Tag Archives: politicians

Pontifications on a road less travelled. The cat that got all of the cream.


There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!
Another comment I saw was an MP pointing out that because he’d voted to reduce the legal aid bill, the reduction now meant that he wasn’t eligible to get legal aid. Yes, revel in the schadenfreude but stop and think about it a minute.

In this country at the moment, if your income is the same as the prime-minister, a cabinet minister or a shadow cabinet minister, then you’re in the top 1%. In simple terms, 99% of the population earn less than you do. Given that all our politicians have the ability to clock up a fair heap of expenses, get invited to travel to exotic foreign parts at somebody else’s expense (and we ask no more than they remember to declare the trip) I think we can safely assume that most MPs and similar are, if not actually in the magical 1%, at least in the top two or three percent.

So in this country legal costs have got so high, even people in the top two or three percent can no longer afford them and need legal aid, financial assistance from the taxpayer, before they can cope?
Now it’s long been a tactic by the wealthy, be they unscrupulous millionaires, or senior departmental civil servants, to use the almost infinite wealth at their command to crush those who get in their way. HM Revenue and Customs will regularly send out letters which mean (but don’t actually say,) ‘We think you own us x, but because you haven’t paid it, we want you to pay 2x. Or we can take you to court and bankrupt you whatever the court decided.’

But let’s take a look at this top two or three percent. Yes, everybody points the finger at the multi-millionaire businessman. Let’s look at Denise Coates. Her Grandfather started with a few betting shops. She’s the one who had the guts to take betting on-line, borrowed the money to do it and had she failed, she’d have been bankrupt. So now she’s making serious money and paying serious tax.

But in that 1% we have over 700 civil and public servants and those serving on quangos. Then you’ve got all those people who work for the BBC. The BBC had 214 staff earning more than the PM. That probably doesn’t include all those the BBC pushed onto into self-employment because the BBC didn’t want to have to pay their national insurance or pensions. But as a general rule, when a broadcaster interviews a politician, the broadcaster will be the one with the biggest income.

Now if you disapprove of Denise Coates, you can take immediate action. If you don’t bet with her company, you don’t contribute to her wealth. But if you feel the PM or the leader of the opposition is earning too much, tough, they’ll just siphon the money out of your pocket whatever you think. Same with the BBC, you disapprove? Tough, if you want to watch any TV at all, whether BBC or not, you’ve still got to contribute.

But what really hacks me off about those politicians and civil servants who are doing nicely as part of the top two or three percent is that they know the figures.

They have sat there and said, “This is exactly how much the state can screw out of our taxpayers. Obviously we need this much money set aside for us first, to reward us for being so utterly wonderful and efficient.”
Then they have to look at how to spend the rest. So when you meet the care worker on the minimum wage struggling to keep a patient with Alzheimer’s clean and dry, you know where the money has gone, you know just who to blame.



Strangely enough I’ve never really had the urge to become obscenely rich, I just sort of rub along and get by. Also, in the interests of cheering people up I write a bit. So if you’re just hacked off with our masters and want to buy one of my books as a political gesture, or alternatively just fancy a good read, I’d encourage you to invest the magnificent sum of £0.99!

As the reviewer said, “Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.”

Pontifications along a road less travelled.  Shall they fold their tents and as silently steal away?



Let us imagine a purely hypothetical situation. Because it obviously couldn’t happen could it? I mean, not in a civilised country!

But anyway let’s assume you have a young man. In this case stress the young. Oh we not doubting the man part of it, but if he was any younger you’d probably call him a youth, but that’s verging on being an insult nowadays. Because youths are the ones who hang around on street corners and get into trouble with the police.

Still, accept the ‘man’ part of it but stress to yourself the ‘young.’

Anyway, just to make things difficult for him, let’s assume he’s been in ‘care.’ With several different local authorities; which screws up his hopes of getting much in the way of education.

Obviously I’m gilding the lily here for the sake of hypothetical example, because they say it could never happen.

“And Brutus is an honourable man.”


Then, just to put a tin hat on it, imagine that because of the complexity of the benefits system, he applies for the wrong benefit, doesn’t get his rent paid and ends up homeless.

So the local authority is asked to step up to the mark and do its bit to rescue one of our fellow citizens. They spring into action, and what do they provide him with?
A tent.


“I would not do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,

Who, you all know, are honourable men:”


I suppose it’s a consolation to know that we’ve not got to that situation with young women yet.

And as one older chap pointed out to me, it never does any good coming to the attention of the authorities if you’re a young man. Some of his contemporaries were noticed and were given a rifle and are now buried somewhere foreign but exotic. To be fair, there are times when the state does want the services of young men, but they are thankfully few and far between.

But still, when you’ve got your tent, where on earth do you pitch it? Ideally it should be somewhere secluded where the kids won’t find it and torch it, perhaps with you inside. But close enough to the town centre to walk in to try and talk to the various agencies who between them might find you somewhere to live. Ideally a place with a door you can lock behind you, not canvas that might be burning even as you discuss your uncertain future.


At this point I can imagine people are gnashing their teeth and talking about wicked tories.

But actually the local authority who handed out the tent is labour controlled.

Yet, I hear you cry, it’s the wicked tories who robbed the local authority of the money to do anything.

Which is fine, but I’d ask another question. If you’re a councillor for this authority, how do you face yourself in the shaving mirror in the morning? (Or the appropriate female equivalent however you self-identify.) If there’s the money to pay attendance allowance to councillors, if there’s money to pay for ‘hospitality’ then perhaps, just perhaps, it could be used to ensure that young men get better provision than just a tent?

“Will you be patient? will you stay awhile?

I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it:

I fear I wrong the honourable men.”

