Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Chinks in Labour's virtue

The pundits have fallen over backwards to predict the reult of the next gerneal election from last week's local results. It's not straightforward. Not so many people vote in a local election as in a general, many vote differently, and the local election didn't cover the whole of the UK. Leading pundit Professor Sir John Curtice says the best guide - and it's only a guide - is the numeber of seats WON. These were Labour 2 6675, Conservative 2 296. So Labour is ahead, though not by much. However (and this is me, not Curtice), if you then add the Liberal Democrat seats won, 1 628 and the Greens, 481, we get a very different picture. Together we can trounce the Tories. I am an enthusiast for such a “progressive alliance” and welcome the small steps Liberal Democrats, Labour and Greens are taking at the moment (unofficial and tentative agreements not to fight too hard in those constituencies where one of the others looks to have the better chance of ousting the Tory) to elect a parliament that more properly reflects the more liberal (small “l” ) tolerant and humane views of the majority of British voters. Consequently, I am not in the game of entering a turf-war of insults with the Labour Party, (or the Greens). However, sadly there is no shortage of Labour stalwarts anxious to squash talk of “co-operation” by hurling insults about the wicked things Liberal Democrats supported when in the 2010-15 Coalition, and are unconvinced by, or indifferent to, the argument that without our ameliorating influence the Tories would have been even worse (which they have been since 2015) However, to furnish responses to bat away any such accusation when the need arises, here are a dozen reasons why I am a Liberal rather than Labour supporter. 1.Labour is not a Liberal party. Liberalism at its best means the maximum amount of individual freedom compatible with the freedom of others. That is our principle objective. Labour is too willing to sacrifice our freedoms when it seems electorally convenient (eg support for ID cards, the anti-migrant mug under Miliband.) 2. Labour is a “top down” authoritarian, centralising party, convinced of the rightness of its own policies and prepared to impose them from above. This is true in local as well as central government. By contrast Liberals try to build from below, trusting people and helping us to find our own solutions. 3. Following from that, Labour appears to prefer conflict to compromise. For example, in response to their Trade Union financers, they have always resisted Liberal policies of employee representation on company boards and, where appropriate, profit sharing. 4. Nowhere is the authoritarian streak more evident than in Education. When I trained as a teacher we were taught to be proud of the fact that (in contrast to the French) it was teachers and governors who decided what was taught. It was was Labour’s Jim Callaghan who introduced the “national debate on education” which led to the National Curriculum and eventually dictatorial restrictions, not only on what should be taught, but how, and the bullying ethos of OFSTED 5. Labour stalwarts attribute the present threadbare state of our public services to the “savage cuts” in public spending introduced by George Osborne in the 2010-15 Coalition. Quite right too. Despite the anguished protests of my blog ( and like-minded Liberals faithful to the insights of Keynes and Beveridge, the Liberal Democrat leadership, to their shame, went along with them. But, the Labour leadership also went along with this misguided group-think. Here are extracts from the seven bullet points on Page 0.6 of their Manifesto for the 2010 elections, all promising “Tough choices on. . . . .£15bn efficiency savings. . . £11bn for further operational efficiencies . . . . cutting government overheads. . . public sector pay . . . £5bn already identified in cuts . . .£1.5bn of savings on welfare reform. . . £20bn on asset sales.” We should listen sympathetically to any suggestion that these would not have been as severe as Osborne’s cuts. Maybe - who knows? But they would still have been wrong. A strong dose of “pot and kettle” needs to enter this debate. 