Thursday, 24 February 2011

To Be Born An Englishman...

Quick one. Libya. Evacuation thereof.

The Government has come under fire today for reacting slowly to withdraw British citizens from Libya as the country continues in a state of revolt, like many other countries around the seemingly infectious tropic of cancer. However, I'm not entirely convinced we're seeing this all from the right point of view.

Let us start with the question, 'why are British people in Libya?' Probably a variety of reasons, but three main ones for which I would love you to picture a Venn diagram (almost anything can be solved with reference to a Venn diagram): The Government has a few employees over there - embassy staff / spies etc at the British Embassy in Tripoli. There are probably a few people holidaying, no doubt students of classical antiquity interested in the Byzantine heartland or Saharan explorers. Then there are people who work out there - contractors. There are a few other no doubt outside my little Venn diagram of British people in Libya, but those three circles probably encompass the vast majority.

There is no doubt the British Government is responsible for its own employees when it comes to needing to extract them from hotspots around the world to which it has sent them. So, here we see the need for the Government to have a plan for the exit of one of the Venn diagram circles - those it employs to be in the country in question. However, I consider the fact that they are also British nationals a nicety. The reason it is beholden to the Government to ensure the safekeeping, and if necessary extraction, of said people is because it employs them and put them there. It is not because they are British. For my money, a Dane who works in the British Embassy had equal right to a flight home as the Brit he (or she) works alongside.

Now onto the other two circles in my Venn diagram. Let us deal with the tourists first - if you plan to go to a country which is unstable and with whose leadership our Government has at best a shaky relationship, I think it would be an idea to take out some bloody good insurance. The reason why? You are choosing to put yourself at risk, therefore you need to be responsible for your own actions. Very much like if you go skiing, you need to insure yourself. I like skiing. You may like Libya. But either way, we both need to take responsibility for the fact that all may not go well on our respective holidays. I buy my insurance. Is holding your British passport all you have to do?

We'll move onto the final group, where I believe it is even more cut and dried. Contractors often have to work in dodgy places. Oil and other mineral deposits are not too abundant in Dorset, so companies end up sending a lot of employees overseas, and not always to places as salubrious as the Loire valley. Now why would an oil contractor choose to go to Baghdad when he could work in Houston, Texas? Simple. Money. If you get sent to not particularly nice places you get danger money. This is there to compensate you for the danger of being abroad. You might also want to check their extraction policies when you sign up for an overseas tour. You may hear echoes here of a previous post on working in odd places (here). The point is, if your oil company send you to the middle of a dodgy country, it is up to them to make sure you can get back safely if it all goes pear shaped.

Under this last category, you may have noticed that BP and other oil companies have flown out 80 or so people so far. Good. What about the rest of them? The crux of the matter is in a combination of the 'why are you out there' question, and the 'what has happened' question. On the latter question, don't think that I disagree with rescuing British nationals caught up in natural disasters or random terrorist acts around the globe; I do not. However, it is all very blame culture to think that if you willingly accept a big pay cheque to go to a dodgy country, or choose to holiday in a hot-spot, that it is not your responsibility to have an escape route planned. This is my issue with all the negative publicity the Government is receiving.

I'm sure they could have been quicker to act over evacuating those for whom they are responsible, but ultimately, the people whining that they are stuck at drilling stations in the middle of Libya should have thought a little about the ramifications of their actions. Likewise those who chose to holiday there. Whilst Cecil Rhodes may still be right that "to have been born an Englishman is to have won the lottery of life", just holding the passport does not absolve you of personal responsibility. When the cavalry arrives to bail you out, thank heaven you pay your taxes, but don't count on it, especially in these military shrinking times. The free trips home from Tripoli were not free to you and me, John and Jane Q. Taxpayer. So, for the most of the Venn diagram lay off the Government, and have a look at individual responsibility. This is part of what the Big Society is about; taking responsibility for your actions and things around you, not just expecting someone else to pick up your pieces. Just a thought...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Thank You For Giving (Did You Realise You Were?)

Well it has been a couple of days since I blogged so I shall ease myself back into it with what I consider a pretty simple topic - overseas aid. Britain's overseas aid programme ran at a shade under £8 billion in 2009/10. The Coalition has pledged to keep increasing that to £11.5 billion over the next four years. Now the concept of aid, domestic or international, is a good one - nobody should dispute this. It is, however, true that some pretty large chunks of world international aid does not end up in the right hands. So there is the ongoing issue of implementation of aid programmes, but that's not what I'm going to concentrate on today.

Today, I'm going to talk about where our aid goes, specifically considering the richer recipient countries. The big ones are probably well known, because they've received a bit of attention already on precisely this topic. On 2009/10 figures, Britain gave India some £330 million, China £35 million in international aid. I think this is wrong.

Now there are a couple of obvious canned responses; "but there are still very poor people in those countries" being the most obvious. How do we counter this then? There are some very poor people in the UK too. So why don't we get international aid? In my mind it is because the very concept of aid is not being adhered to when you give money to a country who have a space programme. Likewise, you don't give aid to a country that runs a surplus year on year, especially not when everyone else (including the donor countries) are running deficits.

Those who beat the drum of international aid would do well to realise examples like these go a long way to discrediting the whole system. It is hard to explain to the man on the street in the UK why the NHS is having to make billions of savings yet Britain is giving nearly £60 million in aid to India, the world's eleventh largest economy to pay for health services. Or why we are having to look for savings in education when we are giving China, the world's second largest economy, nearly £10 million to bolster their education spending.

I have no doubt that the poor of China and India can well do with an extra £30 million combined spend on HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and education, but that is not the point. They are incredibly rich countries who are choosing to use their resources not to help their own poor but to widen the gap between rich and poor. It is as simple as that. The philosophy of giving money to someone who refuses to spend what they have on the right things is without a doubt one of the reasons behind our cripplingly expensive yet utterly ineffective welfare system. The international community should be pressuring these countries to spend their money more wisely - clearly it is not working to simply make up for their basic shortfalls whilst allowing them to grandstand with not just strong economies and nuclear weapons, but the temerity even of an international aid programme of their own.

