Thursday, 31 January 2013

Dicing with Death


I have to laugh at the furore which has been whipped up in England and Wales - in response to the Government's plans to open up and modernise police recruitment practices.

At the moment, to become a senior a senior police office, you have to serve your time as a 'bobby on the beat' - which, of course, excludes lots of people in civil society.

People who may have chosen a different career path in life - learning different life skills - and for whom chasing youg criminals down the street is not a desirable or even viable option.

So it seems to me that introducing a system of 'fast-tracking' candidates in certain situations is a good thing - in principle - because it will shake things up and encourage people from different backgrounds and experience to join the police service.

But the opponents of change want to keep things as they are - thank you very much - which means that you've got to start at the bottom - and slowly work your way up.

Thus ensuring, as far as possible, that those who eventually get to the top are properly 'schooled' - that they become 'one of us' rather than 'one of them'.

To help illustrate the panic amongst the police establishment here a quote from the recently elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent - Ian Johnson - who was a former chief superintendent until he retired in 2010.

“The idea of parachuting someone with no policing experience into a senior officer post is at best ill-conceived meddling, and at worst could lead to the public and police officers being put at more risk of harm.

“I’m not overstating things when I say that someone joining the service as a superintendent is actually dicing with death; it shows a complete lack of understanding by the Government of what superintendents do. To think that someone could join as a superintendent, which is an operationally critical role, without policing experience and have responsibility for investigating murders, rapes and serious incidents defies logic.”

Now this 'dicing with death' language seems outrageous to me - but it is often used by people who fear what they regard as outside prying eyes - and who say that things will go to the dogs, if we mere amateurs don't just agree to 'leave it to the professionals'. 

I remeber when I was a Member of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) - the professional and regulatory body for all teachers in Scotland.

At one point we were discussing the arrangements for appointing a new Chief Executive when - in what was clearly a pre-planned move - a number of members proposed that one of the essential criteria for the post should be that candidates must have several years experience as a head teacher.

Now I nearly died laughing at what I regarded as a deeply cynical ploy to rule out - at a stroke - a whole raft of eminently well qualified, experienced people.

Because the role of chief executive, in my view, was a management one - which required leadership and other skills, but not teaching experience - never mind several years of experience as a head teacher.

So there you have it - when essentially conservative, reactionary groups of people want to oppose change - they say that you got no choice but to leave it to 'us professionals'.

If not you're dicing with death - or possibly playing with children's lives.

What a load of old tosh.

The Big Question


So, the question is set - instead of the country being asked:

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

We Scots in the forthcoming 2014 referendum will now be asked: 

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Now I have to admit I would have been perfectly happily with either question.

But there seems little point in setting up an independent body to advise Government Ministers on such matters - only for the politicians to impose their own views.

Just thank heavens that this particular issue is now settled - because we can now get on with the much more important task - of coming up with the right answer.

Cartoon Comment

Image
The cartoon by Gerald Scarfe which appeared in The Sunday Times at the weekend - has provoked an outraged and angry response in some quarters.

But in my view it was perfectly fair comment about an Israeli politician - Benjamin Netanyahu - who has no qualms about trampling all over the rights of the Palestinian people - by building new and highly controversial Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. 

I can think of no better way to scupper the stalled Israeli/Palestinian peace process - and its long awaited two-state solution - and to me that is the inevitable outcome of Netanyahu's new settlement building policy.
Here's a thoughtful piece written by Simon Kelner for The Independent newspaper - and it's as good a riposte to the outraged Jewish lobby as I've read anywhere.  

Rupert Murdoch, Gerald Scarfe, and why – as a Jew – I'm dismayed by the Jewish lobby's outrage

This cartoon was provocative and grotesque, but an assault on my religion? No way

It was Woody Allen, appropriately enough, who best articulated my relationship to the Jewish religion. “I'm not a real Jew,” he said, “I'm Jew-ish”.

