Editor : David Kernek (kernekdavid@gmail.com)

Monthly Archive: November 2020

Bus passes for the disabled: when the law is just guidance

A difficulty being faced by disabled people attempting – in Bath and throughout England – to renew their concessionary bus passes was first highlighted in the Bath Telegraph in October (ibid https://www.bathtelegraph.co.uk/2020/10/19/bus-pass-problem-for-the-disabled).

The local councils which issue the passes, we were told, are required by law to grind applicants through a bureaucratic mill that ought not to exist in a society that talks a great deal about compassion and claims to care about the disabled. The law (the 2000 Transport Act and the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007) appears to be so framed as to deny automatic renewals to disabled applicants unless they can tick one or more of seven categories that set an extremely high, if not cruel and unusual, bar for eligibility. They include: ‘Blind or partially-sighted; profoundly or severely deaf; without speech; without arms; unless both legs are missing, they will need to show they experience severe discomfort even when using an artificial aid.’

Applicants who cannot tick any of these boxes are asked by Bath & NE Somerset Council (B&NES) to undergo an Independent Medical Assessment (IMA), even if they have survived similar – and numerous – assessments required by the Department for Work & Pensions. Bath’s IMAs are done in Keynsham by Virgin Care, which, in turn assesses applications on behalf of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA). Such is our out-sourced world of care.

The response of Bath’s MP, Mrs Wera Hobhouse, was to raise this problem with the government which, in a letter from Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Minister for Roads, Buses and – it says here – Places, puts a question mark over the whether or not local councils are in fact obliged to adhere to what was said to be the law. She writes: ‘Whilst it is not a legal requirement to follow the guidance, doing so provides greater consistency for service users and administrators alike.’

‘The concept,’ she waffles on, of “automatic eligibility”, to which Mr Kernek refers, is intended to reduce the burden of proof required for applicants who have already undergone assessment for other benefits, reducing the related time and cost for applicants and local authorities alike. However, it is only recommended where the eligibility criteria for the benefit are sufficiently comparable with those for the national concession. The guidance identifies three types of state benefit which, in the Department’s view, meet this requirement. Other benefits are not listed because the Department does not have a definitive view on whether they constitute “relevant state benefits”. This is because the circumstances of recipients can vary considerably so the eligibility criteria are less helpful when determining eligibility.

There’s more, if the will to live has not been lost:

‘For people whose eligibility cannot be determined automatically, it is a matter for the authority to make a determination in a robust but sensible and fair way on a case by case basis. The Department recommends that authorities seek independent medical evidence where appropriate to inform their decision … It is worth noting that local authorities have the flexibility to offer discretionary benefits over and above the statutory minimum, including the extension of concessionary travel to people who do not qualify under the statutory criteria. Such discretionary concessions are funded by each authority from local resources, based on their assessment of local need and funding priorities.’

So, it transpires, it is not a legal requirement to follow the guidance … the Department recommends that authorities seek independent medical evidence … It is worth noting that local authorities have the flexibility to offer discretionary benefits over and above the statutory minimum.

It’s reasonable to suspect, therefore, that local councils hide behind the groundless ‘it’s-the-law’ assertion because it provides ‘greater consistency’ not for disabled service users – also known as bus passengers – but for administrators, be they council officials or at the companies, such as Virgin Care, to which assessments are outsourced.

Councils, such as B&NES, that talk a great deal about ‘compassionate communities’ continue to heap on disabled bus passengers – even those with all four imperfect limbs – additional burdens regardless of the problems they face when a) summoned for yet another medical assessment and b) getting around towns with heavy traffic, narrow, crowded pavements … and hills.

A££ in this together?

Contrary to popular opinion MPs no longer think of a number, double it, and vote themselves a salary increase. Their pay – currently £81,932 plus expenses – is set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) which has recommended a £3,000 increase from next April.

Of course, at a time when many other public sector workers are being asked to accept a pay freeze – and when so many in the private sector are without jobs – MPs are free to refuse the increase, or take it and pass it on to charities.

The Bath Telegraph hopes to hear that our local MPs – Mrs Wera Hobhouse (Bath, Liberal Democrat) and Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset, Conservative) will be either refusing to take the pay rise or accepting it and then giving it to those who need it.

