very much, because according to the BBC
London Underground said there was no disruption to services again despite a strike by maintenance workers.

The action by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union began at 1900 BST on Wednesday, in a row over proposed changes to jobs, pay and conditions.

Transport for London (TfL) said services operated as normal despite the walkout on the Northern, Piccadilly and Jubilee lines.

The action ended at 1900 BST on Friday.
So it looks as if the trains still worked and nobody really noticed. So, imagine, if you will, if certain high-earners in the public sector took strike action. Would Leeds, for example, grind to a halt without the services of the five-a-day regional coordinator? Would Calderdale be unable to function without the Corporate Marketing Officer? Would the NHS close its' doors to sick people without the protected learning time facilitators?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

EPU - gone.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Osborne, said during his Budget speech,
"I can confirm that, as set out in the coalition agreement, this government will not be joining the euro in this parliament," ...

"Therefore ... I have abolished the Treasury's euro preparations unit -- yes, one does exist -- ..."
Mrs Rigby hadn't a clue there was such a thing, so she went off to look for it, and found all sorts of documents in the National Archives - where all the 'out of date' stuff was shoved when the coalition took over.

Here it is :- "Euro Preparation Unit"
Preparations committees in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
On 9 June 2003, the Chancellor invited the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to establish new preparations committees. The role of each committee is to:

* Oversee the work on euro preparations;
* Raise awareness of preparations issues;
* Ensure co-ordination and co-operation between key sectors;
* Consult on the third outline National Changeover Plan; and
* Feed back particular views and issues to the Chancellor's Standing Committee on Euro Preparations (the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are members of the Standing Committee).

The committees have a similar structure to the Standing Committee, with representatives from the public, private and voluntary sectors. Each committee is headed by the relevant Secretary of State.
As usual, England wasn't to get its' own voice - but would no doubt be footing the bill.

Not only that but
Local authorities Euro preparation
HM Treasury and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in conjunction with the Local Government Association have issued guidance for local authorities on euro preparations. The guidance offers advice on high-level business and communications issues that local authorities need to consider in their preparations for the euro.
Managed Transition Plan
A working draft of the UK’s preferred phased approach or “Managed Transition” to any possible future UK changeover to the euro has been published to provide a basis for informal discussion and further development with stakeholders.
It looks as if ordinary folk like Mrs R weren't considered 'stakeholders' either. And anyway, what is a 'stakeholder' when it's at home? Sounds like the sort of thing vampire hunters might use.

Then there's
The Government has a “prepare and decide” policy towards euro entry and euro preparations. Under the policy of “prepare and decide” the objective of HM Treasury Euro Preparations has been to make sure that the UK maintains a genuine option of being able to make a smooth and effective euro changeover - if that is what the Government, Parliament and the British people, in a referendum, decide.
Referendum? Yes, of course there would have been, just like the one for the Lisbon Treaty.

Maybe ordinary taxpayers didn't need to know - but 'companies' did because "Companies House will accept accounts in the new currency for accounting periods ending on or after 1 January 1999." and
More detail on the practical issues that companies might need to consider are contained in the Government’s Euro Preparation Unit (EPU) fact sheets.
It's at times like this that Mrs R feels incredibly dim, and rather left out of things because all she ever seems to do is pay tax. Nobody ever seems to ask her opinion, she's never been picked for a 'focus group' - although she did read about once, but because she isn't an approved 'minority' she couldn't join in.

For the last thirteen years Mrs R has only ever told what was going on in Westminster if they thought she might be vaguely sort of pleased and, as she's said, she had absolutely no idea this EPU existed, had no idea that local councils had been ordered to make preparations for joining the Euro and still has absolutely no idea how much all these 'preparations' might have cost in wasted council tax, income tax and VAT receipts - money that's been taken out of her pocket.

It's very easy to have a bit of a conspiracies-R-us moment and wonder how many other 'preparation units' Labour set up when we weren't looking.

Russian gas

Belarus will suspend Russian transit gas deliveries to Europe after Moscow cut supplies in a dispute over debts, President Alexander Lukashenko says.

... The dispute has the potential to affect 6.25% of gas consumption by the EU.
from BBC

UK Budget Day - a day to bury awkward international news?


It would seem that people are expecting a steep rise in either fuel duty or VAT - queues at the local garage, and 'empty' signs attached to most of the pumps.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Tomorrow's emergency budget, and why it'll be tough.

Taken directly from Caron's Musings is this email from Nick Clegg about tomorrow's emergency budget.

Caron is, if you aren't already aware, a "Scottish Liberal Democrat activist, Formula One, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Harry Potter and trashy tv fan.". Please take a few moments to go and read her original post which offers a greater insight and more carefully written comment than Mrs R can offer just now.
Dear Caron,

Tomorrow, the coalition government will deliver an emergency budget to bring order back to the public finances. It will be a difficult budget - but remember, as you hear it, why we have to do this.

Labour left our country with a mountain of debt. Every minute that goes by the government spends a staggering £80,000 on interest, that's over £800 million a week. If we don't take action now, the markets will force us into even more drastic measures as they have in Greece and Spain.

Without action on the deficit, we will carry on racking up unaffordable debts our children will have to pay off. We will carry on spending more money on debt interest than we do on our schools. And we will undermine the economic growth needed to create jobs and opportunities for all of us. There is nothing fair, liberal or progressive about any of that.

Of course, the Labour party will say that these decisions are not justified. They will say the budget creates risks for our economy and that Liberal Democrats have sold out to go along with Conservative cuts. They are wrong.

Every time you hear Labour say that, ask them why they covered up the details of the £44bn of cuts they themselves had planned. Ask them why they racked up so much debt that we could end up spending £70bn a year just on debt interest. And ask them why they created this fiscal bombshell in the first place by refusing to take action against the reckless banks even when Vince Cable warned of the risks they were taking.

Until Labour accepts the blame for the mess we are in and comes up with a plan for getting us out, they cannot be taken seriously.

We have always argued that cuts would be necessary, but the timing should be based on economic circumstances, not political dogma. The economic situation today means that time has come.

