Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Labour happily see Ipswich lie derelict

This is a post I wrote back in September about the derelict site on Grafton Way which was once earmarked for a £90M investment comprising a hypermarket, hotel and piazza facing the Waterfront. That is it was until Labour got back into power in 2011 when they made it perfectly clear to Tesco they didn’t want their money or jobs. Today, the funeral took place when Tesco decided enough was enough and pulled their final planning permission for a much scaled down development on the site.
RIP Ipswich economic development. No flowers.

Gavin Maclure's Musings

During the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Ipswich Borough Council controlled days Tesco approached the Council with a very large cheque book and requested permission to build a new superstore, a hotel, a piazza, apartments and smaller retail units on the former B&Q site on Grafton Way. Tesco also offered – if they achieved planning permission for the Grafton Way site – to pay for new traffic flow improvements where the flawed double roundabout currently exists outside the Novotel hotel. Total investment would be £90 Million from Tesco. Total jobs would be 900. And that’s not counting the construction jobs which local firms would have enjoyed during the build stage.

The Conservative-led council weighed up the pros and cons of such a development (cons very difficult to envisage) and duly gave Tesco planning permission and looked forward to the massive investment and jobs Ipswich was soon to enjoy. Labour had vigorously opposed the…

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Conservative Party membership halves under David Cameron

Slump: Tory membership has halved since David Cameron became leader

Slump: Tory membership has halved since David Cameron became leader

Tory Activists’ website ConservativeHome has been waging a campaign over the summer for Conservative HQ to release their membership figures after it was rumoured they had dipped below 100,000.

After several weeks, Conservative Chairmen Grant Shapps and Lord Feldman capitulated and released figures showing membership stands at 134,000.

This is half the number of members who voted in the Cameron-Davis leadership contest for the Tory Party back in 2005 when membership stood at 253,600. Where has everyone gone?

A fair few will have died such are the perils of keeping up membership numbers in local Conservative Associations up and down the country but the vast majority have just decided not to renew their membership. There has been no scientific analysis of why over a hundred thousand members have deserted the Tory grassroots but the upsurge in membership in UKIP and the collapse of the Conservative vote in the English County Elections in May provides some clue.

Natural Tories, me included, have never been a fan of the Coalition Government. But for every three Conservative Party members, two voted for David Cameron in the 2005 leadership contest, so we can deduce from the massive drop in total membership that many supporters of the Conservative leader eight years ago have now left the party (and not all for the next life!). For the record, I am still a member of the Conservative Party although somewhat disaffected as regular readers will have gathered.

It is not surprising membership has fallen off a cliff. Many of the base gave Mr Cameron the benefit of the doubt whilst he was Opposition leader as he tried to “detoxify” the Conservative Party by embracing hoodies and hugging huskies. But things started to unravel during the 2010 General Election when instead of talking tough on welfare and uncontrolled immigration as ways of tackling the economic mess Labour were leaving the country, windfarms and the Big Society were on the Conservative leader’s lips. It was no wonder we lost the General Election. But to jump into bed with a man who will say anything for power, Nick Clegg, was the ultimate kick in the teeth to Conservatives up and down this land. The membership knew when Cameron formed the Coalition many real Tory policies were buried and predictably metropolitan elite policies on gay marriage and wind farms became prevalent. And to add salt to the wounds the Prime Minister’s Eton chums went round trashing local associations and calling them “swivel-eyed loons”.

The upshot is David Cameron has made it even more difficult for the Conservative Party to ever win a General Election. With a membership below 140,000 the troops on the ground required to win the party a majority in Westminster just don’t exist. It didn’t have to be like this. Yes, David Cameron did not win a majority but he could have formed a minority Government and gone to the country again in the Autumn and by changing the message to one which reflected Britain in 2010 rather than in 2005, a different result could have been achieved. Now the worse of both worlds exist: the Conservative electorate worries if the Tory Party stands for their values anymore and even if they do, Mr Cameron hasn’t got the ground troops to go and tell them.

Tragic.


