Sunday, 31 July 2011

Time is Money

Here's a list of meetings that Ed Miliband has held with media bosses since May 2010 - which has been helpfully published on the BBC's web site.

The same information is available for the Prime Minister - David Cameron - and the Deputy PM - Nick Clegg - though the list doesn't say whether these were normal day-time meetings - or hospitality chats over a nice lunch or dinner.

I haven't yet checked what's been posted on the BBC Scotland site - but it just goes to show how much time politicians spend - working on their relations with the press.

ED MILIBAND - MEETINGS SINCE MAY 2010

MAY 2010:

Simon Kelner (Editor in chief, Independent)

JUNE 2010:

Jason Cowley (Editor, New Statesman)

Richard Wallace (Editor, Daily Mirror)

Attended News International summer party

JULY 2010:

Geordie Greig (Editor, Evening Standard)

Kevin McGrath (Owner, Tribune)

Alan Rusbridger (Editor, Guardian)

AUGUST 2010:

Jason Cowley (Editor, New Statesman)

Colin Myler (Editor, News of the World)

Geordie Greig (Editor, Evening Standard)

Bruce Waddell (Editor-in-chief, Daily Record)

SEPTEMBER 2010:

Archie Norman, the ITV chairman, has been among those to meet Ed Miliband John Mulholland (Editor, Observer)

Tony Gallagher (Editor, Daily Telegraph)

Dominic Mohan (Editor, The Sun)

Rebekah Brooks (News International chief executive)

Richard Wallace (Editor, Daily Mirror - Labour conference)

Colin Myler (Editor, News of the World - Labour conference)

James Harding (Editor, The Times - Labour conference)

Dominic Mohan (Editor, The Sun - Labour conference)

Attended News International reception at Labour conference

Attender The Mirror's conference party

OCTOBER 2010:

Archie Norman (Chairman, ITV - general discussion)

Bruce Waddell (Editor-in-chief, Daily Record - general discussion)

NOVEMBER 2010:

Attended lobby reception

John Mullin (Editor, Independent on Sunday - general discussion)

DECEMBER 2010:

Lionel Barber (Editor, Financial Times - general discussion)

Attended The Sun's Military Awards reception and dinner

Alan Rusbridger (Editor, The Guardian - general discussion)

James Harding (Editor, The Times - general discussion)

JANUARY 2011:

Tony Gallagher (Editor, The Daily Telegraph - general discussion)

FEBRUARY 2011:

Dominic Mohan (Editor, The Sun - general discussion)

Jason Cowley (Editor, New Statesman - general discussion)

Jason Cowley and Spencer Neal (New Statesman - general discussion)

Geordie Greig (Editor, Evening Standard - general discussion)

MARCH 2011:

Lloyd Embley (Editor, The People - general discussion)

Sly Bailey and editors of Trinity Mirror's regional newspapers (general discussion)

Graeme Huston (Editor, Doncaster Free Press - general discussion)

APRIL 2011:

Made speech to 30 Club

MAY 2011:

Evgeny Lebedev (Chairman, Independent Print Ltd, general discussion)

Simon Kelner (Editor-in-chief, Independent Print Ltd, general discussion)

Richard Wallace (Editor, The Mirror - general discussion)

JUNE 2011:

Colin Myler (Editor, NOTW - general discussion)

Attended birthday party of Richard Wallace, Editor, The Mirror

Attended News International summer party

Alan Rusbridger (social engagement)

Made speech at The Times CEO summit

JULY 2011:

John Witherow (Editor, Sunday Times - general discussion)

Attended Westminster lobby reception

Pot and Kettle

Scotland on Sunday - along with other newspapers - reports today on the links between the Labour party and Murdoch press.

Here's an extract of an article by Eddie Barnes - SoS political editor - confirming that the new Labour leader - Ed Miliband followed the very same path as his predecessors in courting News International and other media executives.

Iain Gray - the Scottish Labour leader - is reported to have had only 4 meetings with people from the Murdoch stable.

But maybe that's because he was too busy trying to curry favour with other titles - such as the Labour supporting Daily Record.

Pot and kettle - seems an apt description.  

"Labour reveals Murdoch and News International links"

"Labour leader Ed Miliband and his senior team have regularly attended meetings and parties with top News International executives over the past year, the party declared yesterday, as it called on First Minister Alex Salmond to publish his own dealings with the scandal-hit news group.

New records published yesterday for the shadow cabinet show that company chiefs and Labour figures met at party conference, at London meetings and at parties in the Home Counties this summer.

Scottish leader Iain Gray also revealed he had held 42 meetings with media executives since taking over in 2008, four of which involved people from News International titles."

Saturday, 30 July 2011

He shoots, he scores!

I meant to write something the other day about the row between the new Rangers manager - Ally McCoist - and the BBC.

Apparently, McCoist was being interviewed by BBC Scotland - about the new measures to combat sectarianism in football.

But the interview was deliberately edited in such a way as to make McCoist look as if he didn't take the issue too seriously.

By showing a 'cut-away shot' of the Rangers manager smiling or laughing - in response to the interviewer's question.

So McCoist - understandably outraged at being set up - banned the BBC from any further interviews and made his displeaure known to other more responsible media sources - who took up the cudgels on his behalf.

Wisely the Beeb management in Scotland quickly capitulated and apologised profusely to McCoist - giving him the sort of resounding victory that has so far eluded the Rangers manager on the football field.

Good for him - no running off to lawyers and courts - a quick bit of direct, determined action did the trick.

But you do need to ask yourself what the BBC is playing at - because programmes are carefully edited and this was a clear stitch up by someone in a senior position.

I suspect we've not heard the end of this sorry tale.

Shopping and Politics

I read the other day that the Tories outspent the Labour party by £15 million in 2010 - the year of the last Westminster general election of course.

What I also learned - in the report from the Electoral Commission - is that the Co-operative Party gave £1.05 million to Labour.

Which surprised me because I shop in the Co-op regularly.

But I have no wish to be paying a shopping levy to the Labour party - as I go about the business of buying up life's little comestibles.

Now if Tesco were throwing money at the Tories - I'd have the very same attitude.

So maybe I'll have to take my business elsewhere in future.

What's politics got to do with shopping anyway? 

The Co-op's £1.05 million donation to Labour looks to me like a hidden tax on customers.

