9 September 2014

The blame game……..

With the approach of the Scottish independence vote, and the very real possibility that there will be a 'Yes', I have been thinking about how we have come to this situation.

As the vote approaches it would seem that the Government made a major error of judgement in not offering the Scots any option other than a blunt Yes or No. The Government refused to include a the 'Devo-Max' option which now, at the last minute, they are being forced to propose. I don't know how many postal ballots there are in the referendum but it is lucky that they had to be sent some weeks ago when the tide was with the 'No' campaign. But how many more postal voters would have voted 'No' if they had been offered the 'Devo-Max' option as an alternative?

By the same token, would the heat be in the debate in the final days had the voters more generally been offered the 'Devo-Max' option. It seems clear that most people in Sctotland want some degree of autonomy but 'In' or 'Out' now seems too stark a choice, too beset with risks which the 'No' campaign have been forced to underline. But the Scots would seem to be moving towards a 'Yes' probably because many feel that they have nothing to loose given that they have been roundly ignored by successive governments in the last 30 or 40 years.

And this discussion highlights another, possibly more significant issue, which is the 'London-centric' view of Britain, embraced by most politicians. Owen Jones writes an excellent piece in the Guardian on the subject and describes the parade of politicians since Thatcher who have determinedly maintained the Union whilst focussing their attentions on the south in general and the health of the City of London in particular.

Depending upon whose opinion you take, the centre of the United Kingdom is somewhere along a line between Blackpool and Leeds and nearer Blackpool or, alternatively, it is somewhere on a line between Lancaster and Burnley, but nearer Lancaster. Either way, the centre of the United Kingdom is somewhere north of Westminster but, the way our politicians behave, you'd never have guessed it.

In many ways, the Scottish vote will be influenced by the way our politicians have treated the United Kingdom, as a whole, over the last 100 years. In the last 50, they have behaved as if Westminster, and the City of London, is the centre of the universe. As a direct consequence, I can't blame the Scots for voting with their feet.

28 August 2014

The global capital of buck-passing……..

The 'Today' programme (BBC Radio 4 27th August) carried an interesting interview with Rotherham Council Deputy Leader Paul Lakin who was being interviewed regarding Prof. Alexis Ray's report on child abuse in Rotherham. Cllr Lakin was pressed by John Humphries to give his opinion as to whether the Police & Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, should resign. Lakin was unable to state an opinion other than that it was a matter for Mr Wright and Mr. Wright alone.

Quoting from The Guardian, 'Following the publication of Jay's report on Tuesday calls also came for the head of Shaun Wright, who became the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire two years ago following a five-year spell in charge of children and youth services on Rotherham borough council.

Though he is not criticised by name in the report, he was responsible for child protection during a period in which Jay said police and council were well aware that there was a serious problem with child exploitation in Rotherham and yet failed to act.'

Humphries went on to question Lakin further about wider responsibility across the period covered by the Ray Report. Humphries was incredulous when Cllr Lakin stated that, since 2010, he was not aware of the breadth and depth of child abuse in Rotherham. Lakin joined the Council in 1999 and stated that he had not known of any abuse reports with my inference that, he therefore bore no responsibility for what went on.

One of the facets of the Ray Report is that the perpetrators targeted care homes to gain access to their victims, very reminiscent of Savile, Cyril Smith and others and, once again, no-one accepts responsibility. How did the perpetrators gain access to care-homes? Who let them in? I can't imagine that you or I would be able to walk into a care-home, find out who was under-age and then arrange to meet, groom, abuse, rape and traffic those victims yet this seems to have happened in Rotherham and the people responsible, the people in post whilst this abuse went on, shrug their shoulders and say, 'Nothing to do with me guv'.

I don't doubt that this abuse is widespread and I don't doubt that it is ignored or covered up mostly because there is no culture of responsibility in public life today. But more importantly, many of the Rotherham victims were ignored because those in authority saw them as an underclass, not to be believed and not worthy of help.

