Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Herding Cats

The Obsever newspaper ran a funny scoop at the weekend by publishing a series of leaked emails - which suggest that Ukip, the anti-Europe party, resembles a wildly out-of-control 'barmy army' as it limbers up for Thursday's local elections in England and Wales.

Now the House of Commons has gone into recess (again) so that Westminster MPs can return to their constituencies to help fight these local elections - but as the elections are not being held in Scotland, the Scottish contingent of MPs have time on their hands.

In one of the emails, a senior party figure and MEP - Godfrey Bloom - says that leading Ukip is like "herding cats" - which I'm sure is true.

But the far more damaging insight is in the email where Godfrey suggests that the party should just buy some key policies 'off the shelf' - presumably from friends in right-leaning think tanks - as it does not have the resources to 'reinvent the wheel'.

Disarmingly honest as this statement may be - it just goes to show that a relatively small handful of well-organised people with money to burn - can make a big impact on the domestic political scene.

What has to be said is that this is not a million miles away from how the trade unions operate - inside the Labour Party, of course.

Yet, the fact that I don't take Ukip very seriously hardly matters - the party may have failed to take-off in Scotland, but it has caught fire south of the border - where in an age of anti-politics the slightly dodgy, Arthur Daley 'Minder-style' of Nigel Farage - the Ukip leader - has great appeal for disgruntled voters.

But I don't think Ukip will stand the test of time - because the killer line in the e-mails is a political one where Godfrey Bloom says:

"The charm and frustration of Ukip is we have doctors who fancy themselves as tax experts, painters and decorators who know all about strategic defence issues and … retired dentists who understand the most intricate political solutions for the nation."

In other words, most of the Ukip activists are ever so slightly barking mad- but here's the solution to all their problems - herding cats the EDS way.

Play: http://youtu.be/Pk7yqlTMvp8

The emails

The email conversation revealed between Godfrey Bloom, the Ukip MEP, and party treasurer Stuart Wheeler:

From: Godfrey Bloom
Sent: 25 April 2013 10:29
To: Stuart Wheeler, Nigel Farage and others

It would appear Ukip has more military and naval experts than we have soldiers. Most of them do not agree with each other. It is like herding cats.

From: Godfrey Bloom
Sent: 25 April 2013 10:29
To: Stuart Wheeler, Nigel Farage and others

We are also attracting new members who bring main party 'baggage'. Focus groups, quotas, even political correctness. We must be wary of listening to these siren voices. We did not get where we are today by following, but leading.

From: Godfrey Bloom
Sent: 25 April 2013 10:29
To: Stuart Wheeler, Nigel Farage and others

We do not have the resources to write serious papers on major subjects, why reinvent the wheel? Why not buy policy 'off the shelf', where it is close to our own small government, low tax, libertarian position.

From: Godfrey Bloom
Sent: 25 April 2013 10:29
To: Stuart Wheeler, Nigel Farage and others

Now here's the rub. My experience thus far is that as soon as more than 2 people get in a room progress completely stops. Even where we have experts of our own they disagree.

From: Godfrey Bloom
Sent: 25 April 2013 10:29
To: Stuart Wheeler, Nigel Farage and others

The charm and frustration of Ukip is we have doctors who fancy themselves as tax experts, painters and decorators who know all about strategic defence issues, and branch chairmen, retired dentists, who understand the most intricate political solutions for the nation.

From: Stuart Wheeler
Sent: 25 April 2013 13:38
To: Godfrey Bloom

Dear Godfrey, I could not agree more that some people will have to get off their hobby-horses.

Is He Toast?

The big question facing Glasgow this week is whether the leader of the City Council - Councillor Gordon Matheson - is toast.

Politically speaking - of course.

Because for months, Gordon Matheson has been embroiled in a row over the future of Glasgow's George Square - which I have commented on previously - but things have now taken a turn for the worse with the Council Leader being reported to the Public Standards Commissioner and the Police over his behaviour.

I suspect the Public Standards Commissioner will put the porr chap out of his misery - because having watched the 'car-crash' of an interview with Bernard Ponsonby on STV last week - it seems to me that the Council Leader cannot answer convincingly the many criticisms levelled at his curious role in this affair.

So, my money is on Councillor Matheson resigning in the days and weeks ahead - and I just wish that more council insiders had the courage to speak out on issues where public money and public probity is involved.

The fight for Equal Pay, for example, would never have been so long and so fiercely contested - if some of the people on the inside had blown the whistle and spilled the beans on the council long ago.

Readers can view the 'Car Crash' Interview with Gordon Matheson via this link - http://bcove.me/npp8ymx8

Major Crimes Unit to probe complaint over Matheson's George Square role

By Tom Gordon

The Labour leader of Glasgow City Council is to be investigated by the Major Crimes Unit over alleged misconduct during the £100,000 contest to redesign George Square, Police Scotland confirmed last night.

