Monday 26 December 2022

Who we really are: HM the King

 I like to think that the royal Carol Service in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve and the King's broadcast on Christmas Day itself gave a clear message as to who we really are , or at least should be aiming to be.  These were  in sharp contrast the nastiness of this article in one of the Sunday Papers, complaining of an alleged shift of the Tories to the centre(stress on the "alleged") and treats from one of their chief donors and other supporters to pull their funding unless they put a stop to migrants  crossing the Channel and sent  those who succeeded on to Rwanda or back to Albania.

The Christmas Eve carol service was put together by the new Princess of Wales, stressed the work of organisations designed to be helpful and come to the rescue of people in need. In particular it included, apparently be order of our our made-it-at-last King Charles, the reading of poem:Malcolm Guite’s  poem Refugee:

 We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,

Or cosy in a crib beside the font,

But he is with a million displaced people

On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol

His family is up and on that road,

Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,

Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower

Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,

The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,

And death squads spread their curse across the world.

But every Herod dies, and comes alone

To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

I can’t comment on the quality or the poetry (to me it seems a bit “gushy” – especially the bit about Christ’s “fingers tightly curl. . .” but the sentiment is clearly: ”Up yours, Suella Baverman.”


The royal onslaught on the current values the Tories feel compelled to adopt continued  with the King's Broadcast  on Christmas  Day, in which Charles stresses his  continuity with his mother and their shared support of the values of human togetherness and helpfulness.

 A strong contrast to what increasingly seems to be the Tory belief in "come and join us by pulling yourself up by the bootstraps if you can, and grab a bigger share of the pie.  

And, if you can't, tough."

I know what vision I want to be part of.  The next election will tell us which has got it right, the Royals or the Tory donors.


Friday 23 December 2022

A Brexit Opportunity

Government cheerleaders frequently boast of how we are poised to take advantage of the opportunities available to us now that we are released from the constraints of membership of the EU.

Soi far they have been pretty damp squibs: a few minor trade agreements organised by Liz Truss when she was the responsible minister and were merely "roll-overs" of agreements we already had within  the EU.  There was  an allegedly more major one for trade with Australia which analysts claim makes far more concessions to Australian farmers than it doses of ours, leaving British farmers feeling let down and likely to make minimal impact on our GDP.

This morning's newspaper reports an "opportunity" of a different kind. The UK has 3 651 "water bodies" - including rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters.     All are in danger of pollination, the two main polluters being untreated sewage discharged into them by the Water Companies, and  chemical and animal "run off" from agricultural land.    While we were still members the EU required that all of them would be brought to a "good" state of chemical and ecological status by 2027.

Only 4% of them are actually on track to achieve this status.

So Brexit Opportunity 1 was to reduce the target from "all of them" to 75%.

However, even this looks as though it will be unachievable so:

Brexit Opportunity 2 is to put back the target year  to 2063.


For for further an better particulars see see:

Friday 16 December 2022


Nurses' Pay.

Why don't the leaders of the nurses' union point out that, as a result of Brexit, the NHS is receiving an additional £350m per week?  That works out at around £18bn a year: ample to pay the nurses what they deserve and plenty left over for other matters. Strange that his argument has not surfaced, or if it has I haven't noticed.

 Public Sector Pay.

The government spokespersons repeatedly argue that public sector pay offers are made by Independent Review Bodies and, in the nurses' case, the government has accepted the recommendation.  We need to look carefully at the designation "independent.  As this article by Polly Toynbee makes clear:

the eight Bodies  are appointed by the government, must award pay rates within the funding package already determined by the government, and of the 80 or so members, according to the TUC only two represent the employees.

According to Wikipedia the chairpersons receive £330 per meeting, and the members £300.  Even if the meetings last all day that's not a bad screw.  Maybe they should value on a similar scale  the services of those for whom they make determinations.

Ex Prime Minister Johnson.

Johnson is to appear before the Parliamentary Standard Committee who will decide whether or not he broke parliamentary  rules in responding to "Partygate."  Apparently he has engaged lawyers to represent him.  Not only that but the government will pay his bill  -  strange for a political party usually so anxious to see that public (ie taxpayers') money is spent necessarily and wisely.   If Jonson thinks he is fit to be our prime-minister, why can't he present his own case?  And if he can't why doesn't he pay for professional advocacy himself?  We are told that he has been paid over £1million for speeches he has made since his defenestration, so he can well afford it.