A lot has changed even in the last few months. The crisis in the Eurozone and the problems in Greece and Spain have put huge pressure on us. The new Office of Budget Responsibility has shown that the structural deficit is bigger than we thought. And in government, we have discovered billions of pounds of unfunded spending promises Labour had made, cynically raising people's hopes when they knew the coffers were bare.

So cuts must come. We have taken the difficult decisions with care, and with fairness at their heart. You will see the stamp of our Liberal Democrat values in tomorrow's Budget. But nonetheless, it will be controversial. This is one of the hardest things we will ever have to do, but I assure you, the alternative is worse: rising debts, higher interest rates, less growth and fewer opportunities.

Sorting out Labour's mess will be difficult but it is the right thing to do.

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg MP
Leader of the Liberal Democrats & Deputy Prime Minister

Summer solstice.

21st June - the longest day of the year, the shortest night of the year.


Only six months to the Winter Solstice!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Fleas have rights too!

The other day the Telegraph carried a story saying that members of the BBC's Gardeners Question Time panel were receiving threats from animal rightists.

It seems a bizarre sort of thing to happen, because experienced gardeners are usually eco-friendly and wildlife-aware sort of people - especially Bob Flowerdew (picture Mail) who many will know is a committed organic gardener.

He was the one who was thought a bit whacky when he built towers of old tyres for vegetables. He was the one who advocated using bits of carpet for clearing weeds instead of a chemical quick-fix cosh. He would never, ever use chemicals, and he always glories in the rich and varied wildlife of his Norfolk garden. But best to use Bob's own words
I moved to this plot of just under an acre twenty five years ago planning to grow every fruit, vegetable and scented plant possible, for my own and family's home consumption, and have done so to the highest Organic Standards.

As well as the multiplicity of crops I've also kept chickens, ducks, geese and bees.

So, what happened? What heinous crime did the team commit?

The GQT panel was asked a question about four-legged vermin control and answered it. They didn't condemn the questioner. These gardening experts simply explained how to control over-populations of creatures such as rats, moles and grey squirrels.

Andrew Tyler, the director of Animal Aid, didn't like what they did, and didn't like what they said. The Telegraph article lets him set the animal-rightist ball rolling in the best, emotive, up-to-date-speak, way possible. Something Mrs R will respond to from her own point of view - an extended view that doesn't relate solely to his emphasis on grey squirrels. He said,
"The whole premise of gardeners killing squirrels is hateful and bigoted. It's the worst kind of intolerance."
Notice not only the 'hate' but the addition of two recent buzzwords, frequently used by those to the left of the political spectrum to give added credence to their, "I'm right, you're wrong!" argument. It's nasty name-calling and a big case of, "I want to have my own way, and to make sure I get my own way I'll call you names!". It's nothing more than that, but it can be intimidating, and it can be seen as threatening by some.

Let's see - "Intolerance". It's a peculiar sort of word these days because it's used so often. Mrs R thinks it's more often used to refer to people with differing lifestyles, so perhaps it is the right word to use here, although it's a bit skewed. Being 'intolerant' is pushing your own agenda, and not letting other people be, do or think what they are happiest at being, doing, or thinking. Intolerance has been the basis of whole rafts of legislation to force people to be 'tolerant'. Unfortunately 'being tolerant' isn't necessarily the right thing to say about how humans relate to some animal species, and it would appear that Andrew Tyler himself lacks a not only a certain tolerance, but also demonstrates a whole heap of ignorance.

Would he condemn an arachnophobe for being 'intolerant' of spiders, or would he recommend counselling to help them overcome their debilitating fear? Or would he, maybe, recommend they go and buy one of these, or some of this? Mrs R uses one of these and a sturdy envelope!

What about the slug hiding deep inside that organic lettuce? Would it be released into the wild, put in the bin or down the plughole?

Would a parent whose child comes home from school with head lice be criticised for de-lousing, and would a pet owner whose animal has become infested with fleas, perhaps picked up from a hedgehog, a fox or even another dog or cat, be called 'intolerant' when they use a flea spray to kill these biting insects, fumigate their carpets and prevent any eggs from hatching - or would they be called wise and health conscious?

Don't fleas have rights too? Aren't they only doing what comes naturally?

Or do people such as Andrew Tyler only claim to represent the feelings and life-values of furry creatures with faces? The ones that have been increasingly anthropomorphised ever since Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame wrote their children's stories.

Using his terminology, Mrs R will admit to 'tolerating' most creatures - but not rats, mice and squirrels, or fleas, not when they invade her and her family's immediate space.

None of the Rigbys has ever lived in a brand new building, so each successive "Rigby Towers" has had air gaps a-plenty. Where there are air gaps then nature, in all its' glory, will soon follow - sometimes with unpleasant and potentially health-threatening consequences. Fortunately these things tend not to happen either all at once or in quick succession, but during Mrs R's lifetime she's experienced the following :-

Mice in kitchen cupboards.
Mrs R challenges anybody who finds trails of mice faeces on crockery and around food packets to say, "Aww, cute mice!" and leave them to their games.

Anybody faced with this scenario will resort to using either poison, traps, or a cat. Not doing so will put their own, and their family's, health at risk. If humane traps are used and the mice are released nearby they'll find their way back remarkably quickly. Releasing them into a strange area means releasing them into another animal's territory where they will have no idea where to find either food or shelter from predators - something that could be almost as cruel as a gin trap.

Mice in the bedroom!
It takes a few mice less than a fortnight to destroy wardrobes full of clothes by tucking into a sleeve here, a hem or a neckline there. It takes a few mice less than a fortnight to munch and defaecate their way through drawers full of undies, socks, tee shirts and jumpers. For a family of humans to return from holiday to discover that all their clothing, bar those in their suitcases, has been destroyed by a small mammal results in instant, and dire, repercussions for the culprit(s) - either the cat, fresh home from the cattery, is released to do its' worst, or a trap is set.

Moles in the veg patch.
Molehills might look fine on a roadside verge, but when the beasties erupt a mound of soil in the middle of the carrots something needs to be done. Plant deterrents such as euphorbias don't work, nor do bottles buried in the ground. Electric deterrents work a bit, but a determined, and burgeoning population of moles can only be resolved by either permanently raising the water table so they move next door (which is impractical), by something more fatal or a thick layer of concrete.

