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Friday, August 28, 2009

Seriously Browned Off

Is it just me or does anyone else think we have reached the nadir of modern British politics? I hold one appalling individual responsible: Gordon Brown. It is impossible to put into words the level of contempt I have for the man but I will try, damn it.

This is a man who has risen to become Prime Minister without being elected even by his own craven party, never mind by the public at large. His behaviour during Tony Blair's time in office illustrates the kind of man he is. I'm no fan of Blair but at least he could connect with the public and win elections. He had charisma and was willing to face his critics head on. He was the most successful politician Labour had produced for generations.

So did Brown do all he could to support his former friend and colleague? No. Increasingly embittered by the failure of Blair to honour a supposed deal to hand over power to Brown at some unspecified point, the brooding Scot began to do all he could to undermine Blair and wreck his policies. As the years passed and Brown's rancour grew, he ratcheted up the pressure on Blair to leave office. He didn't care a jot that Blair was the elected Prime Minister. Brown wanted power at any cost. The country was not even a consideration.

And what happened when Brown eventually forced Blair aside and ascended to power? We had a brief honeymoon period where the 'no-nonsense, tough guy' spin that Brown had built up around him distracted us, then his myriad character flaws came rushing to the fore.

Brown is a man who is detached from reality, who has no idea what real people think, who has no instinctive political judgement. He is a man who is paranoid, defensive, crippled by indecision. He has no political roadmap; no idea of where he's going or how to get there. It speaks volumes that such a man craved to be Prime Minister. He didn't want the job to make the world a better place: it was to fulfil a need within him. We all want validation. Brown thought being PM would be his.

Instead his premiership has turned out to be a nightmare the like of which would have broken any normal individual. But Brown isn't normal. Normal is the last word to describe him by. It beggars belief that he believes he can win the next election, that he can somehow convince the country to have five more years of his deceitful dithering. If he knows inside his flint heart that he can't win, why doesn't he step down? He gives the impression of a man who will go potty and barricade himself inside Number 10 when he's inevitably voted out of office. That would be a siege worth watching. I suspect I wouldn't be the only one shouting 'shoot him! shoot him!' at the TV screen as the police negotiators tried to coax him out.

Back to reality though. Even in ordinary circumstances it would be outrageous that an unelected PM was stubbornly holding onto power despite the sure knowledge that the public wanted him out. But these are not ordinary circumstances. We are at war. As the Sun pointed out today, it seems the UK government wants to pretend the hellhole of Helmand isn't really a war at all. But it is. It's a war that's claiming the lives of young men with appalling regularity. And, worst of all, it’s a war that can't be won.

But as the bullets fly in the sandpit, Brown keeps his head down. As we free the the only man convicted of the worst terrorist atrocity on UK soil, Brown keeps his mouth shut. And as a country that once flew high enters a irretrievable tailspin, Brown grips the controls ever tighter and to tells his terrified passengers, 'This is your captain speaking. I'm taking you all down with me!'

Monday, August 24, 2009

Trucking hell

A call by MPs for a crackdown on dodgy foreign lorries on British roads is long overdue. It's reckoned up to 30 people a year die in collisions with left-hand drive trucks from abroad: more than one a fortnight. But before we start having a pop at foreign truckers, let's look closer to home.

We have endless debates in Britain about road safety. We've allowed the police to cash-in on the thousands of speed cameras lining our roads. I don't think I know anyone who hasn't received a ticket thanks to one of these machines, irrespective of whether their speed was inappropriate or potentially dangerous when the flashbulb fired. (The police privately acknowledge it is inappropriate use of speed that kills -- not speed per se.)

We've also banned the use of mobile phones at the wheel. And woe betide anyone who is caught chomping on a Mars bar whilst driving. The overtaxed car driver has never been so scrutinised or vulnerable to arbitrary justice. But when it comes to our swaggering army of truckers, different rules seem to apply.

It has been a matter of foaming-at-the-mouth rage for me for many years that the behaviour of the lorry drivers on our roads seems to be beyond the reach of the law. Or, rather, the law can't be arsed to do anything about it.

