Tuesday 28 April 2020

Johnson returns - chastened(?)

As expected the right wing press has given an enthusiastic reception to Prime Minister Johnson's return to work.  The Express reports a "defiant " Johnson now "properly at the helm," which I suppose it thinks its readers will find re-assuring. The Sun is a little more circumspect, but reports in full how up-beat Johnson wants to "thank the people of this country for the sheer grit and guts we have shown" and likens the virus to "a mugger" we can "wrestle to the floor." 

It is not however, guts, grit and determination  (G squared D - the rallying-cry of the girls of Roedean as they cheer on their Lacrosse teams, or so I'm told) but careful planning and rational decisions which will minimise the damage the pandemic is doing to our society.

These are not Mr Johnson's strong suite.  The wasted weeks and poor decisions in the early days of the virus, during which Johnson  was in full commend (or could have been, except he apparently didn't bother to attend the key meetings) are the reasons why the UK is in the big league for deaths and damage rather than control of the virus.

There is, however, hope.  There are calls from right wing Conservatives, apparently anxious to resume normal economic activity as soon as possible if not before, and keep the profits flowing, to end the lockdown.  Johnson has, to his credit, so far poured water on these and opposed any end to the lockdown until there is clear evidence that the virus is under control.  Maybe his own unfortunate experience has taught him to be cautious.

What is clear from the progress of the virus so far  is that Brexiteer claims  that the UK, released from the constraints of EU membership, is about to bounce forward as a world leader are nonsense.  
Rather, we are a world laggards.  Our total of coronavirus deaths is in the 20 000+ range, along with Italy, Spain and France, although we had more time to prepare.  Germany, with a larger population, has deaths in the 6 000 region, Greece, battered by by austerity even more severe than ours for a decade, has, with a population of around 
11 million, kept deaths down to 134.

Boasts of British exceptionalism have become laughable.  We need to put the Brexiteer drum-bashing behind us and humbly accept  that we can learn from other counties and that a sustainable future requires us to work with them

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Looking wider

As the UK heads towards a place near the the top of the big league in terms of deaths from coronavirus our anxieties naturally focus on our own situation and those of our friends and families. A look at the international list of coronavirus cases and deaths shows that these are so far heavily concentrated in the world's richest and most highly developed countries - ie those where the majority of people live who can afford to fly. (See previous post)

The key phrase  in the above is "so far."  If this virus catches on in the world's poorer countries, without  the sophisticated medical services that we rich enjoy, the consequences are gong to be disastrous. The potential effects on those crowded together in  shanty towns just don't bear thinking about.

Of the developing countries (for want of a better phrase) in which I have a particular interest, Papua New Guinea, where I worked for most of the 1970s, has so far only seven suspected cases and no deaths.  Malawi, where I did a two-year stint with VSO, has had just two coronavirus related deaths.  The Solomon Islands, where a friend and former colleague serves as a Roman Catholic priest, appears to have neither cases not deaths.

Astonishingly, in spite of all the efforts of those who have campaigned for the cancellation of toxic Third World Debt, especially via Jubilee 2000, there are still 64 poor countries spending more on debt repayment than they do their health services.  For details see here.

International campaigns for further debt cancellations in view of the pandemic are ongoing and meeting with some success, but what has been achieved so far has been described as a "drop in the ocean."  To discover how to add your voice please go to the website of Global Justice Now.

As Rishi Sunak quite rightly sprays money around as water through a hosepipe in order to "save" the British economy and our affluent lifestyle, so we need to play our part in generous rather than penny-pinching attempts to save lives in the poorer parts of the world.

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Deference due?

 By accident rather than design I was in the United States in October/November1980 during the Carter/Reagan election campaign.  Reagan was routinely ridiculed as inadequate and totally unsuited to the job, but to my astonishment  beat Jimmy Carter, whom I had expected to win hands down. Reagan even won  the popular vote, which is more than Donald Trump did.

However, what I found equally surprising was  that, once Reagan was inaugurated president in the following January, maybe even earlier, the tone of the media changed and Mr Reagan was treated with great respect, even deference.  He was now Mr President, Commander in Chief, and so on, and commanded the respect due to his office.  If his inadequacy was not forgotten it didn't get much of an airing.

Something similar seems to be happening in the UK today with respect to Prime Minister Johnson.

In discussing the need in a democracy for voters to get accurate and reliable information on which to base their voting decisions the philosopher A C Grayling writes:

"...a political order with a careless and uninterested populace, unprincipled politicians, hijacking of the constitutional process by a small group of vigorous and tendentiously motivated  activists and "advisers" ,driven by such extreme partisanship and individual polemical  imperative that it freely and frequently deploys falsehood, is in danger of creating, sooner or later, a dysfunctional state."*

This comes at the beginning of Chapter Four and Grayling does not say to whom or where he is referring.  Maybe later:  there are another three chapters to go. 

But if the cap fits?

It is right that at a personal level we should have every sympathy for Mr Johnson during his illness, and hope for his recovery.