Grey squirrels in the attic.
Yep, those too. These creatures can't tell the difference between a plastic-coated electricity-carrying cable and a twig. They like to strip the bark from twigs with the intention of eating it, and try to do the same with the plentiful supply of wires in the roof space. It is not only dangerous, but also very expensive to fix.

Rats in the garden.
Even though they say we're all at most a few yards away from a rat, because they frequently live in the sewers, we Rigbys won't tolerate them living above ground in our garden. Not with a garden pond and with pets and children sharing the space. Rats can carry Leptosporiosis, otherwise known as Weil's Disease and also Hantavirus. Because cases of infection are, apparently, rare the symptoms are not well-known and not always picked up by a GP.

Having had a family member laid low by reluctantly, and late-diagnosed, Lyme Disease we Rigbys are aware of the devastating impact of an infection by something so small. We simply won't take the risk.

There are lots of rats. Rats are increasing in numbers ever since councils were ordered to encouraged to allowed to relax the frequency of household waste collection (originally brought in by legislation to protect the public's health) and street cleaning and gully clearing became an occasional rather than regular occurrence. At the same time councils were, umm, encouraged, to rake in as much as they could charge for non-essential services, so 'pest control' (including first call-out) for non-council tenants and/or non-recipients of state benefits became chargeable, and expensive. We Rigbys and our neighbours have seen rats in the garden for the first time ever. Because there are only a few Rigbys compared to the numbers of rats we've seen, the garden of Rigby Towers and neighbouring properties are now protected by bait. You can even buy the stuff from Tesco these days - but these guys are good.

Call us selfish, if you will, but it's our family and our health. You want rats - then keep them in your own garden!

Likewise, if a squirrel ever moves into the attic of Rigby Towers it will be trapped by a licensed expert. The law says that it is legal to trap a grey squirrel, provided you have a license. The law also says it is illegal to release a trapped grey squirrel into the wild - which means that once trapped the creature must be humanely dispatched. (see DEFRA) Which moves neatly onto the next quote from Andrew Tyler.
"People should cherish them. But there is a concerted attempt to characterise them as vermin and a threat to the red."
Oh believe me Mr Tyler, we Rigbys enjoy seeing a grey squirrel jumping and running up the garden in search of peanuts and seeds. But they're not human, they aren't able to understand the law of supply and demand - they're hungry and will eat until there's nothing left. We Rigbys and our neighbours have, between us, spent a small fortune in bird feeders, so we now have a system that allows them access to one, and only one, which is wired in place onto a metal bracket. The feeder itself has steel 'ports' through which the creatures can access the contents - which they do, and amuse us human observers. They'll chew through anything else, will bite through thin wire or keep at it until it's untwisted. Feeders of almost any size or weight will be unhooked and run off with - meaning there's nothing left for the birds. Oh, and grey squirrels will eat birds eggs too. If they're hungry enough they'll chew through a nesting box to reach the contents, and gobble up the eggs of those fluffy, hard-working, Blue Tits without a second thought, which is why the lids have bitumen coverings and the openings are protected by sheet metal.

What we Rigbys do is called control, and it's also being reasonable. It's a way of rationing the resources we are able to, and can personally afford to, offer the visitors to our garden. It's a way of making sure each type of creature gets a chance.

We like grey squirrels because we've never known anything else, and as was said recently, have never seen a native red squirrel in the wild.

Perhaps if the Victorians had understood that wild animals are just that, and are not easily contained behind six foot walls, they would never have introduced the species to Britain. In a mere hundred or so years the few specimen grey squirrels brought to this country managed to breed so successfully that, as a species, the greys have out-performed the native red squirrel which is now at serious risk of extinction. There are too many to try to trap and return to their native habitat - which is North America - the only option is to cull them, to give the red squirrels a fighting chance of survival.

It would be interesting to know how animal rightists would react if, say, there were two separate species of oh, I don't know, let's say 'elephant', whose native habitats were normally separated by a huge, uncrossable-without-a-ship ocean - but due to mankind's ignorance the bigger of the two had been moved to the other's habitat 'for fun' and, because it bred more quickly and had no natural enemies in its new country, was eating the other to extinction. Would these people acknowledge that the intruder, as a species, was still doing very well in its' original home and should, as a matter of expediency, be removed from where it is an alien species? Or wouldn't he/they mind too much if the little one died out for ever? Would they mind if the species became extinct? - Because it seems that's what they want to happen to Britain's native Red Squirrel. And that, sort of, moves to the final point quoted in the Telegraph.
"Gardeners who should be nurturing life and respecting life shouldn't be taking this bigoted view."
At this point Mrs R spits out her coffee!

The Oxford Dictionary defines a bigot thus:
a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others.
Mrs Rigby has, firstly, three words to say. They are, in random order as follows:-




Oh, and OED also says that garden is
• noun 1 chiefly Brit. a piece of ground adjoining a house, typically cultivated to provide a lawn and flowerbeds.
2 (gardens) ornamental grounds laid out for public enjoyment.

• verb cultivate or work in a garden.
A garden is a man-made alien environment, it is not a native habitat. A garden left to its own devices will firstly end up with knee high grass, docks, dandelions, plantains, thistles and so on - the butterflies might like it, and a few mice, but not much else because, for example, the blackbirds won't be able to get at the worms they depend on. It'll then be invaded by the quickest growing local 'weeds' - brambles, nettles, bindweed etc., which will out-compete the grasses and so there won't be food for those butterflies, except for the few that lay their eggs on brambles and nettles. Eventually, if left for many, many years, it would turn into something vaguely resembling how the local landscape might have looked before the ground was turned into a garden, before it was fertilized and composted, before it was enclosed and tended - but it would include imported, alien, plants growing strongly. These plants are useless to the local wildlife because they've evolved elsewhere, nothing much eats them, nothing much lays eggs on or near them - because British wildlife doesn't know how.

It's also important to remember that away from gardens and on similarly sized areas of land these days there are generally fewer birds, fewer small mammals and fewer insects - because in the 'wild'* there are no people to provide food. Gardens are crucial to the survival of wildlife of our overcrowded little island, and they also have to be managed to ensure there are not too many predators.

