Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Today's column explains the rise of UKIP...

... and why voting for a man who talks and looks like a pissed Rupert the Bear is a bad idea. You can read it on the Daily Mirror website here.

Pass the whisky, Fritz.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Benefit (n.): Something advantageous.

WE all know the reason we are broke is the poor people. At least, that's what we've been told for three years now.

If everyone worked rather than shirked we'd all be on eight holidays a year and final salary pensions, so the fact that the economy's flatter than Gwyneth Paltrow's arse cheeks must be down to the squidging effect of a great number of benefit cheats, scroungers and loungers squatting upon it like a stoned hippy at St Paul's.

And it's not just them. It's also the people who are working who can't be fagged to work a bit harder. It's the part-timers, the people who disappear to pick up their children, those who are content to half-heartedly earn a low income as a taxi driver, pest control officer, farmer, trainee or other plebby occupations safe in the knowledge the state will come along to bump it up with tax credits.

We know it's the poor people's fault, because five years ago we were rich and we've only had poor people for five years. Oh, wait...

Well, even if it's not their fault per se they're certainly not doing anything to make us rich again. They cost us a lot while achieving the square root of treading water, and if they can't swim like the big sharks, it's kinder to let 'em drown.

Big sharks like, for example, the international corporations which negotiate entirely-legal deals with the taxman not to pay much tax.

Killer whales similar to the big four accountancy firms whose staff not only advise the Treasury on tax law and second staff to work in the private offices of MPs and ministers formulating tax policy, but then go on to advise clients on how to avoid tax.

Great krill-suckers such as those operating a massively flawed, corrupt and semi-criminal banking system which bet money it didn't have on things which didn't exist, all of whom avoided arrest for what appears to be blatant fraud, and then got bailed out with someone else's money to the tune of £1.1trillion of which they still owe 40 per cent at an interest rate of zero.

If only the poor were more like them, eh? Imagine how rich we'd be.

So today the government is going to teach the poor a lesson by taking away all the benefits which make them lazy, fat Jeremy Kyle candidates and giving them one payment which will always be less than they need. This will make them work harder, see?

It's a bit like taking the armbands away from someone who's having trouble swimming. It's the only way they learn.

Meanwhile we're going to continue giving all the help we can to the sharks, killer whales and sucker-uppers, because they're not as morally repugnant as poor people or Jimmy Carr.

And while we wait for the shirkers to start slaving away at jobs that don't exist in industries which are struggling in order to avoid a benefit that is paid only online and puts money direct into the hands of tenants rather than their landlords leading to inevitable arrears, evictions and homelessness we'll all have to pay to sort out, we're going to pick on some rich people.

Not just any rich people. Granny.

The old bat's rolling in it, you know. She bought that house for sixpence a hundred years ago and now it's worth a million. She worked from the age of 16 and paid her taxes, has a lower pension because she raised her children herself rather than paying for a nanny, and scrimped and saved for years so that now she has no income she is still able to pay her council tax, the rising fuel bills, and for a small car to tootle down to the shops in.

Grandad even still works! She lived through rationing once, she can do it again. So we'll have her bus pass, her TV licence, her winter fuel allowance, and once we've got that we'll probably start on her prescriptions, her dental treatment, and her B&Q discount card too.

One day, we'll want her pension.


Never mind that grannies have not, as yet, sparked a financial crisis. Never mind that sensible shoes, cardigans and always-having-a-mint-in-your-pocket haven't escalated the national debt to £1.1trillion. No, grannies are next on the list and we're going to squeeze them until they squeal.

There is not, of course, a system by which granny can pay any of these things back to the state. But if we say often enough how awful they are for taking it, they'll all go for assisted suicide and the sharks can move into their mortgage-free houses.

But it strikes me that 'benefit' is the wrong word for the things we pay to grannies, the sick, the ill, and parents. Benefits are something whereby you gain; they are cash in your pocket; they are pennies from heaven.

Child benefit is £13 to £20 a week, which doesn't even approach the cost of having one. Shoes, nappies, school books, food, hot water for all those baths, constantly replacing the football - anyone who can do that on £13 to £20 a week should be working in the Treasury rather than the accountants.

Housing benefit does not, at present, go into the pockets of anyone but the landlords who by definition own at least two houses, if not more. Free TV licences for the over-75s simply means they stop paying for something they can no longer hear or see, which seems fair enough even if their senses do become mysteriously pin-sharp when Strictly Come Dancing is on.

Benefits, it seems to me, generally make you a target for having them taken away and for being blamed as the cause of an entire nation's financial woes. It doesn't appear particularly beneficial.

Getting the revenue to let you off your tax bill is, on the other hand, definitely a benefit. Avoiding jail is always advantageous and having an accountant who helped write the tax law never, ever hurts.