I think I'll have to find out more - watch this space.

Labour and the Unions

I was browsing the Action 4 Equality Scotland 'back catalogue' recently - and came across the following article on pensions - which I posted originally on 6 May 2010.

Two things jump out.

Firstly, the hypocrisy of the Labour party which - when in government - sneaked in these pension changes on the day of the 2010 general election.

Secondly, the attitude of the trade unions - who said nothing about what the government was doing at the time - no doubt because it was a Labour government and one that was about to face the voters.

Yes the union response was completely craven - they didn't stand up for the interests of their low paid members - they didn't start calling for national strikes - they just  looked the other way and kept shovelling money into Labour's coffers. 

So when the unions and the Labour party bang on about pensions now - as if they're champions of the low paid - take everything they have to say with a huge pinch of salt..

"Pensions and Equal Pay - 6 May 2010"

"Here's an article from today's Independent newspaper - regarding a significant change in pension regulations which will impact on thousands of low paid council workers.

You have to ask yourself why a Labour government would do something so mean-spirited - it really does beggar belief - and it's a sign of cowardice that it's slipped out quietly on the day of the general election.

'A good day to bury bad news', no doubt - as a government spin doctor famously said - they should be ashamed of themselves."

"Change in law excludes pensions from equal pay"

"Thousands of low paid female council workers could be condemned to an impoverished old age after the Government quietly changed the law to stop them receiving better pensions.

Dinner ladies, cleaners and care assistants are among the workers who will be affected by the change to the local government pension scheme regulations. Under the new rules, women who win equal pay cases will no longer be able to have their pensions upgraded to bring them in line with those of male colleagues.

The change in the regulations has also been backdated to 1 April 2008, meaning that any equal pay claimant who settled their case after this date will lose any pension uplift they had secured. One of the women affected, who did not want to be named, is a clerical worker for South Tyneside council, against which she lodged a successful equal pay claim.

She was paid around £16,000 a year, whereas male refuse collectors and road sweepers judged to be doing comparable work were paid more than £20,000. She settled her claim in 2008 and received a lump sum of around £20,000 for six years' of back pay and an agreement that her pension would rise. Because her case was settled after April 2008, she is no longer entitled to a higher pension.

She said: "I just think it is scandalous that a Labour government which is supposed to be in favour of helping the low paid and tackling inequality has chosen to bring this in."

Equal pay cases have become extremely controversial and have pitted trade unions against no-win, no-fee lawyers. One of these is Stefan Cross, who has secured large payouts for his clients – most recently for the 4,000 women in Birmingham who could be entitled to share up to £600 million in compensation.

Mr Cross said: "This is a very significant change. We have been doing thousands of these cases and councils had agreed to increase these women's pensions in line with their settlements. Now the Government has changed the rules, with no consultation. I think it is absolutely staggering that a government that is introducing an equality Bill can then do this by the back door."

Friday, 29 July 2011

Pensions and the Low Paid

The government has finally announced its plan to reform public sector pensions - and yesterday set out proposals which aim to get the better paid groups paying more.

The very best paid, i.e. those earning well over £100,000 a year - as many as 40,000 employees apparently - are to be asked to pay an extra £3,400 towards their pensions.

But the better paid have been getting their pensions subsidised for years - by lower paid colleagues and the taxpayer more generally - because of the final salary scheme arrangement.

The issue at stake is whether these generous subsidies continue - or whether those that benefit most - pay more into the scheme to maintain the future value of their pensions.

Final salary schemes are to be phased out, but not straight away - and replaced with a career average calculation - which is fairer to everyone involved.

Because it means that what people get out is directly linked to what they pay in - over the course of their working lives.

The proposals affect NHS workers and teachers in England and Wales - and civil servants throughout the UK.

The government has been quite clever - it has to be said - because anyone earning £15,000 or less will not pay any increase at all.

Which takes a lot of low paid, mainly women's jobs - right out of the picture.

In general, the government is proposing that people earning between £15,000 and £21,000 - will pay a 0.6% increase from April 2012.

So the increase for this group will be small - and the upper limit for teachers has been raised to £26,000 to minimise the impact on new entrants to the teaching profesions - as a special case presumably.

But there's no doubt that the highest earners will pay more - a doctor on £100,000 a year, for example - will pay almost £2,000 a year more.

Staff in the £50,000 pay bracket - of which there are many - will pay £768 a year extra.

The chanages are based on a report form Lord Hutton - a widely respected minister in the last Labour government.

So it will be interesting to see how the unions respond - and whether they are egged on by the new Labour leadership.

Because if union leaders call for more strikes - they will be asking their lower-paid members to strike in favour of the better paid.

And since the proposals have no effect at all on anyone earning £15,000 a year or less - mainly women of course - it's questionable whether they should be included in any strike ballot - if they are not actually 'in dispute' with their employer.

Likewise but to a lesser extent with the £15,000 to £21,000 group - who face a 0.6% increase - they will be asked, if strikes do go ahead, to take action in support of their much better paid colleagues.

The weak in defence of the strong - now that will be an interesting campaign slogan - if  it is ever put into practice.

Ed Nose Day

Whatever shortcomings they may have - seems like our MPs in Westminster do have a sense of humour after all.

Because yesterday was given the title of 'Ed Nose Day' to commemorate the Labour leader - Ed Miliband - having a minor operation on his 'hooter'.

Apparently Ed suffers from sleep apnoea - which is a common cause of loud snoring - so let's hope for his family's sake that everything went well.

Cynics say that the operation was intended for other reasons - to cure the Labour leader of his nasal twang.

But I think it's rather endearing.

If you close your eyes, you can almost believe it's Ken Livingstone talking - though Red Ken does have a much more world weary and older voice.

In any event I hope Ed comes back from his holidays fully refreshed - since there's nothing worse than a disturbed night's sleep.

Better Late Than Never

A reader from South Lanarkshire has been in touch - someone who, so far at least, has not registered an equal pay claim - against South Lanarkshire Council.

Apparently the reader was informed by what she describes as a 'council member' - that she would still qualify for any retrospective payment that might be awarded by the Employment Tribunals.

In other words that she had no need to register an claim - because she would get the very same outcome as those who have taken up a their tribunal cases - with Action 4 Equality Scotland.

Complete rubbish of course!

