It can’t be much fun for David Cameron. There he is, sitting in 10 Downing Street, counting down the days until the end of his Parliamentary term while the police file in and out to arrest his advisors.
(Don’t forget they nabbed Andy Coulson before Patrick Rock, folks!)
Now he can’t even big himself up with a self-congratulatory picture tweet without some upstart, infinitely-more-respected actor fellow sending him up instead.
Determined to boost his profile by claiming to be buddies with Barack (Obama), Cameron tweeted the following:
“I’ve been speaking to @BarackObama about the situation in Ukraine. We are united in condemnation of Russia’s actions.”
This is the response he got, first from comedian Rob Delaney:
“Hi guys, I’m on the line now too. Get me up to speed.”
… and then from acting legend Sir Patrick Stewart:
“I’m now patched in as well. Sorry for the delay.”
What can we surmise from this? That listening to David Cameron is akin to squeezing a tube of toothpaste into your ear? That Britain’s comedy Prime Minister is as effective a statesman as a packet of Wet Ones? What a sad day for him if this appears to be the case!
This appears to be the case.
What followed can only be described as a deluge:
“Ok, guys, thanks for holding. “
“Hi David, where are you calling from?”
Here’s one from ‘Bubba’ (@bobwiggin), highlighting the effectiveness of Cameron’s sanctions against foreign countries:
This is from Vox Political reader Ian Davies:
What did Mr Obama think of all this?
Sadly, there’s one image we’d all like to see, but it has yet to surface. Here’s how it might appear:
“Hello – Cam? You’re a bleedin’ liability, cobber. I’m off back to XXXX, where they KNOW how to stitch up an election!”
Everyone should agree that the Tory fuss over former Co-op Bank chief Paul Flowers is an attempt to distract us all from a more serious transgression that they themselves have committed.
Flowers, who is also a former Labour councillor, was arrested last week after being filmed allegedly handing over money to pay for cocaine.
The Conservatives have spent the last few days working very hard to establish a link, in the public consciousness, between the criminal allegations against Flowers, the Co-op Bank’s current financial embarrassment – believed to have been caused because Flowers knew nothing about banking, and the Labour Party, which has benefited from loans and a £50,000 donation to the office of Ed Balls.
This is unwise, considering a current Tory peer, Viscount Matt Ridley, was chairman of Northern Rock at the time it experienced the first run on a British bank in 150 years. He was as well-qualified to chair that bank as Paul Flowers was to chair the Co-op. A writer and journalist, his only claim on the role was that his father was the previous chairman (apparently the chairmanship of Northern Rock was a hereditary position).
Ridley was accepted as a Tory peer after the disaster took place (a fact which, itself, casts light on Conservative claims that they were going to be tough on bankers after the banker-engineered collapse of the western economies that started on his watch). The Conservatives are currently obsessing about what happened between Flowers and the Labour Party before the allegations of criminality were made.
Ridley is listed as having failed in his duty of care, which is not very far away from the kind of responsibility for the Co-op Bank’s collapse that is alleged of Paul Flowers. (Source: BBC Any Questions, November 22, 2013)
In addition, the Co-op Bank is not the Co-operative Party or the Co-operative Movement, and those two organisations – one of which is affiliated with the Labour Party – must not be tarred with the same brush.
The Tories are hoping that the public will accept what they are told, rather than digging a little deeper for the facts.
There’s no real basis for their venom; they ennobled a man who presided over much worse damage to the UK’s financial institutions, and attracting attention to criminal behaviour by members or supporters of political parties would be a huge own-goal.
Therefore this is a distraction. From what?
Cast about a little and we discover that Jeremy Hunt is threatening to create a new criminal offence for doctors, nurses and NHS managers if they are found to have wilfully neglected or mistreated patients – carrying a penalty of up to five years in jail.
Some of you may be delighted by this move, in the wake of the Mid Staffs scandal – even though questions have been raised over the accuracy of the evidence in that case.
But let’s look at another controversial area of government – that of social security benefits for the seriously ill.
It appears the Department for Work and Pensions, under Iain Duncan Smith, is planning to remove financial support for more than half a million people who – by its own standards – are too ill to seek, or hold, employment.
The Observer‘s report makes it clear that the arguments are all about money, rather than patient care. Smith is concerned that “only half of WRAG claimants are coming off-benefit within three years, and hundreds of millions of pounds are being tied up in administration of the benefit, including work capability assessments and the appeals process”.