It's the rich gits who've got all the benefits. It's the corporations, the millionaires and billionaires, who get richer without even trying. Money just drops out of the sky and into their pockets even if they don't want it to, like Lord Sugar trying to pay back his winter fuel allowance and being told he couldn't. They can't help themselves - wealth is sticky, while poverty repels.

But that said, there is a sector of society where the benefits seem to be greater than everywhere else.

Where they get eight holidays a year, free houses, free food, free furniture, their council tax paid, their fuel bills not just subsidised with an allowance but settled in full, free travel, free cleaners, free gardening, where even if you're sacked for being rubbish you still get a pay-off and resettlement costs and pensions which are rock-solid final salary numbers.

They don't even have to work if they don't want to. Some of them don't even need to pass an interview. I've tried very hard and I can't think of another job where someone else automatically pays to redecorate your house and fix up the tennis court.

And these people are the ones who got us a trillion-pound debt. These are the ones who didn't order any criminal investigations of bankers. These are the ones who cry havoc at journalists while cosying up to tax avoiders, who steal a few pennies from the poor while throwing away billions in tax revenue to keep the rich happy, and who skank us for £164million a year for the privilege.

The benefits system is inarguably a mess, private landlords are charging too much for rent which the state is having to pay, and not every granny needs a bus pass. There are sensible ways of sorting all those things out, and IBS has ignored all of them in favour of talking out of his backside while living in a free mansion on an income of £1,600 a week after tax.

Benefits might well be bringing our nation to its knees, but it's the sort he doesn't like to talk about.

When everyone of pensionable age in Parliament has paid back their winter fuel allowance, turned down their TV licence, and they've all rejected offers of housing help and computed the fact they have more benefits per head than anyone else in the country then, and only then, should they go after everyone else's.

Failing that, they can take their £5.7million 'hardship fund' for former MPs fallen on hard times and donate it to charity in the way they think granny should with her winter fuel payment.

Hardship? I'd love to see them try it.

"Wot no more iPads?"

Friday, 26 April 2013

What do Luis Suarez, George Osborne and Justin Bieber have in common?

They're all in the wrong job. Read what they should be doing instead here.

Have a nice weekend y'all x

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Par-tay.

WOOT! Huzzah! Hooray! Praise be! Whoop-de-woo and tra-la-la and CELA-BRAY-SHUN!

The British economy is estimated to have grown by 0.3 per cent in the past quarter, according to figures released today.

I know. It's like a body-popping party in statistics-covered hot pants, isn't it? But don't drink the champagne just yet. There's more.

This comes hot on the heels of this year's Rich List, which shows 11 new billionaires among a group of people worth a combined £450billion and 80 per cent of whom made their own fortunes.

How amazing for us! More billionaires are a sign of Britain's booming wealth and global brilliance, we're back on track, touch decisions have produced results, and it's probably about time we thanked Gideon with an inherited baronetcy or something as a mark of our national gratitude.

Oh damn, he's already got one. Hmm. Book tokens? I'll have a think.

On top of this wondrousness, there is further source for delight in the news that the publicly-funded-or-we'll-jail-you British Broadcasting Corporation is going to cap the severance pay for bosses that it sacks at a piddling £150,000.

Hallelujah, I hear you cry. The last D-G got £450,000 after just 54 days in his job during which he displayed an epic inability to steer HMS Auntie as she repeatedly smashed herself against the rocks of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

This represents a massive pay cut for inept bureaucratic tools everywhere, because don't forget we're all in this together.


Except.

No, I don't like to say. It'll ruin the mood. Your bubble will be burst. The champagne might go flat.

Well, all right then. You'd better have a drink for this.

Today's GDP figures are an estimate, not a fact. They almost always get revised up or down, and in recent years the margin for error has been an average 0.7 per cent.

So that growth of 0.3 per cent could actually be a frankly miraculous boom of one per cent, or it could be a buttock-clenching triple dip of -0.4 per cent. We don't know what the figure will be, but we do know the one we've had today is almost certainly wide of the mark.

Cheer up though, it could still be a positive figure. That's the politically-important bit. Anything over zero can be spun as though we've just won the lottery and can rush out to buy a Bentley, while a negative figure would be, well, um, let's just say embarrassing.

It would be the first triple-dip recession in British history - the worst, longest, crunch of all time. It would be unprecedented and we would, if it happens, no doubt get to see an unprecedented level of back-pedalling and finger-pointing among our leaders.

But that might not happen, so don't let's worry too much. The economic trough was in 2009, we're doing better than then, and the fact today's figures show the economy is flatlining and is today only as good as it was six months ago is frankly of more immediate concern for most of us.

Because at the same time the square root of naff all is happening to our national wealth, prices are rising, unemployment's growing, and wages are flat.

Unless you're a billionaire, and not from round here.

Of the top ten billionaires in the Rich List, eight didn't make their money in Britain and aren't British. Heaven knows what it would take to unravel their tax affairs, but you'd get good odds that if they're paying any in this country it's probably because they pay less than they would elsewhere.