Because the Employment Tribunals can only award of compensation to individual employees who have taken the trouble to register a claim.

And South Lanarkshire Council has absolutely no authority to make a compensation award to employees - unless it is legally obliged to do so.

The reader goes on to say that she and others now feel they were given poor advice - and is it too late now to register a claim?

Well the short answer is - No, it's not - but the sooner you get things moving the better.

All that's needed in the first instance - is your name, address and post code - which can be sent to me by e-mail at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Word is clearly spreading in South Lanarkshire - which is good to hear - 'better late than never' as they say.

So if you know of anyone who followed this daft 'do nothing' advice - from either the council or the trade unions - then let people know it's not too late to register a claim even now.

South Lanarkshire Council

Regular readers will be interested to know that a further Case Management Discussion (CMD) has been arranged - for the ongoing equal pay claims in South Lanarkshire Council.

The details are as follows:

Date - Wednesday 10 August 2011

Time - 10 am onwards

Venue - Glasgow Employment Tribunal, Eagle Building, 215 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 7TS

Individual claimants are entitled to attend the hearing.

If you do go along, make yourself known to Carol Fox - who will be there on behalf of Fox Cross Solicitors.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Hacked Off

The phone hacking scandal has finally descended into farce - as competing journalists, MPs and newspaper groups try to turn recent events to their own advantage.

The Mirror Group is now in the dock - as a former journalist from that stable says that 'phone hacking' and 'blagging' were common practice in his day.

Last night I watched a Channel 4 documentary - which made a few sensible points - but was by and large a partisan Michael Moore style drama - that ended up saying that Rupert Murdoch was 'beyond evil'.

Er, no.

Slight exaggeration there, I have to say - Anders Breivik might deserve such a description - for his cold-blooded slaughter of the innocents in Norway.

Al Qaeda and Adolf Hitler certainly do - for reasons that don't need explaining.

But the boss of News International and News Corp - seems more than a little over the top, don't you think?

Then to cap it all - the newspapers report than Tom Watson - a Labour MP who has been at the forefront of the phone hacking campaign - has signed a book deal worth £20,000. 

Now I don't mind MPs writing books - many have done so in the past - and some of them have turned out to be very interesting.

But why should they write books on the public payroll - after all MPs never tire of telling the public that they do demanding full-time jobs - in which case how do so many find the time to pursue lucrative outside interests?

Let's hope the resulting publicity means that Tom Watson - will end up donating his fee to charity.

Cure for Cancer

The sight of the convicted Libyan bomber - Abdelbaset al-Megrahi - at a pro-Gaddafi rally in Tripoli yesterday means just one thing.

The decision to free him was based on duff advice - because unless the Libyans have found a cure for cancer and kept it all to themselves - al-Megrahi should have been dead and buried by now.

Now I don't blame the SNP justice minister - Kenny McAskill - for this embarrassing state of affairs.

No, I think he made a principled decision - even if many people disagreed with McAskill's decision to grant al-Megrahi early release on compassionate grounds

And we now know that the last Labour government - including the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, of course - were fully in support of the Scottish government's decision.

The person - or people - in the spotlight should be those who gave the minister such poor medical advice.

Nothing would surprise me now - maybe al-Megrahi will be entered as a Libyan competitor in next year's London Olympic Games.

If so, he's sure to get good coverage on the BBC - but I digress.

The point is that the doctor/s said this chap had months to live - yet years later he's still going strong.

So if the Scottish government paid for this medical advice - they should ask for their (our) money back.

And take those responsible off the approved - 'letting prisoners out of jail early' advisory panel.

Cast of Thousands

Ever wondered what your BBC licence fee is spent on?

Well the good news is that it's going towards a mammoth job creation scheme - down in London.

Where the BBC sent 153 staff to report on a series of 'One Year To Go' events the other day - connected with the Olympic Games.

The London Games are of course being held in 2012 - not 2011.

So this initial wave of 153 BBC staff must be a drop in the ocean - compared to what's planned for next summer.

By way of comparison ITN - which produces several news programmes for ITV and Channel 4 -  sent just 22 staff to cover the day-long event - while Sky News sent 11 employees.

The BBC has come in for some a lot of criticism recently - much of it justified I have to say.

Not just over the bloated salaries paid to its senior managers and top 'stars' - hundreds of thousands of pounds a year - but also for the Corporation's overblown coverage of other 'major' news events.

The rescue of the trapped Chilean miners in 2010 - being a good example.

Where the Beeb had around 30 staff camped outside the rescue site 24/7 - as individual miners were brought - one by one - to the surface.

A BBC member of staff covering the event - who did not wish to be named - said the 'cast of thousands' was "complete overkill".

Saying Nothing At All

At a time when every penny counts - including every penny spent by the trade unions - no one has had much to say about the £500,000 'golden goodbye' paid to the former Unite boss - Derek Simpson.

Not the Labour party - which receives millions of pounds in financial support from Unite - money that belongs to ordianry union members of course.

Not Jack Dromey - the new Labour MP for Birmingham, Erdington - who was the former deputy general secretary of Unite before heading off to a new career in the House of Commons.

Now the deafening silence from the Labour benches is a complete disgrace - but it would put Labour in the difficult position of standing up for ordinary union members - and criticising the party's largest financial donor. 

See previous post date 21 July 2011 - 'Weasel Words'.

So what has happened to all the inspiring Labour slogans of years gone by - Say what we mean, and mean what we say' - for example?

Seems like the Labour approach these days - in the words of Ronan Keating - is to 'say nothing at all.'

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Maid in Manhattan

The hotel worker who claims she was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Khan (62) - former head of the IMF - has spoken out and told her side of the story for the first time.

Nafissatou Diallo (32) waived her right to anonymity by giving interviews to Newsweek magazine and ABC news - and providing details of the alleged attack that took place in DSK's hotel bedroom.

The accuser is an immigrant worker from Guinea - a woman of course - earning $15 dollars an hour in her job as a hotel chambermaid.

The accused - DSK - is one of the most powerful men in the world - a global statesman and potential candidate in the French presidential elections - or at least he was until this affair.

Now the abuse of power involved should be clear for everyone to see - even if the sexual encounter involved was consensual - which is DSK's defence.

But instead of facing up to the reality of the old goat's behaviour - his wealthy wife stands by him - along with many of his 'comrades' in the French Socialist party.

