Tuesday, 19 May 2009

A Break From Blogging

I'm taking an indeterminate break from blogging as a result of receiving this comment to a recent post I made about not being able to find shoes that fitted:

"I've come only because I was tempted by a link from Higham's site but the more I read of your self-serving whining the more I am persuaded that you are unable to take responsibility for your failings and exist by blaming others.

I've no idea, and absolutely no interest in, what your 'disability' is but I'm certain that you are an emotional and intellectual cripple.

If you want shoes that are not worth selling, do as I do and seek them out, and stop whining that no one is prepared to give them to you.

You demand 'equality' yet prove yourself inadequate for it."

(my green ink for emphasis)

Quite apart from the fact that the writer's criticisms relate to what he believes he read rather than the actual words of my post, the commenter banned me several weeks before from commenting on his blog after I rebutted another ad-hominem attack on me by him. I respect his freedom of expression, however distateful. It's that distate that has prompted this period of detoxification.

I don't think Sir Tim Berners-Lee had characters like him in mind when he invented the interwebby thing. Anyway, thank you all for all the comments you have left on my blog over the past five hundred odd posts. I hope you enjoyed reading at least some of them. I may be back on this blog or another one in the future, but I will continue to read your blogs.

Thank you and best wishes.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

This Can Be Allowed By The Fees Office

It's a Percy Pig sound cushion from Marks & Spencers. And it's only £15. It should be compulsory.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Only Connect?

Damian McBride left his job without severance pay as a SpAd for Gordon Brown after Smeargate revealed, amongst other stories (it seems so long ago now), an attempt to libel an MP with details of a weekend spent in a hotel with another person.

Damian McBride went incommunicado.

The Daily Telegraph publishes the contents of a diskful of MPs' expense claims obtained from an anonymous source. The newspaper is evasive about any payments it may have made.

Am I right in seeing a possible link between the events? Did 10 Downing Street have access to the parliamentary expense claim details as a means of ensuring the loyaly or acquiescence of MPs? I don't believe that anything as outrageous as this could happen because even Brown and McBride wouldn't sink that low and hope that it is never shown to be true because that would utterly destroy my confidence in the whole political system and where would that leave us.

MPs Who Wrongly Claim Mortgage Payments

Are utterly greedy dishonest bastards who should be prosecuted and sent to the Lord Ahmed Health Spa for Parliamentarians for at least a week. I doubt they would serve longer than the public spirited leaker of the unredacted (never seen that word outside of a law textbook before this last week, rather like catafalque was only used when HM The Queen Mother was lain in state) expenses claims.
What has prompted this rage is a letter, one of a series, that I received from Prudential this morning telling me that the endowment policy I purchased in 1989 was likely to significantly undershoot its target on maturity. Just what I wasn't told in 1989 when endowment policies were sold as winning premium bonds and they wouldn't merely pay off one's mortgage but would take a sizeable bite from the national debt. Alas, it now appears my monthly payments, like those for my AVCs have gone towards subsidizing the bonanza payouts of people whose policies matured in the 1990s and earlier. And MPs get free money when I'm effectively feeding mine into a shredder. Arrrrrgh!

Recession? What Recession? Number 2

I followed the lead of Andrew Allison and contacted my MP by email to express my opinion of Mr Speaker and ask his views on the motion of no-confidence. Within two days I received a very polite reply signed by my MP himself. I must admit I am impressed by such efficiency but wonder if it might be better value for money if emails are answered with emails instead of with lovely quality House of Commons stationery.

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Reading Age of MPs

If an MP is unable to understand The Green Book guide to Members' allowances (66 pages) and submits incorrect expenses claims, how can they be expected to ratify the Lisbon Treaty (231 pages) or appreciate the September 2002 Dossier on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction ? Unfortunately, this document can't be found on the No10 website (how appropriate) except as a 40 page Arabic translation.

I propose that all MPs and PPCs are required to pass a comprehension test on the Green Book as a qualification for sitting in the House of Commons.

I further propose that the current Parliamentary Fees Office staff are posted out to other jobs and replaced by disabled servicemen and women whose injuries were suffered as a result of inadequate equipment that was ignored on a bipartisan basis by the vast majority of MPs. It would be a delight to read of "Honourable Members" forced to buy at Ikea or secondhand or simply make do without.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

MPs and Lords Proposals

I have several proposals to reform Parliament and make it fit for the purpose of holding the Government to account:

1 If MPs are moaning there isn't enough work for them to do then the number of MPs must be reduced to say 400 as a reasonable first step. There only needs to be a maximum of 100 members of the House of Lords. Lords and Ladies would only be allowed to sit for a maximum of ten years before retiring or being renominated. And why not elect the Upper House on a two members per county PR basis?