It's a depressing irony that these huge vehicles, which require intelligence and expertise to drive, are manned mainly by men who have the intellect of a sausage roll. And not just any sausage roll: a fat, tattooed, aggressive sausage roll that's addicted to pornography.

Jeremy Clarkson was criticised last year when he linked truckers with the murder of prostitutes. The Top Gear presenter described being a truck driver as a hard job. He said: "You've got to change gear, change gear, change gear, check mirror... murder a prostitute. Change gear, change gear, murder. That's a lot of effort in a day."

Clarkson was wrong to make those comments. Wrong because they didn't go far enough. He should have said: "You've got to change gear, cause an horrific pile up, murder a prostitute, plough into the back of a family car, murder a prostitute, have your mobile phone glued to your ear, murder, pull out without indicating, read the Daily Sport on the passenger seat, drive six inches behind the lorry in front, check mirror." I could go on.

Ask yourself how many times you're been forced to hit your brakes as one lorry attempts to overtake another on a dual carriageway. We're all familiar with the scene: two trucks abreast, with one inching slowly past its rival as traffic builds up behind. The truck drivers involved don't give a hoot about the inconvenience they're causing -- or the fact that forcing other roads users to slow down is in breach of the Highway Code.

What's worse though is what happens prior to such manoeuvres. Truckers are always in a hurry so they refuse to ease up on their accelerators. And because most HGVs are underpowered or overloaded -- or both -- overtaking safely is nigh on impossible. So they drive to within inches of the vehicle in front before they pull out. This is appallingly dangerous driving. The stopping distance for a car at 70 miles per hour is 315 feet. Imagine what it is for a 40 tonne truck. If a lorry batters into the back of your car you'll be lucky to walk away.

So why is it that the police choose not to act? Why aren't police camera cars patrolling our motorways and filming this practise? It's more than commonplace; it's the modus operandi of 99.9 per cent of lorry drivers. You might think that dealing with clear-cut cases of potentially lethal dangerous driving would be more important than dishing out speeding tickets irrespective of whether the speeding in question was dangerous, but apparently not.

The reality is that speed cameras make money and are easy policing. Tackling the moronic and criminal behaviour of truckers would require more resources so they are left to drive their behemoth killing machines with impunity.

The issue of dangerous foreign lorries driving on UK roads is deadly serious. But unless we get to grips with the innumerable hazards posed by our own HGVs, this campaign stands about as much chance as a sex worker at a truckers' convention.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The final betrayal of the Lockerbie innocents

The release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the only man ever convicted of the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 in 1988, represents a new nadir for anyone who cares about justice.

The ailing 57-year-old claims he's been the victim of a miscarriage of justice; it's true that his conviction is extremely questionable. As Robert Fisk explains in The Independent, he might have been a convenient scapegoat.

If he is innocent, it is an outrage that whoever planted the Lockerbie bomb, killing 270 people, has not been brought to book. If he was culpable, it is equally outrageous that he has been released. Sure, he has terminal cancer, but so what? Compassionate grounds should not apply to someone who sentenced scores of innocent people to terrifying deaths and their families to life sentences of unremitting grief.

At the root of all of this though is not justice; as usual, it is money. The horror of that night 21 years ago, and only four days before Christmas, is unforgettable. And yet our politicians and business leaders are more than happy to wipe it from their memories and cash in on the West's rapprochement with Libya. It is sickening almost beyond belief that a couple of decades is enough to reduce the slaughter of innocents to a economic bargaining chip.

Perhaps in 2022 the West will be feting Osama Bin Laden if he promises to allow construction of a new M&S in his cave in the Swat Valley.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dopey Dawn comes bottom of the class

Is there a more stupid person in our government than Dawn Primarolo? To be fair to her, there probably is (Gordon Brown springs to mind). But with her latest mealy-mouthed offerings, dopey Dawn has done her level best to persuade everybody she’s thicker than a ham-and-phonebook sandwich. It’s almost embarrassing to repeat what she said but her comments have value insofar as they give a perfect illustration of why the Left in Britain has failed to deliver on education.

Primarolo was responding to the Conservative party’s plans to reform school league tables. If they win the next general election, the Tories say they’ll consider bringing in a system that would give greater weight to subjects such as maths and science at A-Level. If they did this, the Conservatives would be formalising what has been recognised for many years: that some subjects are easier than others; that there are ‘soft’ options when it comes to academic studies.