Now I can't think of a good reason why a 32-year old woman in a respectable job - would proposition a 62-year old man - she had just met for the very first time.

The maid's story makes sense to me - and I'm sure to many other people as well.

But DSK will rely on the fact that there were no witnesses to these events (there seldom are) - and he has hired the best lawyers money can buy to present his defence.

Just like OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson.

So celebrity justice might prevail in the end - in which case the maid should sue him in civil court - where the standard of proof is on the balance of probabilities.

Either way DSK is finished as a public figure - which is what he deserves.

And those in the French establishment who have been turning a blind eye to his behaviour - including his wife - should be ashamed of themselves.

The Silly Season

The press sometimes refer to the summer holiday period as the 'silly season' - because news is light and stories appear that would not normally attract any attention - at other times of the year.

Which might go some way to explain the recent story about COSLA launching a campaign - to stop the creation of a single police force in Scotland.

I've mentioned COSLA before on the blog site - the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities - the voice of Scottish local government and Scotland's 32 local councils.

But COSLA is a reactionary body these days - in my view anyway - a staunch defender of the status quo on many issues including reform of the police service.

COSLA's position is that a merger of Scotland's current 8 police forces into 1 - will not result in any savings and actually cost more public money - £230 million so they say.

And if that's not scary enough - the Convention's leaders go on to say that this is equivalent to the loss of 7,600 police officers.

What a self-serving load of old tosh!

I can think of a few good arguments for having 8 smaller police forces - but saving money isn't one of them - and of course the figure has just been pulled out of thin air.

To say that a single police force would cost more than the present 8-strong arrangement - is completely daft and counter-intuitive.

Whatever start up costs might be involved would be small - compared to the savings from having 1 chief constable and 7 fewer police force bureaucracies - dotted around the country.

The same is true of the Fire and Rescue Service - but no doubt COSLA will be in favour of the status quo in that area as well.

The simple question is this - 'How can London (with 11 million people and 32 local borough councils) manage with 1 police force - yet according to COSLA Scotland needs 8?'

It's the silly season right enough.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Gasping for Breath

The judge who faced the murdering Norwegian - Anders Breivik - made the right call on behalf of the public by deciding that his hearing would take place in private.

Publicity is what this cold-blooded killer seeks - the opportunity to defend what cannot be defended.

So the authorities and the media should work together - and deny him what he wants  most - a platform for his hateful views and prejudices.

Now maybe there's a smart lawyer out there who's prepared to argue - that Anders just loved his country too much - but I doubt it. 

Breivik deserves a fair trial - like anyone else - but there's big difference between following procedures - and allowing the process to be hijacked and turned into a political circus.

The media and the newspapers can rise to the occasion - and it's in everyone's interests that they do so by reporting the facts and horror soberly - without all the homespun philosophy that Breivik wants the world to hear.

What's important are the lives and memories of all the people that died - not the vile ravings of a zealot.

And once Anders Breivik been required to listen to all the evidence - and from any relatives who want to have their say - he should be given time to make a short statement.

What Breivik seeks is the oxygen of publicity - but he deserves to go to jail for the rest of his life - gasping for breath. 

Out of Order

I don't normally waste my time and energies on the Orange Order - by and large I find them too ridiculous for words.

But today's an exception - because apparently the Royal Black Institution (an elitist cousin of the Orange Order, so the papers say) - have applied to hold a march on the same day as a big football game at Celtic Park.

Now my first reaction is that only a group of self-important, apron-wearing men in bowler hats - could make up a daft name like the Royal Black Institution - it's like something out of a Monty Python sketch.

But my second reaction is just tell them where to get off - because the OO/RBI is simply out to cause trouble.

The police have enough on their plate - without having to divert scarce resources into this kind of nonsense.

Let them have their march another day - and better still charge the OO/RBI for the actual costs of policing these events.

Why should the council taxpayer pay through the nose - if the OO/RBI are so keen to exercise their democratic rights - let them pay the costs of policing themselves.

I, for one, object to my council tax being used for such a purpose.

The costs over the course of a full year are enormous - and the money involved would be better spent on other things - like fighting crime.

So Glasgow City Council will have my full support - in standing up to the bigots and loonies.

Time someone did.

The Wrong Call

So the GMB union has joined Unite and Unison in rejecting a proposal for ambulance workers -  to respond to all genuine emergency calls during their shifts.

At the moment ambulance crews can choose not to interrupt their tea breaks - a rather strange  situation to say the least - which has drawn lots of criticism.

Understandably, because people have - literally - died waiting when the nearest ambulance crew preferred to finish their tea break - insterad of responding to a 999 call from a member of the public.

Now this is a crazy state of affairs - can you imagine a police officer, a firefighter, a doctor or a nurse insisting that their tea break comes first.

All that's being asked is that ambulance crews take their break - once the emergency is over - not that they shouldn't get a break at all.

The unions say that their members voted overwhelmingly to reject the latets proposal - but the obvious question is - 'What advice did GMB, Unite and Unison give to their members?'.

Because it's a real failure of leadership on the part of the trade unions - who often claim to be speaking for the public and service users -  but on this occasion they're letting the public down.

So I say let's have a real debate - let's put the facts on the table - for example, how often do ambulance crews get disturbed in an average week or month?

Are we talking about a minor inconvenience or a major problem - so let's hear from the NHS officials who are supposed to be standing up for the interests of the public.

The unions seem to be saying that more money - a more generous offer from the employers will break the deadlock - but if so, then that's a disgraceful stance for the unions to take.

Because it's playing games with people's lives. 

Monday, 25 July 2011

Kentucky Fried Seagull

Hugh Fearnley Whitingstall is one of my favourite - and endearingly bonkers - TV chefs.

The River Cottage chef has a some imaginative ideas for adding seagulls to the national diet - including a recipe for Kentucky Fried Seagull - would you believe.

Here's what HFW has to say on the subjecy -  I think I'll contact Hugh - and ask if he'll join the TAPAS campaign.

"Vermin with wings? Chicken of the sea? Or just an opportunity missed?"

"First and foremost, before we all go on a mad seagull killing frenzy. In the U.K it is against the law to kill seagulls or interfere with their nests under the countryside and wildlife act. Some Councils are allowed to cull them however, and usually do this by either poisoning or shooting them.

