Friday 29 December 2017

Why not "Be the Best"?

Another  piece of "silly season" news (see previous post) which has occupied the media over the holiday period is that the British Army has decided to drop the use of the recruiting slogan  "Be the Best" because Market research shows it to be " dated, elitist and non-inclusive."

Apparently this piece of market research cost around £500 000.

I cannot see why the slogan should  be regarded as either elitist or non-inclusive.  It is after all an aspiration rather than a claim that the army only "takes the best."  Surely, whatever our funciton, we should all be urged to at least try to "be the best" rather than be content with  mediocrity.

It is true, however that the phrase is dated, though in my view none the worse for that.

In my younger days I was a Boy Scout and then a Scout Leader.  There was, and, I'm happy to discover still is, a Scout Hymn,the first verse of which reads:
Now as I start upon my chosen way,
In all I do, my thoughts, my work, my play,
Grant as I promise, Courage new for me
To be the best, the best that I can be.
The hymn (which, incidentally doesn't mention any deity or any particular religion, as Scouting is an international movement regardless of "country, class or creed," as we used to put it) and the music to sing it to, was written  by Ralph Reader, who also wrote "Ging Gang Goo!" and choreographed the British Legion's annual Festival of Remembrance in the Albert hall for many years.

There are various versions of it on You-tube: my favourite is this, I suspect from the Philippines.

The hmm is sexist, in that it contains the wish to to "earn a place among my fellow men "but that doesn't seem to worry several  girls (some of them wearing head-scarves) who contribute to this version. In fairness to Reader, Scouting was for boys only in his day.

Getting back to the Army, I think the Army Education system for young people does a magnificent job. The Army Foundation College based in Harrogate takes in many dysfunctional young people (as well as many normally functioning ones from conventional backgrounds) who have often been brought up in care and failed to flourish in the ordinary school system, and enables them to become competent in academic as well as military skills.  Whether  it is right that they should take recruits  as young as 16 is another matter, but they certainly do an effective job in encouraging their charges to "be the best." Hats off to them.

Unfortunately the Army is not so good at looking after its personnel once their service is finished. A disproportionate number become rough sleepers, end up in prison, or have problems with their mental health.  They too deserve "the best" or at least something better than at present.

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Christmas news nadir

Traditionally our silly season for news is August, when nothing much newsworthy is thought to be happening and so the pages and news channels are filled with all sorts of nonsense.  Maybe even "fake" news.

One lead story this Christmas has given August a close run for its title..

The announcement that, once we have left the EU our former blue British passport will be restored to its former glory was hailed by the Brexiteers as a stupendous achievement.

However, the small print indicates the move to be petty and pointless.

Our new passport will not have the hard covers of the pre-EU one, will be the same size as the current burgundy red one, have the same floppy covers, and contain the same gadgetry which enables it to be "read" by the machines used almost universally by immigration officials. And, shock horror, it may may  be in a different shade of blue.

To cap it all there never was any EU regulation that insisted we have a burgundy red cover: we could have had any colour we liked.

True progress would be to move towards such a level of international harmony and confidence that passports could be abolished completely, and, in the words of Labour's great post-war Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, we could  ". . .buy a ticket at Victoria station and go where the bloody hell [we] liked" 

Members of the Schengen Agreement have made significant steps towards this, but Britain has been too timid to join.

This "achievement" by the Brexiteers is a petty and insignificant symbolic move in the wrong direction. In practice it will [probably lead to holders of the new document being placed in an even slower lane at passport control stations.

Weekly we are driven to wonder if our politics can get any more childish.

Thursday 14 December 2017

Tidings of (modified) joy.

Well, maybe things are just taking a turn or the better.  The defeat of the Republican candidate  in the election for a senator for Alabama  shows that the US electorate might, just might, be beginning to see the light about the awfulness of President Trump's attitudes and policies.