Still, if attracting foreign billionaires who don't pay a lot of tax can be called a plan, it's working.

Most of them are self-made, only a few inherited their wealth, and they all employ a lot of people all over the world in successful businesses. And the list shows the 1,000 richest people in Britain are ten times richer than the 1,000 richest people on the list when it was first produced 25 years ago.

Yay.

But while the top end of the Rich List saw their combined earnings rise 11.1 per cent in the past year, the bottom end of the Not Rich List have seen pay cuts of up to 15.9 per cent.

Pension clerks, farmers, pest control officers, taxi drivers and lollypop persons are all worse off than they were last year and arguably do some fairly important jobs.

Farming is particularly crucial - less than two per cent of our work force produces 60 per cent of our food, and they have had a 15.9 per cent pay cut. Supermarkets might be responsible for this as they try to keep prices down, but supermarket bosses rarely seem to announce they've lost 15.9 per cent of their pay.

And, predictably, inflation of 2.5 per cent means what little they do have buys them less. The net result is that for the first time ever there are more poor, working people than there are poor, not-working people.

We all pay the cost of that - both in terms of in-work benefits for the low-paid, and in yet more cuts in welfare for those who do not work in order to make the government's point that work has to pay more than claiming.

Whether we pay tax or we claim, somehow or another we're all going to be paying for those low wages.

There's two more things. You're not going to like them. Have another drink.

If you burrow down into the GDP figures it shows that government spending has increased by 0.5 per cent in the past quarter and 1.2 per cent year-on-year.

Yup. Despite austerity, belt-tightening, cutbacks, public sector redundancies, pay freezes, pension squeezes, there's-no-money-left, we're-in-this-together and all the rest of it, THE GOVERNMENT IS SPENDING MORE MONEY.

Money we don't have. Money we have borrowed. Money we did not earn from hosting foreign billionaires, money not pushed into the economy by impoverished farmers or lollypoppers, and certainly not money we gained in any way from a 2:1 history graduate with no experience whatsoever in economics marking time until he gets his soft, ladylike hands on daddy's baronetcy and millions.


I know, I know. It's a mess. That's what happens when you party without thinking it through.

You're probably thinking 'it's all right, David Cameron has just announced he's made Boris Johnson's brother head of his policy unit, they'll have some bright ideas and save us all, even the lollypop people, because that's their job'.

Perhaps I might agree with you, maybe there'd be reason for optimism and one tiny flicker of hope deep in the empty money caverns under Whitehall, if at their first frightfully positive meeting they had anything even approaching pens and paper.

They can't even draw a money tree.

'Our new policy is to ask nanny for some crayons.'

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Incredible (adj.): Too implausible to believe.

IN any crime, there are a thousand factors which combine to create the opportunity for someone to act like what my mother calls an ess-aitch-eye-tee.

Usually, before someone breaks the law, they have to think the law is looking the other way. They assess their chances of being caught, the likely benefits they'll reap, and whether their victim will notice.

So with car insurance scams an innocent driver gets rammed from behind by a fraudster who reckons no witness will refute him, goes on to claim compensation for whiplash, and the victim is everyone who uses the same insurance company and has to pay a little more.

With burglaries, a house is watched or happened across while dark and empty, someone weighs up the chances of finding a laptop they can get £50 for which will pay for a few drugs, and hey presto that's the back window smashed.

Phone hacking is - or was, since I doubt anyone's daft enough to be doing it any more - no different. As in white collar crimes like embezzlement, bribery, or insider dealing people do what they think they can get away with.

If they keep getting away with it, the temptation and frequency grows until it becomes brazen and so obvious the bank fails, the Ponzi scheme collapses or your newspaper shuts down.

In all cases the crime is the sole responsibility of the criminal. But when banks fail we ask what the regulator was doing, when the house is burgled we wonder if the culprit is already known to police.

Since the News of the World was closed two years ago, one tiny aspect in the abhorrent phone-hacking scandal has been quiet. That is why, despite the duplicity of a few criminals listening to voicemails on a near-industrial scale and despite the fact police were told about it in 2002, they did not stop them.

It is something which means you can't simply put the whole scandal down to the Press Complaints Commission being toothless, or a need for state control of the media. The criminals told the state what they were up to, and the state let them carry on.

In any crime, at any time, the public has a right to know who decided that and why. But especially so in this case, since that decision was one of the main causative factors of quite a lot of worrying things.

In the past two years journalists of all types have been traduced and vilified by a judge-led inquiry into the culture, ethics and practices of a Press involving 30,000 employees and brought into disrepute by, at best, a handful of their number.

You may love or loathe journalists, but we have only the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. If our right to question or publish within the reasonable limits of the law is infringed, then so is that of everyone with a Facebook or Twitter account.