Although I was born Jewish, my parents were not so much liberal as permissive when it came to religious observance, and I have never really regarded my faith as part of my identity. I always remember the late writer and journalist John Diamond being interviewed about his Jewishness. “What does being Jewish mean to you?” he was asked. “Well,” he responded, hesitantly, “I suppose it's about being funny and clever.”

I would never be as presumptuous as that, but do I know what, for me, being Jewish doesn't mean. It means not getting offended every time someone makes a critical remark about the policies of the Israeli government, deeming it be an attack on all Jewish people and hurling accusations of anti-semitism. My position on the politics of the Middle East is neither unusual nor contradictory: I believe that the state of Israel has a right to exist, but I think the monstrous injustice that has been visited on the Palestinian people shames the civilised world. So I'm afraid I see any attack on Israeli actions through this particular prism.

I have been accused of being self-hating Jew more times than I care to remember. (My friend, the novelist Howard Jacobson, was indignant about this. “Him?” he said. “A self-hating Jew? Certainly not. He loves himself”.) Anyway, all these issues have come to the fore in recent days as I observed the minor controversy over a cartoon by the veteran draughtsman Gerald Scarfe in the latest issue of the Sunday Times. It depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall, and squeezed between the bricks are Palestinian bodies. He is using blood to hold the wall together, and the caption on the drawing is “Will cementing the peace continue?” It is a powerful statement. Scarfe, like many who plough the same furrow, is not one to pull his punches.

The cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial Day, which even Scarfe himself thought was insensitive, but I examined my reaction on seeing it for the first time. I was taken aback. I winced. It made me think. I imagine Scarfe would think that, in my case, he had done his job. At no stage did I think it was an assault on my religion. There were plenty, however, who thought precisely the opposite, and they swung quickly into action - I have been on the wrong side of the Jewish lobby at various times in my career, and they're a pretty formidable bunch. Rupert Murdoch, no less, was forced to tweet an apology. “Gerald Scarfe's has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times”, he wrote. “Nevertheless, we owe a major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.”

Of course it's grotesque. Has he never seen a Scarfe cartoon before? But offensive? I can't find any impulse, emotionally or intellectually, that causes me to be offended. Does this make me a bad Jew? Maybe it does, but I do think the world would be a better place if people were able to tell the difference between a political comment and a religious insult.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Glasgow Loses Big Appeal


Glasgow City Council has lost a big appeal case, I'm pleased to say - over whether or not thousands of council workers transferred to various arms length bodies (known as ALEOs) - can continue with their equal pay claims.

The good news is that they can - so hip, hip, hooray - for the 2,700 claimants from Action 4 Equality Scotland who are affected by this decision!

Last year Glasgow City Council managed to persuade an Employment Tribunal that these ALEOs were not an 'associated employer' - in employment law terms.

The significance of which was that these ALEO workers effectively lost their ability to continue with an equal pay claim - once they had been 'TUPE transferred' to one of the new Arms Length External Organisations (ALEOs for short).

Now that always looked like a crazy decision - since the council controlled all of these bodies and even paid some of its councillors extra 'top-up' payments for overseeing the ALEOs - which to many people, myself included, seemed like money for old rope.

My view has always been that Glasgow created these ALEOs in a cynical attempt to evade their responsibilities over equal pay.

Because the council calculated - wrongly as it now turns out - that by putting many of its low paid women workers into a separate, artificially created box (Cordia) - that the women would no longer be employed alongside higher paid male workers who were  comparators for equal pay purposes.

Since the men - according to this train of thought - were all placed in their own ALEO  (City Building) which was not the same or even an associated employer - so the was 'off the hook' as far as future equal pay claims were concerned.

All I would say is that whoever dreamt up this despicable plan - should be sacked forthwith by Glasgow's ruling 'socialist' Labour administration - that is if they have not already departed the scene with an generously enhanced tax-free lump and final salary pension.     
   
