Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Strange Priorities


The TUC released a report the other day which said that 4.82 million workers in the UK are paid less than the 'so-called' living wage of £7.20 and hour - or £8.30 an hour in London.

Now that comes as no real surprise to me because the problem of low pay has been around for a very long time - and was the main reason for employers and trade unions in local government striking a landmark UK Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in 1997 - which came into effect in 1999 in Scotland.

The clear intention behind the Single Status Agreement was the need to tackle  widespread discrimination against many female dominated jobs - carers, catering workers, cleaners and classroom assistants - which had been underpaid and undervalued for many years.

The Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement took years to negotiate but even then were never implemented properly despite the relative times of plenty that followed over the next decade - as council budgets increased enormously and even doubled in size in Scotland, for example.

So why was equal pay not given the priority it deserved?

Frances O'Grady - the new woman leader of the TUC - is urging more employers to pay a living wage  which is good to hear - but there should also be some searching questions asked about the attitudes of the big three public sector trade unions - GMB, Unison and Unite.

Because while we've seen national campaigns and even strike action to defend final salary pension schemes (which discriminate in favour of higher  paid workers) - the reality is that we've seen nothing comparable from the trade unions - when it comes to defending the interests of those at the bottom of the pay ladder.

Here's a previous post in the subject from 4 October 2012.

Deepest Pink (4 October 2012)

Today is National Poetry Day apparently which has the admirable aim of encouraging people to take a greater interest in the power of words - what they stand for and how they can inspire.

So in keeping with the spirit of the day I thought I'd share a couple of lines from an alternative version of the Labour Party's battle cry - The Red Flag - which will be sung at the end of today's party conference in Manchester:

The Red Flag

The people's flag is deepest pink

It's not as red as you might think

Now my reason for believing that Labour is not as 'red' as people might think - stems from its terrible track record on equal pay.

Because in 1999 Scotland signed up to a groundbreaking Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement - which promised a new deal for thousands of low paid workers (mainly but not exclusively women) - whose jobs had been underpaid and undervalued for years.

At the time the 'new deal' was supposed to be introduced - traditional male jobs (e.g refuse workers and gardeners) were paid around £9.00 an hour - whereas comparative female jobs which often required much greater skill and responsibility (e.g home carers and classroom assistants) - were being paid around £6.00 an hour or so.

In other words the traditional male jobs were being paid half as much again - or 50% more than the female jobs - which for a full-time worker meant a difference of thousands of pounds a year - £5,000 or £6,000 a year.

And this was at a time when council budgets in Scotland were doubling in size - over a ten year period from 1997 to 2007 they all increased by 100% - in Glasgow, Fife, Edinburgh, North and South Lanarkshire - so money and resources were never the problem.

Nor was the problem down to New Labour or some London based elite - the reason that equal pay never became a reality was that the big Labour councils in Scotland decided they had other priorities - and the Labour supporting trade unions (GMB, Unite and Unison) failed to stand up for their lowest paid members.

Labour now says it is in favour of a so-called 'Living Wage' - which is currently pitched at £7.20 an hour or thereabouts.

Yet the irony is that if Labour and the trade unions had stood up for an Equal Pay Agreement they signed back in 1999 - low paid workers in Scotland would have been earning much more than £7.20 years ago - £9.00 an hour or so in many cases.

The aim of the 1999 Equal Pay Agreement was always to level people's pay up - not level pay down - and the cost would have been a reorganisation of the workforce with perhaps fewer but much better paid council workers.

But instead of moving might and main to achieve Equal Pay - my abiding memory of the past 10 years is the sight of Labour supporting trade unions fighting to defend 'final salary' pension schemes - which benefit the highest paid officials within the local government workforce.

So that is why the people's flag is deepest pink - and why the Living Wage is a such a miserable, watered down, half-hearted policy.

Because it is a symbol of Labour employers and Labour supporting trade unions saying one thing then doing another - and all at the expense of some of the lowest paid council workers in the land.

Papaya Salad


Here's one of my all-time favourite things to eat - Papaya Salad - a curious mixture of fruit, vegetables, spices and condiments.

But it works like a dream - and will send your taste buds into orbit.   

Papaya Salad

Ingredients

2 medium sized papayas - ripe but not too soft
1 bag of fresh bean sprouts
1 red pepper
1 good sized carrot
1 red onion
1 handful of chopped coriander
1 handful of chopped mint
1 thumbsized piece of fresh ginger - finely chopped
3 or 4 garlic cloves - minced or finely chopped
6 or 8 cherry tomatoes
1 big handful of crushed peanuts
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one lime or lemon
3 or four tablespoons of fish sauce
1 or 2 pinches of sugar
Fresh chili, chilli powder or chili sauce to taste - don't be a wuss - remember that Thai dishes are supposed to be hot and spicy

Method

Make the dressing first of all by mixing together the ginger, garlic, fish sauce, chopped herbs, lime/lemon juice - be careful with salt because the fish sauce is quite salty - the aim is to create a dressing which is hot and spicy, sweet and our - with the savoury taste of the fish sauce just coming out on top over all the rest.