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Disgraceful behaviour from UK politicians lets Assad off the hook

Syrian children lay dead after being gassed in Damascus

Syrian children lay dead after being gassed in Damascus

MPs cheered last night when the Government was defeated in the House of Commons. What have we become when the cockpit of our nation brays from the green benches as children are gassed and burned in Syria by a brutal dictator who has no respect for international norms or decency? As Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said yesterday in the House, Hitler had not even used chemical weapons in the second world. The implication is Assad is worse than Hitler and Great Britain says it’s got nothing to do with us.

I am depressed and angry by the behaviour of the 285 MPs who voted against what was a watered down motion approving military action to stop the agonising deaths of children in Syria’s cities, which explicitly said would not take place immediately leaving the UN inspectors to complete their work and for the UN security council to debate the grave situation again.

The long dark shadow of Iraq has made our parliamentarians impotent. In one fell swoop, they have diminished our standing in the world, they have damaged the special relationship with the United States – a partnership which adds great value to upholding international law and has saved the globe from great evil three times in the last century. Chemical weapons have been banned by the Geneva Convention for nearly ninety years. Even Saddam Hussein used them only once. Assad has used them 14 times in the last year. Whilst the glorified social workers which now seem to make up the majority of the UK parliament acted like armchair Generals, Assad seemed so convinced the West would do nothing he yesterday dropped an incendiary bomb with what seemed to contain napalm on a school playground burning children, men and women to death. But the so called “will of the people” in Britain decided that’s quite ok.

Parliamentary democracy is the least worst system there is as Winston Churchill once said but it is not a panacea. If politicians never led and just followed, we’d have public hanging brought back to entertain the masses. David Cameron made a literally fatal political calculation – haunted by Iraq – by taking his call for action against Assad into a mess of a parliament full of feuding factions in all parties with a Coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at its helm. A sixth-form politics student could see how this would end up. And the irony is the Prime Minister didn’t legally need to seek a vote in the House of Commons. He has the power under Royal Prerogative to initiate military action to protect Britain’s interests, let alone to stop the slaughter of infants in their beds. But he chose to blink and humiliated Britain on the world stage as a result.

As former Liberal Democrat leader and soldier Lord Ashdown said this morning: “What is the point of having armed forces?” During the twentieth century, Britain stood tall, punched way above its weight against tyranny and the defence of freedom. After tonight’s vote, I feel we have become a different country, one that reflects our geographical size rather than the great influence we once had on the world stage. We can no longer use our extensive military force within the international system to protect crimes against humanity. Instead of looking out to the world which I keenly advocate (one of the reasons why we should pull out of the EU, which has shown itself to be completely toothless on Syria) we have become an isolationist. This has a serious geopolitical impact. We have become as bad as Russia and China have behaved during the last two years of the Syria civil war.

One politician from last night who deserves our greatest wrath is not David Cameron but Labour leader Ed Miliband. He chose to score political points at the expense of children being wracked by nerve agents in their homes. Miliband is a political opportunist of the worst kind and I hope to God this pygmy never becomes Prime Minister.

The current Prime Minister is not much better when it comes to making the right political choices. He has spent the last eight years as leader of the Tory Party distancing himself from his backbenchers and grass root activists, which has implicitly given approval to his former Eton chums to abuse ordinary Conservative Party members. Is it therefore any wonder he can’t rely on his Party’s support when the going gets tough? His backbenchers don’t trust him, never mind follow his lead. The whips are so frightened of the Tory rebels they obviously had no idea the Government was about to be defeated. It’s a dog’s breakfast which isn’t going to get any better as we head towards the 2015 General Election and the disintegration of the Coalition shortly beforehand.

I don’t feel the need to call for David Cameron’s resignation as some readers might expect as there is no alternative. The Prime Minister’s resignation would lead to a General Election and the likely result would be a Labour-Liberal Democrat Coalition. Then we really would be finished.


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The Conservative Party isn’t nasty but (some of) the leadership are

Cameron glum

This story won’t go away so I keep being prompted to chuck my two-penneth worth in.

A year ago, The Sunday Times conducted a “sting” operation against the then treasurer of the Conservative Party, Peter Cruddas. A self-made billionaire part cockney, part geordie, he doesn’t fit the mould of the quintessential Tory treasurer. Well, perhaps a constituency party treasurer but not THE Tory treasurer. Peter Cruddas’ talents were unleashed by Margaret Thatcher who then took every opportunity afforded to him by her Government to become very rich indeed and subsequently an employer of over 500 people. I say good luck to him. At least he made his money, rather than inherit it or worse take home millions of pounds as a CEO who has never taken a personal risk in his life.