6. The public and media seem to accept that today’s students leave university “burdened with debt” and attribute this to the Coalition. But that is not the whole story. First it was the Labour Government under Tony Blair who introduced tuition fees for higher education (having first promised they wouldn’t). These started at £1 000 a year, payable up-front, in 1998, and were increased by the Labour government to £3000 per year (having said they wouldn’t) in 2006. True, the Coalition raised the figure to £9000 but, and it’s a big “but,” abolished the “up-front” payment in 2012 and substituted a loan scheme, repayable only when the ex- student’s salary reached a respectable level, and cancelled if it had not been fully repaid after 30 years. Effectively it makes graduates liable to an additional tax (hypothecated to the financing of higher education?) if they earn good money, normally as a result of the qualifications they have received at public expense. The unacceptable part of the scheme is that the rate of interest on the “loan” has been absurdly high when the actual rate of interest in the economy has, for most of the past decade, been negligible. Now labour themseles are looking to change the system rather than, as they promised, abolishing the fees. More pot and kettle. 7. Labour sees itself as the only source of good ideas. Twice in the above mentioned Coalition, they had the opportunity to enact significant constitutional reform, but failed to do so: a) Electoral Reform: The Liberal Democrats forced the Tories to agree to a referendum. The option of the Alternative Vote was offered. It was not the Liberal Democrats’ preferred method but was chosen because it was the one proposed in the Labour Party manifesto. The Party Leader, Ed Miliband, suported it but the party diehards (Blunket, Straw et al) opposed it and the party as a whole failed to campaign for it. The referendum was lost. b) House of Lords Reform: The Tories agreed to a allow the Liberals to put forward a Bill for this. The Labour party appeared to agree with it - but refused to vote for the parliamentary time to debate it. Had it been debated and passed we should have been spared the nonsense of Johnson and Truss attempting to nominate their acolytes as lifetime legislators. 8. The Labour Party vehemently opposed our joining the EU at its creation, and were at best lukewarm about our membership. In the Brexit referendum they failed to campaign with any enthusiasm for “Remain” and so share responsibility for our present woes. 9. Although Gordon Brown is to be applauded for “saving the world” (or at least the banks) by successfully organising international co-operation to support the wold financial systems after the crash of 2008/9, his policy of financing public works through Private Financial Initiatives (PFIs) in order to disguise increases in public debt have left many hospitals and other public facilities with over-expensive and unnecessary financial burdens. 10. Labour’s policies towards social security for the less affluent were not as cruel as the Tories’, but hardly generous. They fell into the trap of the strivers/skivers debate, and wanted to be seen as “tough” on the latter. 11. With the noble exception of Huddersfield-born Harold Wilson, who kept us out of the Vietnam War, Labour leaders have been eager to coat-tail the military ventures of the US, most disastrously in Iraq and Afghanistan. 12. The Labour Party is now an anachronism. Maybe in the late 19th and early 20th Century, when a huge proportion of the population worked in factories and, if they could vote, saw their choices as limited to their bosses or the landowners, it was necessary to create a party to represent “the workers.” Since it was created, and still primarily financed, by the trade unions to represent their interests in parliament, that is its function. But those days are over. Fewer people work in factories (though many still do in inhumane conditions such as Amazon warehouse), the majority of the workforce are “white collar,” and, as the present misnamed “industrial “ unrest illustrates – dissatisfaction has spread to highly skilled professions such as doctors nurses, teachers, lecturers and civil servants. There may be still a need for a party to specialise in the defence of the living standards and conditions of employed people in whatever roles, along with those of the weaker members of society. But politics is wider than that. Such a party should not attempt to monopolise power to itself or it becomes part of the reactionary forces it was created to oppose. The progressive parties with different priorities must work together. We need to concentrate on what we have in common- a fairer society, concern for the less advantaged both at home and abroad, the maintenance of peace domestically and internationally, and the opportunity of “the poorest he (and she) as well as the richest to live a full and fulfilling life. In the local electns there were 4 405 votes for parties who, together represent this vision, just short of twice as many who voted for the status quo. Co-operation is a no-brainer.