Although she doesn't listen to it very often Mrs R knows that the GQT programme is, perhaps unusually these days for the BBC, not there to promote an agenda. The expert gardeners are there to answer questions, and to answer them to the best of their ability based on their knowledge and experience.

The question was asked on a show recorded at Hillsborough Castle in Ireland. Eric Robson chair[ed] the programme from Garden Show Ireland, at Hillsborough Castle, County Down. He [was] joined by Chris Beardshaw, Bunny Guinness and Bob Flowerdew.. The cumulative knowledge, and accepted expertise of these individuals is immense - and they look after the ecosystem of the whole garden, not solely for the benefit of the four-legged visitors.

h/t for story Englishman's Castle
'wild' - a misnomer.

Every square inch of land in Britain is owned, and is managed in some way or another, either by homeowners/landowners (including landlords), local or national government, railways, highways authorities, farmers, Forestry Commission, National Park authorities, English Nature, Wildlife Trusts etc., etc.. All of Britain is 'as we/they want it to look', and depends on the current 'fashion' for land maintenance, current 'best practice' for managing both native wildlife and ecosystems.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Forgemasters' government loan(s).

A factory's expansion plans ... have been halted after the government cancelled an £80m loan.
Oh dear, that doesn't look good. It'll probably annoy a few people.

Let's just, very quickly, look at a couple of 'tweets' about this cancellation. First from Edmund Conway who wrote,
... mandelson's big pre-election pr stunt
Mrs R recalls that there suddenly seemed to be an awful lot of spare money just before the election, a lot of things were promised but, in reality, Labour knew the country was broke, had said there 'would be cuts' but hadn't said where, and knew they were not going to be re-elected. So instead of things being widely publicised and then quietly dropped (as had happened during the previous 13 years) all the cost-cutting and all the cancellations were part of the poisoned chalice passed on to the next government.

Lord Drayson tweeted that this £80m was,
a real investment in low carbon jobs
Mrs R isn't quite sure how these would have been 'low carbon' jobs, because the money was intended to help the company to install a 15,000 tonne press to make large forgings for the nuclear energy industry. Mrs R understands that nuclear power might be 'low carbon' because it doesn't involve using fossil fuels, but steel production uses quite a lot, and tends to look a bit like this. (pic BBC).

The £80m was meant to help 'create' about
about 180 skilled jobs
And that, you see, is something Mrs R "'just doesn't get".

If jobs were so important to the last government, why they didn't make a bit more of a fuss or do something a bit more proactive that could have stopped other companies being bought out, with jobs vanishing from Britain for ever. There really are too many instances to list, but do include a lot of chocolate manufacturers including Cadbury's, with 400 jobs lost at Keynsham. Then there was Corus on Tyneside, with the loss of 1,700 jobs to India. The 180 jobs to be 'created' at Forgemasters is all well and good, it's a start, but is tiny by comparison with elsewhere. Were, for example, the thousands of Corus workers meant to be happy to be put on the dole scrapheap?

Looking back to 1998 the government didn't seem to do anything much when, according to Forgemasters own site
the company was sold in two parts to USA buyers - the aerospace business to Allegheny Teledyne, and the River Don and Rolls businesses to Atchison Castings.
It went a bit pear-shaped, and then the situation improved ...
Atchison's management failed to develop the business and in 2003 their whole enterprise went into liquidation. A major turnaround at River Don enabled local management led by Graham Honeyman to ring fence the business from administration.

After two years of negotiation to overcome major hurdles including a difficult market and pension problems, management was able to complete an Management Buy Out [under Dr Graham Honeyman].
who fortunately
... returned Sheffield Forgemasters International Ltd to profit in just six months when he took over the loss-making company in 2002.

Within less than three years turnover increased from £35m to £100m, rising from £83,000 to £150,000 per employee. Today the company is an internationally competitive business with investment in people at its core.
It's a truly remarkable turnaround, and in such a short time too - from being in liquidation to making so much money. It's no wonder Mr Graham Aubrey Honeyman was awarded an CBE and all sorts of other prizes from the RAE and so on. Picture Yorkshire Post

It's strange that, such an important and successful man doesn't have a profile on Wikipedia, but that's by the by - he's done well, and there are people who are grateful to him and his business acumen.

Mrs R is more interested in that £80m government loan which's just been cancelled. You see, she's not too thrilled with that amount of taxpayer's money going to any private business, more especially one that's apparently so successful and which, she's fairly sure, could attract private investments and loans - leaving the cash available for smaller business and, maybe, even to pay for things that benefit the whole country. She wonders if it's a sort of sideways nationalisation, even though it was a 'loan' not a gift, but she could easily be wrong, because she's really quite ignorant about that sort of thing. And anyway, how would you go about nationalising, or part nationalising, just a small part of a multinational company? Anyhow, that aside, Mrs R does note that
The Government loan comes in addition to funds lent by other businesses including nuclear power firm Westinghouse Electric and the Sheffield office of the Lloyds Banking Group.
Errm, Lloyds? That rings a rather loud bell.

Would that the same Lloyds the Labour government pumped a fair bit of money into, so that now the British government is the major shareholder?

And Westinghouse Electric Company? It would appear that this company was bought, in 1999, by British Nuclear Fuels plc. And BNFL is owned by the UK Government.

So, to Mrs R's slightly ignorant eyes it looks as if the previous government had managed to push quite a bit of cash in the direction of by Sheffield Forgemasters - in a roundabout sort of way. She could, of course, be wrong - as she's already said, she's quite ignorant about this sort of thing.

Anyhow, while Mrs R was wandering around the internet learning about companies and loans she discovered that Sheffield Forgemasters was awarded a £2.7million R&D grant from Yorkshire Forward?

Yorkshire Forward is the Regional Development Agency for Yorkshire and the Humber, it was set up in 1999 after people in the north east voted against regional agencies and assemblies - and they got an assembly too, but nobody gets to vote for anybody who works there. There are regional agencies all round the country, and not one of them makes any money, none of them is a business, they are all funded by central government and via the EUs 'Regional Development Fund'.