But the flip-side is he isn’t one of Dave’s mates. He didn’t have a trust fund from birth, he didn’t go to Eton, he didn’t play tennis at Brasenose. In short, he isn’t one of the Cameroons. There are plenty of Tories (no where near as rich, of course) like Mr Cruddas up and down the country, just not in the Notting Hill elite Cameroon club.

Former Tory Treasurer Peter Cruddas

Former Tory Treasurer Peter Cruddas

In 2012, Sunday Times journalists Jonathan Calvert and Heidi Blake set up a meeting with Mr Cruddas pretending to be agents for foreign investors and took along with them a hired lobbyist and former Conservative Party worker called Sarah Southern, who was unaware of the sting. The meeting was secretly recorded with each reporter wearing a hidden camera. In three subsequent articles they alleged Mr Cruddas put a cash donation price, in breach of UK electoral law, on the opportunity to influence government policy and gain unfair advantage through secret meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers.

The journalists had lied. The full transcript of the secret recording showed Mr Cruddas had repeatedly said all donations had to be “compliant” with the law. Peter Cruddas sued the paper and last week won his libel case at the High Court and was awarded damages of £180,000. The Sunday Times must also pay £500,000 in costs.

When the story broke last year before Peter Cruddas had a chance to put his side of the story, Tory HQ in London were already briefing journalists he had resigned. Whilst Conservative ministers went on national news to distance themselves from Mr Cruddas, the Conservative Party Board jettisoned him as treasurer without a second’s thought.

Things had been so different. David Cameron had carefully cultivated a relationship with this major donor during the preceding years when Mr Cruddas gave hundreds of thousands of pounds personally to the Party and helped raise millions more.

After being vindicated, there has been complete silence from the Party. No apology from David Cameron or Party Chairman Grant Shapps who has managed to side-step media prompts for an apology no fewer than seven times over recent days.

Unfortunately, this level of contempt for anyone not seen to be at the same level as the Cameroon elite is par for the course. If donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Party effort doesn’t win you respect what chance have the grassroot activists got who muster up their support by delivering thousands of leaflets and attending the odd fundraising event. None. In fact, the grassroots are not only ignored but besmirched by the Party hierarchy as was seen when Co-Chairman Andrew Feldman called his own ordinary members mad swivel-eyed loons.

The tipped next Tory leader Theresa May back in 2002 told the Conservative members they were known as the “nasty party”. As if that comment hasn’t done enough damage to the prospects of the Conservative Party ever winning a parliamentary election again, the leadership is intent on being as “nasty” as possible to all it’s supporters.

Perhaps Mr Crosby could have a word?


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Does Ipswich do Change?

Bishops Hill Traffic Lights_Travel Ipswich

I’ve lived in Ipswich for 12 years now and there are many things I enjoy about the town: it’s low crime rate, it’s real ale pubs, the community feel which is unusual in the South, and the surrounding beautiful countryside.

But Ipswich (or more to the point indigenous Ipswich people) really finds it difficult to embrace progress and change.

A recent case in point is the new transport scheme being rolled out across the town. All you hear is moan, moan, moan. The Government has whacked £21 Million into a provincial and quite remote town, which most Whitehall mandarins have never heard of never mind be able to place on a map, and local people almost tell the Government to stuff it.

The town is very old, arguably the oldest recorded town in England, and has a road layout to match. The dock was the central part of the town up until the middle of the last century because trade was focused around water: now rail and road are our main means of trade communications.

Ipswich was one of the last places with a port in the country not to have it regenerated. If you look at Liverpool, Bristol, and of course, East London, the people there embraced change decades ago. Ipswich only got round to privatizing the port in the late 1990s!

But the town is being gradually brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century and sorting out the archaic road network is a key aspect of that Conservative County Hall-led change. Ipswich must adapt to survive. Ipswich Fit for the 21st Century Project, now known as Travel Ipswich, is the scheme for the improvements we are seeing at the Civic Drive junction, the renewal of two bus stations and excellent proposals to get rid of what has to be the most bizarre roundabout system in the country on Norwich Road. There have been teething problems – there always are in projects of this size – but once all the works are complete, the benefits to residents, visitors and businesses alike will be enormous.