Local politicians could also set an example by cutting the claims they can – and do – make as reimbursement for time and expenses incurred while on council business.

Don’t vote … it just encourages them

Two elections were knocked off this year’s calendar by Covid-19: they were polls to elect Avon & Somerset’s Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) and the mayor of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA). Covid constraints permitting, time and money will be wasted on these votes next year, which means we can expect this winter to see candidates lining up for election to posts – created by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government – that so far have failed to interest voters.

The Conservative’s PCC candidate is Mark Shelford, formerly a senior Bath & NE Somerset councillor. He’s posted this week on Facebook: ‘As candidate for PCC of Avon & Somerset, I want to know more about your thoughts on police and crime in our area – markshelford.org.uk/crime-survey. Please e-mail me on mark@markshelford.org.uk or message me using my Facebook Page if you have any queries. I very much look forward to hearing your views!’

It was thought the WECA mayor, Tim Bowles, a former Conservative local councillor and events company manager, would stand again, but – he announced yesterday (November 23) – that he’s not. The Bath Telegraph bows to the Bristol website B24/7 for its arresting headline: ‘Man you might not have heard of to retire from job you might not know exists…’

These posts have characteristics in common. The turn-outs in the first polls were embarrassingly low, and the ‘wages’ – allowances – are not unattractive. The incumbent Avon & Somerset PCC – independent Sue Mountstevens, who is also standing down   next year – was re-elected in 2016, when only 325,758 of the 1,221,594 electorate bothered to vote. This was a slender improvement on the turn-out achieved in 2012 – 19.56%. Mayor Bowles was elected in 2017, when the turn-out was an unexciting 29.7%. Police & Crime Commissioners are paid, currently, £86,700 annually, and WECA’s mayor gets £65,000.

The same questions can be asked about both of these directly-elected posts and the organizations they lead. Why do they exist, and what have they achieved?

WECA is a re-creation of Avon County Council (established in 1974 and binned in 1996 as a car crash in local government reform) as part of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government’s half-baked attempt at devolution for English regions. With a 30-year £1 billion and a chief executive officer whose annual salary is £150,000 (that’s higher than that of the UK prime minister), its constituent parts are Bristol Council, Bath & NE Somerset Council, and South Gloucester Council. It’s responsible in the main for planning, skills and local transport.

To date, a full report on its achievements could be accommodated on the back of a small postage stamp.

Its £50,000 long-term energy plan for the region has been described by renewable energy experts and Green campaigners as a ‘travesty’, ‘woefully inadequate’, and ‘vague and frankly useless’. Bristol’s scrutiny councillors have said they will improve their oversight of WECA, which they say might be seen as a ‘white elephant that does nothing’. Looking at how it operates was like attempting to ‘get a grip on a blancmanche’, adding that the organization lacked the structure to involve the public in its decisions. Its so-called ‘Joint Spatial Plan’ for new housing was rejected by the government’s Planning Inspectorate, which found that ‘fundamental aspects’ of the plan were not sound. The overall ‘spatial strategy’ was said by inspectors Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee not to be ‘robust, consistent, and objective’.

It has, though, been highly-productive in the waffle department. This is a typical example:

‘As Head of Innovation and Sector Development at the West of England Combined Authority, I am leading the authority’s team driving forward the Local Industrial Strategy’s priority of Cross-sectoral Innovation. We pursue mission-led and challenge-focused innovation to stimulate clean and inclusive growth, working with residents, research institutions and business. Research and development, and innovation, have key parts to play in the recovery from the COVID crisis, particularly in terms of tangible breakthroughs and future-facing resilience building. My team and I have built the capacity and capability to bring together the regional R&I ecosystem of stakeholders, to maximise impact of strategic funding and support in this sphere. We want to transform the lives of all our residents regionally, and contribute to the UK’s national and international R&I achievements.’ An English translation has not been provided by WECA.

To date, Bath has seen little if any benefit from WECA’s ‘mission-led and challenge-focussed innovation’. There’s a sound case for electing a mayoral candidate whose pledge is to campaign for the abolition of WECA.