The problem comes when you remove money and the previous recipient country refuses to fill the gap. This is made all the more difficult when dealing with non-interactive Governments (say, North Korea). So we are left with a moral dilemma. Do you remove the aid and hope for the best, or continue to pour money into rich countries with interesting moral compasses? The answer probably lies somewhere in between, with the onus being on the international community to exert pressure on these countries to wean themselves off aid. This will only begin to happen, though, if we are willing to look at the situation as it is and realise it is wrong. I wonder if anyone is brave enough to stand up and say it in Government though, knowing the predictable backlash that awaits anyone who asks for entrance into a dialogue over anything the liberal left hold dear, no matter how deludedly. The Coalition pledge suggests not in this Parliament - we'll have to see who wins the next election to find out if the Tories don't understand this one, don't care, or are just picking their fights. I hope the latter, but there's probably more chance of India putting a man on the moon. Oh, wait...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Blame Culture

Not a particularly savoury topic for today, but one I think that warrants a mention nonetheless. This week has seen the inquest into the tragic death of British aid worker, Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan. It emerged after a couple of days of confusion, that the aid worker had actually died from wounds accidentally inflicted by security forces attempting her rescue. It is yet another sad episode in the history of modern day Afghanistan, and of course, a terrible blow to her family.

It is unfathomable the combination of idiocy, fanaticism and pure evil which sees terrorists murdering innocent volunteers who willingly give their services to help the poor and weak in countries torn apart, often by war. Miss Norgrove's name is unfortunately just added to a woefully long list of kidnapped and murdered aid workers, going back the best part of 10 years, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, as tragic as her death is, and as understandable as the grief of her family needing an outlet, criticism levelled at her would-be rescuers is misplaced. It should not come as a surprise to anyone volunteering to work in war zones, that they are dangerous places. This applies to soldiers, sailors and airmen, private contractors (military or otherwise), and the many aid workers. If one ventures into these areas, bad things are more likely to happen. Outside of the military, if one is kidnapped, I would hope anyone concerned would consider themselves lucky that a military operation is launched at great expense and risk.

It will be unlikely to surprise you to find out I have rather limited experience in hostage rescue operations. You are most likely in the same boat. Without meaning to take the situation lightly, a cursory glance at Call of Duty suggests to me it is probably a rather complex operation, fraught with difficulty. So, it is lamentably the case that this one should be chalked down to bad luck, but with a vote of thanks to those who so bravely tried to help. Whilst impressing the need for striving for perfection, it is undoubtedly hard to come by in war. One should be careful of biting the hand that feeds - it would not be beyond imagination that military forces leave those unfortunate kidnapped civilians to their own demise, if this is how any failure in difficult circumstances is met. It is a long extrapolation from people refraining from giving first aid lest they be sued if it all goes awry, but the principle is the same. A blame culture leaves society all the poorer for it.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Death and Taxes

Now I have a couple of rants stored up, but before I start, an appeal. They say no man ever learned anything from speaking. Actually I said that in the car the other day, and wondered if I was the first. I 'shotgunned' the saying on the off chance. A quick google later I found I continue to be unoriginal even in thought, and am unconvinced that 'shotgunning' is the correct legal avenue to trademark of phrase. I do enjoy writing this garbage, and no doubt all those around me enjoy the fact that I write it. This is not because they read my pitiful offerings, but because the rhythmic tap-tap of my keyboard is far better than the range my vocal cords can exercise when on a verbal rant. However, the point is, when I used to shout all of this, every now and again someone would shout back. So this is a quiet request that if you think you have something to say about a topic in one of my posts, please let me know. It doesn't take long to sign up to an account to comment directly on the page, but if you're short on time or confidence feel free to spill it all out into an email - my address is on the right. As much as I will no doubt ignore you (why would I have written it if I didn't already know I was right, eh?), there's a chance I might listen. And therein, a chance I might learn. Every day's a school day.

So enough of that for now, and onto today's topic; life's two constants - death and taxes. More specifically I'm going to talk about death taxes, and nearly death taxes. Not surprisingly these are not commonly called that but softer terms instead like 'care costs', 'inheritance tax' and other such euphemisms. The elderly are in the news at the moment - it appears we are not treating them properly in hospitals and elderly care facilities and at the same time they are all vastly wealthy landowners spongeing off the state for their never-ending Indian summers. Nobody has yet proved a causal revenge-based link from the latter to the former yet, but the motive's there in plain sight.

The reason I'm writing today is the worrying language coming out of the Government. Lord Warner, who is in charge of drafting plans for the reform of funding for the elderly, talks about how to exploit the "big chunk of potential" locked up in housing. This is deeply concerning. The Tories in Opposition were all against, and rightly so, having to sell one's assets to pay for Government care in old age. They proposed a one-off optional levy of £8,000 on retirement as opposed to Labour's horrific 'percentage of estate' levy on death. More in a mo...

An example is the easiest was of explaining the current system - Couple A and B earn exactly the same over the course of their lives. Couple A save up and invest in a house, paying off their mortgage as they age. To do this they forgo fast cars and foreign holidays etc. The Government encourages this activity - saving is a positive in society, it brings stability. Couple B spend every penny they earn. They have lots of holidays and cars. They have no house on retirement. Couple A and B have a few years in retirement then both fall ill in their later years and have need of care.

Couple B have less than £23,000 in assets so they immediately qualify for free Government care when required in old age. Couple A have a £150,000 house, well over the threshold, so have to pay for their care. Only, Couple A don't have any cash. So they have to sell their house, and pay for their care (estimated at £25,000 pa per person until they are below the threshold). So, after about 2 1/2 years, the house they bought is long gone, the inheritance they wished to pass on with it. They finally are now poor enough (have under £23,000 of the £150,000 cash from the house left) so the state starts paying for them.

So, what do we learn? Frankly, if you look like you're dying and bothered to save anything, either kiss it goodbye or take a long walk off Beachy Head. It is a disgusting system. It not just encourages carefree 'someone else will pick up the tab' living (though there is always that to an extent with a tax-payer funded welfare system), it positively punishes those who have acted correctly throughout their lives. To minimise the draw of the former lifestyle, one has to extol the benefits of the latter not punish it. Yet, after 2 1/2 years, the couple who have forgone luxuries and saved and prepared for the future have had everything taken from them. The couple who were capricious in their spending are rewarded for having nothing to their name. If you haven't read the wonderful Aesop's Fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper", it is put even more simply there. By way of precis, the Ant works all summer saving for the winter, and the Grasshopper plays instead. Come winter, the Ant is fine, and the Grasshopper is screwed. The moral of the story appears obvious; "idleness brings want", only in most versions, the Ant bails out his lazy friend, which rather skews it for me.

The problem is that we have a Governmental system here that says the Grasshopper is right to have not bothered to save anything, and punishes the Ant for his hard work. Now I am not one of the non-mathematical utopian types (Labour) who think everything not only should be free to all people, but will be forever because of the unending supplies of everything they (I assume) have simply forgotten to tell us about. We live too long now for our tax income to support everything else Government does and 100% free care for 100% of the population. Ditto NHS in general. As medicine has advanced and general living standards improved, this problem has and will hit more and more areas - retirement ages for one.

