2021: Wow! What a Beginning!

January 14th, 2021

The United States

It has  been the case that while America and the American Dream have been and remain giants in the story of human political and scientific evolution, the notion of the ‘United’ States has always been a flawed ideal. This is because there are two interpretations of what it is.

One is that the individual is sovereign and bigger than the state, is free under the law to enjoy inalienable rights, which include absolute freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. This grouping is broadly  socially conservative, covertly  white supremacist, self righteous, church belonging, pro life and anti LGBT. Its ancestors founded the Confederacy and now it  dominates the heartland of America between the two coasts. It regards the exercise of Federal authority in domestic issues as an assault upon its interpretation of the original meaning of the Constitution, which the Confederacy re-wrote.

The other half believes in the Union as the foundation of the nation, whose authority is final. It is liberal and enlightened, focused on the future rather than the past, anti racism and any prejudice towards minorities in any form, pro equal rights and equal opportunity for women, pro LGBT rights and less committed to religious faiths and traditions. It wants gun control and interprets free speech as carrying with it responsibility for the effect on others of what you say. It is morally more permissive but more proscriptive of aggressive individualism put before the common good.

Both are committed to democracy but only when it suits their cause. When eleven states of the South chose to secede and form a looser union calling it a Confederacy, the North, for the Union, attacked and conquered, to quell a rebellion. Yet that in itself was a contradiction, because strictly in a democracy if people wish to choose a different path they must be allowed to do so. Now in  2020 the majority of Republican voters actually do believe they won, when by any measure they lost. Belief is thought to be a worthy thing. But when belief is denial of truth, it becomes a very bad and destructive thing indeed.

So what about Trump? He is the symptom, not the cause. The Union was never really there. By mobilizing, energising and yes, inciting, the forgotten bedrock of conservative America, he undoubtedly bust it apart. It is far from clear whether it can be stuck back together. Meanwhile America’s political standing across the world has crumbled from leadership to spectacle.

Further essays of these historic events will appear on this blog as events unfold.

Brexit Anger

December 13th, 2020

Since the Brexit referendum in 2016 we have had to put up with the angry rhetoric of nationalist Brexiteers lying their heads off in their quest for the UK’s  ‘freedom and independence’. They wanted something they, wrongly, asserted they did not have.

Every misfortune in their lives was blamed upon the EU, and , much worse, they stoked a belief among those who were suffering real hardship, that somehow all that would end if we left the shackles of our membership of the greatest political union since the fall of the Roman Empire.

The horrors of our nation flooded with Turkish refugees, the notion that a trade deal with our former partners would be the easiest negotiation in history and that Boris had ready, oven ready, a deal which would propel us to sunlit uplands, were all tacky catch phrases in a morally bankrupt political adventure.

We now find ourselves on the brink of catastrophe, in which not a single one of these promises will be kept. This will trigger anger among the deceived. But it was also trigger a new anger. One much more menacing. It will come from the great silent majority who will discover, not just that something promised has not arrived, but that something, many things,  dear and treasured, have been taken away.

 

Brexit is Rubbish

December 6th, 2020

As I write this the drama of Brexit is being milked for the last drop of uncertainty by media and politicians on both sides of the Channel and on both sides of the argument. One thing is not in doubt.

The whole Brexit project is a disaster from beginning to end. A self inflicted wound without cause, to satisfy a fetish for sovereignty by people with no grasp of its meaning, promoted by unscrupulous nationalist politicians who have repeatedly lied to persuade voters to back them, making promises which cannot be kept for an end not worth having.

So I am not on the edge of my seat today. No deal or bad deal makes very little difference. The whole idea is rubbish.

Saving Lives: Two Questions

December 3rd, 2020

When this pandemic emergency recedes and life returns to what will be a new normal, the questions will have to be answered. This will lead to another infamous inquiry led by a judge, which will take so long to gather evidence, write a report, with the conclusions then watered down by those criticised, who receive advance copies and the right to reply, that when copies are finally made public, they will be all but ignored. Because the world has by then moved on. That is, of course, the whole idea. Witness Bloody Sunday, Scott, Leveson, Chilcot and currently Grenfell. Or a whitewash like the utterly scandalous Hutton. There is a better way to do these things, but that is not the subject of this blog today.