Attack the Press and you attack everyone - even those who do not read their newspapers. Every one of us benefits from those in power being afraid of scrutiny, and if the scrutiny is removed every one of us pays the price.

At the last count there have been 59 arrests and 14 journalists charged, and even if against all probability they are all guilty they represent just 0.04% of the industry.

The current cost of that is £19.5million, predicted to rise to £40million by the end. That's £2,857,142.86 per person charged, without counting prosecution or defence costs of the trials.

There are more police hunting bad journalists than there are child rapists. You might not like journalists complaining about that, but you'd hate paedophiles crowing about it far more.

Of course an investigation was needed. It was needed in April 2002 when representatives of the News of the World contacted detectives investigating the disappearance of schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

These representatives told officers they had listened to 13-year-old Milly's voicemail. It's been said they met officers in person at Staines police station, and that they told them over the phone. They said there were messages which appeared to suggest she was alive and working at a Midlands clothing factory.

So certain were they that a team of reporters and photographers had been sent to stake out the factory - something which, even for a newspaper with massive resources, is not done lightly. They hassled the employment agency which left the messages, as well.

Unfortunately it was a simple wrong number. Unbeknown to anyone, Milly had been grabbed off the street and killed on her way home from school by a local man called Levi Bellfield, who had dumped her body in woods where she wasn't found for six months.

He lived 50 yards from where Milly had last been seen and drove a red car like one seen acting suspiciously in the area when she disappeared. He had a history of alleged rapes, drugging and assault.

But police failed to pick him up. They knocked ten times at his door but when there was no answer did not chase it up with the landlord until long after he'd moved out and the flat had been steam-cleaned and redecorated. They briefed journalists their main suspect was Milly's father after they found extreme pornography and bondage gear at the family home, and for a short while their attention was diverted to a Midlands clothing factory.

The NOTW voicemails were, in context, little more than a brief distraction from a criminal inquiry which was already fatally-flawed. It didn't help.

Before police finally caught Bellfield he murdered two women in hammer attacks and attempted to kill a third. He was not convicted of Milly's murder until 2011 - just a month before the NOTW closed, and not before his defence brief had dragged Bob Dowler through the public wringer over his sexual tastes.

In the nine years between that day and Milly's disappearance, her family suffered unspeakable grief. Not only did their daughter and sister die, she was murdered. Not only that but she was dumped and undiscovered for six months. Worse, when they rang her mobile they thought she was alive.


The act of listening to messages on Milly's voicemail caused them to be deleted. Both police and the NOTW listened to them, but not at the right times to be responsible for the deletion which gave her family false hope. The mobile was never found - perhaps Bellfield destroyed it. Perhaps he listened to her messages first, too.

The Dowler family have had all that to overcome, while also quite rightly being given centre stage among those calling for a change in the way the Press operates. I am not sure, in their shoes, whether I'd still have the strength to get out of bed.

And in all of the phone-hacking scandal there are so many strands that it's near-impossible to say one is the principle cause. You can't pin it to one person, or one day - it was a perfect storm where things collided to be as bad as possible.

Just one example is the bad bit of luck that Hugh Grant's car broke down on a motorway just as seedy ex-NOTW hack Paul McMullan was driving past with a camera in his glovebox - a fluke which meant he papped the actor, who later secretly recorded 'Mucky' telling tall tales about his red-top days, and wound up on Newsnight representing my entire trade despite the fact he hadn't been in it for donkeys' years.

Little threads like that combined with shocking revelations and unbearable human tragedy to produce something which, when woven together, looked very much like a fishing net. You could use it to catch a few big fish, and you could also trawl it to scoop up every innocent sprat.

It's impossible to unravel all those things, and even if you tried most of the net would still be there. But all those threads lead back in time to the day that police knew NOTW were hacking phones, and didn't nick anyone.

They did not, as far as we know, tell them off, speak to the editor, point out the error of their ways or ask the Crown Prosecution Service if it was worth a charge.

We don't know what they did, because as the Independent Police Complaints Commission has finally and belatedly revealed today every single officer involved has conveniently forgotten about it.

The report found that despite this hacking being known about "at all levels" in the murder inquiry, "no action was taken to investigate it despite an indication that a crime had potentially been committed".

It went on: "We have not been able to uncover any evidence, in documentation or witness statements, of why and by whom that decision was made: former senior officers, in particular, appear to have been afflicted by a form of collective amnesia."

Let's leave journalism aside for a moment and imagine what we'd make of this if it was any other crime. Organs being stored without relatives' approval, for instance, a cover-up into 96 deaths at a football match, perhaps, or a GP who was touching up his patients.

There'd be a bloody outcry, wouldn't there? The police knew, and did nothing, for nine years? It was exposed only by journalists ferreting around and leaked information, and the ensuing scandal means a hospital has shut down, a city has been defamed, or hundreds of people abused?