So, funding must come from somewhere, but the current system is nothing short of abhorrent. If ever there was an anti-aspirational system it is this or one other (just a sec). Perhaps the £8,000 voluntary payment model will work - evidence from France suggests it may do - but either way, talking about Baby Boomer wealth as a resource to be tapped is plain wrong. Remember this - if they have accrued enough to not qualify for free care, there's every chance they have contributed to the cost of their eventual care many times over. Compare that to all Britain's Grasshoppers before you sermonise about paying your way if you can afford to.

The other policy to top the anti-aspirational ladder, a paradoxical idea if ever there was one - surely it should be measured by depth into the pit of despair - is inheritance tax. Whereas the one slight reasoning for taxing Couple A over Couple B is that they are both receiving something exact. That is, if Couple A didn't require care, they would not be forced to pay for it. This saving grace is totally absent from the concept of inheritance tax, the catch all 'screw you for saving' tax. I shall keep this one brief, but this is in fact the absolute in anti-aspirationalism.

The excuse of redistribution of wealth is as hollow as a NewLabour election promise (you see they've dropped the 'New' part in time for the regression into leftist trade union-based class war). The rich (or indeed down to just the moderately well off) in this country are taxed to high heaven, for generally less in tangible recompense. This is certainly one way of doing it - one can easily argue that their benefits are elsewhere (the luxury goods multimillionaire makes little money in a restless, warring state), in stability and general country well-being. So we have a progressive tax system whereby those with most give the most and usually receive the least, both relatively and absolutely, and the poor give the least and take the most. I sign up to this one in moderation.

Not only does this policy become folly economically when we overburden the rich (try almost any credible economist on maximum levels of taxation to encourage growth and therefore to maximise tax revenue), but it becomes morally and socially wrong. It becomes non-progressive. Inheritance tax is entirely non-progressive. The wealth you or I choose to pass on is ours. It has already been taxed. If we have decided to save what little we had left over, that is as much our business as if we chose to spend it on strippers and poker. When last I checked (through asking a disreputable friend) there is no tax on a pole dance or a hand of Texas Hold'em, so why does the Government think they have a right to tax the saver? As much as we need money pumped into all areas of the economy (and pimps' and pit bosses' money is as good as anyone's on the high street), for all of those who want to wizz their money up against a wall, a solid and stable economy needs savers. Yet we punish them. Again. And again.

In all honesty, if the only two things certain in life are death and taxes, maybe the Grasshoppers are right. We've all got to die, and if the Government is adamant you can't take it with you or leave it to your own, we may as well live for today only. Now I don't believe that yet, but I wonder how many do. This Government has a job to make sure it encourages a nation of Ants, because at the moment, it's hard to see the point of not being a Grasshopper.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Screaming Along at 36,000 Feet

Well I'm back, but not in necessarily the fashion I had envisaged. Not fashion in clothing terms, you understand - I dutifully turned up in 4 degree London in Del Monte-esque pastel linens - but in terms of how enjoyable a return it was. You see, as good as my book was, or the fact that I hadn't seen any of the in-flight films before (don't try to watch 127 hours when eating lunch; beef stew and self-amputation don't mix well), it was quite a painful flight. Why, you ask? Because as always, as it seems I am fated to be on every flight until the end of time, I sat within very easy earshot of Damien the Devil Child.

Now I may be the only person to blog about this particular flight, but I can all but guarantee almost every reader will have had a flight pretty much ruined by a screaming child, and there were at least 100 fellow passengers in my position yesterday. I am also not talking about the briefly screaming child. This baby screamed for at least 7 of the 8 hours of flight. Like it was being murdered. Really painfully murdered. Again and again. In fact, whilst we're on the subject, so horrific were the screams that they would have made those of the subjects of the Spanish Inquisition pale into insignificance as slight grumblings about the cleanliness of the ablutions provided. Now you might suggest that this baby was the 1, the 5, the 10% that simply won't stop crying whatever happens and I am being unfair. If that was my only flight ruined by a screaming child I might agree. But I have taken a few hundred flights, 95% ruined by screaming children, and I refuse to believe that the same percentage of no-matter-how-hard-I-try-it-won't-stop-screaming children always end up on my flights. So this post is about all of the flights, not just yesterday's VS 672 row 42 seats C-F. You know who you are, though.

So, babies scream. We know this. Also, they generally don't like flying. We know this too. Even I know this, and I have no children. They often don't like new surroundings. They don't know how to clear their ears to deal with the pressure differentials involved with climbing and descending. Sometimes they are ill too. So, this rather comes down to the parents. With toddlers and young children, you have similar problems, and also boredom thrown in to boot.

I shall make my point clear. If you take you children anywhere you have a duty to try to control them and not let them shout the house down or run wild and ruin everyone else's day. Whether this be screaming babies or riotous toddlers, your friend's house, a church, a restaurant, or an aeroplane, this is one of the many jobs of the parents. They may not always realise this, because whilst you need a Government licence to fish or watch below average television, you don't need one to procreate. I won't get into that one now, but you have all seen parents happy to let their children do as they will, spoiling it for everyone else. Now one would hope that at least some parents would be mortified if they were in a nice restaurant and their child screamed to high heaven for the entire meal, or spent the main course kicking the crap out of someone else's chair. They would have essentially ruined the, let us modestly say £100 per table, meals of anyone in earshot.  Why does this mentality seem to disappear when every single seat costs £500-£1000 on a plane?

I know you can't take them outside, as much as it was tempting to suggest it at 36,000 feet, but you have to do something. This comes in several parts, most of which I was aware of anecdotally but is also easily available online for example. Maybe ask your parents - they probably had children. If you know your baby is uncomfortable in the crappy cots airlines provide, buy an extra seat and take their car seat - they tend to know this means sleep time. Book flights that are most likely to tally with their sleep times. If they are ill, have all the required medicine for them, and if possible some nice soporific stuff like Calpol. Don't feed them just before you get on the flight, because getting them to feed on climb and descent will equalise their ears as they swallow. For toddlers, sweets to suck on during climb and descent work for the equalisation. For boredom, bring games, colouring-in, whatever floats their boat. Now these measures might take a bit of preparation and effort on the part of parents, and even cost them a bit of money. But remember parents, we didn't choose to have your child. You did.

My final point is one I hope I will stick to in years to come as and when I am karmically blessed with the noisiest travelling babies on earth. It is, even if you can't do anything, if you already have the car seat, have timed the feeds, have given them enough drugs to put Courtney Love under and are comforting them from here to Timbuktu, and the babies are still crying or if the children apparently no longer like their toys and have finished their colouring in  … make it obvious you are trying to shut them up. Worse even than the screaming yesterday, was watching the satisfied parents who have got used to tuning out the noise, enjoying their flights whilst everyone else suffered.