The Action 4 Equality Scotland clients were represented by Fox and Partners Solicitors - and Daphne Romney a leading QC who also represented A4ES during the successful GMF hearing against Glasgow City Council back in 2007.

Action 4 Equality Scotland now represents 5,500 clients in the ongoing equal pay claims against Glasgow City Council - whereas the trade unions represent only penny numbers.

As regular readers will recall, the unions in Glasgow kept their members in the dark about the huge pay differences between traditional male and female council jobs - and originally sided with the council when these big pay differences were exposed by A4ES in 2005.

So the trade unions have a credibility problem because of their behaviour in Glasgow  which remains to this day - since the trade unions Glasgow also failed to put up any serious resistance over the creation of ALEOs either.

The case against Glasgow City Council reconvenes in the Glasgow Employment Tribunal on 4 February 2013.

So watch this space for news.

Glasgow's Top-Ups


Here's little walk through previous posts from the blog site - which explain the long-running scandal involving significant top-up payments to elected councillors in the city of Glasgow - for sitting on ALEOs (Arms Length External Organisations).

The practice has now been stopped, thankfully - but not because of any political leadership shown by the city council it has to be said.

No, the practice was stopped because the council's behaviour was exposed in the press - and because a critical report by an independent Scottish Government advisory body (SLARC) recommended that the payments be outlawed.

Recommendations which the Government's Finance Secretary - John Swinney - finally acted upon in June 2011.

Shameful behaviour from the city's 'socialist' Labour administration - if you ask me.

Toothless Tigers (8 October 2012)

As regular readers know, I have a very low opinion of Scotland's public spending watchdogs - the Accounts Commission and Audit Scotland.

As far as I can see they are just 'toothless tigers' - who are treated with disdain by COSLA (the 'voice' of Scottish local government) and individual councils - when it suits their purpose.

Over the weekend I read somewhere that the retired Auditor General - Bob Black - who threw his tuppence worth into the 'future of public spending debate in Scotland' recently - had been championing this cause for years.

Well if he has, then I have to say it's news to me - and I've taken a keen interest in these issues for a very long time.

So let me give you one example of outrageous public spending - which to my knowledge went completely unchallenged for years by Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission - Top Up Payments to Councillors in Glasgow.

The story ran in the Sunday Herald over several months - in a series of excellent articles by Paul Hutcheon - who essentially pointed out that councillors in Glasgow were being paid twice for the same job - at a cost to the local taxpayer of over £260,000 a year.

So what did Audit Scotland or the Accounts Commission have to say on the matter over all this time - what did their annual inspections and teams of accountants throw up?

Nothing as far as I can recall - which doesn't sit to well with any claim that these two regulatory bodies speak up and speak their minds - loudly and clearly - when it comes to wasteful public spending.

Here are some previous posts from the blog site which explain what was going on - but suffice to say the whole disgraceful practice was brought to an end - though not through any action taken by Audit Scotland or the Accounts Commission.

I might also add that none of the local Labour MSPs spoke out against these payments at the time - including Johann Lamont, the Scottish Labour leader - whose partner/husband Archie Graham was, and still is, a senior Labour councillor in Glasgow.

Government Turns Off Glasgow Top Ups (4 June 2011)

The Herald reported yesterday that Finance Secretary - John Swinney - is putting an end to 'top up' payments enjoyed by many councillors in Glasgow.

True to his word during the Scottish election campaign - John Swinney is now putting a stop to the practice which has been widely condenmed - as a ridiculous waste of public money.

Here's what the Herald had to say:

Needless councillor cash 'to stop'

"Finance Secretary John Swinney said new regulations would end controversial payments to some city councillors.

Regulations to end a system which saw city councillors pocket an "unnecessary" quarter of a million pounds have been announced.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said the new rules will end payments to councillors who sit on bodies known as arms-length external organisations, after a Holyrood committee discovered that Glasgow councillors had claimed £260,000 between them.