There is no doubt whatsoever that this is true. The best result I got at A-Level was in History but I’m certain, beyond any doubt, that maths would have been significantly harder to study. What would impress you more on a C.V.: a ‘B’ in Chemistry or an ‘A’ in Media Studies? Like Home Economics, it’s a no-brainer.

When it comes to degrees, the comparisons are even starker. We all know which ones are utter crap and worthless and which are respected and useful. “Um, yah, I got a First in a combined degree encompassing Golf Course Management, Massage, Complimentary Medicine, Naval Gazing and Cannabis Cultivation.” Wow, well done! That will get you your dream job, assuming it’s working in a windowless call centre in Peterborough for the rest of your life, spending your days daydreaming about calmly but carefully gunning down every last one of your despised colleagues.

But Dawn Primarolo – the Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families no less – has a different view. She thinks it is "preposterous" to suggest some subjects are tougher than others. This is what she told the BBC: "The idea that there are soft and hard, that some are better and others are second class, I think, frankly, is completely wrong and this does not help us take forward the very important debate of how do we make sure our children go to schools that stretch them, whether they're falling behind or they're bright, that they come out with qualifications that build on their potential and take them forward in the future."

By uttering such nonsense, Primarolo is defining her three priorities on education: bullsh*t, bullsh*t and bullsh*t. But she’s doing more than this; she’s casting clear white light on why the Left can’t be trusted with the education of our children.

The political correctness of Potty Primarolo dictates that when it comes to education, judgements cannot be made. Nothing is easy or hard. There is no win or lose. In the recent past, Sports Days were abolished in some schools because of fears pupils could feel bad for coming last in the sack race. It didn’t strike the besandalled buffoons responsible for this lunacy that it might actually benefit young people to learn to compete, and to win or lose gracefully; that it might equip them for life in the real world in which successes and failures happen every day and resilience is key to survival.

The Left’s laudable ambition is to ensure everyone gets a fair crack of the educational whip, irrespective of class or wealth. I wholeheartedly support this ideal. It’s not fair that that middle-class Martin gets better grades than sink-estate Stevie just because Martin has bright parents, bookshelves and broadband, whereas Stevie has to study in a noisy, sibling-packed council house that stinks of Rottweiler piss and the rancid smoke of his mother’s Lambert and Splutter.

But the way to fix this inequality is not to lower standards: it’s to increase opportunities for all. It’s to strive for excellence everywhere. It’s to look at the best schools and do whatever it takes to replicate them across the country. It’s to address the desperate social problems that lock thousands of kids into ignorance and unemployment.

The Government has failed to address these real issues so instead it makes it easier for everyone to get qualifications and pretends they’re all worth the same. There are more top grades and more people going to university. But anyone who has read the C.V. of an average graduate will have witnessed the lamentable grasp of English that students who have gone right through the education system possess.

Saying there are no hard or soft subjects is like saying all MPs have equal talents and intellects. Thanks to Dopey Dawn, we definitely know that’s not true…

Monday, August 17, 2009

A war based on bollocks

"We will succeed and we must succeed." They’re the words of General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, talking about the NATO mission in Afghanistan, which is supposed to be making the world a safer place. Fighting extremists over there stops them coming over here, runs the argument. But as Captain Blackadder would say: “There's only one tiny flaw in that reasoning: it's bollocks!”

The respected Labour MP Paul Flynn puts it less crudely. He told the BBC: "Our soldiers are dying in a cause that is as noble to them as any cause that we've fought in our history. But sadly they are the lions who are being led by foolish politicians and military leaders. The war is unwinnable. Nothing that we've attempted to do has actually worked."

Paul Flynn cites the failure of the allied forces to bring opium production under control (it’s increased) and the continuing appalling human rights record in Afghanistan (the latest law allows husbands to starve wives who deny them regular sex). He also alludes to a couple of rather important factors that the UK Government would do well to pay more heed to: history and culture.

The MP says: "The Taliban are not terrorists; they're not interested in attacking us here. They're attacking us because they see us as the 'ferengi' - the foreigners in their own country - and they regard it as their religious duty to throw us out."