Parliament. Inquiries. Politicians demanding answers. We'd get the lot.

This time around, with hundreds of innocent journalists sacked by a company terrified of what people who used to work for it were accused of, thousands of people hacked and an industry defiled by both public disdain and our own rotten apples, we won't get any such thing.

And if there is any part of this entire shambles which deserves millions of pounds worth of investigating, a judge-led inquiry and some collars being felt it is the failure of Surrey Police to do their job.

Their failure to catch Milly's killer, their failure to stop him killing again, their failure to act on a crime not only perpetrated under their very noses but with the evidence presented to them afterwards in a big red bow, and their failure to extract digit from backside at any point between now and 2002.

Today all they've done is apologise to the Dowlers. They should actually be visiting every house in the country to grovel on the doormat.

Surrey Police know which detectives spoke to the NOTW, they know what they were told and by whom, and nary a copper has been nicked. From the IPCC statement it sounds like those concerned have retired on a nice, fat pension.

Collective amnesia? My fat arse it is. Collective back-covering more like, of exactly the kind which caused public disgust at the NOTW.

Surrey Police's failings led to the death of two women and traumatic injuries to a third. They led to a newspaper getting the impression phone-hacking was fine. They led to thousands of people, from Sienna Miller to families of 7/7 victims, getting their privacy trampled, to the most successful English language newspaper in the world shutting down, to hundreds being sacked, dozens arrested, to a £40million bill, to fears of secret justice and unknown arrests, and an 18-month inquiry the lasting legacy of which is a dog's breakfast of a Press regulator with a side order of shagging barristers.

Crimes are down to the criminals who commit them, and in the absence of any trials we don't yet have anyone to legally blame.

But crimes which the police know about and do nothing to stop are things we can discipline, sack, name and shame officers for. If we don't, we're telling the police that when they do wrong they won't get caught and no-one will notice.

And if they look the other way for phone-hacking, what are they going to do when your house is burgled, your car is rammed, and your boss has his fingers in the till?

There is no way to avert the things that have gone wrong, from bringing Milly back to staying the hands of the hackers before they picked up the phone. But if we have learned anything it should be, at the very least, to remember.

And bang up the amnesiacs responsible.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

St George's Day...

... and all the things that are brilliant about England and the English, including an immigrant worker for a patron saint, are the topic of today's column for the Daily Mirror which you can read here.

You will never look at a tin can telephone in the same way again.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Just not cricket.

SPORT is a funny old thing.

On the one hand it's supposed to be competitive, attract millions of pounds in sponsorship, and be performed by people trained to within an inch of their mental and physical limits.

And on the other it's supposed to be friendly and nice and you can take your children to watch it and any little problem can be resolved with a handshake because everyone involved is as honourable as the younger son of an earl.

It's why in rugby men built like meat-tanks twist one another's testicles off in order to get a squashed ball up their end of the pitch, but think it's impolite to tackle 'too early'.

It's why in tennis two gladiators smash a rubber ball around for hours in matches on which millions of pounds can hinge, dispute every line call or chuck rackets around in a tantrum then shake hands at the net like they're Fred Perry.

And it's why we call 22 testosterone-crazed social delinquents running about in the mud while being paid a million pounds a second 'The Beautiful Game'.

It's not beautiful. It's the most expensive failed attempt at care in the community we've ever had. Half the Premier League should be kept away from cutlery, never mind given the wherewithal to purchase supercars and thrash them up and down the M60.

Yet we fall off our sofas with shock when a highly-paid, over-trained, genetically-lupine footballer in the shape of Luis Suarez takes a bite out of a rival player's arm. What were you expecting? He probably eats raw kittens for breakfast and ravages the countryside at full moon. If all he left on Branislav Ivanovic was bite marks it is, in the world of professional sport, little more than playful banter.

And yet there were millions of fans watching, and plenty of children who saw it even if the ref didn't. It's not the way to carry on off the pitch, and should no more be acceptable on that patch of grass than it is in your back garden, local park or school field.

The fact that it is seen almost as an unavoidable part of that football match means that it could and will be seen the same way in football matches played where the goals are made of jumpers and the teams consist of only a few friends.

But if it did happen anywhere else the police could get called in, or at the very least some parents. The biter would be left in no doubt that is not how you play the game and they'd be lucky to find anybody who wants to play football with them for a while.

Suarez has had a ticking-off from his club and fined an undisclosed amount of money, which is a maximum of around £200,000 and probably much less. The cash has gone to the Hillsborough families' charity and will no doubt be put to better use by them than it would by a player who demonstrably has more money than sense.

Part of the reason football inspires so many people is the fairytale it weaves - of dirt-poor children like Suarez, who grew up playing barefoot in the streets of Montevideo, achieving stardom and wealth by dint of skill and talent.

