David Wilshire – below the radar but still milking the electorate

There’s no shortage of stories about MPs taking the electorate for a financial ride at the moment, but just below the parapet are those who have not claimed for anything absurd and who, legally, are squeaky clean. Their moral position is, however, less secure.

Everyone should take a look at their local MP and see what he or she has been up to. To pick on one randomly, just look at David Wilshire, the Tory MP for Spelthorne, on the Surrey/London border. A time-serving backbencher, he has achieved little in terms of career (which is probably better for his constituents) although proved an adequate local representative.  His various records for presenting questions and speaking are below average. He is on no select committees.

But despite representing a borough within 45 minutes of Westminster by train (which many of his constituents use to commute) he annually claims the maximum of £23,000 for his second home.  His annual costs are higher than any other MP in Surrey.

Wilshire has three homes. One in Spelthorne, another in Westminster and a third in Somerset. That’s his right, but why on earth should we pay for him to do so, and then also pay more than £7000 a year for him in travel costs?

Last year, career politician Wilshire cost voters more than £160,000 on top of his generous salary. His majority is safe, although slipping, and, like many other MPs across the country, he probably thinks that means he doesn’t have to worry about a few disgruntled voters.

So far he has not commented, presumably because, like so many of his colleagues, he sees no reason to have to explain anything to the ordinary voter. But come the next election, the likes of Wilshire will come under the spotlight and his silence will no longer be tolerated. Unless he can come up with some good explanations, he and his kind might find themselves with three homes but no job.

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Michael Savage: a vile man laden with hate

Michael Savage: shock jock or vile bigot?

Michael Savage: shock jock or vile bigot?

I read about the ban slapped on so-called American “shock jock” Michael Savage by the UK government with interest.

Last month, I was in the USA on business, and driving back to New York with an (English) colleague of mine, we happened across Savage’s show. While initially we were amused at his ranting, it very soon became clear that this went way beyond the usual rhetoric aimed at building a love-him-or-hate-him audience.

Savage was quite simply a vile bigot. Anyone who opposed him was shouted down. He repeatedly referred to “Hussein Obama” and his being a “Muslim lover”. The president’s crime at the time was that he had apologised to Europe for what he described as the USA’s “arrogance” during the Bush era. Savage fumed that there was nothing to apologise for and that Europeans were “vermin” who had “sponged off the USA for decades”.

Warming to his task, he berated the 66% of Americans who thought Obama was doing a good job, told one first-generation Asian who phoned in to remonstrate to “get back to driving your cab”, and then harangued an elderly person who said they were a state employee as being a “lifelong sponger” who needed to “get off their backside and do a day’s work”. By the time he said that Muslims (all of them presumably) were “the people who attacked the World Trade Centre” we had had enough.

We discussed how on earth someone could be allowed to get away with preaching hatred – Savage himself, lowering his voice to sound sincere, had earlier claimed that he was the only voice of reason in a “liberal-dominated” media and spoke for the people – where in any normal society he would be locked up for inciting civil unrest.

He has previous, including urging Americans to “burn the Mexican flag on your street corner” and labelling autistic children as “brats” in need of discipline. He the Koran as “a book of hate” and told Muslims: “Take your religion and shove it up your behind.” In 2003 he was fired by a TV channel for saying on air to a caller: “You should only get Aids and die, you pig …”

He is threatening to sue the UK government for “defamation”. Even the hapless Jacqui Smith couldn’t lose that one. Play five minutes of one of Savage’s bile-laden broadcasts and he would be sent packing.

Free speech is one thing. Savage is quite another. Even in a democracy we need limits. Savage claims he stands for “traditional values”. In his own way, he is every bit as evil as anyone the West has been fighting in the war on terror.

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Sanctions weakness only boosts Mugabe

As someone with more than a passing interest in Zimbabwe, a question I am asked regularly is why don’t the so-called main western countries take military action to oust Robert Mugabe. I have always argued it is not an option. The solution has to come from within Africa.

But the pathetic explanation of David Milliband that sanctions against the regime are not possible because they would harm the Zimbabwe people more than Mugabe completely miss the point. The Zimbabwe people cannot suffer any more than they do now. Sanctions cannot harm them or do anything extra that Mugabe and his cronies haven’t already done. Milliband’s weakness just shames this country, and faced with such feebleness, Mugabe carries on safe in the knowledge that nothing remotely harmful is heading his way from the Brown government.

