Mark Hendrick goes fishing

0.1% growth. The country is a sneezing fit away from flat-lining. Little wonder our dear leaders were not doing much vox-pop yesterday, given the last three months has seen the end of the longest, deepest recession in modern times marked by the slightest possible increase. Well, not even an increase, all told. If the ONS revise the figure downwards later in the year Gordon’s legacy will surely be complete.

If Labour MPs struggling to find anything positive to say about their 12 years in power – what with the aforementioned recession, the increasing deficit, out of control public spending, ID cards, illegal invasion of Iraq, growing gap between rich and poor no better than it was in the 1970s, and so on – they could do worse than to take a leaf out of the book of Preston MP, Mark Hendrick.

One time MEP for the former European constituency of Lancashire Central, Hendrick won the 2000 Preston by-election by a comfortable(ish) margin. He has certainly fostered some kind of reputation, largely for not once voting against the Government line (in a University town he voted for tuition fees, smart enough. Then voted for the Iraq war. Good man. And the DNA database. Everything in fact. Yes-man to the core. Loyalist to a T.)

Well now Hendrick has really taken the proverbial biscuit. Not able to reach for something positive to come from the disastrous calamity that has been Labour in power, he has taken to flooding middle-ranking Ministers with questions that should be prefixed “Could you ensure the answers are easy to copy and paste into my next election leaflet?”. These are such blatant electioneering questions it’s amazing they’re even allowed. Hendrick is wasting our money trying to find content for his election addresses. A scandal by any other name…

But, hang on! Is he actually getting anywhere with this fishing expedition? It seems not. For the good folk in the foothills of Government are not giving Hendrick the kind of answers he’d prefer for his next issue of “The Rose”.

For example…

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many women resident in Preston have been awarded the Sure Start Maternity Grant since its introduction.

To which comes the answer…

Helen Goodman (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions; Bishop Auckland, Labour)

The information is not available

Okay, what about…

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many and what percentage of suspected cancer patients resident in Preston saw an NHS consultant within two weeks of referral in each year since 1997.

Nope, not quite got a good enough answer for his press release here neither…

Ann Keen (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health; Brentford & Isleworth, Labour)

The two week wait for all cancers was introduced from 2000 (HSC1999/205).

Data for the period 1997-2002 is not available.

There then follows a table detailing the information for Lancashire’s Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Try again, Mr Hendrick! Try again!

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much funding his Department has allocated for the treatment of heart disease and cancer care in Preston in each year since 1997.

Ann Keen (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health; Brentford & Isleworth, Labour)

The information requested is not collected centrally.

And again, Mark, come on, you know you can do it!

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Transport how many miles of priority bus lanes have been introduced in Preston since 1997.

Sadiq Khan (Minister of State, Department for Transport; Tooting, Labour)

This information is not collected centrally.

Oh dear! Will an answer ever come?

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the percentage change in numbers of (a) overall recorded crimes, (b) recorded violent crimes, (c) burglaries and (d) vehicle thefts in Preston has been since 1997.

Alan Campbell (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Tynemouth, Labour)

Information is not available in the form requested.

Oh fail! Oh shame!

The disgraceful behaviour of Mark Hendrick should really not go unreported. This man is clearly not asking questions for the people of Preston; he is dealing with his own re-election. It’s a total waste of time, effort, and money. But clearly it is alright for the man whose expenses claims included quite a lot of cash for a comfier bed. I do hope he can sleep well at night…

make ’em laugh

With The Persuasionists going down terribly (“..this isn’t so much Mad Men as Pathetic Men” and Big Top not worth mentioning it all, I thought some fresh new ideas for BBC sitcoms would go down a treat.

So here are some ideas for the head of BBC Comedy to consider. I’ll be watching. Unlike anyone with any sense to The Persuasionists, KA-BOOM.

[1] The Lady’s Not For Turning
Amanda Holden and Stephanie Cole appear in a rip-roaring/cosy Sunday crossover feast of laughter set in a sleepy parish council with a hilariously euphemistic name. Amusing titters aplenty over the large vegetable tables and tittering gay vicar, played by one of the less funny ones from Skins. Or the IT Crowd. Viewers who press the red button can access footage of Amanda Holden struggling to read any one of Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads.