So it does look as if Forgemasters might have done quite well out of the last government and, actually, there's nothing wrong with that if there's plenty of money to splash around, but there isn't because, as Liam Byrne said, "There's no money left!".

Mrs R wishes Forgemasters' management and all their employees well. She hopes they never find themselves in the same situation as other companies formed as a result of management buyouts, such as Ineos, who decided to base themselves in Switzerland because of the UK tax situation. But they might not have to do that, not with 'global' offices dotted around the world in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America.

Despite predictions of gloom from Pat McFadden and Dennis McShane The BBC says they'll manage okay without this cash loan, and quote Dr Honeyman, who said
"While the press would have placed the company at the forefront of civil nuclear manufacture, it is important for us now to focus on other elements of the company's development.

"The government clearly has a remit to reduce spending and cut the economic deficit and it is for them to decide how best to do that.

"Sheffield Forgemasters will continue to develop its significant involvement into civil nuclear, thermal and hydro power generation markets and seek other ways to develop the business."

No idea what happened to this post, it was queued to be 'live' yesterday, but blogger disagreed - maybe the software decided it was too bitty and fragmented, and not worth publishing!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Bravery and banners.

Several times over the last few years Mrs R has mumbled to her family that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as something completely different by some sections of the British and international community. That idea has been brought home, again, when a bunch of Muslims decided to shout and wave banners at soldiers of The Royal Anglian Regiment during their homecoming march in Barking - that's in Essex, England, by the way.

These Muslims shouted things such as
'British troops go to hell'
'murderers, murderers, murderers'
They also resorted to using Godwin's Law by mentioning Hitler and one protester, safe behind his Police protectors, apparently shouted:
'This is a protest against parading in a Muslim area. We love death the way you love life.'

As Mrs R has already said, Barking is in Essex, England. Let's quickly grab a bit of history from ever-reliable Wikipedia.
The manor of Barking was the site of Barking Abbey, a nunnery founded in 666 by Eorcenwald, bishop of London, destroyed by the Danes and reconstructed about a hundred years later in 970 by King Edgar. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, Barking Abbey was demolished: the parish church, St Margaret's stands upon its site, where some walling and foundations are all that otherwise remain. The Norman church of St Margaret was where Captain James Cook married Elizabeth Batts of Shadwell in 1762.
Sounds to Mrs R as if it's a typically British sort of place, with ancient roots and quite a bit of Christian heritage too.

So, how come these relative newcomers to Britain reckon it's a Muslim town area? - Actually, Mrs R can't answer that, she doesn't recall visiting Barking and has only the Wikipedia article and other stuff on the internet to refer to and so, apart from deciding that they must think it's a 'Muslim town' because they're Muslims and happen to live there, she'll move on.

Quite a few bloggers are a bit miffed by the way this incident has been reported, as are one or two of the commenters in the Mail - but she won't say much about that either, except to simply show what's been written (my bold):-
The [40] Muslim protesters chanted ... as they had an uneasy stand-off against a [100-strong] mob, some waving St George's Crosses, Union flags and an English Defence League flag.
It would seem that the want-to-get-some-publicity protesters belong to a little group calling themselves 'Muslims against the Crusade'. Mrs R has taken a look at their website (No, you don't get a link, you'll have to find it for yourself). She noticed that the group doesn't seem to come from Barking, and she thought some of the things written on the site were quite inflammatory, with death threats and so on. It also had pictures of people in long robes attacking somebody who looked remarkably like a mediaeval Knight, and who was carrying a shield emblazoned with the Cross of St George - not the Union Flag. Historical stuff, stuff that happened centuries ago. There were winners and losers in those old battles, same as in all battles. It's history. Next!

Okay, umm, so what's next?

Just a few thoughts, and Mrs R's going to remind these brave, shouty, placard-waving, protesters what's going on in Afghanistan - where the Royal Anglians had been.

First of all she'll remind these 'protesters' that 15 men of the Royal Anglian Regiment, their ages ranging from 19 to 31 years, have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2002. Many more Royal Anglians have been wounded, some suffering life-changing injuries.

Being incredibly simplistic, and probably wrong, it seems there are groups of 'my Islam is better than your Islam' who have for very many years been trying to make other groups of Afghan Muslims do as they're told. And they're quite nasty and brutal about it too, including stoning women to death for looking at a man and executing little children if they think they're spying for the other chaps.

Quite a lot of people left Afghanistan some years ago, on arriving in the 'West' whether it was Australia or USA they told terrible tales of oppression and brutality and asked their new countries to help those they'd left behind, so America and a few military chums from other countries, including Britain, decided to go riding to the rescue of those they thought were the least bad good guys. The idea was, they said, to get these arguing Muslims to stop fighting each other - to stop arguing, and be a bit more friendly towards each other. The idea was to try to get these different groups to 'live and let live' - something that's quite common outside the world of Islam, where lots of religious groups with all sorts of different ideas rub shoulders and tolerate get along with each other, mostly by minding their own business.

Trouble is that this idea of 'live and let live' seems to be seriously against the old values of some people who've now made their homes in Britain. Some of these don't like the idea of compromise and 'getting along', they want to be in charge and tell everybody else how to live their lives - and that's probably why these chaps were waving their placards and banners in Barking, and why they've got plans to wave them in other British (not only English) towns too. What these mostly-young men don't seem to have sussed out is that they're using a loud-mouthed argument that's a bit alien and unpleasant to many modern Brits, and they don't seem to understand that some people think they're a bit old-fashioned and silly - not least because in the western, non-Islamic, world women tend to have equal rights to western men these days, and don't like to be told what to do, what to wear and which deity to worship. Others think these noisy young men and their friends are almost, literally, biting the hand that feeds them and so they should go and live somewhere else, and take their protests with them and see what happens to them in a different country.

Those protesters are protesting in Britain because they can - that's all.

They're 'exercising their Freedom of Speech' too. It's one of those Human Rights, enshrined in International Law, but is something that's denied to many in Afghanistan by, possibly, the groups of Muslims these chaps claim to support. If so, it's a bit hypocritical, don't you think?