The Scottish Local Authority Remuneration Committee (Slarc) found Glasgow to be the only council area in which significant payments of this kind were made.

The regulations come into force on July 1 subject to parliamentary approval, although councillors will still be allowed to claim for "associated expenses".

The move implements one of the recommendations of the Slarc report, published earlier this year.

Swinney said: "It can't be right that a limited number of councillors can receive additional payments to help deliver broadly the same services as delivered by their own councils. In effect, some councillors are being paid twice.

"The Slarc report highlighted that only Glasgow City Council had a policy to pay additional monies and confirmed that 40 councillors were sharing £260,000 in additional payments for serving with boards of arms-length bodies.

"I agree with Slarc that this completely undermines the principles of the existing councillor remuneration scheme, and that's why I have today laid regulations to stop the practice."

The SNP said its councillors on the Labour-controlled local authority sought to end the payments at a meeting of the city council but Labour and the Lib Dems blocked them.

Before the recent Holyrood election, Mr Swinney criticised the council for not ending the "unnecessary" payments voluntarily. He promised to take steps to end the payments himself if re-elected."

So that's £260,000 or so that can go towards something useful in Glasgow - instead of just lining the pockets of Labour councillors.

But what you've got to ask is this:

"Why did the Labour councillors in Glasgow not show some leadership and put an end these payments themselves - why did they wait for the newly elected Scottish government to put Glasgow's house in order?"

Glasgow Top Ups (12 February 2012)

I came across another post from the blog site - about the long-running scandal over Glasgow's 'top up' payments to local councillors.

How refreshing it is to see the good citizens of Glasgow - like Douglas Thomson - standing up and speaking out against this kind of hypocrisy.

The council's leaders and senior officials should be ashamed of the role they played in introducing these payments - and for wasting £260,000 of taxpayers money every year.

Yet no one has been held to account - so far at least.

Glasgow Top Ups (June 5th 2011)

The Herald ran an excellent letter the other day - from a Glasgow reader - who rightly condenmed the Labour-led City Council for its practice of 'topping up' the pay of councillors - who sit on 'arms length organisations'.

Regular readers will be familiar with this subject - which essentially involves Glasgow City Council paying its councillors twice for doing the same job - at a cost of @£260,000 to the public purse.

So well said Mr Thomson - whoever you are.

A welcome end is in sight to system of political patronage.

"You report moves by the Scottish Government to formally end the much-criticised system of local authorities rewarding councillors with additional payments for representing the council on the boards of arm’s-length external organisations, also known as Aleos (“Council double pay axed”, The Herald, June 2).

Such belated action can come as no surprise. That Glasgow City Council was singled out as the main culprit is equally unsurprising, given that Glasgow is the only council in Scotland with a formal policy to pay councillors additional remuneration for serving on Aleos. The Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (SLARC) had recommended in their report in March that such payments should be ended.

With the council leader, Gordon Matheson, taking no action over the matter, it shows how increasingly isolated the top team at City Chambers have become. The council will now be forced to end the system that many have identified as nothing other than reward for political patronage.

It will be of interest to see how many of the councillors currently serving in these posts will continue to do so without the supplementary payments. Without the additional financial incentive, the expectation must now be that councils throughout Scotland with Aleos will be obliged to ensure that only the most suitably qualified councillors are nominated for such roles and that such appointments are independently scrutinised. Such corporate governance backstops are already employed successfully in the private sector and for appointments made to Scottish Government agencies.

At the same time, the role of Aleos is likely to be examined in the forthcoming report from the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services. Aleos must either prove themselves to be a vital part of squeezing more from less in the tight spending environment we are currently entering, and if so be aggressively rolled out nationally. Or, be seen as nothing more than an example of local government excess at its worst.

More disturbingly for local democracy are the findings contained within the SLARC report that the average councillor is white, male and aged 54. Meanwhile, the Electoral Reform Society identified that in the 2007 local government elections, only 21.6% of councillors being elected were women. This outcome has shown little change in the progress of diversity in those representing local communities over the previous decade.