Leave the dressing to sit for 20 minutes to let the flavours develop.

Slice the papyas into strips, and finely slice the carrot, red pepper and red onion into matchstick size pieces - you could also add things like cucumber, if you want.

Chop or bash the tomatoes into quite small but not fine pieces, bash up the peanuts but leave a few whole ones.

Mix everything togther in a bowl - and serve on a nice plate for best effect.

Sprinkle some of the fresh herbs and peanuts on the top to round it all off.

Old Fools


'There's no fool like an old fool', so they say - and to prove the point along comes Labour MP Austin Mitchell - who regards himself as a bit of a wag, but is really just an old dinosaur and a terrible embarrassment to his party.

Here's an article in today's Guardian which demonstrates that old-fashioned, sexist attitudes are still alive and well - on the Labour benches in Westminster.

No wonder the fight for equal pay has been such an uphill battle in recent years - with  politicians like Austin Mitchell in positions of power and influence.

"Labour MP defends 'ironic' Louise Mensch tweet"

Former Tory MP demands apology after Austin Mitchell tweets: 'a good wife doesn't disagree with her master in public'

Louise Mensch said she looked forward to hearing Harriet Harman's response to the comments.

A Labour MP has insisted he was simply being ironic when he used Twitter to tell the former Tory MP, Louise Mensch, that a "good wife doesn't disagree with her master in public".

Austin Mitchell was surprised by the negative reaction to his tweet, which he posted after Mensch had used the social networking site to emphasise that she quit her Corby seat for family reasons and not because she faced an election drubbing, something that her husband had suggested in an interview published at the weekend.

"Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn't disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn't lie about why she quit politics," Mitchell tweeted early on Monday.

Labour party members were among those who joined in the condemnation of the Grimsby MP's comments but, as Mensch underlined in her own response, senior Labour figures appeared to remain silent.

"Oh and lastly – I look forward to your comments on this, Harriet Harman. #Labour #feminism" she tweeted, referring to Labour's deputy leader, after earlier calling on Ed Miliband to repudiate Mitchell's comment.

Mitchell remained unrepentant, despite giving an indication later on Twitter of the extent of the reproach he had incurred: "Wife, three daughters, one granddaughter and Labour press office all demand that I withdraw my tweet. No chance of front bench now."

Mitchell later told the Press Association that he "loved" Mensch and added: "It was ironic. I'm surprised that people have taken it so negatively. What happened to humour?"

Female members of the Labour party who criticised him included the activist Christine Quigley, who told him that he should be ashamed, and Sally Bercow, who tweeted: "You carry on Austin, "ironically" obvs #plonker."

Monday, 29 October 2012

Pots, Kettles and Questions


Not much makes my jaw drop these days, but the unbelievable hypocrisy of the Scottish Labour Party over Freedom of Information (FOI) - does the trick every time.

For months and years now Scottish Labour has been attacking the Scottish Government over an FOI request - which the Scottish Government refused to answer by appealing a decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) to the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court.

Now for what it's worth I think the Government should never have appealed and should simply have complied with the SIC decision - a long time ago.

Presumably the Labour Party believes that as well because ever since they've been bangming on about the terrible watse of public money and resources - and how the Scottish Government should be ashamed of itself.

I read the other day a comment from the Labour MEP - Catherine Stihler - who made the original FOI request and is apparently now incandescant with rage:

“This is a smokescreen by Alex Salmond. My question wasn’t just about the ministerial code, it was about his abuse of power. I wanted to know why he went to court at the taxpayers’ expense rather than answer simple questions".

Now what I want to know is why doesn't the Scottish Labour ask the same question of South Lanarkshire Council - a Labour/Tory run council which refuses to explain how traditional male council jobs are paid - in comparison to its largely female workforce.

South Lanarkshire Council lost an appeal on this issue to the Scottish Information Commissioner  - but appealed again (using public money) to the Court of Session - where three Scottish law lords unanimously gave South Lanarkshire's arguments short shrift.

Yet South Lanarkhire has appealed the matter even further - to the UK Supreme Court - withou the Scottish Labour Party saying a word in anger.

Pot and Kettle (27 September 2102)

I found myself speculating the other day about Labour's Scottish leader - Johann Lamont - and why she has such a 'pot and kettle' approach to Freedom of Information (FOI).

By way of background here's an interesting report from the BBC on recent exchanges in the Scottish Parliament - where the Labour leader lambasts First Minister - Alex Salmond - for failing to come clean over FOI.

Now what I find remarkable is that the Labour leader - Johann Lamont - is getting her knickers in a right old twist over the Scottish Government's refusal to accept a decision by the independent Scottish Information Commissioner.

The Scottish Information Commissioner having previously ruled against the Scottish Government - in favour of disclosure.

