Express & Star

Mark Andrews – Asylum applications, Paul O'Grady, and rivers of blancmange

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the government of 'shameful levels of incompetence' as the backlog of asylum cases waiting to be heard reached 160,000.

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Yvette Cooper – half right

Call me a cynic, but I'm not sure incompetence is the word. In fact, I suspect the very last thing the Government wants is for claims to be processed quickly and efficiently.

Supposing the Home Office employed thousands of new immigration officials, meaning claims were dealt with in weeks rather than years. Do you think that would increase or decrease the number of people chancing their luck in small boats?

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Where Miss Cooper is right is that part of the solution to the small boats crisis has to be providing safe and legal routes for genuine refugees.

It can't be beyond the wit of man to set up offices in southern Europe, closer to the countries where refugees are likely to arrive from, where anyone seeking asylum in the UK can make their claim without going near the English Channel. The flip side of that would be that anyone entering by an unauthorised route would automatically have their claim rejected. There would be no legitimate reason for anyone to pass the official processing centres and head for Calais.

At least I say it can't be beyond the wit of man. But you can bet the lawyers, who make a fortune out of this logjam, would find a way of throwing a spanner in the works.

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As an entertainer, Paul O'Grady was not my cup of tea. I found his Lily Savage act crude and mildly disturbing, and I hated Blind Date when it was presented by Cilla Black, let alone his tired, re-heated version. And any celebrity-based chat show is my idea of televisual torture.

Yet I once unwittingly caught his programme about the Battersea Dogs' Home, and found it truly heart-warming. His genuine affection for the animals was delightful, and his lack of ego meant the dogs, rather than the presenter, took centre stage. And when the cameras stopped rolling, he continued volunteering at the centre for another six months.

He might not have made me laugh, but he seemed a thoroughly good egg.

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Dairy giant Muller has donated £100,000 to Shropshire Wildlife Trust £100,000 after accidentally releasing ammonia into the River Tern near Market Drayton.

It's good to see a corporate giant taking its responsibility seriously, and refreshing to see a problem like this being resolved in a way that will benefit the environment, rather than being bogged down in the courts. But why does it make me think of the episode of Reginald Perrin, where Reggie turned the river red, by filling it with blanmange?