Monday, 8 May 2023

More Coronation musings

More Coronation musings In spite of the Guardian’s intensified sniping over the past month I think the Coronation can be rated as a success. Here are a few plaudits and criticisms which I offer “ with my humble duty” for consideration at the next one, should the powers that be choose to take any notice. Plaudits: 1. The use of seventeenth century “Prayer Book language.” There were plenty of Thees and Thous and Thines about. Use of a more nuanced form of the language when addressing the Almighty* than that when ordering a pint and an packet of pork scratchings down at the pub adds dignity and solemnity to the occasion.2. The music was magnificent and elevating. 3. For me the first “lump in the throat” moment was the wonderful Bryn Terfel singing the Kyries – in Welsh, a stroke of imaginative genius. 4. There was great emphasis on service: the first words the King was required to say after he was greeted by a child, through to the Archbishop’s sermon, and before a congregation a third of which was made up of people chosen for their voluntary service. 5. The vulnerability of the great and good, as illustrated by the sight of the King stripped of his robes and dressed only in a flimsy shimmy for his anointing. 6. A greater emphasis on equality. As far as I could see there were no blocks (which I remember from the 1953 ceremony) of Peers rigged in ermine and ready to put on the coronets after the crowning, and the “Vivats” in Parry’s “I was glad” were sung by the choirs rather than the boys of Eton College (ditto 1953). 7. The sermon was short and to the point, (probably no more than five minutes) an example which could be followed with advantage by the clergy in the multitude of less prestigious sevices 8. It was good to see an acknowledgement of other faiths. Criticisms. 1.But not enough. A prayer or blessing from representatives of a limited number of other faiths would have been appropriate. 2. And a humanist. 3.There was too much flaunting of Christianity. The Service didn’t need to begin with the declaration “Alleluia ,Christ is risen,” and the response “He is risen indeed.” Although we are still technically in the Easter season, it’s now a few weeks back, so there’s no need to remind “other faiths” that in orthodox Christian theology they are substandard (even if they have any validly at all.) It was unnecessary for Rishi Sunak, who is a Hindu, to recite “This is the word of the Lord” after reading from the Bible, since for him it presumably isn’t.** Better still, he could have read from the Hindu scriptures.3. There were too many references to Jesus. Again it is possible to talk about virtuous living and rule without emphasising theological claims in which the majority of the country no longer believe. 3. The retention of the oath to defend Protestantism is offensive. and now redundant. It may once have had a purpose to emphasise our independence from the Pope (the Brexit-type obsession of its day) and defence against the great Roman Catholica powers of France and Spain. They are our allies now; fellow travellers. 4. The Archbishop of Canterbury played too prominent a role. For example the little speeches made when presenting the historic regalia to the King could have been made by the people chosen to have the honour of bringing them. 5. In the parades before and after it would be nice to see less emphasis no the military. I suppose that goes back to the days when the monarch was active head of the armed forces and needed to show the recalcitrant both at home and abroad that s/he was in charge. Another concept that is redundant. • This is true whether you think of the almighty as an old man in the sky who makes magical interventions ; spirit, without body parts or passions, (the 39 articles); the light within (Quakers); or the ground of our being (John Robinson). ** I have always preferred the concluding sentence “Here endeth the lesson” – something to think about - rather than the present arrogant assertion, which has a threatening “take it or leave it” implication

Saturday, 6 May 2023

Coronation consolation

Way back in the 1950s (or maybe 60s) I heard or read some pundit claim that if we went on like this - (industries such as our famous car marques Rover, Healey, Riley etc., our Blue Streak Rocket, our machine tool industries and all the rest of the things for which we had been “world leaders”) going into liquidation, being taken over by foreigners or simply abandoned as our pound plummeted in value, - we should all end up dressed as a peasants in smocks guiding tourists round our quaint villages and towns. In other words a theme park. This moringa’s Coronation ceremony showed how right he or she was. In its re-creation of medieval+ mores it was quaint, inappropriate, irrelevant, offensive to large sections of our current populations - and brilliantly executed. By God we’re good at that sort of thing, and I expect the rest of the World enjoyed it (and along with us natives, spent a little extra money and boosted our flagging=economy somewhat.) But there is a positive lesson to be learnt from this. Pageantry is a form of art, as are music, literature, theatre, film-making, soap-operas, situation comedies, dancing, painting sculpture. And as a nation we are good at these things. So where is the sense in shrinking the arts faculties out of our universities, squeezing music out of schools, cutting down the BBC's world class orchestras and choir, threatening the continued existence of English National Opera and constricting our young into a strait-jacket of STEM subjects?. Our government needs to play to these strengths rather than make futile attempts to retrieve past glories (though with sense we could succeed in many "cutting edge" activities - not least the development of wave power. We have lots of sea borders so lots of waves to exploit if only we had the sense.) I hope our next government will encouage us to become more than either a Ruritania of Singapore on Thames.

