Shakespeare might have been foretelling the events of this past week with these lines from Hamlet: ‘When troubles come they come not single spies but in battalions’.
We have had a Budget the like of which we’ve never seen in living memory. We’ve had drama at Buckingham Palace that’s being compared to the abdication crisis of 1936. We’ve had a political shootout in Edinburgh that may yet determine the fate of the Union.
And we’ve had an idiot sitting on a dead horse. I could go on, but guess what has aroused the most fury in so many news programmes this week. The idiot obviously.
His name is Gordon Elliott and he is a very rich racing trainer. He was photographed on the horse — which had had a heart attack — seemingly grinning at the camera with a phone to his ear
The other story of the week was the Government announcing that Britain is cutting in half the amount of aid we give to Yemen. This is a country ravaged by a civil war in which we are involved. We sell arms to Saudi Arabia which leads the coalition fighting the rebels and former president
His name is Gordon Elliott and he is a very rich racing trainer. He was photographed on the horse — which had had a heart attack — seemingly grinning at the camera with a phone to his ear.
He has been torn to shreds. Banned from training. Vilified in breathless, sometimes tearful, interviews across the airwaves. A monster. Savaged even by those paragons of virtue, the betting industry, for betraying their ‘brand values’. Their love and respect for horses, as we must all surely recognise, knows no bounds. Elliott’s ‘disrespect’ for the horse was simply unforgivable.
Disrespect? What a strange word to use in this context. We might well ruminate on how many horses have died at steeplechases over the years, but that’s for a different debate.
I raise this so-called story in the context of such a momentous week to highlight what it says about our sense of proportion. More than that. Our sense of what is morally right.
That’s because the other story of the week was the Government announcing that Britain is cutting in half the amount of aid we give to Yemen. This is a country ravaged by a civil war in which we are involved. We sell arms to Saudi Arabia which leads the coalition fighting the rebels and former president.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are both using Yemen as a battleground for their wider struggle for supremacy in the region (Pictured, Ahmed – 9-year-old Ahmed teaches classes in the city of Taiz. – Yemen)
The civil war has been turned into a bigger power game with outside forces taking different sides. Saudi Arabia and Iran are both using Yemen as a battleground for their wider struggle for supremacy in the region.
The new American president, Joe Biden, has withdrawn U.S. support for the Saudis. When government ministers here are asked why we don’t do the same, they use the morally bankrupt argument: if we didn’t do it somebody else would. The former Tory cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell says it makes us complicit in a humanitarian catastrophe — and he’s right.
But let’s put aside for a moment the question of selling arms to a country with all the moral standing of a backstreet drug dealer (albeit one who gives our royal brides dazzling earrings) and consider this government’s policy on aid to overseas countries.
For eight years under a Tory government, Britain had been one of a handful of countries meeting the UN’s target of contributing 0.7 per cent of national income to overseas aid. When David Cameron was prime minister he enshrined it in law. When Boris Johnson took over he said he would stick with it. Last November he changed his mind.
The target had always been controversial. Its critics saw it as a hugely wasteful piece of virtue signalling. Too many projects, they said, were signed off at the end of the financial year purely to meet an arbitrary target.
Every project, they said, should be considered on its merit and many had no merit. Too often the aid has been creamed off by corrupt governments or wasted on vanity projects or white elephants, such as airports on islands where planes seldom flew.
And too much has gone to expensive ‘consultancies’ in this country who charge vast sums in management fees. Horror stories abound of money being handed out to pointless projects or pocketed by glib ‘advisers’.
All of that is true. But it’s also true that much of the aid has been a lifeline to dirt-poor countries and it is not something that can be switched on and off at whim.
There’s also a powerful argument that aid handouts are good for Britain too because they enhance our so-called ‘soft power’. That’s especially important in the post-Brexit world. But Boris Johnson seems to think differently. Last year he effectively abolished the Department for International Development, responsible for aid, and took away the seat at the Cabinet table. From now on, aid would be represented in Cabinet solely by the Foreign Secretary.
As David Cameron told a parliamentary committee on Monday, that had been a mistake. He said: ‘Can you reasonably expect the Foreign Secretary to be able to do all the diplomatic stuff and be able to speak to the development brief as well?’
On the same day, the Government announced that Britain was cutting its aid to Yemen for the next year by almost half. Instead of the £164 million promised, we would be giving only £87 million.
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called it a death sentence for the nation. There are already two million children acutely malnourished.
He described the situation there as the worst ‘man-made’ humanitarian crisis facing the world today. That phrase ‘man-made’ is crucial. The starving population and the dying children are what dispassionate military types tend to call ‘collateral damage’.
Others — especially those who saw Orla Guerin’s despatch from the region on the BBC this week — might call it a shameful betrayal of wholly innocent human beings. She filmed inside a bombed-out Yemeni school where children sat in the rubble being taught by a nine-year-old blind boy.
But still, at least it wasn’t a rich man sitting on a dead horse, eh?
My new know-it-all mate can’t mend a mower
A few months ago I bought a new lawnmower, used it once before winter and when I tried to cut the grass this week it wouldn’t start. My own fault as it happened, but it taught me to be a little warier on the web. And it also meant I’ve made a new friend.
His name is Andy. We haven’t actually met but he’s introduced me to his beautiful wife Sarah, who is pregnant with their second child, and their two-year-old daughter, giggling for the camera as she patted her mummy’s bare baby bump. A charming video, you will agree. All posted on Andy’s website.
Oh yes… Andy has set up a company. In an oh-so-chummy way, his video confided in me (and a few million others) that Sarah had so many questions when she first became pregnant he’d decided what the world needed was a website that answers everyone’s questions about pretty much everything. It’s called JustAnswer and it’s where the search engine on my computer led me.
I had typed in ‘Bosch mower problems’ and it took me to the Bosch website. At least that’s what it appeared to be.
A bit odd, I thought, that it wanted my card details and a £5 fee (for starters), but the grass wasn’t going to cut itself so I paid up. And anyway Andy had promised me a ‘great answer’ in only a few seconds.
Or, as he put it, ‘You’ve done your job… now we’ll do ours’.
Six hours later one of the experts, Tom, texted me to tell me I should check that I’d switched the power on.
As it happened I had (I’m not that technically incompetent) but by then I had tracked down Bosch’s real website. Which is what I should have done at the start. Lesson learned.
But thanks anyway Andy … and give my love to Sarah and the kids.