Thursday 31 December 2020

Rock bottom for our democracy


I think that when historians come to assess politics in the UK over the pas four years, and particularity the last four weeks, they will identify Wednesday 30th  December, 2020 as the date on which our  liberal democracy hit rock bottom.  

 After an ill-deigned referendum and campaign peppered with lies and probably influenced by foreign interference  a minority of a restricted  electorate voted to leave the European Union. This was magnified  to represent "the will of the people", and our leaders we manoeuvred by ideologues into aiming for the severest severance  possible.  In the final  few weeks of negotiations the public were fuelled with news of fake drama, and the negotiations ended in an alleged "triumph" for the government on Christmas Eve, the only day in the year which is not followed by the publication of newspapers. 

So detailed criticism was deferred.

 And then, yesterday, the "deal", the most serious  decision our nation has had to take for half a century, was bounced through the Commons with only five hours of debate.

We are a liberal democracy and our system is one of parliamentary democracy.  It is a system that prizes full, free  informed and balanced information and subsequent deliberation at its core. The UK claims to be one of the world's pioneers in achieving a liberal democracy.  Some like to boast (wrongly) that ours is the Mother of Parliaments. 

 The deliberate distortion of our information followed by contempt for our parliament surely means the the operation of our political system has reached its nadir.

 In the latest issue of Prospect magazine Timothy Garten Ash writes on the future of liberalism, which he believes is endangered not just in this country but in the rest of what we regard as the liberal democratic world, both from the inside and from those who would like to see it collapse.  It is a long read and rather short on solutions, but should be read as a warning against complacency.

There is now an urgent need in this country for the progressive majority to co-operate to to break the stranglehold of the present Conservative party, now in thrall to forces willing to use whatever means available to retain the levers of power and reward themselves and their backers.









the distoiaon of these and the final contempt show to parilanent,

Tuesday 29 December 2020



Economist divide trade into two  major types: goods and services.    Goods are physical things like lettuces or cars, though they are not necessarily all "good."   A packet of cigarettes is a "good " in this sense, even though it is likely to lead to a premature and painful death.

Services are non-physical, or "immaterial" things which are done by others for you, such as a haircut, a TV programme, or your education.

We trade with the European Union in both goods and services .  

The "deal" agreed last week and to be voted on in parliament tomorrow is almost entirely restricted to goods.  

 UK goods entering the EU and vice versa will not have to pay customs duties, not will here be limits on quantities (quotas), but there will be checks and customs examinations to make sure that they conform to approved standards. There will be similar checks on goods going from the UK mainland to Northern Ireland.

The deal takes, as yet, no account of services, which is quite a handicap, since about three quarters of what the British economy now produces is services.  Many of these, such as haircuts, do not enter much into international trade (unless you happen to be devoted to  a particular French barber or Italian hairdresser) but many do. Until Friday our service providers can trade with the rest of the EU without any restrictions other than those which apply to everyone else.  

But not after 1st January.

This will be particularly awkward for financial services in which the UK is particularity skilled. and are at resent a major earner of foreign currency. But there's much more to trade in services than that.

In a contribution to the online magazine "The Article" the former Labour MP Denis MacShane spells out how our service sector goes far beyond financial services:

   The immaterial economy

While manufactured goods and most food will keep access to the Single Market Marmite will still be on sale without tariffs there is no guaranteed future for the millions of qualified, innovative professionals in the financial sector, banking, insurance, investment funds, management consultancy, legal advice, medicine, architecture, video, films, events organisers, creative workers like musicians and singers, all of whom have been working freely in Europe for decades without let and hindrance. They will now have to negotiate deals on equivalence or other access one by one with the EU 27, who will be quite happy to keep at bay British service providers to the benefit of their own nationals.


for the complete article

The many talented people involved in these areas will hardly be singing "tidings of great joy."



Saturday 26 December 2020

H.E. the Rt. Hon. Mekere Morauta Kt MP

 Mekere Moraoutam, who was Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG)  from 1999 to 2002, died a few days before Christmas.  He was born in what I take to be the remote village of Kukipi in Eastern Kerema.PMG, was educated a the village primary school and local high school, then Sogeri National High School,  Lae Polytechnic and the University of PNG.  He tidied economics and before his political career,  served as Governor of the Bank of PMG,  the Central Bank.  I'd like to be able to say that  taught him but I didn't.

In 2006 whilst still an MP but no longer PM he visited Martyrs' School in Ooro Province where I had taught in the final three yeas of the 80s.  A pupil from that time, Harold Badirega has , as a tribute to Morauta, circulated a copy of the speech he made to the students and staff on that occasion.

Here are four  extracts.

In this first one, on the value of education, I love the inclusion of knowing how to maintain your outboard motor (PNG has a lot of coastline) and " the joy and opportunities that come from reading" as among the essentials of life. I wonder if any of our recent education secretaries  would recognise them.

 . . . [E]ducation is a social leveller, but it is also an investment. Education is the key to equipping people not just for big jobs in government or the private sector, but for everyday life. Understanding the world around us, knowledge of the world and of practical things, of health,sanitation, nutrition, of mathematics, of new ways of doing things, whether it is building a house or growing crops, fishing or animal husbandry, or maintaining a vehicle or outboard motor - these are the essentials of everyday life. The joy and opportunities for discovery that come from reading - these are not privileges, but things every single person has a right to.

 In this second extract Morauta stresses the need for the majority (my emphasis) of leaders to be "ethical, principled  and honest. " He is not unrealistic: he is not suggesting they all should be.  I wonder how many of our present UK cabinet fit the description.

. . .[N]either development, nor ethical government, can be wished into being. The chances of good government are certainly improved if the majority of leaders are ethical, principled and honest. But these personal traits,on their own, are not enough to institute or sustain good governance or development.

Other factors must also exist.One is political stability. Another is the existence of strong and appropriate institutions of state, institutions which are structured to promote the principles of good governance in their functioning — accountability,transparency, openness and predictability. Also required is a well-informed civil society, led by people who understand the issues, objectively voice concerns and contribute to finding solutions to issues. Churches,universities, the media, business, NGOs and community groups all have a role to play. 

 This third exact describes some of the social problems facing many developing countries, but some mature ones as well.

 Our social indicators show that health standards, in particular, are worse than they were 25 years ago. We constantly hear of, and experience, the shortage of drugs and medical equipment in our health centres and hospitals. Infant and maternal mortality rates are the highest in the region. Our literacy level is still low — only around 60 per cent. Children do not have books and other educational materials at their schools — some do not even have pencils and paper, while others are not at school at all, because their parents cannot afford to pay the fees. 

Per capita income has declined, despite the mines, oil fields, timber projects and factories that have been developed. There is greater disparity in income levels than at Independence - some people are much better off, but the gap between the haves and the have nots is wider. The population is growing faster than the economy and faster than the Government's capacity to provide basic  services. Infrastructure is inadequate, and deteriorating. HIV/AIDS is spreading fast, indeed killing many of our youngest and brightest.