Gordon Matheson's role in the process is to be probed by the Major Crimes and Public Protection division following a complaint from the member of the public last week.

The complaint was directed to this division rather than that of the Local Policing West which covers Glasgow.

Headed by Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, major crimes is one of Police Scotland's three specialist divisions, and covers a wide range of cases, including people trafficking and sex offences.

The inquiry will be an early test for how Scotland's new single police force handles a high-profile, politically charged case.

Matheson, 46, remains in post despite taking a hard line with others caught up in controversy. In 2011, he sacked a Labour councillor who made a disputed remark about a child rape victim before a hearing into the claim.

And last year another Glasgow Labour councillor was suspended for eight weeks after using his niece's disabled parking badge.

The police development puts pressure on Matheson ahead of the Glasgow Labour group AGM on May 13, when he may face a leadership challenge. However, no rival has yet stepped forward.

The proposed £15 million overhaul of George Square has haunted Matheson since he announced the scheme was being abandoned just minutes after the judging panel rejected his preferred option and picked one he detested instead.

The fiasco cost taxpayers about £100,000 and architectural practices about £200,000.

Last week the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), which ran the contest, lodged a complaint against Matheson with the Public Standards Commissioner, suggesting he repeatedly violated the Councillors' Code of Conduct.

Matheson faces claims of interfering in a legally defined procurement process, bias, attempted staff coercion and trying to "steer" the contest in favour of his preferred design.

The RIAS complaint included a statement from Kerr Robertson, who until his recent retirement was the council's lead architect.

Despite the design contest being governed by strict European Union law, Robertson claims he was told six weeks before the judging officially began that Matheson would choose the winner.

Robertson also claims he was told his job would be "to ensure the other jury members would fall into line with this".

In a car-crash interview with STV last week, a flustered Matheson agreed Robertson was "a public official of integrity". Matheson added he was "entirely confident" that he would be cleared of any wrongdoing. He also denied that there had been any breach of the rules.

The complaint to the police largely mirrors the one by the RIAS to the ethics watchdog.

It is Matheson's second brush with the controversy in less than six months. In December, police reported him to the fiscal after he allegedly performed a sex act on another man in a car near his home in Glasgow's South Side.

He apologised to his partner for "an affair", while prosecutors took no action.

The SNP opposition in Glasgow is now pressing for the council's internal audit team to investigate the George Square affair.

It has also tabled a motion for the next full council meeting on May 16 calling on Audit Scotland "to investigate whether councillors unduly influenced the procurement process" and is pressing council chief executive George Black to review procurement procedures.

SNP group leader Graeme Hendry said: "Gordon Matheson has been accused of some very serious offences and it is only right and proper they are investigated by all the appropriate organisations.

"It would seem those running Scottish Labour are the only people left who don't seem to think these accusations should be checked.

"Their failure to suspend or even investigate Councillor Matheson stinks of hypocrisy, and will leave many people wondering just what it would take for Labour to act."

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: "A complaint has been received and has been forwarded to ACC Graham of Major Crimes and Public Protection."

Contacted by the Sunday Herald last night, Matheson declined to respond directly to the developments.

However, in a statement issued by the council on his behalf, he said: "I'm happy for this to be fully investigated. I will give whatever help the police ask me to, and am confident there will ultimately be a finding in my favour."

Swan Lake

The internet is a wonderful thing - because how else would you get to see something incredible like this YouTube video?

I confess I have never seen the Chinese State Circus perform in the flesh - but here is their very own, inimitable interpretation of Swan Lake.


Feed Me

Here's a precautionary tale in case anyone in Scotland is foolish enought to believe that poor treatment of elderly hospital patients - is a phenomenon that is restricted to just one health facility south of the border.

A senior nurse - Glen Davidson (39) - from Lynebank Hospital in Dunfermline has been suspended and branded a disgrace to his profession - after taping a sing saying 'Feed Me' on to the chest of an tube-fed elderly stroke victim.

Now the incident happened during a night shift on 1 April 2010 - and the nurse involved seem to think his little joke was even 'funnier' as it happened to take place on April Fool's Day.

Last week the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) - the professions' regulatory body - finally caught up with Glen Davidson and suspended him for 18 months after finding that the senior staff nurse represented - “a real risk of harm to patients and their dignity”.

Seems terribly lenient if you ask me - and I wonder if the man was suspended on full pay from his job ever since the original incident which took place three years ago?  

I sincerely hope not because that would be a terrible waste of public money - while waiting for the NMC to get round to dealing with his case - although these long delays are quite common in my experience.