Voter ID 

 New laws  will apply in next year's council elections in May which will require electors to produce photo-ID before they are allowed to vote. This will not be a problem for most people, but there are a considerable number, particularly among the poor and the young, who don't have photo-ID.  The range of acceptable ID cards is curiously limited.  For example, my pensioner's Bus Pass is OK but a young persons Oyster Card or Travel Card or student card  isn't.  This looks like a blatant attempt to make it easy for the (Tory voting?) wealthy and elderly to vote and more difficult for the poor and young (Labour voting?).    It is a piece of voter suppression, similar to that  that  attempted by the Republicans in the US. 

Earlier this week the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords tried to put a stop to it.  The attempt failed because the Labour Party failed to support it. (I repeat, the Labour Party failed to support it.)  A contact in the Lords tells me that this is not unusual.  "Labour always expects us Liberal Democrats to support their motions, but they never support ours."

Shades of Labour's failure to support  electoral reform  during the 2010 -2015 Coalition, even though the measure was in their manifesto, and failure to support the Liberal Democrat attempt in that same Coalition to reform the House of Lords.  

To make progress Labour must grow out of this fixation  good initiatives only come from them, and learn to work with others.



Sunday 11 December 2022

Things can't possibly get any worse: and then they do.

Such has been the refrain ever since the referendum result, and this week has been no exception.  In the one week the government which last year presided over the COP26 conference to tackle the climate crisis has sanctioned the creation of a new coal mine in Cumberland, despite the promises made to reduce the use of fossil fuels and  the sanctimonious demands to poorer countries to play their part.

Then in the same week it is announced that the safeguards erected as a result of banking crisis of 2008 which brought the world's monetary system to the brink of collapse are to be relaxed.

Yet again the language seems inadequate to express a sufficient response: outrageous? unbelievable? bizarre? incredible?

 The "coal-mine" decision further trashes Britain's international  repudiation and credibility, and shows scant regard for future generations.  Strange how the Conservatives are so keen to cut public services so as not to  "burden" future generations with debt,(which isn't actually true) but are so sanguine about leaving these same generations with an uninhabitable planet.

The second is wrong for three reasons.

1.  Britain's involvement in he 2008 financial crash happened through the under-regulation of our banking sector resulting from the "Big Bang" introduced under Margaret Thatcher.  Reducing the regulations now increases our vulnerability to  any future crash, and next time there may be no-one of the calibre of Gordon Brown to ameliorate its effect.

2.  The measures  are "sold" under the  pretence that we are taking advantage of the "freedoms" gained from leaving the EU.  This simply isn't true. The principal features of the regulations, particularly the ring-fencing of "high street " banking funds  from "merchant " (ie speculative) banking can be changed in or out of the EU

3..  We need to reduce the UK s reliance on financial services and allow our other services (the arts, education, design, tele-communications, technology, music, marketing, to name but some - and especially those outside London).

4.  Much of the banking sector's work is of dubious value, indeed of dubious morality.  It seems to be devoted less to long term investment in potentially profitable and useful ventures and more to shuffling paper  in the hope of a fast financial gain.

As pointed out among this blog's 22 suggestions for what the next government should concern itself with, there as a strong case for public enquiries into the UK's participation in money laundering and in the maintenance and use of tax-havens in "British" territories (perhaps including Britain itself)




Tuesday 22 November 2022

The Turning Point?

 I suspect this last couple of days, the 20th and 21st November 2023, could be noted by future historians as the turning point in which the British establishment abandoned  fantasy and began the slow trudge back to sanity with regard to our relations with the EU.

The one thing the Tories are "world beaters" at is perception management.  For the couple of weeks or so before last Thursday's mini-Budget we had drip drip drips of information about how terrible things were going to be, preparing us for the worst. Then it turned out to be not so bad after all, and then not yet, (though miles away from the good that it could have been, see earlier post.)

Perception management does not happen by accident.  In the Sunday papers the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, just hinted that the government just might be toying with the idea of lining up with the EU in just one or two areas.  I believe this is known in their trade as "Flying a kite," just to "test the waters."   

The reaction from the ERG hard liners, and therefore the Prime Minister who is in their thrall, has been a resounding "No!"