Flynn, who had originally agreed with the decision to send the troops into Afghanistan at the start of the campaign in 2001, predicted the decision to go into Helmand province in 2006 would "stir up a hornet's nest" and be "as futile as the Charge of the Light Brigade." He was wrong. It's proving to be more futile than that calamity of the Crimean War. There were 673 men in the Charge of the Light Brigade - of which probably fewer than 200 died. The British death toll in Afghanistan has already risen above that number. It will go higher still.

I'm not a historian, but I've read enough books to know that military campaigns in Afghanistan are usually star-crossed affairs. I'm not a military strategist but I know that fighting a war without frontlines against extremists who embrace death, don't wear uniforms, and use guerrilla tactics spells disaster. And I'm not a politician but I can detect growing public disquiet about our involvement in a war we can't win and we won't win.

The specious claim that we’re somehow reducing the threat of international terrorism is exposed by the double-standards of western governments: 9/11 was carried out by Saudis; Pakistan is a failed state with nukes and schools that specialise in teaching terror. Why are we not aiming our guns at the real threats?

What is particularly sickening is the certain knowledge that the politicians are simply going through the motions when it comes to Afghanistan. They know it’s a hopeless cause too. They mouth their platitudes in public but in private they realise an exit strategy must be found. It will be, but not until much, much more blood is spilled.

That blood will flow from catastrophic haemorrhages suffered by boys who’ve barely reached puberty in some cases. Boys who very often come from deprived backgrounds on Britain's tougher estates. Boys who thought the army would give them the chance to see the world and maybe make it a better place. Boys who, like countless soldiers before them, have been lied to by vainglorious politicians.

Close you eyes and picture a peaceful, contented Afghanistan, free of warlords, of guns, of opium, of rival clansmen; an Afghanistan where women have equal rights, medieval punishments are consigned to the history books and corruption is rooted out. Can you see it? Can you? I didn’t think so.

It’s time to stop dreaming and wake up quick, before another family is told their son has become the latest hero of Helmand.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Twisted World of Tory Tycoon Duncan

Alan Duncan Twist: Please, sir, I want some more.
Mr Bumble: More?
ADT: Yes, sir, I want some more.
Mr B: But you’ve already had so much that the other little boys have had to go without.
ADT: Please, sir, I want some more.
Mr B: Alan, you know fine well that in this workhouse the food allowance is exceedingly generous, obscene even.
ADT: I want some more.
Mr B: But you’ve eaten such glutinous quantities that you’ve puked a stream of semi-digested gruel all over the other little boys.
ADT: Read my frikkin lips fat boy – I…want…some…more!
Mr B: But if you carry on the way you’re going you’ll end up grossly overweight, obese -- distended like the carcass of a whale washed up on a sweltering beach.
ADT: I’m going to ask you one more time…Please, sir...

Mr B: No Alan Duncan Twist, you’ve had enough!
ADT: Christ! You people treat us like s***! I can’t live on these rations!

Apologies to Charles Dickens for this tenuous conceit, but you get the gist. I mean, who in the wide, wide world of nationwide Matalan stores does Alan Duncan think he is? I know what I think of him. He’s a creep: an odious, self-important, slimy, worst-kind-of-Tory tosser.

You may think I’m being unfair but consider this. Alan Duncan believes that despite earning a basic wage of £64,000 (which is more than two-and-a-half times the average wage in the UK); and taking full advantage of the ludicrous system of MPs’ expenses (the reform of which is wholly inadequate); and being a very wealthy man anyway (money made in oil, appropriately enough, before he even entered parliament), this self-satisfied smirk-on-legs thinks MPs are being forced to “live on rations” post Expensesgate. Rations!

The statement is so ludicrous it would be funny if it weren’t so nauseating. The fact that it highlights the egregious nature of Alan Duncan isn’t the point. What it says about our allegedly representative democracy should make even the most docile and apathetic reach for the nearest blunt instrument or pointy thing (or gun, if you live in London, Nottingham, Liverpool or Manchester) and march on Westminster, demanding revolution.