The £21 Million will also pay for traffic lights at the top of Bishop’s Hill, which sees traffic backed all the way up Nacton Road and beyond. There is quite clearly a problem here – caused by the vast increase in cars on the roads in Ipswich during the last ten years and the opening of the new University on the Waterfront – and it needs to be fixed. There is no point sticking your head in the ground hoping the problem will go away.

I was speaking with a senior Tory activist on Saturday and he made the point that roundabouts and other uncontrolled junctions only work when there are few cars otherwise you can never get out of the junction. He is entirely right, hence the technology called traffic lights was invented. And in the 21st century, traffic lights have got even better at their job with another technology called UTMC (Urban Traffic Management Control). UTMC synchronises any number of traffic lights so if there are, say, three sets of traffic lights over a half a mile stretch, they will all turn green at the same time, thereby reducing the stop and start action of traffic which creates jams. Again, the £21 Million from central Government is paying for UTMC to be introduced into Ipswich: most provincial towns do not have such advanced traffic management systems in place. We should be rejoicing, not moaning. The reason for the teething problems on Civic Drive is because UTMC hasn’t been switched on yet but it will be and queuing in this area will vastly reduce.

Suffolk Transport chief Cllr Graham Newman

Suffolk Transport chief Cllr Graham Newman

New transport chief Cllr Graham Newman and his team at Suffolk County Council are proposing traffic lights at the top of Bishop’s Hill. The engineers at County Hall didn’t just wake up one morning and said, hey, let’s put some new traffic lights in East Ipswich for the fun of it. They have seen the problem of queuing traffic and using computer models which simulate traffic patterns,  motorist behaviours and the introduction of UTMC they have seen results that will reduce the queue lengths.

So there is a problem: long queues into town from Felixstowe Road down the hill to the Waterfront. What shall we do about it? Moan about it and then moan about it some more when it gets worse (which it will as young people buy cars and older drivers live longer)? Or shall we implement a proposed and evidence-based solution to fix it? Errr, let me think…

The moaning and reluctance to engage change is not just an irritant: it is the reason why Ipswich takes so long to develop and progress. But it doesn’t have to be this way: think outwards and embrace solutions not problems and, you know what, the people of Ipswich are the ones who will reap the rewards. Isn’t that what we want?


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Disgraceful intransigence from police at Ipswich Station causes commuter chaos

man on ipswich station roof

Trespasser on roof of Ipswich station during Friday

UPDATE: Since publishing this post, I’ve been in touch with Ipswich’s MP, Ben Gummer, and Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey. Both were already on the case with Ben Gummer having already spoken to the BTP commander on the scene to voice his concerns and Therese Coffey having contacted the Transport Minister to alert the Government to this farcical episode whereby it takes the police SEVEN hours to bring down a half-naked man from a relatively low roof at a provincial railway station.

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A man climbed up on to the roof of Ipswich railway station this morning right in the middle of rush hour, wearing a pair of shorts and not much else. It is one of the hottest days of the year and he was exposed to the full elements.

The Health & Safety brigade immediately shut down the mainline from Norwich to London, forcing commuters to miss work, interviews and exams at a cost of potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Ipswich economy. Do our political leaders have any idea how much money London commuters bring into this town?

So how long does it take British Transport Police, Suffolk Police, fire brigade and paramedics to get this idiot off the station roof: SEVEN hours! Just in time for the start of rush hour again and the triggering of absolute chaos for hard-working people and the highest payers of tax and disposable income (i.e. that money which keeps the shops in Ipswich town centre open for everyone) this town has.

Only in England in the 21st century could this happen. I doubt the idiot on the roof would have lasted five minutes in some of our more “dynamic” European countries.


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UK state-sponsored death plan to be scrapped

nhs deaths

A story at the weekend which was eclipsed by Prof Sir Bob Keogh’s report (to be published later today) into 13,000 unnecessary deaths in 14 NHS Trusts was the Government’s decision to scrap the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), dubbed the death plan for its sole aim of killing off patients at the end of their lives to free up NHS hospital beds.

The LCP was promoted by doctors and nurses as a programme to give terminally ill patients a dignified death. It was nothing of the sort. NHS Trusts were incentivised with money to put people on the death plan and the more who were killed off through its use the more dosh the NHS Trust got their bloodied hands on.