 So not yet. Now is not the time.  But we've received a gentle hint about where the saner parts of the Tory party would like to go. 

And the reaction of the CBI, the major business leaders, has been equally clear, a resounding "YES!" would have been greatly to be preferred.

 This is important.   Those of us who get most of our information and opinions from the Guardian, Observer, and Financial Times,  with the occasional bit of sound expert comment via the BBC, and who know enough to be able to discount the views of the mysteriously-financed  Think Tanks that the BBC wheels on for "balance,"  and who happen to have a little bit of expertise ourselves, have known all along that Brexit is a damaging shot in the foot made possible  in order to try to hold the warring factions of the Tory Party together.

 But his weekend has not been the the whinging of a few disgruntled academics,  administrators and commentators..  Brexit is a flop and business leaders are making it surrounding clear that to avoid further damage we need to change direction.

 So far sir Keir Starmer's reaction has not been too helpful. He feels he needs to tread carefully in order not to upset the so-called Red Wall  voters who have traditionally supported Labour but have been seduced by the sovereignty myth and the alleged need to "take back control" (of our borders?)   Oh for leaders  who would dare to confront them with the truth.

One suggestion floating around is that if we are not yet ready to join the "single market"  we might join some of the "markets."  (Note the plural). Science, education,agriculture perhaps?  The EU may not be too keen on this, It sounds like "cherry-picking."

 But the manoeuvring in the right direction has started, and we shall  see more of it in the coming months in efforts to resolve the Northern Ireland pickle.

 Like the English  and Welsh football teams, we're on our way.

Saturday 19 November 2022

World Toilet Day

 Once again it's the 19th November and "World Toilet Day".

For details of the fundamental (adjective chosen deliberately) importance of having access to a private and secured space in which urinate and defecate with dignity, without fear of interruptions, with a string to pull (in happier days), a lever to twist or button to push that will magically flush away your waste for scientific disposal,* and the facility to  wash your hands  and remove any bugs you might pass on, please see these two earlier posts.

posted on previous World Toilet Days .

 Still over 600 000 0000 people in the world (nearly ten times the UK population) don't have this basic necessity, and it is one of the main functions of "Water Aid"  to make it universally available.  Were you to consider a contribution to this charity it would be welcome.  See here.

The 2021 post linked above was made about the time the government was contemplating  breaking  our promise to devote 0.7% of our GDP to the Global South to aid their development, which included the provision of sustainable toilets, in which Water Aid plays a key roll.  Shamefully that decision to cut down on our aid, one of the few remaining areas in which the UK really is still a World Leader, has been implemented and, worse, half of what's left is now spent on caring for refugees within the UK itself. 

I hope that one of the questions which will be asked of candidates in the next General Election, whenever it comes, is their attitude to the urgent reversal of this cut, with perhaps a little bit extra to make up for what has been lost.

Another question which could be asked of candidates, and it's nothing to do with charity or philanthropy, is what are they going to do about the lack of public toilets in this country?  

 This is very much a personal plea.  Like many in my age group, the mid 80s, I am plagued by what is euphemistically called "urgency and frequency."  In other words calls of nature come increasingly often and brook no delays.  In many of our towns and cities the facilities for this relief (much thanks: Macbeth) no longer exist.  A partial  solution, proposed some time ago but as far as I know hardly acted upon, was to allow shops and similar  businesses a discount on their business rates if they permitted the public to use their lavatories and displayed the offer by a sticker in their window.  That would be a help during business hours but not much use outside them.

Something should be done.  If you're a member of a political party please persuade it to put this fundamental issue (an appropriate phrase) in its next manifesto, both for local and national elections.

* Unless it has been raining , in which case you local water supplier might very well discharge it untreated into a river

Friday 18 November 2022

Only one cheer for a not-all-that bad budget.

 In spite of two weeks of carefully  primed leaks intended to give the impression of a brave government wanting to be caring but forced by circumstances (wholly beyond their control!) forced to do the right and responsible thing,yesterday's mini-budget has received a bad press.

The Tories will have  expected the scathing headlines  from the Mirror ("Carnage") and the Guardian ("From Bad to Worse"), but their normally sycophantic supporters were similarly critical: the Daily Mail ("Tories  Soak the Strivers") and The Times ("Years of Tax Pain Ahead.)   Only the Daily Express sounded a positive note: "Victory" (apparanly for its campaign to save the pensioners' Triple Lock.)