Thursday, 27 April 2023

Refugees, Rwanda and Malaria

I have some practical experience of trying not to get malaria and supervising rules to help prevent others catching it. Malaria is endemic in the coastal (ie hot) areas of Papua New Guinea so when I went to teach in Port Moresby in the early 1970s I was warned to start taking the then standard prophylactic, chloroquine, a couple of weeks before l left the UK, and to continue to take two tablets weekly as long as I was there. This I did religiously. The local people didn’t need to take prophylactics because they had built up immunity during childhood. After just short of four years at Port Moresby High School I moved to a Sixth Form College in the Highlands. There it was too cold for the malaria-carrying mosquitos to survive but I was advised to “keep on taking the tablets” if I was likely to travel back to the coast for any reason. This I did. After two years I moved to an Anglican Mission School at Popondetta, close to the north coast and the weekly dose of chloroquine became obligatory again. The School a “living memorial to the Anglican Martyrs who remained in PNG during the Japanese invasion, took Anglican boys from all areas of PNG. Those who cam from lowland areas had the usual immunity, but boys from the Highland areas needed to take chloroquine tablets. In a symbiosis of religious practice and medical science the Highland boys were required, immediately after receiving communion at the Sunday Morning Eucharist, to queue up outside the school clinic, to receive their chloroquine tablets. Some Highland boys were from areas which didn’t like to accept treatment from women so would furtively throw away the tablets dispensed by our female school nurse. So there were odd cases of malaria in the school which had to be treated at the local aid post. On these occasions I would issue stern head-masterly warnings. Although I kept up with my own weekly “two tablets” regime” strictly, somehow or other malaria managed to get into my blood. It was a pretty mild form but it needed about three doses of treatment by my GP on my return to the UK before it was eradicated. When I want to work in Malawi in the late 1980s I was based in Blantyre. Although this city is at a fairly high elevation (just over a thousand metres,) and so not sweatily hot, malaria prophylactics were still advised, along with sleeping under mosquito nets. Once again I followed the advice, and remained malaria free until almost the end of my two-year VSO stint. With only a few seeks to go I took the holiday leave to which I was entitled and visited Kenya, primarily to take part in a Quaker World Conference, but I also spent a few days camping in one of the famous game reserves.. On my return to Blantyre I was stricken by violent agues while at work. Fortunately a colleague recognised the symptoms and I was rushed to a well-equipped hospital with which VSO had a contract. It was run by the Seventh Dav Adventist (SDA) Church. There I was placed on a quinine drip, went completely deaf, but recovered after a few days along with most of my hearing.) I was lucky. Although I had kept up my chloroquine treatment I suspect that I had caught the malaria in Kenya, where there was known to be a chloroquine-resistant strain of mosquito which was working its way gradually south. Malaria is endemic in Rwanda, where the government plans to deport refugees and asylum seekers who come to the UK by illegal routes.. Rwanda is on roughly the same latitude as Kenya so I speculate that the malaria there is from the same chloroquine-resistant strain. A more scientific explanation is given in this letter to the Guardian which appeared a few days age: Rwandan residents will have built up resistance from malaria, so will any refugees or asylum seekers who have grown up in areas where malaria is endemic. Those from malaria-free areas, without access to posh hospitals run by such as the SDA in Blantyre, are probably being condemned to serious illness or even death.

Friday, 21 April 2023

What a healthy economy looks like.

A note from the blog author. Dear Reader, Many thanks for clicking on my blog, and I hope you gain something useful from it, despite the poor presentation. When I write a post, I use all the conventional techniques for “setting out”: paragraphs, spaces between them, where appropriate bullet points, numbered lists, heavy type or italics for emphasis. However, when I click the “publish” icon all this disappears and the post appears as one continuous paragraph. For example, this “note” is written in italics and separated from the subject of the post by a two-space gap. However it will appear in normal type with no separation. Why this happens I don’t know: it didn’t until a few months ago. If anyone knows what I need to do to restore normality I’d be grateful if they’d tell me in a comment. THE IRISH ECONOMY (WITH THE UK IN BRACKETS) The following information was published by RTE (the Republic of Ireland’s national broadcaster) on the 18th April. You can see the original article here: • Budget surplus €10bn (UK , a deficit of £152bn, which is 6.1% of GDP)* • Growth 2.1% (UK 0.4%) • Inflation 4.4% (UK 10.1%) • Debt/GDP ratio 44% (UK 99.2%)** It should be noted that the Irish economy suffered from the 2008/9 banking crash in much the same way as did the UK and the rest of the world. It has also, obviously, experienced the pandemic, rising energy costs resulting for the war in the Ukraine, other international factors causing world-wide inflation, and all the other excuses parroted by UK government spokespersons to excuse the parlous state of the UK economy after they've run (should that be "ruined"?) it for 13 years What’s more Ireland is governed by one of those allegedly unstable coalitions which result from a proportional system of voting - indeed, it's the best as advocated by theLiberal Democras:propportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member conituencies. * The gereally acceptable maximum for a budget deficit is 3% of GDP. So the UK is currently double that. ** The generally accptable level of accumulated governmt debt to GDP is 60%. Ireland, at 44%, is well within the range. The UK is almost double it.

