Joan Edwards was a frugal woman who had lived in the same house since 1931 and refused to install central heating or modernise her kitchen. This former nurse never discussed politics, but a bizarre bequest in her will has caused an enormous stink in Whitehall.
For mysterious reasons, Miss Edwards left £520,000 to whoever was running the country at the time of her death. Naturally, our impoverished coalition parties, with memberships plummeting and finances in a parlous state, fell on this unexpected gift like parched travellers on an oasis in the Sahara.
Traditional political parties are an anachronism, organisations which are dying a slow but predictable death as we increasingly realise that they have little to offer and few real points of difference. Just as voters are disenchanted, so Miss Edwards realised that handing her cash to them was a complete waste of time. She (perhaps naively) wanted her money to do something concrete, not pay for fresh-faced interns to scurry around looking self-important handing out leaflets no one will read and issuing idiotic updates on Twitter about David Cameron's favourite bands. As the gift was to be made after her death, she wouldn't benefit from the customary gong received by large donors, or even an invitation to supper with Dave and Sam Cam in their kitchen, which she might have found a bit flash compared with her simple semi.
Now, the Lib Dems and Tories have handed her cash over to the Treasury, which has (predictably) said it cannot be ringfenced for anything Miss Edwards might have cared about, such as her local hospital. I expect Danny Alexander, the humourless apparatchik in charge of government funds, would have found a pet project in the Highlands that just needed half a million if Miss Edwards had hailed from north of the border.
Wills are a minefield, I have rewritten mine many times, and I can't locate the latest version, which features men I don't speak to any more and relatives who have died. I do have sympathy for the Lib Dems and Tories, though: political funding in this country is so corrupt, something drastic is needed to reinvigorate the current moribund system. Cameron senses it's a vote-loser and puts it on the back burner. But why not impose a levy of £200 on a will (unless you opt out), which would go towards funding all political parties in the future. Then something new might grow, ending the horrible culture of rich men buying political favours. I'll happily sign up to donate – after I'm dead.
Pay-offs for all
MPs are getting in a lather about the amount of money the BBC has shelled out in redundancy payments to unwanted executives and have summoned Lord Hall to appear before select committees to explain himself. Hall has been further criticised for choosing KPMG to conduct a review into the level of payments made to senior managers such as the former DG George Entwistle, even though the decision was approved by the Secretary of State. KPMG has earned large fees advising the BBC, so would hardly seem to be impartial.
When it comes to disproportionate pay-offs, Whitehall sets a standard that is no better than the BBC's. In the past year, the Ministry of Justice paid out £88.7m in redundancy payments, the Department for Work and Pensions £66.5m and HMRC £15.9m. One official at the Department for Energy and Climate Change left with £470,000 and another in the Crown Prosecution Service was awarded £623,000. Although the rules were changed to limit pay-offs in 2010, plenty of civil servants departed with sums that aren't that different from those at the BBC. And as an election looms, consultants are being hired for hundreds of millions to push through government projects. MPs who complain about the BBC should turn their attention closer to home.
Rob Hallett, in charge of touring at AEG, the company that owns the lease on the O2 and promoted this summer's concerts in Hyde Park, reckons he sold tickets for the Stones' show there this summer too cheap. Top price was £300 and the gig was a sellout, but Rob told Music Week he should have charged more, because tickets immediately went on sale at a higher price online as fans and touts cashed in. AEG is currently promoting Leonard Cohen and Rod Stewart, who are hardly in the same league as Mick and the boys. Can this be the same Rob Hallett who was tour manager for Sigue Sigue Sputnik in the late Eighties?
Yes it can, but I expect Martin Degville and the boys' tour of East Sussex village halls to minuscule audiences has been airbrushed out of Rob's CV now he handles the big league. It's my generation, the baby boomers, who pay ludicrous prices to enjoy the now geriatric bands they grew up with. But they'll soon realise that there are cheaper ways of pretending you're still a raver.
Back off, Google
Is there no escape from the prying eyes of Google? Not content with parking its vans outside our homes without our permission, documenting our front gardens and bins, the company is now extending its Streetview technology to include footpaths. I can't describe how depressed this makes me.
Walking ticks so many boxes: it takes nothing from the planet and allows us time to reflect and be alone, away from the very intrusive world of overcommunication that Google represents. Now, volunteers are heaving on rucksack-mounted cameras and mapping out pedestrian routes around the world. Last week, 100 miles of canal towpath were recorded, for people to upload and enjoy at home without having to strap on a boot or work up a sweat. Ugh! A generation of couch potatoes will sit at home and cyber-walk without ever knowing the real thing, the feeling of wind on your face or soft rain in your hair.
I am proud to be a real walker. Google Trekker sucks.
The Government still lacks a joined-up policy when it comes to dealing with binge drinking. It failed to impose minimum pricing per unit but now wants the EU to reduce the minimum 8.5 per cent alcohol by volume for wine to 4.5 per cent. The health minister says that promoting low-alcohol wine is in our "best long-term interests".
We are grown up enough to choose wine that is 12 rather than 14 per cent alcohol if we want, and anyway, two million bottles more of weaker-strength wine were sold last year than the year before. What middle-class drinkers don't need is a meddling minister presuming that when we stand in front of a shelf of wines in Tesco or Morrisons, the huge choice makes our brain turns to mush and we need subtle nudges to get us to drink less potent stuff. Why not target Special Brew or canned cocktails instead?