Saturday 26 February 2022

Ukraine: UK compromised.

 Two days before the Russians actually invaded Ukraine Prime Minister Johnson was on the airwaves and warned, not once, but twice, that if President Putin ordered such an invasion he would be "breaking international law."  It seems he doesn't do irony.

A report in the Guardian gives details of contributions madeby Russians  (or ex-Russian - some have taken British citizenship) have  to  the Tory party.

Here are three details:

Mr Luboy Chernukhin:    £700 000

Mr Alexander Temerko:  £357 000

Mr Mohamed Amersi:    £258 000

These and other donors claim that they have no influence whatsoever over Tory party or UK government policy.  Quite so.*

The  function of London (Londongrad) as a centre for money laundering  also adds considerably to the British balance of payments and makes life easier for any government.

I suspect that Mr Johnson has quite enjoyed his few days of strutting around on the world stage and making grave pronouncements.  There has, however,  been little evidence of anyone phoning him (or our Foreign Secretary) rather than vice versa.  

To be fair no other Western politician seems to have had much effect on Russia's actions either, but it is clear that Britain, outside the EU and with a proven liar and unreliable partner as a prime minister, we have been sidelined.  In contrast  both President Macron and the German Chancellor Scholz deserve decent marks for trying.  The key decisions, if any , will be made by President Biden and he is hamstrung by an unhelpful congress.

One thing Mr Johnson has said is valid: that President Putin cannot be allowed to succeed.

He won't, but there is not much in the short run that "The West" can do to bring this about, though we must try with effective sanctions, including those which make our own lives less comfortable.

In the longer run Mr Putin, or his successors, will be defeated by circumstances.  We are all aware of the attempts since the Second World War by powerful nations to impose their will on weaker ones.  They have all failed.

Korea: well, I suppose that could be counted as a "score draw": the North still under the dictatorial (communist?) heel, the South a flourishing capitalist (democratic?) society.


Afghanistan (twice, the Russians first, then the US et al.)


It is incredibly sad that hundreds if not thousands of young Russians and Ukrainians  will die or be maimed  before the present failure becomes apparent.  And families of refugees may run into millions.

One hope is that the Russian people themselves will come to recognise Putin's folly, overthrow him and return to rational normality.

When that happens Russia should be offered respect (see previous post.)

*  Much is made of the West's "freedom."  How "free" are we  to make rational political decisions when one party has access to shedloads of money on this scale to be used  to measure and influence public opinion, and the rest of us rely  on peanuts?  Contributions to political parties should be limited  to a realistic amount per adult per year (£100?) supplemented by state funding.

Tuesday 15 February 2022

Russia, Ukraine and the UK

 Those who want more fully to understand what is going on in the Russia/Ukraine dispute could do worse than listen to this excellent  "podcast," 

 but should take a deep breath first and be prepared to emerge mentally exhausted.

My sincere hope is that a diplomatic solution will be found (see earlier post) and that not a singe young Ukrainian  nor a singe young Russian sheds his or her blood to satisfy the egos of  posturing politicians.

It is encouraging to see that, on the surface at least, the search for a diplomatic solution is coming from the Europeans, last week from President Macron of France and today Chancellor Scholz of Germany.  Publicly US President Biden is making a more aggressive stance  which is being vigorously supported  by Prime Minister Johnson cheered on by his uncompromising Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, whilst our Defence Secretary Ben Wallace  tries to smear  the Europeans' diplomatic initiatives with " a whiff of Munich."

Mr Johnson, in public interviews, claims to be concentrating on "coordinating the Western response" and therefore hasn't the time at present to answer questions on the Downing Street parties (or even whether he has yet filled in his form). Clearly for him the crisis is a godsend to to give him an excuse for some  international grandstanding which may distract  attention from his domestic shambles.

Whatever the outcome of the present crisis, I think it will be noted as a clear illustration that, having left the EU, Britain's influence on world affairs has greatly diminished.  It is fairly certain that, whatever President Biden decides to do, Britain will follow like a tame lapdog.  How much better to be at the heart of the European diplomatic initiatives along with the French and the Germans.

President Biden has eight years of diplomatic experience in high office.  There is every reason to hope that, behind his strong words, he too is seeking a diplomatic solution,( as J F Kennedy did in the Cuban Crisis, by agreeing to withdraw nuclear missile based in Turkey and pointing  at Moscow, if Khrushchev  turned away  from installing Soviet missiles in Cuba.)

