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.

Friday 9 October 2020

Johnson told to: "Get a grip."


In my childhood  boys up to the age of 13 or so were expected to wear short trousers and long socks held up by elastic  garters.  The elastic soon lost its springiness  and the socks easily shuttered around the ankles (see the illustrations in the "Just William " books.)

When our performance in whatever was under discussion failed to come up to expectations we were often told to "Pull your socks up."  

Biddable boys so instructed but as yet unfamiliar with the nuances of metaphor would bend down, pull up their socks, and wonder quite how that would help in long division, memorising French irregular verbs, defending the goal or whatever area of underperformance they were guilty.

My father's version of  the injunction to improve was "Frame thissen."  (= Frame thyself, or frame yourself in modern English. Yorkshire dialect still used the singular thee, thy, thou). I still have no idea what "frame"* was being referred to .  It can't have been a spinning frame because in our part of Yorkshire we still used mules.  Brewer's Dictonary is of no help: it refers only to an Oxford Frame, for holding photographs.

Keir Starmer's frequent injunctions for the prime minister to "Get a grip" which I believe is in one of today's  papers, or at Prime Minister's questions:  "What is the prime minister going to do?" in terms of constructive suggestions, are as vacuous  as these childhood strictures.  By asking them Starmer is playing to Johnson's strength in that they invite bluster, an art in which Johnson excels.

Rather I believe Starmer would be more effective  if he asked questions so designed that they actually require an answer.

"Now that the private secretor is failing to operate an effective  track trace and isolate system, will the prime minister agree to phasing in  a greater role for the NHS and Local Government Public Health Departments."

"Will the prime minister agree to close consultation with local government councils and their leaders  when proposing changes to lockdown regulations for their areas."

"The government is spending up to £3 500 per person per day on private consultants.  Why cannot this work be done by our perfectly competent  civil servants at a fraction of the cost?"

 "What plans has the government to compensate those long-term viable businesses which lockdown regulations temporarily prevent from operating?

 There is a strong case to be made of the lead questions, not just from the Leader of the Opposition but from other  from other opposition MPs to be submitted before-hand so that the Prime minister can research a genuine answer.  If this were inadequate the questioner could then follow up with one or two supplementaries.

 Such a system would be more conducive to getting things right than the present time wasting and rather silly gladiatorial contest.

 * Post script added Monday 12th October. Further research (ie looking it up in Chambers Dictionary) reveals the "to frame" is a verb with a variety of meanings which incude "to bring about."  So Yorkshire Dialect has it right: "Frame Thissen, Johnson" means "bring something, such as control of the virus, about."  By itself it is still not very helpful: it needs suggestions as to how.

It is however pleasing to note that, since of the publication of this post, two of the helpful suggestions have been implemented: 

1. The government is to pay 2/3rds of the wages of those  unable to work because of enforced lockdown.  Not very generous when you consider that many of the wages will be at the minimum rate, but better than nothing,and

2  The central government is at last consulting  with local councils and leaders on the terms of the various lockdowns. It's is so far not very harmonious but, leaving it so late, I suppose they have not yet had chance to develop a positive working relationship.

Thursday 1 October 2020

Laurence Fox: what British values?

I regret that from 8 o'clock each evening I run out of energy,  stop trying to do useful things or think about serous matters and switch  to "comfort TV:"  mainly the re-runs of  Krimis on ITV3 or "Drama."  

My enjoyment of "Lewis" repeats has, however,been seriously diminished by the revelation that his side-kick, Sergeant Hathaway, in the series a decent chap, played by  Laurence Fox, has in real life  views seriously to the right of what the series portrays.

 Earlier  this week it was announced that Fox is to establish a new political party, with the working title of "Reclaim" which is to campaign for the restoration of British values.

 Some years ago when the then prime mister John Major ]was urging us to adopt British values  someone with a foreign sounding name wrote to the Guardian to ask which ones he’d  like them to adopt:

  •  putting their elderly people into care homes and forgetting about them;
  • the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe; 
  • or rampaging around the Continent shouting ‘two World Wars and one word cup’ while  vomiting into the gutters’?

These are a far cry form the values I imbued in my not very elevated boyhood reading of the works of such as W E Johns (Biggles etc) , Percy F Westerman (Scouts and Sea Cadets), and the weekly Wizards and Hotspurs.  In summary these comprised: loyalty, trustworthiness (My word is my bond); modesty rather than brashness; patriotism, but understated; and a penchant for the underdog.

These in turn are a far cry from those evidenced by our present leaders who proclaim their boats, lies, half-truths and false promises from lecterns flanked by Union flags.

 It will be interesting to know what values Laurence Fox would like his party to reclaim.