Maybe when the revolution comes, and I am made King, there will be family sections at the rear of the planes (much like when there used to be smoking sections - it may be my memory doing me a disservice but I distinctly remember Iberia having smoking and non-smoking divided by the central aisle thus making it all smoking after the left turn out of Heathrow). Now that is probably unfair to the many parents who have well-behaved children and who manage their babies as well as one can, but at the moment it seems policy is to spread the misery as evenly as possible throughout the plane. This policy would though make the standing area at the back a handy screaming-only place for soothing the not-so-happy youngsters, and maximise the joy by compressing the sorrow in a wonderfully utilitarian way. Not sure Unite would be so happy, but then again, they won't be until their waitresses and waiters are paid more than the pilots. Of course, if I'm King, I probably won't have to turn right when I get on the plane. Someone else will have to answer this one for me - do they have screaming children in First Class?

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Driven to Distraction

A sad piece from the news last week - a little girl died in an RTA in Bolton after the driver (her father) followed incorrect directions from his sat nav. Now I'll skip gently round this one, because whilst it serves to highlight a point I wish to make, a little sensitivity is probably the order of the day. The driver, a learner, took an illegal right turn when prompted to do so by his sat nav system. He collided with an oncoming car to fatal ends. The illegality of such a right turn was signposted, but neither the driver nor his wife saw the signs.

There are a couple of points here. The first: an extract from the article concerned states "a recent survey found they [sat navs] had been blamed for causing around 300,000 people to crash in Britain." No they didn't. Drivers cause accidents in the vast majority of cases. Duff information from a sat nav doesn't help, but they don't make the decisions. If the chap in the street I ask for directions tells me to drive into a brick wall, down the side of a ravine or along the London to Brighton high speed line, I will probably thank him and then work it out myself (after out of sight so he doesn't know I'm ignoring him - I don't want to be rude, I'm English). You may be wondering why I would ever ask directions, being a man and all. Surely I either have a cast iron sense of direction or a cast iron stubbornness, either of which makes this direction-asking episode a figment of my imagination? I have a mix of the two. And a map. And a sat nav, but like all of us could be a much better driver.

The point is, you can't go around believing everything you are told, and the advice of sat navs is no exception to the rule. Some are better than others. Some are out of date. The same is true of maps, of the advice of locals and of the navigational directions coming from the array of back-seat drivers in your car. Ultimately though, you drive the car. You are operating a very heavy, very fast, very dangerous machine. So, have your maps and advice and up-to-date sat navs, but ultimately, look out of the window at the signs.

The second point is somewhat linked to this first, but is very specific to the case in question. Why was a learner driver using a sat nav? Now many if not most cars seem to have them these days, but having the voice of John Cleese (well he's got to pay for his divorce settlement somehow) telling you where to go does not absolve you of the responsibility for operating your vehicle safely and within the law. I would suggest basic navigation is a pretty important part of learning to drive, as is keeping your eyes out of the car not glued to a mini tv. By all means get sat nav once you've learned to drive, but if you don't teach a new driver the underlying skills, what chance have they of negotiating the roads safely if technology fails? Which it does. Regularly. Good to see, therefore, the Government introducing navigation into driving tests, but you probably still shouldn't use them whilst learning.

So that's it really. A defence of sat navs. They're pretty good. Like maps. But they don't drive the car. The sooner we stop blaming inanimate objects for the flaws of humans, we might get back to the basics of driving and do something positive for road safety. A sad lesson learned the very hardest way, but one that someone might at least learn something from.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Carry on Nurse

sRight then, time for another venture into the blogosphere, delayed by the Snail Mail's posting of dead tree press to my current location. It is quite a handy excuse to allow me to report my thoughts on the olds rather than the news. Not sure how long I can keep this up for before someone points out any self-respecting blogger should probably get some portion of his info from the world wide. But then, maybe that says more about my deep-seated feelings of inadequacy, as a blogger and as a man. Or more likely I'm just lazy and prefer the inky fingers from out of date newsprint than staring into my pretty, little, silver webterface. Apparently England are playing Wales tomorrow. Might put some money on it - any tips?

I shall persist with the "just a quick one" mantra though I realise from an indulgent perusal of my blog that such statements are rarely borne out. Today I'm blogging about an article that caught my eye from last week's press. It seems the NHS have paid to train a lady to the level of senior staff nurse, fire her for an amusing and harmless quip, then go through no fewer than three tribunals and court hearings. They're also not done yet - they still have to go back to the employment tribunal to determine how much cash they give the lady in question for the now official unfair dismissal. You would have though they were so flush for cash they were handing out cruise holidays with every MRI scan.

I struggle, and am sure I will continue to do so into eternity, to comprehend the level of idiocy that must have permeated so many levels of public services to allow a case like this not just to happen, but to be so typical as to barely raise an eyebrow - why in 4 years has nobody had a common sense check and then smartly kicked themselves in the slats for being so confoundedly stupid - hospital management, NHS management, judicial and tribunal systems (with the exception of the last that finally found in her favour)? This is not a rare case. It seems countrywide there are dolts placed into jobs in the public sector (probably because they kept getting fired from the private sector for gross stupidity) whose sole purpose it is to waste money by making rules or misreading others to try to get in the way of those actually striving to walk forwards in the quest for a better tomorrow.

And so it is I imagine we will end up a good £100,000 plus out of pocket, and maybe much much more with the case dragging on for over 4 years now. Do also remember that as always, it is 'we' who are out of pocket - every penny spent in the public sector was either once yours and mine or borrowed on our behalf without our say-so with our names and the names of our descendants for years to come on the repayment forms. In case you didn't come across the offending article, it appears whilst aiding a doctor in restraining an unconscious epileptic man who was fitting, the nurse ended up being thrown by the patient's writhing astride his naked 'waist area'. She commented "it's been a few months since I've been in this position with a man underneath me".

Apparently humour is dead. Not a complaint from the nurse that she had stayed beyond her shift to help, not a lawsuit for the physical and mental scarring caused from being kicked "between the legs" which resulted in her new position, I believe referred to in some circles as "cowgirl", though I hasten to add, I haven't the foggiest what they mean. Nope. A complaint was lodged 6 weeks later (presumably by a colleague who I hope has had to cover her extra shifts while she's been away as the patient was out for the count) and she was fired for "gross misconduct."