And now cones the sting, the explanation.

What are the root causes of these problems? Lack of vision  of leaders; failure to invest for the future; the bigman culture of politics; politicisation of the public sector; waste in public expenditure; inefficiency and lack of capacity of the public sector; corruption, and use of state power and privilege for personal gain — these are the factors that have held back our development.

 PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975, while I was there (I am not claiming cause and effect.) Its first Prime Minister,  Michael Somare, once joked that he regarded Westminster  as "our grandmother parliament."  

Their present grandparents have a lot to learn from this single  grandchild.

Thursday 24 December 2020

Boris pulls it off . . .

 . . . or, of you like, "brings home the bacon."

After months of:  "a deal is unlikely,"  "the EU's demands are completely unrealistic," "Britain will thrive  with no deal," suddenly with a flourish, a deal is pulled out of the hat.

1. Carefully choreographed  to be announced this Christmas Eve as a present along with those  from Santa.
2.  With the details not yet available so that all we can do is rejoice at the achievement of the hitherto unlikely if not impossible.
2. Carefully rebranded as "Australia -style" to disguise the fact that, when we do see the details, it's a very thin thing and does not cover the main part of the UK economy - services.
3.  On the day before the only day of the year when there are no newspapers, so the commentariat  is muted and there's less chance of informed analysis to reveal of how meagre it is.
4.  Followed by a Sunday, a Bank Holiday, and a week that has for many become a holiday period,  so most minds are focused on making the best of the fun available.
5.  So that by the time we get back to "normal" working and criticising conditions,  (effectively 4th January), the caravan will have moved on.
You have to hand it to them.

I bet Dominic Cummings had this timetable on his events planner long before his services were dispensed with.
Given the Dailly Mail's headline today, "Hallelujah, it's a Merry Brexit,"  and the Daily Express with its front page picture of their flaxen haired hero surrounded by the bold print "Brexit is Done 'Johnson will feel that Cummings has earned his £40 000 bonus.
Merry Christmas in manipulated Britain.

Sunday 20 December 2020

Goodnews Johnson


From 2010 to 2015 the President of Nigeria was His Excellency Goodluck Johnson .  Presumably "Goodluck" is a literal translation of a first name common in Nigerian culture, just as my name, Peter, is a translation of Rock, and Irene means peace, and probably originally given in the hope that the child will be endowed with some of the finer aspects of the name.

Following that reasoning it would have been appropriate to give the name "Goodnews" to  our Prime Minster, Alexander* Johnson, since he has the undoubted  gift of proclaiming Good News in all sorts of circumstances ("word beating,"  "oven ready" et al) even when they turn out to be not good at all, or even moderately average.

 From his earliest days as prime minister Johnson has been very reluctant to announce bad news, even  when  it was highly desirable to do so promptly.  Hence our severance from the EU must  go ahead at the end of this year regardless of the pandemic; he could shake hands with hospital workers in spite of  of warnings not to; Goodwood and an international rugby union game and accompanying crowds could go ahead; the March lockdown was far too late and cost cost 20 000 lives; all would be back to normal  by Christmas.

In fact it is far from normal and has  seen seen to be so for some time, but Johnson hadn't the courage to decree that multi-family celebrations should be abandoned.  No, up to three families could still meet together for five full days.  When the "science" insisted that this was bound to cause pronounced increases in infections, hospitalisations and deaths, until yesterday this advice still remained in force.

Mr Johnson has all the characteristic of a supply teacher who has lost control of the class and appeals to their  better natures.  This is what you're allowed to do, but please don't do it.

At last, from yesterday,  travel and multi-family meetings are banned in a new Tier Four, and mixing in other area is reduced to just the one day.

Fortunately I believe "the British people" (a phrase of which Johnson is very fond) have more sense than an unruly class of adolescents, and the overwhelming majority of us  will  stick to "one family only" cerebrations,  a small sacrifice to make in order to enable more of us to survive to next Christmas and well beyond.


" Johnson has three given names, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel,   but I understand the first,  or its diminutive "Al," is the one the family and friends use.  "Boris" for public use is a curious pretension.


Wednesday 16 December 2020



In October 2016, a few weeks after David Cameron walked away and Theresa May our became Prime Minister, the government ran an exercise to test Britain's preparedness to deal with a pandemic.   

The findings were that we were woefully unprepared.

The exercise, called Cygnus, made six recommendations, relating to:

  1. Capacity; such as availability of ICU beds, PPE etc:
  2. Planning; delegation and regional co-ordination etc:
  3. Education; what to do about schools, colleges and universities:
  4. Care homes - yes, they were thought about:
  5. Communications:
  6. Social distancing.

The report was not published at the time and efforts to gain access to it have produced only heavily redacted versions.

The report was shelved and the recommendations largely ignored.  Though at the time related to influenza, they are, of course highly relevant to dealing with the Covid-19 or any other pandemic.

 Such details as are available can be found here:

 Note, the Daily Torygraph.  This blog uses varied sources.

In his Reith Lecture this morning, Mark Carney, immediate ex-Governor of the Bank of England commented, if I heard him correctly, that the cost of implementation of the recommendations would have been equivalent to two days of lockdown.  That's the monetary cost.  

The cost in lives is estimated to have been at least 20 000

 Note that this same political party, with its cheese-paring polices of cutting public expenditure and thus running down the state, including the health services, were in charge at the time, have been ever since, and will probably be for the next four years.

 Pity Mrs May wasn't in the Girl Guides and that Boris Johnson frittered away his youth in the Bullingdon Club rather than the Boy Scouts. 



Friday 11 December 2020

Humans need rights


It must be a good ten years ago that one of my hiking companions, a staunch Conservative, said he was getting fed up hearing about people claiming their human rights.  To say I was astonished is putting it mildly.  I had thought that everybody accepted respect for human rights: that this was a given in a civilised democracy, just as all Americans are supposed do believe in motherhood and apple pie.

 I now realise that my companion was probably absorbing drip-feed from his favoured newspaper source, the Daily Mail. His and our  problem is that for most of we comfortable British, only very rarely does some misfortune affect us that requires us to appeal to our human rights.  

This, however, is not true of those who, for one reason or another, are pushed to the margins of society.  These include the disabled, the homeless, many of those relying on social security payments, all prisoners and particularly those  who die in custody, migrants, asylum seekers, those claiming they are victims of rape, our soldiers in wars and the enemies they face -  even terrorists.

Yesterday, 10th December, was World Human Rights Day because the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  on that date in 1948.

The Labour Government in 1998 introduced the Human Rights Bill in the UK, which became operative in 2000.  Our present government is using this as an excuse for reviewing the "effectiveness" of the Act.

In particular the are concerned with the increasing use of Judicial Review, which allows the courts to decide whether or not such and such an act of the government is actually legal.  