But we should not forget how he achieved his current position.

Perhaps it is not surprising that he is receiving unctuous praise from his cabinet colleagues, even those who have previously declared him unfit for the job.

But as far as I can ascertain, no one in the media is mentioning that only a moth ago he was openly boasting of having shaken hands with people likely to have been exposed to the coronavirus. See:

 https://www.newsweek.com/boris-johnson-says-shaken-hands-coronavirus-patients-1490214Johnson’s Eton housemaster, Martin Hammond, in 1982 school report

“I think he honestly believes" says the housemaster," it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.” 

Well, now he's learned the hard way that he isn't.

I know we shouldn't "kick a man when he's down" and that is possibly why the media are showing restraint.

But these things should not be airbrushed out of history


*  A C Grayling, The Good State, Oneworld, 2020,  p44

Sunday 5 April 2020

Welcome Keir Starmer

 It is a relief that the Labour Party has chosen Sir Keir Starmer as their new leader.  Thank goodness their members   have put electability purity of dogma.  

That is not to say that I think Jeremy Corbyn is anything other than a decent man with reasonable ideas and a record of being right.  Unfortunately It was too easy for the hostile press to distort his past record so that, for example, support of the Palestinian cause was too easily twisted into anti-Semitism, and dialogue with the IRA was turned into support of terrorism.

I've no doubt that it won't take long for the press to discover items from Starmer's past with which to smear him.  He was, after all, a human rights lawyer and I'm pretty sure he'll have defended someone at sometime whom the right wing find unsavoury.  However, Starmer is a gifted man who rose to the top of a profession outside politics and is probably as capable as anyone of mastering the difficult tasks ahead.

I think these are three.

Most immediately he must co-operate with the government on finding the best measure to take to combat the coronavirus without at the same time allowing himself and his party to be dragged into sharing the blame for the mess the government has made so far.  This will be a difficult tightrope to walk.

There will be plenty of time for criticism later and the facts wills peak for themselves.  

As of last week China has all but stopped the spread of the virus with 3,322 deaths or just 2 per million population. The death rate in South Korea has also slowed with just 174 deaths or 3 per million population. In Britain deaths are still rising with 3,605 so far or 53 per million population.  

And we had three months to prepare.

Second, he must sort out the fratching within the Labour Party itself.  The great fault of the Labour party is that, collectively, it thinks it has the one unique solution to the ills in our society, and that those of us with different views should get off their patch and leave them to it.  Starmer's problem is that inside it the Labour Party has several factions each with its own unique view of the unique solution, and he needs to get them to pull together.  Good luck.

Thirdly Starmer needs to persuade these these unique possessors of the one true way that, if the Conservatives forces are to be defeated , then they must learn to accommodate to working with others.  

What might loosely be called the progressive forces in the UK, Liberal Democrats, Greens, most of the nationalists, the Women's Party are, along with Labour,  in the majority.  The major stumbling block to our working together has, in the past, been the Labour Party, especially the clause in their constitution which rules that there should be a Labour candidate to contest every parliamentary seat.  Getting rid of that could be Starmer's "Clause four" moment.

Friday 3 April 2020

A haircut for the airlines industries?

It's a sign of the times when I put Malthus into Google just to refresh memory the first dozen  entries were about a contemporary  singer or entertainer.  However, adding Thomas R produced the following summary of his theory:

Populations [have] a tendency to grow until the lower class suffered hardship, want and greater susceptibility to famine and disease, a view that is sometimes referred to as a Malthusian catastrophe.

Doubtless some of the more hard-hearted population pessimists  will take satisfaction in the likelihood that the present pandemic will diminish the world population mainly in the lower part of the triangle of wealth distribution.

Be that as it may, I think Malthusian doctrine has considerable relevance to the airlines industries. 

 Most airlines are begging their governments for financial rescue packages, and it is right that governments should respond - on the condition should be that, post crisis, the airline  industry should be considerably smaller. 

Whether that is achieved by letting some airlines go out of business, or requiring all airlines to take a haircut is a matter for negotiations.

For some time it has been obvious, becasue of the industry's contribution to the the climate crisis, that this outcome is desirable anyway.  Not only do we need a much smaller industry, but there is no case for the expansion of Heathrow, Leeds-Bradford, or any other airport.

The overwhelming bulk of aircraft travel,  certainly from the UK and other developed countries, is for tourism, leisure and pleasure. 

With modern distance communication facilities there is very little need for business travel.  A few people need to travel for work and some to maintain family connections.  But, now we know what we know, there is no justification for  the present vast industry to be maintained at its present size just to facilitate the fancies of we wealthy for sunshine, exotic experiences or sex. 

The second reason that has now emerged is that when the causes of spread of the coronavirus are analysed it is pretty certain that international air travel will be found to have been a major contributor (perhaps along with cruises - that industry will probably need to take a haircut as well)

So in this context Malthus has turned out to be right.  Nature is telling us something, and we should listen.