But fairytales always have a dark side, and that is the fair punishment of people who do wrong. From Snow White's stepmother eating her own poisoned apple to Red Riding Hood's wolf being chopped up by the woodcutter, there is always justice, and it is always equal to the crime.

Yet in sport there is no such thing. Actions which off the pitch would see someone arrested go unquestioned, even though millions have seen it and there's video available from every possible angle. Ivanovic says he doesn't want to press charges - that wouldn't stop the police doing so in any other situation.

There is arguably more evidence for assaults committed under the cover of a game than there is for almost any other crime, yet they are rarely, if ever, prosecuted, and rarer still achieve a conviction.

This Sunday not only did Suarez assault someone in plain view of millions, but in Bahrain Sergio Perez apparently rammed McLaren teammate Jenson Button while the two were driving at 186mph.

They were only competing for fifth place, and they're on the same side; it's silly, but on any other patch of tarmac it would be dangerous driving and carry a maximum penalty of two years' jail and a year's disqualification for the very good reason they could both have died, and worse taken some bystanders with them.

You can put it all down to the competitive nature of sport if you like, but on exactly the same day 36,000 people competed against themselves and each other to complete a physically gruelling race and they all managed it without intentionally assaulting anyone else.

A chap in a wheelchair collided accidentally with a lady from Ethiopia, but that was as serious as it got and neither party bared their fangs or racially abused one another, despite the fact they'd both put in years of training and plenty of sponsorship and kudos rested on their success.

So what does it show, if some people can take part in a sport without acting like thugs and others who we make more of act like crack addicts who've heard Delia's just recommended their favourite rocks for making gravy and the middle-classes are panic-buying all the supplies?

First, that paying top sportspeople millions gives them a sense of invincibility even greater than that bestowed by the adoration of fans and their own towering egos, and that fining them the equivalent of a small house in the Midlands is as effective as docking a petulant teenager thruppence from his pocket money.

Take an arm and a leg, as Suarez would, or don't bother.

And secondly that if you want people to be well-behaved, regardless of their wealth, sport, training or place of origin, the best way is for them to know that they are just like everyone else in society and liable to get arrested if they bite, thump, stamp, ram or otherwise commit a foul whether it is on the track, the pitch, or the street outside.

If they are allowed to commit crimes in some places, there's nothing stopping them or the people that slavishly follow them committing them anywhere else.

You can't dismiss it as being 'part of a contact sport' when all of life is a contact sport, and the rest of us manage to get through it without taking a pound of flesh out of someone else's hide.

Because if the police's jurisdiction stops at the side of the pitch then people will expect to stop elsewhere too.

At the castle gates, for example.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher's funeral...

... and why it was so inappropriate they might as well have hired a stripper is the topic of today's column for the Daily Mirror which you can read here.

Sack the lot of 'em.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Boston Marathon tragedy...

... and why it showed humanity at its best and worst is the topic of today's column for the Daily Mirror which you can read here.

Stay safe.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Ding, dong...

... banning things is wrong. Even if they are exploitative, annoying songs bought in the worst possible taste, as I explain for the Daily Mirror here.

Watch out for falling houses, y'all.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Emergency (n.): Requiring immediate action.

THE possibility, however small, of nuclear war in North Korea.

The fact our few remaining forces in Afghanistan are using mortar shells manufactured in 1981 which are so far past their best-before date we're killing our own troops.

A Unicef report showing Coalition cuts will push 400,000 children into poverty and they are more likely to drink, get pregnant, and drop out of school.

Even the fact an elected Police and Crime Commissioner has been stupid and heartless enough to thrust a 17-year-old into the scrutiny of public office; that there is someone scared to eat anything but noodles; and that British women are apparently miserable for the first 39 years of their lives.

All of these things count as an 'emergency'. An emergency, you see, is something - often, but not always, unexpected - which demands we do something.

Nuclear war? We probably ought to keep an eye on the missile silos. Out of date weapons? We should do a stocktake. Children in poverty, PCCs piggybacking on teenagers, noodlephobia and people who are unhappy - all things which need sorting.

You could even say that the decision by former HBOS chief executive Sir James Crosby to hand back his knighthood and return a third of his pension in the wake of criticism for his part in the banking collapse is an emergency, because it means we should wonder a) if it's worth prosecuting him b) if it's worth suing him c) why other head bankers haven't done the same.

That's just a handful of the emergencies facing us today. On top of those we have a million refugees in Syria, fascists in Greece, fundamentalists across north Africa, £1trillion debt, austerity, a possible triple-dip recession, and the introduction of welfare reforms which however you look at them are going to make poor and vulnerable people only poorer and more vulnerable.

It's like a great big emergency meat pie, with an emergency gravy and emergency veg covered with emergency pastry and baked at PANIC for six hours before serving with a scream.

They are, you might think, the kind of situations which would necessitate the leaders of our nation putting their heads together to find some solutions.