The BBC reports Johann Lamont as asking why the First Minister was spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of Scottish people's money - to stop the people of Scotland finding out what he was doing.

Which begs the question:

"Why is Johann so worked up about the Scottish Government and FOI - when Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council is doing exactly the same thing?

In fact South Lanarkshire Council's behaviour is much worse - it has to be said.

Because South Lanarkshire is not only refusing to abide by a rulling of the Scottish Information Commissioner - SLC is also refusing to abide by the outcome of its subsequent appeal to the Court of Session - Scotland's highest civil court.

An appeal in which three senior Scottish judges unanimously threw out South Lanarkshire's case - and upheld the original decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

But Labour-led South Lanarkshire have appealed the case again to the UK Supreme Court - wasting huge amounts of public money in the process - even more than the appeal to the Court of Session.

Yet the People's Party remains silent on the subject - as quiet as a wee church mouse - or some other such timorous beastie.

So I say 'knickers' to Johann Lamont - because she is simply making this up as she goes along.

Because you can't have principles that apply only to other people - that the Labour Party in Scotland can just ignore when it proves politically convenient.

Not if you want to have any credibility with the Scottish people who will see this behaviour for what it is - shameless hypocrisy.

And if you want to tell Johann Lamont that the Labour Party cannot afford to be turning a blind eye to the scandalous goings on in its own backyard - then here is Johann's e-mail address at the Scottish Parliament: johann.lamont.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

BBC - Democracy Live

Alex Salmond defended his government's record on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, as the row over the existence and release of legal advice on an independent Scotland's EU status continued in first minister's questions on 20 September 2012.

A judge approved the fast tracking of a case which will decide whether the Scottish government must reveal if it has any such advice.

At the Court of Session, Lord Menzies approved a motion from the information commissioner, Rosemary Agnew.

The case will be heard on 18 and 19 December.

Mr Salmond had refused to answer a freedom of information request on the subject, saying to do so would break ministerial code rules.

The first minister had said a detailed assessment of an independent Scotland in Europe would be made in a white paper ahead of the independence referendum, which he wants to hold in autumn 2014.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont called on Mr Salmond to explain why the information commissioner had said the position over freedom of information was worse now than when the Freedom of Information Act had been passed.

Ms Lamont said the first minister "can't be straight with or have respect for the Scottish people" as he refused to reveal what legal advice he had.

She asked why he was spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of Scottish people's money to stop the people of Scotland finding out what he was doing.

Mr Salmond hit back, saying the commissioner had been worried about the detrimental propensity of local authorities to use arm length bodies to avoid FOI questions and he suggested Glasgow as a prime example of that.

The first minister said the Scottish government had, "on all criteria", performed better under FOI than under the preceding Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, the government Johan Lamont had been proud to serve under.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson also attacked the first minister over his record under the FOI legislation asking how much tax payers' hard earned money had gone to "shore up his secret society and deny information to the people of Scotland they were perfectly entitled to".

Mr Salmond said he welcomed the Conservative party's "new found conversion" to the freedom of information legislation as they had been the party least in favour of it and again listed statistics he claimed showed the Scottish government outperforming the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition on all criteria.

No Guilty Men


I had a laugh over the weekend as a variety of people - in very different ways - gave voice to the old saying that 'there are no guilty men in prison'.

First up was Christopher Tappin - a retired millionaire from England somewhere - who was extradited to the USA earlier this year while vehemently protesting his innocence.

Now it seems the retired businessman has cut a deal which will mean him going to jail for a year or two in America - then released back to the UK where he will no doubt continue to protest his innocence - even after pleading guilty as charged.

Next up was Silvio Berlusconi - the septuagenarian and Bunga Bunga obsessed former Prime Minister of Italy - who was on Friday sentenced to four years in prison for fraud and tax evasion.

But he's innocent to its seems and accuses his (Italian) accusers of being politically motivated - so he has already lodged an appeal and will probably never see the inside of a prison cell - because of his age and the time it will take the courts to see the whole thing out.

Finally Conrad Black - who is also 'Lord something or other' at the Palace of Westminster - but the noble lord was on Have I Got News For You (HIGNFY) on Friday night - having recently spent four years in an American jail - again for fraud and tax evasion, if I remember correctly.

Yet wouldn't you know it - grumpy old Conrad was fitted up too and as another  perfectly innocent man - Conrad is now on a mission to clear his name despite being found guilty, presumably by a judge and jury - not a kangaroo court.

So now I understand.

Not only are there no guilty men in prison - there are no guilty men awaiting extradition who might end up in prison - and even after they've served their time in the 'pokey' they are still innocent when they finally come out again.  

The arrogance of it all - takes your breath away.
  

Innocents Abroad (29 February 2012)

Every time someone is up for extradition in the UK there's a big media campaign highlighting how unfair it is - allegedly - to send poor 'so and so' off to face justice in a foreign land.

Doesn't really matter who it is - young or old, rich or poor - though interestingly most suspects turn out to be men.