The headline  which will cause Jeremy  Hunt to wince most is the Telegraph's "The Rhetoric of Osborne . . . with the policies of Brown. "  Lovely.

The Tories have done what, by their lights, is the "right thing": raise taxes, protect the poor and not cut services (or at least, not yet) and they are getting the opprobrium normally dished out to Labour governments.

Astonishingly, I've heard several Labour spokesperson complaining that taxes are now at a level not seen since the 1940s.  Surly they should be welcoming the fact that an increase in the total tax take is a long overdue step in the right  direction.

As is spelled out in an earlier post , the proportion of national income taken in tax in the UK is 33.3%.(the figure for 2020, the latest I could find).  Hunt's modest tax increases are estimated to cause that proportion to increase to 37.5%m in five year's time, the proportion in  Germany in 2020 (and France's was 46.2%.)  

So we've playing "catch up", are a long way behind, and progressing slowly.

The opposition parties should be shouting this loudly and clearly, praising the Tories for this modest step, suggesting better activities ( and non Activities) to tax and asking for more.

 Cuts have, for the most part, been postponed until after the next election, assumed to be in 2025, perhaps in recognition of the fact that cutting public services as we enter a recession is unwise, or maybe  as a trap to see if Labour will do a Blair/Brown type pledge and agree to stick to them should they become the government.  They, and the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Nationalists, should declare a very firm "No."


Our public services are already, after 12 years of unnecessary  but  ideologically motivated "austerity", pared to the bone, will all (even the allegedly protested NHS and Education) suffer real term cuts in the next two years as a result of inflation.  We need to move towards the French  level of taxation in order to put things right and make our public services fit for all the  population of a rich and advanced country. 



Friday 11 November 2022

Remembrance Day

On the 11th of November 1918 Private Arthur Wrench of the Seaforth Highlanders wrote in his diary: 

I think it is quite hopeless to describe what today means to us. We who will return to tell people what war really is surely hope that 11 am this day will be of great significance to generations to come. Surely this is the last war that will ever be between civilised nations.”

 Thanks to Christian Art:

 for spotting this. 

 We must hope that, in addition to the politicians' belligerent posturings, somebody somewhere, for the sake of today's private soldiers (and Ukrainian civilians) somebody somewhere is trying to broker a peace.









Tuesday 8 November 2022

Easy choice

The Conservative Government's PR machine is working overtime to prepare us tor the Chancellor's mini-budget on the 17th November.  One day the "leaks," "rumours," or whatever you want to call them emphasise tax rises, on another there is speculation about cuts in spending.  The purpose of all this "kite flying" is to try to assess the public reaction to the various alternatives: more about what will go down well politically rather than what is best for the economy and our well being.

More sinisterly  we are bombarded day by day with phrases such as "difficult decisions," hard choices," "essential efficiencies" to fill the "black hole" in the public finances.  These try to give the impressions that we now have a brave, grown-up government, prepared to made the tough but inevitable choices for the UK to survive and hold our own in a harsh and cruel world.

It is nonsense

There is only one, very easy, choice.

This should be based on two incontrovertible facts.

Fact 1.  The UK's entire range of public services (NHS, social care, social security safety nett, local government services, legal system  and prison services, education system. . .) is on its knees, underfunded  understaffed and physically dilapidated.

Fact 2.  The UK is a relatively moderately taxed country.  Most similar countries pay a bigger share of their national income in tax than we do, as  this table shows:

Here are some comparable examples:

France:          46.2% of GDP collected in tax

Germany:      37.5%

UK:                33.3%

USA:              27.1%

The UK's 33.3% comes just below the OECD average.

 Hence there is plenty of scope for tax increases to bring us up to the average or, better,  slightly above it.

The figures are for 2020 and will have changed  slightly becasue of expenditure on the pandemic and as a result of rising fuel prices, but the relative positions are unlikely to have changed significantly

Some "trickle-downers" make much of the fact that the US is, or appears to be. a low tax country and a very enterprising one.  However. if we examine our position relative to the US we see the we in the UK spend 10.15% of or GDP on health care.  Most of that is included in government expenditure financed by taxation.  The US spends 16.7% of its GDP on health care and most of that is privately funded and not included in government expenditure.  Simple arithmetic shows that the US could be sending a greater proportion of its national income on government expenditure plus health care than does the UK.