Monday, 17 April 2023

Defender of Faiths?

Rumour has it that the printing of the “Order of Service” sheets for the Coronation is delayed because of a dispute between King Charles and the church authorities as to whether he should swear the traditional oath, to be “Defender of the Faith” or, as he apparently prefers, ”Defender of Faiths.” If that is the case I’m on Charles’s side in this. The title “Defender of the Faith” was granted by Pope Leo X to Henry VIII in 1521. Although it was probably never intended to be hereditary it is still applied to current monarchs, and it is still found in its Latin abbreviation Fid. Def. or F.D. on our coinage (I had to check and it is). Henry VIII received the title became he had written a “pamphlet” defending the Roman Catholic interpretation of Christianity against the teaching of the “heretic” Martin Luther and what later became known as Protestantism. However, when England decided to adopt our own interpretation of Christianity as expressed by the Church of England, the monarchy, as its titular "Supreme Governor," presumably decided that the continued use of the title would bolster its legitimacy in that role. Charles is to be crowned king of a (small “l”) liberal democracy. There’s an element of inconsistency in that sentence, but that’s a subject for another debate. What is relevant to this issue is that a liberal democracy guarantees several freedoms: of speech, of assembly and . . . freedom of religion. We all have the freedom do, think and express whatever we like, provided we do not interfere with the freedom of others. In these multicultural and multireligious (and no religion) days it is no longer appropriate for the monarch to swear to defend only the C of E interpretation of Christianity, or even Christianity itself. Swearing to defend all faiths, or not to have a faith, subject to the restriction of not interfering with the liberty of others to do the same, is the appropriate position for the titular head of a liberal democracy

Monday, 10 April 2023

GFA: we got by with a lot of help from our friends

Good Friday Agreement A major theme of the Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum was that the UK should "reclaim" its independence and become a Sovereign Power once more. Freed from the alleged shackles to the EU and behoven to no foreigners we should be able to rove around the world asserting our influence and increasing our prosperity. The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland, which we celebrate today, is a stark reminder that, not only were we then or are we now, a super-duper independent-acting world power, and, for that matter, neither is anyone else. In fact, we weren’t even capable, on our own, of sorting what was and is by world standards, a titchy little problem. The population Northern Ireland is barely 2 million (1 903 100 at the 2021 census if you want to be exact): a mere 3% or so of our population. That some of them were then and still are unhappy with their lot is, like Brexit, a self-inflicted wound. Or more precisely, also like Brexit, a Tory inflicted wound, because not once but three times the Tories torpedoed the attempts of Liberal governments to grant Home Rule to the whole island of Ireland. Indeed, the third time the patriotic "Land of Hope and Glory" Tories actually called upon the army to mutiny if the proposal were implemented. In the end the country was partitioned, a “fudge” unacceptable to “patriots” on both sides of the border. After years of violence, a sort of peace was restored with the Good Friday Agreement, not by the UK government acting alone with Irish government, but with discussions chaired by the United States Senator George Mitchell, and with the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, in close touch on the telephone. I strongly suspect that the welcome rush to massage Prime Minister Johnson’s botched Northern Ireland Protocol into the slightly more acceptable Windsor Framework was motivated by anxiety to curry the favour of US President Biden and ensure his blessing on the anniversary with the visit with which we are to be honoured tomorrow. The purpose of this post is not to air resentment of the involvement of the US or to belittle the difficulty on the situation. It is to point out that most issues these days, be they boundary disputes, drugs, trade, safety standards, human rights, energy, pollution, education, health, sustainability, tourism or whatever, involve international co-operation. The Brexiteers' promise of a nation independent of the ties that bind us to others is a false prospectus. Just as “no man is an island,” neither is a country, even if it is physically surrounded by water.