Directly-elected Police & Crime Commissioners, introduced by Theresa May’s Home Office, replaced police authorities comprising elected local councillors and nominated magistrates. These authorities, it was argued feebly, had problems in the perceived lack of accountability department.

So what of policing in Bristol and Bath during Ms Mountstevens’ watch? A Bristol mob is given by the police a free pass to pull down a statue because to have prevented an act of criminal damage would, says the Chief Constable, have ‘risked a violent confrontation’. Arresting people about to commit a crime can sometimes pose a risk of violence, but perhaps that’s not in the training these days. Bath, a so-called ‘city’, is still without a 24/7 police station. It has instead a police desk – 10am-4pm on weekdays, closed at weekends – in the council’s Manvers Street One Stop Shop. More accountability, whatever that means, then, but no cop shop.  

Well done, Claudia …

Claudia Winkleman, the Daily Telegraph reports helpfully, is to replace Graham Norton as presenter of Radio 2’s Saturday morning show, propelling her up the BBC rich list.

Ms Winkleman was paid a mere £365,000-369,999 last year for her two-hour Sunday night show on Radio 2, plus fees for  television appearances – although the figure excludes her salary for Strictly Come Dancing, which is hidden as it is paid via the BBC’s commercial division.

The Saturday morning radio show will bring with it a substantial pay rise, as the slot is higher profile – it says here – and the programme runs for three hours.

Worth every licence fee penny!

Those e-scooters in Bath ...

A concerned Bath Telegraph reader has seen evidence suggesting that the e-scooter ‘trial’ in Bath is not being supervised as robustly as was promised by the authorities that have approved it.

She asks: ‘Who do I complain to about this trial? 5 girls on 4 e-scooters dangerously wavering across the road almost went into the side of my car! The one scooter had two girks on it. No mirrors, no sense of Road rules or care for other vehicles on the road. These things are dangerous and ludicrous.’

Our advice is to send complaints to:

The West of England Combined Authority
Bath & NE Somerset Council …
with copies to the Leader of Bath & NE Somerset Council and your ward councillor (s).

Bully for Priti … or No Minister?

There have been not one but two long-shelved Civil Service reports with which Home Secretary Priti Patel – well, she was Home Secretary as I write – will be familiar. The first – accusing Ms Patel of treating senior civil servants in an ungentlemanly fashion – has been at the centre of the current feeding frenzy led by Labour and other opposition parties. The second one – a report commissioned in 2018 by Ms Patel’s predecessor, Sajid Javid and still gathering dust in a Home Office (HO) safe – is about grooming gangs largely but not exclusively in the north of England. One or two free-thinking Labour MPs have called for its publication, but in the main Labour and those other opposition parties have shown little if any interest in whipping up a clamour   

Mr Javid ordered the inquiry some years after the jailing in 2012 of nine men found guilty at Liverpool Crown Court of conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children under the age of 16 and trafficking for sexual exploitation. Promising that there would be ‘no no-go areas of inquiry’, he said that abusers convicted in high-profile cases had been ‘disproportionately from a Pakistani background’, adding: ‘I will not let cultural or political sensitivities get in the way of understanding the problem and doing something about it.’

The non-appearance of the inquiry’s report has been deplored by the families of victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, the town’s Labour MP, Sarah Champion, and Nazir Afzal OBE, a former chief prosecutor who initiated charges against a grooming gang. Mr Afzal said an ‘information vacuum’ had been exploited by the Far Right, and evidence was needed to develop effective prevention strategies. ‘Despite the fact that most child sexual abuse takes place in family settings, followed by online and institutional communities, the least understood is so-called grooming gangs’.

Their concerns were – and doubtless still are – shared by Ms Patel, who has met  survivors: ‘Victims,’ she said, ‘of these sickening child sex abuse groups have told me how they were let down by the state in the name of political correctness. What happened to these children remains one of the biggest stains on our country’s conscience. It is shameful. I am determined to deliver justice for victims and ensure something like this can never happen again.’

Sensing, however, that the HO was in no hurry to publish the ‘no no-go areas’ report, The Independent newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information request. It was refused. The HO’s judgement was that publishing the paper would not be in the ‘public interest’. The inquiry was ‘internal’ and would ‘inform an upcoming strategy on child sexual abuse’. Officials had applied a ‘public-interest test’, and had concluded that information in it could be ‘misleading if made public and used out of context’.