Holding meetings. Making phone calls. Pulling the occasional all-nighter, even, if they can do it with their trousers on and Hugh Grant isn't sat in the next room telling them what to say.

Yet the leaders of our nation do not think any of those things constitute an 'emergency'. That's probably why they took a three week break over Easter when everyone else gets two at best and just a couple of bank holidays for most of us.

But let's try to see things from their point of view; it is likely that, when running a country, there are similar problems so often that you become inured to them. "Michael McIntyre kicking off again? Oh, just ignore him, he'll go away."

So when our politicians decide things are an emergency, they are generally very serious indeed.

For example, the last time Parliament was recalled was August 2011 when rioters had set three cities ablaze. A month before that they were recalled to hear the Prime Minister order the Leveson Inquiry, and in 2002 to debate the now-infamous Dodgy Dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction which led, shortly after, to war.

Parliament has been recalled to cobble together a statement on the death of the Queen Mother, to debate the Omagh bombing, to decry 9/11 and announce missile strikes on Afghanistan.

Parliamentary recalls are generally for what you might call national emergencies. Debates on war, crises, and special tributes to mark widespread public grief.

Today Parliament has been recalled to discuss the death of Margaret Thatcher.

That's not an emergency.

Nor is it a crisis, a worry, a quandary or even a bit of a pinch. It does not require much in the way of immediate action, certainly not by those outside her family, and especially as she'd planned her own (very expensive) funeral several years ago.

Nor is it widespread grief: just widespread argument.

The death of Margaret Thatcher is what people with a proper grasp of the English language and a sense of proportion would call 'an event'. Whether you thought her a heroine or a harridan, her death is a thing that has happened and that's about it; qualify it according to your own views, by all means, but it is no particular cause for panic in quite the same way as riots or planes falling out of the sky.

Unless...

Well, unless you are midway through a Parliamentary term with both government and opposition equally disliked, beset on all sides by PR disasters, blaming child murders on claiming benefits, having millionaires urging others to live on £53 a week, taking three week holidays while the country's on its arse and facing the very real prospect in a couple of years that even fewer people are going to vote for any of them than could barely be bothered last time.

In that situation, some guaranteed telly time either eulogising or castigating her in speeches and soundbites frenziedly written and practiced on the plane home is an absolute gift.

The fact it's going to cost taxpayers a small fortune to reopen Parliament to allow it to happen is neither here nor there. The fact each MP who attends could claim up to £3,750 for the disruption to their holidays matters not a jot. The fact half the nation's livid her funeral has a projected cost of £10m and a blind man could see it will descend into violence is not worth worrying about.

The fact they've decided it's not an 'emergency debate' but merely an opportunity to pay 'special tribute' to a former Prime Minister also doesn't matter.

Never mind this lot have already paid their tributes and made public statements to national, local and worldwide media. Never mind the cost, or the silliness, or the fruitlessness of doing so again to each other.

Maggie was inspiring when she was in power - she inspired people to follow her, and she inspired people to hate her. And ever since she resigned she's inspired them to ape her and piggyback on her achievements for their own political gain.

Now she's dead, and the smooth-faced toads of Westminster can think of nothing better to do with their time than posture and ribbit on the publicly-funded Maggie bandwagon, preening and puffing up their throat sacs as they compete to be the top soundbite on the 10 O'Clock News.

I know they'd do that anyway - it seems to be something we can't stop, not unless we can attract them into the middle of a motorway at 9am with the promise of some lady toads - but it does seem rather farcical when Parliament was due back on Monday and they could do all the preening without charging us extra for it.

What it really shows is that the true emergency here is our country is being run by people who, as a group, appear to have no clear idea of the public mood.

If they did, they'd have spotted a massive public funeral for such a divisive figure is a recipe for riot, that the expense amid financially tough times sticks in the throat, and that having the brass neck to get us to pay for their self-promotion is merely going to make us hate them more.

If they are so politically inept as to do any of those things in the first place, it makes you wonder what else they're screwing up we haven't noticed yet.

Prime Ministers generally don't get public funerals, special debates, or Parliamentary recalls for very good reason. It's because they're politicians, and however towering they may have been in life there is always plenty more where they came from.

Unfortunately.

If only they weren't at the wheel...

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher's funeral...

... and what, exactly, the state is happy to pay for, is the topic of today's column for the Daily Mirror which you can read here.

I recommend some calming music. That might help.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Bloody Margaret Thatcher...

... and why she wasn't really as bloody as all that is the topic of a column for the Daily Mirror today, which you can read here.

Enjoy or not, as you wish.

A class act.

WE are at war.

No, not with North Korea. The chances of Michael McIntyre's petulant younger brother doing serious damage to any nation other than his own are slimmer than a heavily-pregnant Kate Middleton, which is very.

We're at war with ourselves. And, not for the first time, it's entirely about class.