A stunned colleague who had nursed the woman (Patient A) for two years - removed the sign and tore up the A4 sheet of paper when she realised what Davidson had done - and presumably then reported him to the authorities.

So well done to the unnamed nurse who blew the whistle on the vile Mr Davidson - because that's the kind of spirit more people should have shown at Mid Staffs NHS Trust - where up to 1200 patients died as the result of poor standard of care.

Davidson tried to cover his tracks by arguing that the notice was meant as a joke and told the NMC panel he had written ‘Feed Me First’ as an instruction to staff.

Davidson also alleged that Patient A had nodded to indicate that she was hungry, a claim dismissed by another nurse who said the woman “did not have the capacity to communicate”.

The hearing was told that “no other witness claimed to be able to communicate with Patient A in the manner described” by Davidson. Several other charges involving dishonest conduct, were also proven against Davidson.

In other words the man was an experienced and resourceful liar. 

The NMC ruled that the suspension was “necessary on the grounds of public protection” - but what happens after that - presumably this chap's behaviour is on his record and he can't just walk into another job in 18 months time - in the UK or abroad.

Commenting on the case Margaret Watt of the Scotland Patients Association said:

“This is totally unacceptable. This man is in the wrong profession. There are two types of people who go into this work – those for whom it is a vocation, and others who are in it for the money and the holidays. It is clearly not a vocation for this man.

This was a despicable and shocking thing to do. Although patients have not changed, the culture of caring has. “Nurses should spend a year on the wards caring for people – washing them, taking them to the toilet – before progressing with their career.

Those who are not able to care, or don’t want to, should be weeded out."

Well said, but what it comes down to is other staff speaking out on behalf of their patients - and that's the lesson to be learned from Mid Staffs.  

Monday, 29 April 2013

Mugged By Pussycat

GG as a Pussycat in Big Brother
Now here's a sight you don't see everyday - a putative Prime Minister of Great Britain getting well and truly 'mugged' by a populist political pussycat - in the shape of  George Galloway (GG), the Respect MP.

The article from The Mail on Sunday is a perfectly executed 'hatchet job' on the Labour leader - Ed Miliband - but to be honest Ed should have seen this coming a mile away. 

Quite what the Labour leader thought he was doing by having a secret, cosy meeting with the Respect MP is a mystery - one that always had the potential to blow up in Ed's face, as I predicted in a previous post - 'Come Into My Parlour' dated 25 April 2013.

Well now it has and in quite spectacular fashion and the whole episode leaves Ed Miliband looking - well, frankly ridiculous - because he has a penchant for identifying himself with left-wing causes which offer little other than empty political slogans about the challenges facing the country today.

So, I really don't know where Ed goes from here - this was a relatively small tactical mistake, but it only serves to highlight underlying strategic problem about the Labour leader's judgement.  

The only thing that can be said for certain is that in Sunday morning George Galloway must have had a smile on his face - that would do justice to a Cheshire Cat.          

MPs' fury as Miliband praises Galloway for his by-election victory over Labour

'Friendly' 45-minute chat covered a range of political and personal issues

By Simon Walters

Ed Miliband faced a growing revolt last night over his secret meeting with Respect MP George Galloway after it emerged that Mr Miliband had congratulated him on the way he beat Labour in a by-election.

The controversy over Mr Miliband’s talks with Mr Galloway – who was thrown out of the party in 2003 for his attacks on Tony Blair over the Iraq War – intensified after full details of the meeting in the Labour leader’s office were revealed for the first time.

Well-placed sources have told The Mail on Sunday that: 
  • Mr Miliband said he wanted further meetings – but in a secret location so Labour MPs did not find out about it.
  • The two discussed Mr Galloway’s fierce criticism of US foreign policy and opposition to British troops in Afghanistan.
  • They had a ‘warm’ chat and talked about Mr Galloway’s friendship with Mr Miliband’s late father, Marxist academic Ralph Miliband.
  • The Labour leader said he admired Mr Galloway’s campaigning skills and his ability to woo ethnic minority voters. 
Mr Galloway said yesterday: ‘I am shocked by the way that Ed Miliband has misrepresented our private meeting.

‘And I regret the fact that he has not felt strong enough within the Labour Party to defend a meeting which he himself asked for. It was perfectly respectful on both sides. He asked me if I knew his father and I said I knew him well and respected him very much.’

A Labour MP said last night: ‘Ed Miliband should spend less time listening to people like Galloway who are despised by most Labour activists and more time listening to his own MPs.’

The new account of the meeting in Mr Miliband’s Commons office makes a mockery of claims by the leader’s aides that the two men met briefly to discuss boundary changes in parliamentary constituencies.

In fact boundary changes took up less than five minutes of the friendly 45-minute talk, with the rest of the conversation covering a wide range of political and personal issues.