The Department for Health ordered an inquiry into the LCP, it’s practices and the experiences of patients placed on the plan and their relatives. Liberal Democrat health minister, Norman Lamb (who I’ve always had a lot of time for, especially his work on the credit card industry), branded the LCP “a national disgrace”, which is an understatement considering the evidence collected from patients’ relatives.

People placed on the LCP were refused water to the extent some were seen desperately sucking at wet sponges. Nurses (yep, those “wonderful” nurses again) involved in the implementation of the death plan were described in the LCP review report as “uncaring, rushed and ignorant” and of using “brutal or callous language” with the word ‘futile’ scrawled in big letters in one patient’s notes who had been placed on the death plan. There were several reports of doctors and nurses passing the end of patients’ beds saying loudly “Oh, is X still with us?

Once patients were placed on the LCP, there was no course of appeal. That was it. The only exit was death. Some patients, desperate for water, were heavily sedated to shut them up. Where relatives could, they gave them the water they were crying out for only for nurses to scream at them from across the ward to not given them a drink because they were on the LCP. There were multiple accounts of this behaviour from nurses.

The Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) was basically a doctor’s order to starve a patient to death with even junior doctors in the middle of the night giving the order the patient should die. This is the UK in the 21st Century not Hitler’s Germany but it might as well be.

Thankfully, the LCP is being scrapped and to be replaced with a system (yet to be explained by ministers) whereby patients who are at end of their lives are treated as individuals with their own tailored care plan. I could have told them that before the LCP was implemented nationwide by the state health care system (which even those who can go private have to use). This is what socialism looks like in the raw: a killing machine.

Today Jeremy Hunt, the current Health Secretary, will address Parliament on the Keogh Report into the 13,000 needless deaths, which are on top of the LCP deaths where it was deemed “legal” to kill.

The NHS is not fit for purpose and in many cases doctors and nurses are acting like guards in Auschwitz rather than caring health professionals in the seventh richest country on Earth. We need words from the Health Secretary today explaining what he is going to do about this catastrophe in our hospitals but we also need visual action: nurses and doctors taken from hospitals in handcuffs might be a good start.


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New NHS killing fields uncovered

NHS logo

Let’s stop pussfooting around. Let’s wake up and smell and see the great big elephant in the room: the NHS is not fit for purpose.

The Francis Report found 1,200 patients were killed by doctors and nurses at the behest of top-down management targets set from Whitehall. This sentence sounds like something from Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Third Reich. But it happened in Staffordshire, England between 2005 and 2009 at Stafford Hospital.

And now we find Stafford was not a one-off.

Another 13,000 people needlessly died since 2005 at 14 NHS Trusts.

The NHS is not a place of care. It is a slaughter house.

After the Francis Report was published in February, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a report into “excess deaths” across the entire NHS. Report author Prof Sir Bruce Keogh investigated the 14 hospital trusts with the worst mortality rates over the past two years. The report will be published on Tuesday.

I asked in February how many more have to die before the NHS is broken up and a new form of healthcare, proven abroad, is introduced into one of the richest countries on Earth: the United Kingdom. Is 13,000 enough Jeremy Hunt?

This crime, and it is a crime which the police are investigating in Stafford (clink, clink doctor!), has been allowed to happen because of the perverse thinking of the British public, egged on by all political leaders, that the NHS is the envy of the world, the best healthcare system ever invented by man. Well, if the NHS is the best healthcare there is, I dread to think what the worst is.

The political party that gave birth to the NHS was Labour and frankly it was them who caused these deaths with their top-down target driven culture imposed on the NHS during the final five years of their reign from 2005 to 2010: from the Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham, you have blood on your hands) in Whitehall down through the former Strategic Health Authorities and Trusts into the wards and corridors, which at Stafford Hospital and Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals resembled killing fields rather than centres of care.

Only 51% of doctors and nurses at Basildon and Thurrock said they would be happy for their friends and relatives to be treated at the Essex hospital.

David Cameron can wipe the smirk off his Eton face. Nothing will have changed in our hospitals in the first three years of his Coalition Government, mainly because the first thing he did when he became Conservative Party leader in 2005 (as elderly women in hospital were drinking from vases because they were so thirsty) was fall prostrate and pay homage at the sacred altar of the NHS. “NHYes”: remember that.