Mrs Rigby thinks there are other things these chaps could do, but they probably won't because she thinks they're cowards. By waving placards and name-calling they're doing exactly the same as many adolescents - making an easy point that makes some grown-ups a bit uncomfortable. After their little vociferous protest they walk, maybe get on the bus or train, or perhaps even drive their cars to their nice and cosy homes, where they'll be safe and sound - and then they can watch themselves on the television and pat themselves on the back for making their point so brilliantly. This is, naturally, the same sort of thing their peers in Afghanistan do, so much better than dodging bullets and not stepping on land mines whilst trying to grow their food.

Mrs R would like to tell these chaps of the Rigby's friends and neighbours youngsters - young people we've seen grow from almost nothing to near adulthood - who are planning to join the British Army, Navy or Air Force. She knows increasing maturity and increasing realism might change their minds, or their minds might be changed by a military assessment panel. Only time will tell.

Our young people are also also doing this 'because they can', because they're free to choose how to live their lives. Nobody's telling them to fight a war because of their religion, or lack of it. Nobody's telling them to go into the forces because 'it's the right thing to do' they're doing it because, for them, it's the right career choice - nothing more. On their way through their lives these young Brits have already made lifestyle choices. They've never been in too much trouble, have had part-time Saturday jobs and still managed to pass lots of exams and are now making near-adult decisions about what they will do with the rest of their lives - and, even if they don't end up in the forces, they don't plan to spend any part of the rest of their lives shouting, or waving threatening placards, at unarmed troops on the safe streets of Britain.

Frankly, Mrs R knows which of these groups of young men she'd trust if she was in trouble, or if there were a crisis - and it isn't the ones who, tucked safely behind a load of hi-vis jacketed British Bobbies, waved their banners and chanted their slogans whilst two hundred well-disciplined soldiers marched through the streets of Barking, Essex, England.

Monday, 14 June 2010

On Vuvuzelas, Horns and musical political football.

Mrs R is neither a fan nor a follower of football, but she did see some of England's game the other evening and was quite surprised by the noise levels in the stadium. To her it sounded a bit like thousands of kazoos being blown at the same time, making it difficult to hear anything else, including referees whistles.

She's now learned that there's a bit of media/internet/blogosphere battle about this music noise. Some footballers, such as Ronaldo, are on record as saying the noise is distracting, others are saying it's so loud that the players can't communicate on the pitch. Others are saying the complainers should be quiet because the vuvuzela is a
"proudly South African instrument" with roots deep in local traditional music
That's as may be, but Mrs R isn't too sure of the link between 'traditional music', of any sort, and football - because the two things seem slightly strange bedfellows.

It would seem that this musical tradition didn't seem to bother Austrian professional football association too much when, in 2009, they imposed a stadium ban on vuvuzela and they did it ...
.... not for the deafening and tuneless din they produce, but because they might be used as missiles.
And the 'tradition' didn't seem to faze a scientist who reckons using these plastic horns could be a health risk
... vuvuzelas can have negative effects on people’s ear drums when they are exposed to the sound for a certain time period [and] could also be spreading colds and flu germs,
And tradition doesn't seem to have worried Cape Town Sports Council too much either, when they decided to
officially ban ... Vuvuzelas from all public places in Cape Town. This follows major local and international complaints about noise pollution.

Well, let's move away from all that for a moment, and watch a youtube of a happy and enthusiastic vuvuzela player on his way to a football match.

And here's a video that is meant to explain a bit more of the traditions etc., although it doesn't seem to do it very well.

While she was watching these videos Mrs R was struck by similarities to other instruments she's both seen and heard, and that have similar origins - similar reasons for being used, mostly for communication over long distances.
The ancestor of the vuvuzela is said to be the kudu horn - ixilongo in isiXhosa, mhalamhala in Tshivenda - blown to summon African villagers to meetings.
Mrs R, in her musical ignorance, reckons that any musical instrument that's just a tube without either valves or carefully positioned holes along the length of the tube to help the player hit the right note is similar to the vuvuzela. So she went off to try to find some comparable, or vaguely similar, instruments from other countries. All these instruments, by the way, seem to be listed as 'brass' rather than woodwind, the difference being that
A brass instrument is a musical instrument whose sound is produced by sympathetic vibration of air in a tubular resonator in sympathy with the vibration of the player's lips. Brass instruments are also called labrosones, literally meaning "lip-vibrated instruments"
Whereas woodwind instruments
... produce sound when the player blows air against a sharp edge or through a reed, causing the air within its resonator (usually a column of air) to vibrate
So that wipes out things like the recorder, piccolo and so on - the handy, pocket-sized things, and leaves the much bigger ones that need a long tube to resonate, and for the sound to carry.

There's always the melodic hosepipe. (Go on, watch it!)

But that's probably a bit too recent a bit of a joke innovation to be 'traditional', or is it?

Anyhow, let's go to a bit older, and quite a bit bigger. First off, from Australia there's the didgeridoo. It's wooden, because Australia's native animals don't have horns. It's an impressive instrument creating a sound that carries over huge distances.

The same sort of thing, made to create a sound that will carry a long way, applies to Alphorns - also made from wood, not a trace of cow/sheep/goat horn in sight. Here's a short video from Alphorn festival on Maennlichen summit, Switzerland. Go on, listen to it, it's only 48 seconds long, and Mrs R bets it'll make your ears tingle.

And a video report from the Wall Street Journal about the Alphorn, with a bit about technology too - technology that's helped make the things a bit more portable.

Then there's the Post Horn too. The vuvuzela looks remarkably like a plastic posthorn, but the posthorn made a sound which was, apparently
... regularly heard throughout Victorian Britain up until about 1850 ... blown by the guard as the mail coaches covered the length and breadth of the country. The horn had several functions: it warned toll gate keepers of the coach’s approach and warned other road users to let the coach have right of way. It also let keepers of posting inns know of the coach’s approach so they could have the next team of horses ready for when the coach arrived.
Doesn't sound very African, and in fact is a quite European sort of thing, so here, for those who might like to hear it, is the 'Post Horn Gallop'

That piece of music, rather uncannily, brings Mrs R back to the subject of football - because she's discovered that a British Football Club adopted the Posthorn Gallop as their theme tune, and did it way back in 1941 - which she thinks is long enough ago in football history for it to be 'a tradition'. (sound quality on this short recording isn't brilliant)

Mrs Rigby has managed to let her mind wander a bit more, but she's managed to keep to the subject of 'traditions'. She wondered what British, or even European, football officials might do if all the fans of that particular football club decided to get very musical, and decided to go out and buy themselves some post horns, even curled up ones, and then decided to learn to play their own club's traditional tune during each of their team's matches.

