It’s not posh to hand over your dosh

Many years ago, I was polishing off a bottle of wine when I had a startling phone call. It was a student from my former place of higher education, and he wanted my money. Would I make a donation to the old college? he asked. Wasn't my time there absolutely maaahvellous? And, because there was something slightly supercilious in his voice, I almost told him to go to blazes, and then I thought, hold on: he's right. I was transported back to my four-year stint of indolence, fuelled by taxpayer-funded champagne. Call me sentimental, but I was seized by the desire to ensure that others could enjoy the benefits of this unique method of instruction, and before I could stop myself I had coughed up my bank details. For almost 10 years, I have preened myself on this single modest benefaction. Higher education continues to be woefully underfunded; my college continues to beg; and yet I always tell myself that I have done my bit. Not a bean, not a brass farthing, have I added to my original donation. I say this partly in a spirit of self-flagellation, and partly because I hope to embarrass others who may be in my position; because it has lately been borne in upon me that we Brits - especially by comparison with the Americans - are so miserly, niggardly, scrooge-like and generally mean that we ought to be ashamed. I don't just mean in the field of higher education, where Americans give, or give back, to their places of nurture on a scale that we find unthinkable. Our relative stinginess is evident also in the arts, about whose funding I am now in almost constant meditation, and in every other area of charitable giving. Read the full article as published in the Telegraph

Community Hospitals Threatened With Closure

PRESS RELEASE: Conservatives across south Oxfordshire have united in the fight to save community hospitals threatened with closure. Currently, there are six community hospitals - Abingdon, Didcot, Townlands, Wallingford, Wantage and Witney. If proposals made by the Primary Care Trusts are implemented then these will be cut to just three. MPs David Cameron, (Witney) and Boris Johnson, (Henley) and Conservative Parliamentary Spokesmen Ed Vaizey, (Wantage) and Amanda McLean, (Oxford West & Abingdon) say that this will have a devastating impact on healthcare in Oxfordshire, particularly for the most vulnerable, including the elderly and those suffering from mental health problems. They say it is wrong and sad that six Oxfordshire towns should have been set against each other, under the Primary Care Trust review, each engaged in a beggar-my-neighbour strategy to keep its hospital. Boris Johnson commented: "Conservatives oppose these changes, which have come about despite all the money the government says it is putting into the NHS." David Cameron, whose West Oxfordshire constituency also includes a community hospital in Chipping Norton, said: "There are currently problems in the NHS with bed blocking and long waits at A&E. Everyone agrees that we want treatment close to where patients live. As a result any proposals to downscale our community hospitals should be resisted." Amanda McLean added: "People have been queuing up to sign our petition against the closures. Residents feel very let down by these proposals." And Ed Vaizey pledged: "We will fight tooth and nail to keep our local community services alive". The group say that none of the hospitals should be closed. Instead, the facilities offered at some of the hospitals should be enhanced, ensuring an improved service to patients in south Oxfordshire. ENDS

We don’t need Butler to discredit Blair

To his legions of admirers, Lord Butler of Brockwell is known as a man of boundless optimism. If there is a blizzard outside the chalet, Lord Butler's place is on the piste. If there is ice on the swimming pool, the Butler head is the first to broach it, notwithstanding the first-class brain within. Facing a nation made deeply mistrustful by the relentless no-show of the weapons of mass destruction, Lord Butler could not help himself. Like a man driving a carload of squabbling children to a distant beach, he was determined to look on the bright side. Look here, he said: how do you know these WMD are not going to turn up? Someone had sent his committee a fascinating picture of an Iraqi fighter plane buried in the sand, apparently in an effort to hide it. Well, said Lord Butler, in a remark that would get him an A in Key Stage 2 geography, "There is a lot of sand in Iraq." One can imagine the excitement his words will provoke in those of a romantic and enterprising disposition. Even now, epicene undergraduates will be vying for sponsorship for their expeditions of WMD discovery, and who knows what long-lost objects they may turn up in the sands of Mesopotamia. They may find the plane of Amelia Earhart, or the racehorse Shergar, or perhaps Lord Lucan will spring from the dunes where he has been shacked up with an abominable snow-woman. But it is frankly hard to believe, more than a year after the end of the war, that they will find a significant quantity of weapons of mass destruction. Not even Blair seems any longer to believe in their existence. He told a Commons committee the other day that he had given up hope of finding the objects that were essential to his casus belli. And yet this is the Blair who, in September 2002, has "absolutely no doubt that they existed and they were a threat to this country's interests". As he told the Commons, the threat of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is not American or British propaganda. "The history and present threat are real." Read the full article as published in the Telegraph