At one point Mr Miliband ‘congratulated’ Mr Galloway on his by-election victory over Labour in Bradford West last year by more than 10,000 votes.

The Labour leader praised Mr Galloway’s social media campaign and his success in ‘reaching minority voters’.

Most damaging of all is the disclosure that Mr Miliband suggested they had further meetings, but away from prying eyes.

The Mail on Sunday’s disclosure last week that the two men had met caused a furious backlash from Labour MPs who regard Mr Galloway as a traitor.

On Wednesday, Mr Galloway publicly praised Mr Miliband’s ‘high moral character’. But the mutual charm offensive ended when, under mounting Labour pressure to disown Mr Galloway, Mr Miliband denounced his ‘awful’ views and said he did not want him back in the party.

Mr Galloway hit back by accusing Mr Miliband of lying and branding him an ‘unprincipled coward with the backbone of an amoeba’.

The meeting took place after Mr Miliband’s office emailed Mr Galloway saying the Labour leader was ‘keen to meet’ him.

A source said: ‘It is absurd to say it was over a Commons vote on parliamentary boundaries. Galloway had already told Labour’s Chief Whip that he would support them over it. They talked about the British and international situation.

‘Galloway said Labour should do more to resist austerity measures. He urged Miliband to press for a faster withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan and to distance himself from American foreign policy.’

An ally of Mr Galloway said: ‘George is very angry at the way Miliband has lied about this meeting.

'It was clear that he was interested in George’s views and took them seriously. He was surprised to be invited to Miliband’s office and still isn’t sure what his motives were.’

A Labour spokesman said: ‘As we have always said, this meeting was about constituency boundaries.’

Belly Flop

The latest edition of Private Eye has a true story in its Funny Old World column about the lengths some people will go to in China - to bag a seat on the crowded subway.


"These silicone stomachs are sold as acting props," a spokesman for the Liyuan Industrial and Commercial Bureau told reporters in Beijing, "and are intended for actresses who are pretending to be pregnant."

"However, Ms Zhang paid 300 yuan (£30) for a prothetic preegnant belly so she could gain sympathy from passengers on the subway, and be given a seat on even the most crowded trains."

"It is shameful that she milked sympathy from her fellow passengers in this way, but what is worse, when the fake stomach fell off during one subway journey, she lodged a complaint with us, complaining about the poor quality of the prosthetic belly."

In her complaint against Taobao.com (who had sold her the prothesis), Ms Zhang pointed out that "the advertisement claimed that these fake silicone stomachs are very realistic, and could enable a woman to pretend to be pregnant,. Since most subway trains in Beijing are overcrowded, I bought one so I would be able to get a seat each day, and at first it worked.

"But after a few weeks, the belt tying it to my waist came loose, the fake belly dropped to the floor, and I was subjected to mockery by other passengers."  

However, the bureau rejected her complaint, saying that "the belly was never advertised as being suitable for daily use." And they added "who exactly is demonstrating poor quality? The manufacturer or Ms Zhang.

(Beijing News, 27/2/13. Spotter: Brendan J. O'Byrne)

Mob Rule

I enjoyed this article written by David Aaronovitch in The Times recently - because it reflects my own views these days that the way to deal with people on the extremes of politics - is not to shout them down or deny them a hearing.

So to hound someone like Paolo Di Canio out of football for his alleged support for fascism and the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini would be a complete overreaction - a kind of mob rule - and in some ways akin to what happened to the author Salman Rushdie for publishing his book, The Satanic Verses.

To my mind the difference is that while Salman Rushdie would always have acquitted himself well against his detractors - given the opportunity - the new Sunderland manager, as we have seen, suddenly lost his appetite for explaining his reported admiration for Mussolini.

Little wonder, since the subject has no place in football and, of course, when put under the spotlight of public debate and scrutiny - fascism is a completely discredited political philosophy.    

We can’t limit free speech. Even for Di Canio

By David Aaronovitch

Once I proclaimed ‘no platform for fascists’. Now I can see that toleration is a far more potent weapon

We’d had the speeches: the professors, the Conservative MP, the activist and author, and me. Now it was time for questions. The audience, mostly students, sat in the lecture theatre in the East London college and a few raised their hands. The subject was political extremism and four or five questions into the discussion a casually dressed man in his thirties was chosen, stood up and announced himself to be Gavin, from Croydon — and the National Front.

My first reaction was to check the exits. If a fight broke out, this man in his fifties with a huge, relatively recent abdominal scar might need to get out quickly. I waited for the inevitable rumble of anger followed by shouts from some in the mixed-race audience. But they didn’t come. Gavin of the NF, an organisation once described by a leading member as the beginning of “a well-oiled Nazi machine”, burbled on a bit about immigrants and sat down to complete silence. Then someone else asked a question.