2 MPs should be given written job descriptions with agreed performance targets. Their performance should be independently assessed annually and failing MPs should be given a year to improve. Two failures in a row would be published.

3 MPs should be subject to a call back by-election if 10% of their constituents sign a petition.

4 MPs' salaries should be pegged to the Senior Civil Service Pay Band 1. Employment terms and conditions should be as per the Senior Civil Service, ie fixed 5 year renewable contracts. If MPs do their jobs properly they are easily worth the top of the pay band.

5 MPs must demonstrate in-depth understanding of the constitution and parliamentary system. They should undertake a minimum of two months' shadowing or internship in the public and private sector each year. Members of Departmental Select Committees (DSC) must have practical experience of the areas and issues covered by the committees. Given this expertise, DSCs will take on the task of confirming candidates for ministerial posts. The will become more like US congressional committees.

6 MPs must rediscover the sublime joy of being awkward bastards for whom every penny must be accounted for as being well spent and all alternative courses of action examined.

7 The Speaker must rediscover her historic role of upholding the independence of MPs against the executive and setting the tone for the House of Commons. You noticed I said "her" : I propose that Kate Hoey is made the Speaker as soon as possible.

8 Voting at elections should be made compulsory. A box should be added to each voting slip for "None of the above are satisfactory". Postal and proxy votes should only be available for certified medical conditions and holidays.

Recession? What Recession?

I would have thought that the retail sector would have been as keen as mustard to make a sale in these straightened (especially for MPs now) credit crunchy times. Not so as I discovered recently.

I am the proud owner of a pair of plates of meat that measure UK size 13, 4E width , ie the sort of gorilla feet that would never squeeze into a glass slipper. However, last year, before the £ crashed against the $ (so how is the UK economy stronger than everyone else, Gordon?) I bought my perfect pair of shoes (Brooks Addiction Walker) online from the USA and they arrived in under a week with just a bunion of import duty and VAT to pay ( well moats don't clean themselves). Unfortunately, since then I've been unable to find an American supplier who sold the shoes in black in the right width or who was willing to post them out of the USA.

Imagine my joy when I found a British shoeshop that did mail order, sold the shoes in black, in size 13... but only medium width. Undaunted, I emailed them with an offer to buy two pairs in my fitting:


Just a quick email to ask if you can supply these shoes in size UK13 black 4E width as the web page only offers a standard medium width fitting.
http://www.milletsports.co.uk/productmore.php?pid=26425 . Provided the price is reasonable I would order two pairs.
I bought a brown pair of these shoes from the States and have to say they are the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn.

Thanking you in anticipation of a positive reply.


And this morning, I received this reply:

"Thank you for your email.
Unfortunately, if you cannot see these shoes available on our website then we will not be able to supply them.

If you have any further questions, feel free to get in touch.

Best Regards,

Customer Service Team"

Notice that there is no sales pitch beyond take it or leave it. Wouldn't something like "we could add your order to our next delivery from the wholesaler/manufacturer if you wish to leave a deposit" have been more businesslike? Well that's taught me a lesson. Next time I walk along the high street and see empty shops, I won't think "Oh, what a shame", instead it will be " Couldn't be bothered to offer what the potential customer wanted to buy". What a shame!

If anyone knows where I can get a couple of pairs of these shoes at a reasonable price, please let me know.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Only The Little People Pay Taxes

How Leona Helmsley's famous words must grate like a squeaky blackboard to the 4'10" chipmunk. It's all very well writing a £13,332 cheque (surprising that she keeps that amount in a current account) to HMRC, fao A. Darling. It won't do her any good. A good reputation is priceless and no amount of money can buy it back. The next cheque Hazel Blears writes should be for £19,998, being the 60% balance of the capital gain on the sale of her former London home. If she has any sense of honour she will donate it immediately to Help For Heroes. It may mitigate her sentence. And then with Jacqui Smith in tow she will spend her few remaining years before retirement, quietly and without any fuss, sluicing bedpads and cleaning toilets and smiling at all the soldiers at Selly Oak Hospital. And every other rat faced bastard daring to call themself an "Honourable Member" who takes the parliamentary shilling and who has benefitted from an increase in the value of taxpayer subsidised second homes or has otherwise manipulated the allowance system should make a similar donation. And Blair should have his houses confiscated using the Proceeds of Crime Act (but it wasn't intended for circumstances like this his wife will bleat, neglecting the misuse of the Terrorism Act against Iceland to cite one of thousands of examples). Because nearly every MP is guilty of agreeing to the illegal, unnececessary war in Iraq that cost this country so much in lives, money and international standing.
And every MP should lie awake in bed listening out for their consciences and wishing they could turn back their John Lewis clocks so that they hadn't submitted a claim for them because they could.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

You Don't Always Have To Claim Expenses

When I first worked for the Civil Service over twenty years ago I discovered it was cheaper to live at home and commute daily into London. This required me to buy a combined rail and London Transport season ticket: it accounted for over half my post tax income. The season ticket allowed access on all London zones. As part of my official duties I often had to travel from central London down to Croydon and Chessington. Colleagues living in London bought tickets and reclaimed the cost via T&S forms. I never claimed because I used my season ticket. So I was making official journeys at my own expense. And that was when I budgeted £10 per week for incidentals because that was all I could afford. If I could put the public purse first when I was frankly skint then MPs should do the same.

