Stazjia’s Commentary

Archive for October 2008

Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher GC - Picture Crown Copyright

Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher GC - Picture Crown Copyright

Yesterday, Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher of the Royal Marines was awarded the George Cross by HM the Queen at Buckingham Palace in London. The George Cross is the highest award given to civilians and military who performed “acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger” but, in the case of the military, not in the presence of an enemy.

Lance Corporal Croucher was serving in Afghanistan in February 2008 when he felt a wire against his leg. He immediately realised that he had come into contact with booby trapped grenade. His three comrades were behind him and he knew that they all would be either killed or terribly injured. He threw himself on the ground with his back, on which he had a large backpack, towards the grenade, curled into a fetal position with his legs tucked up and his head down. He said:

A grenade’s usually got a 5m killing circumference. So I thought, I’m going to get seriously injured whatever I do so I might as well jump in front of the grenade and at least try and save the rest of the lads from getting seriously injured or killed themselves. So I lay in front of the grenade.

The grenade exploded but, amazingly, he received no significant injuries, just a nosebleed and bad bruising. His comrades were unscathed apart from a small face wound to one from a fragment of shrapnel. His backpack had saved his life and a large lithium battery in the pack took the brunt of the explosion. Unsurprisingly, the backpack was in tatters. When he was interviewed this morning he said he would never part with it.

His bravery didn’t end there. Experience has taught the military in Afghanistan that an explosion will draw in Taliban fighters to finish off any survivors of their booby traps. The patrol hid in a ditch and waited then engaged the Taliban in a fire fight.

He is modest too. He said:

Being awarded the George Cross is a huge honour, for me and for 40 Commando. But there are so many acts of bravery by the lads that don’t make it into the press. It’s all part of the job – they would have done the same. You just do it.

Whether you agree or not with the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, such outstanding courage deserved to be recognised.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2008, compared with a 0.0 per cent movement in the previous quarter.

UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.5 per cent in the 3rd quarter of 2008, compared with a 0.0 per cent movement in 2nd quarter. From National Statistics

It’s all doom and gloom now. The latest UK figures show we are heading for a recession. Sterling has plummeted against other currencies – not all bad news for webmasters who get affiliate commission paid in US dollars or companies exporting – but not great generally.

I thought I’d lighten the mood with a few political anecdotes which might provoke a smile.

Apart from the videos, these are anecdotes and almost all apocryphal so either not true at all or exaggerated.

Peter Mandelson is said to have asked Gordon Brown, at the height of their feud, for 10 pence to phone a friend. Gordon Brown said, “Here, have 20 pence, phone them all!”

In an interview with the Independent newspaper, Ben Davis, director of the London Design Festival and friend of Peter Mandelson says, “I remember once he made some sort of dark remark and I said, ‘Don’t play the Prince of Darkness with me,’ and he said ‘Play the Prince of Darkness? I AM the Prince of Darkness!'”

Margaret Thatcher in 1984 when she was Prime Minister of the UK.

Margaret Thatcher in 1984 when she was Prime Minister of the UK.

One of the best known political anecdotes concerns Margaret Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister and at the height of her powers. The story, which is definitely not true, is that she went to a restaurant for dinner with her Cabinet ministers. She ordered her meal and the waiters said “And the vegetables…?” She said, “They’ll have what I’m having.”

Leader of the Tory opposition, David Cameron, when first elected as leader of the Conservative party, was preaching a green, environmental message. He was exhorting people to use bicycles instead of driving to work. There was a photocall for journalists to see him practicing what he preached when he rode his bike to the House of Commons. Unfortunately for him, photographers and TV cameramen got great shots of him and the large car following him carrying his briefcase – whoops! This one is definitely true – I saw it with my own eyes.

Here’s a real-life visual one from You Tube, featuring Neil Kinnock, leader of the Labour Party in the 1980s. Here he’s on the campaign trail and it’s a photo opportunity in front of the country’s press. Another whoops!