No mention is made of the fact, revealed more than a year ago, that many of those in the WRAG in fact belong in the Support Group for ESA (the group for people recognised to have long-term conditions that are not likely to go away within the year afforded to WRAG members). They have been put in the WRAG because targets set by Smith mean only around one-eighth of claimants are put into the Support Group.
The knock-on effect is that many claimants appeal against DWP decisions. This has not only caused deep embarrassment for Smith and his officials, but added millions of pounds to their outgoings – in benefit payments and tribunal costs.
Not only that, but – and this is the big “but” – it is known that many thousands of ESA claimants have suffered increased health problems as a result of the anxiety and stress placed on them by the oppressive process forced upon them by Iain Duncan Smith.
This means that between January and November 2011, we know 3,500 people in the WRAG died prematurely. This cannot be disputed by the DWP because its claim is that everyone in the WRAG is expected to become well enough to work within a year.
These are not the only ESA claimants to have died during that period; a further 7,100 in the Support Group also lost their lives but are not used in these figures because they had serious conditions which were acknowledged by the government and were getting the maximum benefit allowed by the law.
What about the people who were refused benefit? What about the 70 per cent of claimants who are marked “fit for work” (according to, again, the unacknowledged targets revealed more than a year ago by TV documentary crews)?
We don’t have any figures for them because the DWP does not keep them. But we do know that many of these people have died – some while awaiting appeal, others from destitution because their benefits have been stopped, and more from the added stress and insecurity of seeking work while they were too ill to do it.
Now Iain Duncan Smith (we call him ‘RTU’ or ‘Returned To Unit’, in reference to his failed Army career) wants more than half a million people – who are known to be too ill to work – to be cut off from the benefit that supports them.
Let’s draw a line between this and Jeremy Hunt’s plan to criminalise medical professionals whose wilful, reckless or ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude to patients’ needs causes avoidable death or serious harm.
Clearly, such an attitude to people with serious long-term conditions should be carried over to all government departments, and yet nobody is suggesting that the DWP (and everybody who works for it) should face the same penalties.
By its own admission, choices by DWP decision-makers – acting on the orders of Iain Duncan Smith – have led to deaths. We no longer have accurate information on the number of these deaths because Smith himself has blocked their release and branded demands for them to be revealed as “vexatious”. No matter. We know they have led to deaths.
If doctors are to face up to five years in prison for such harm, then government ministers and those carrying out their orders should be subject to the same rules.
By his own government’s standards, Iain Duncan Smith should be in prison serving many thousands of sentences.
It’s back to the White House and business as usual for Barack Obama after his shock victory against opponents the Meadow Party, headed by campaigning veteran Bill the Cat.
Political commentators expressed amazement at the shock turn of events, having predicted a much tighter result after Bill’s slogan, “Give me all your change”, struck a chord with voters in these straitened economic times.
Critics who had been dismissed for claiming a dead cat could not be a serious candidate as leader of the Free World said they were “vindicated” by the result.
Rumours were flying that there was a third candidate in the race, and the BBC – ever vigilant, assembled a photofit picture of his name.
But “Ritt M’money”, whoever he may be, failed to make an impression, possibly due to an economic policy that, on the face of it, was slightly more crazy than flushing all the country’s cash down a toilet.
(Bloom County by Berke Breathed (c) The Washington Post Company – or it was when I read it back in the 1980s)
You may recall a while ago I was one of the many who took issue with Mr Eastwood for his bizarre interview with a chair during a Republican convention in the United States. I wrote an article asking why celebrities have to belittle themselves by declaring their support for political parties, and basically said that it can’t do their reputation any good at all.
Well, it seems I misjudged the great man.
Collared by an interviewer who demanded to know what possessed him, Eastwood’s response was the stuff of legends. “If they’re stupid enough to ask me to a political convention,” he said, “they have to take whatever they get.”
One person for whom I doubt this response would work is David Cameron, who was outed as a dunce on David Letterman’s US chat show last week.
It isn’t stupid to ask what “Magna Carta” means. After all, my next-door-neighbour’s four-year-old can work it out.
Perhaps Letterman could have started him off with something easier, though – like maybe, when his party didn’t win the election and never stated that it planned to do so, why has he sold off so much of the NHS in England to private companies, and why does he have plans to sell off so much more of it?
The old argument that it creates more choice is clearly nonsense because people were, reasonably, expecting the choice to be theirs. Instead, they have been presented with the company that has bought the contract and told, “This is your choice of NHS supplier. Don’t catch anything too serious or you’ll be paying it off for the rest of your life.”