But whoever's involved there's always a tear inducing argument at hand to explain how terrible things are likely to be - for the alleged criminal.

The underlying logic being that they must be allowed to remain in the UK - at all costs - instead of being packed off abroad to face their accusers.

So to illustrate the point:

Julian Assange says he won't get a fair trial in Sweden - he didn't sexually assault anyone.

Shrien Dewani says he shouldn't be extradited to South Africa - he didn't arrange for his new bride to be murdered.

Christopher Tappin says American justice is not to be relied upon - he didn't know his weapons grade products were destined for Iran.

But put the boot on the other foot for a moment and consider the following case - where the argument is made in reverse by two Frenchmen - accused of murdering a British teenager in a Spanish holiday resort.

A young British teenager - Andrew Milroy (15) - was killed on the Costa Brava last year in a brawl involving some French youths.

Two young Frenchmen - Jeremy Puydeboix and Ludwig Galler - were charged with murder and causing his death by the use of a knife - but argued that they would not get a fair trial in Spain because of 'virulent anti-French sentiment'.

In other words they should be allowed to stay in France - where of course they cannot be charged with a alleged crime not committed on French soil.

Which is clever legal speak for saying they should be allowed to walk away - Scot-free.

"I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to be involved in a homicide case,” Mr Puydeboix told Lyon Appeal Court. “It was just a fight.” Mr Gallier admitted to detectives that he stabbed the British teenager during a disturbance outside a disco in the resort of Lloret del Mar.

But Galler claimed he was unaware that Andrew Milroy died of his wounds.

The two French suspects told police they had been insulted and attacked by about 12 people - but their stories are contested by various witness statements collected by Spanish police.

Wisely the French courts decided that the two suspects should face their accusers in a Spanish court - which is the only place where the evidence can be properly tested of course.

And in the case the British family of the British victim wanted the extradition to proceed - in the interests of justice for their dead son.

I suppose it all just goes to show that while there are no guilty men in prison - there are no potentially guilty men facing extradition either.

Not in the UK anyway.

Payback Time


I was encouraged by a report in The Telegraph newspaper the other day - a follow up piece to its recent expose on MPs' expenses.

See post dated 19 October 2012: MPs' Expenses.

Only this time the story has a different twist because the second Telegraph report says that the Labour MP - Linda Riordan - seems to have put her hands up and has offered to pay back the profit on her flat sale.

Yes, the one bought with public money under the old MPs' expense regime - and which she had been renting to a fellow Labour MP.

Now this seems like a eminently sensible suggestion to me - and only fair.

Because why should the taxpayer have been keeping a roof over the MPs head while down in London - only for the said MP to hold on to the profits some of these properties have generated in recent years?

Some of them running to hundreds of thousands of pounds - which haven't been earned in any proper sense by the MPs involved of course - they just been handed a giant windfall by the taxpayer.

Which is as good a definition of the 'something for nothing culture' that's attracted so much public criticism recently - and rightly so.

So why doesn't the Labour leader - Ed Miliband - take a lead and demand that all Labour MPs who have, or will, profit in this way - hand back their 'ill gotten' gains? 

Now that would show leadership and by doing the right thing - Labour would force all the other political parties to do the same.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Censors in China


I notice that the blog site has had lots of visitors from China in the past day or two - so I thought I share this article from the Financial Times and the allegations of the vast riches which have apparently been accumulated by some of China's top politicians.

As a former member of the Communist Party myself (albeit many years ago) - I would urge comrades in China not to shoot the messenger - or censor the offending new media.

Instead I would look carefully into the detail of what is being said - because if only half of the allegations are accurate - then it's a shameful way to run a great country.

"Wen Jiabao family disputes wealth story"

by Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing

Premier Wen Jiabao’s family members have threatened possible legal action over a media report which claimed they amassed vast riches as his power grew in the Chinese political system, according to Hong Kong media.

Two lawyers representing Mr Wen’s family said the New York Times story about the family’s $2.7bn fortune was “untrue”. It is extremely rare in China for top political leaders to criticise foreign media reports directly in public and to raise the possibility of legal action.

“The so-called ‘hidden riches’ of Wen Jiabao’s family members in The New York Times’ report does not exist,” the lawyers wrote in a statement that was published on Sunday in the South China Morning Post and Sing Tao Daily, two of Hong Kong’s top newspapers, and also broadcast on Hong Kong television.

In the statement, the lawyers said of the New York Times that they would “reserve the right to hold it legally responsible”.

When Bloomberg published an account earlier this year about the assets held by the family of Xi Jinping, the man expected to be the country’s next president, its website was blocked in China. But Mr Xi’s family never published a statement challenging the article.

The claims in the New York Times were seen as very damaging for Mr Wen because he has tried to cultivate a reputation of being “the people’s premier” who wants to stamp out corruption and bring greater transparency in government.

Coming just two weeks before China launches a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, analysts say the allegations that Mr Wen’s family has reaped huge financial rewards from his time in office could limit his ability to wield influence over the country’s politics – which is common after leaders retire in China – after he steps aside.