The Times Reckons This Photo Shows Guy Gibson

According to the caption underneath the picture Guy Gibson is stroking the dog. As I explained in my email to The Times the photo:

"does not show Wing Commander Guy Gibson stroking his dog since the airman stroking it has a Warrant Officer badge on his tunic sleeve."

Here is a photograph of Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, RAF.

This is his wikipedia biography.

And that dog definitely isn't a labrador.

Perhaps The Times ought to change its masthead motto to "Near enough is good enough". I haven't seen a correction in the paper yet.
Update: 16 May The Times corrects itself :


Readers too numerous to mention, including more than one retired group captain, have queried the archive photo that accompanied a May 7 report on a new Dam Busters film and purported to show Guy Gibson with fellow crewmen plus his dog. Most pointed out that the airman in question was displaying a warrant officer's badge on his sleeve rather than a wing commander's, and some even doubted the identity of the dog.
The photo was firmly captioned as Guy Gibson, but long experience tells us that if just one Times reader indicates an error they're probably wrong, two or three and we start to worry, and six or more are almost certainly right; so we have erred on the side of caution and taken it down from Times Online. "

Gordon Brown's London Flat: It Stinks Despite All That Cleaning

I don't understand the story about the cleaning bills paid for 26 months from December 2004. He bought the flat in 1992 from Arthur Anderson, the administrators of the failed Maxwell empire for £130,000. On 19 March 2005 he transferred it to Sarah Brown. It was no longer his property. She allowed his nephew to live in it for a few weeks at least and, in 2007, it was stated that the Browns had no plans to rent it on the open market but would make it available to friends and family. So the Son of the Manse has his constituency house, the grace-and-favour flat at No 10 or No 11 Downing Street (the Blairs had No 11 because its flat was larger) which is tied-accommodation and his Westminster flat, aka the property boom milch cow. And Brown can claim off pensioners' savings interest to have his wife's nest-egg cleaned.
Why not put everything on a level playing field and put burglars in charge of rewriting the Theft Act and judging each other so that they keep their business "within the rules"? Wasn't "it was within the rules" rejected as a defence at Nuremburg?

Friday, 8 May 2009

An MP's Expenses Claim That Was Refused By The Fees Office

Before the herd of troughing swine rush off to buy coproxamol and penknives on expenses to save themselves the indignity of signing on after the next election because the regulations they agreed amongst themselves (MPs being experts in rubber-stamping EUdiktats) are soooo difficult to understand and they can't be expected to fill out forms and hold the government to account - that's Joanna Lumley's job, may I take a breather..... and propose that in future no claims will be accepted without proper receipts and a biometric ID card. And they must immediately advise any changes in circumstances.

Two messages to MPs:

1 Paul Murphy - if your hot water is too hot adjust the boiler or turn on the cold tap.

2 Gordon Brown - if you claimed £6,000 to clean your flat how much will it cost us to clean the whole country of twelve years of Labour filth? And why the hell do Labour MPs make so much mess? Mr Pig meet Mr Hoover.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Pam Ayres Should Be The English Poet Laureate

Britology Watch has made an excellent post on the installation of Carol Ann Duffy as the Poet Laureate. Ms Duffy ticks all the boxes for the literati but, in my opinion, like most poets whose work is used for exams, her poems tend to be a bit of a walk uphill with heavy shopping. Who honestly recalls with pleasure, or buys (rather than has bought for them) slim volumes of Ted Hughes or Seamus Heaney. It seems that to be valued by the great and the good poems have to be the verbal* equivalent of wholemeal bread or hemp underwear. Very worthy and technically well-crafted but not much pleasure for the average reader.
Now, as Aleksandr the Meerkat might say, compare Carol Ann Duffy, "Mrs Lazarus" with Pam Ayres "Oh I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth". Simple, squeak. Surely Pam Ayres can capture the nation's spirit just as well as any other poet and she could produce bettter rhymes for William an' 'Arry, for example. "When the wedding banns are posted" is a phrase almost made for Miss Ayres' Oxfordshire accent as is "Doing right by the Gurkhas". So come on and make Pam Ayres the English Poet Laureate and help cheer the country up.

* verbal because poetry has to be read aloud to be properly appreciated.