A petition – signed by no fewer than 131,625 people – calling for its publication was sent to the House of Commons Petitions Committee, which found the HO’s response – the customary waffle – unsatisfactory. It asked the HO provide an amended reply to the petition, since its original response had ‘not directly addressed the request’. The committee’s chairwoman said the HO ‘should clearly state whether the government will publish its research into the characteristics of group-based child sexual exploitation’. The committee had ‘received a significant volume of correspondence complaining about the government’s response’.

What followed was not quite the government U-turn requested. It could best be described as a semi-U-turn. Instead of the full ‘no no-go areas report’, a research paper on the ‘characteristics’ of grooming gangs would be published ‘later this year’ … We’re now in 2020. An external reference group of experts would be established to review the research prior to its publication. There is as yet no sign of a publication date in what’s left of 2020.  

Most of us haven’t a clue as to how Whitehall conducts its business, but it’s not difficult, is it?, to imagine how the conversation – probably many of them – in Ms Patel’s office might have gone. The Home Secretary says: ‘Here’s the report; let’s publish it.’ The civil servants say: ‘Well, no minister. That’s not a frightfully good idea. Let us explain to you the many terribly, awfully complicated reasons why. ’ Hence a delay while the semi-U-turn compromise was being negotiated and, perhaps, the origins of accusations of bullying against a leading pro-Brexit minister endeavouring simply to fulfill her predecessor’s far from rash promise and to meet a legitimate public interest.

Who cheers for a country called Europe?

 Bath’s MP, Mrs Wera Hobhouse, is entitled to hold fast to her anti-Brexit position, just as those who in 1975 voted in favour of Britain’s exit from the embryonic European Union – then known as the European Economic Community – have over the decades since held to theirs … and watched the step-by-step creation – sometimes overt, sometimes covert – of a dystopian racket, or semi-country, called Europe.

The Liberal Democrat tunes are familiar, and are played again in Mrs Hobhouse’s ‘Annual report – 2020’. They are as remote from reality as ever.

Here’s the bit on the EU:  ‘Our Future In Europe: Brexit has happened, and the fight for a People’s Vote was lost at the election last year. Wera was elected twice on an unashamedly Pro-European platform, and her views have not changed. “My passionate belief is that the UK is better off as a proud member inside the EU than an irrelevant outsider. European Union membership is a possibility that can become reality whenever the British people choose to elect a majority of MPs ready to pursue that goal …However, the chances of that happening after the next general election are slim. As pro-Europeans, we need to play the long game and must prepare our hearts for the possibility that it may take a decade or more. I will continue to hold the government to account for this disastrous nationalistic project, and speak up for Bath which is a bastion of liberalism and internationalism. I am a European, and I will never deviate from singing my pro-European values from the rooftops.”

Let us, as they say, un-pack some of this euro-obfuscation.

Yes, Britain – at long last – has left the Brussels Empire, but the ‘fight for a People’s Vote’ was lost at the 2019 general election because the People, it was noticed, had that vote in 2016. Despite the efforts of the Bollocks to Brexit parties to have that vote – substantial in England – binned, the party committed to implementing the result was rewarded with a massive Commons majority. It’s something like democracy; not perfect, but the best brand available.

‘… a proud member inside the EU…’  Britain has never been a ‘proud’ member of the EU. It’s been entangled in a doomed-from-the-start contract that in 1972 voters were told was simply about shifting cars, kettles and cattle around the continent.   

A ‘disastrous nationalistic project’? No, a defence of the nation-state, the EU’s attack on which has enriched a self-perpetuating and irremovable remote political and bureaucratic class, resulted in the creation of extreme Right-wing movements across the continent and, as a consequence of the half-baked single currency project, trashed democracy in member states governed not by their elected leaders but by the European Central Bank.

‘Bath … a bastion of liberalism and internationalism. I am a European, and I will never deviate from singing my pro-European values from the rooftops.’ A great many of those who voted Leave are, as I am, European and internationalist, too. It’s just that they do not see a problem with being European, liberal and internationalist and out of the Brussels Empire.