In the statement, the lawyers said Mr Wen had never played any role in the business activities of his family members or allowed their business concerns to affect “his formulation and execution of policies”.

The New York Times story detailed how several members of Mr Wen’s family, including his mother, wife and son, had grown wealthier over the past 20 years, particularly since he reached the apex of political power in Beijing 10 years ago.

The story did not include any claim that Mr Wen himself had accumulated assets, benefited personally from his family’s riches or helped them obtain their wealth.

The New York Times defended the article, saying it was “standing by our story”. The New York Times website in China remains blocked two days after the article was published. The Bloomberg website is still inaccessible four months after its article about the Xi family.

The lawyers whose names were on the Wen family statement were Bai Tao of Jun He Law Offices and Wang Weidong of Grandall Law Firm. Neither responded to requests for comment by email and phone calls to both went unanswered.

Additional reporting by Zhao Tianqi

All That Glitters


Like many people I heard the news reports earlier today announcing that Gary Glitter - the former pop star and convicted sex offender - is 'helping police with their enquiries' into the Jimmy Savile affair.

Now like every other sensible citizen I welcomed this development - but after a second or two I thought to myself - 'How come the story leaked out so quickly?'

Then everything became clear - it was a put up job by the police themselves.

Because a short time later a photograph of Gary Glitter (real name Paul Gadd) appeared on Sky News - as he left his London home to be interviewed in a local police station.

What a happy coincidence that the happy 'snapper' happened to be in just the right place at just the right time - I wonder what odds you would get on that from the bookies?

A Scotland Yard spokesman later said:

"Officers working on Operation Yewtree have today arrested a man in his 60s in connection with the investigation.

The man, from London, was arrested at approximately 7.15am on suspicion of sexual offences, and has been taken into custody at a London police station.

The individual falls under the strand of the investigation we have termed 'Savile and others'."

Now I have no time for the likes of Gary Glitter, but it seems to me that this latest stunt is nore more than handy distraction - portraying the police as if they are on the case and hunting down their man.

When, in fact, the police in the UK have been aware of the allegations swirling around Jimmy Savile for years - yet authorities at various levels took no action - while Savile's celebrity status went into complete overdrive. 

And it was the police in Vietnam who finally nailed Gary Glitter and exposed him as a low-life paedophile - not the Old Bill in the UK.

Now there are no easy answers to all of this - 20/20 hindsight is such a wonderful thing.

But I would say that things are not helped in any way - by the police engaging in these cheap publicity stunts.

Better Late


I was pleased to see that trade union claimants in Edinburgh had some good news the other other day - about their equal pay claims finally being settled by the City Council.

The group involved are former APT&C workers - who do a variety of jobs such as classroom assistants, clerical workers, social care workers and senior catering staff - all of whom were being paid less than traditional, male jobs such as refuse workers and gardeners.

Now these claims were settled on behalf of Action 4 Equality Scotland clients much earlier in the year - see post below dated 20 January 2012 - so it's good to hear that  the trade union claimants in Edinburgh are no longer being messed about.

I hope other Scottish councils with similar outstanding claims will do the decent thing and get their fingers out - because they've really no excuse for dragging their feet.

The scandalous thing is that more former APT&C workers haven't registered claims - although in many areas the trade unions haven't exactly encouraged their members to do so.

Even though this former APT&C group had equal pay claims every bit as valid as female manual workers - doing other catering, cleaning, caring and support jobs. 

Edinburgh Speaks Out (20 January 2012)

I was in Edinburgh yesterday and met a lovely group of women - who were just back from BBC Scotland to share their experiences about the long fight for equal pay - in Scotland's capital city.

The women were all clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland - having been represented in the long-running court battle by Fox Cross Solicitors.

So we had a great old chat and reminisced about the times - years ago now - when these women came to meetings in various 'airts and pairts' of Edinburgh - to discuss equal pay - often on cold windswept days and nights, as I recall.

But all these years later the women are now reaping the rewards - despite being kept in the dark by their trade unions - and being discouraged from taking a stand against the widespread pay discrimination - that was as plain as the nose on your face.

I just glad that they made the right decision - along with many of their colleagues.

What these women had to tell BBC Scotland was reported on the radio earlier today - and I think I'm right in saying that the piece will being featured again on TV later this evening - on the BBC's Reporting Scotland at 6.30pm.

The BBC journalist who put the package together said that COSLA - the self-styled 'voice' of Scottish local government - had been invited to comment on the issues raised - but declined to do so.

Imagine that - the voice of Scotland's 32 councils losing its power of speech - and at such a vital and important time.

Draw your own conclusions.

Contact Sport


When I wrote this post about the cheating antics of Gareth Bale during the recent match between Wales and Scotland - I had no idea that the Tottenham Hotspur player was such a master of the deadly art of simulation - or diving to call a spade a spade.