Recent examples have been the attempt by the May Government to implement  Article 50 for leaving the EU without reference to parliament (it wasn't) and  the prorogation of parliament to "get Brexit done" without their scrutiny (that wasn't either, leading the the Daily Mail to describe the judges as "enemies of the people.")

 That the government (then the Crown) should obey the law was one of the principles of Magna Carta, first passed in 1215, on which matter we probably really were then world leaders.

 Attempts  to water down the Act diminishes us on the world stage and endangers some our  most vulnerable people.  These attempts  should be resisted vigorously.  

Those who would like to help should join  Liberty.


You can do so for as little as £1 per month.


Tuesday 8 December 2020

To vote or not to vote . . .

 The final gallop towards a Brexit deal is following the pattern many of us have been predicting for a couple of years or more.  Those charged with the negotiations are at loggerheads.  We are told that the fault lies with the EU who are intransigent and, indeed introduce last minute additional demands to  frustrate the doughty British. 

Bold Johnson charges in at the eleventh hour to fix a deal.  

 We can expect this to be announced within the next couple of weeks.  Whatever it is will be hailed as a triumph.  The Tory press will laud it to the skies, overlooking the fact that the UK will have diluted if not ignored most of its so-called red lines.

The deal will be lean because it is impossible to achieve what was promised: "All the benefits of membership without being members."  

The question then arises: how should the opposition parties vote on the deal?

Labour, poor things, are already locked in an unproductive squabble.  Sir Keir Starmer seems anxious  to support the deal.  He presumably has his eye on the former "red wall" areas  which are assumed  to have deserted Labour because they, the "Northern left behind," were predominantly pro-Brexit and regraded Labour, quite accurately, as  being less than enthusiastic about staying in the EU - instead  sitting on the fence. Starmer thinks that supporting the deal will re-assert Labour's dedication to the so-called "will of the people."  

Pro EU Labour MPs, by far the majority, feel they could not possibly support a deal which will be so damaging to the British people, though some take the pragmatic view that any deal, however lean, will be less damaging than no deal. Their spokesperson Rachel Reeves plays for time, saying that the party should not decide until the contents of the deal are known.  Their former leader Neil Kinnock calls on the party to abstain.

A similar dilemma faces the tiny band of Liberal Democrats in the Commons.  As a party we  could vote for the deal on the grounds that it is better than no-deal.  We could vote against it on the grounds that it is nowhere near as advantageous to the UK as the deal we had when we were in the EU. On the other hand, voting against the deal, if sufficient others support this line, leads to no-deal which is even worse.

Better to abstain.

 In truth, however the opposite parties vote  will have few practical consequences, since the decision is unlikely to be uppermost in voters' minds when the next election comes in 2024.  Things will have moved on.

Nevertheless I believe it is important for all the opposition  parties, including the national parties and Greens, to abstain.  Indeed, if Labour could be persuaded, it would be better for all the opposition parties not even turn  up for the debate.  Let the Tories fight it out among themselves.

It is important to nail this debacle entirely on the Conservatives.  It is their shambles.  They must be seen to own it.  Starmer's ploy of voting in favour means that Labour can be forced to share the responsibility.

It was never in the national interest to hold a referendum on EU membership.  There was, until the late noughties, no popular call for it.  In spite of the efforts of the Euro-sceptics and their supportive press, opinion surveys showed that EU membership came about 16th in the order of voters' concerns, way behind the top concerns of employment, education and the health and care  services.

The Conservative party itself  did, however, have a problem, in that their votes were haemorrhaging to the maverick UKIP party led by the populist Nigel Farage.  So Prime Minister Cameron made a promise that he did not expect to keep: that if the Conservatives won the 2015 election there would be a referendum.  He did not expect to keep the promise becasue he did not expect an over-all majority, so would have to continue to rely on the Liberal Democrats, who would veto the idea.

Alas that didn't happen and so Cameron was forced to keep his promise.  The result was that in a referendum without the usual safeguards for a critical decision,an underwhelming 37% of a highly restricted electorate, fed on lies  and distortions amplified by illegal expenditure voted to leave, whilst 34% voted to remain and 27% didn't bother to vote at all.

This 37% was then magnified as "the will of the people," efforts to minimise the damage by remaining in the customs union and single market, options  which were put forward by the Leave campaign itself, were abandoned, Prime Minister Theresa May chose to demonstrate her macho decisiveness by triggering  Article 50  before her government had any idea of what they actually wished to achieve, the die-hard Europe Research Group  with their poster-boy Jacob Rees Mogg made the running from there on, and so we approach the pending national self harm.

The Tories should be made to own it and seen to own it.

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Empty politics

 Today's debate and vote in the Commons on the imposition of the Three Tier  grades of lockdown for the country until the five day Christmas break illustrates the emptiness of our political system.

The debate and vote is taking place only because dissatisfied MPs have become resentful of the Downing Street clique's governing by fiat and feel, quite rightly, that Parliament should have a say.

Labour at the moment is promising to abstain on the vote because, although they are  vaguely in favour of the lockdown, they feel that the government is giving  insufficient financial compensation for the businesses forced to close or having their functions severely limited by the more stringent limits in Tiers 2 and 3.

The government is cementing its "catch up" reputation by trying to buy off its rebels, as usual at the  the last minute, by offering increases in compensation.  Whilst these are welcome they are unlikely to mollify the Tory rebels, whose primary reason for opposing the measures appears to be  their libertarian belief that the government is exceeding the limits of its right to interfere with individual behaviour.

With respect to Labour's abstention, No 10 has issued this feeble bleat:

“Keir Starmer is playing politics in the middle of a global pandemic instead of working with the government to find a way through this difficult time for the British people. We will continue to engage, listen and work with MPs who have concerns.”  

The truth is that the government has only itself to blame for Labour's operation of the political system as it stands. Sir Keir Starmer has offered time and again to work with the government in some sort of co-operative committee, as he has explained at Question Time.  His offers have been ignored or rejected.  Instead again and again Mr Johnson concludes his Question Time session like a spoilt child with a petulant grumble that "he" (that is Starmer) should be supporting  him rather than criticising.

 These remind us of a similar pleas from president Trump for  suburban housewives to "love me."

However, we are where we are and I believe the priority of all the parties should be to act and vote in such away that as many of us  as possible  survive not just to this Christmas  but to next year's and many more after that.  

To that end the entire political establishment should vote for  the measures, inadequate as they are.

An abstention or vote against provides an excuse for  the less responsible in society (and the Tory libertarians) to ignore the restrictions on the grounds that "My party didn't vote for them so why should I observe them?"

Hence the title of this post.  It is our adversarial political system which has prevented a  co-operative approach to dealing with the most dangerous situation we have faced since the Second World War.   

 All-party co-operation could have generated  the trust that is so essential in dealing with a situation requiring so much self-restraint.  It is now too late for that, so the parties should unite to support the second best option.