So the choice facing the Chancellor as he prepares for the 17th November, is easy.  

Raise taxes in order adequately to fund our dilapidated public realm.

As emphasised  repeatedly in this blog, the fun is to chose those taxes which make least impact on current economic activity (known in the trade as the "circular flow of income." ) There are  plenty to chose from: profits taxes (not just windfalls windfalls), property taxes, land taxes, capital gains, financial transactions, ,  pollution taxes, tackle the use of tax havens . . ..

I'd love to be part of a team advising the Chancellor on the pros and cons of these options.  Enjoy!  The choices will  be intriguing but cause no hardship.

Thursday 3 November 2022

Rushi and the Nasties.*

Rivers of Blood: Enoch Powell

Swamped: Margaret Thatcher

Hostile environment: Theresa May

Invasion: Suella Braverman.

 The Tories never let the facts get in the way of what they hope will be a vote-wining slogan.  They truly are the "nasty party,"  despite vicar's daughter, Theresa May's warning  earlier this century. Sadly she didn't put her "belief  into action" as the mission statement over our Salvation Army  shop pithily advertises..

 Regarding M/s Braverman's inflammatory description,   a Madeleine Sumption, director of the Oxford migration Observatory points out , "This is not an invasion - it's not an army.. .  But if  instead she is referring to the number of people coming . . .  [they] are relatively manageable."

Here;s a small selection of the numbers of people seeking asylum in some  European countries (per 10 000 people in that country:

UK               8 per 10 000 of our population

France:     18 per  10 000 of their population

Germany:  23 per 10 000 of their  population 

Cyprus:   153 per 10 000 of their population.

Frankly, as in spite of everything I still feel  the UK is  a fabulous place to live - a "green and pleasant land" with a tolerant and friendly people. great creative arts,  and the opportunity for a creative and fulfilling lifestyle - I feel a bit miffed that we're so low down the list of choices and most foreigners seem to  want to go elsewhere.

There is much muttering that  many would-be incomers are not really fleeing horrible conditions, but are simply economic migrants looking for a better life.

So that? 

 If young people want to come here, pick our fruit and vegetables and fill all those other job vacancies, thus helping to pay my pension, that's great.  Some, like Michael Marks of  Marks and Spencer,  and Montague Burton of "Let Burton dress you," may be entrepreneurial innovators who may also add greatly  to the prosperity of Leeds and then beyond.

In fact most of the nationalities entering by  small boat are actually fleeing terrible conditions.  The top five nationalities for the  first quarter of this year  were: Afghan, Eritrean, Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian.

If the government really wants of curb the numbers fleeing terror, destitution and adverse climate change, then it needs to give priority to Overseas Aid and reverse the cuts  from 0.7% of GDP to O.5% (and effectively 0.3% as much intended for overseas development is now spent on asylum seekers here) and show more enthusiasm for COP 27 and measure to halt the climate disaster.  If the places where people  live are safe,  peaceful and prosperous fewer will want to move to other countries.

Given that that is a long-run solution, in the short run we need to build the necessary reception facilities, staff them with  sufficient people to feed and house them comfortably and enough civil servants to "process" the applicants and send them off to wherever they want to go (say with a £500 grant to help them settle in.)

 Make no mistake, the desire to migrate, either to escape dangerous conditions or simply for a better life, is not going to go away. 

 We in the West take it for granted that we have a God-given right to make use of modern travel facilities to go wherever we like either to work, for holidays, have adventures or simply have a look.  I am happy to  have visited all five continents and worked in three of them. With modern communications those what in for want of a better word I'll still call the "Third World" know what is avoidable elsewhere, see what the likes of Suella Braverman (whose parents emigrated from Africa) have achieved and want to come here and do likewise.

And good luck to them

*  The title echoes a chapter in Richmel Compton's "William the Detective" published in1935.  William, leader of The Outlaws, had discovered the Nazis and decided to emulate them. However, he thought the title    "Her " Hitler sounded effeminate so designated himself "Him" Hitler.

Saturday 29 October 2022

The Pity of War in Ukraine (or anythere else)

 Last Thursday's Melvin Bragg programme "In our Time" on Radio 4 discussed the First World War poet Wilfred Owen.  You can listen to it at*

It is very interesting: among other things I learnt that Owen  was not just a gifted poet, but also a good soldier - a crack shot ( still called musketry in those days.)