How to catch your seagull. Remember this is against the law in the U.K. I don't want the Men in Blue knocking at the door because someone said that Foodimum told them it was okay to catch and eat seagulls. It isn't...

Put some bait on a hook on a fishing line. Fling the bait up in to the air so that the seagull goes for it and reel it in. Break its neck as you would a chicken.

Someone also tried an interesting technique here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWuyKPGxhFo

I haven't tried any of the recipes below but if you do live somewhere where catching seagulls is legal and you have a go please let me know!

Seagull Recipe 1: Sautéed Seagull

(adapted from http://everything2.com/title/Dutch+Seagull+Recipe):

Pluck and prepare the seagull as you would a chicken and joint or quarter.

Soak the meat in heavily briny water in a cold place (the fridge?)for 12 hours. This is to try and remove the fishy taste. Do this again at least 3 times, each time throwing away the old salty water and replacing it with fresh briny water.

Lightly sauté the meat in butter, onions, lots of garlic and herbs and then add stock. Simmer for 3 hours. After 3 hours throw the liquid away. A voilà.

Recipe 2: Fricassee of Seagull

(Inspired by the cookbook "Cooking by Marguerite" (1999, published by Benedict Jacob))

Boil the seagull carcass for 2 hours in lightly salted water. Mince the flesh, and add to a hot pan of sesame oil, sliced beetroot, beansprouts, white wine or cider vinegar and vermouth. Serve with raisins or melon.

I would imagine that this would be a rather intense experience with hot oil sizzling and perhaps the vermouth igniting.

Recipe 3:KF Seagull

I found references to Seagulls being referred to as 'Sea going chickens' in the Channels Isles and that inspired this recipe.

I think that as with rooks the younger birds would be more succulent and if I had a choice I would like to feed the young seagull squab on oatmeal and cooked vegetables for a bit before dispatching it. I also think that you would need more than one bird to make a decent meal.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 tablespoon celery salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dry mustard
4 tablespoons paprika
2 cups plain flour
Dried breadcrumbs
2 eggs
Diced Seagull
Vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
Place everything in a bowl except the breadcrumbs, eggs, diced seagull and oil. Dip the meat into the beaten egg then the breadcrumbs then the herby floury mix.

Place all your pieces on an oven tray and cover with foil. Cook for 30 min’s then uncover and cook for another 30 min’s uncovered. Baste with the oil and cook for 5 more minutes. Allow to stand and serve.

As I say, I haven't tried any of the recipes so the timings might be out....

Well, I think the challenge is complete. I wonder if any of the recipes work......? If I find a way of legally obtaining a seagull I'll let you know."

Ask a Stupid Question

Scotland on Sunday yesterday published a letter from the former Presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament - Lord David Steel.

Here's what Lord Steel - a distinguished former MP and MSP had to say:

"I do hope that my favourite Sunday newspaper is not seeking to replace the News of the World. In the online forum (10 July) you claimed to have "revealed" a "plan" by me to offer a lump sum to peers who retire. Neither word is appropriate.

What you reported was a published speech in the Lords during a debate on an all-party committee proposal to introduce a statutory retirement facility for peers. At present we are appointed for life, and there are too many of us - over 800. The committee argues for a "value for money" and "modest" scheme within the House of Lords budget.

My argument was that instead of being able to claim expenses of up to £40,000 annually indefinitely (to pay for London accommodation during the week and secretarial assistance), an apparently smaller lump sum of £30,000 (which is the standard tax-free maximum redundancy pay in the wider world) would be a sufficient lump sum to encourage departure.

David Steel, via e-mail

Now I wrote about this back on 12 July 2011 - see post on that day entitled - 'Give to the Needy'.

What Lord Steel - and others like Lord John Prescott - seem to forget is that they've enjoyed a great living at public expense for many years.

And they're now retired to the House of Lords - drawing a handsome pension also paid for by the public purse.

So why do they need paid at all - why don't they just do it for expenses?

Or is that a stupid question.

Ain't No Angels

The Herald reports today that Glasgow-based lawyer - Paul McBride - has criticised  MPs at the forefront of investigations into the phone hacking scandal - of 'nauseating and irrational behaviour'.

Good for him - because that's an apt description of how some of these 'moral crusaders' have been conducting themselves of late - see post dated 13 July 2011: 'Much to be Modest About'. 

Leading advocate Paul McBride says in today's paper: 

"The nauseating spectacle of Keith Vaz apparently acting as a moral lightning rod for press freedom has only been dwarfed by the equally repellent Chris Bryant and Tom Watson, whose visceral hatred of the Murdoch group is bordering on the pathologically irrational.”

By all means let's have MPs speaking up on behalfof the public - but at least some of the characters trying to lead the charge - ain't no angels themselves.

And if Paul McBride's comments are anything to go by - at long last they're not getting things all their own way.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Tastes Like Chicken

Say what you like - but you can find the most amazing information on the internet these days.

I thought I'd search for interesting culinary things to do with a seagull - and what do you know - cyberspace is full of interesting - or perhaps slightly crazy - people. 

The chap who says that the seagull he tasted - when marooned off Korea - tasted like raw fish - is presumably making the point that seagulls taste of what they eat.

Makes sense.

But if so so I'm definitely steering clear of anything that comes from Glasgow - as they'll definitely taste of yesterday's chips and half-eaten kebabs.

Having eaten seagull once when marooned off the coast of Korea, I can assure you that although it served to fill the void, It was definitely not a delicacy. It tasted like raw fish, as would be expected.

Ron C.

I gather that seagulls (esp. those of the black-headed type) used to be a delicacy in Britain in years gone by.

I remember reading a newspaper article many years ago in which it was mentioned that they used to keep the gulls caged and feed them nothing but oatmeal for several weeks in order to fatten them up and remove all traces of salt from their flesh.

Some of the breeds are as big as chickens, they're plentiful and they always seem to be well-fed - I'd be amazed if there were not places in the world that still exploit the birds as a food source.

My grandma also told me a story about how, during WWII, her dad returned home one evening with a brace of freshly-shot herring gulls to supplement the rations (apparently they were really greasy and tasted awful when prepared as chicken).

It's made me very curious indeed. I would be interested in learning some seagull recipes from different parts of the world and the correct way in which to prepare the meat. Also, if anyone here has eaten gull before, I would like to know their opinion of it...