‘Pro-European values …’ Would these be the values as revealed by the EU’s former Commission president,Jean-Claude Juncker? ‘Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?’ Not good enough? How about this?: ‘There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.’

‘European Union membership is a possibility that can become reality … However, as pro-Europeans we … must prepare our hearts for the possibility that it may take a decade or more …’ Yes, it well might take many decades, decades during we which we might see the Brussels Empire meeting the fate of all empires – and many unions.

David Kernek

Wokey wokey!

BBC Radio, The Guardian reports, is to air a censored version of the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York that removes the words ‘faggot’ and ‘slut’ from Kirsty MacColl’s verse. Radio 2 will continue to broadcast the original version, while 6 Music will allow its DJs to choose the version they wish to play.

The BBC explained, or not: ‘We know the song is considered a Christmas classic and we will continue to play it this year, with our radio stations choosing the version of the song most relevant for their audience.’

Fake Democracy: Vote, vote, vote … but, asks David Kernek, for what?

First published in the Salisbury Review (September 2020) – the magazine with ‘absolutely the wrong opinion on everything’.

Countries run by people who feel the need to have the word ‘democratic’ in the name of their state are by rule of thumb not democratic; if it’s on the tin, it isn’t. The German Democratic Republic – popularly known as the unpopular East Germany from 1949 to 1990 – was among the first to lie about its reality, while notorious extant examples are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; other totalitarian brands are available.

Our Western world, too, plays fast and loose with democracy. After almost six months of negotiations, the Irish Republic was lumbered with a three-party coalition government that intentionally excluded the party – Sinn Féin – which won by far the largest share of the popular vote in its February general election. So much for fair and transparent proportional representation voting systems; Ireland’s has lumbered the country with a government comprising the two most successful loser parties and the Greens. The European Union’s scandalously expensive parliament – with an annual running cost of €2 billion (£1.82 billion) – is a democratic racket for a country that doesn’t, not quite yet, exist with a multi-national electorate that knows very little about it and cares less.

In the not-as-united-as-it-once-was United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, England and Wales, Call Me Dave’s Con-Lib Dem coalition took an axe to genuine democracy in local government with the creation of state-funded post-holders and entities: directly-elected Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs), and eight elected mayors, like what that London has, to run city-region combined authorities, the coalition’s perfunctory and bureaucratic answer to the case for an English devolution settlement. No compelling arguments were made for these costly changes, no public demand for them was perceptible, and the lively interest of voters in these elections has been strikingly conspicuous by its absence.

For Call Me Dave, Sir Nick Cleggy Off The Telly, George Osborne, Theresa May and their friends, these so-called reforms ticked all of the GroupThink boxes: modern; accountable; local; transparent; and democratic. Yet they are less local and no more accountable than the institutions they replace. They’re ventures in Fake Democracy that are barely more than job creation programmes for party placepersons, suits looking for greasy poles up which to climb, and waffle merchants known variously as Communications Consultants – to string platitudes together for the mayor’s banal blog – Audience Reach Solutions Facilitators, and Regional Integration Strategy Analysts. It’s not at all surprising that few if any protest petitions were raised or tears shed when, thanks to the Covid-19 emergency, the spring elections for Police & Crime Commissioners – there are 41 – and the combined authority mayors had to be postponed and re-scheduled for 2021. Very few voters know that these posts exist and, even if many more of them did, there’s insufficient information on which judgements about an incumbent’s track record or a contender’s promises can be made by those bothered enough to exercise their precious right to vote.

The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) is not so much transparent as at best opaque and at worst invisible. By no stretch of the imagination is it the West of England, which when I last checked included Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset. The area covered by this quango is Bristol, South Gloucestershire (the posh name for Bristol’s dull northern suburbs, and Bath & NE Somerset. So it’s really Greater Bristol, the principal constituent parts of which – Bristol and Bath – have nothing resembling a shared sense of history and community. It’s a line drawn on a map by a manager – or a handsomely-reimbursed management consulted – who’s noticed that they’re quite close miles-wise  and connected by roads and a railway line.

Its board comprises the leaders of the three pre-existing local councils, which have relinquished to the authority responsibility for transport, housing, adult education and skills, for which WECA has a £1 billion, 30-year budget. The board is led by its elected mayor – currently a Conservative previously unknown outside South Gloucestershire – whose annual “allowance” or salary as a professional politician is currently an agreeable £65,000. He was elected on a deeply-uninspiring turn-out of 29.7%.