Why? Because Mr Duncan’s appalling view is shared by many other MPs. These MPs think they are worthy and capable of representing the wider public. Yet Mr Duncan and many of his colleagues have no idea whatsoever of how the people they claim to work for actually live. These public ‘servants’ have no clue what money means to their poorer ‘masters’. They have no conception of the fact that one unexpectedly large bill can cripple a household’s finances.

But it’s worse than this. Alan Duncan and his ilk don’t want to know; they don’t give a hoot how real people live; they really don’t give a damn. If this sounds harsh, it really isn’t. The truth could be even more despicable: that they do know what a desperate struggle making ends meet is for many people but they see themselves as superior and deserving of better lifestyles, much like the nobility of old. It would be easy to draw the conclusion that Alan Duncan is not in parliament to make things better for the people he represents, but he’s there because he wants a level of power commensurate with the puffed up image he has of himself. Parliament is a magnet to the most self-important and hubristic among us.

Even the MPs who aren’t as obviously grasping and out-of-touch as Alan Duncan don’t do what they’re paid to do, i.e. represent their contituents. They vote for whatever they’re told to vote for by their party leaderships, with only a few notable exceptions. And the agenda of the party leaderships is to do whatever they think will please the 200,000 or so swing voters in key marginal constituencies. So we have MPs who don’t care and MPs who don’t put their constituents’ wishes first. There are nearly 650 of these people. What on earth do we pay them all for?

As for Alan Duncan, he says MPs are “treated like s***”. If my wish were granted he would be...literally! The sooner we flush Tory turds like him out of our parliamentary system, the sooner the stink of corruption, hypocrisy and greed would leave the corridors of Westminster Palace.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

PM for PM!

As Peter Mandelson continues his whirlwind tour of television and radio studios to deny he is – undeniably - running the country, details have emerged of an explosive deal he struck with Gordon Brown before he made his shock return to the cabinet last October. A transcript of a taped meeting between the two has been passed to Rhubarb Grumble.

The events have eerie echoes of the infamous meeting between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the London restaurant Granita, although this time, instead of a swanky diner, it took place in the insalubrious surroundings of a fast food restaurant in Slough.

The Blair-Brown meeting followed the death of the former Labour leader John Smith in 1994. Over dinner Brown agreed not to challenge Blair’s leadership bid, on the proviso Blair would hand over power in the future.

Here, in a Rhubarb Grumble World Exclusive, we can sensationally reveal how Brown tempted Mandelson back to frontline politics with a similar promise that he would ensure that P.M. does indeed become P.M.

September 2008. McDonald’s, Slough:
The tape begins with the sound of rustling paper and scraping chairs in the foreground, and the sound of chatter and teenagers talking loudly in the background.

Gordon Brown: Hi Peter, thank you for coming. Take a seat. I got this for you. I thought you might be hungry. (There’s more rustling.)

Peter Mandelson: A Happy Meal. Well, I don’t know how to thank you Gordon. I must say that’s an interesting, um, look you’ve gone for today.

GB: The beard? It’s false. I couldn’t take any chances on being recognised.

PM: I see. Pink is rather an unusual colour to choose if you were hoping to go unnoticed.

GB: It’s the only colour I could get at short notice. Look Peter, we haven’t got much time so I’ll get straight to the point. I want you to return to the Cabinet.

PM: I see. I must say I’m rather surprised.

GB: Why?

PM: The fact that we loathe each other to the very core of our beings rather seemed to preclude my serving in your Government.

GB: I don’t loathe you Peter. (A strange sound is heard on the tape at this point, like a chimpanzee vomiting popcorn.)

PM: Don’t try to laugh Gordon. This is me you’re taking to. I know you don’t find anything in the least bit amusing apart from seeing your enemies humiliated and then destroyed. That much we have in common. So spare me the bull-ordure and cut to the chase: what’s in it for me?

GB: Isn’t a Cabinet position enough: a chance to be back in the thick of things?

PM: Frankly no. You bring me here to this…this fetid church of the unwashed dressed like a mad tramp. You’re desperate Gordon. I know it; you know it. The teenager at the table behind us who appears to be at least 65 per cent simian knows it. Make me an offer I can’t refuse or I’ll take my McNuggets and leave now.