Here in the UK the House of Commons has  defeated the May Government's arrogant attempt to force through whatever Brexit deal they achieve without any serious possibility of parliament's having any meaningful say. How the new situation will work out in practice is yet to be seen but the significance is that, at last, MPs are  beginning to flex their  muscles and make that point that "taking back control" means taking it back to parliament and not to an over-mighty executive.

The muscle-flexing is so far fairly timid, It has depended on the "left of centre" opposition - Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats and the one Green being pretty united, with a handful of Tory MPs abstaining and only 11 having the guts to vote against the government.  However, this could be the turn of the tide - the event by which, after 18 months of timidity, MPs begin to think for themselves and do what they know to be right rather than slavishly obey their whips.

It really is astonishing that so few Conservative MPs, which their ostentatious posturing over the wonders of British institutions, traditions and values, are prepared to put the long-term interests of the country before short-term party advantage.  With our history of parliaments gradually wresting power from a mighty executive, (we even fought a civil war on it) how can they be so supine as to be willing to hand it back again?

I wonder how the events of the last two years or so would have played with our press and public opinion if a left-wing party in power had been hijacked by a handful of extremists and:

  • called a referendum on an issue which was dear to their own  ideology but not high on the priorities of most of the electorate;
  • failed to take any precautions to ensure a fair and honest debate;
  • declared a narrow result in their favour to be sacrosanct, in spite of the facts that the referendum was advisory only, many of the key facts on which they had argued were phoney and there were suspicions of illicit finance along with foreign interference in support of their case;
  • tried desperately to avoid parliament having any say in the implementation of the result;
  • fought the issue in court when objectors tried to invoke the "sovereignty of parliament;"
  • abused  the judges as "enemies of the people" when the courts decided against them;
  • took advantage of a supine opposition, terrified of press, to force the decision though parliament;
  • ploughed on regardless of the fact that  almost all informed opinion regarded their policy as hugely damaging to the future status of the country and welfare of its people:
  • used every device in their power, including blackening any opponents in their own party as well as in he opposition, as traitors and mutineers.
  • continued to make every attempt to avoid giving  parliament any meaningful say in the outcome of their policy.
There would be hell to play.

For example, way back in 1968, when Lord King, a press baron, decided that the country was dangerously "out of control" under Harold Wilson's Labour government, he called a secret meeting to plan to overthrow him and it and appoint Lord Mountbatten as the necessary "strong man."  The plan flopped when Mountbatten, who was present at the meeting, walked away as  he realised that what was being proposed amounted to treason.

What a difference a supine press makes

Saturday 9 December 2017

At last, cheer for the Brexiteers

In the eighteen months since the Referendum virtually all the EU/Brexit news has been bad..  I haven't kept a list, but, off the cuff:
  • citizens from other countries are increasingly abused and vilified on Britain's streets;
  • a 15% or so depreciation in the value of the £ is  feeding inflation, but not, so far, stimulating exports;
  • the promise of  £350m a week for the NHS turns out to be hollow, and those who made it say it was never meant to be taken seriously anyway.;
  • industrial and commercial investment has  stalled;
  • we have slipped from being  the fastest growing economy in the G7 to one of the slowest;
  • a hidden (ie never mentioned in the Referendum campaign) decision to leave EURATOM, wiull hamper supplies of  vital radioactive isotopes for, among others,  the NHS;
  • free trade deals with other countries are  not, after all, two a penny, and those available will  probably be on foreigners' terms (eg hormone-packed beef and chlorine-washed chicken from the US);
  •  banks  are planning or threatening to relocate in continental centres: Frankfurt and Dublin often cited as likely bases  for future financial hubs;
  • EU institutions are moving out of London - the European Banking Authority to Paris and the European Medicines Agency to Amsterdam;
  • the government has not after all conducted  a detail examination of the likely effects of Brexit on various sectors of the economy, and our cabinet has not yet discussed what it eventually wants to achieve.
In spite of the almost daily dose of "fresh disasters"* provoked by Brexit the Brexiteers keep their peckers up and continue to promise sunlit uplands for the "global Britain" once the EU shackles are removed.