[2] Stars and Hype
Amanda Holden and whichever Heroes actor is available this week star in this hard hitting, side-splitting, cross-Atlantic comedy based in the heady world of PR. Mmm, just feel the cutting edge, it is SHARP. She’s a ditzy PR girl with sass, he’s probably black, it’ll certainly mix up the expectations. Viewers pressing the red button will be able to see Amanda Holden trying to fill her bra with crushed Maryland cookies.

[3] The Temp Agency
Former The Bill, and Primeval stars…erm….you know them by now, household names…join Amanda Holden in this new, fresh look at British women in the 21st century. They shop, they have one-night-stands, they’re so NOW, and WITH-IT. Includes hilarious parodies by not-unfunny-at-all punchline flogger Mitch Benn. Viewers pressing the red button can access footage of Amanda Holden inventing new swear words as she tries to give a fair evaluation of Lisa Tarbuck’s career.

[4] Please Put Items Into Bagging Area
Former Dinnerladies star….er….and Amanda Holden struggle against the daily grind of the automated shopping centre in this groundbreaking true to life instant comedy classic. All the observational comedy gems it takes a production team of at least 20 to get just right for months, packed into just one episode. Viewers who press the red button can watch Amanda Holden reading the back of cornflakes packets for a meals on wheels information cassette.

[5] Make ’em laugh
Amanda Holden and Jonny Vegas feature as washed up comedy turns in a comedy so full of self referential jokes, the final ten minutes is slow motion footage of Mark Lawson masturbating into a cup. Viewers who press the red button will access footage of them pressing the red button…

Lovers coming together

Opponents of fixed-term elections appear not to have noticed that Gordon Brown’s cowardice has effectively ensured that a full-term parliament is exactly what we are living with in the present. And what joyous developments there has been in the first few weeks of the new year; is this the second decade of the 21st century…or the immediate post-war years?

I ask because both Labour and Conservative parties are doing their best to create a puritanical, paranoid, conservative [very much sic] state, of tradition and good behaviour which didn’t really exist.

Society has moved on from the vision of Mr and Mrs Smith watching their daughter go off to live in married bliss with the butcher’s son. David Cameron would like to see the time-machine rewind to these very days. The concept of co-habitation must appear to Cameron like a cryptic crossword clue; the answer must be contained inside but he just cannot fathom it out. “Tax breaks for married couples” is one of the craziest idea suggested by a serious political party in some time. How would this work, exactly? George Osborne inviting himself to weddings with bank-notes mixed in with the confetti?

Marriage is an institution perfectly suited for many people across the country, that I do not dispute. But marriage is not the end solution for just as many people in this day and age, certainly not for my sister, my parents, or the son of my boss who has 20 years of co-habitation together with a loving partner, two children, a well-paid job, and their own house. How offensive would it be for the State to award a married couple next door while penalising them for daring to live a perfectly acceptable loving life without a marriage certificate?

If the Tories’ over-controlling tendencies were not bad enough, in the red corner it’s almost beyond belief. The Labour Party would never pick on Mr Wall-Mart or Mr Morrisons, for they have expensive lawyers with deep pockets, so instead the new puritans in our Government are hoping to force out of business every corner shop owner and pub landlord. Their latest wheeze – ban everything which could make drinking more than one pint a week possible, (do “drink all you can” offers even exist?), stop grown adults from leaving the house of a week-night in case they dare want to buy more than one bottle of wine from Oddbins, and force the ID Card system on the nation by forcing bar-staff to check the identity of every customer.

It’s absolute cuckoo-bananas.

I cannot fathom how the Cabinet came up with this latest round of anti alcohol madness. Well, actually maybe I can. When they did the sensible thing by dragging the UK into the 20th century with licensing law liberalisation, they grabbed the headlines and ran away from the side-effects. Had somebody checked that each and every consequence of a new drinking culture was understood and legislated for, we wouldn’t now be in this “cocks on the table” auction between red and blue corners about who can alienate drinkers more.

Why is “white cider” not taxed as much as ale? Why can’t the Government reduce the duty on micro-breweries to encourage sensible drinking of heavier beers and ales? If the Home Office want to go after young boys and girls from council estates with drink-related crime issues whilst being too scared to admit it in case it looks like “class war” against the wrong class….tough! The majority of adult drinkers are a combination of a) sensible, and b) know how to deal with having one-or-five-too-many.

On minimum prices for alcohol, which could soon be the case in Scotland, I am not so sceptical. It may dissuade those buying booze for underage drinkers from doing so, whilst it may have the unintended consequence of pricing out students (who inject a lot of finance into the university towns they settle in) or those on fixed-incomes.

