Friday 30 April 2021

Drink only water from 7am to your admision time (12.00 noon)

Earlier this week I was called into hospital for an operation.  Although minor it was to be performed under a general anaesthetic  and I was instructed not eat anything in the five hours before my admission, and drink only water up to an hour before admission.

Not difficult in this country.  I have a choice of four different taps in my house, all of which supply amazingly pure, fresh, totally safe drinking water.  As a bonus I also have a WC from which I can flush "waste" to be scientifically disposed off without any effort from me, and a bidet (the French influence) which will enable me to squirt pure water at  what my doctor delicately calls "the area" so that I can clean it after defecation.

Not so in many parts of the world.  

Abut 750 million of the world's population (almost one in 10, in total more than the current UK population) do not have access to a regular supply of clean drinkable water.  A much larger number, 2.5bn, (about one in three) do not have access to sanitation facilities which allow them to defecate  in private, with dignity, under hygienic conditions.

I have discussed this in a post last year published on World Toilet Day  (19th November).  I shall probably do so again this year.

So what is this government of "Global Britain" going to do about it?

As reported in the Guardian yesterday, as part of the reduction of the parliamentary approved and legally binding  0.7% of GDP to 0.5%, the  the total budget  for WASH (Water,Sanitation and Hygiene - everything has to have an acronym) is to be cut by 64%, which will involve a reduction of 80% in our assistance to poorer countries in their efforts to enable their citizens to have access to clean drinkable water.

This at a time when we in the rich world have had hammered into us day after day the importance of hygienic practices and washing our hands for the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice more frequently than we'd ever thought sensible.

 As  WaterAid's* chief executive has said: "There is never a  good time to cut the  [WASH] budget, but the middle of the worst [world] pandemic for 100 years must be one of the worst."

We do not have to cut our aid expenditure.  It is a pittance, a mere 70p in every £100 we generate, compared to what we have spent on ourselves to protect ourselves and our children from the Coronavirus pandemic. It is merely being done to placate some hard right Tory nationalist desperate to avoid a drift of the their support to a resurgent quasi UKIP.

Add to this our cuts of up to two thirds in assistance to war-torn  countries such as Yemen  (where we continue to supply arms to Saudi Arabia who do the bombing) Libya, Syria and Somalia; have  a Home Secretary who appears to be content to allow migrants and asylum seekers trying to do their best for their families to drown in the Channel; and generates a hostile environment for those who do manage to get here.

I am ashamed to be part of this global Britain.

*If you would like to contribute to WaterAid you can access their site at





Tuesday 27 April 2021

Curtains for Johnson?


In his chapter on "High Finance" C Northcote Parkinson of "Parkinson's Law (1957) explains his "Law of Triviality," namely:

 "[T]he time spent on any item of the agenda  will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved. " (page 63, Readers' Union edition.)  

Parkinson illustrates this by imagining a Board of Directors which is asked to approve, among other things, the building of an Atomic Reactor at a cost of £10m, and a bicycle shed for the clerical staff costing £350. (It was 1957.)

 The Atomic Reactor goes through "on the nod", partly because only one member of the board really knows what an atomic reactor is, or what it is for, and none of them can really comprehend how much  a million pounds is, least of all 10 of them. (It was 1957.)

However, they all know what a bicycle shed is and have a grasp of £350.  So there is a lengthy discussion on the details of the construction. Should it have an aluminium roof or would asbestos be better?(1957) Is the quotation competitive or would another contactor be cheaper? Do the clerical staff really deserve a bicycle shed?  

Discussion is lengthy: the directors feel they have pulled their weight and earned their fees.

There are clear parallels here with the situation between Prime Minster Johnson and the British electorate.  

He and his government are squandering £37 billion on a test and trace system which at one time involved a "world beating" app.   Well, as our houses inch up in value through no effort of our own, if we're lucky enough to have one we begin to get the hang of what a million pounds is (or a significant fraction of one here in Yorkshire) but a billion is beyond our comprehension* and many of us, including me, are not all that sure what an "app" is.  

 So we let that through on the nod.  

Similarly with umpteen thousands, or tens of thousands, in dodgy contracts given to mates without "due process." But given that most of us have never knowingly procured anything in our lives, maybe that was necessary in these circumstances that we're repeatedly told are "unprecedented."

 Hence so far Teflon Johnson and his Tory Cronies remain unscathed and are even riding high in the polls.