No one but me seemed in the least surprised. But a lot of my early political life was spent discussing what is known as the “no platform” policy. This stance — “no platform for racists and fascists” to give it its full title — was adopted by many “progressive” organisations in the 1970s, and exists still. It states that the body concerned will not share or offer a platform to those who would use it to advocate racist or far-right anti-democratic views.

There was always a problem with it. Sensible, mainstream no-platformers like me were clear that it was just organised fascists and obvious racists who were to be shunned. Unfortunately others had more elastic definitions. After the UN General Assembly passed resolution 3379, capriciously determining that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”, several far-left outfits argued vociferously for the Israeli Ambassador and pro-Israel college Jewish societies to be banned from right-thinking campuses. For some reason, which I now forget, there was even an attempt to ban the Conservative frontbencher Sir Keith Joseph for being, in some convoluted sense, a racist or a fascist. Things could get awkward.

We would have all agreed, however, on Paolo Di Canio. The new Sunderland manager famously and televisually gave a fascist salute to supporters of the Roman team Lazio in 2005. He has “ DUX”, meaning Duce, or Mussolini, tattooed on one arm (the other has “West Ham” on it). While in the past he has given interviews saying he is not a racist — and yesterday said that he is no believer in fascist ideology — he remains something of an admirer of the late, badly misunderstood Benito.

It isn’t a clinching argument, as some believe, that because no one much complained about Di Canio becoming manager of Swindon Town some time back, they shouldn’t complain about the Sunderland job either. Sunderland are much bigger and a principle that might not have been worth applying in one situation may be more proportionate in another.

It’s also the case that, when he was appointed England manager, no one much cared that Fabio Capello had praised the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Spain, he told Italians, had “Latin warmth and creativity regulated by rigorous order. The order which comes from Franco.” Along with the repression and firing squads.

Just as no one worried about the German international Paul Breitner, now a director of the biggest club in Germany, Bayern Munich, who was an avowed supporter of Mao Zedong — whose policies caused many times more deaths than the Italian dictator’s. As no one worries now about the Italian forward Cristian Lucarelli, who glorifies the memory of that iconic executor of class traitors, Che Guevara, and gave communist salutes to partisans of his own team, Livorno.

Again you might argue that Di Canio deserves less toleration because of his behaviour on the pitch. When playing for Sheffield Wednesday in 1998 Di Canio actually pushed over the referee — for which he was suspended for even longer than his political hero, but less terminally.

Again it isn’t so simple. He also won a Fair Play award for sportsmanship in 2001 and once worked all night helping staff shovel snow from Swindon’s pitch so that a match would not be cancelled. Maybe these were characteristics that persuaded that famous footballing socialist Alex Ferguson to try to sign him for Manchester United.

Many Italians are funny about Musso. They include senior democratic politicians such as Silvio Berlusconi, who (idiotically) agree that the absurd tyrant has been traduced. As a Der Spiegel report on Musso-love in January concluded, however, “the glorification of ‘Il Duce’ is one thing above all else: a lot of talk”. It corresponds to no important political trend. Which is one reason why it appeals to that section of football fans who are always looking for a symbol, but don’t much care about politics.

The calm reaction of the students to the NF man crystallised for me why I have changed my mind on all this. We are a world of seven billion people many of whom are, at any one time, making speeches, posting videos, talking nonsense, tweeting, bleating and yabbering. A process of realising that you can’t qualify free speech, which started for me with the Rushdie case when I heard “liberals” argue that the author was to blame for exciting reaction to his novel, is reaching its inevitable conclusion. The young men and women in the lecture theatre understood something, almost generationally, that it has taken years for me to learn.

It is that a pretty stringent harm test must be applied before someone’s speech or expression alone sees them prosecuted or blacklisted. If you are going to argue that Di Canio should not have a senior job in the only industry he’s any good at, the damage threshold has to be reasonably high.

In his case it would only be crossed if he had acted again in such a way as to incite or provoke violence, hatred or racism among football fans as he did eight years ago in 2005. His mere past existence or current opinions cannot be sufficient cause for barring him.

As we went out that night on to the Mile End Road, not far from where the communists fought the fascists in 1936, I was struck by what the quiet toleration of his speech had done to the National Front man. It had rendered him completely harmless. He might just as well have stayed in Croydon.

Lazy MPs

Margaret Hodge is a Labour MP and Chairperson of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. 

I don't know her personally, but I admire the work she does in the House of Commons - which appears to be serious and non-partisan, by and large - and the fact that she speaks her mind.

Just the other day she told the Guardian newspaper:

“We are living through the worst economic crisis in modern times, MPs have a lot to do and yet we are spending much of our time in recess.”