The discussion referred to his poem "Disabled" with which I was not familiar.  Here it is.


He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

                            *        *        *        *        *

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees, 
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,—
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

                            *        *        *        *        *

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race 
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.

                            *        *        *        *        *

One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. He wonders why.
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts.
That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of, all their guilt,
And Austria's, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

                            *        *        *        *        *

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.

                            *        *        *        *        *

Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?
The above, or something like it, is happening today in Ukraine, and to civilians as well as young Russians and young Ukrainians, and probably girls as well as boys these days.

We can only hope that, as well as a belligerent West urging on the Ukrainians to continue their war on our behalf, somebody somewhere (Turkey perhaps) is seeking to broker some form of cease-fire that will save face on both sides.

"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" was an "old lie" a hundred years ago, and it still is.
 *Sorry I can't highlight the link.  The line of symbols that enables me to preform such tricks - and also how to put things in italics - has disappeared and I have no idea how to get it back.)

Tuesday 25 October 2022


 1.  Rishi Sunak "kisses hands" with King Charles (a first for both) this morning and Sunak becomes Prime Minister. I think he doesn't actually kiss.

2.  It speaks well for the UK that we have a prime minister of South Asian heritage.  I think one of his parents was a Kenyan Asian.  As far as I can remember the only party to welcome the Kenyan Asians was the Liberals.  Both the Conservative and Labour parties tried to wriggle out of any commitment to take them in.  He owes us.

 3.   It also speaks well of the UK that we have a practising Hindu for a prime Minister, and it's rather nice that it happened on their feast of Diwali (Light). He'll still appoint the Bishops of the Church of England, though.  It's interesting that we've never yet had a Roman Catholic PM. (Tony Blair "converted" after he'd resigned as PM.)

4.  He's very personable, the sort of chap Tory selection committee members would rather like for a son-in law when they're selecting a parliamentary candidate.

5. He is not, however,  a man of principle.  His predecessor as Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid walked out rather than submit to Prime Minster Johnson's demand that he sack his own advisors and use Downing Street's.  It would have been nice if the entire top echelons of the Tory party had united against Johnson's concentration of power in No 10, but Sunak had no such scruples.

6. Nor is he very moral .  He openly boasted to the Tories of Tunbridge Wells (where better?) that he had diverted  funds meant for depressed areas to affluent towns such as their.  There's no getting away from this: you can watch the video if you google "Sunak Boasting." One of the beneficiaries of this immoral if not illegal diversion was his own constituency, Richmond, one of the poshest bits of Yorkshire.

7. Some of the newspapers are making a great fuss about his being "unelected."  This does not worry me.  As argued in the previous post, we are a parliamentary democracy and it is up to MPs to decide who can command a majority.  A plebiscite among Tory party members with Johnson on the ballot could have led to an even greater disaster.

8.  Nor am I all that sympathetic to calls for a general election, which are pretty predictable and make the opposition parties sound robotic if not pathetic.  I believe in fixed term parliaments. One of the most effective parliaments was that before 2019.  It failed to find  a solution that would produce a Brexit beneficial to the UK, because there is no such thing, as we are painfully finding out.

9.  Most of the debate and comment from Conservatives over the weekend has centred around finding a leader who could unite the party.  That was the theme of Sunak's first speech to the party.  What should have been the primary objective, finding someone with policies good for the country, was secondary to keeping their hands on power.

10.  Sunak is seen as a "safe pair of hands" but his decisions as Chancellor were pretty feeble. He pandered to the comfortable with his silly "eat out to help out" scheme,  chose to increase the tax on a "good", (employment,) rather than a "bad" (river pollution perhaps) to pay for the care system, and took a hard hearted swipe at the poor by discontinuing the £20 uplift to universal credit.

11.  He also voted (and I presume campaigned) for Brexit, so is clearly susceptible to fraudulent promises and fantasy economics, if not quite to the extent that M/s Truss is.

12. Most seriously his promise to be "responsible" about the public finances means that we are to be locked into yet another round  of the discredited Cameron/Osborne austerity of the 2010-15 government.   There is no slack, in the NHS nor anywhere else, there are no non-damaging savings, our public services are threadbare.  They need increased  expenditure, and cannot sustain cuts.  However, the market turmoil following  the Truss recklessness means that the Tories have another fake excuse to disguise further cuts as necessary and responsible.