Here’s another, this time featuring Conservative politician John Redwood. During the 1990s Conservative Government he was the Secrerary of State for Wales revealing he doesn’t know the words of the Welsh national anthem.

This one features another Conservative in Government in the 1990s, Michael Howard, Home Secretary. He is being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, often compared to a rottweiler for the ferocity of his questioning if he thinks an politician is being evasive.

The final video features Tony Blair while he was still Prime Minister. This is a clip from a BBC television telethon for charity called Red Nose Day. The schoolgirl is famous English comedian, Catherine Tate, and ‘I ain’t bovvered’ became her catchphrase. Tony Blair proves what a great actor he is.

It was Peter, now Lord, Mandelson’s birthday yesterday and it looks like either he personally got his revenge or somebody decided to give him a birthday present he’d really like – dropping George Osborne (see picture, standing) in deep trouble.

The story is this, for those who haven’t followed it: Conservative shadow Chancellor George Osborne, David Cameron’s great friend (sitting in picture) and fellow posh boy, leaked it to a journalist that, in August this year, Mandelson had stayed with Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, on his yacht moored by the Greek island of Corfu. Unfortunately, Mandelson was European Union (EU) trade commissioner. At the same time, George Osborne was staying first in a rented house nearby then with Nathan Rothschild in his villa close to the yacht’s mooring.

When Osborne leaked Mandelson’s holiday accommodation arrangement, the implication was clear – Mandelson was laying himself open to a charge of being influenced by the Russian billionaire to favour his companies in dealings with the EU. To make it worse, the report suggested Mandelson had “dripped pure poison” about Gordon Brown. The leaks occurred just after he’d joined Gordon Brown’s Cabinet – not great timing for his Lordship but the Tories (Conservatives) thought it was ideal on the principle of hitting two birds with one stone – Mandelson and Brown.

Yesterday, here in the UK, we woke up to news that Osborne had had several social meetings with the friendly Russian oligarch during their stay in Corfu. Not only that, but it had been discussed how the billionaire could make a significant contribution to Tory Party funds. The stumbling block is that it’s illegal for political parties here to accept donations from foreign residents or companies. As luck would have it, Oleg Deripaska owns a company registered here, Leyland Daf, and it is suggested that there was a discussion if this could be used to channel the gift to the Conservatives.

Apparently, Rothschild was outraged that Osborne leaked conversations from a private dinner to the press and so he has leaked against Osborne in revenge. Here is part of the letter Rothschild sent to The Times newspaper.

…I am surprised that you focus on the fact that one of my guests, Peter Mandelson, is a friend of another, Oleg Deripaska. Not once in the acres of coverage did you mention that George Osborne, who also accepted my hospitality, found the opportunity of meeting with Mr Deripaska so good that he invited the Conservatives’ fundraiser Andrew Feldman, who was staying nearby, to accompany him on to Mr Deripaska’s boat to solicit a donation. Since Mr Deripaska is not a British citizen, it was suggested by Mr Feldman, in a subsequent conversation at which Mr Deripaska was not present, that the donation was “channelled” through one of Mr Deripaska’s British companies. Mr Deripaska declined to make any donation. I mention this because it turns out that your obsession with Mr Mandelson is trivial in light of Mr Osborne’s actions. I also think it ill behoves all political parties to try and make capital at the expense of another in such circumstances. Perhaps in future it would be better if all involved accepted the age-old adage that private parties are just that.

The Conservatives issued a rebuttal but today, in the House of Commons, Gordon Brown went on the attack. He said, “This is a very serious matter and I hope it is investigated by the authorities.” Both posh boys, Osborne and his leader David Cameron, looked very uncomfortable. Of course, as nothing happened, no money changed hands, so nobody actually committed an illegal act therefore they don’t have much too worry about. It just looks very bad and maybe reminds us of the bad old days of Tory sleaze.

Photographs of Lord Mandelson taken yesterday show him smiling merrily obviously delighted that George Osborne was getting a taste of his own medicine. I bet he didn’t have a better birthday present than that.