Penalising all drinkers in the hope of catching some will do nothing to increase respect from the general public. It’s another case of “Labour knows best”, of State control, of a massive reversal of the liberal democracy I once assumed was the United Kingdom.

On marriage, and on the right to drink, both Conservatives and Labour have it totally wrong. It should not be the responsibility of the State to make marriage a tax-haven, nor consider the act of drinking a pint of John Smith’s the gateway drug to violent crime.

Whatever next? Patrols of Behaviour Police dressed in cloaks and Guy Fawkes masks, I wouldn’t wonder….

Labour Balls Up

Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Cushions and Soft Furnishings, is a notorious arm-twister, class warrior, and in the running to be solely responsible for Labour’s forthcoming defeat the General Election.

His latest wheeze is a £300m Broadband Bribe, with the intention of giving any Labour leaning voter even less incentive to aspire to a better life. As often happens with Labour after a few years in power, they’ve retreated into very safe territory; promote the ‘dependency culture’, label all opponents as ‘toffs’, and take it from there. With the country suffering from the longest, deepest recession in history, you’d have imagined somebody at the Treasury would have at least coughed a bit during the Cabinet meeting to discuss handing out free broadband to people in marginal constituencies, but I understand the idea of saying “No” to Ed Balls brings up combinations of genitalia and vice-grips.

Balls’ bullying tactics will doubtlessly see this scheme rolled out just in time to shore up support in time for the election. Never before has “shameless” been more appropriate a word. If this scheme is all about helping the lowest earners, helping children do the best in school, why has it taken 12 years for the only solution to be the giving away of easier access to Facebook and Bejewelled?

If the worsening state of education is not enough – and there’s plentiful examples of the GCSE system becoming mere window dressing for Labour’s doubtful education ‘claims’ – Ed Balls is of course riding a leadership bid horse all the way to the summer. In another desperate move, MPs from smaller Northern constituencies are being arm-twisted against the idea of moving from First Past the Post to Alternative Vote in time for the General Election. This is Balls’ aim to keep as many on-side MPs returned to the Opposition Benches, without the hassle of a fairer voting system or cut in MP numbers getting in the way.

It doesn’t take a flick through a GCSE Politics textbook to see where this idea comes from.

There really is only one shot at getting education right. My personal view on the state controlling schools has been coloured ever since the National Curriculum appeared to clip the wings of every decent teacher in my school – “What, the Romans
again?”. Now education policy has become overtly politicised, school building programmes wrapped up in debt-laden schemes, children forced to take too many exams and generally under achieving. Children unable to even write their own name after 5 years of a Labour government (and this hasn’t got much better) is one of many ‘milestones’ currently along the route leading to Ed Balls’ door.

“Class war” is a tired and extreme tactic often used by desperate members of the left-wing looking for some mud to throw in times of trail. Given the state of school education in this country, I suppose it is not surprising that Labour have not learned the lessons of such electioneering…

It’s my currency…

Gyles Brandreth, Kenneth Williams, Lord Alanbrooke, Alan Clark, even ex-Torquay manager Garry Nelson – all diarists whose published works are on my bookshelf up against assorted Margaret Atwood novels and back issues of High Voltage.

Reading and writing published diaries has been the subject of some recent programmes on BBC Four. Richard E. Grant questioned whether Kenneth Williams had ever written a true word throughout his acerbic journals; Mariella Frostrup wondered if fictional diaries contain thinly disguised truths from the author. And then there are the likes of me, whose scrawled jottings and inspired mutterings, not to mention bad poetry, has been a largely secret record of the events of the past with varying degrees of accuracy and proportionate emotion. At least the poetry appears to have stopped.

With only a 17-month break in 10 years – that gap spanning the period from my grandmother’s death to the first Weatherspoon’s breakfast of 2010 – my diaries are as much or as little a valid record of the 21st century as the countless real-time online message boards and blogs covering the same period. Diarists are fairly odd sorts, with their daily duty (or chore?) involving no more equipment than a pen and a Collins page-a-day.

If my keeping a diary is because of the frustrated writer inside me, the only reason why I keep a penny-jar is for the teaching of a little restraint. People who know me will be quite surprised to learn that my diaries haven’t been torn to shreds in a fit of pique; it must be picking-up-from-the-floor-time when you all discover my cup of loose change hasn’t been thrown at a wall or carried to work for a splurge on meat pies and Manchester Tarts.