The deputy mayor – also coincidentally a Conservative unknown outside South Gloucestershire – pockets an allowance, but of a mere £13,000. This authority’s board must be high calibre, because it has not one but two elected mayors, the other being the directly-elected mayor of Bristol, whose salary is currently £70,605 but will rise next year to £79,468 if the post-holder is confident that he or she can explain that away in a city in which the average wage is £30,000. WECA’s chief executive is on £150,000 a year, which compares with the £160,000 paid to Bristol City Council’s chief executive and the £143,462 salary of the prime minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Next in line at the magic money tree are the directly-elected Police & Crime Commissioners, sinecures signed off by Theresa May during her Home Office years. Championed by the Tories and the Lib Dems, directly-elected PCCs replaced police authorities that comprised elected local councillors – they normally came with political party labels – and nominated independents, including three magistrates, representing local communities. These authorities, it was argued weakly, had problems in the perceived lack of accountability department.

The 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 requires PCCs to appoint Chief Constables and when necessary fire them. They must also … Waffle Warning …:

  • Secure an efficient and effective police force
  • Set police and crime objectives for their area through a police and crime plan
  • Set the force budget
  • Contribute to national and international policing capabilities set out by the Home Secretary
  • Bring together community safety and criminal justice partners, to make sure local priorities are joined up

Candidates for these posts responded in kind as if in a competition to see who could cobble together the most vacuous of mission statements. Here are some examples:

  • ‘Reducing the impact of anti-social behaviour.’
  • ‘Tackling domestic and sexual abuse.’
  • ‘Preventing and reducing burglary.’
  • ‘Improving road safety.’
  • ‘Putting victims first.’
  • ‘Connecting the police with local people so that you can see how the service is working for you on your priorities and in your community.’
  • ‘Ensuring greater transparency in policing so that you can see how we are performing, how your money is being spent and what is being delivered as a result.’
  • ‘Providing local leadership in bringing agencies together to tackle the issues that are of greatest concern to your community.’

What, no free apple pie?

Avon and Somerset’s PCC is Sue Mountstevens, an independent who at her first run in 2012 was elected on a derisory turn-out of 19.58%, and re-elected in 2016, when voter interest had skyrocketed to, er, 26%. Never mind; however meagre the mandates, the uplifting salary is fixed: £85,000. Ms Mountstevens is not up for a third term, but we can be sure that the self-evident lack of voter interest in this post will not deter the cream of the crops – retired police and army officers, magistrates, ex-MPs and local councillors – answering the call to serve.

Her watch cannot be said to have gone as she might have wanted. Bath no longer has a police station, and in Bristol a mob is given by the police a free pass to pull down a statue because to have prevented an act of criminal damage would, says the Chief Constable, have “risked a violent confrontation”. Yes, arresting people about to commit a crime can sometimes pose a risk of violence, or perhaps that’s not in the training these days.

But she has been far from alone is disappointing the hopes that so few had for this innovative leap forward in policing. There have been squabbles across England and Wales between PCCs and chief constables, and raised eyebrows about their staff appointments and expenses, the cost of the elections and embarrassingly low voter turn-outs; some have slid below 15%. Mrs May rated the policy a mixed success – which bit actually worked? – and even the Lib Dems, the ‘Bollocks to Brexit … and Democracy’ party rarely in a hurry to abandon make-believe politics, have binned support for publicly-salaried posts that few voters want and elections in which even fewer can be sufficiently enthused take part. 

And, as in Bristol and Bath, there is as yet no evidence that policing across England and Wales has in any way improved, or that the calibre and efficacy of local government in so-called city-regions with combined authorities and directly-elected mayors – additional, unnecessary and costly tiers of bureaucracyis a fraction of a smidgeon higher than they were before the wretched hapless Blair and Cameron projects. Why take part in elections that undermine democracy?

In BBC-land, staff have been told – in a note about gender and work – that ‘fishermen’ is no longer acceptable. It’s ‘fisherpeople’.

So much, then, for the English of the King James Bible:
‘And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’