Tuesday 28 December 2021

Desmond Tutu and the benefits of Wokeness

 Desmond Tutu did some of his theological training at King's College, London. He liked to tell how, if he was lost and needed directions he would ask a policeman, who not only didn't arrest him, nor even demand his papers, but actually called him "Sir!"  He admitted that on occasions he and his African colleagues would sometimes ask a policeman for directions, even when they knew perfectly well  where they were and where they were going going, just to enjoy the frisson of this, to them unusual, experience.

We don't hear much of this aspect of the Metropolitan Police these days.  I wonder if it still exists?  Our unarmed "bobbies" and the culture that policeman were there to be asked if you wanted to know the time, were one of the features that made our country admired, and could do so again.

Another Tutu story relates to his childhood.  After a church service the congregation were milling about outside the church, and the visiting preacher Fr Trevor Huddleston, before engaging Tutu's mother in conversation, raised his hat to her (which I presume was  the conventional thing for polite gentlemen to do when approaching  ladies  in that era, though I was too young to notice much of it here in Birstall).  Tutu was impressed.  If this man cold raise his hat to his mother, a humble house servant, then the visiting  priest  clearly "had something" which was worth exploring.  Hence Tutu became an enthusiastic ember of the church, eventually was ordained as a priest and became one of your most celebrated Archbishops.

I think "woke" was originally used to indicate awareness of racial injustice, but has now expanded to a more broad awareness of and sensitivity to the predicaments and feelings of others.

The Conservatives and their supportive press have chosen to ridicule those who attempt to practise wokeness in this sense.  They shouldn't: it is designed to make the world a better place, something both Huddleston (a member of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, next door to Birstall) and Tutu both tried and succeeded in doing along with countless polite policemen and others who  treat all human beings with the respect we all deserve.


Sunday 26 December 2021

Freedom... For whom? To do what?


"Deregulation is a euphemism  for destroying the capacity of the state to protect us from chancers, conmen and criminals."

So writes George Monbiot in and article in the Guardian, 24/12/2021. 

 A hundred  Conservative MPs, under the pretext of libertarianism, have opposed their own government over the matter of regulation to protect us all from  the dangers of COVID pandemic.   Now that the scientists suspect that, if we catch the new Omicron variant, we are 40% les likely to land in hospital than if we catch the Delta variant, supporters of the 100 applaud their "chief chancer" for "getting it right" and avoiding a second Christmas lockdown. 

 Personally I prefer to take the advice of the medical establishment, which urges us to show restraint and avoid all contact which isn't absolutely all that important to us.

I find it bizarre that Conservative MPs on the right of their party (which seems to be most of them) dare to campaign under the banner of liberty and freedom, issues on which the Tory party and its predecessors have not, historically, been all that keen. The liberties of Roman Catholics to practise their religion in their own way, of non-conformists to attend universities and enter the professions, were never high on their agenda. I suspect that the liberty of Jews to participate in activities was more commonly restricted  in Tory patronised golf clubs than in any other area of society (and that includes today's Labour Party). 

More recently Conservatives have not been enthusiastic about the freedom of Gays to live their preferred lifestyles (the notorious Section 28 of Mrs thatcher's Local Government Act 1988, banned the "promotion" of homosexuality by local authorities and in Britain's schools);  nor the rights of Gypsies and Travellers  to live according to their traditions; the present Home Secretary doesn't seem too keen on protect the freedom of young people, particularly youngsters of colour, to walk our street;  and the liberty of desperate asylum seekers and migrants to reach our shores safely and place their talents and energies at our disposal seems non-existent. 

So whose liberties do the Tories cherish?  Essentially those of the Have lots" to exploit the "have less" and to preserve their advantages from generation to generation..

Preserving and extending Liberty is the underlying purpose of the Liberal Democrat Party.  Liberalism is aptly  defined in an earlier Guardian article by Timothy Garton Ash as: "a quest  for the greatest possible  measure of individual human freedom compatible with the freedom of others." The key phrase is "compatible with the freedom of others."

Migrants coming to our shores do not hamper my freedom, they enhance it.  Youths behaving normally in the street are totally compatible with my freedom (though I'm not so sure I can say the same for dog owners who allow their pets to harass me - only being friendly - as I jog round our country park).

On the other hand people who fail to get vaccinated without good cause, or refuse to wear face-masks in enclosed areas, do limit my freedom, both by putting my heath at risk and maybe cluttering up the hospitals unnecessarily  should I need treatment.

 As R H Tawney famously points out in his celebrated "Equality" (1931): freedom for the pike is death to the minnows.

Tory MPs, especially those representing the "red wall" seats, should consider carefully whose freedoms they are protecting, and how they are likely to exercise them.