She's fairly sure that sort of thing wouldn't be, umm, encouraged - for the reasons outlined at the beginning of this post - health and safety, and noise pollution. The other reason it would be discouraged is because it would distract the players from being able to do what they're there for - which is to play football, and try to get more goals than their opponents.

Knowing that the vuvuzela has already been banned by the Cape Town Sports Council, presumably without too much trouble, Mrs R has to ask why there's a sudden outcry to allow 'traditional' musical 'rights' to be able to take precedent over health and safety, and ignore the 'sporting' and maybe even musical 'traditions' of all the other teams participating in the World Cup? After all, we're always told that a considerate host makes concessions to their guests, makes them feel welcome, isn't selfish ... that sort of thing. Good hosts do that ... don't they?

The other thing is that, embarrassingly, Mrs R can't understand how a cheap, mass-produced, team-branded tube of plastic (marketed with added kudos of cleverly-contrived nationalist hyperbole) can ever be 'traditional' - when elsewhere in the world traditional musical instruments are craftsmen made, and are lovingly cared for by their musical owners, and are used to play rhythms and/or tunes. All the vuvuzela seems to be able to do is buzz. You see, despite spending quite some time searching Mrs R hasn't found a single instance of a vuvuzela being used to play a rhythm, a beat, or a tune. She hasn't found a vuvuzela band, she hasn't found a vuvuzela orchestra, she hasn't found a vuvuzela consort.

Nobody'd ever dream of trying to take an Alphorn to a football match, except perhaps for pre-match, crowd-pleaser, entertainment, and Mrs R can't imagine even the most persuasive of Aussies getting through the turnstiles with a didgeridoo clutched in their hands, neither their ethnicity nor ancient musical roots and rights would come into it, because it simply wouldn't be the right thing to do.

So are we back to that old emotional blackmail again? Is this the sort of emotional blackmail that nobody can argue with, and which carefully ignores the key point of the disagreement? If so, then Mrs R thinks those making the loudest excuses are doing themselves a disservice, and she thinks they should stop, for a moment, and consider how they would perceive this if it were to happen elsewhere, and for an important international competition for a different sport/pastime/hobby.

Would it be reasonable, for example, to have bagpipes playing in the background during a curling competition? No? But using the same argument, why not? Bagpipes are a fairly ancient instrument and are accepted as being something that's 'traditionally Scottish'. How many pipers would it take to fill a football stadium? Here's what 1,000 of them sound like.

Flippant? Nope, not one bit.

It's using exactly the same sort of argument - traditional music alongside a traditional sport - but in the case of curling and bagpipes the two have much closer national ties than do the vuvuzela and football because football is a game believed to have its roots in mediaeval Europe, unless of course they've changed that bit of history when Mrs R wasn't looking.

The key point in this vuvuzela debate should, surely, be that the World Cup is an international, quadrennial, football competition.

It isn't a band competition, it isn't an international music festival.

The World Cup competition is a series of football matches that the teams and players have been preparing for ever since the last one, four years ago, and each team deserves a fair chance of playing without being distracted. Ronaldo shouldn't, for example, be having to say, right at the last moment, that
"A lot of players don't like them, but they are going to have to get used to them."
Mrs R doesn't think this competition should have anything to do with music once the pre-match entertainers have left the field to the footballers and the first whistle has been blown. These men are the best players from their countries, they should be able to compete fairly, and equally, and within the rules of football - to make sure the best team wins the competition.

And if you disagree, please explain why.

If you have ...

Makes you think, for a moment.

Taken from here

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Times gone by


Mrs Rigby tried to have a look at the "Times and Sunday Times" website, but instead got a message telling her she could sign up for a 'Free June Preview' - even though we're almost half way through the month. Clever sort of trick that, isn't it? Call it a whole month when it's only a bit more than a fortnight.

After June it'll cost either £1 for 24 hours or £2 a week to access the site. They tell Mrs R that £2 is
... less than the cost of a cup of coffee.
We Rigbys rarely, if ever, visit a coffee shop so it'd be nice to challenge that on the basis that a cup of coffee at Rigby Towers costs considerably less than £2.

But who cares? The people at The Times don't seem to.

So, having already given up on the Financial Times because we refuse to register, it looks as if we won't be bothering with The Times or Sunday Times any more either - except when we go to the library.

Threadbare socialists?

There's a muddle of tales in the media and blogosphere today that, in isolation, don't seem to have a common thread, but Mrs Rigby has managed to tie some stories together.

Let's start with Old Rightie who says, None So Blind .... As Those Who NEVER See. and
The only criteria a successful society should have is to ensure those from disadvantaged backgrounds with ABILITY and INTELLIGENCE are not passed by. Sadly, Socialists believe we are all the same, except when doling out the top Labour and Union jobs.
And from there straight on to the Mail, reporting that dear Arthur Scargill, ex-President of the once wealthy and which-once-had-187,000-members-but-now-has-only-about-1,600 National Union of Miners, is is threatening to sue his own Union.

He's doing this because the NUM has reduced his benefits, and he doesn't think it's fair. He's doing it because he's losing ... ... around £5,000 a year ... in 'perks', and reckons the Union is breaking a contractually binding obligation to keep his house nice and warm in winter.

Although he retired in 2002 Mr Scargill retains the post of "honorary president" of the Union. He's fortunate to have the use of three-bedroom flat luxury apartment at the Barbican in London - which costs the Union around £33,000 a year in rent and running costs. Mr Scargill's own home is a bungalow near Barnsley - a bungalow that's called a cottage and looks, to Mrs Rigby, very much like a big house (picture Mail)

Mrs Rigby wondered why the NUM might have made this decision now, especially as their membership (and income) must have fallen quite considerably over the years because there's so little mining in Britain. So she went to have a look at that Certification Officer site to see if she could find out a bit more.