Policies to help current and future pensioners

PRESS RELEASE: South Oxfordshire Conservatives call for five-point plan to tackle growing pensions crisis Boris Johnson MP this week endorsed new proposals by Conservatives to provide a fairer deal for current and future pensioners across South Oxfordshire . At the same time, Boris Johnson warned that if urgent action was not taken, living standards of pensioners would plummet, companies around South Oxfordshire could go bankrupt, and council taxes could soar further to pay for local government pension schemes now in deficit. Boris Johnson explained, "I am growing increasingly concerned about the pending crisis in pensions. Workers across South Oxfordshire are being shut out of final salary pension schemes and fewer people are saving for retirement. Current pensioners are finding it more difficult to get by, with council taxes soaring by far more than their yearly increase in their state pension." Under the five-point plan, outlining practical policies to address the pensions crisis: - The basic state pensions would rise each year by earnings, rather than price inflation. - Means-testing, bureaucratic and humiliating to many pensioners, would be reduced. - The obligation for pensioners to buy an annuity would be abolished. - Company pensions would receive greater support by Government taking on more risk. - A new, flexible 'Lifetime Savings Account' would be created to encourage people to save. Boris Johnson added, "It is not just the elderly who will suffer from the looming crisis. Latest valuations suggest not a single local government pension scheme in the country now has a surplus. As a result, councils could increasingly be forced to increase council taxes to fund their pensions black hole - in turn, higher local taxes will make the plight of pensioners even worse. "But I hope Conservative policies show a clear commitment to promoting dignity and security for Britain's present and future pensioners." ENDS

Where’s Pericles when you want him?

You see, if you were an ancient Athenian politician and you went bald, things were so much easier. You didn't have to worry that the electorate would harp on about it, as they do when confronted by a bald Tory leader, no matter how brilliant. Take the case of Pericles. The Athenian leader was a bit of a slaphead with a dolichocephalic skull; but instead of going around enduring the jeers of the ancient tabloid media, he had a very cool solution. He just wore a hoplite helmet, morning noon and night. I know this because I have just bought, from the British Museum's magnificent shop, the last plaster cast of the 2nd-century Roman copy of the 5th-century BC bust of Pericles by Kresilas. It weighs 23.5kg and is totally fab, if you ignore a few blue crayon marks, which enabled me to knock a few quid off. I stood before it in the shop and reflected that I was only three removes away from the position of the sculptor who stood before one of the greatest statesmen who ever lived. Cor! I thought to myself as we bubblewrapped it. Pericles, eh! And then it occurred to me that I ought to go and look at the sculpture proper, the one that is only two removes away. So I wandered into the Duveen galleries and pondered again the mysteries of the panathenaic frieze. Are the 192 riders symbolic of the 192 survivors of the Battle of Marathon, that archetypical triumph of Western civilisation over barbarism? Just what are those maidens about to do with that towel? And as I left, my feet aching, my brain glutted, I remembered the object of my mission. Normally he was there on the left as you go in, on a kind of proprietorial plinth. I turned to the attendant. Where was the marble bust of Pericles, son of Xanthippus? I'm sorry, sir, said that kindly man. He's in room 15 and room 15 is shut. Shut? I said. That's right, he said, shut because of staff shortages. In fact, he said, there were more rooms shut these days than there were nine years ago when he joined. Read the full article as published in the Telegraph

Normal service is resumed on the playing fields of England

Ah the sweet and eternal fixtures of the English summer. Ascot. The Henley regatta. The cataclysmic inundations of late June. And where would we be without Wimbledon? For some of us the joy is not just in the competition, but in the metronomic regularity of its key events. First there is the article in the Sunday press by John McEnroe. Here, in return for we know not what financial consideration, the former champ opines with reassuring predictability that this year "Tiger" Tim Henman has what it takes to win for the home country. Every year we read McEnroe's sage analysis, and we feel the same surging hope; and every year the last sheeplike bleat of "Come on Tim!" dies on Henman Hill, as our national star is duly thrashed out of sight by some teenage beanpole Croat, invariably in the semis or quarter-final of the tournament. In its formality, its ritual, the Henman exit is like the chiming of Big Ben or the Changing of the Guard, and whatever they say about Britain today, we can still run a ceremony like clockwork. Goodbye Tim, and see you next year! Read the full article as published in the Telegraph