Friday 17 December 2021

Labour's dogs in the manger



Just before the Batley and Spen by-election (1sr July) the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ed Davey issued the following public statement:

“Voters are far smarter than people give them credit for. Liberal Democrat voters may well notice that this is a Labour-held seat with the Tories in a close second, and they’ll draw their own conclusions. But that shouldn’t be stitched up in a back room by party leaders.

The voters took Sir Ed’s hint, the Liberal Democrat vote fell to a miserable 3%, and Labour narrowly held the seat.

Had Sir Keir Starmer made a similar statement before yesterday's North Shropshire by-election he would have been able to take some of the credit for massive humiliation suffered by the Tories.  Sadly he chose to remain silent, and all the credit must go to our new Liberal Democrat MP, Helen Morgan, the wonderful Liberal Democrat by-election team, and the "smarter than people think" voters, along with those who stayed at home.

To be fair, I've seen claims that the Labour Party HQ chose to stand aside and not put much effort into the campaign.

 Not so,however, a group of Labour diehards who took their cue from Labour First and its spokesperson Luke Akehurst .

 In an article vigorously opposing tactical voting and published just a few days before the North Shropshire by-election Mr Akehurst wrote:

   It is quite difficult to justify viewing [the Liberal Democrats] as potential progressive partners when they enthusiastically embraced a coalition with David Cameron for five years, ushered in austerity and horrific cuts to public services, and reneged on solemn pledges they had made to left-wing voters such as students.

Why should we trust them, and how can we expect Labour voters to feel comfortable backing them, when tactical anti-Tory voters in 2010 saw the Lib Dem MPs they had elected going into government with the Tories?

 He then adds:  

 The Lib Dems have no claim to be the main challenger based on general election results. Labour was a clear second in North Shropshire in 1997, 2001, 2005, 2015, 2017 and 2019. The Lib Dems only narrowly managed second in 2010. Labour almost won the seat in 1997, the Lib Dems have never been anywhere near it.

We don’t need a progressive alliance with minor parties because what Labour is at its best is a progressive alliance in and of itself.

 You can read the full article here .


The Labour diehards spread enough of these views around the constituency, I'm told,  to cause the bookmakers to change their odds and make the Tories  favourites to hold the seat.  

Fortunately they were mistaken.  Helen Morgen won with 17 957 votes to the Tories' 12 032 (a swing of +43%) with Labour coming a poor third  on 3 686 votes (11%, which would have meant a lost deposit in the good old days.)

 The problem I see with Mr Akehurst and those of the Labour First ilk is they believe that campaigning for what they see as  the purity of their cause is more important than actually forming part of a  government that could implement some of it.  They and they alone have the recipe for a perfect world and will not see it besmirched by any other recipe.

Fine if that were a possibility, and maybe it was in 1945.    

But I suspect those days are over, and even if they're not, how many years of corrupt and ineffective minority Tory government are they prepared to endure before the the glorious transformation becomes possible (and when it did, under Tony Blair, they don't seem to think it was all that glorious). Just how long are they prepared to wait?

The criticisms levelled at the Liberal Democrats in the first quotation above are not fake news.  We did indeed  "usher ...in austerity and horrific cuts to public services, and reneged on solemn pledges [we] had made to left-wing voters such as students." much to the horror and dismay of many party party members, including me (and this is not hindsight but documented on this blog and elsewhere).  And we are sorry for it and have been cruelly punished for it.

 But parties in government make mistakes, and parties in coalitions make compromises.

 And let us be clear that the Labour Party in government has not been the Simon Pure wearer of St Michael underpants that  Labour First would have us believe.

Which government invaded Iraq on a false prospectus which lead to around 200 000 violent civilian deaths  and a state now teetering on failure; introduced PFIs which lumbered hospitals and local authorities with enormous debts far exceeding the initial costs of the projects; first promised not to introduce student fees, than introduced them at £1 000 a year up front, then tripled them?

Which party proposed the Alternative Vote for the reform of the electoral system, then failed to campaign for it;  had the chance to reform the House of Lords but blocked the allocation of parliamentary time to deal with it?

 And its a bit rich to blame the Liberal Democrats  for going into coalition with the Tories when the alternative of a Lib-Lab coalition, favoured by Gordon Brown,  was vetoed by big beasts such as Jack  Straw and David Blunkett.

 Name calling is a fruitless exercise. We need to recognise what we have in common, accept each others' imperfections, and form an imperfect progressive coalition  as a viable alternative to the horrors of continued Tory rule.

 The "smarter than we think" electors recognise this: blinkered party loyalists should not stand it its way.

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Generation "left behind."

Yesterday "Google" changed its "signing-in" system from a "user-name plus password" to what they call  a "two stage" system which involves confirming having received a telephone call.  I received warning  about this a few days ago and didn't worry about it as I'm used to similar system with my bank: I sign in to my on-line account with my user name and password, they telephone me, I pick up the receiver, input a four figure code which has appeared on my screen and, hey pesto, I'm in. 