But then I came across the following post on You Tube which shows just how cynical football players can be on occasion - and Gareth Bale is not the only one it has to be said.

Here is the You Tube link which may make you laugh as the foolish (and no doubt highly paid) commentators did - http://youtu.be/FbaUhiS4lgU - but in reality there's nothing funny about this kind of bad behaviour.

Because it can - as we've seen - change the outcome of an important game and I bet the commentators wouldn't having been chuckling to themselves - if their own club or national team had been on the receiving end.

The 'beautiful game' is a contact sport of course - which doesn't allow players to kick their opponents up in the air as they used to do in the old days.

Yet the amazing thing about Gareth Bale's blatant cheating in the game against Aston Villa is that the authorities didn't throw the book at him - after seeing the slow motion footage.

Now I've heard David Moyes (the Everton manager) ahead of today's derby match against Liverpool - and he's scathing about the reputation that Luis Suarez (a Liverpool player) has for diving and/or exaggerating the effects of an opposing player's tackles.

And I agree with Moyes in general terms although I think the real challenge for football - and football managers - is to speak out about the problem of cheating more widely and not when it's convenient to do so - for example by reserving criticism for rival clubs and opposing players.

Gareth Bale should have been severely punished for his 'thin air' free kick against Aston Villa - and his own club (Tottenham Hotspur) along with the footballing authorities should have come down on this kind of unsporting cheating like a ton of bricks.

Seeing Red (14 October 2012)

I didn't begrudge Wales their win over Scotland the other night - over the 90 minutes the Welsh team certainly never deserved to lose.

Maybe there was even some poetic justice - a bit of payback to compensate for that famous Joe Jordan penalty that never was in 1977 - which helped send Scotland to the World Cup the following year in Argentina where the Scottish team underperformed on a grand scale.

But what does make me see red was the blatant cheating during the game - seems to me that some of the diving from the Welsh players - would have won a medal at the recent Olympic Games in London.

Especially the one from Gareth Bale which earned a penalty from which the player scored the equaliser - soon after Scotland had a perfectly good goal chalked off for the ball going out of play - which it emphatically did not.

The fact of the matter is that no one touched Gareth Bale - as the TV instant replay showed on the night.

But as soon as Gareth got into the penalty box (where he was heading away form the goal) - he caught one of his own legs against the other - before going down as if he had been shot by a sniper in the stands.

Given that this 'trip' was not caused by a Scottish player - the only conclusion to draw is that Bale's behaviour was deliberate - skillfully done I have to admit - but not the kind of skill that deserves to be admired and copied.

In plain language it's called cheating and one of Gareth's team mates - Aaron Ramsey - was up to the very same trick earlier on in the game.

Diego Maradona once excused his blatant cheating as the the intervention of 'the hand of God' - but what a load of baloney, even if he did go on to score an incredible goal - just like Gareth Bale.

With the kind of modern technology that's available these days - there's simply no excuse for referees making such mistakes.

Because it disfigures the game and encourages others to behave the same way - which is no example to set young children and aspiring players.

I like to think my views would be the same if a Scottish player had conned the referee - I think they would - as I've never liked to win anything by cheating.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Scotland's Loss


I enjoyed Rod Liddle's article in last week's Sunday Times - in which he had lots of fun at George Galloway's expense.

I agree with Rod up to a point - George does liven up politics, he's a master of self-promotion, if nothing else - and a headline writer's dream.

But at the end of the day I think people believe that George is too much in it for himself - too much of a political carpetbagger.

Which is presumably why the voters of Glasgow gave George short shrift when he stood in last year's elections to the Scottish Parliament.

Maybe Holyrood's loss is Westminster's gain - though I doubt it somehow.

"Let Galloway’s show go on – even when all Respect is gone"

by Rod Liddle

What on earth would we do without George Galloway?

You have to say that the Respect MP for Bradford West gives of himself relentlessly for our amusement; scarcely a week goes by without him delivering thoroughly entertaining and deranged behaviour.

This is a chap for whom crawling around on all fours pretending to be a pussycat on Celebrity Big Brother was, actually, one of his more sensible moments.

The cat thing, compared with the rest of his life, was rather humdrum.

He’s in the news right now for a particularly vivid concoction of hyperbole, paranoia and epic self-importance. He claims that he has been subjected to a dirty tricks campaign by the Metropolitan police counterterrorism unit, saying it has nefariously infiltrated his office and aims to blacken his name. Quite how you could blacken the man’s name any further escapes me, but still.

“I have incontrovertible evidence!” he howled at the home secretary in a letter, demanding investigations and sackings. He discovered that his former aide, a woman called Aisha Ali-Khan, is a sort of secret agent. She has been having a clandestine affair with a Met officer, Afiz Khan, he alleges. The two of them had nights of passion at Galloway’s house in Streatham, south London, while he was abroad, and the two were spying on him.