Having had the snooty treatment from bank clerks who think the changing of change is somehow beneath them, I will cart my screw-top jar of shrapnel to the nearest supermarket magic machine sometime summer-wards. Money tends to burn a hole in my pocket, so anything which promotes restraint can only be beneficial. Heck, I’ve knocked the glass over enough times to think, “Screw it, you are coming with me to Tesco and you’re going to get spent.” When full, the contents of the glass will be transferred to the screw-top, and the whole process will begin again.

Unlike blogging – where the author expects readership, maybe comments, possibly recommendations and quotations – diary writing can be as insular or full of expression as the writer dictates. It’s no more “self obsessed” than the first-time author getting his characters to mention in-jokes halfway through a chapter. Penny-jar husbandry must seem just as alien, some outdated act alongside making pastry from scratch or sewing buttons. There is something to be said of the age when the walk from my house to the bus station can often result in a £1 profit from the haul of the previous night wallet-fall.

I don’t keep a diary “so as to have something scandalous to read on the train”. Nor do I put 20p coins in a jar to kill off the sudden pang of hunger for Fox’s Creams at the dead of night. It’s how I go about wandering around this great big cloister-fach of a gameshow we call life, if it’s anything at all. If the opposite of doing either is spray-painting my name on bus-stops or slotting every last penny into an arcade machine, then I’ll carry on being uncool.

Oh, and the Garry Nelson diaries, “Left Foot In The Grave”, are very good…but I donated them to one of the solider charities at Christmas…Sure some brave boy out in Helmand really wants to know about the daily life of a lower league football club…

battle of the bulge

I am not your typical bloke. Maybe this is not news to most of you. I don’t subscribe to Men’s Health and I don’t have pet names for my favourite muscles. Gym membership is a complete no-no; there is just something about the concept of walking near one which leads me to consider being greeted at the door by a nice enough woman asking if I’m there to film a new episode of Mr Bean…

Okay, so a “significant” birthday is eleven weeks away, so consequently a bit of ‘stock taking’ has occurred with regards to my diet and such like. There’s no danger of my purchasing a wall-mounted Calorie Calender or having watercooler discussions about ‘points’ and ‘quotas’ and ‘green or red days’ or whatever other alien language seems to spurt from the mouths of people following strict diets. There are many aspects to Brown’s Britain I cannot stand – well, all of them, really – with the Nanny State ‘Minister For Public Health’ attitude near the very top. If children must eat a regular amount of fruit and veg, then let this be a matter for parents and schools and doctors.

Adults should not have the State dictating what can be eaten, drunk, or consumed, unless the developed Western democracy we live in, where ‘letting the terrorists win’ is changing how we behave, has suddenly developed an obsession with social engineering from which it cannot turn.

My paunch is all paid for. It’s not a beer belly, as such. If humans could live off a diet consisting in the main of sushi, Frijj drinks, and powdered soup, I’d be a very happy man. Okay, so in living memory I was steaming sea bass with soy sauce and lemongrass, while these days I have a tendency to rely on pizza, but what’s a man to do while he (still) settles down to living under his own roof?

There is a slight contradiction, I guess, in my stance. Not too much obsessed with my appearance, while too self-aware to consider lifting weights in public. That’ll be the typical bloke characteristic, that’ll be: eager to offer advice, eager not to accept suggestions. As long as I am not found vegged out in front of daytime TV surrounded by WKD bottles and packets of Fruit & Nut, I am confident enough to carry on pretty much ‘as is’. No Government Minister is going to force me to swap a pint of John Smiths for a bottle of Shloer.

Walking the ten-mile round trip to and from work isn’t quite cutting the pounds as maybe it once would have done, I notice. That said, I am not exactly noticing a change into Richard Griffiths. Thought that would be cool. I will not forget the bloke who worked in one of the first offices I temped in, who switched from “girl in every port” to dripping wet calorie counter in the matter of one weekend. Everything in moderation, and all that jazz. Little bit of what you fancy does you good, and such like.

It is perhaps also worth reminding that that nonsense about ‘body mass index’ suggests most professional sports people are morbidly obese. As long as such “official” bunkum is out there in the public domain I’ll remain a happy enough man…

Truth Be Told

Sky Sports News is going to be fun for a while. As much as the latest speculation about Rodallega or Hulk interests me, the Transfer Window real-time countdown which flashes up on screen is the least intentional cruel televisual feature since that 10-year old girl had the temerity to forget the lyrics of her favourite song in front of an audience of millions. The strap-line might as well say “LOOK HOW FAR PAYDAY IS YOU IRRESPONSIBLE SPIRAL-COCKED FREAK”.