 However, we do know what a flat is: lots of us live in one or have friends who do so.  We do know what redecorating is and most of us have either done it, or hired someone else to do it an paid for it ourselves. 

So the circumstances of Johnson's redecoration, and the money allegedly involved, fall within our  spectrum of understanding.

 A £30 000 government grant  for redecorating: most of us could redecorate for a tenth of that.

 And according to the BBC it's an annual grant.  (Maybe that's for the whole of Downing Street, not just the flat)

 But that £30 000 wasn't enough.  £58 000 has been mentioned,  though it is not clear whether that incudes or is in addition to the £30 000 "freebie."  

We understand what  £58 000 is, though not many of us possess that kind of money in one go**: you go to work five days a week for 8 hours a day  for two years to earn it - and much longer if you're on the minimum wage or a zero-hours contract.

 Some say the decorations could be costing £200 000. You could buy a house for that in Hartlepool.

 And all because he didn't like the "John Lewis furniture nightmare* he inherited from Theresa may. 

 Well, in spite of the "never knowingly undersold" claim, most of us regard John Lewis as pretty up-market, certainly a cut above Marks and Spencer and streets ahead of Poundland.

 Trivial as the sums involved are compared with £31 billion on our upgraded nuclear defence (against what we're not sure)  the Downing Street Decoration Saga could fall into the remit of Parkinson's  "Law of Triviality" and be the issue on which, finally, the mud sticks.

 Fingers crossed. 


* A useful rule of thumb is to remember that a million seconds is 12 days; a billion seconds is 31 years.

** More than 16m people in the UK have savings of less than £100, a study by the Money Advice Service (MAS) has found.

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Lest we forget

 For the moment the Conservative Party is riding high in the opinion polls with 43% of the electorate supporting it and Labour trailing behind with just 34%.  We poor Liberal Democrats  have a mere 9% (though frankly I'm pleased that anyone notices us at all) and the Greens, in spite of the current interest in tackling the climate crisis, an even merer (if such a word exists) 5%.*

The Troy popularity is assumed  to be due to a "Vaccine Bounce": the successful, and for once really "word beating" distribution of the anti COVID vaccine.  It seems to go unnoticed that this success is the result of using the NHS and local authority Public Health teams, conspicuously ignored in the Test Trace and Isolate system which was handed over to the private sector, and, at an estimated  cost  of £37bn , continues to fail dismally.

This feeling of "Well done, the Tories, pulled it off in the end," is perhaps natural, but highly illogical and irresponsible.

We still have the highest total number of deaths in Europe, although in per capita terms we have fallen  to about 10th in the world league,  with 190 deaths per 100 000, just behind Italy with 192.  Given that Italy was afflicted by the pandemic well ahead of other European countries, had we bothered to learn from their experience we should be way behind

The Sunday Times "Insight Team's" investigation, "Failures of State" ( Mudlark 2021) gives stick and lift**  but I'll just highlight five areas which should not be forgotten:

  • The failure to act on the recommendations of the Cygnus Exercise (2016 - when the Tories were in power and have been ever since) which tested Britain's ability to deal with a pandemic.  We were found wanting but most of the 26 recommendations to improve our ability to cope were ignored (pp88-90).
  • The failure to take prompt action when the dangers of the pandemic first became apparent in January  2020 (Rugby international and Goodwood Racing events allowed to go ahead, Prime Minister Johnson boasting of shaking hands with people possibly infected, no lockdown until well into March.)  This delay is estimated to have cost some 25 000 excess deaths. (p 320)
  • Access to intensive care beds for those who needed them was determined by a Triage Tool which rated patients according  to age, frailty and "underlying conditions." Anyone with a score of eight or above was excluded.  Given that those over 80 were given a score of nine for age alone, that autoerotically excluded them (us) however robust and lacking in underlying conditions they (we ) might be.  Only one in nine of the patients who died in hospital  were given the highest level of critical care.  Health Secretary  Matt Hancock's claim that the NHS was "never overwhelmed " was only achieved by sacrificing, among others, the elderly. (pp250 and 251)
  • The failure to order a "circuit breaker" lockdown to coincide with an extended "half term" break for schools in October 2020.  Had this been implemented it is estimated that 1.3 million people  fewer people would have been infected and somewhere between 6 000 and 13 000 people might still be alive. (p 378)
  • The permission for a "three household" indoor hug-in for five days over Christmas, which was reduced to one day on Christmas Eve when most had already made plans. A spike in deaths  followed some two weeks later.