What is are the questions. Or some of them. Here are two. The first is why was the decision taken to save Covid life, while endangering all other conditions requiring elective and routine treatment? The build up of this accumulation of waiting times and deferrals, is costing lives even as I write this and threatens countless others in the queue. The anxiety of the victims and the anguish of their loves ones should tear at even the hardiest heart.

Why was the decision taken to centralise testing and cut out local health departments? Although attempts are now being made to roll this back, the strategy has lead to a systemic failure of test and trace, leaving testing as an end in itself, a second wave and, were it not for the vaccine cavalry coming over the hill, even a third.

The overall point emerging is this. I have made it before. Although the world class scientific community of the UK has shone in its response, the public institutions have failed at almost every level because they have been run down and cash starved and were utterly unprepared for the crisis which swamped them. That in turn was because of the uncivilised nostrum that the state is the enemy, to be beaten and starved. In truth, of course, without a strong state, fully funded and prepared for every contingency, providing the framework within which civilisation functions and prospers, civilisation itself dies.

Maybe  Covid 19 was sent to teach us that lesson. But at a very heavy price.

 

The Covid Crisis.

December 1st, 2020

Johnson talks about sunlit uplands. No doubt his enthusiastic supporters egg him on. Yet looked at from a more critical point of view, Boris is on the edge of becoming one of the most remembered prime ministers in history, but for entirely the wrong reasons. He led the Brexit campaign, which was a false prospectus for what is about to become another disaster, which will deal a heavy blow to an economy already in trouble. His government has mishandled Covid, causing one of the worst death rates in the world, at the greatest cost and with the biggest economic impact. And he has threatened the Union of the UK to the point where Scotland is on course to leave it. He could yet come good but if he does not and the pattern of misstep and failure of analysis continues, he will be remembered as the worst and most damaging of all our many and varied prime ministers.

At the heart of all this lies the ghost of Thatcherism taken literally. Among the many false and simplistic nostrums she toted around and which fools and wise alike embraced, was that running a country was akin to shopping in a supermarket. The resultant cuts in the funding of all public institutions, the mutilation by break-up and sell off of all the public utilities, coupled with the founding of the quango state, destroyed the UK as an industrial power and weakened every aspect of public life, because the state became an enemy to be dismantled, not the foundation upon which freedom and prosperity is built.

The biggest casualty of all was the NHS. It struggled with funding per capita and as a % of GDP, well below other leading democracies, trying to make sense of the mathematical impossibility of providing an infinite service on a finite budget. In other words more patients did not mean more money, as customers would to a business, which the Tories pretended the NHS was. It simply meant of a fixed amount there was less to go round. So we lived in the world of waiting times, shortages of doctors, nurses and new hospitals, winter ‘flu overload, and people in A&E waiting hours for treatment which in the past, pre-Thatcher, had been available in minutes. Then along came Covid.

Suddenly the Tory government of Boris, with its new working class supporters awaiting the fulfillment of all his leveling up promises and the riches of oven ready Brexit, saw an unimaginable political calamity ahead. The collapse of the NHS, the political jewel in the crown. On their watch, after ten years of their cuts. So the priority became protect the NHS. That has informed every step and every decision. Yet the priorities should have been to protect the economy and to save lives. That would have led us on a very different path to a much better place. But it was blocked because the NHS was on its knees even before the crisis hit.

The story is not over yet. It may not have a good ending. For Boris especially.

Sunday Blog. Boris Re-Sets: Trump in Denial

November 22nd, 2020

Boris

Following the departure of Cummings and co, many wondered whether Boris was actually capable of governing. Some, including me, were certain he was not. Over the past week nothing has happened to cause me to change my mind; the Devolution gaffe and the Priti Patel row merely served to reinforce my conviction. Yet I have to admit that I detect a sense of relief at the centre of government.

The shot of fresh air flowing into that hot house we call Number Ten, seems to be detectable even in my little village in the back of beyond. And in spite of continuing dramas and the festering scandal of contracts for friends, who have made dodgy fortunes out of pandemic panic, I think there is some sort of order beginning to appear.  A clearer plan, not just for the pandemic, but for economic recovery too. Maybe I am wrong. Brexit, or rather what form and its cost, will be the test.

Trump

The deranged lawsuits and briefings of Trump’s lawyer, now a laughing stock across the globe, added to Trump’s wild tweets about non existent electoral fraud, have shredded this controversial President’s reputation internationally. His refusal to concede and his general handling of his own failure, have damaged America’s standing abroad to the point where it has almost certainly lost forever its status as leader of the free world. The fact that America is polarised between two irreconcilable views of life, will make it unlikely that it will be able to restore its former glory.