Current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

We are promised a statement from the current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Let’s hope this time he does better than his boss, Mr Cameron, who when the Francis Report was published, went out of his way not to criticise the Labour ministers who presided over the slaughter between 2005 and 2009. The Health Secretary at the height of the killing in 2009 was one Mr Andy Burnham, who is now the Shadow Secretary State for Health, and has had the audacity to say the 14 NHS Trusts investigated in Sir Bruce’s report have been allowed to “deteriorate significantly” since the Coalition came to power in 2010. Hold on, what about the thousands of deaths on your watch in 2009 Mr Burnham? I suggest you get your own house in order and legal case before looking to deflect blame elsewhere.

Now is the time to point the finger at who is to blame for this catastrophe: the Labour Party, Patricia Hewitt (Health Secretary 2005-2007), Alan Johnson (Health Secretary 2007-2009), Andy Burnham (2009-2010), Sir David Nicholson (Chief Executive of NHS England and Head of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust during the slaughter at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009), the doctors and nurses at whose hands the patients needlessly died and all other politicians who say how “wonderful” the NHS is, including Prime Minister David Cameron.

The time even for debate about the NHS, which has never been able to take place, shut down by politicians of all sides in case our “wonderful” doctors and nurses are offended by pointing out they are killing patients, has now passed. The NHS is entirely unfit for purpose. We learn today that more soldiers have killed themselves back in the UK than have been killed in total by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The woeful lack of care for our veterans is summed up by reports it is taking a year and a half for a former soldier to see a psychiatrist in the NHS. That’s not a service, that’s an insult to the taxpayer and a system which is killing in our hospitals, on the bridges and the paracetamol poisonings up and down the land.

It’s time to bring the killer to book and for the NHS to be broken up with a Netherlands-style healthcare system put in its place.


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Notes from a Mediterranean Tour

Deep blue: Sardinia

My wife and I recently returned from a Mediterranean tour of sorts, having visited Ibiza in the Balearics, Rome and Sardinia.

I’ve written about Ibiza before and not much has changed. We love the island but not the young British tourists who frequent it with us; there are a few older British tourists who behave perfectly well but the vast majority are from the sub-class I talked about in my post last year. The Ibiza Government is very much aware the damage the British sub-class are doing to the island’s long-term prosperity, and the offence they cause local Ibizans, and have introduced a bylaw banning people (read “the British sub-class”) from walking around with their tops off, urinating in the street and offering sexual services (yep, that was in the advisory note provided to all tourists on arrival!). The Balearics Government know perfectly well the sub-class behaviour is putting off higher-earning tourists like my wife and I from visiting Ibiza and I am sad to say they will be right for a number of years until they start to enforce the bylaw, which is blatantly ignored.

That said Ibiza is a lovely island outside of the centre of San Antoni and we frequented our favourite restaurant Es Rebost several times where the owner recognised us from a year ago.

We then flew on to Rome. Wow, what a contrast. Sometimes, I wonder how certain countries ever managed to reach the EU bar for membership. Southern Italy is more like North Africa than Continental Europe: chaos and aggression (compared to us sedate Brits) reigns. But, without a doubt, it is a buzzing life-filled city and one of the world’s greatest. I was chatting with a Roman colleague of mine before we visited Rome and – although I had visited as a child, it is never the same experience as an adult – asked how it compared to London. “Oh, no it’s not international like London, it is Italian and Roman!”. Well, I’m not too sure. The entire city is packed to the brim with tourists to the extent it feels like they outnumber the indigenous population. The phenomenon in Rome, unlike in Paris, are the vast blocks of meandering tourist groups, now wired up to the latest technology with the guide chuntering into an earphones-style microphone followed by up to 50 rampaging tourists listening into the pearls of wisdom with earphone earpieces like a group of iPod wearing teenagers.  They get in the way everywhere! You get past one herd and another turns the corner making it feel like you are constantly entering Liverpool Street Station as an inter-city train has just arrived packed with commuters.