With the battle lines already drawn for the local elections next May, it is perhaps already too late to address this electoral imbalance, but it is clearly necessary for Holyrood to take note. After all, 22 of the new intake of MSPs came from the ranks of local councillors, which in itself is hardly a ringing endorsement of diversity within the Scottish Parliament.

Douglas A Thomson,

Glasgow."

Arms and the Man


The picture of the week must be that of Sergeant Brendan Marrocco who - despite having both his arms and legs blown off in a deadly attack in Iraq - is still optimistic and upbeat.

With so very much to look forward to in his life - especially now that he has two new arms after his gruelling, ground-breaking transplant surgery. 

Apparently Marlon Brando starred in this George Bernard Shaw play - Arms and the Man - back in 1953 and, curiously, the famous Holywood actor has the same initials as Brendan Marrocco - albeit MB as opposed to BM. 

Maybe that's a good omen for his future - I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Double Standards


The reason that I have little time for the Labour party these days is that it's full of hypocrites - and people who behave like hypocrites on a regular basis.

Take last week's Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) at Westminster - during which a 'question' was asked by the Labour MP for Bolsover - Dennis Skinner.

The question was really an attack on the Prime Minister as he prepared to 'swan off' to yet  another World Economic Summit at Davos where - according to Dennis - David Cameron would be in his element rubbing shoulders with other 'posh boys' and the world's great and good.

Now David Cameron had the perfect riposte to this question which was that - if he remembered correctly, he happened to bump into Dennis Skinner's party leader - Ed Miliband - the last time he was in Davos.

In other words, what was the old Labour warhorse banging on about - was this not  just another of Labour's double standards - before he went on to 'explain' how much valuable work was done by world leaders at Davos - blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

But it's actually much worse than that - because I don't remember Dennis Skinner making such a fuss when Tony Blair went to these global events as Prime Minister - or Gordon Brown for that matter.

Never mind Ed Miliband jetting off to mingle with some of the world's most influential people - while acting only as the leader of the Her Majesty's official opposition.

So you wonder - or at least I wonder - where politicians get off in spouting such nonsense, yet without the slightest hint of embarrassment or shame at the hypocrisy involved. 

I'll also wager a small bet that Gordon Brown - a colleague of Dennis Skinner's of course and a former Labour Prime Minister - was also swanning around Davos last week.

Despite the fact that Gordon's day job is now that of a backbench Labour MP - the member for Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy.

Now it could be that Dennis is keeping his powder dry for Gordon Brown - that he will have some words of trenchant criticism to voice another day - but if so, I will be hugely surprised.

In fact, I think I'll eat my hat.

Square Shambles


The row over plans to revamp Glasgow's George Square rumbles - with critics now demanding that Scotland's public spending watchdog - Audit Scotland - should step in to make some sense of the whole wretched affair.

I find it hard to disagree with the call for an independent body to investigate the behaviour of Glasgow City Council and its Labour leader - Councillor Gordon Matheson.

Here's a well informed article from the Sunday Herald which make interesting reading.

If the newspaper's description of events is broadly correct - then I fail to see how Gordon Matheson can survive as Council Leader - because they make Glasgow look like a local government version of the Keystone Cops.

The point is why bother to set up an independent panel to judge and advise on such an important project - if the politicians can simply overule everyone and impose their own will anyway?

The waste of public money involved and the damage done to Glasgow's reputation make a mockery of the phracceotase 'local government' - which of course implies that someone has actually been in charge and accepts responsibility for this shambles.  

How Gordon Matheson scrapped George Square revamp when judges ignored his choice

By Tom Gordon

The Labour leader of Glasgow City Council told his fellow judges which design should win the competition to revamp the city's George Square at the outset of the judging process, two independent council sources have told the Sunday Herald.

