From AstaBGay's popular weekly column . . . The Bitch! 6/12/07 edition.
What a week it has been, hasn't it? Harold Wilson will be forever remembered telling us: "a week is a long time in politics", however with all the pettiness we have to suffer these days, it is fast becoming a long time for everyone in the UK regardless of their occupation. We are living in the slow motion of an occurring disaster.
Consider: the angels in children's school Nativity plays may no longer have wings, mince pies have been banned at school Christmas fetes, pantomimes are having to be re-written into being unrecognisable and unfunny, there are calls for our National Anthem to be changed, an elderly grandmother is told off by a council workman for sweeping the leaves from her front doorstep, a young mother is fined £360 for not keeping her wheelie bin full of rubbish within her tiny (8 foot by 4 foot) backyard where under the window the smell becomes intolerable despite regular cleaning, the police were called to a shopping centre because someone felt the schoolchildren performing there were singing the Christmas carols too loudly, a butcher has been banned from chopping meat after a new neighbour complained to the council about the noise, and despite the country footpaths across uneven grassy fields and moorland being non-negotiable safely by the disabled in wheelchairs, the kissing gates and stiles which allow access to them have got to be replaced with expensive cattle grids - presumably so anyone in a wheelchair can then sue the farmer for having a field that isn't perfectly flat should they suffer a tumble!
I could go on and on, the list of stupidities we live with today is seemingly endless, but I am in danger of becoming suicidal. Who wants to live in a world like this? What has happened to society? Why has: "love thy neighbour" all too often turned into: "persecute thy neighbour", with people wanting to complain and report somebody for simply living or doing their job? Where can anyone today use some common sense and make up their own mind about what they want to do, and what risks they are prepared to accept in doing it?
Political Correctness and Health & Safety issues have been around for quite some time but, whereas once any new proposal used to be ridiculed and dismissed were it not a sensible one, under these past ten years of Labour government rules and regulations to ensure we all live in exactly the same way, and that is in accordance to some insignificant people's idea of an ethical code, they have totally run riot. The freedom these prats have recently enjoyed is now detrimentally affecting the lives of every sensible person, and their self-given right to enforce their wishes upon the rest of us is at risk of soon becoming the only freedom left in the land. In our everyday lives we are not only being told exactly what to do, but when and how to do it and even the way in which we should be feeling about doing it - and all too often now these imposing rules become actual controls and are backed up by some ill thought through law which will penalise us and put money into either government or local authority coffers should we not wish to conform. We live in a preposterous world where our very own lives no longer belong to us. Give us back our lives!
Individuality? In this Nanny State we live in today, we may as well remove that word from the dictionary! Anyway, judging by how well the UK fared in the report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), where in reading ability our 15-year-olds dropped from being 7th in 2000 to 17th today and now lag behind countries such as Estonia and Liechtenstein, I doubt many could even spell the word! In science the UK dropped from being 4th to 14th, but worse than that in mathematics it was appalling news with the pupils falling from 8th position to 24th, which for the first time places our children below the international average. Having been brought up and educated in a time when a UK education was the envy of the world, I never thought I would live to see this day - I am ashamed for my country!
Ed-you-Kay-shun? Ed-you-Kay-shun? Ed-you-Kay-shun? Get it? No, despite all that never-ending spin, it seems too few kids do these days! And that point needs to be Laboured!
In an attempt to hide their shame the government has tried to belittle the tests and performance tables which are a part of the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, however as they are the same criteria praised by Tony Blair in 2000 as being evidence of how well we were doing at that time, there is little credibility being given to their arguments. Of course, those 2000 results would have been based on a time only a couple of years after a Conservative government, so therefore much of Labour's interference with their damaging policies would not have had time to filter through the system, take effect, and become apparent. Whoops! Get out of that one, Gordon Brown. With apologies to the late and great Laurel & Hardy: that's another fine mess Tony has got you into!
Another day, another disaster, and yet another apology having to be begrudgingly spluttered out by the sorry bunch we, for whatever reason, still call our government and not the Crazy Gang. This one, following the Royal Air Force Board of Inquiry report, by Des Browne the Defence Secretary to the families of the 14 who died as a result of the 37-year-old reconnaissance plane exploding over Afghanistan last year when leaking fuel ignited moments after mid-air refuelling - probably, it is thought, because the recommended fire suppression system had not been fitted to the aircraft. The Nimrod, a museum piece yet an aircraft so vital to the war, is only still flying because as part of a package of cuts its replacement was delayed - so this report by the Board of Inquiry goes a long way in giving credence to all those vociferous military chiefs' complaints of a lack of funding.