Anyone able to help?

David H.

Top of the Pops

The newspapers reported the other day that Scots MPs are among the highest claimers - when it comes to MPs' expenses.

Here's an extract of what the Scotsman had to say the the subject during the week.

"Two of Scottish Labour MPs racked up some of the highest expenses claims at the House of Commons during the last year, after charging for huge travel and staffing bills.

Labour MPs Eric Joyce and Brian Donohoe were both in the top five highest claimers at Westminster during 2010-11 - a UK-wide list which included the disgraced former MP Eric Illsley, who was jailed for expenses fraud.

Mr Joyce was the third most expensive MP on the list, with claims of £149,714.21, which included £92,083.80 on staff, £15,345.39 on accommodation and £30,670.39 on travel and subsistence, but just £4,715.26 for his constituency office in Falkirk.

The Labour politician, who emerged as the UK's most expensive MP in 2007-8 after claiming £187,334 in allowances and expenses, told The Scotsman that his latest claims were higher because he had been paying for a member of staff to move "up and down" from Scotland to London to carry out key duties.

Mr Joyce, who was previously revealed to be the first MP to claim more than £1 million cumulatively in expenses, said that next year his claims would be lower because the member of staff was now permanently based in the UK capital.

Meanwhile, Central Ayrshire MP Brian Donohoe was the fifth highest claimer among the UK's 650 MPs during 2010-11, after he charged the taxpayer £147,073.19 - including £91,080.10 on staffing, £16,041.71 on accommodation and £21,395.12 on travel and subsistence.

Mr Donohoe, who also claimed £11,675.93 for his constituency office, would not discuss his expenses when asked by The Scotsman yesterday.

Details of the expenses claims showed that Labour's Gemma Doyle was the best value for Scottish taxpayers on expenses, with the West Dunbartonshire MP claiming £73,541.40."

Now you would expect Scottish MPs to incur higher travelling expenses than many of their colleagues - but that's about it - everything else should be more or less the same.

So why the big differences between one MP and another?

Which is really the job of IPSA (the independent parliamentary standards authority) to explain.

The other interesting feature to come out of the IPSA report is that around 137 MPs - are still employing someone they know personally in their office - often a family member or spouse. 

A practice which of course is not allowed in many other countries - Germany for example.

Lording It Up

Last year the House of Lords introduced new expenses arrangements - but the result is that the average sum claimed by noble peers has gone up rather than down - from £270 to £274 per claim.

Isn't that incredible?

The new system was put in place following a series of scandals - that resulted in two peers being jailed - Lords Taylor and Hanningfield.

The old systemn was based on a £174 overnight subsistence, £86.50 day subsistence and £75 office costs allowances. 

But these individual allowances were all scrapped in favour of a tax-free flat rate of £300 per day - with travel expenses reimbursed separately as before.

The £300 attendance money is paid to their noble lordships - just for showing up in the Houseof Lords.

£5.86 million was paid out between January and March 2011 - with another £531,000 refunded to peers for their travel costs.

The total financial support granted to peers in 2010-11 was £18.7 million - which compares with £17.2 million in 2009-10.

So while everyone else is being expected to tighten their belts - their noble lordships are costing the country more than ever before.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Anyone for Tapas?

A regular reader has been in touch to support my growing campaign - for taking the 'toughest action possible against seagulls' - TAPAS for short.

Because these horrible birds pose a real and present danger to lots of home carers - in some parts of Scotland - I'm told.

Which I never realised until now.

And this revelation also provides a topical and unexpected link to the ongoing fight for equal pay - in which Scotland's home carers feature so prominently.

The reader who got in touch with me (by e-mail) - says that home carers often have a nightmare of a time getting access to certain houses on their rounds - because of the dreaded seagull threat.

Apparently seagulls defend their rooftop nests on certain clients' homes - and launch their  Stuka-like attacks on dedicated carers (and no doubt others as well) - who are just trying to go about their duties.

So that's another nail in the birds' coffin.

What a headline - helpless old folks trapped in their homes - while aggressive gulls terrorise their only link to the outside world - what are heartless councils doing to protect the clients and their low paid staff?

I never realised things had turned so ugly - and so bad out there.

So all the more reason to turn TAPAS into a national - all Scotland - campaign.

Now if only seagulls made good eating - we could turn them into a Tapas menu item as well.

Cult of the Personality

I see that Tommy Sheridan has been let out of prison for a short spell of home release - he was even pictured in one of the newspapers playing five-a-side football.

Good for him.

Because while Tommy has undoubtedly done some very foolish things in his time - he's not a violent criminal or a danger to the public.

I only hope that when he gets out of jail for good - that he builds a new and different life for himself and his family.

How boring and tedious would it be - for everyone - if on his release, Tommy blames his fate on everyone else and tries to resurrect a political career.

The creation of Solidarity - after Tommy's fateful split with the Scottish Socialist Party - was always a political vanity project.

In reality it has turned into a personality cult - not a serious political party - the main supporters are Tommy's family and friends - and a few fellow travellers.

Time for a change of direction - if he has any sense.

Dog Day Afternoons

The papers reported the other day that a young Celtic fan has pled guilty to committing sectarian abuse on the internet - following a crackdown by police.

Good - because as the new football season gets underway - a few well publicised convictions are exactly what's needed.

So that other idiots who are inclined to behave this way - get the message.

Apparently, Michael Bailey (20) from Glasgow - posted sectarian comments about Rangers and made a racist comment about the club's Senegalese player - El Hadji Diouf - in March this year.

Bailey's bail conditions require him not to enter any SPL ground or Hampden Stadium - and he must sign in at his local police station - during the first half of every Celtic match.

No doubt he's very sorry for acting like such a moron.

But having his freedom taken away every Saturday afternoon - and being deprived of football for a period - might just persuade Bailey and others like him to control themselves in future.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Seagulls Don't Drink or Smoke

Seagulls are my least favourite creatures in the world- by a mile.

To my mind they are the vermin of the skies - and for the life of me I can't understand why they are a protected species.

Now my grievances against gulls are many, varied and deeply held - so let's get a few of their worst characteristics on the record.

Seagulls are highly aggressive, territorial birds that live in towns and cities these days - they  make their living by plundering people's rubbish - and by robbing their smaller avian cousins such as magpies.