One thing you notice when you get involved in this area of the charity world. Politicians have a very nuanced attitude to these charities. If they’re in government then the charities working in this area are a reproach. These bodies are proof that all is not well. Charities working with animals or foreigners are fine, but those who’re picking up the pieces after our ‘social care system’ has run amok through people’s lives are a pretty strident rebuke.

If the politicians are in opposition then the charities are handy. You can point to them as proof that your opponents policies are not working. Except that everybody knows that the need was there before and will still be there when governments change. Hence even oppositions tend to be nuanced. You don’t want to say anything that will be quoted against you when you eventually gain office.

And yes, there are honourable exceptions; very honourable exceptions. It’s a pity that they’re the exceptions.


And so the system grinds on, volunteers apply sticking plasters. Volunteers keep people alive, showered and even dressed in clean clothes so that when they have to go to an interview they can feel some self respect.

We’re getting it off pat, this church houses a Foodbank, that church houses a clothes bank, that church has shower facilities and can provide clean underwear.

But I’m afraid that we’re getting to the stage where we really ought to remember the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”


“If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.”


You might as well give an elephant a chainsaw



One too-clever-by-half young lad was interviewing for a job, there was nothing he couldn’t do better than anybody else. So finally the interviewer, exasperated asked “Can you wheel smoke in a barrow?”

Quick as a flash the lad came back with “You load it, I’ll wheel it.”

One thing I’ve learned, no matter what you’re doing there’s always somebody out there reckons they know how to do it better. It doesn’t matter that they’ve never actually done the job; it’s just that they’ve got enough life experience to be able to tell them how wonderful they’d be if they had to do it.

Some professions suffer more from this than others. Teachers suffer badly; after all, we’ve all been to school, so we are all experts on schooling and how teaching should be done.

I’ve had it myself; I’ve been told how I should handle cattle by people whose whole experience of livestock handling was that they were allowed to fetch the class hamster home during the holidays. (It died twice and Mum had to go to the pet shop with the corpse in a carrier bag to make sure she brought one back the same colour so that nobody noticed.)

But there is another phenomenon. While everybody knows how to live everybody else’s life better than they do it themselves, the vast majority of us are happy enough to just comment and barrack from the sidelines. We don’t roll our sleeves up and organise the person’s life for them. There are exceptions and they’re people we’re all wary of, ‘pushy parents’ are one category of people it’s possible to be derogatory about without being politically incorrect.

But put people in power and it can go to their heads. In fact it can go to their heads if they merely aspire to gain power or in the case of John McTernan if they merely advise people who aspire to gain power.

As John McTernan said, “You can’t trust people to spend their own money sensibly.”



Let people decide what to do with their own money! You might as well give an elephant a chainsaw.

All I can say is that if these people don’t trust us to spend our own money; I’m surprised they trust us to choose the right party to vote for.


What do I know, you might as well ask the dog.

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”



Computers, politicians and pig slurry

A lot of years ago now I was in the 5th form at school; (This is in the good old days before they changed everything to years etc) and we had, believe it or not, a careers master who would talk to us.
Admittedly he was a maths master who did careers as well but he was keen, and obviously had a mate working in the field because we were used as the guinea pigs when they tested a ‘computerised careers questionnaire.’ Really that should be in flashing lights or at least italic because no one had heard of them before.
Anyway I did the questionnaire along with the other ninety lads in the year and thought to more about it: Until I was called back in to answer a question that had been troubling them.
The format, if I remember it properly, was the questions were in the form of ‘would you prefer to do x or y.’ This doubtless made the answers easy to put into the computer (remember this is a 1970s computer) and they were comparatively easy to answer. There was one small issue which had brought me to their attention. The question was, “Would you prefer to clean out pigs or look after old people?” I, alone of all those who had filled in this questionnaire had answered, “Clean out pigs.”
Because this question was apparently to calibrate the system and ensure that those filling it in were being serious and could read etc, the guy whose project it was really wanted to see me. What he discovered was that I had read the question, pondered it carefully and then, based on my knowledge and experience, answered it.
After all, I knew that cleaning out pigs tended to be a high pressure hose job, done in working hours, sometimes preceded by a quick pass or two with a tractor loader to get rid of the heavy stuff. Looking after old people was constant, hard, demanding work; often thankless, often unending and normally unsocial.
The problem is that the questioner had written his question without any real comprehension of the nature of the alternatives he’d included in his question. What he had been thinking was ‘clean out pigs’ equals dirty disgusting back breaking work. On the other hand was ‘looking after old people’ cuddly, virtuous, socially desirable. Pity about the reality, yet I was the only person who was apparently grounded in the reality.

What set this off was someone said that they felt that David Cameron should be put to cleaning out pig sties. Firstly there aren’t any, or if there are it would be a doddle of a job because they’ll be the proud property of smallholders with a cherished pig or two. Secondly the last thing we need in one of the most efficient industries this country has is some untrained noddy wandering in and doing a job he isn’t trained for. If you doubt the efficiency, look at the farm gate prices. Currently milk is now about 33 pence a litre. We got 30 pence a litre back in 1996. (I use milk as an indicator because I know the prices without checking.) Perhaps civil servants could survive with their departments still on 1996 budgets.

But it also showed (and I’m not picking on one person) how food production and the people involved in it, is regarded in this country. We’re a suggested dumping ground, a gulag for politicians. I can think of no other class of people less suited to taking part in a real job where you have to take responsibility for your actions and own up when you screw up.

Oh, and the ‘computerised careers questionnaire.’ Well much to the surprise of our Careers master, it said I ought to be a farmer or a journalist. Actually I’m both simultaneously, and occasionally over the years I’ve often wished I could meet the guy who designed the system, just to tell him he got at least one right.