Thursday 26 November 2020

No change in the Tories' spots


That’s an advertisement on TV by an insurance company that promises “not to make a drama our of a crisis.”

With yesterday’s spending review, and the reporting of it by their supporting media, our government seem determined to do the opposite.  We are warned of “the biggest UK slump in 300 years” and there is much  talk of “hard decisions “ and “tough choices.”

Let’s be clear.

There is a public health crisis. It is very serious.  Over 50 000 people have died because of it.  We need to make every possible personal sacrifice (such as having a nuclear family Christmas, minimising social mixing and travel, isolating ourselves  if we have been in contact with someone with the virus, etc) to help contain it.

There is no economic crisis.

True, there has had to be, and will continue to be, extra public expenditure both to deal with the crisis (buying PPE, setting up a Test and Trace system, caring for those infected) and compensating those  whose normal economic activity has had to be suspended.  It is a shame that neither has been done very efficiently - indeed billions of pound have been wasted and  had the government  responsible been even marginally to the left there would have been uproar.

However, the rise in public debt to around 100% of national income (the debt to GDP ratio) is probably inevitable.

And such a level debt is perfectly manageable, as explained in an earlier post

It is not a crisis.

In 1945, at the end of the war, the government’s debt was not 100% of GDP but more like two and a half times GDP - around 250%.

It remained at above 100% until 1963.

In that period successive governments introduced free milk for all schoolchildren, universal secondary education with  new schools to facilitate it; provided free higher education along with maintenance grants; created the National Health Service (which included free dentistry );  took  key industries such as the railways, water, electricity, and gas into public ownership  and compensated the previous owners; increased the capacity of the building industry to build  300 000 houses per year, mostly for affordable rents; introduced family allowances; and still paid  off 60% of the debt. 


Even while the debt level was around 100% the 1960s were great fun, as already explained in that  earlier post.  It was the time of “swinging Britain,.” Even though Philip Larkin may have exaggerated its potency:

  Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

 - it was a good time to be alive

But not for the first time, the Conservative government now puts into practice the dictum attributed to Winston Churchill;  “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” 

Back in 2008/9, when we had a world financial crisis, as soon as the Tories got hold of the government in 2010 they put the brakes on the Brown/Darling creative response which had started a recovery and introduced “austerity” in order to implement their dogma of a smaller, less caring , state. 

They managed to convince the public that his was necessary, so that, while those  who  caused of the financial crisis got off scot free the poorest in our society paid the price.

Now that we have a genuine, and expensive, public health crisis, the talk of “difficult  decisions” and “hard economic choices” is being bandied around to soften us up for the next stage of the process.

Once again it is the poorest who will be expected to pay the price.  The public service pay freeze will affect some of the lowest paid workers who have actually most exposed to the dangers of the virus and kept the health and hygiene service going.  The £20 extra for Universal credit is to be discontinued.  Both of these, and other cuts , will take demand out of the economy just a the time when it is most needed to generate a revival. The decision to cut our Oversees Aid Budget by over £4bn at the very time when the poorest in the world need help most is a source of both self harm and national shame.

 It is not a mater of that, like the Bourbons, the Tories have learned nothing from their past experiences.  They know exactly what they are doing: using the public expenditure necessary to deal with a genuine health crisis to further their aim of an even more minimalist state, isolated from the EU, in which the haves flourish and the weakest go to the wall. 




Tuesday 24 November 2020

cf Wartime Christmases

 I was only seven years old when the Second World War ended in 1945 so my memories are probably more attuned to the immediate post-war years than the war years themselves.  Nevertheless I think they make a valuable comparison to what so many of our population feel is their entitlement today.

I can recall no great family gatherings on Christmas Day.  My father had four brothers and two sisters, my mother one brother, all living within easy reach. All but the two sisters had families.  However our Christmas Day was very much a matter of the nuclear family, though that included my maternal grandmother, who was widowed and lived with us.

 We did not have turkey for dinner, or chicken, which was still a luxury food.  Instead, we had pork, which my father would praise as "like a bit of chicken."  I have no recollection of Christmas crackers.  Maybe they weren't available, or maybe my parents regarded them as a frivolous  luxury.

 There were presents, and they must have been substantial, or at least bulky, since my sister and I both hung up pillow cases rather than stockings for Santa Claus to fill.  The prized gift was still reckoned to be the orange at the bottom of the sack.

 There wasn't a lot of time to gloat over the contents of the sack on Christmas Morning as I was a member of the Church Choir  and our fist job was  sing carols round the wards of the local hospital.

 Our choir master was called Mr Pride. However the hospital matron  caused  us all to giggle by referring to him as Mr Proudlove.  This error was never corrected over the years.  Maybe it was meant to be a joke.

 After our stint at the hospital we ran the mile or so down the hill to Church for the major morning service at 10.45.  This was the fourth of the day. There would have been a Midnight Mass but we choirboys didn't sing at that.  The choir men would have, and I suppose Mr Pride would have played the organ.  (I now realise what a hero he was.)  There would have  been a said Communion at 8 o'clock and a Sung Communion at 09.15.  Who played the organ for that I can't remember.  The singing was supported by a small group of ladies.

 Our 11.15 service was a "double."  We first sang Matins up to and including the collects, then segued seamlessly into a full Choral Communion.  Then it was home for the pork dinner with apple sauce  followed by Christmas Pudding (bought not home-made).

 I presume there was a Christmas Day radio broadcast by the King but I can't recall our ever tuning in to it.  Time at last for toys. If Christmas Day happened  on a Sunday it would be back to Church for Evensong at 06.30

Every  Boxing Day Batley played Dewsbury in the local Rugby League Derby,  though I don't suppose that actually continued during the war. My father used to take me in later years and I disappointed him by never becoming a fan.

 By writing this I'm not trying to emulate Monte Python and the famous competition as to who had the most deprived upbringing, but  merely to provide a contrast to present  expectations.  

My family Christmas was luxurious compared with those whose fathers were in the forces.  Mine was not "called up,"  partly because he was too old, and also because as  spinner in a woollen mill his occupation was "reserved."  We in the Heavy Woollen District specialised in making the heavy cloth for the uniforms of the armed forces.  (In the Crimean War we made them for both sides).  

But thousands of children didn't see their fathers for up to five years.  Similarly for many sweethearts and wives, and parents who didn't see their sons and daughters. Contact of a sort was maintained by the BBC "Home Service" which linked up with "Forces Radio" with "Two Way Family favourites."

It's worth also remembering that the Christmas Holiday for workers was just two days (one I believe in Scotland, because New Year's Day was also a holiday for them, though it wasn't in England  until 1974.) It is a measure of the economic progress we have made that we now regard the entire Christmas to New Year period as "the holiday" and some even stretch it to a fortnight.

However, the present pandemic is by far and away the most serious crisis mainland UK has experienced since 1945.  