Apparently, MPs sat for 296 days a year between May 2010 and May 2012 - according to Commons library papers - compared with 304 days from 2006 to 2008.

The Public Accounts Committee is charged with scrutinising public spending - with the aim of ensuring that taxpayers get value for money and warming to her theme Margaret Hodge added that the public would be forgiven:

“for thinking that it is MPs who are lazy and that it is Parliament that is failing to provide good value for money”.

Yes indeed and this former Labour minister drew support from a surprising quarter - in the shape of John Redwood - the former Conservative Cabinet minister - who agreed with Margaret Hodge’s criticism while noting that any plans to extend hours at Westminster would not be popular among MPs.

Well it's not necessarily about extending hours - but increasing the number of days and weeks that MPs spend at Westminster doing their primary job of bringing in new legislation or amending existing legislation - such as the Proceeds of Crime Act - to make it more effective.

So, hands up - Do you agree that MPs should spend more time at Westminster and less time swanning around their constituencies?

I thought so - a huge majority of people, just as you would expect.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Show Trials

What do North Korea and Venezuela have in common?

Well for one thing their governments both seem quite happy to declare suspected criminals 'guilty' - before the people concerned are even brought to anything resembling a proper trial.

For example, an American citizen - Pae Jun-Ho (aka Kenneth Bae) - is to be sentenced by North Korea's Supreme Court after allegedly admitting allegations that he was attempting to overthrow the North Korean government.

Now this seems a tad overblown if you ask me, but the North Koreans are deadly serious and issued a statement saying: 

"The preliminary inquiry into crimes committed by American citizen Pae Jun-Ho are closed."

"In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) with hostility toward it."

"His crimes were proved by evidence. He will soon be taken to the Supreme Court of the DPRK to face judgement."

Now no one has seen any of the evidence presented against this young man, a Korean American - nor has he been allowed access to friends, family, American  consular officials or a lawyer - during his time in custody which dates back to November 2012.

So it all seems to fit in with the North Korean practice of arresting people on trumped up charges - alleging James Bond style espionage - when all the suspects have done is to break petty, bureaucratic rules involving the taking of photographs, for example. 

But the real aim of the North Koreans is to hold these individuals 'hostage' for a while - before releasing them to someone like former American President Bill Clinton - and after securing some monetary or diplomatic concessions.

Meanwhile halfway across the world, back in South America, things are just as bad - from an innocent until proven guilty point of view.

Because in Venezuela Henrique Capriles - the country's opposition leader - who challenged the result of the country's presidential poll has been accused of inciting violence - during the largely peaceful protests which have taken place since the election.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro has established a commission to investigate whether Henrique Capriles was responsible for any of the violence.

But much worse that that the Government appointed head of the commission - Pedro Carreno - has already found the opposition leader guilty by declaring Carpiles to be a "murderer".

And just so that the message is driven home, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly (Parliament) - Diosdado Cabello - went one better by describing Henrique Carpiles as a "fascist murderer".

Before the Prisons Minister - Iris Varela - chipped in with her comment that a jail cell awaits the country's opposition leader.

So, Venezuela which claims to be a left-leaning, socialist democracy is - if anything - worse than the Stalinist inspired government of North Korea - as it heads for an ugly show trial of an opposition leader who has already declared guilty - by leading members of the Venezuelan government.  

Amoeba For PM!

Politics is a fickle old business, right enough.

No sooner has George Galloway - the Respect MP - started throwing his weight behind Labour's Ed Miliband efforts to become the country's next Prime Minister - than he changes his mind and describes Ed as a liar and a coward.

Here's a report from the BBC's web site on what has turned out to be a rather guly spat between the two men.

George Galloway: Ed Miliband lied about meeting

Respect MP George Galloway has accused Labour leader Ed Miliband of lying about a meeting between the two men.

Mr Miliband said he had met the MP to talk about a vote on boundary changes.

But Mr Galloway said this was "a lie" and called the Labour leader "an unprincipled coward with the backbone of an amoeba".

Reports of the meeting prompted rumours that Mr Galloway could rejoin Labour. Mr Miliband has denied this and says he does not want Mr Galloway to be an MP.

After 16 years as a Labour MP, Mr Galloway was expelled from the party in 2003 over comments he made on the Iraq war. Since then he has twice defeated Labour to win a seat in Parliament.

Reports of a meeting between George Galloway and Ed Miliband surfaced last week.

Speaking on BBC Radio Five Live, the Labour leader defended the meeting, saying he had met all the leaders of the minor parties, including Mr Galloway, ahead of a key Commons vote in January.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the minor parties teamed up to defeat Conservative plans to redraw constituency boundaries.

But in a tweet, Mr Galloway said: "Miliband's claim that he repeatedly pursued me for a one hour meeting about "boundary changes" is, quite simply, a lie."