This came to light after a burglary at the house and Khan had to ’fess up that he was there in case there was an issue with fingerprints. The MP has now sacked Ali-Khan, who is both bemused and angry. She does not deny a relationship with Khan — indeed, as evidence that their relationship was not entirely secret, she cites their, er, marriage certificate. They tied the knot in 2009 — and she insists Galloway knew because he saw the marriage certificate himself when he had to sign some papers for his aide.

Ali-Khan says she’s been “thrown to the wolves” and is being portrayed as a “slag” and a “tart sleeping with random police officers”. Galloway will get away with this, she argues, because most of the Respect party bosses are misogynistic Muslim men. Who should we believe? Who cares? Just rejoice! I hope the police are indeed keeping tabs on Galloway, if only to keep us all informed for public merriment.

He’s certainly had an interesting few months since being unexpectedly elected to his seat in Karachi — sorry, Bradford West — a victory he modestly described as the “Bradford Spring”. According to The Guardian, he ruffled one or two feathers locally by snogging or pawing at his new wife, Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, while attending a meeting of a singularly unimpressed Muslim women’s council. They’re not big on that sort of stuff, Muslim women’s councils.

His previous wife insists that she is still married to Galloway under Islamic law and her dad, Haschem Husseini, says Galloway is therefore a bigamist. Nobody knows if Galloway is a Muslim or not, so that may or may not be relevant.

Then there are allegations that the local party is rife with misogynistic bullying (surely not, with all those devout Muslims in charge), and there was fury when Galloway took a somewhat Islamist line on rape when defending the WikiLeaks nutjob, Julian Assange. That wasn’t rape, he said of the allegations against Assange, it was just bad sexual etiquette. This puts him several shades to the right of Ken Clarke, who just said some rapes were more serious than others. He didn’t say some weren’t rape at all.

In his spare moments, Galloway launched a libel suit against the National Union of Students. I know that’s not very funny; maybe it was just a quiet weekend.

Anyway, now Ali-Khan is counter-alleging that Galloway must have hacked into her email account, or got some Respect party lackey to do it. Galloway has said he feels “violated”.

It is all wonderful, hysterical, stuff. You just hope that as Respect implodes — which it is showing every sign of doing — Galloway will remain in public life. You thought it was hilarious when he snivelled around Saddam Hussein all those years ago? That was only the start. It just gets better and better with Galloway.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Scotland in Europe


I am a very logical person normally - which is why I'm having some trouble with this wholly manufactured row about the future of Scotland in Europe.

Seems to me that if Scotland votes in favour of independence in 2014 then the UK - as presently constituted - no longer exists.

In which case all four current member nations/countries of the UK - Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland - must continue as members of the European Union (EU) - or we're all out on our ear together.

And if the latter - then we would all need to apply to join the EU club again - and at that point I think England would have a big problem, not Scotland - because of the influence of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) south of the border..

But to say that Scotland would somehow be out on its own seems completely laughable and ludicrous to me - no more than silly scaremongering of the worst kind.

I'm a sceptic on independence as I've said before on the blog site - many times.

My favoured option was an second question on the referendum ballot paper - proposing more powers and much greater economic independence for the Scottish Parliament.

Yet all these negative scare tactics by the Better Together or No campaign - are beginning to annoy me and get right up my nose - if I'm honest.

Some of these spokespeople have taken to praying foreign politicians in aid - such as the Spanish Foreign Minister who allegedly said the other day that Scotland would have to go to the back of the queue - if we Scots vote for independence.

Now what's it got to do with Spain - given that the Scottish and UK governments have both agreed to have a democratic vote and to respect the outcome of the 2014 referendum.

Well what is has to do with Spain is politics of course.

Because the national government in Madrid is getting it in the neck from the people of Catalonia - who in increasing numbers are demanding their independence from Spain.

But as things stand a referendum on independence is unlawful under the Spanish constitution - so the Spanish Foreign Minister is simply sticking his oar where it doesn't belong.

Old Time Religion

I had to laugh when I read about the Republican congressman in America who said in a recent rant that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are - “lies straight from the pit of hell” - which are meant to convince people that they do not need a saviour.

Now these rather ill-informed and offensive remarks were made by the representative for Georgia - Paul Broun who was giving a speech at a sportsman's banquet at the Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell - on 27 September 2012.

Apparently, Mr Broun is a medical doctor and for some reason he is running for re-election in November - unopposed by Democrats.

"God's word is true" - literally true according to Mr Broun.

Every last word, dot and comma in the Bible is the word of God - according to the good doctor and his fellow fundamentalist Christians - who believe, for example, that the world is only 9,000 years old and was made in just six days, as the Holy Bible says.

But the problem with fundamentalism is that all fundamentalists believe that their own 'Holy Book' is the last word - the real deal - when it comes to God and religion.

For example, fundamentalist Muslims believe that their own Holy Book - the Koran - is the literal word of God as well.

And that as their prophet - the Prophet Mohammed - came along in 700 AD then the divine words spoken to Mohammed by God - mean that the teachings of Islam trump anything that the Old or New Testament have to say.