Now I know you know where I'm going with this so I shan't flog it to death, but seriously? Are we not allowed to say anything anymore? It was a harmless quip. If you felt it entirely necessary, you might go so far as to give her a slap on the wrist for what could look like taking advantage of a patient, but it wasn't really was it? It was making light of an awkward situation. Now I'm not suggesting Carry On levels of sauciness about the workplace are to be condoned, but we're in a totally different ballpark, to use the vernacular. So again, remember when you hear about hospitals "being forced to close" or "being forced to cut services" because of the "harsh cuts" (read: only the start of what is necessary to stop us 'doing a Greece'), they choose to waste your money here first well before they even think about treating a patient.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Politically Correct Football - The Final Frontier

Most men don't know how to knit. Most women don't know the offside rule. These statements are both true. But joking about one of them with a friend can get you sacked. Of course, having been in the wilderness I am arriving well after the after-party has finished in the Andy Gray / Richard Keys / Sian Massey sexist comments affair. However I have arrived in a weird parallel universe. One where we are happy for super-injuncting, multi-millionaire, cheating husband footballers to screw and punch their way around town screaming abuse on live television that would make a sailor blush, but absolutely will not stand for a couple of presenters sharing an off air comment about women and football that has probably been spoken more times than the Hail Mary.

I'm only planning a quick one here, because I don't want to get into the minutiae as they've been thrashed about for ages. Now there's a fair chance both Gray and Keys hold some sexist ideas. Despite their public lampooning it is probably fair to say they are not alone in holding them, inside or outside of football. The thrust of this post is … what the crap has happened to the world? Now when last I checked half of the Middle East and North Africa was breaking into civil war, the "let's bomb Iran campaign" was steadily gathering pace and MI6 reckon we're all about to be blown to bits by the friendly British jihadi next door and MI5 don't know anything about it. But somehow, not only is it news that in football (the most ubiquitous common ground in world manhood beyond perhaps thinking boobs were a great idea) some people think women are perhaps slightly out of their depth, but (yes, this sentence is continuing) that divulging this top secret information can get you hung, drawn and quartered.

Now before you don your suffragette uniform and chain yourself to the railings of Law Abiding Citizen HQ (good luck, it's a rather prickly hedge - if it were a railing I would affix a 'no parking' sign), I'm not out here to condone sexism. I just think we could perhaps do with some perspective. If Gray or Keys walked up to Ms Massey and said "You, by virtue of being a woman have no place in football, as you do not even know the offside rule" I think we'd be on a different page. But they didn't. They were talking to each other at work, and their conversation was not live or broadcast. The same goes for all the other dirt dug up on them. Nope, some do-gooder thought this eminently leakable, so they got the Chris Jeffries treatment (full apology of corresponding size to trial-by-press no doubt only days away). Now this is a dangerous precedent to set.

We already have laws on causing offence whereby intention of offence is no longer relevant. Rather like saying causing anyone's death is murder - a bit dramatic, but the principle is the same. We have degrees of murder/manslaughter etc because intent is one of the most important things in criminal proceedings. Why do the politically correct mafia think they have a right to ignore this? Where to next? If I write down "women are all crap drivers" in my diary and someone reads that am I to be charged? Or one step further - a little thought crime anyone? Or on the flip side "men can't iron" - now that puts the cat amongst the pigeons. Remember kids, PC thickos only support you if you are not mainstream. Make as many gags as you like about white, male, English bankers.

We need to take a big step back and realise this has got out of hand. As with so many things, from a dark past the balance has gone from catch-up to overtake and is now firmly out of balance the far side. We must be freed from this nonsense. As the rather too crude for my tastes Frankie Boyle points out, Andy Gray and Richard Keys say women don't know the offside rule and they'll never work at Wembley again. Michael MacIntyre says it and he fills the whole stadium.

Of course I think sexism is wrong, but if you want to watch a football match and blame a girl for not knowing a law (which she does, and got right), that's fine. Just don't shout it in her face. Jokes have butts, generalisations and stereotypes can be funny, and people will always pick on something about someone. To each their own.

We are treading on very thin ice with this crap. There is in all these things a line, unfortunately the British public seem to have gone so far past the line they've forgotten it ever existed; that there is anything you can say without causing undue and deep personal offence. Frankly, you're all being a bunch of little girls on this one - maybe man up a little. That's all folks, must finish my cardigan. Knit one, purl one...

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Divorced of Logic

Now call me a bluff old traditionalist, but I thought marriage was generally meant to be an arrangement that is romantically motivated. Now I know that it doesn't always end up all peaches and cream, but the manner in which some more public marriages fail has me thinking if these days it isn't rather more all about cash. I've had this little bee in my bonnet for a while, and a casual glance at a tabloid which found its way into the middle of the bondu (from whence I have just returned) has awakened the sleeping dog.

My bone to pick is with divorce settlements. Now there are several cases I'll probably mention here, but I think I shall tap into the populist media first for a change. A days old and well-thumbed copy of the Sun informed me that about a week or two ago Alex Reid and Katie Price (nee Jordan) announced the end to their calamitous 11 month marital union. Ok, no great surprises there - I would imagine it could be hard making a marriage work with TV cameras in your home 24/7. However, as much as Ms Price's way of life might not fit into my idea of model citizen (no pun intended), I feel rather sorry for her. Why on earth would she apparently need to take precautions to safeguard her money from a man she has had a relationship with for less time than it takes her to read her own book? They have no children. All the money is hers. So what's the problem?

Of course the problem is that this curious little fellow is demanding a cool £2 million to sling his hook. And in today's crazy world, there are enough imbeciles out there misreading enough imbecilic laws to make that a genuine concern for Tits McGee. And we're not even in California, where they are proper mental (just ask John Cleese). Yes, today we shall investigate the worrying trend for staggeringly large divorce payouts; the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

There actually won't be many good ones, incidentally, so don't hold your breath. First let's look at the ridiculous. We'll start with Katie Price. Her husband brought sweet Fanny Adams to the marriage in financial terms. She is already a multimillionaire in her own right. They were together for 11 months. They have no children. To my mind, he should probably just jog on. Any loss of earnings he might want to claim are not down to her as he could perfectly well keep up his day job of hitting people. If he took time off, it's his prerogative, not her fault. In addition he will no doubt have future earnings as a D list celebrity, entirely down to his association with Price (thanks very much). How long before Saturday night sofa dwellers are watching him on Britain's Got Strictly Come Jungle on Ice? However, I fear Price will end up paying the sponger off for fear of negative publicity and what some barking judge somewhere might decide.

Now let us look at the breakdown of John Cleese's third marriage. His first two ended in an undisclosed settlement with the gorgeous Connie Booth (of Fawlty Towers fame) and £2.5 million with Barbara Trentham. He had a daughter with both actresses and is still friends with them today. He was then married to Alice Faye Eichelberger for 16 years. They had no children. The vast majority of his opus was completed before they ever met (he was in his early 50s when they wed). The money that he earned since their marriage was down to royalties on work previously done, his investments and other work that depended on his theatrical skills. He did not require Ms Eichelberger to stop earning or to look after a home or children (though she was unemployed and living in a council house when they met - so despite the relative luxury that one can live in on the state, let us not imagine even if she did stop it was all that much money). Whilst they have been married a long time, what Cleese had and shared with her was still all down to him. Verdict? He handed over more than half of his net value. If nothing else, I imagine his two former wives are a little surprised (and his two children who just had their inheritance halved). Absolutely barking - thank you California.