Or, in the words of an iconic Eastwood character: “Do you feel lucky?”
Celebrity endorsement is always a bit “hit and miss”, isn’t it?
How many times have you seen a big name pimping themselves out in a sponsorship deal that has left you cringing with embarrassment for them? How many times have the deals gone sour because of events in the celeb’s personal life (think of Tiger Woods, or Kate Moss, for example).
The unpredictability of the endorsement effect is magnified in politics. Will you still respect a celeb if they are exhorting you to vote for a party you despise? What if it’s a person you don’t like, asking you to support your own choice? What if it’s someone you do actually rate, but they’re soliciting your vote in an unpalatable, tasteless way?
I remember my 13-year-old self turning his nose up at the late Kenny Everett when, supporting the Thatcher government in 1983, he said “We’re going to kick Michael Foot’s walking stick away!” (Mr Foot, also now deceased, was the leader of the Labour Party at the time).
On the other hand, when Sir Michael Caine supported the Conservatives in 2010, it didn’t bother me at all. I’m a fan of this prolific actor and will continue to enjoy his work, despite his unfortunate choice of allegiance. But then, I was never persuaded by Sir Michael to vote for the worst government in living memory. I wonder how many moviegoers were.
All of the above brings me to the announcement by Clint Eastwood that he is backing Mitt Romney’s US presidential election campaign.
Mr Romney’s plans involve tax cuts for the very rich, but he won’t offset their effect by closing other tax loopholes or creating other revenue streams. He’ll use the increased debt this creates as an excuse to strip social security and medicare down to nothing.
Put yourself in Mr Eastwood’s position. He’s a very rich man, and would probably benefit from Romney’s planned tax cuts. He has served as Republican mayor of the town of Carmel, in California. Also, he’s on record as saying that Barack Obama is a “greenhorn”, without the necessary experience to run the US government.
That’s fine for him. Now ask yourself: What effect will his endorsement of Romney have on an Eastwood fan of meagre means, whose life is enhanced by social security and medicare and who would suffer if these were dismantled?
They’d probably vote for Romney because their idol told them to do it – and then, if he gets in, repent at leisure.
Now that the Olympics are over and everybody’s having a rest from medal-counting (don’t forget the Paralympics will be starting soon, though, providing the opportunity to do it all over again), may I just take this opportunity to ask readers in the USA, just what the blazes is going on with your Presidential candidates?
A few years ago, your economy was devastated by comedy president George W Bush, with a policy known as ‘starving the beast’. For those with short memories, this involved tax breaks for the very rich, creating a deficit in the US Treasury, which made it possible for him to claim public services were costing too much – and then cut public services.
Bush left the White House in 2009 to pursue his career in stand-up comedy (and sank without a trace) but his ideas were taken up on my side of the Atlantic by one David Cameron and his bestie, George Osborne.
They realised that, after the credit crunch of 2008, there wasn’t enough money coming into the British Treasury to pay for public services and launched their policy of fiscal austerity on the UK’s already-depressed economy. The tax breaks for the very rich arrived a few years later.
Now, back in the States, you have a new Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who – and please, correct me if I’m wrong – wants to starve the beast all over again.
Mr Romney wants to impose tax cuts for the very rich, but has no plan to offset the effect of these cuts by closing other tax loopholes or the like.
As one influential commentator has it: “Romney is just intending to blow up the deficit to lavish favours on the wealthy, then use it as an excuse to savage Social Security and Medicare.”
He claims there will be fabulous growth effects.
Seeing as Mr Romney’s policy seems so similar to Mr Osborne’s, lets look at what’s happened here in Blighty since fiscal austerity started biting, shall we?
From the moment Osborne’s first spending review (a mini-budget in late 2010) took effect, the economy flatlined. Since the beginning of 2012 it went back into recession in a big way, knocking a whole one per cent off GDP.
Meanwhile, the Coalition (Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties) has cut taxes for the very rich but also raised the amount people can earn without being taxed. This inevitably means less revenue for the Treasury. Services are already being cut and they’re discussing ways to cut further than previously planned.
Does anybody really think those poor people who’ve been lifted out of tax are going to be better off for the loss of the public services they need?
Do any US citizens reading this seriously think that lower and middle-class people in your country are going to benefit from the loss of public services that will be required to make your ultra-rich even richer?
And what’s the incumbent, President Obama, going to do? Are his budget plans any better?
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