 This is not true.  

As distinguished economist Chris Grey writes:

 That reaction [of the markets] was to the fact that Truss and Kwarteng’s plan was based on the total nonsense that reducing taxes would deliver growth and make government debt sustainable. It doesn’t mean that borrowing to fund public spending in ways that would plausibly promote growth would meet the same fate. Such spending would include infrastructure projects, environmentally sustainable and energy-saving projects, and significantly enhanced education spending. (My emphasis)

Friday 21 October 2022


 M/s Truss's premiership is over - or, at least, it will be in a week.

Her resignation after barely six weeks "in office but not in power" raises both major and minor questions.  To deal with minor ones first:

1.  Will she be entitled to submit a list of resignation honours?  I believe both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown passed over this little perk, but subsequent Tory premiers (Cameron, May, and Johnson) have re-introduced it.  (Yet another step back after Labour have taken a step forward. An earlier  example is that Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan stopped granting  hereditary honours but Margaret  Thatcher re-introduced them: an Earldom for Harold Macmillan and a Baronetcy - hereditary knighthood - for her husband Dennis, probably so that it could be passed on to their son Mark on whom she allegedly doted)  

It's also interesting to speculate what will happen to Johnson's resignation honours if he makes a comeback. Will they be put on hold or will he get two bites of the cherry?.

There may be a case for some sort of national honours, on the same level that universities award honorary doctorates and golf clubs have honorary captains,  but these should surely not involve a seat  for life in the legislature.  And prime minsters who serve only a limited period, or are ousted in disgrace, or both, should not be allowed to submit their list.

 2.  Ditto for the £115 000 per year allocated, post  Margaret  Thatcher, to ex-prime ministers, for "office expenses," apparently for life.  Multimillionaire socialist Sir Tony Blair claims the full whack,  Tory Mrs May about half of it.

3.  Neo-liberalism, trickle down effects  and other synonyms for  cosseting  the rich on the pretence that it benefits the poor becasue the advantages "trickle down" should henceforth be labelled TRUSSONOMICS just to remind the credulous that it has been tried in spades and ended in disarray.

On to the more serious lessons to be learned. I think we need to take a long hard look at the current method all the major parties use to select their leaders.

First a little history.  I am  not been impressed by all the indignant huffing and puffing about "our new prime minister" being imposed on us by only the 180 000 or so Tory party members, the mere 0.3% of the population.  

It's not all that long ago that, when the Tories were in power, new prime-misters were imposed not by umpteen thousand Tory party members, but just three.  These were "men in grey suits."  Always men, we didn't necessarily know who they were (though I think Lord Salisbury usually featured).  One "consulted" the Tory MPs,  a second the Peers taking the Tory Whip and the third the party chairmen (presumed to be always men) in the constituencies.  They then got together  (in a cigar-smoke-filled room?) and decided on the winner.  That  is how Harold Macmillan "emerged" rather than R A Butler after  Anthony Eden resigned in 1957, and how Lord Home "emerged" rather than either Butler or Quentin Hogg when Macmillan himself resigned in1963  becasue he thought he was  more poorly than he actually was.

Until then both the Labour and Liberal parties left it to their MPs to select a leader.  We Liberals had "elections" even when there were only 6 MPs.  The Liberals (or maybe we'd become the Liberal Democrats) were the first to move to allow the MPs to select the top two but then put the matter to the membership. This was thought to be modern and super-democratic and  both Labour and Conservatives eventually followed.

This has turned out to be a terrible mistake, not just for the Tories as at present, but has set back the progressive left as well

Labour members selected Jeremy Corbyn.  Personally I applauded this as he seemed to me to have been right on most things, from the rights of the Chagas Islanders to the folly of invading Iraq.  But the Labour MPs were wiser, because they perceived, correctly as it turned out, that he would  be an ineffective leader and too easy a target for the right wing press.  So the poor old Labour party remained in opposition for yet another two terms.

Similarly our Liberal Democrat members, the majority of whom had only just joined the party, chose the bouncy but inexperienced Jo Swinson as Leader, she embarrassed us by presenting  herself as the potential prime minister, lost here seat and produced a parliamentary party with 11 seats, one fewer than in the previous election.