He added: "I realise now that I showed poor judgement in finally agreeing to meet Miliband. An unprincipled coward with the backbone of an amoeba."

So there you have it - straight from the horse's mouth as it were - George and Ed were best friends for less than a week, but now George thinks Ed is an unprincipled cad with all the leadership qualities of an amoeba.

I just knew it would all end in tears - see post dated 25 April 2013 - 'Come Into My Parlour'

Parcel of Rogues

The Scottish  Labour Party seems to have wandered into something of a political minefield as its leader - Johann Lamont - unveiled support for a new policy that more tax raising powers should be transferred from Westminster to the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh.

Now many people - myself included - would say that this policy doesn't go far enough and that the Scottish Parliament should assume responsibility for not just income tax - but for all revenue raised within Scotland's borders.

In other words - Devo Max - with Scotland then contributing its fair share of the cost of the country's defence budget which most people would prefer to continue at a UK level - through close cooperation between the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments.

As far as I see things - that's the 'best of both worlds' choice which is being denied to voters in next year's referendum on Scottish independence.

But even the rather timid proposals on income tax raising powers being transferred to Scotland - seems to have upset a die-hard element in the Scottish Labour Party who are worried that this will lead to a cut in the number of MPs that Scotland currently sends to Westminster.

Which is an odd way to behave because as more powers are transferred to the Scottish Parliament - of course the number  of MPs should be significantly reduced - otherwise public money is being poured down the drain in an expensive job creation exercise for the benefit of Westminster MPs.

It's a bit like the situation in some of Scotland's councils - Glasgow City Council being an especially good example - where the council has hived off many of its services and jobs to arms length external organisations (ALEOS) - yet the council chief executive and senior officials retain their big salaries which are based on ALEO budgets and their workforces remaining in-house.

Now Glasgow's chief executive - George Black - is a fine and long serving public servant, but even he would be hard pushed to justify his salary remaining at @ £164,000 a year (not including his pension) - especially when the council has divested itself of responsibility for housing, for example, to the GHA (Glasgow Housing Association) - and transferred its culture and leisure services  to another ALEO in the shape of Glasgow Life.

The council loses direct responsibility for thousands of employees and the services they deliver - yet those at the top retain their top people's salaries as if nothing has changed.

Yet this - incredibly - is what Labour MPs at Westminster are demanding or else they are going to cause trouble - which sounds more like blackmail to me rather than a serious political argument.

But then again Westminster MPs have no shame when it comes to getting their noses deep into the public spending trough - as the MPs' expenses scandal demonstrated - and without the determination of freedom of information campaigners the behaviour of MPs would be continuing to this day.

To my mind, they are a parcel of rogues - an unprincipled band of jobsworths who would not be out of place in a Charles Dickens circumlocution office.

Parking Wars

I was given a speeding ticket in Spain a number of years ago which I found a bit harsh as most drivers do - even when you know you're in the wrong.

But after a day or two of feeling sorry for myself I stumped up and paid the Spanish authorities  their 90 Euro fine - although by that time I was back in sunny Scotland.

So I had to laugh at this recent article in The Times by Giles Coren - in which he demands tough action against the thousands of outstanding parking fines owed by  'Johnny Foreigner'.

Now some in the Tory Party might worry that chasing up cross border parking fines might hasten the United States of Europe - but I agree wholeheartedly with Giles Coren.

By the ashes of Margaret Thatcher - make the buggers pay up. 

We’ll fight in the streets. And in the car parks

Giles Coren

Foreign drivers owe us half a million quid in unpaid fines. Frankly, it’s unpatriotic not to chase every penny

I spent some of last week in the South of England, funeral dodging, looking for half decent restaurants and hunting for evidence of spring in quiet nooks. I can thus reveal that a confused Prunus autumnalis in Salisbury has burst suddenly pink against the desolate winterscape like a transsexual strippergram who has arrived at a party in full feather boa-ed regalia and sung “Ta da!” to a roomful of long-faced middle-aged men, none of whom had thought to inform her that the birthday boy had died of a heart attack half an hour before.

And I have been watching the local television news, as one does in domestic business hotels where the pornography is no more exotic or liberal than the stuff one gets at home, and I have been shocked by the revelation, after a Freedom of Information request by BBC South Today, that £521,026 is owed in parking fines in Oxfordshire, Southampton and Portsmouth that remain unpaid by 10,423 foreign vehicle owners since 2009.

In short, that is ten thousand foreign Johnnies coming over here and leaving their Volkswagens and their Seat Ibizas at the side of our roads willy nilly, receiving a ticket from a hard-working and conscientious West African migrant worker employed by the good grace of some forward-looking and admirably internationalist local council and then simply swanning the hell off home without so much as a by your leave.