Just to complicate things further there are of course even later 'prophets' than Mohammed - such as Baha'i Faith (founded in Iran) or Joseph Smith who founded the Mormon Church in America - both in the early 1800s funnily enough - though both would be seen as heretics and blasphemers by their religious rivals.

All I can say that I'm glad I live in a society where fundamentalist religious beliefs are rare and have no role in running the country - though there's no room for complacency because given half a chance the God Squad would like nothing better than the chance to tell the rest of us how to live our lives.    

Revolving Doors


I have to admit I'm getting a bit confused as well as outraged by the early retirement arrangements for some of the country's leading public servants.

The latest example to attract my attention is that of Sir Norman Bettinson - who resigned from his job yesterday as the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police.

But prior to this job Sir Norman was the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police - from 1998 to 2005 - when he retired from that job to become the Chief Executive of Centrex.

Centrex apparently provided training and development to police forces in the UK - and other enforcement agencies worldwide - until it was abolished in 2007.

Whereupon Sir Norman rejoined West Yorkshire Police as its new Chief Constable in 2007 - which he had worked for previously between 1993 and 1998.

Despite receiving a £328,000 lump sum (tax free?) severance payment - in connection with his earlier retirement as the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police in 2005.

Now Sir Norman is patiently waiting on his £83,000 annual pension being released - although the families of the Hillsborough disaster victims have called on his pension to be suspended - until investigations into the tragic deaths of 96 innocent Liverpool fans have been completed. 

Now my confusion is this - 'How can it be right that these public funded bodies are able to operate a revolving door policy when it comes to senior staff?'

Staff who have previously retired and supposedly moved on in their lives - end up joining new organisations such as Centrex which were providing training and other services to UK police forces.

The whole thing seems like a complete racket to me - and it's high time that these ridiculous pensions regulations were changed.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Rough Justice


A major public resignation took place yesterday - but I didn't hear a 'dicky bird' out of the Police Federation, the police trade union.

Sir Norman Bettinson - chief constable of West Yorkshire Police - walked away from his job with an annual pension of £83,000, but will not face any internal police misconduct charges relating to the Hillsborough disaster - in which 96 Liverpool football fans died.

Sir Norman resigned his post ahead of a West Yorkshire Police Authority meeting that was due to consider his role in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster - which has attracted much criticism.

Yet the Police Federation has nothing to say - for a change.

Funny that.

More Supreme Court


The BBC's web site also carried an excellent report on the Supreme Court ruling - here are a few extracts which highlight the main issues.

Birmingham City Council loses equal pay appeal bid

Claimant Mary Roche told the BBC's Phil Mackie that she "couldn't believe" she was being underpaid.

A total of 174 former Birmingham City Council workers can go ahead with compensation claims over missed bonuses after the council lost a court appeal.

The workers, mainly women who worked in traditionally-female roles, such as cooks, cleaners and care staff, won a ruling over lower pay last November.

The Supreme Court rejected the council's argument the claims should have been made within six months of staff leaving their jobs.

Lawyers for the group called the result a "landmark" judgement and said it could have "huge implications" for potentially "thousands" of other workers.

The equal pay fight

27 April 2010: About 5,000 mainly female council staff, including cleaners, cooks, care assistants and caretakers win their case for equal pay at an employment tribunal

9 June 2010: The council announces plans to appeal against the equal pay ruling

9 May 2011: The council's appeal is dismissed at the Employment Appeal Tribunal

29 November 2011: A group of 174 female workers win a Court of Appeal decision on equal pay claims

10 January 2012: The council lodges an application for permission to appeal with the Supreme Court against the decision on equal pay claims

24 October 2012: The council is denied permission to appeal against the decision for low-paid female workers to seek compensation

The city council had challenged November's ruling in the Supreme Court but a panel of five judges dismissed the authority's appeal.

The court heard the women were among workers who had been denied bonuses which had been given to staff in traditionally male-dominated jobs such as refuse collectors, street cleaners, road workers and grave diggers.

For example, the annual salary of a female Manual Grade 2 worker was £11,127, while the equivalent male salary was £30,599.

The court was told that during 2007 and 2008, tens of thousands of pounds of compensation was given out to female council employees who were still working at the council.

More payments were made to women who had recently left who had taken cases to an employment tribunal.

However, these did not apply to anyone who had left the council more than six months before.

Mary Roche, from Yardley, who worked as a home help for the city council for 27 years, said she "could not believe it" when she heard about the bonuses they had missed.

Joan Clulow, 71, from Bartley Green, worked for the city council for 25 years, also as a home help, and said she felt "absolutely gutted" when she heard about the bonuses that had been paid to others.

I have highlighted only one sentence within the BBC report - the one which shows the pay differences between traditional male and female jobs. 

The reason being that these pay differentials did not appear by magic - they were negotiated by the council employers and the trade unions - and they were supposed to be swept away by the 1997 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement - which came into effect in Scotland in 1999.