 Prime Minister Johnson likes wartime analogies.  This week we've already had "the scientific cavalry" and "a final push".  There can be no doubt that if the lockdown rules are relaxed over the two days of Christmas (or five?) this will cause an increase in infections.  The ones who become carriers may not suffer seriously but some will inevitably pass the disease on to the more vulnerable who will.  This will equally inevitably lead to a post-Christmas spike in serious illnesses and deaths, and a further strain on the NHS staff who are already close to exhaustion.

So It is no great sacrifice to ask us, for this year only, to abandon our collective winter "knees-up" and substitute a quieter nuclear family observance instead.  The aim should be that as many of us as possible survive for Christmas next year.

Will our government have the courage to take this decision, or will they yet again, be guided not by "the science" but their focus groups?

Thursday 19 November 2020

World Toilet Day

Today, 19th November, is World Toilet Day.  

Were you, or will you be, siting comfortably, able to "perform" in privacy, without fear of interruption, in reasonably hygienic surroundings, with your waste flushed away for scientific disposal at the press of a button or twist of a handle, and soap and clean water available  to wash your hands while you sing "Happy  birthday" twice?

Lucky you and me.  Yet something like 2.4 million people, or about one in three of the world's population, don't have this luxury which we take for granted.

For those without the alternatives don't bear hinging about.  In rural areas it's often  "open defecation" in the "bush", for women in particular at dawn or dusk, with the danger of stepping on someone else's deposit, being bitten by a snake of maybe attacked by a rapist.  In urban areas it may be a plastic bag, thrown away as far as possible afterward - "Flying Toilets" in the jargon.*

One of the things I do when not in "lockdown" is act as an accredited speaker for "Water Aid".  Our fund-raising advertisements usually feature pictures of happy children, a water pump and blue globules of clean water being splashed around to general enjoyment.  This pulls in the money to help the 663m people in the world (around 10x the UK's population) without one to provide themselves with a supply of clean water.  

But an equally important, though less glamorous part of our work, is helping people to provide themselves with  easily maintained sanitation facilities.

 For this, and the third arm of our work, education in hygienic practices, we are funded by donations from individuals, a cut from the profits of the water industry, and a great dollop of a grant form "UK Aid", the government's overseas aid funding.

Today the UK government is  announcing an increase in our defence expenditure of £16.5bn spread over 4 years.  That's £4.125bn a year.

In the past week there have been rumours that  the government is toying with the idea of cutting our Overseas Aid Budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%.  That would amount to roughly the same amount: £4.25bn per year.

 Yes, it is our government's duty to keep us safe, but we also have a responsibility to the rest of the world, not to mention a promise to devote 0.7% of our income (that's just 70p in every £100,) to help those who lack the basic facilities we take for granted.

It's quite probable that some of that aid goes a drain that wasn't quite the one  intended.  Sadly overseas aid  is by no means the only area where that can happen.

  In his blog earlier this year Dominic Cummings wrote:

[the defence procurement process] "has continued to squander   millions of pounds, enriching some of the worse corporate looters and corrupting public life via the revolving door  of officials/lobbyist."

 Mr Cummings is no longer  flavour of the month at the moment in anybody's book, but he may have a point.

If I didn't have the facilities to "defecate with dignity" every day, at any time of day,   I know where I'd prefer that £4bn to go

 " For further and better particulars I recommend "The Big Necessity,  Adventures in the World of Human Waste," by Rose George, (Portobelo,2008)

Tuesday 17 November 2020

The damage Thatcher did.


This morning I heard  a snatch of the Radio 4 news item in which someone whose name I didn't catch pointed out that 2020 marks 300 years since Sir Robert Walpole became Britain's first prime Minister (though he didn't like the title.)  So a survey has been carried out as to whom people think has been our best prime minister. 

 It's no surprise  that Winston Churchill ( a good Liberal in his early days) came out top of the rankings, but I'm quite shocked  that Margaret Thatcher should come in at fourth place.  In my view her premierships  are far and away the most damaging of the post war years, and their aftermath is responsible  for many of our current woes.

  Here, off the top of my head, are fifteen  reasons why.

 1.  Destroying 1/5th of UK's  industrial capacity by over-tight monetary policy (dubbed "sado-monetarism") in her first years as PM  but making no attempt to encourage replacement of  the jobs destroyed - simply leaving  things to "the market." 

2.  Thus causing unemployment to rise to 3m

3.  Rather than setting up a Sovereign Wealth Fund, squandering the North Sea Oil bonus on financing this level of unemployment.
4.  Withdrawing the Royal Navy presence from  the South Atlantic, thus apparently signalling to the Argentinian Junta that the UK was no longer interested in defending the Falklands.
5.  Evading a diplomatic solution to the Falklands War which ensued, and thus causing  255 deaths in the British military forces  and 649 Argentinian deaths, largely of young, untrained and ill-equipped conscripts.

6. Weakening local government  by abolishing the Greater London Council and other Metropolitan County Councils (inculcating ours in West Yorkshire) becasue they tended to have Labour majorities,  and generally starving local government of funds and initiatives.
7.  Indiscriminate and often illegal use of police to fight the miners, thus giving rise to divisions in the country that have not yet  been healed.
8.  Introducing the "right to buy" council houses at a massive discount and the refusal to allow local authorities to use the receipts to build replacements. Rather than  being occupied by proud "property-owning democrats" most of these houses are now in the hands of private landlords on a "buy to let" basis and there is a massive shortage of houses at affordable rents (or prices within the deposit raising capabilities of even the moderately well remunerated.)  

9.  Revisions of government statistics, particularly on unemployment, so that we no longer trust them.
10.  Aggressive privatisation and outsourcing of national and local government  services on the unproven grounds that the private sector is more efficient.  We now know to our very large cost, in money and lives (re coronavirus) that it isn't.

11.  Delay in joining the ERM, and then doing so at an unviable rate.
12.  The "Big Bang" which has led to the world becoming prey to under-regulated  capital flows, hedge funds, speculation  and the UK economy becoming over-reliant on the City of London.

13.  Aggressively promoting the  opening-up  of the EU to Eastern Europe before either they or the EU  were really ready.
14  Embarrassing opposition to German reunification.
15. In alliance with President Reagan supporting through the World Bank and IMF the Washington Consensus of outdated monetary orthodoxy, causing misery throughout much of the Global South.
There are probably a few reasons I've overlooked.  Suggestions welcome. 
A friend adds:
 16 Turning against the EC when Germany was reunified, and when Delors as Commission president persuaded the UK Labour Party that the EC was creating a ‘social Europe’ rather than a free market Europe – thus encouraging the drift of the Conservative Party from a Europhile to- wards a deeply Eurosceptic one.

It is now our task to put he UK and the world back together again.
Another friend points out two GOOD THING:
She resisted the calls for a National Lottery and for more relaxed regulation of the gambling industry.  Good for her had her Methodist upbringing.