Enough said about the Conservative party membership choosing Johnson.

 Ours is not a presidential but a parliamentary system.  For effective democratic government we should revert to choosing as prime minister whoever can command majority in the Commons.  Cut out the membership vote and leave it to the MPs.

The final major point. It is deeply embarrassing and humiliating that the return to the premiership of Mr Johnson is even being discussed  as a possibility.  Should he even be on the ticket after his abysmal record will be a source of shame.  A win for him would be beyond farce.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Musings on the Mess

 Liz Truss won the Tory leadership by promising an economic policy that most people believed was a fantasy: tax cuts coupled with increased expenditure which would be financed by the growth resulting from the tax cuts.  It was brazenly proposed by her henchman Kwarteng,  and crashed dramatically.  If she had any sense of shame she would resign (and perhaps retire to a nunnery and spend the rest of her life repenting her folly.)  But no, she is still there clinging on.  ""Brussen" is the Yorkshire word for it.

 There is now a movement to paint Jeremy Hunt, the replacement Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the saviour of the nation, and possible replacement prime minister when the Tories figure out a way of deposing Truss.  it is worth remembering that Hunt was Secretary of State of Health from 2012 to 2018, the longest servieng minister in that position in British political history.  If he were any good the NHS would be in tip-top condition.  Instead it is on its knees. Hunt re-presented may be the answer to the Tories' prayers but he is not the answer to the country's.

The debacle, the greatest and most damaging national humiliation since Suez, should see the end to two myths that have dominated British politics, the first for 40 years and the second for 20.

The forty-year old myth is the dominance of "market rules OK" neo-liberal policies which superseded Keynesianism in the 1970s and was implemented with careless ferocity by Margaret Thatcher.  From the squandering of the North Sea Oil revenues through  the privatisation of the public utilities to the flogging-off of our social housing, most of Mrs Thatcher's policies were profoundly wrong  and the source of many of our present ills.  (The one thing she got right was her resistance to a national lottery, but her successor John Major undid that.) It is a nice irony that it is the (international money) market that has finally felled this Tory creed.

The twenty-year- old myth is that of Brexit: that somehow Britain is held back by our entanglement with the EU and, set free, our exceptionalism  will enable us to ascend  to the soaring uplands of a prosperous future as an dependent world beating  universally admired entity. We are not exceptional, and, like all other nations, we are interconnected in a web of treaties, trading relationships, financial commitments and obligations. In the past we have indeed played a leading role in developing them.  We cannot escape them.

I think it was Churchill who  said that we should not let a crisis go to waste.  We on the progressive left must be careful and not underestimate the ability of the Tories, with the support of the compliant media,  to re-write history to their advantage.  After the Suez crisis they ditched their prime minister (Eden had the decency to resign and did not wait too long to be pushed) and Harold Macmillan talked up  our never having "had it so good" so that they  remained in power for another nine years.  We must make sure that this  humiliation remains to be seen what it is, highly predictable and highly avoidable and the sole responsibility of a party that has been in power for fully 12 years.

Apart from the loss of our international reputation perhaps the most serious consequence of this folly is that it has queered the pitch of those of us who believe in a Keynesian expansion to revive the economy, eliminate endemic poverty and restore the public services. 

Mr Hunt and his cohort will not hesitate to repeat the mantras of 2010 and mourn that, sad as it is, "there is no alternative" to squeezing the public realm even further in order to placate the market.

There ls another way,and that is supporting the impoverished, reviving  the public services, investing in a clean, efficient infrastructure, and paying for it by taxing those things which impinge least on current activity.  Details of such a programme are spelt out in an earlier post.

All the opposition parties, but in particular Labour, need to flesh out such a programme and proclaim it boldly, and not allow themselves to be cowed into a timid programme of Tory-Lite.

But we must not just stop at economic reform.  Our constitution, our way of doing things, is "not fit for purpose."  If it is too difficult to include specific proposals  for constitutional reform  in election manifestos, we could promise  a representative constitutional convention (or even a series of regional conventions) to take a serious look at the way we govern ourselves.  This will include consideration of: devolution to the nations and regions,our electoral systems, the second chamber, local government,   the civil service and all those things considered too arcane to bother the electorate with. 

We need not just a tinkering a the edges, but a clean sweep,