I look back at the manner in which John Profumo responded to his own mistakes whilst in government and it is a distant memory. I am sure that Mr Lakin would have been a lot more careful about what he did or did not know if he believed that he would be responsible for everything that went on during his watch, whether he knew about it or not.

But here, on HMS Great Britain, the captain is no longer responsible, if they ever were, when the ship founders.

16 August 2014

I vote to remain part of the UK

The approaching Scottish independence vote has focussed my mind and, although I won't be allowed a vote, if I was I would be voting to remain part of the United Kingdom. Why? Because I like the 'idea' of a 'United Kingdom' even if I don't think that our Kingdom is anything approaching 'united'.

Alex Salmond has gone to great lengths to explain how Scotland would be better off as an independent state, separated from the rest of the UK, and little that he has said convinces me. Why not? Because I've watched how Scottish parliamentarians behave and its just as bad as their English, Irish and Welsh counterparts.

If the Scottish Parliament building had been delivered for £21M, as the original budget for the conversion of the old Royal High School building proposed, then I'd be impressed. But the 'upturned boat' cost £457M the last time I looked. Then there is Edinburgh's tram project which seems to have cost the thick end of £1.2Bn for one line and stops which don't benefit many of Edinburgh's residents. Then there is the second Forth Crossing (possibly called the Third Forth Crossing) required by the problems encountered with the stay wires on the original Forth Road Bridge. So £200M is pointed at a second bridge when the engineers have been able to fix the problems with the first (or second) making the second (or third) redundant.

So, as far as fiscal probity goes, the Scots don't rate as highly as I would like and that is the major issue for me about Scottish Independence. Its more than likely going to end up being Bureaucratic Dependence (on the Scottish Taxpayer). There will be more and more layers of bureaucracy on top of existing bureaucracy and, at the same time, in the remainder of the UK, those layers of bureaucracy which dealt with Scottish matters won't go away. Those running those empires will just retitle themselves to keep their jobs. So, costs both north and south of the border will rise with no benefit to anyone but friends of the various parliamentary organisations.

I'd have a lot more respect for Alex Salmond if he had fought for decentralisation of the UK's existing and overbearing bureaucracies in order to deliver more services with less overheads. Had he managed that then he's have a real argument, not for splitting Scotland away but for applying those skills in Westminster.

2 August 2014

The other side of the coin……..

A couple of days ago someone reminded me about the middle eastern tv channel Al Jazeera and I realised that it was missing from my YouView menu. I retuned the box, recovered Al Jazeera in both Arabic and English and sat down to watch the alternative coverage of Israel's version of the 'War Against Terror'. And I'm not too sure that it was a good move.

What I saw almost immediately was just how sanitised is the coverage of Gaza that we are seeing from even our rabidly left-wing and wholly biased British Broadcasting Corporation.

BBC announcers warn us that "some of the images you will see are disturbing" and what we are shown is a lot of dried blood and the occasional shoe. What we don't ever see is the remains of the owners of the blood or the shoe. Al Jazeera doesn't spare us that comfort and gave me a close-up view of charred and bloated bodies piled up against a wall in a Gaza basement, probably courtesy of some newly acquired American munitions. You can find those selfsame images if you tune in or even if you google around the www.

Watching the BBC, its easy to think that, whilst Gaza is being reduced to rubble, most of the inhabitants are getting away with scratches. Yes, we see the coffins but what we don't see is the gory link between the relentless Israeli shelling and bombing of Gaza and the procession of coffins. What we don't see is the splattered brains and shattered limbs that are shovelled or scooped into bags to get them into the coffins. What we don't see is the reality of war and the reality of collective punishment as it is being applied by the Israeli armed forces in Gaza to the prisoners of the Gaza Gulag.

I wonder what would happen if the BBC started to show something approaching the reality of daily life and death in Gaza. Maybe we wouldn't be quite so smug and complacent.

29 July 2014

A bitter harvest

Why does Israel do it? The answer is pretty simple, because she can. No-one is going to stop her. No-one is going to stand up for the Palestinians because the Palestinians don't have anything that the west wants. The west knows it, Israel knows it and the Palestinians know it.