Sunday 15 November 2020

10 Drowning Street


The media are full of speculation as to the whys and wherefores of the shenanigans in Downing Street.  There are briefings and counter-briefings but I suspect the truth has yet to be revealed.  Though I have no claim to be well informed I suspect my own musings  are no wilder than anyone else's.

 First a couple of questions:

Question 1

Does 10 Downing Street keep a stock of cardboard boxes so that those dismissed with immediate effect (wie) can carry away their personal effects?  (One might ask a similar question of the Trump White House.)

Question 2.

Do those dismissed wie get a week's month's pay in lieu of notice, or three months', or a golden handshake?  It's an important question because it is"our" money, "taxpayers' money" and the Conservatives like us to think they are very careful with public money and only spend it frugally and wisely.  So far I haven't heard or read much about any severance payments.  We should be told.

Now for some thoughts:

First it's quite normal for  a prime minister to have a few close allies  around himself /herself who form a "kitchen Cabinet." These have normally been other cabinet ministers and  members of the party, with perhaps the odd "advisor" (Bernard Ingham with Mrs Thatcher, Alistair Campbell with Tony Blair). 
Johnson's cabal seems to have been entirely of  non-cabinet members.  That the government as a whole have failed so dismally is Johnson's own fault really, since he appointed  both cabinet members and cabal not on their ability, but on their "soundness" re Brexit.  However, sooner or later senior party members were bound to resent their lack of influence - that the "unelecteds" were setting the agenda.

It seems to me likely that what has ignited the row is that Johnson is veering towards a deal with the EU and Cummings (and Cain - I'd not heard of him until last Friday)  are hardliners who would prefer "no-deal."  
Johnson needs a deal, first of all because he promised in last year's election that a deal was "oven ready."  Secondly to avoid the logistical chaos which is bound to arise, especially in Kent, if there really is no deal, and  thirdly, that no deal would upset the Irish arrangement and therefore President-Elect Biden..

The most optimistic possibility, put forward  by the former labour minister  Denis MacShane  is that, now that  the hard-liners have gone (though not from the Party: Rees Mogg and others are still around) Johnson could do the sensible thing, beg the EU for a further year's extension, using the coronavirus as an excuse, to avoid the chaos which is bound to ensue if we really do leave on the 1st January 2021.
True the final date for extending the transition has passed, but the EU is good at wriggling round legal difficulties  and I'm sure they would happily find a way if asked.

Thursday 12 November 2020

Voter suppression: alive and well in the UK


One benefit of the prolonged and in-depth coverage of the US election and its aftermath is that we've learned a great deal more about voter suppression.  I  think most of us have known for years about the difficulties faced by black people in exercising their right to vote: outright prohibition, education tests, complex documentation required for registration and so on.  

However now we know about other measures.  The closing of polling centres in predominantly  black areas, so that potential voters have to make longer journeys and queue for longer in order to vote - some say five times as long as in white areas.  Add to that the placing of fake ballot boxes in areas likely to vote Democrat, so that the votes can indeed be "stolen" and destroyed, and the starving of resources for the postal service so that "mail votes,"  more likely to be Democrat votes, arrive too late for the count.

 Such tactics are a disgrace in the world's most powerful, and probably most influential, democracy.  Sadly they are not entirely absent in this land of the alleged Mother of Parliaments.

I have a tangential personal interest.  Late last month a very dear friend of mine, David Shutt, a fellow campaigner for liberalism for over fifty years, moved this amendment in the House of Lords (he's risen to greater heights than I, and deservedly so) to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill.  

It is the practice that young people are added to the electoral registers at the age of 16 and 17 so that, if an election takes place when they are just 18 they are able to exercise the newly-acquired right to vote. * Apparently the proportion of these young people, called "attainers", who actually get on to the register has fallen from 45% in 2015 to 25% in 2019.

The amendment, which has cross-party support, including Conservatives, proposed that these young people should be automatically registered to vote by the Department of Work and Pensions when that department allocates them a National Insurance Number at the age of 16. Alternatively, the DWP could provide the electoral registration officer of the names of those in their areas, or advise the 16 year-olds on the details of how to register for a vote.  

 The amendment was carried overwhelmingly and, sadly, proved to be David's last contribution to British democracy.  A few days after the debate he was unexpectedly taken to hospital with a condition from which he has since died.  His funeral is next week. 

Earlier in this week the House of Commons with its 80 seat Tory majority rejected this and several other Lords' amendments.  You can bet your bottom dollar (to revert to the US analogy) that had young people been overwhelmingly likely to vote Tory rather than for more progressive parties, it would have been overwhelmingly carried..

 You can find further details of this and other amendments here


*  There is evidence  to show that if young people cast their vote at the first election at which they are elegible - it's a significant rite of passage - they are more likely to vote regularly for the rest of their lives.  Surely another reason, if you believe in democracy, to support this amendment.

Monday 9 November 2020

UK/US relations: Tory chickens coming home to roost


It is suspected that our Government was actually hoping for a Trump win.  If true there can be no more damning  evidence of our increasing isolation among the world's liberal democracies.  

To add to our shame there are good reasons to expect that our  future relations with the US are going to be somewhat frosty, due to the opinions and actions of Tory leaders pasy and present.

 Back in 1916 while he was Mayor of London, when President Barack Obama  expressed support for Britain's remaining in Europe, Mr  Johnson dismissed him as  " part- Kenyan with an ancestral hostility to the British Empire."  Probably true, and not quite as contemptuous as Winston Churchill's dismissal of Mahatma Gandhi as "a half-naked Fakir" but not all that friendly either. President-Elect Biden was Obama's Vice President and they are said to have been very close, almost brothers.

Then in the first week of the Trump Presidency our  then Prime Minister Theresa May scuttled across the  Atlantic to be the first foreign leader greet him and fawn at his coat-tails.  She even invited him to make a State Visit, something which is normally offered only towards the end of a presidency.  When it eventually took place it must have been a considerable embarrassment to the Queen and most of the people involved.  Mr Biden is clearly a generous and forgiving man, but he is hardly likely to be impressed by this fawning on his odious predecessor.

Indeed, Mr Biden is on record as having described PM Johnson as  a "physical and emotional clone of Trump. 

And right down to the events of last week, when it was clear that Joe Biden was the winner although  the victory was not yet official, whereas most democracies, with Germany in the lead, were sending him their congratulations, the British Government was still prevaricating.

Mr Biden's record shows that he is a consummate politician who will not allow personal animosity to damage fruitful diplomatic relations.

But there are two concrete issues which indicate that the UK is far from the "best mate" status British governments would  dearly like.

The first is the EU.  Mr Biden has made it perfectly clear, as did Obama, that the US would much prefer the UK to remain a member.  He is unlikely to go out of his was to rescue us from our own folly.