The justification for handing over £12 million in cash and property and £600,000 a year for 7 years (presumably to get the poor girl back on her feet again)? Probably the best bit. The rather dubious Fiona Shackleton argued that because Cleese was so rich and famous, Eichelberger had become used to "being entertained by royalty and dignitaries in castles." It rather makes me want to throw up. It's the same crap argument that the odious Heather Mills tried to used in her divorce from Sir Paul McCartney (who was represented by Shackleton; on the other side this time). Since when did being used to being spoiled entitle you to a lifetime of spoiling courtesy of someone else's bar tab? It's a wonderful ruse - I must be kept in the standards to which I have become accustomed. Perhaps this shouldn't just extend to divorce law. Perhaps anyone who has ever had any money should be safeguarded from losing the privileges it once bought. Only who would pay for that? Of course, it only works as a tinpot argument because there is some (soon to be) poor dolt to foot the bill in divorce law.

You might be thinking around this time "well, they're bloody rich anyway, so who cares?" I hope not, because whilst I wouldn't be angry with you, I would be disappointed. The entire legal system is predicated on the idea that we are all equal under the law. Why should a rich man be penalised because he is rich with a heavy settlement? Would you make no fuss if it was the poor man who was worse off under the same law because of his lack of wealth? So you see the general theme here - if you don't bring anything to the party, why should the host keep the party going for you long after you've been thrown out?

So those are a couple of the worst of the cases. There is also the story of the lottery winner having half his windfall claimed by an ex-wife due to not having a clean break divorce. How one could justify her contribution to his £1 expenditure that bought the fortuitous ticket I cannot imagine. However, his lawyers obviously convinced him that he should settle out of court for a staggering amount because they know there would be a good chance of losing in our screwed up judicial system. This after he had offered £1 million of his £10 million or so to a trust fund for his daughter - refused of course because the morally reprehensible mother just wanted cash for herself. I could go on, but you get the idea.

If you meet, fall in love, get married and have children one of you will probably stay home to raise that family and run the household. If you divorce many years later, the stay-at-home parent deserves a share of the couple's net worth. I cannot fault that logic, and don't think one should. This is how we end up with the John and Beverley Charman case for example. The owner of Axis and his wife did exactly that. On divorcing, she was awarded 37% of his net worth, to date the largest UK divorce settlement at £48 million. Now the only possible argument here is the percentage. The argument against 50/50 splits or indeed splits even this big is familiar within the superstar world of sports and film.

Charman argued most of that wealth, though admittedly being created from scratch with them both playing their part, was down to his exceptional contribution. I feel I actually agree with him - it's more likely he's pretty good at his job than just long term lucky. Mrs Charman certainly did nothing wrong, but tables turned, would she have built up a £130 million empire? The judge surmised when deciding in Mrs Charman's favour "in the narrow, old-fashioned sense, that perspective is understandable, if somewhat anachronistic. Nowadays it must attract little sympathy."

This is where it gets controversial. Siding with Charman (who offered about 15% - £20 million) rather goes back on the whole being treated differently because you're rich thing. If the Charman's were poor would we begrudge Mrs Charman 37%, or even 50%? I imagine not, in either case. But you can understand where Charman is coming from. As he said, the offer of £20 million is an amount "impossible for any reasonable person to spend in their lifetime." Michael Jordan paid his wife over £80 million. She's probably crap at basketball. Marcia Murphy probably can't hold a tune, but Neil Diamond still paid her over £75 million. In cases like these, you can't help but feel for the earner. 

So where does this leave us? Now that the courts also seem to recognise long term relationships as if they were marriages, the 'not getting married' ruse is out of the window too. So I think it probably leaves us in the world of the pre-nup. A shady but clearly now necessary concept in the world of marriage for profit or profit by marriage (depending on intent). I imagine asking your betrothed to sign one is up there for romance killers with asking them to pop down to the local GUM clinic for a 10,000 mile check. However, I think that in the modern day it is probably a sensible way forward. Sad, that. Unfortunately, in today's world where £20 million isn't enough and the legal pendulum has swung far too far the other way, is there any real alternative? It's your future, and that of your potential unborn children you're protecting.

It is gratifying therefore to see the UK Supreme Court ruling in favour of honouring them in general with their verdict in October 2010 in the Granatino vs Radmacher case. The caveats are sensible enough if not totally binding: the agreements may give great weight to any divorce case providing the terms were fair and entered into knowingly and of one's own free will (the usual jazz). They retain the right to waive them on a case by case basis, especially where it is deemed unfair to the children of the marriage. So hopefully here endeth the UK's hold on title of Divorce Capital Europe, and common sense can reign for once.

I guess we shall see; no large UK divorce case having been put before the courts since. The judiciary have certainly left themselves enough wriggle room to ignore the logic of any given pre-nup case. One can but hope. And that hope is only there for those with enough assets or confidence in future assets to deem a pre-nup necessary. For the rest of us we had better wish love is eternal, because otherwise, you're probably screwed.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Now I'm off to the desert again for a few days, so you shall have to amuse yourself in other ways than the 3 minutes a day or so it takes to read, disagree with and mentally discard my thoughts on life, trivia and the universe. Perhaps have a look at a couple of the blogs I check in on from time to time - they're on my reading list on the right. It's an area I'm trying to expand, and is especially useful out here where my beloved dead tree news takes longer to arrive than a Christmas parcel. If you see any good ones out there feel free to email me - my details are on the right too. Just don't find anything too good and not come back. Then it would just be me and perhaps my mother reading.

So how to make sure of your return? It should be the greatest post ever, even better than "First Secretary of State, Lord President of the Council, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, President of the Board of Trade, Baron Mandelson of Foy." And that was quite a post. Only "Dark Lord, Ruler of All that is Insidious" was missing, and I don't think I have it in me. So I thought I'd blog about sun cream, and not just about it being taken away from me by kleptomaniac airport stasi. I thought I'd point out how as much as I prefer the spray sun cream, it irritates me that the rather vital spray element of the item tends to pack up after 4 squirts leaving you pouring liquid hither and thither cursing your positively mormonesque sunbathing neighbour with his retro but functional cream bottle. But I realised that was all I had to say on that, and it probably wouldn't be good enough. So I'm going to talk about equality instead.