And that is just in the southern boondocks. Imagine, just imagine, how many millions of pounds in unpaid fines must have built up in London, where we have shops with things in that people might genuinely want to park their cars and go in and buy, instead of just tea towels featuring the local cathedral and aprons decorated with useful nautical knots.

And for it to come out in this of all weeks. By God, we did not fight and win the Falklands war so that some moustachioed Argie could come over here and leave his fancy hatchback on a clearly marked loading bay in Southampton and “just pop into Asda for a pound of tomatoes” at the expense of the British taxpayer. Hell, no. We fought and won the Falklands war because otherwise Michael Foot would have got in and by now we would all be living in caves, eating thistles and string. And speaking Spanish.

£521,026. Half a million pounds. That’s about a four thousandth of the amount by which the British national debt increases every week. We could do with that money. So it’s a good job that Michael Robinson, parking operations manager at Portsmouth City Council, has got the ball rolling by hiring a company called European Parking Collection (EPC) to go after the £143,666 he is owed by garlic-smelling alien rogue parkers.

“We felt it was unfair British people were having to pay,” he told the BBC, “while foreign-registered vehicles were getting away with it.” That is the Dunkirk spirit right there, that is. That is the sort of stuff you could set to Elgar.

Not like the craven-arse defeatist surrender monkeys at, say, West Oxfordshire District Council, which admitted to the BBC that its parking wardens no longer issue PCNs to foreign vehicles because “it is not in the public interest to incur irrecoverable expenditure in pursuing these matters”. Which was basically Neville Chamberlain’s attitude to Hitler and the Nazis. Luckily, back then, we had Winston Churchill to pursue victory at all costs, victory no matter what the terror, victory however long and hard the road may be. Only for these grovelling 21st-century council toadies to squeal appeasement at the first sign of a kraut-owned Mercedes Benz double-parked on the high street while Fritz nips into Micky D’s for a Gross Mac mit fries und vun of zose telicious epple pies . . .

Nor are Thames Valley Police any better, the BBC revealing that 10,725 foreign vehicles were caught speeding by its cameras over the past four years without ONE of them being given a penalty (and to think of all the tickets I’ve had on the M40 while racing after a speeding Ferrari to shout abuse at the owner in pidgin Italian). Come on, Mr Oxford Plod, either driving fast is dangerous or it ain’t. But as far as I understand the physics, my daughter is not going to get any less squished because the car that hit her at speed in a built-up area was driven by a Belgian who might not necessarily respond to your first letter.

It isn’t as if this sort of fiscal patriotism would be expensive for the councils in question: EPC operates on a no-win, no-fee basis, obtaining keeper details from the country’s Vehicle Licensing Authority (VLA) and sending letters to owners in their native language, asking for the money. Personally, I think they go too far in stooping to communicate in the native babble of these felons, when simply telling them more loudly in English that they have “PARKED IN A RESTRICTED AREA, PEDRO, NOW GIVE US THE MONEY!!” would do the trick just as easily.

Because, frankly, lowering oneself to the respective local lingo is only going to encourage evasive appeals along the lines of: “Merde, J’étais deux minutes! J’avais une broken jambe. Ma femme est pregnant. Le dog a mangé le ticket. Avoir un coeur, mate, j’étais simplement unloading. Il y avait un tree sticking out devant le sign. Je n’ai jamais copped it. C’est la guerre contre le driver is what this is! C’est le political correctness gone fou! C’est les bicyclistes de Brussels, les lesbian ramblers de Strasbourg. C’est le prejudice, pur et simple. Il s’agit du global warming nonsense, les bloody vegan gauchistes. Le warden n’a jamais put le ticket sur le window. Il n’était pas legally served. Je connais mes droits. C’est pour ça que nous avons gagné la guerre? Hang on, c’était pas nous qui l’ont gagné, mais tu sais ce que je veux dire . .

Except, wait, what’s this? According to Stuart Hendry of the EPC: “Not all VLAs in each country will give out keeper details. France for example don’t, but the majority will.”

So wait, so hang on, so tell me again slowly: Frenchie comes over here in his bloody little doox chevoox and he sticks it on a zebra in the middle of, let’s say, Basingstoke, and he goes in to buy some snail traps and a box of suppositories and he comes out in his own good time, having probably stopped for a pint of wine and a Gauloise, finds a good honest British parking ticket on his windscreen and he tears it up and throws it in the road and he spits on it and says “To ’ell weez you, Eengleesh peeg of a parkeeng teecket!” and he goes home to France, and we try to get the payment to which we are entitled by habeas corpus and Magna Carta, and the French Government presumes to stand in our way?

In the name of all that is holy, by the ashes of Margaret Thatcher, by the word and spirit of the Highway Code: This. Means. WAR.