Secondly is Ireland.  Mr Biden is of Irish extraction and  will be appalled by any measure that endangers the Good Friday agreement  and risks damaging the peace which, fragile as it is, still prevails there.

Such a measure is the Internal Market bill, which if passed will not only break international law and violate the agreement to which Mr Johnson and his government signed up to less than a year ago, but also endangers that peace. The House of Lords is likely to pass amendments to the bill his afternoon.

PM Johnson should whip his 80 majority into accepting them

Thursday 5 November 2020

US Election: a score draw?


Although neither Biden nor Trump has yet reached the winning tally of 270 electoral college  votes it seems that Biden is now the overwhelming favourite to get there.

 If so then those of us who believe in the rational and dignified conduct of public affairs can heave a sight of relief at the end of the awfulness of the Trump presidency. 

Whether America itself will benefit all that much (see later) is by no means guaranteed, but the World as a whole will benefit if the leader its most powerful nation accepts the reality of the climate crisis, the acceptance of international law and co-operation,  and the orderly conduct of international trade.

Unfortunately the wave of revulsion against Trumpist populism for which so many enthusiasts for liberal democracy  had hoped has not happened.   In spite of the vulgarity of  the Trump presidency, its failure to cope with the  pandemic, its disregard of constitutional norms and its blustering rhetoric, the Republican vote has held up well.  

The Democrats have failed to gain control of the Senate, and their majority in the House of Representatives has actually been reduced.  Hence the Biden presidency, if it is realised, will be hamstrung for at least the first two years.                                                          

There will be expert analysis of this result over the coming months, but for now it seems that an Email from a friend of mine, Allan Marriot,  sent some weeks ago, contains considerable insight.  Allan predicted a Trump victory because, whereas Biden was honourable, rational, conventional and respectful of political norms, Trump's supporter were more influenced by his promise of jobs, antagonism towards immigration, standing up to China and , above all, making America great (again?)

Well , with any luck Allan was wrong about the victory, but I think he gave good reasons for the solidity of the support.

In today's Guardian Martin Kettle gives a similar analysis.  He writes:

"Biden ... campaigned as if the Covid-19 pandemic was the main issue.

... But the white working class voters in the rust belt ... [still supported Trump because] they felt ignored, their jobs and communities had gone, they thought others - including foreigners - were getting too good a deal, and they wanted someone to speak for them."

So the the 2020 US election does not, after all, spell the beginning of the end of the populist wave sweeping through the US and Europe. It is a lesson we must learn in the UK.  The lies, bluster and incompetence of the present government will not by themselves bring about their downfall.  

The progressive forces here, rightly appalled by the current shambles, must put together a programme with clearly demonstrates that we have  heard the pleas of the "left behind" and have a constructive plan for a brighter future which includes them.  

Plans to restore the glories of liberal democracy are essential, but they are not by themselves enough.

Wednesday 4 November 2020

US Elecion: Liberal Democacy in intensive care

 As I write this, at noon on 4th November, 41 of the 50 states have declared their results.  In terms of the crucial Electoral College representatives neither Biden nor Trump has yet achieved the necessary 270 electors, but  Biden is ahead with 224 places, Trump behind with 213.

Yet Trump has used all the panoply of the White House -  rows and rows of Stars and Stripes, a band (or recording) playing "Hail to the Chief," - and declared that he has won.

 This is surely fake new to the to the power of n.

On the strength of this  totally false claim Trump has called on the Supreme Court to order all further counting of votes to be discontinued.  How far from the ideals of liberal democracy (as brilliantly explained in Ian Dunt's highly readable  "How to be a Liberal," published by Canbury a few weeks ago) can you get?

I think most of the rest of what used to be called the Western World were hoping for an overwhelming victory for Biden  and the Democrats.  However imperfect they may be, they would represent a return to normalcy and decency.  The worst possible outcome from liberal democrats' (lower case deliberate) of view would have been an overwhelming victory for Trump.

Instead we have the second worst outcome: Biden comfortably ahead on the total vote but only neck and neck on  Electoral College places, and challenges to the validity of the election which could go on for weeks and possibly involve the Supreme Court with its 6:3 Republican majority.

We should not be surprised.

 This has been predicted as the most probable outcome for months.  Clearly Trump anticipated it as he  has spent those months drip-feeding totally unsubstantiated doubts about the reliability of the election  into the public discourse. The mighty Fox News is on his side.

Biden and the Democrats will doubtless put up a doughty fight, but they are on the back foot, (cf Gore in 2020 and the hanging chads) as Trump will use all the trappings of his office, which he retains until next January whatever the outcome, to subvert the democratic will of the people.

 Whether we like it or not the US is the world's leading and by far the most powerful liberal democracy.  We can hope and urge that reason prevails

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Feeding hungry children

 The value of the UK's annual  total national income pre-Covid was just short of  $(US)3trillion.  Our population is approximately 65 million.  

So if if our national income were to be divided equally between every man woman and child who lives here each would have an annual income equivalent to $(US)43 000.  At  the current £/$ exchange rate of £1 = $1 27, that means an annual income of some £33 800 per year.

So the "typical" family of two adults and two children would have an income of £135 000 a year.

I am not advocating that the national income should be divided up equally: just trying to illustrate what a rich country we are, well able, should we so wish, to enable every family in the country to live very comfortably indeed, with a more than adequate house, plenty to eat, lovely clothes,  the latest  electric car if they decide to abjure an excellent public transport service subsidised by the taxes they can well afford to pay, and several foreign holidays a year if they chose to ignore the deleterious effects of travel on the planet.

 I accept that income differentials are, perhaps regrettably, necessary to reward effort and enterprise, but feel that they needn't be quite as wide as they are today , where a minority count their annual salaries in hundreds of thousands, then add a few million in bonuses, and a goodly number at the bottom of the pile are lucky to garner a precarious £12 000 a year.

In the long run, before the present generation of schoolchildren are dead, I'd like to see our vast national income shared more equitably (ie fairly)  so that every family had enough to live comfortably and those requiring financial incentives reaped their just but more modest rewards.  

My own feeling is that the lowest paid  should get a real living wage, (not the Tories' rebranded minimum wage) and the highest no more than ten times that. 

 But that's  long way off.  A universal basic income (UBI) is now on the agenda  and would be a good start.

For the urgent  present,  it  is disgraceful, but sadly true, that our income distribution is so skewed to the benefit of the wealthy that 4.2 million of our children live in poverty - that's about 30%. Yet our  government refuses to provide free school meals during this half term and the Christmas holidays.

It is obvious that, at least for the period of the pandemic, while thousands are forced into unemployment by order of the government, and many of the luckier ones still on the books have their inadequate earnings reduced to 80%, free school meals should continue to be provided.  

 Thanks to the tireless efforts of a charismatic young footballer, Marcus Rashford, who cheerfully announces  that as a child "breakfast club" was an important and vital part of his life, doubtless yet another U-turn is in the pipeline.