However, as we discovered with Prime Minster Anthony Eden's ill-fated  invasion of Suez in 1956, years of experience as No 2 does not guarantee  balanced decisions when in the top job.

 Fingers crossed.

Monday 7 February 2022

What does No 10 actually do?

There's an episode of "Yes Prime Minister" in which the PM's  principal private secretary, Bernard, explains to Jim Hacker that prime ministers don't  actually do much.  I think it's the one in which Hacker is suffering from jet lag and keeps falling asleep after his successful (ie well covered by the media) visit to the US President.  Hacker is anxious that, after his few days' absence, there must be a huge backlog of work for him to catch up on.  

Bernard carefully enumerates:

Chairing the Cabinet: two hours a week

Prime Minister's questions: 2 x half an hour a week (as it was in those days)

Reporting to the Queen: half an hour a week

plus one or two other things;

 amounting in all to, say, about seven hours a week  (These figures are from memory and may not be strictly accurate, but give the general idea.)

So what does the prime-minister actually do (rather than "be" which is what the present incumbent seems most interested in)?

The Cabinet Office itself was not created until 1916.  Until then, when "Wellington thrashed Bonaparte" and "Britain really ruled the Waves"* and the UK established its world-wide empire, we got along without one.  Today it employs, according to Google, 8 000 staff.  Not all of them work in Downing street but, wherever they're based, what do they actually do?

The Prime Minister's Office is currently part of this Cabinet Office.  I haven't been able to find out how many people are employed in it, but Google points out that the invitation to the BYO "work event" in the Downing Street garden was sent to about 100 people.

Now, as part of the proposed "reforms", the No 10 operation is to become a separate government department  with its own Permanent Secretary.  These are normally paid £208,000+a year with a knighthood thrown in towards the end.

There is a clear and obvious need for lots of highly competent, and therefore decently paid,  civil servants to staff the departments of state that actually do something:  the Treasury, Home Office, the Departments of Health, Education, etc.  There is, as was recognised in 1916 for the more successful prosecution of the war, some need for co-ordination.  Whether this really needs 8 000 people should be questioned.

Technically, and in my view ideally, the prime minister is "first among equals."  He  will need "eyes and ears" to help him in his responsibility for co-ordination, promotions and demotions,  and deciding on priorities.

 And in the presentation and defence of government policy.  According to Michael Cockerell in "Unmasking our Leaders" (Biteback Publishing, 2021, pages 252/3) Gordon Brown "spent much of Monday, much of Tuesday and all of Wednesday morning prepping" for Prime Minister's Questions.  But, then, he was a perfectionist.

The present occupant seems mainly concerned with publicity.  There is a clear need for co-ordination of the programme here, and for a props and costumes department to provide the necessary supply of hard hats, high-viz jackets and  and medical-looking  outerwear.

That this should now be thought to require an entirely new government department demonstrates that the  government of the UK is now more a matter of showmanship than serious policies.


*  Gilbert and Sullivan, "Iolanthe."

Thursday 3 February 2022



There are now four funds devoted to the government’s so called “levelling- up” policy.

They are

The Future High Streets Fund,

The Community Renewal Fund

The Towns Fund,

The Levelling Up Fund.


The funds of the first three have already been allocated, as has £1.4bn of the Levelling-Up fund, with a further £1.8bn to be announced

Here, according to a Guardian article published 2nd February, are details of how some of the funds, totalling £4.7bn, have so far been allocated..


Bromsgrove (Worcs)         £15m (c£148 per head)    Sajid  Javid's patch     

Central Bedfordshire         £26.7m (£91 per head)     Nadine Dorries’s 

Richmond (Yorkshire)         Done very nicely               Rishi sundak’s" 

Eight of poorest areas       

In England, including                  

Tendring, Swale, Barking

and    Dagenham .             Less than £10/head.

North generally                  £32 per head.     c/f £413/ head lost in cuts                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     in austerity decade.


Had the date of the publication been 1st April I'd have thought these figures were rather clumsy attempts at satire.


Yesterday’s announcement  about the rest of the  levelling up fund has two major flaws.

1.     1.There is no extra money.

2.     2. Depressed areas are to have executive  mayors elected by First Past the Post (the second preference vote to ensure a majority rather than a plurality is to be abolished.)  This is to tilt the odds in favour of electing Tories.

What  areas laid waste by de-industrialisation and public sector austerity really need are:

1.   Much more  money: a guaranteed  equalisation grant from the central government.

2.    . Elected  regional authorities with properly representative views on the needs of the area.  You might call it regional assembly democracy