Wednesday 17 July 2024

HM's Gracious Speech


HM’s Gracious Speech

I seriously wonder if this silly Ruritanian flummery has now outlived its usefulness.  Maybe it’s just my age.  I used to get a bit of a thrill our of it, but not anymore.  HM seemed rather bored too.

The new government’s programme is an encouraging wish list of mostly useful proposals, but those that cost money, that is most of them, are to be financed not by our current ability to pay for them, which we have “in spades” but out of further growth, a “something for nothing” device which , as far as I know, was first introduced by Harold Wilson in the run up to the 1964 general election. 

Very shortly afterwards, in 1972 the “Club of Rome” published  its report “ The Limits to Growth,” warning that the planet has not the resources for , nor could it remain habitable with, unlimited growth.

Since then there have been numerous attempts to hammer the point home.  Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity without Growth (2009), and Kate Raworth’s ”Doughnut Economics” (2017) are two very readable more recent examples.  My favourite expression of the concept is “The Politics of Arrival” by Trebeck  and Williams (2019).  It reminds me of a dialogue in an Oscar Wilde play where one dowager duchess says to another “We have no need for travel, we are already here.”

What is true for the duchesses is true for the economies of the UK and all of the developed world: economically we have arrived.  We already have sufficient productive capacity and consequent earnings to provide everyone in our economies with a decent, comfortable, culture-rich lifestyle without  making even further use of the earth’s scare resources and further polluting and poisoning environment, by sharing what we have more equitably. Economically we have arrived.

And if the weather, floods, fires  and other natural catastrophes of the last few years aren’t enough to convince us that the matter is urgent, then it is hard to know what will.

Yet the message does not seem to have penetrated our political debate to any depth. Our new government believes that further “growth” and “wealth creation,” are fundamental to their programme, and it is hard to see any  signs of a serious challenge to this.  To be fair, several clauses after after the initial mention of growth in the Speech the the word “sustainable” is used, but without any sign that  this would be the condition for all growth.

 So maybe Ruritanian fantasy rather than awareness of the real world, is appropriate to our current level of thinking.

Wednesday 3 July 2024

A challenge for Labour


How the new government can prove it is progressive.


I am not and never have been a football fan, but I’m pleased that, at the moment, we are still in the competition.  Staying there will bring a lot of happiness to a lot of people (and a lot of business to struggling pubs.) 

As it happens I did watch the closing stages of the 1966 final from the back of a bar in northern Italy, where I was on a camping trip with a Scout Group.  We were wearing our Scout Uniforms, with our little Union Flags over our left breast pockets, and were a bit disconcerted to discover the Italians in the crowded bar seemed to favour the Germans (their allies in the war?) over us.  An early drip in the realisation that not everyone loved the British, as we’d been brought up to suppose.

I’ve read that in the first three rounds of the football World Cup England did not take part because “the Rest of the World weren’t good enough.”  Then, when we did deign to take part in 1950, we were drawn against the USA, who thrashed  us 6-3, even though our line-up included the legendary Stanley Matthews, Alf Ramsey and Billy Wright.  In the next competition we lost by a devastating 7-1 to  Hungary in Budapest.

There could have been no clearer signal that the idea of “British exceptionalism” is a complete myth, however “glorious” some  like to think our past has been.   We are  “run of the mill,” much like similar medium-sized economies, pretty good at some things (the BBC and impartial communications,  the Arts, higher education and research,  pharmaceuticals, financial services) but with many imperfections and plenty to learn from others.

But, 70 years later, we still talk of being “world leaders,” the “best in the world and the envy of the world.”  It’s not just Boris Johnson and his bluster.  In yesterday’s Guardian the front page headline says that  Ed Miliband claims  “Labour would  take global lead on climate.”  In today’s Gordon Brown writes that if we leave European bodies such as the ECHR “we would  concede that we can never be a leader in Europe again.”

Why do we so hanker for leadership?  Why not be content to be a willing and co-operative partner with the others?   I hope the new government will forget about these fantasises and just concentrate on  our becoming moderately  efficient.

This is especially true of the way we are governed.  It may have created and run an empire which covered a third of the globe, but it is no longer fit for purpose.  Here are three things the new government could do to put matters right, all of which should be announced and some even implemented in the first 100 days.

1.       1. Restore a  “Fixed Term Parliament” Act. It is a nonsense that the existing prime minister has the power to choose to go to the country when she/he thinks there is  the best chance of winning (even if they can get this spectacularly wrong.)

2.      2. Implement urgent reforms to procedures so that parliament controls the executive, and not vice versa as at present.  Ian Dunt’s book “How Westminster works. . . and why it doesn’t” gives detailed of how this can be achieved.  At the moment governments are not subject to effective scrutiny and that is one reason why they have been so inefficient.

3.      3. Set up “citizens’ assemblies” to examine our constitution and covering such as the powers of  the devolved administrations and their relationships with Westminster, the  government of England, the entrenchment of the powers of local government, the various electoral systems, the separation of powers, our international relationships, especially respecting human rights.  This should be a long term process probably designed to cover at least two parliaments.

If the new government dares to implement something the lines of the above it will be truly progressive: it will have gained power in order to give it way, and thus empower the nations.  If we continue with “the mixture as before” then nothing much will change.



Friday 28 June 2024

Sunak v Starmer - yet more mediocrity



The woefulness of our own leaders’ debate pales into insignificance compared with the calamity enacted overnight in the US.  Nevertheless, here are some impressions.

Judged as a debate I felt Sunak was the overwhelming victor.  He was confident, assured, nimble and relentless as he hammered way with or without relevance on his two themes of Labours’ tax plans and Starmer’s deviousness. 

His great advantage is that he is not constrained but any adherence to the truth (In this area a humble imitation of Trump in the US and Farage at home).  To be fair, his repeated accusations that Starmer is “not straight” have some veracity.  I haven’t kept a complete record of Starmer’s policies when he campaigned for the Labour leadership, but I understand that quite a lot of them have been ditched – he is, sadly, not quite the Corbyn look-alike that he appeared at the time.

Starmer throughout looked on the back foot – worried and hesitant in making his responses.  He is hampered by a desire to keep as near as possible to the truth (or so I like to believe – he does seem a decent man rather than an opportunist, especially when compared to the like of Johnson and,Truss, though admittedly these are low bars) and a reluctance to give too much away about Labour’s policies. 

As a non-sports person I hesitate to use a football analogy, but he gives every impression of being like a team that is three goals ahead so spends the rest of the match concentrating on defence rather than further scoring glories.

The depths of the debate were, for me, the responses to a question from a young person as to what they could offer  to persuade her to remain in the country rather than emigrate.  Both leaders answered that they’d try to make it easier for her to buy a house.

No mention of creating a fair and confident society playing its full part in elimination world poverty, working hard to avoid globe heating, safeguarding minorities, providing a safe haven for asylum seekers, upholding justice and fairness at home and abroad, rehabilitating prisoners, caring for the disadvantage, providing fulfilling work and leisure opportunities,  with a spanking education system promoting art, literature, music and joy.

 Just ”shopping and . . .er. . . house ownership.” No “vision thing” at all