 Others might highlight other  aspects of the disastrous mismanagement (medical staff protecting themselves with bin bags because of the lack of PPE, for example.) Suggestions welcome

Sadly not all those who will be voting in our local and devolved national elections on 6th May will have read the book.  Many who have will find excuses.  But most, if they are rational, will modify their voting intentions accordingly.

 *  The combined Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green total comes to 48%, still not half the Electorate, but enough the beat the Tories if we had the sense to combine into a Progressive Alliance.

**A Yorkshire expression for "all you could possibly want to know and more besides." 

Thursday 15 April 2021

Playing or practising politics.


Given that he was chucked out of the Conservative Party for his loyalty to parliament and European ideal rather than the party itself, Sir Oliver Letwyn must be one of the more noble of the Tories.

 However, on BBC Radio 4's "News at One" yesterday (15th April), in discussing David Cameron's lobbying on behalf of Greensill and Tory sleaze in general, he was confident the "knowing David" as he did, he was quite sure  that the ex-prime minister couldn't possibly have done anything dishonourable and the Labour Party were merely "politicising"  (said repeatedly) the issue. 

"Politicising" or "playing politics"  I tend to feel mean much the same thing and both are used in a dismissive way to attempt to defuse what may very well be, and certainly are in this case, perfectly legitimate criticism of another party's actions or behaviour.  

It's an easy, lazy, get-out.

From my rather cursory  studies of Aristotle some sixty-five years ago I seem to remember that the great philosopher taught  that man (sic - but I'm sure he'd include women if he were teaching today) is a" political animal" and that taking part in politics, the organised, systematic and  rational way in which public decisions should be made, is our most noble activity.

Taking part in politics in that sense, as we elect MPs and councillors to do, could conveniently be described and "practising politics," in contrast to  "playing politics," which is abusing the political process not for the common good but for peroneal or party ends. 

In this current debate the opposition parties are practising politics, not abusing the system  David Cameron himself said, after the MPs expenses scandal, that the next big scandal would arise through lobbying.  So he's caught with his trousers down.  An opposition's job in our system is to expose flaws in the practices and policies of our government and there's plenty to expose at the moment.

The government has eagerly set up its own very limited enquiry with a hand -picked chairman.  Given that similar enquires  have recently solemnly reported that Britain is in no way a racist society (heaven forfend!) and the police always conduct themselves at demonstrations with due decorum and restraint, (how could it be otherwise?) it is little wonder that Labour is calling for a larger and more independent enquiry.

If anyone is "playing politics" it is the 357 MPs who closed their eyes to the truth, obeyed Johnson's orders and voted against this attempt to make our politics cleaner, more honest and more honourable honourable.

Sunday 11 April 2021



From 2004 to 2013 a comedy drama series called "Shameless" ran on British TV (not to be confused with an American series with the same title.) It was set in a fictional working  ( and non-working) class housing estate near Manchester and illustrated  how the characters, those at the bottom  of the pile, shamelessly gamed the system in order to survive.  

 I didn't watch much of it but what I saw of seemed to be written with sympathy for the characters' plights and their ingenuity  in surviving an inadequate social security system.  In spite of living hand to mouth in terms of material possessions there seemed to be a rich vein of mutual support and kindness and pleasure in human relationships.

 A different level of shamelessness, operating at the other end of the social scale, has been identified in recent months. 

In his intriguing if sometimes illogical book " Humankind, A hopeful History" (published Bloomsbury 2020) Rutger Bergman asks how it is that  ambitious and Machiavellian leaders manage to rise to and retain power in our democracies and concludes (page 238):

"They're shameless"

He goes on to write (page 239)

"In our modern democracy, shamelessness can be positively advantageous.  Politicians who aren't hindered by shame are free to do  things others wouldn't dare.  Would you call yourself your country's most brilliant thinker, or boast about your sexual prowess?  Could you get caught in a lie and then tell another without missing a beat?  [Could you drive to Barnard Castle and expect  people to believe that you did it to test your eyesight]?*  Most people would be consumed by shame . . . But the shameless couldn't care less.  And their audacious behaviour  pays dividends in our modern mediacracies, because the news spotlights the abnormal and the absurd."

The Guardian's Review section yesterday (10th April) features part of a memoir  by Musa Okwonga about his experiences as a scholar at Eton.