The "Equality Act", and it is certainly an act, is the 'brainchild' of none other than Joan of Harman, crusader for apparent equality. Shabbier than the standard pardons of political friends on leaving office in the US, this was a true Parthian shaft from Harperson. If it wasn't for the fact that I don't believe her intellectually capable of such devilment, I might suggest she forced this utterly crap Act through in the last breaths of the Labour Government just to spite those who she knew would inherit it.

Now the Coalition were right to get rid of the horrific social engineering element of this pathetic leftist Act. They have purged the awful clause, begging for legal exploitation, about making it beholden upon all public bodies to essentially socially engineer if a person's lower socio-economic level in any way correlated to their not getting a free mansion, a Double First from Cambridge and an endless supply of £40,000 a year for life scratch cards. They have not gone far enough, though.

They have pressed on with the "Equality Duty." Whilst I can see logic in bringing together a lot of the miscellaneous equality legislation, and this is the only straw to which the Government are grasping, it is still utterly misguided. Perhaps it will save a lot in the long run by condensing what has been a haphazard legislatory debacle into "one easy to manage loan", I mean 'piece of legislature'. But that doesn't get around how it is still a total load of crap itself.

Under the "Equality Duty" all public bodies have to ask a bunch of questions of their employees. The larger the organisation, the more intrusive the questions and more expensive the implementation. In the case of the Department for Work and Pensions I imagine they require gold plated speculums. Apparently we must know if employees are: gay, straight, black, white, brown, blue, tall, short, male, female, right handed, left handed, Catholic, Hindu, Jedi. Competent unsurprisingly doesn't make the list. Then we put it all into a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, highlight it all and click the pie chart button. A paper clip will pop up in the bottom corner saying "It looks like you have collated a load of irrelevant data. Would you like me to make it look like society is being ruined by the domination of pushy tennis mums and white middle class men who listened at school?"

You see, all this is, is a very expensive census. Telling us who is employed, how many of them are over 50, how many are atheists and how many have an extra nipple (not necessarily all together) is pretty pointless on its own. You can't look at those numbers and say: We don't employ enough Scientologists. We don't employ enough 42 year olds. We don't employ enough pole dancers. Without going into massive detail, you will have no idea why the breakdown is as it is, or whether it is right or wrong.

Every year people harp on about the number of state school versus private school children who get into universities, and especially into Oxbridge. No-one ever bothers to publish application numbers, interview and test results, exam results or the personal statements on UCAS forms. No, there are many things weighed up on deciding which students to accept, but if in a given year the number of state school kids going to Oxford drops, the call of "off with their heads" echoes around Fleet Street and Whitehall. No-one asks if enough cricketers got in. Or enough cider drinkers. It may seem to be taking it a bit far, but the point is you can't take a single statistic in isolation when it is viewed alongside many others you choose to ignore. What if record numbers of state school children applied that year, but were not deemed up to scratch? Universities are there to pick out those with the most potential. They have been charged with encouraging more state school children to apply, but that is where their responsibility ends. If they get loads to apply but they aren't good enough, they've done their bit, and the state schools have not done theirs. But we all know how it would play out in the media.

So I expect the public sector censuses will "tell" us that women don't get paid enough, and white men are unfairly dominant. Unfortunately, in doing so it steps well beyond what it can know. It does not know if any of that is warranted or needs redressing, because all it is is a bunch of numbers that cost you and me a bucketload of money. It won't have asked how many women took breaks for motherhood so have lower salaries commensurate with their lesser time at work and lack of continuity. It will just tell us that women are discriminated against. It will tell us that it is unfair that the British Army doesn't recruit many Buddhists. It will not have asked how many actually applied, and whether the ones who were turned away were any good.

It is no surprise the Government wants nothing to do with the results, devolving responsibility for interpreting these random numbers to the Big Society. According to the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, we are all meant to look at the results and then "be in the front line for holding public bodies to account." At best one hopes that means everyone will give it all a damn good ignoring, at worst it will give bad ideas to those in local government with the dangerous combination of a little power and a little brain. You wonder whether the Tories let this one go because they have bigger fish to fry or are still worried about the "nasty party" image that the Grauniad and others would happily run if they amended this codswallop. Either way, all the "Equality Duty" will ever be is an embodiment of the truism that there are "lies, damn lies and statistics."

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Getting the Ball Rolling

Nothing political today. I'm too excited about the forthcoming 6 Nations rugby-fest. Being English, this is the best part of the competition these days; the time before we capitulate to Italy or claim we can take positives from being seen off by our Celtic or Gallic cousins. Yes, for now we can bask in the semi-glory of an average autumn internationals series, distant enough in memory for the bad bits to have been erased. For now we can talk about how we will probably win the Grand Slam, and on paper are the strongest team. Now is the time for posturing, knowing when it comes to it there's no realistic chance of half of it being true. With the exception of the fact that England know they are going to have to have a go at it, rather than say they "coulda been a contender" from the sidelines, it's a bit like a Lib Dem manifesto. Well there had to be a tiny bit of politics in there, even if it's only a childish jibe.

So today's post is going to be about rugby. It's not about how footballers and their supporters could generally take a leaf (or sheaf) out of rugby's book, true though it may be (think discipline, controlled aggression, respect for authorities, grace in victory, sportsmanship, role models). It's not even about how it's just a much better game. Nope, today I want to blog about law changes. So if you aren't big on rugby, I would probably give this one a miss. I'll be back tomorrow with something more mainstream.

There have been many experimental laws over the past few years, all supposedly with the aim of speeding up the game and making it more open, of encouraging positive, running rugby. I have a couple which would do that. One simple one, one desperately complex.

Simple first: several years ago the rather laborious rolling maul was given a kick up the proverbial. It had too long been allowed to hold up games and waste time, the ball safely squirrelled away under the arm of a neolithic No.8 at the rear, slowly meandering over the pitch, pausing for breath on every whim. Out came the "use it or lose it" law. Under it, if the maul stopped rolling (became stationary or very slow) more than twice, the referee would award a scrum to the opposing team. He told the scrum-half to "use it or lose it". We have this law. It works: the game is the better for it.

Towards the end of at least one of the upcoming 6 Nations matches one team will have a slim lead. They will get the ball in the 75th minute, and that will be the end of the game. This is because they will go from one 'ruck' to another, with normally 20 or 30 seconds between phases. By 'ruck' I mean impenetrable mass of bodies breaking every law ever devised for the ruck (but that will be my second law change). These days the 'attacking' team is allowed to keep the ball at the base of the ruck, apparently interminably, and reorganise the next wave of 'attack' as if it were a whiteboard exercise down at the training ground spread over an afternoon with light refreshments. Arms are waved, people wander about, they get prepped, props congregate at a stoop, there is a bit of shouting, days pass, then the ball is moved a metre and 0.8 seconds later everyone has fallen over, and we start the process again.