Seagulls are not possesed of a lovely call or birdsong - instead they squawk and screech raucously - at all hours of the day and night - and without any regard to their neighbours or the noise pollution by-laws.

Worse still - if they have a chick - the ugly, fledgling bird follows its parents around for weeks on end - whistling incessantly as it begs for food.

In Glasgow these foul creatures spread rubbish everywhere littering the streets - crapping on everyone as the go - and seem to live on a diet of chips and half-eaten kebabs.

But they don't drink or smoke - as far as I can tell - so maybe that's the secret of their longevity and success.

As soon as I become Prime Minister - or even the leader of Glasgow City Council - I am going to campaign for a new law to rid us of these pests.

In a humane fashion of course - even though the demons inside me want to exact a terrible revenge.

What's needed is a policy and plan for removing their eggs - replacing them with false eggs - because the birds are too stupid to know any different.

And before you know it - a whole generation or two of gulls get wiped out - and peace and calm is restored to our city centres.

End of the Road

Lord Hanningfield - the 70 year old Tory peer jailed for nine months for fiddling his expenses - lost the right to appeal against his conviction the other day.

Apparently the old crook wanted to argue that the trial judge had misdirected the jury at his original hearing - and that insufficient weight had been given to his 'genuine' belief - that he was perfectly entitled to make the claims he made.

But at the Court of Appeal in London - three judges (Lord Justice Hughes, Mr Justice Treacy and Mr Justice Blake) threw his case out - on the grounds that it had no merit.

Lord Hanningfield was the only expense fiddling politician to appeal against his guilty verdict - and has cleary wasted even more time and public money - pursuing baseless appeals to the higher courts.

Now he has just got to get on with it - and do his porridge.

Prophetic Words

I read what turned out to be prophetic words about Derek Simpson - the other day - which were written by Iain Dale who runs the popular Politics Today blog site.

Here's what he had to say last year about the former Unite general secretary.

Derek Simpson's Global Ambitions

Iain Dale 9:23 PM

"When I read that Derek Simpson, the boss of UNITE was meeting the Teamsters union, I almost burst out laughing. I'm not sure that the Teamsters and flight attendants would necessarily see eye to eye. But actually, it's no laughing matter.

You see, Simpson is a meglomaniac. Not content with controlling Britain's biggest union, he has grander designs. He's already on the record as wanting to create a pan European trade union but he sees creating a global trade union as the best way of combatting global capital and globalisation. No, really.

He's clearly bonkers, but madmen should never be underestimated. Simpson's term as UNITE boss finishes soon and he's looking for a new challenge. This strike may just offer him the opportunity he's been looking for. Be warned."

As Iain Dale says - he migh be bonkers, but never underestimate a madman.

Because this one's just walked away with £500,000 of Unite members' money - and no one seems able or willing to explain how and why this happened.

Maybe he's back in Thailand - blowing his money in a Bankok bar.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Fight Fire With Fire

Seems to me that one of the innocent victims of this phone hacking scandal is John Yates - the former Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Having been told he could resign or face suspension by his employer - Mr Yates wisely told his bosses they could stick their job.

Because his suspension was clearly a naked political act - one that would have dragged on for many months and destroyed his reputation - intentionally of course.

So to his credit Yates of the Yard took things into his own hands - and refused to become a victim or pawn in other people's games.

I was only once told that I would be suspended - the press told me in fact - after I resigned from the Labour party in 1999.

As I recall this was just before the 1999 Scottish TUC (annual congress) - which was being held in Glasgow that year - and took place in the run-up to the first Scottish Parliament elections in May 1999.

I was Unison's Head of Local Government in Scotland at the time - and had resigned from the Labour party the week before - which caused quite a stir.

Lots of people went out of their way to congratulate me for taking a stand, but others - the dyed in the wool Labour loyalists - were very disapproving to put it mildly .

The word among the STUC press pack was that I was to be suspended by Unison - because the high profile media coverage of my Labour party resignation had brought the union into disrepute - according to some people in the union anyway.

So I let the press know that if I were to be suspended - in the middle of the STUC - that I would drive my union car into the middle of George Square - leave it there, throw away the keys - and hold a press conference.

As it happens I wasn't suspended - people knew that I would do exactly what I said I would do - so they backed off, for a while at least.

But that wasn't the end of the story - oh no - not by a long chalk.

Weasel Words and Seedy Bars

The Mail newspaper ran an interesting story about Derek Simpson last year - after a British tourist spotted the Unite general secretary enjoying himself in a seedy Bangkok Bar. 

Now to be fair - maybe Derek and his Unite chum (another bloke of course) - just stumbled into the bar - all unsuspecting and innocent.

Or maybe he was on a recruitment drive - and just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

In any event, he now has £500,000 in his back pocket - courtesy of Unite's 1.5 million members - so he can do what he likes in future. 

Funny that the Unite Assistant General Secretary - the union's spokesperson on women and equality issues - had nothing to say. 

BA union boss and a Bangkok go-go bar: Two-day stopover paid for by Unite included visit to seedy joint

By Christopher Leake and Andrew Drummond - 28th March 2010

"Thai visit: Derek Simpson, the General Secretary of Unite, was spotted at a Bangkok bar where sex is sold for £40

The boss of the trade union behind the British Airways strike has admitted visiting a seedy go-go bar while on official business in Thailand.

Derek Simpson and fellow Unite official Terry Pye went to the Playskool bar in Bangkok where young women offer customers sex for £40.

Mr Simpson, 64, whose union’s membership includes thousands of women, including hundreds of female cabin crew at BA, drank beer in the bar while girls dressed only in bikinis danced on stage.

Women who work at Playskool are forced to earn a living by selling sex to customers. Their wages are cut substantially by the bar owners unless they sleep with at least nine clients every month.

A British tourist who was in the bar says he saw the two union men enjoying a drink there.

Mr Simpson, the £105,000-a-year joint general secretary of Unite, and Mr Pye, the union’s national officer for the steel industry, were in Bangkok at the end of last month during a crucial period of negotiations aimed at averting the current series of BA cabin crew strikes over pay and conditions.

They flew to Thailand at union expense for a two-day stopover to meet union leaders from the Thai motor industry.