Today, Israel is imposing a collective punishment on the residents of Gaza in the hope, one assumes, that if Israel punishes the wider Palestinian community enough then they may turn against Hamas or Fatah or the PLO. Its a strategy which Israel clearly has the will, and the firepower, to impose and, right now, Israel seems determined to follow through and raise Gaza to the ground. Given that Israel has already turned Gaza into a prison camp, it must be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Have a look here at 1 hour in Gaza.

And it makes me wonder, what will happen in the future when this new generation of Palestinians grow up and look at the world around them. Will they want to be friends with Israel? Probably not. And, in a few decades hence, when the west is less obsessed with fossil fuels, will America want to anchor its aircraft carriers in nearby waters in case there is another, greater threat to Israel?

Maybe then Israel will need its ultimate deterrent. And, going on the current example, she will be quite prepared to use it. Then the threat will not just be to Israel.

22 July 2014

How convenient ……….

In the aftermath of Malaysian Airways flight MH17, I found it curious that a man from Putin's past, Alexander Litvinenko, resurfaces. Obviously, Litvinenko can't resurface because he's dead, killed, we are led to believe, by the introduction of radioactive Polonium into his system. So who was Litvinenko?

We are told that he was a KGB officer who claimed that Boris Berezovsky ( a Russian oligarch) was assassinated on the orders of senior KGB officers. Obviously this wasn't a good carrier move and, after being arrested a couple of times, tried and acquitted, Litvinenko came to London where he remained publicly critical of what might be termed the Putin regime. And then, out of the blue, he went to Tescos, bought some radioactive polonium, cooked a stew with it and died. His widow claimed that he was poisoned by the KGB and the UK authorities pointed the finger at Andrey Lugovoy (a Russian security agent) but no action was taken because the Russian authorities refused to extradite Lugovoy.

End of story, you might expect but no, not quite. In the aftermath of the downing of MH17, attention is again focussed on Putin's expansionist ambitions, particularly in the Ukraine where it is widely believed that Russian service personnel are supporting the separatists. Its doubtful that a bunch of Ukrainian red-necks could actually operate a surface to air missile system so the downing of MH17 ends up on the doorstep of the Russian authorities i.e. Vlad Putin.

And, as if by magic, Alexander Litvinenko's death resurfaces to further undermine Putin's reputation, as if such was needed. And, at the same time, the Butler Sloss 'review of reviews' into child abuse (in high places) is conveniently pushed off the front pages. How fortunate for the one-time Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas and his reputation.

15 July 2014

Dead men tell no tales……...

……or do they. I felt some sympathy for Baroness Butler Sloss as she stood down from her leading role in the Review of Reviews into the ongoing child abuse scandal that continues to hubble and bubble and threaten to destabilise the establishment.

She clearly has great integrity and a track record of doing a good job in similar situations. And she clearly placed great faith in her own view of her capabilities, a faith which was, most probably, justified. But what she, and Theresa May who appointed her, and the Civil Servants who advised Theresa all forgot was the simple fact that the Baroness was the sister of a previous Attorney General who made what might look, from 2014, some pretty odd decisions regarding who got prosecuted for what, back in the day.

Things have changed and it might just have been that the Baroness might have had a hard time squaring some of those past decisions with the way we consider the victims today. Back in the day, it wasn't the victims who were considered, it was the perpetrators and the whole sad story was held together by boy's clubs and private schools and ivy-league colleges and masonic lodges and the panoply of establishment power networks, networks which still function today, just in slightly different ways.

I'm sure that abuse still goes on: abuse of children; abuse of staff; abuse of power; abuse of influence; abuse of access……..the list is endless. But I suspect that the influential and the powerful are a little more careful how they indulge their desires to abuse. I'm sure they will take greater care to make sure that they cover their tracks, unlike their predecessors, who may well have left a few traces of their passing.

And had the Baroness found those traces, would she have been able to draw them out into the open and risk the ire of the hand that feeds her? Particularly if they had led to the Attorney General's office.