Watch Lord Mandelson taking his Seat in the House of Lords

In my last post I suggested we had some moderately good news with falls in prices of food and petrol (gas). Well, while all that remains true, there is a suggestion we are already in recession according the Ernst & Young’s Item Club.

The housing market is collapsing, unemployment is rising, Ernst & Young predict a rise to 2.2 million, and the budget deficit is increasing, again according to Ernst & Young, it is likely to hit £92 billion (British pounds).

According to Chancellor, Alistair Darling, the British Government plan to fight the worst effects of the recession by reflating the economy with public spending so signalling a return to Keynsian economics (John Maynard Keynes).

Alistair Darling, British Chancellor of the Exchequer

Alistair Darling, British Chancellor of the Exchequer

Darling said, “Much of what Keynes wrote still makes sense. You will see us switching our spending priorities to areas that make a difference – housing and energy are classic examples where people are feeling squeezed. What I want to avoid is getting ourselves in a position governments have done in the past, where you face an immediate problem and cut back on the things the country will need in the future … we can allow borrowing to rise.”

It seems like a good idea to get money moving around the economy but, in the end, taxpayers will  pick up the bill. The alternative could cost those same taxpayers even more – maybe their jobs, their houses, or, if they are lucky and lose neither, increased taxes to pay. More unemployment means the tax burden is carried by fewer people but with higher benefit payments added to the burden.

It look like we are living in interesting times, unfortunately.

This year, up to September, food prices in the UK rose by 9%. Much of the rise was a combination of increased oil prices, poor harvests and a trend for crops to be produced for bio-fuels. Now prices are beginning to either fall or rise more slowly.

Generally harvests around the world have improved this year, although some crops in the UK have suffered from the wet summer. Even so, fruit and vegetables prices have fallen by an average of 5.9%. A factor in price reductions has been increasing numbers of consumers buying from discount supermarkets with Aldi seeing an increase in customers numbers of 21%. Stores like Tesco and Sainsburys have had to bring down prices to hold on to customers.

Another trend in the UK has been a switch by shoppers from higher priced foods, for example, buying minced (ground) beef instead of steak. Even Waitrose, one of the UK’s higher priced supermarkets, have started selling cheaper cuts of meat like ox cheek and pigs’ trotters.

Petrol (Gas) Prices
Today Brent Crude Oil is selling for $68 a barrel, a big drop from its record high of $147 a barrel in July this year. Finally, we are beginning to see a fall in prices for motorists at the pumps.

Yesterday Gordon Brown told petrol retailers they should be dropping their prices to below £1 (British pound) per litre. He said there was too much variation throughout the country with some petrol stations charging £1.20 per litre while two supermarkets, Asda and Morrisons, are charging 99p (pence) .  The Automobile Association (AA) in the UK has released a statement today saying that prices of petrol in Britain have fallen faster than the summer increase. With average prices in mid September of just over £1.24 per litre as opposed to an average of just over £1.17 today, The AA said, “The 6.48 pence petrol price change compares with the record 5.6 pence increase in June.”

Now we just have to hope that companies pass on these savings in their own costs to consumers. If they don’t, their sales will almost certainly suffer with increasing worries about job security and rises in the cost  of mortgages.

British £50 notes

British £50 notes

It seems that Prime Minister, Gordon Brown may have had the answer for the rest of the world with his plan for government to buy shares in failing banks in the interests of stopping a slide into recession by propping up the economy and restoring faith in world markets.

Here in the UK, however, banks are saying that the conditions the government is imposing in return for help are too onerous. The British Government will buy preferential shares that have to be repaid before shareholders can receive a dividend. Lloyds TSB are trying to negotiate better terms.

Just when everybody was hoping things wouldn’t get worse, they got worse. Figures released by the UK’s Office of National Statistics yesterday (15 Oct, 2008) shows the biggest rise in job losses since 1991. These figures only account to August this year and unemployment is likely to go even higher this and succeeding months. In fact, David Blanchflower of the Bank of England told The Guardian newspaper that unemployment figures could top 2 million by Christmas.

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