Gordon Matheson wanted the esign by architects Burns & Nice to win the contest. And when the judges instead picked a design that Gordon Matheson strongly disliked, he scrapped the project in what the sources described as "a fit of pique".

Although the chairman of the judging panel was officially David Mackay, a partner in MBM Architects Barcelona, the Sunday Herald has been told by two sources that Matheson made it clear at the first meeting that he would be de facto chairman as he was council leader and the redesign was his brainchild, adding that public opposition would not affect the outcome.

The sources say Matheson then appeared to pre-empt the judging process by saying he thought Option 6, by architects Burns & Nice, should win. He also openly criticised Option 2, by John McAslan & artners, sources said.

However, when the results came in, on Thursday, January 17, they showed the McAslan design was the winner. Matheson's preferred option came fourth.

Matheson "had his head in his hands", according to one council source.

There was then a break over the weekend, and when the judges reconvened last Monday, the McAslan design was formally signed off as the winner, resulting in jubilation at the practice.

But within moments, as the judges and council officials relaxed at the end of the process, Matheson informed them that his administration would not proceed with the redesign after all, and there would be a vague "facelift" to remove the old red tarmac instead.

"t was disappointing, frustrating and a lost opportunity," said one of those intimately involved in the design contest.

Another senior source called it "a bombshell".

Matheson then issued a press release saying public opposition had driven the U-turn.

He stated: "The people of Glasgow have made it clear that they do not want a radical redesign - I am proud that I am listening to them."

But well-placed council sources claim Matheson had, in fact, "thrown his toys out the pram" and "pulled the plug in a fit of pique because he lost".

One senior council source said: "Cllr Matheson had an idea, included it in his manifesto, and then decided that it was his way or not at all. It's a flagrant waste of public money and of everyone else who was involved in the process. People should have been advising against this disregard of due process."

Another senior source said: "It's been a farce."

A Labour councillor described the design contest as "a f***ing disaster" for Glasgow, adding: "It was all vanity stuff. Matheson probably wanted his name in George Square somewhere. It's like Carry On Council sometimes. You couldn't make it up."

The aborted exercise is expected to cost taxpayers up to £100,000, with all the firms who applied to revamp the square racking up about £250,000 costs.

Opposition parties last night called for the spending watchdog Audit Scotland to investigate.

Matheson's judgment is already in the spotlight after it emerged that police had reported him to prosecutors over an alleged public sex act with another man in a car near his home. No action was taken after prosecutors concluded there was "insufficient evidence" of a crime.

Matheson said the alleged incident, in Glasgow's southside last month, had exposed "an affair" and apologised to his civil partner, Stephen Wallace.

There has been speculation that Matheson pulled the George Square project because he felt too weak politically after the news broke to cope with any level of public hostility to the plan.

Matheson kick-started the George Square revamp process in April last year when he included a pledge in Labour's manifesto to upgrade the square as part of preparations for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

However, a £14,000 focus group exercise by pollsters Mori for the council in August found public appetite for a radical change was "at best lukewarm".

Although people wanted the red tarmac removed, they were worried about costs, loss of statues, and the potential loss of grass and flowerbeds.

Despite this, the council pressed ahead with an international competition in September, with the design brief discussing radical changes such as the removal of all the statues bar the Cenotaph, removal of flower beds, and a new water feature.

After 35 entries came in from around the world, six were shortlisted in November, and Matheson praised their "international experience".

On January 9, when the six shortlisted designs went on display, Matheson insisted the public were behind the changes, despite a growing campaign to save the statues and abandon the overhaul.

The judging panel was: Matheson; David Mackay, a partner in MBM Architects Barcelona; Professor Andy McMillan, former head of the Mackintosh School of Architecture in Glasgow; David Harding, former head of environmental art at Glasgow School of Art; and Geoff Ellis, director of promoters DF Concerts.