He writes:

"They don't learn shamelessness  at Eton, but this is where they perfect it."

Prime Minster Johnson was clearly an apt pupil.

Sacked twice for lies, a man who, up to the last minute, alleged he was not sure whether to support or oppose Brexit, then jumped on the Leave side to further his career, illegally prorogued parliament, manoeuvred the Queen into giving a virtual partly political broadcast on behalf of Tory party,  by indifference, bad example,  indecision and failure to act has bungled the attempt to control the coronavirus pandemic whilst lining the pockets of his friends,  trashed the country's reputation by calmly proposing that we should break international law in a treaty he had himself signed, and gravely endangered the fragile peace in Ireland.

 Shamelessness is by no means confined to the Old Etonians in our cabinet.  Following their leader one after another Matt Hancock et al lie,  boast,  distort, look after their own interests and those of their friends and backers.

And get away with it.

They will continue to do so unless and until the progressive opposition parties co-operate to stop them.  Whilst we fight each other we are handing the Tories their fiefdom on a plate.  

A friend with her ear closer to the political ground tells me that the best we can hope for is an informal  "non-aggression pact" - that we all continue to stand candidates in every constituency but agree not to campaign very hard, or not at all, where we recognise that another party has a better chance of ousting the Tory.

Maybe she's right, but it seems to me worst best option. Someone (Churchill?) has said that we should never  let a crisis go to waste.  

 We must surely have the least competent, most corrupt, lying, self-serving government in our history.  It's hard to imagine we shall ever have a better  chance of  harnessing the progressive majority in the country to achieve a progressive government.

The ball is in the court of our current leaders, and particularly Labour.

* I added that bit.

Monday 5 April 2021

Vaccination Passes

 We're told that about three quarters of the British people would welcome the introduction a Vaccine Pass. Superficially it seems a good idea.  People can go to venues confident that the others there had protection, companies running events would be able to get back into business, and our access to "fun" would be expanded.

However closer inspection shows these hopes to be spurious.  Having been vaccinated may reduce someone's  chancres of  suffering severely from the virus if they catch it, but it doesn't prevent them from actually being infected and passing it on.  So any meeting with another person, vaccinated or not, still stands a chance of spreading the plague.  Hence the continued instance on social distancing.

Secondly we are in a situation where, apart  from exceptions, the under  50s are not yet vaccinated and not likely to be for several months.  Vaccination certificates would therefore introduce a rather bizarre  two-tier system: these "fun" events would become accessible to the middle-aged and elderly but unavailable to the 20 and 30-year-olds who actually want to go to them.  (Yes, I know: that is a generalisation too far: I have  two friends almost in my age group who still go to "music" festivals.)

And even when vaccination has been made available to everyone who wants it, there will remain exceptions of  people who for medical or other reasons shouldn't or don't want to be vaccinated.

Elderly innocents such as myself assume that these certificates if introduced will be on a piece of cardboard, or plastic, like our bus passes.  Not so.

 Apparently.  they will be  an "App" on a smartphone which will require facial recognition, bar-codes and all sorts of other things in the wonderful world of technology.  Many of my generation will self-exclude simply becasue we can't be bothered, or CBA, as I believe is now the technical term.

So why go to all this trouble and expense  for something that has so few, if any, advantages, and very evident disadvantages?

The government's attitude is strange.  The Downing Street  "spin doctors"  assure us that Prime Minister Johnson is a liberal (small "l") at heart, or even a libertarian.  Cabinet Minister Michael Gove told us last December that vaccine passports were "not being planned" and a month later Health Secretary  Matt Hancock declared we "are not a papers-carrying country."

Yet, as blogger Ian Dunt reveals  here, eight different pilot schemes have received grants worth a total of £450 000 to explore the possibility of getting vaccination certificate schemes up and running.  

Dunt doesn't say so, but I suspect there are also enterprising firms lobbying the government hard to have such scheme accepted nationally  in  the hope of massive bungs of public money to be the preferred provider.

This week PM Johnson has assured us that if such a scheme were implemented it  would be "time limited."  Given his record on veracity we can't place much reliance on that. 

As Dunt points out: "Governments  don't typically give up this kind of power once they have it,."

Acceptance of vaccine passports would almost certainly be a first step to compulsory ID cards.  For once I am able to quote Mrs Thatcher (albeit in another context) with enthusiasm:

"No, no, no."