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.