Thus catch-up government shillies and shallies and, wonder of wonders, has suddenly realised that local authorities are in the best position  to assess and ameliorate the need - a volt face from the creation of a national and privately run, (and failing) test, train and isolate system in which the expertise of local authorises  was ignored.

The government's current position is that local authorities are expected  to provide this extra service with much trumpeted additional  funds which were actually allocated during summer, meant to last for twelve weeks and are for the most part already spent.

I'm sure some mealy-mouthed last minute further concessions are in the pipeline.  Watch this space.

PS added 9th November.  Just for the record, having missed out on providing school meals over half-term the government has this weekend caved in and promised they will provide the money for them over the Christmas holidays.  Not yet sure about the February half-term.  It is clear the Rishi Sunak, who achieved Poster Boy status for his prompt and generous action at the beginning of the pandemic, has subsequently been as prone to catch up on the economic consequence as Johnson is over dealing with the pandemic itself

Saturday 24 October 2020

United Nations Day 2020


Once again it is 24th October, United Nations Day, and once again so far I have seen no mention if it in the newspapers or on the radio (I don't watch television until the evenings, so maybe there's been something there.).

 As so many countries in the world drift into self-centredness, nationalism and crude populism it is vital for progressive forces, albeit on the back foot in these countries, to keep the post-war vision of peace, harmony and international co-operation alive.

 It is tempting to write off the UN with a shudder, especially as four of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, the P5 in the jargon, are in the hands of mavericks:   Trump in the US (though not for much longer, we can pray); Putin in Russia, Johnson in the UK, and probably Xi Jinping in China.  

The only remotely sane P5 leader is Macron of France.

A far and dangerous cry from the vision of 1945.

Details  of the official cerebrations, which seem to amount to a concert from La Scala, Milan as the usual annual concert in the hall of the  General Assembly  in New York has been cancelled because to the coronavirus, are available here:

It would make an uplifting change from  the failing struggle to control covid-19, the carefully orchestrated triumph of an EU deal about to be pulled out of a hat, and the awfulness of the US election, if our newspapers were flooded with reports of the  efforts of the UN to educate,  heal, feed and promote or maintain peace in so many troubled parts of the world.

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Confrontation: the UK way

In the paper last Friday (Guardian 16 October) was a short item saying that  the heads of Germany's 16 federal states had agreed  on new uniform restrictions to contain [coronavirus] outbreaks.  Two examples were given:

  • in cities and regions with more than 35 infections  per 100 000 over a seven-day period, masks to be worn in all public places:
  •  .....with more than 50 cases, private gatherings be limited to 10...bars and restaurants  ordered to close at 11pm.

The item did not mention the role of the central government in coming to these agreements  but this site:

gives a fairly comprehensive account of what is being done, and it all seems urgent, competent, co-operative  and amiable.

By contrast, in the UK Downing Street is in gladiatorial combat with the directly-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham (in much  the same way as we are told our Brexiteer negotiators are "head to head" with the EU in Brussels).

 Burnham claims, from the heart and speaking for the people, that the government is  playing a "game of poker with people's lives" and "levelling down rather than up."

 Downing Street claims that Burnham is "playing politics" and polishing his ego.

Who is surprised?  

 Who was it that insisted various local government areas and city regions should have "directly elected mayors," thus concentrating political power into one individual rather than a group, whether thy wanted them or not?

The very notion of "directly- elected mayor" is designed to place personality above policies and attract the show-off rather than the  person with a serious concern for the area (cf Johnson himself  as Mayor of London, though Burnham  is probably at the opposite end of the spectrum).

We in Yorkshire, and that seems to include individuals and councils of all stripes) have  said repeatedly that we do not want a directly-elected mayor:  we want a Regional Assembly of elected members who will choose our own leader in the customary manor. 

 But we're going to get a directly elected mayor (at least we in West Yorkshire are: the central government seems to be terrified of an all-Yorkshire authority with a population similar to that of Scotland, which is what even the Tory Yorkshire Post would like (along with the as yet non-Lord Sentamu.)

But no: the UK way is the clash of the titans (or perhaps the clash of the tinies)  Might, with a parliamentary majorly of 80, is right and the rest must fall into line

Clearly whatever is best for us, be it three different Tiers for different areas, or a "circuit breaker" or, as a recent letter in the paper suggests, learning to live with the virus with a series of two-weeks "circuit breaker," six weeks "normal", two weeks "circuit breaker" . . .) unless and until a vaccine is found and the pandemic recedes, needs the consent of the public.

Without that consent  whatever is chosen, and no one can be sure what is right, will be less effective, more people will suffer from long-covid, and more people will die.



Tuesday 13 October 2020

No men of honour


On both sides of the Atlantic we appear to be led by men (yes, mostly men) who have thrown away all pretence of honesty and consistency  and are prepared to behave shamelessly in order to achieve their ends.

 In this country the government has promised that nothing shall be done in any future trade deal to undermine Britain's high standards of farming.

 OK, says the House of Lords, so let's amend the  Agriculture Bill so that our higher standards of food safety and animal welfare are enshrined in law.

Not necessary, says the government, because that's what we're going to do anyway.

So if that's what you're going to do anyway, why not put it into law?

The only possible answer is that the ruling clique want room to wriggle out of the promise, one which was made in the Referendum Campaign so something which a least some people believed when they voted to leave the EU.

(Nothing in the above is written to suggest that British agricultural standards are all that perfect - they are not, but that is not an argument for potentially  weakening them further.)

In the USA in February 2016, while Barack Obama was still President, a Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, died.  Following precedent, Obama waited the customary month and then nominated Merrick Garland, for approval by the Senate.

 Out of the blue (maybe that should be out of the red) the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch  McConnell, argued that that 2016 was an election year and the Senate should not be  expected to hold hearings on a replacement until after the election to be held in November, eight months later.  

This was a totally unprecedented move, but from the Republican point of view, it "worked." The hearings on the relatively progressive Garland were never proceeded with, Trump won the election and his own nominee, the right wing Neil Gorsuch,  was  duly nominated  and confirmed.

Less than a month ago, on September 18th, the liberally inclined Justice Ruth  Bader Ginsberg, died.  Note this was not eight months before the election, but a mere six weeks.  

The very same Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has decreed that it is absolutely vital to have a replacement in place before the election.  Trump has made  a nomination, Amy Coney  Barrett,           McConnell  has started the hearings, and confirmation is expected before the end of his month.

Even if Trump is defeated in the election (and concedes, which is by no means certain) if the nomination is confirmed  the Republicans will have a 6/3 majority in the Supreme Court and there is nothing the Democrats can do about it.  

Women's right to choose  and Obamacare will be under threat and the right to bear arms safe and secure.

 In both our countries the levers of power have ben grabbed by demagogues who will allow no sense of honesty, decency, shame  or consistency get in their way.