From there they flew on to Sydney where they met Australian union bosses to discuss Unite’s plans to form a global trade union.

Last night Unite refused to reveal the cost of the trip, but union insiders estimated the bill came to around £2,000, including two £659 return economy flights on the Taiwanese airline EVA. Accommodation in Australia was paid for by the Australian unions.

Mr Simpson was spotted in Bangkok on February 28 by Denis Simons, 72, from Northampton, his wife Hazel and their son Lee, 47.

Mr Simons, who as a former Shell tanker driver was a member of the Transport & General Workers’ Union, now part of Unite, said: ‘I could not believe my eyes. There, right in front of me, was Derek Simpson.

‘Unfortunately, I could not keep my mouth shut and shouted to my wife, “There’s Derek Simpson!” Simpson looked me straight in the eye and turned and went purposefully into a bar called Playskool.’

Mr Simons added: ‘I would never mistake Derek Simpson. My wife and I have only recently watched him being interviewed on BBC Question Time with David Dimbleby.’

Lee Simons, who followed Mr Simpson into the bar, said: ‘When I went in, Derek was sitting there. He stared at me straight away. I ordered a drink, looked up at the dancers in bikinis, and then looked around, and Derek was gone.’

Last night, Mr Simpson, who lives with his partner Freda Knight, whom he calls ‘Fred’ and to whom he was previously married, denied any impropriety.

He said: ‘It was entirely innocent, and I left before I finished my drink.

‘I’d never been to Bangkok before, so it was a bit of an eye-opener for me. We walked to the bar, which was a stone’s throw from our hotel.

‘Actually, it’s not my thing. I am, in fact, a tad prudish. I’ve been like that all my life.

'I never liked being in pubs with guys leering over at girls stripping off their nurses’ uniforms. It’s just not my scene.

‘We spent much more time in another bar where there were three Filipino girls singing like the Sugababes.

'After that, we sat in bamboo chairs and drank a few lagers back in the hotel.’

Playskool derives its name from a time when the bar girls dressed in school uniforms. Tourists can rent nearby hotel rooms by the hour.

Girls employed at the bar dance in bikinis, and there is more on offer for clients willing to pay an average £40 for sex or around £10 for a conversation with the girls.

There is only one entrance to the area, which is just 200 yards from tourist hotels. Nearby are Irish-themed pubs and snooker bars, which serve drinks, but are not involved in the sex trade.

Diana Holland, Unite’s assistant general secretary on women and equality issues, declined to comment.

A spokesman for Unite said that the union had no comment."

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Media Circus

The Guardian newspaper has lost its marbles today - I'm afraid to say.

Normally a publication I enjoy reading  - with good news stories and interesting contributors - the paper has made a fool of itself - by providing a platform to Krusty the Clown.

Yes, the same moron who disrupted a parliamentary hearing yesterday - is today rewarded for his efforts with a column in the Guardian.

For the purposes of explaining why he felt completely justified - in attacking a 80-year old man.  

The Guardian is at pains to point out the Barney Rumbles (26) was not paid for his story - which is just as well because it's a load of self-serving drivel.

But the real point is that the attention seeking loony will be thrilled at all the publicity - and so will lots of other copy-cat weirdos - who have nothing better to do with their time.

Apparently, Labour has suspended Krusty's membership of the party - though it hasn't said which branch he belongs to yet - probably the Tooting Popular Front.

And Krusty's girlfriend has left him - by text - in the aftermath of his first live appearance on TV.

Now that's funny.           

The Members' Money

In the latest Register of MPs' Financial Interests, Labour leader - Ed Miliband - records two donations from Unite, the union:

1 21 March 2011 - Unite made a donation of £15,190.08

2 12 August 2010 - Unite made a donation of £100,000.00 

Earlier today I shared the news that Unite has also paid a 'golden goodbye' to former general secretary - Derek Simpson - worth over £500,000. 

Seems to me that MPs with financial links to Unite should be wary of accepting any further donations.

Because someone is playing fast and loose - with money that belongs to ordinary union members.

Freedom of Information

I recently posted the summary decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner - regarding censorship in South Lanarkshire.

Here's a plain speaking explanation about the background to the SIC decision - my words and my interpretation, I should add - not those of SIC.

I asked South Lanarkshire to explain what happened in Equal Pay Review the council agreed to conduct in 2007.

2  The council refused to tell me, but said this information was contained in various minutes and reports - which I was welcome to request.

I duly asked for all of the information which the council at first refused to provide - so I had to go to all the bother of submitting a separate review request under FOISA.

The council then gave me the information - but decided to censor a key part of one document.

5  I then appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner under FOISA - and he agreed that the council should disclose the information - because in his opinion it belonged in the public domain.

Several months later I am still waiting on a reply - although the council has been ordered to provide me with this information by 2 September 2011.

Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council - it should be emphasised - claims to be a supporter of Freedom of Information.

Sound of Silence

James Undy - writing in yesterday's Independent - has noticed an important delopment in the ongoing public sector pensions dispute - 'the sound of silence'.

Instead of calling more strikes the unions appear to be facing up to reality - and accepting the need for big changes. 

For example, the trade union campaign to hold onto 'final salary' pension schemes - appears to be dead in the water - which is good news for low paid workers.

Here's what James Undy had to say.

Public sector pensions – a good day to bury good news

"I noted last week that the din of the Summer of Discontent had given way to the quiet sound of negotiation on public sector pensions.

Today comes a co-ordinated release by the Treasury and the Trades Union Congress of Danny Alexander’s letter to Brendan Barber setting out progress made and the next steps in the process.

While the TUC reserves its – and constituent unions’ – position on the proposals, this joint approach is not the choreography of irresolvable conflict. A key development set out in the Chief Secretary’s accompanying Written Ministerial Statement is that, as well as the already agreed zero contribution increase for employees paid under £15,000 a year, those paid up to £21,000 a year will now face no more than a total 1.5% contribution increase over the three years to 2014-15.

The focus will now shift to scheme-by-scheme negotiations, with an acceptance that the funded nature of the Local Government Pension Scheme “puts it in a different position” to the rest. With the TUC’s own conference coming up in September, there’s plenty of sabre-rattling still to come. But for public servants anxious to keep a decent defined benefit scheme without being dragged into a fractious and forlorn dispute, today might just hold some hopeful news."