If you institute the identical "use it or lose it" law to the ruck, firstly the game will be quicker, and secondly the game will be more open. The reason for the former is obvious, the reason for the latter is that with less time to marshal one's troops there are more openings; there are fewer people per square yard; gaps appear in attack and defence. Trust me, this one's a no-brainer, and it will stop the tedium of the end of previously good games descending into apparently technically correct but spiritually void tactics.

The second one is what to do about the ruck in general, or more specifically "the contact area". The problem is that nobody follows the laws at the moment, no team, and no referee, so crucial penalties are decided it seems on a whim. I believe it's either done on a 'who has broken the most laws at this ruck' basis, or 'who broke the law the most overtly or nearest to the ref' basis. But it's not done with reference to the law book. According to the laws you still aren't allowed to handle the ball in a ruck, you still aren't allowed to lie down on the opposition side of the ball nor reposition your body once you've been tackled. However, anyone who has observed a single ruck in professional rugby these days will know that the concomitant breaking of these rules is probably the best definition of what a ruck now is. Everyone lies down, everyone handles it and with no movement of bodies over ball, the egg somehow magically appears at the scrum-half's feet (or passed into his hands).

So, the new law: On being tackled to the ground and held, the tackled player may hold onto the ball for 2 seconds. If within that time one or more of his own team have joined the contact (making at least 3 in total including the opposition tackler), a ruck has been formed and the referee will say "ruck, hands off" (situation 1). The tackled player will then be allowed to place the ball on the ground free from handling interference from the defenders. The tackler is to attempt to roll away if he is on the wrong side of the ball. The only players allowed to touch the ball with their hands thereafter will be the scrum-halves (or acting) on either side when retrieving the ball to play it. To win the ball, either team must push over the ball whilst remaining standing and bound or drag the ball back with their feet.

If however a supporting player has not made it to the tackled player within 2 seconds (regardless of how many defenders are present), the referee will say "no ruck, release" (situation 2). The tackled player must then release the ball or be penalised and the defender's team are allowed to play the ball with their hands (pick it up).

Anyone going off their feet over the ball at any time will be penalised. Anyone handling the ball other than those allowed above will be penalised. If the tackled player rolls himself over on the ground to better place the ball he will be penalised. The tackled player shall be allowed to hold the tackled player in position of the tackle until the 2 second limit. Thereafter he, like his team-mates, may play the ball once standing. Essentially, it is just a slight clarification on the laws we have but ignore.

Why is this better?

It means the breakdown is no longer a guessing game. There is a defined limit to how long you can hold onto the ball. It encourages support play because it gives a set 2 seconds to the attacking team to form a ruck. It means the defenders know when the ball is fair game. It means a good tackle that turns a man is rewarded as a poor body position when being tackled is punished. It means an end to dangerous body positions with people flying in off their feet into rucks with men bent double, heads colliding all over. It means the ruck might actually become a credible part of the game again.

So there you have it, somewhat of a non-sequitor. Absolutely nothing to do with politics, but if that was all that got me wound up, I suppose I'd be a little one-dimensional. Next up, why fried eggs and love hearts are the best Haribo Starmix and why railway station announcements all breach European Union safe decibel limits. Or some more stuff on human rights - I'll see how I feel.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor...

Well I'm back. No doubt you all missed me. I have had my basic human right to an internet connection reinstated. My employers will be off for a court appearance in the Hague some time soon, no doubt. I often start these blog posts with "just a quick one" which continue to be anything but, however tonight, I mean it. I'm a little tired and I've already said the bulk of this one - think of it as more of an update. Tonight, my specialist subject is the apparent inability of rich politicians to understand their poorer underlings.

I blogged the main body of this a few weeks ago (here). The long and the short of it being that there are some people who think that if you aren't poor, you cannot understand any politics to do with the poor and so will always make terrible decisions regarding their welfare. Following in this logic, Mrs Thatcher should only have been allowed to make policy on greengrocers, chemists and lawyers and Churchill had no right whatsoever to be First Lord of the Admiralty with only an Army background. It is, of course, total and utter bunkum.

The next person to add themselves to the list of people criticising the Cabinet because of their privileged backgrounds and financially successful lives is prize plonker and crusader for all that is ill-thought out, David Davis MP. Yup, Davis signs up totally to the fact that the current Cabinet can't understand the financial strains on a £40,000 pa earner facing child benefit cuts because they're all loaded.

Davis states "they are who they are - they come from their own background, they don't actually come from backgrounds where they had to scrape for the last penny at the end of the week." Several points here. The most crushingly obvious one is what a load of bigoted crap. Since when was it ok to criticise someone because of their background? Imagine, if you will, the clamour for heads to roll if this were reversed; if this were about inheritance tax and a politician (or anyone) said, "well, so-and-so isn't rich, they're from a poor background so they don't know what it's like to try to pass on your multi-million pound estate to your children - they never had to work out what to do with all that spare cash even after paying for the stable of polo ponies - so they're not in any position to really make policy here; they just can't understand." It is classist, mean-spirited, discriminatory drivel at its worst.

The next point is how lovely it must be for Mr Davis to be able to talk about this having come from modest roots in London. However, for the last 24 years he has been a serving MP, raking in a pretty above-average wage to say the least. His basic wage these days is a touch over £65,000, plus expenses (but they never make any profit there). I would say he has long since forgotten what it is like to search around for pennies at the end of the week. This is also true of any MP - none of them are on the breadline, but apparently it's ok for the adequately rich but not the very rich to make policy that governs the poor.

Which is really the last point, and the one I made extensively in the aforementioned post. Government is about putting the best people from a cross-section of society, through a fair and open voting system, in a position to take the decisions they think best for all the citizens of the country. Churchill came from a very wealthy background. He ate, drank and socialised with the highest of society. He holidayed in exclusive and prohibitively expensive locations and did much to excess. He was no flat-capper, no working men's club regular. I should say that might not seem 'in touch' with the poorer voters, only back then people cared far more about substance than show. Was he a good leader? Was he a good politician? Was he good for the country?

It is not about who is poor or rich, black or white, tinker, tailor, soldier or sailor. One can do nothing about one's background - it is where they have been. What should always be of infinitely more interest is one's present and one's future - it is where they are, what they do, where they intend on going, and what they intend on doing; and if they are a politician in power, we're probably all going too. Politics, for all its point scoring on who has done what, is about what we should do now. I would like to say this shady subject can be consigned to history and we can move on with getting the nation back on its feet, but I think we all know we shall hear this drum beaten again before the next Parliament.