Here's an example, which was chosen at random :-

North Staffs Federation of NUM has just one member - according to their 2009 return to the The Certification Officer. This branch of the NUM has, according to the return, zero income from subscriptions, zero income from members, but £7,500 from 'other sources' - listed as "monies received from solicitors for use of office costs and staff". Administrative costs are £8,914 - the breakdown is, to Mrs R's eyes, peculiar but it seems that the branch is being kept open to pay the wages and National Insurance contributions of one 'secretary' - and that's it. This individual is paid a wage, but doesn't seem to pay a Union Subscription.

Try as she might, and despite wading through the tortuous website that is, Mrs R can find no indication of what an individual mineworker might pay to be a member of this union. However, according to the to 2009 NUM returns there were indeed a mere 1,611 members, with income from 'contributions and subscriptions' of £162,325.00 - which suggests that each active, paying, member pays about £100 a year.

The union does have other assets and receives investment income, which has reduced due to low interest rates and, presumably, the recession. But to simplify things let's imagine the NUM only uses membership fees ... to pay Mr Scargill's fuel bills would take the full subscription payments of 50 members, with another 330 subscriptions paying for his London flat luxury apartment. Which means that 385 people - almost 25% of the fee-paying members of the NUM - are paying their dues to ensure there is £38,000 a year available to maintain Mr Scargill's two-homes lifestyle and to keep him warm and cosy. That, Mrs R needs to remind you, is in addition to any pension/salary he may also be receiving, from the union.

Another 89 members' dues are needed to pay the wages of the single North Staffs NUM Federation employee - a 'wage' that equates to about a quarter of Mr Scargill's 'expenses' and/or 'perks'.

That's nice, don't you think? Don't you think all those NUM members are pleased to see their money being used so wisely?

Looking at the rest of the balance sheets it suggests that between 2007 and 2008 the NUM took quite a hit financially, with more going out than coming in - and so there was less money at the end of the year than at the beginning. Hardly surprising really, when you think about it, and hardly surprising that they're trying to take steps to cut their spending and balance the books.

Let's change tack, and quickly whizz over to the current issues with "Unite" - the Union chosen by many of British Airways' cabin crew - and staying with the Mail which reports that
Britain's best-paid flight crews – with the most senior staff earning up to £56,000 a year – are questioning the wisdom of signing up to a ... summer of strikes
'Many ... simply can't afford to go out on strike
Mrs R recalls, back in April, that Unite imposed a compulsory fund-raising levy on its branches, aiming to collect £700,000 towards a strike fund. At the time the union was 'paying' striking staff the grand sum of £30 a day - £150 for five days, which would not cover living costs for most people and is less minimum wage ... which in itself generates all sorts of state handouts because it isn't enough to live on. It's also almost exactly half as much as Mr Scargill gets, or was getting, in 'perks'.

Another Mail article suggests that BA has won the battle, that staff are demoralised and "Willy Walsh has won". If this is true it's possible that BA staff could have realised they were being taken for mugs by their union bosses - one of whom tweeted the proceedings of Acas arbitration discussion, whilst another who earns £122,000-a-year (courtesy of union members) decided to go off on holiday - using EasyJet.

It's also possible that some of the BA staff recall the 'striking' 1970s. Mrs R's blog isn't the place to discuss the rights and wrongs of these 'famous' strikes - but will say that the industrial action overseen, and seemingly encouraged, by Mr Scargill caused a lot of heartache, upset and discomfort for many, many, working-class people who had no dispute with their own employers and who were themselves struggling to make ends meet at a time of rising prices and recession.

Mrs R hasn't a clue if anybody predicted that the strikes, which included a no-maintenance agreement that extended to not pumping water out of mines, would result in mine-closures and almost all Britain's coal being imported - but that's what happened and as a result whole towns and communities suffered for very many years, and we now pay miners in other countries to extract the coal that is used to make our electricity. The people who weren't hurt too much by those strikes were the union officials, safe with their subscription-funded salaries and nicely useful 'perks' which, it appears, at least one very important ex-union official continues to enjoy - even in retirement.

So, let's imagine for a moment what would happen if, as a result of ongoing strike action, BA were to fold. It wouldn't necessarily affect the whole country, and probably wouldn't affect whole towns and communities in the same way as mine closures did. But, if BA were to be sold abroad and the company was rebranded, restructured, and based at an airport elsewhere in the world there would be significant British job losses in a huge range of associated services. This would have a knock-on effect in local communities (reduced income for shops, clubs, small businesses etc) which could be devastating. It would affect many, many, more people than the few striking BA cabin crews but would be unlikely to touch the lives of those who are encouraging the strikers -  the few very important Unite Union officials who will continue to receive their salaries and any associated perks, because they work for the union itself.

It would seem to Mrs Rigby that going on strike at the wrong time in the modern world only seems to hurt the strikers themselves, and their friends and neighbours.

And maybe that's where a bit of education, a bit of reading, a bit of logical thought and an element of caution might just come in handy, especially when you compare Mr Scargill's current situation with that of the BA strikers - part of whose dispute with BA relates to their contractual 'perks', as does his with the NUM, hence his complaint that ...
'They agreed I should rent a local authority flat during my period in office and following my retirement that would carry on until my death. There are many people who have two homes.'
Mrs Rigby wonders if, maybe, Mr Scargill should take unilateral strike action, and withold his services as honorary president until the union capitulates. That, surely, would be the thing to do rather than resorting to using solicitors - because, after all, that's what he told/encouraged his union members to do all those years ago - and most of them only ever had one home, and their homes could have looked something like this. (Picture Sunniside Local History Society)

Socialism eh! All the same, all in it together, and all aiming for a common cause - to help ... actually, Mrs R wonders to help just who, precisely?

Is it to help the poor, downtrodden 'working man'* battle against punitive, dangerous or unfair working practices, or is it 'these days' merely to help massage over-inflated egos of a few self-styled very-important-people who see their own empires crumbling along with falling union membership?

As an aside - Mrs Rigby wonders how many 'top' union officials are women?