Work had certain charms today. Although like most office bound types my main priorities was e-mail sorting, desk diary fathoming, and booking holidays for the rest of the year. I just hope the forthcoming general election is not in June, as that week was rejected. Hear that Gordon, come on, be nice.

On the subject of the next election, for most of the population the phrase “kerryout” probably means nothing at all. It could well be the first of the many election-based techniques used on-line free from most electoral law or media manipulation. Don’t switch off when I explain, please, because “kerryout” is a Tory-backed Twitter campaign, with the aim of defeating ultraloyal Labour Whip Kerry McCarthy in the Bristol East constituency.

It is not a campaign without flaws. Obviously I would rather Tory PPC Adeela Shafi did not win, as LibDem Michael Popham is in second place with a far more realistic chance of winning. In addition the “kerryout” campaign isn’t without its less mature followers. However it is encouraging to see social and citizen media being used in the UK for elections and democratic campaigning; there was comparison around the election of President Obama suggesting Britain was far behind the USA in terms of internet-based electioneering.

Like so many ultra-loyal, never questioning Labour MPs – Preston’s own Mark Hendrick among them – Kerry appears to be in complete denial whenever someone mentions the increasing gap between rich and poor, the ballooning deficit, decreasing standards in primary schools, selling University students into debt slavery, and of course her own personal dubious expenses claims. From the Labour Party of McBride/Draper “smear” emails, “kerryout” is fairly harmless.

Not that I will want to spend the whole three, or four, or five months, focusing on the battle in the eastern suburbs of Bristol. I’ve got to make it to this month’s pay day unscathed before most other priorities. Once upon a time, in living memory, I was forever walking home from supermarkets with bulging bags digging into my hands; now I’m somewhat too eager to nip into Tesco for whatever snacks and pre-packaged meal deals I can wolf down in between brews. Like the lost habits of buying Private Eye and keeping a diary, I’ve long since stopped being eager to steam fish or prepare slow-cooked stewes. Here’s to belated New Year’s Resolutions with some relation to this.

And without the real-time clock ticking in the corner, thanks.

Missives From 2010

Doctor Who came to its conclusion on New Year’s Day. Intense, dramatic, overblown, and just a tad overlong (pause for effect), there are undisputed parallels to the forthcoming UK general election campaign. If the over egged regeneration sequence had you willing Matt Smith to get on with it, you just wait for the protracted election campaign. The other prominent David, Mr Cameron, hopes to be the new face on our screens from March….or May….or June, at the latest.

And how “late” it will feel given the very early doors to Cameron’s “Year For Change” launch this weekend, and today’s rebuttal from Gordon Brown. For those who missed the Prime Minister on Andrew Marr’s show this morning, Brown really did speak in the third person about his chances on Polling Day. Knuckle down chaps, we could be in for a very long ride….

The BBC certainly hope for a Whovian ratings boost whenever the Leaders’ Debates begin, although with the clock ticking and general election drums banging I cannot be confident that the Labour great and good really think Brown is going to attract floating voters to them. And for the record, the SNP leader Alex Salmond really should give up thinking he can drag his sad attempt to get on screen through the courts. It won’t happen, sir, you got what you wished for.

I predicted in October that turnout will fall below 50% at the next election. This still stands. Talk of a shallow class war campaign from Brown will give loyal voters some reason to cheer; the vast majority of British voters already sick of party politics would not be enthralled by the silly talk of the playing fields of Eton.

David Cameron is ‘love-bombing’ the Liberal Democrats. On fairness, environment, civil liberties, the difference between the two parties is a far more vast space than Cameron realises. I did not join the Liberal Democrats as a stepping-stone to the Tory Party; Nick Clegg has my full support, not any wishy-washy talk of ‘progressive alliances’ from an Opposition who remain lacking in policy credibility. If you want your country to be different, vote for the party that’s different.

Meanwhile, from this blog, I hope to retain regular entries and posting. There will be the usual mix and muddle of entries. Maybe less politics, maybe more bad poetry. I wish every one of my readers (hello, incidentally, to my first ever Croatia registered IP address) a very happy new year. If you want to read previous entries from Missives, just use the “Previous Prescriptions” drop-down box on the right….