 It's a nuisance but I'm pleased they're being careful to prevent ill-behaved  people from pinching my money.

 What I had not realised was that the Google system requires  not an ordinary run-of-the-mill telephone (now called a landline) but a mobile phone, or, maybe even worse, a smartphone.  I do not use a mobile phone and, although i have a smartphone  which I use mainly for the excellent Google Translate (from English into German and vice versa) when I am directed to  "motorolamoto e6 play" I have no idea what this is or how to gain access to it.

 For the moment I can use  Google, my Gmail account and this blog, but should I need to "reboot" or otherwise accidentally switch out of Google I have no idea how to get back.

In summary:

1. Why is Google so thoughtless as to introduce this new system just ten days before Christmas, a time when most of us do more distance communicating than at any other time of the year?

2.  Why does Google not offer a back-up system (or a continuation of the existing system) for those of us not equipped with the latest in modern technology (and without grandchildren to help us out.)?

I've come up against a similar "brick wall" in trying to get a COVID passport, which I may need over the New Year period when I shall (possible lockdown permitting) be visiting friends in the London area and a pass may be needed to gain access to the theatres for which we've booked (or even to get on the train?)

These passports can be obtained on line, but here again, the possession of a mobile phone is presumed, along with the assumption that you've told your GP its number.  Fortunately there is a back-up system: a printed certificate can be sent by post.  

I've requested one, but they warn it will take up to  five days to come.  Well and good if they keep to their prediction, but if they deal with it at the speed with which  requests for asylum are processed, I may be still waiting for it next Christmas.

I recognise  that, compared with the desperate situations of families left stranded in Afghanistan or desperate to reach us from across  the channel, these matters are trivial, but it is annoying that both public services and private enterprise are allowed to  assume that everyone is equipped  with the latest technological fad.

 I, and many like me, are not so much "left behind" as not wanting to bother to keep up with what is largely trivial.  We have better things to do, not least lots of books to read.  We need protection. 


Post script added 22nd December

Thanks to Nigel for comment below.  For some reason my site will not allow me to respond to comments with a further comment (whom do you contact to try and put that right?) but hanks for your suggestion  Nigel.  As it happens my printed vaccination certificate arrive in the post this morning, so whoever is operating the system is clearly on the ball.

Sunday 12 December 2021

Ditching Johnson: be careful what we wish for.

 it's a relief that Prime Minster Johnson's impenetrable carapace is at last beginning to crack.  I had expected that the Tories would have ditched him by this autumn, but the electorate has been absurdly generous in giving him and his fellow incompetents "slack." Now the odds are that he will be dumped sometime next year, in ample time for the new leader to be bedded in and lauded before he or she  calls an election at what is deemed to be the most advantageous time for their own party.

Whereas the Labour Party is still mulling over the awfulness of their invasion of Iraq on the coat-tails of the Americans (along with other errors such as PFI and mugs to keep out immigrants), and we Liberals agonise over how we could possibly have elected leaders who would betray our allegiance to the  principles and policies of Beveridge and Keynes, the Tories have no such scruples.

Going forward(s) will be their mantra.  That was then, this is now.

Whether the chosen one is a sanitised Sunak (he of the bungled "Eat to help out" campaign or the pointless stamp duty holiday which stoked up the housing market) or   Priti Patel and her unacceptable though ineffective wall against migrants regardless of their potential to drown, veils will be drawn over the shambles of the last 12 years - the demonising of the poor, the corruption,  Brexit, the shambolic  handling of the COVID crisis, the besmirching of our international reputiation, the lies, the trashing of constitutional norms.

Attempts to keep these matters alive will be swallowed up by the compliant press, which will slavishly applaud the wonders of the new and squeaky-clean regime.

It would be churlish and dangerous  to hope that Johnson survives to bring further opprobrium on his party, because that would mean, to say the least, further unnecessary deaths.

So the best we can do, along with piling on the pressure for the charlatan to go, is do our best to keep the record alive.

Lest we forget, here's a summary:

  •  effective reductions in NHS funding from 2010 onwards so there was insufficient spare capacity when the pandemic struck;
  • failure to take action on the results of the Cygnus Exercise of 2016 on how to prepare for a likely pandemic;
  • the Brexit referendum purely to  protect their party from encroachments by UKIP:
  • the hardest possible Brexit;
  •  illegally proroguing parliament; 
  • signing the Northern Ireland protocol in order to “get Brexit done” but without, apparently  any intention of implementing it (and now blaming the EU for trying to do just that);  
  • abusing the judges for enforcing the law;
  •  glad-handing indifference when the first COVID infections appeared; 
  • lucrative contracts to their mates to provide inadequate and often defective equipment;
  • an eye-watering £37bn spent on a “world beating” test and trace system that didn’t work; 
  • failure to sack the Home Secretary for breaking the ministerial code; 
  • failure  to institute a “circuit breaker" for the October 2010 half term; 
  • bullying the BBC with threats of cuts in its funding;
  • sanctioning Dominic Cummings’s trip to the Northeast to “test his eyes"; 
  • 2020 Christmas lockdown only at the very last minute;
  •  stuffing the House of Lords with, among others, 15 former Tory Party treasurers, each of whom contributed at least £3m to party funds; 
  • threatening  to break international law;
  • at the World Trade Organisation  blocking the US proposal that the pharmaceutical companies  waive their patent rights on Covid vaccines; 
  • calling on the rest of the world to abandon coal burning  while planning a new coal-mine in Cumbria; 
  • attempting to protect corrupt MPs making shedloads on the side; 
  • regaling the CBI with tales of Peppa Pig rather than a plan for economic recovery; 
  • altering the voting laws to make it more difficult for the less likely to vote Tory to vote at all;
  •  turning migrants away in the Channel and blaming the French when  they drown;
  • partygate, the final straw?  Or is there more? 
I know I've missed a few.  Suggestions welcome

Tuesday 7 December 2021

COVID: both precedented and predicted.

For the past nineteen months minister after minister, in attempting to explain away the Government's omissions, delays and errors in dealing with the COVID crisis,have repeatedly claimed that the situation is "unprecedented," with the implication that, that being the case, a few missteps and mistakes are perfectly understandable and to be both expected and excused. 

As such their PR exercise has been reasonably successful, and so far,  according to the opinion polls , a goodly proportion of the electorate is prepared to  give them the benefit of the doubt in spite of their serial bungling.

However, it is not strictly true that the pandemic is unprecedented.  There have been plenty of pandemics before: not just regular bouts of the  the Black Death in the Middle Ages, the  "Great Plague" of 1665 which we all used to learn about at school, and cholera in mid nineteenth century London.  All of those, you may say, are too far disant in history to be relevant to present-day governments, though the worldwide  Flu Pandemic, of 1918/19, which caused more deaths than the  First World War, is sufficiently recent for records to have been kept and studied.

Even so, if the argument that the COVID Pandemic is not unprecedented can be dismissed as pedantry, that cannot be said of its prediction. .Exercise Cygnus was a three day operation in the UK October 2016, to assess the readiness  of the country to deal with a pandemic, which it was assumed was likely if not inevitable, and could be expected at any time..

 To repeat, this was October 2016, not lost in the mists of history.  The Conservative Party, this Conservative Party, was in power, many  of the present Conservative MPs were already in parliament and (I haven't checked , but I think it is highly likely) some of the present ministers were already members of the Government.  (To avoid fake implications, if not news, Mr Johnson was not Prime Minister, it was David Cameron.)

The findings of the Cygnus Exercise were that the country was far from  sufficiently prepared for a pandemic.  Among other things, resources for such things as PPE and ventilators were inadequate, and there were insufficient  plans to  protect residents and staff  working in care homes.

 Instead of taking action our Conservative  Government  hushed up the findings, which one newspaper later described as "too frightening to be revealed."

The matter is topical because yesterday Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the leading scientists in the development of the Oxford Zeneca Vaccine, delivered the  annual Dimbleby Lecture.  She argued that more pandemics are to be expected.  They may be variations of COVID, of Flu, or something else entirely.  Adequate vaccines will be needed and needed quickly.. Hence those scientists such as herself, in Oxford and other universities, must not be pushed  into the background and left to languish in underfunded obscurity until, surprise surprise, the next pandemic comes along.   They must be fully funded,  resourced and encouraged now

Paring down resources to the minimum in search of short term profits or minimal taxation is an endemic feature of the Tory  economic philosophy of privatisation and  low regulated small state capitalism. As outlined in a previous post, our NHS from 2010 was starved of adequate funding so that, when the pandemic stuck ,there was insufficient  spare capacity to deal with routine cases along with COVID emergencies. 

I'm sure that, when the circumstances surrounding the breakdown of the electricity supply in parts of Northern England and Scotland, leaving many households without power for over a week, it will be found that the privatised companies have paid too little attention to keeping the supply system in good repair.  Similarly we shall probably discover that the water companies have neglected the collection and treatment of sewage, which is why they need to pump raw sewage into our rivers and the sea whenever there is heavy rain.

 In the public sector our  child welfare provision has been pared to the bone, so that the horrifying treatment of the six-year-old Arthur Labino-Hughes escaped attention until his murder.

In the private sector we need to devise a system which forces companies to look to the medium and long term.  I suspect it will not involve aggressive take-overs and hedge funds.

In the public sector we need politicians with the courage to tell us that we cannot have adequate levels of provision and protection on minimal levels of taxation.  Those who pretend to offer both  should be recognised for the charlatans they are.