It’s disappointing because whilst Paris feels really French all of the time, Rome does not ooze Italian as you would like. It oozes a tourist theme park with some of the greatest architecture on Earth thrown into the background. Another aspect of Rome is the aggressive street hawkers – they will try and sell you anything from plastic balls to a budgie they have trained to sit on your shoulder! All the tourists guides mention pickpockets and – yes – like in any big city always look out for thieves but all Lonely Planet and others do is create constant paranoia and the feeling you need to keep looking over your shoulder. Removing half the street hawkers would remove a lot of the aggression and anxiety – oh and ban tourists group over ten people!

2-Pope Francis (1)

Pope Francis I touring St Peter’s Square, The Vatican, 19th June

We got to attend a Papal Audience – along with 90,000 other pilgrims – in St Peter’s Square, which was a great experience (despite the 40 degree heat!), as was the visit around the Vatican Museums. I had visited the Vatican twice before as a child and I have also been to Lourdes, the holy shrine, in France. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, wearing shorts was banned and the covering up of shoulders compulsory in respect of the holy sites we were visiting. Not so now*: a lot of people visiting the Holy See are doing so as if they are visiting Disneyland with many girls dressed as if they are going to the club, mobile phones going off and people holding full-scale conversations in the Sistine Chapel. We Christians really are a tolerant bunch. I can’t see the same being allowed at Mecca and somehow I expect enforcement of the rules in Saudi Arabia is tougher…

After Rome, we flew on to Sardinia. As I commented on Facebook at the time, the Italian way of doing things reared its head. We booked our flight tickets with Alitalia six months in advance, communication from the airline was poor but we got to the airport two hours before for a domestic flight where the stated check-in time is less than an hour. And then the Alitalia representative said: “Oh, you’re on standby only”. Despite nobody from the airline ever telling us, we were expected to telepathically know to check-in online and because we hadn’t the plane was now full because Alitalia massively overbooks. The Italians of course knew this but the foreign tourists including a nice French couple queuing with us didn’t. Once my wife had vented her anger to the check-in man, a manager suddenly found of way of by-passing the system and getting us onto the flight after all. Only in Italy.

Sardinia was exquisite. Tourists companies love to show pictures of crystal clear water and white sandy beaches and nine times out of ten the reality does not live up to the airbrushed photos. Well, with Sardinia no photography trickery is required: the sea is the deepest blue and the sand is the whitest and finest there is. Gorgeous.

Sardinia may only be a few hundred miles east of Ibiza but it feels a million miles away: Sardinia is where the Italians go on holiday. English is almost the second language in Rome but Sardinia is not the place to go and shout “Speak English! CAN I HAVE CHIPS WITH THAT!”. A lot of the locals don’t speak English at all and those that do have only a beginners grasp (so swot up on your Italian if you decide to visit). A great contrast to Ibiza where the traditional culture has had to be discarded to serve the sub-class their Stella and chips!

Sardinia is not just about beaches. The island is large (about the size of Wales) and has beautiful countryside to match the gorgeous beaches with near-Alpine forests, mountains, rolling vineyards, gorges and caves. One week did not do her justice – we’ll definitely be going back to Sardinia for a longer break here next time.

As a sidebar, the difference between EU countries was brought into stark focus whilst we were chatting to my Roman colleague on the Italian mainland. Working is not a choice but a necessity in Italy. The Italian Government will only assist you with handouts for six months if you become unemployed and then that’s it, nothing more. Compare that to the UK, where if you know how to play the system, you never have to do a day’s work in your life and can entirely rely on the taxpayer to keep you in house and home for decades! This was positively encouraged by the Labour Party under Blair and Brown and then when you couple this with their immigration policy between 1997-2010 is it no wonder not only London feels more international than British but the whole of the UK does too?

*Due to my wife being ill during our Rome trip, we ended up visiting St Peter’s Basilica, the only place where security do enforce the covering of shoulders rules, on a separate day, and as fate would have it this was the one day she forgot to bring her shawl – all was sorted out though. I can’t understand why the rule is not enforced in the sanctity of the Sistine Chapel and the place where Popes are elected though.


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Pope Francis I blesses the world

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His Holiness Pope Francis I has asked the crowds in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican to pray for him. The Pope was elected by the Cardinals on the fifth ballot in the Conclave.

Francis I prayed for his predecessor Benedict XVI and then blessed the crowd, 1.2 billion Catholics and the world.