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Barclays hits a new low

The latest scam of Barclays Bank as reported in the weekend press. A reader calls an insurance company to renew his car insurance and when he tries to pay with his Barclays Connect card it is refused. So he has to call Barclays to find out what is up and guess what … they try to sell him car insurance. Surely not another underhand tactic from the once-great bank?

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Filed under Banks, Rip-off Britain

The filth that is the Daily Mail

Ok, we know Polly Toynbee is a self-important old bag who changes her views with the wind, but she makes some very good points in the Guardian about Paul Dacre, the utterly odious Daily Mail editor who last month had the gall to bang on about press freedom.

Dacre, whose foul-mouthed outbursts are legendary and who uses his ostensibly middle-England rantsheet to support his friend Gordon Brown, is responsible for a crusade of vendetta and sensationalist tabloid journalism that shames any respectable journalist. The hypocrisy of the newspaper has to be seen to be believed. Anyhow …

Dacre, the nation’s bully-in-chief is, like all bullies, a coward: he refused to go on the Today programme yesterday to argue his case. He never dares face his critics, happy to fry alive all and sundry, never apologising, never explaining. There is a good reason for this: the stance his paper takes on just about everything is so internally contradictory and inconsistent that he could never survive even minimal scrutiny. The Mail’s mishmash of lurid scandal, bitching about women and random moralising zigzags all over the place, dishing out pain and praise often according to who it has succeeded in buying with its limitless chequebook, or who has infuriated it by selling their wares to another bidder.

Well worth a read …

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Time to abandon Barclays Bank

You have to wonder why anyone bothers with Barclays Bank. Years ago they were a sign of safety and a business you can trust. Now they treat personal customers with undisguised contempt, closing branches, levying charges almost at their whim, and leaving people to deal with underpaid and undertrained junior staff in the few offices that remain or being routed to an offshore call centre.

The latest wheeze – and this was seriously sold to me as being done to “enhance customer service” – is that you can no longer call your branch. At all. All calls are re-routed to an Indian call centre where, even just to get put through to a branch, you are led through a maze of security and other often irrelevant questions. Last Thursday it took me eight calls to get through to my branch …not that it was worth it. When I was connected I was greeted with a surly individual who was more interested in telling me that staffing levels are such that there is no point in coming in “between 11.30 and 2.30 because that’s our lunch time and we are short staffed then”. Not that anyone else has lunch then.

Coupled with the many Private Eye articles about how skilled Barclays is at diddling the UK taxation systems, the best we can all do is close accounts if you have them, and stay clear of Barclays if you haven’t. After three decades, I have closed mine. I should have done it years ago.

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Farewell, America’s greatest disaster

America will regret electing this man for generations

America will regret electing this man for generations

Rarely do all factions of the media agree, but the last days of the Bush administration have managed that. The consensus is that Bush is among the worst presidents of all time, that his time in the White House has been a disaster which has left America’s reputation in tatters, its economy shredded, and made it despised across the globe.

That Bush was elected in 2000 can be seen as unfortunate and nobody can be held to blame, even though it took dishonesty and corruption to swing the Florida decisive vote. However, any American who voted for him in 2004, knowing what they knew about him and his (in)abilities and ignorance should hang their heads in shame at the possibly irreperable damage he has done to their nation.

One of the best assessments came in the Observer at the weekend.

The economic and fiscal picture is bleak. During the Bush administration, the national debt, now approaching $10 trillion, has nearly doubled. Next year’s federal budget is projected to run a $500bn deficit, a precipitous fall from the $700bn surplus that was projected when Bill Clinton left office. Private-sector job creation has been a sixth of what it was under President Clinton. Five million people have fallen into poverty. The number of Americans without health insurance has grown by seven million, while average premiums have nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the principal domestic achievement of the Bush administration has been to shift the relative burden of taxation from the rich to the rest. For the top 1 per cent of us, the Bush tax cuts are worth, on average, about a thousand dollars a week; for the bottom fifth, about a dollar and a half. The unfairness will only increase if the painful, yet necessary, effort to rescue the credit markets ends up preventing the rescue of our healthcare system, our environment and our physical, educational and industrial infrastructure.

The only hope is that the mistake is not repeated with McCain and the Sarah Palin, the woman who makes Bush look positively cerebral.

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Filed under george bush, US politics, USA