In the past few days not only have a series of welfare changes kicked in - including extra charges for people in social housing deemed to have a spare bedroom, a benefits cap, and an end to Disability Living Allowance - but the people who run the country have been spinning like ice skaters on crack.

BOOM! Charities, campaign groups and even the Church of England spoke out against the changes, warning the cuts would punish the most vulnerable.

WALLOP! Today Gideon and IBS hit back by blaming 'the Left', 'The BBC', and 'lazy journalism' for giving the impression their plans are flawed. Lazy? That sort of thing takes a lot of work, I'll have you know.

KERPOW! From the Today programme to The Agenda to getting their most persuasive advisers to write op-ed pieces in newspapers, the people who run the country have been arguing reform is necessary, that to argue with them is to get into debt, and that they know best.

Whether they are right, wrong, or halfway between the two is neither here nor there - the simple fact is these changes affect the poor, and they're being pushed through by the very nicely-off. That is enough to put up the backs of almost every Britisher in one direction or another, regardless of which category of society the new 'class test' wants to put them in.

On top of that, whether you are a fan of his policies or not, we have a Chancellor who forgets which company he ought to register his shares in despite the fact said family firm is the basis for his entire economic knowledge, lets his chauffeur park his £50,000 car in a disabled bay, and skanks his way into first class on a standard rail ticket.

Even his best friends would facepalm over those. He might be rich, but he's got all the class of Karen Matthews. They even look a little alike.


We journalists have been sat on our underworked bums proving also that the Prime Minister's £300,000 armoured Jag squatted in a free parking bay for six times as long as it should and irritating IBS even further by showing the voters how many spare bedrooms he has at no cost at all.

In the space of two days, journalists who couldn't really be bothered also captured Gideon doing a Dick van Dyke impression while talking to blue collar workers and his bizarre contention that a nasty, vicious, arsehole who murdered his own children did so because he was on benefits.

Whichever side you land on those stories probably depends on your class. And class, whatever idiots with new tests say, has nothing to do with money or how often you go to the opera.

Class is simply the position from which you view the world. Some are stood at the wrong end of the telescope and have a narrow field of vision, others think they're closer to everything important than they really are, and then there's people like me who wonder why both sorts don't just use their eyes.

If you stop hitting each other with a telescope long enough, you might see that charities and churches have been lobbying against the changes simply because by shouting about the problems they can be fixed. IBS announced u-turns on spare bedroom charges for foster carers and Army families purely because it was pointed out by campaigners via the newspapers, and a good thing too.

You may also spot that being left or right isn't an insult, it's an opinion and they're not illegal yet. The BBC usually bends over backwards to be fair like a teacher determined to give a trophy to every child in class even if it's for just sitting quietly, while journalists work flipping long hours and in my experience are only ever called lazy by people with much wider arses than theirs.

You might spot, too, that Gideon wants to be liked and appreciated by people he does not feel comfortable enough with to talk to normally, and that he tried to make political capital out of the gruesome deaths of six children because he's desperate for a bit of publicity and has his finger so far off the pulse it's in his own ear.

And if you drop the telescope altogether you will see there are people without empathy in every walk of life, whether it's the Philpotts hitting the karaoke bar days after their children died or a millionaire parking in a disabled bay so he can get a Big Mac 30 seconds sooner, and sod anyone in a wheelchair.

They both despoil the place, and themselves, in different ways and they exist in roughly the same proportions.

If the few who think a life on benefits will get them a flatscreen, a nice house and happiness could see it will actually lead to despair, supplementary crime, and the kind of attitude that makes Mick Philpott a catch, they might try harder to join the millions who successfully study and work to haul themselves out of their parents' poverty and never get a slap on the back for it.

And if the people who run the country stopped to read their own figures which show the bankers have taken us for nearly a thousand times more than benefit fraud, they might realise the greatest threat to the nation's financial stability is the money launderers, profiteers and loan sharks they keep insisting we need to keep happy.

Maybe then we'd have a sense of proportion about who's to blame for what, and we'd know it's worth more of our time to bollock bankers, financial regulators, economics advisers, and chief executives whose cupidity cost us £1.162trillion than it is the truly lazy who diddle us out of £1.2bn a year.

Perhaps, even, we'd fix the errors in our benefit system which underpays people who really need it by £1.3bn.

But then, that would involve noticing the government gets to keep more money than it loses to fraud, that 97.9% of benefits go to people who deserve them, and that we jail and despise the cheats of the world 1,000 times more when they are poor than when they have knighthoods.

And the reason we don't do that? Because we all like to pretend we have something we call 'class' but is actually feeling secure in our own place in the world by knowing who's above us and who's beneath us. It's all an act, and it's a very British war consisting of elbows and nastiness and muttered insults, and it's got nothing to do with true class at all.

That comes when you stop trying to put other people down to make yourself look better.

He hasn't cracked it yet.