The government can, and often do in an effort to convince us they are providing adequate funding, produce figures to show they have increased the money allocated to the Armed Forces year on year, however what they don't like to admit, or perhaps are too incompetent to appreciate, is that these increases are on an already severely cut defence budget - one that was something like halved years ago in tune with the more peaceful times. Since those happy days we have entered into two lengthy conflicts, and our commitments have magnified to breaking point - and all without even reinstating the original budget of yesteryear. The increases we are being told of today, when seen in those real terms, become plainly pitiful!
It seems neither Gordon Brown nor his predecessor, or anyone in the present government, has realised that the minute a country declares war or enters into a military conflict, if it really means business and wishes to avoid prolonging the action, it needs to write a blank cheque for its Armed Forces. When our lads and lasses are putting their lives on the line for us they must have EVERYTHING they need to do the job we ask of them as safely, as quickly, and as efficiently as is possible. To provide them with anything less is criminal, and to my mind today we have a government of criminals. Our engagements in both Afghanistan and Iraq have been plagued throughout by stories of a lack of equipment and resources.
These stories have not gone away. Far from it, many have been substantiated by investigative journalism and television documentaries. I doubt I was alone in feeling ashamed of my country when at one point in the Iraq conflict it was revealed on a television documentary that it was only possible to have just one creaky, old Nimrod aircraft in operation as all the rest, having been cannibalised to keep that one airborne, were grounded. Talk about going to war on a shoestring! Our military lads and lasses have been performing miracles! But perhaps I shouldn't have said that, it might encourage the government to ask them to walk on water to get to the next conflict - and there goes our navy!
Our troops have enough to do fighting the enemy, they should not at the same time have to fight their government for rifles that do not jam, suitable field weapons and the ammunition for them, enough flak jackets to go round, the correct camouflage, the (available) technology to protect them against roadside bombs, enough helicopters (embarrassingly, in Afghanistan there are stories we had to borrow some from other nations!), reconnaissance and attack aircraft, and all the other many items they need, but which have not been readily provided or are easily obtainable.
If anyone should think these are all acceptable situations for our service personnel to suffer and overcome, I beg to differ!
Finally, the Times newspaper's revelation that it has found more than a 100 websites offering for sale the fullest details of many thousands of the UK's bank accounts, including those of a High Court Judge, with some of the rogues even providing "free samples" to whet the appetite, is nothing short of frightening. The newspaper claims it was able to download the banking information of 32 individuals for free. Apparently one of the sites has 30,000 British credit card numbers for sale for as little as £1 each - which, as serious as this is, posed a comical question for me: how would anyone buy them? Few would be silly enough to pay for them with their Visa, would they?
Strangely nobody has attempted to link this data with either the widely reported two discs recently lost by HM Revenue and Customs, or the subsequently learned about but less widely reported others - those of an unknown quantity and length of time missing, but which apparently contain similar unencrypted information, and have been similarly "misplaced" by different governmental departments.
As if all this potentially damaging and confidential information being for sale on the internet isn't bad enough, perhaps equally as frightening is the spokesman for Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner. After confirming the data these websites are offering appears to be for currently active accounts, this person went on to explain that if it had been acquired fraudulently, or by theft, the matter would be passed on to the police as a criminal inquiry. Hmm . . . Really? That is considerate of them!
Now I don't class myself as a simpleton, but maybe I should for I cannot for the life of me think of a way in which these details that are subject to all the laws on privacy could appear openly for sale on a public website without an infringement of some law occurring somewhere along the line. Why does the Information Commission want to waste time looking to see if fraud or theft has been involved when so obviously the police should be brought in immediately in an attempt to protect the British people, their personal identities, and their money? Do they intend sitting on this for months, scratching their heads and throwing their hands in the air as people's bank accounts are emptied? Am I missing something here?
I shall just have to hope it is not soon going to be the Royal Mews millions, won't I? With difficulty, I suppose one possibly could learn how to survive without having a batman - but without an occasional Robin? Have a heart - the weeks would feel unbearably long!
"The Bitch!" 6/12/07.