Now at last they have something to cheer.  Mrs May, after a midnight flight to Brussels (which evokes memories of Chamberlain's flight to Germany  and return with his bit of papers promising "peace in our time") has secured agreement to move  on to the next stage of the negotiations.

In spite of the fact that this agreement has been achieved some two months later than was originally anticipated, she is for the moment the heroine of the hour.

However, we are accustomed to seeing, for example, budgets hailed on the day as works of genius by the incumbent chancellor, and unravelled a few days later after examination of the small print,

I suspect something similar will happen to this agreement.

  • the divorce bill has rocketed from an initial "they can whistle" (Foreign Secretary Johnson) to €/£20bn and then almost doubled to around  €/£40bn;
  • the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the rest of the EU will continue to be  subject to the jurisdiction of the European Count of Justice (ECJ) for a least eight years, though  we shall no longer have any  representation on the ECJ;
  • ro avoid a "hard border" in Ireland  regulations in Northern Ireland (and by implication, the rest of the UK) will be "aligned" to those of the to the EU..  
Such is the chutzpah of the Brexiteers that former Tory Leader Ian Duncan Smith claims that the EU have "blinked first."  For one I agree with Nigel Farage that, in order to reach some sort of agreement, Mrs May has caved in on all counts.

I want to make it clear that the above anomalies are from the point of view of the Brexiteers, not me.  If we must leave the EU I believe that our international reputation demands that we pay our full dues (eg for pensions and expenditure committed whilst we were member), with the amount determined by an independent arbiter.  I am very happy to be subject to the decisions of the ECJ, as we are subject to the decisions of umpteen other international tribunals, and it is my firm belief that  our regulations should not just be "aligned" to the EU, but we should remain as full and co-operative members of the Customs Union and Single Market, indeed of the EU itself, thus helping to make the regulations as well as obeying them.

Apart from  the economic and social impacts of the Brexit obsession, I have two major worries.

First the four opening headlines on the BBC news a few days ago were:

  • The Vice Chancellor of Bath Spa University was to be given a pay-off of £800millions (By contrast Job Seekers receive £71.10 a week.   Asylum seekers, who are not allowed to work, must subsist on £36.95 a week, of which, says our Home Office, £24.39 is for food and £2.60 a week is designated for clothing)
  • a government minister said that former ISIS fighters should not be allowed back into Britain but hounded to their deaths (no trial was mentioned and the rule of law ignored):
  • the number waiting over the maximum of 4 hours for treatment in hospital Accident and Emergency Departments has increased  by 120%.  If that were measured in dozens that would be bad enough, but I believe the total is over 3 million:
  • The Queen launched the world's most expensive warship, an aircraft carrier, and named it after herself, but it will be some years before we can afford to equip it with the necessary aircraft.
In other words, idiocies like this are happening on a daily basis, but they are pushed to the sidelines rather than dealt with, because the government puts all its energy into Brexit.

Second, although most concern is devoted to the economic damage that Brexit will cause, whatever it is we shall still be a wealthy nation and , if we have the political  wilt to share our wealth equitably we can all live comfortable lives. No one need suffer economic hardship.. 

However,already our political influence is diminishing and will diminish even further outside the EU.

Which all our faults and limitations the UK has  in the past made a positive contribution to the creation of a  fairer and more liberal world, helping to create and promote the international rule of law.  We are no longer the Great Power I was  taught to think we were when Churchill sat with Truman and Roosevelt in my childhood.  But inside the EU we are still among the "big hitters".  Outside  we shall sink to the third or fourth division.

At a time when the major power promoting and defending liberal democracy, the US, is in questionable hands, the world is surely looking for alternative leadership. This is  no time to opt out.