GB: Okay, okay. Here’s the deal. If you come in now, you’ll get a peerage, a top job, I’ll gradually expand your brief and – if you help me win the next election – I’ll….I’ll….I’ll

PM: You’ll?

GB: I’ll resign. (The tape picks up another strange noise. It sounds like a dog with a broken jaw attempting to chew a large rubber ball.)

PM: Hey, hey, Gordon. Come on now. Don’t upset yourself.

GB: I’m sorry Peter. I’ve just been so useless as Prime Minister. I’d waited so long and done everything in my power to force that (inaudible words – sounds of fists hitting the table) Blair keep his side of his bargain and pass the reigns to me, and now I have them I don’t know what to do. I can’t even say ‘solutions’ properly without making it sound like it has four syllables.

PM: Yes, and you do that weird thing with your mouth as well.

GB: I know, I know. To tell you the truth Peter I’m up to my frigging eyeball with it. I’d pack it in today but I’d go down in history as the worst Prime Minister ever.

PM: Well, that would be an achievement of sorts; we’ve had some pretty poor PMs recently.

GB: Don’t try and make me feel better Peter. The poll ratings are dreadful. Anyone would think I was some sort of socially awkward, pathologically deceitful weirdo.

PM: You’re doing the mouth thing again.

GB: Sorry.

PM: So what are you saying? You’d resign; then what?

GB: You’d take over.

PM: Gordon…

GB: No, hear me out. I know you’re despised by many, most..

PM: Gordon…

GB: …well okay, by everyone in the party. I realise most Labour MPs would rather Satan himself was their leader than you....or even Jimmy Carr! I acknowledge that many would rather be sent on a 12-month fact-finding mission to Helmand Province than have to work under you but these are not insurmountable problems.

PM: This is ridiculous. You’d need someone even more Machiavellian and cynical than me to pull this one off.

GB: I know. He should be here any minute.

(We hear the sound of a door opening, footsteps approaching and a chair scraping on the floor.)

PM: Well, well, Alistair! Good to see you! Nice beard…

(Tape ends.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I think it’s wrong...

Have you noticed how many times senior UK politicians start any statement, however anodyne, with the words, “I think it’s right”? Listen closely the next time you hear one of the distinguished representatives of our Government answering questions and you’ll see. It’s trotted out all the time, whatever the subject. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, himself is the chief proponent of this tedious and lazy turn of phrase. Cabinet colleagues also use it ad nauseam. The question is, why?

It’s long been recognised that, with a very few notable exceptions, most politicians don’t have any intention of answering questions directly. Sir Humphrey Appleby pointed this out in Yes Minister years ago. The fictional Westminster mandarin said a good politician should answer questions from journalists with something along the lines of, “I don’t think that’s the question; the real question is…” and then make a statement of their own. “I think it’s right” is the latest manifestation of this verbal slight of hand. But there’s more to it than this: a breathtaking degree of cynicism that would make even Sir Humphrey blush.

The reason senior politicians are using the phrase “I think it’s right” is to sound like they are saying something definite and powerful but without actually promising anything - or even stating where they stand. It gives them plausible deniability when they inevitably change their position. So if a politician is asked, “Do you like baked beans?” expect the answer to be, “I think it’s right that tomato sauce covered seeds, or pods of various climbing plants, can be eaten as part of a balanced diet.” Okay, but do you like them? “I think it’s right that beans, whether baked, or perhaps boiled or steamed, are served to people who choose to eat them and this Government will endeavour to continue to allow people to make that choice.” But would you make that choice? “I think it’s right that the choices politicians make in relation to canned food products are ones they can formulate as individuals, and I don’t think the contents of cans, or other packaging, are relevant or move this debate forward against the backdrop of a modern dietary setting.”

You get the picture. Our politicians are deliberately refusing to communicate with us but trying their best to hide it. The real culprits are the communications and PR ‘experts’ who advise the politicians and tell them what (not) to say. This trend of non-communication is not just confined to the political arena, however, and it’s spreading. Already the Government, public bodies and corporations are infected but it won’t end there. Straight answers are already a thing of the past; soon, answers of any description will be.

And I think that’s wrong.