Graeme Hendry, leader of the SNP opposition in Glasgow, said: "Cllr Matheson was obsessed with turning George Square into his own personal legacy and showed no regard for the public or taxpayers' money. It would now seem that once it became clear the panel didn't support him, he threw the whole project out in an act of petulance. Cllr Matheson's waste of over £100,000 is a matter I would expect to require further investigation."

Conservative councillor David Meikle said Matheson's "childish behaviour" had cost taxpayers dear.

"It's now proper that this is investigated and Audit Scotland may be the most appropriate body to look at it. We know it's a red square, but the council leader doesn't need to act like a tsar."

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: "It became clear over the course of the process that there was no public support for a substantial redesign and whatever design had been picked would not be being implemented."

Monday, 28 January 2013

Defence of the Realm


Defence budgets and defence cuts are the talk of the town at the moment - which reminded me of the following extract from Alan Clark's diaries.

For the uninitiated, Alan Clark was a minister in Margaret Thatcher's government - not one of the so-called 'wets' by any means - but he was famously sceptical about the tendency of the military boffins to spend public money on madcap projects.

Ministry of Defence - Tuesday 3 April 1990.

For months I have been resisting expenditure (some hundreds of millions) on a completely unneccessary new piece of Army equipment known by its acronym as ACEATM.

It is a 'sideways firing mine - itself an unlikely, indeed contradictory concept, surely? The idea is that you position one of these incredibly 'intelligent' and expensive devices in the window of a house and when a tank goes past it shoots out at it, 'sideways'.

From the first moment I saw the papers it was clear that this was a complete waste of money., conceived at the height of the Cold war and now totally unnecessary. Trouble is, I'm not really meant to question 'Operational Requirements'. I'm meant to seek and then, by implication, follow advice on anything about which I have doubts. In the nature of things, the advice comes from the same people who drafted the 'Requirements' in the first place.

Finally, after much deferment, a full-scale 'Meeting' was called.

'You leave them behind, you see, to slow up the enemy's advance.'

'What advance?'

'Well, er, his advance, Minister.'

'What enemy?'

'The Warsaw Pact, Minister'  

'The warsaw pact no longer exists. It's disintegrated.'

'In villages, in built-up areas,' shouted somebody else, also in uniform. Why the fuck are these people in uniform? It's not allowed. Just to intimidate me, they think.

'O thought the first rule in deploying armour was to avoid built-up areas?'

'Roads, Minister. Choke points.'

'what happens if a truck goes past. That would be a waste, wouldn't it? How does it know not to shoot?'

'Well it knows, Minister. It's programmed with all the Warsaw Pact silhouettes.'

'Warsaw Pact?' 

'There's a l;ot f Russian stuff Out of Area now, you know.'

'I do know.'

'It's next generation, Minister. A very intelligent sensor.'

'Better programme it to recognise all the French stuff, then.' 

'Ha-ha, Minister. Oh, ha-ha.'

What can one do? Nothing. I can block this spastic weapon, and make them cross, and complaining. But about them I can do nothing.

I want to fire the whole lot. Instantly. Out, out. No 'District' commands, no golden bowlers, nothing. Out. There are so many good, tough keen young officers who aren't full of shit. How can we bring them on, before they get dissillusioned, or conventionalised by the sytem? If I could, I'd do what Stalin did to Tukhachevsky*.

* The purges of the Red Army in 1938-9 when three-quarters of all officers of field rank and above were put to firing squads.       

Now I'm pretty sure Alan Clark wouldn't have sent anyone to the firing squad - but you do get a sense of the deep frustration felt by politicians in trying to deal with the insatiable demands of their military advisers.

The last Labour government could have done with someone like Alan Clark - in considering whether or not to build two new, incredibly expensive, aircraft carriers - which are likely to become the military equivalent of 'white elephants' if and when they finally come into service.  

The present government could do with someone like Alan Clark on board as well - to explain that an 'independent' nuclear deterrent in the shape of Trident is a complete fiction, the wrong priority for British armed forces - and a terrible waste of money to boot.