When he takes office President-elect Biden will do as much as he can to repair the damage and America will remain the dominant economic power at least until it is overtaken by China. But the moral leadership, tarnished by flawed post cold war adventures, leading to endless wars and failed democracies, has now gone for good. The failures to deal with Covid 19 and the aging structures of some of its democratic institutions are the last straw. Too many other developed countries have done better on Covid and all of them have smoother running and fairer democratic processes.

Sunday Blog: Anglo-American Traumas

November 15th, 2020

Both countries share democratic values and traditions, which though different in detail, are complimentary in principle. Both have sought to spread these values across the rest of the world. Added together the two economies are not just the largest in the world but by a margin. They are tied by family, culture and history. And both are suffering at the same time from two great challenges.

The first is Covid 19. Neither country has managed to contain the virus and it is still raging in both. But each has an advanced vaccine programme interlinked with the other, which gives hope that eventually the contagion will be brought to heal and allow normal life to return and the economies to recover. The trauma of Covid will pass.

But the second is potentially irreversible. Loss of faith in the viability and integrity of their democratic processes which not only affect the two oldest democracies, but threaten the viability of democracy across the world. And both have had spells of government led by neo-nationalists, good at crowd pleasing, some may say rabble rousing, in which truth and accuracy takes second place to misleading slogans and outright lies.

America is in the process of getting rid of the Trump presidency in an unbelievable spectacle of discord, as a bad loser tries to cling to the pretence he has won, undermining as it does confidence in the notion that American democracy is good and worth copying.

In England, which is the dominant nation in an increasingly unstable Union, Boris Johnson exhibits an incompetence in government that even his worst enemies never imagined could be as bad. Fights, tears and WhatsApps fly through the Downing Street air, as people who should never be invested with such a thing fight for power, while daily hundreds die from Covid 19 because of their failures. And just days away a no deal Brexit catastrophe looms.

Boris has to do better than Trump and get a grip. Otherwise a restive Tory party will send in the men and women in dark suits. Their message will be stark. His premiership will be over. Not because of an overwhelming vote by an angry people, but because through his muddled leadership, boasting, lies, bungling, U-turns and philandering, he has managed to get rid of himself.

 

 

Sunday Blog: Biden Wins: A New Beginning?

November 8th, 2020

I am not a Trump supporter and he was clearly the wrong sort of character to be ideal for the White House. He screwed up all over the place, undermined faith in American leadership across the free world and made more enemies than friends. But not everything he said or did was bad, which is why 70 million Americans voted for him on Tuesday. And whereas in 2016 many traditional Republicans voted for him, because against their wishes he wound up as their candidate, this time everyone who voted Trump voted for him because they liked what they saw. In spite of Covid, Twitter, the Wall and the ongoing mysteries surrounding his finances and financial connections, ie Russian money.

I cannot pretend I was a Biden supporter either, because to me he was too old and yesterday’s man. My faith in the vibrance and energy of the American Dream told me that as the twenty-first century develops, surely the US could do better than a choice between two old white men, or three if you include Bernie Sanders? In the end I was wrong. Biden won, and although the margins in several states were narrow, he gained over 50% of the popular votes and four million more of them than Trump. Thus the win has straightforward legitimacy around the democratic world, where usually the winner is the candidate with the most votes.

Much is being made in the media about the fact that more Americans voted for Biden than ever before in their history. But the second in line on this roster is Trump. The shock of defeat, which he has currently refused to accept, has clearly unhinged Trump’s self esteem and clouded his judgment. Most of what he is now saying is either lies or drivel. But with his rampant base, Trumpism is baked into the American psyche and Trump, even if he storms off in a sulk, will not go far. Only a fool would bet that he will not be back.

Given those circumstances, which perhaps present an America more viscerally divided than at any time since the election of 1861, what is needed is a healing hand. And now I have no doubt at all that Joe Biden is the right man in the right place at the right time. Moreover at his side is the historic choice of the first woman Vice President-elect and the first woman of colour. Kamala Harris is an inspirational step change  for the better, after the plodding colourless Pence.

Sunday Blog: Another U-Turn

November 1st, 2020

It is clear that the cost in political capital of Boris being unable to make timely decisions, is approaching the point when the prime minister will become politically insolvent. Up till the chaos of yesterday in Westminster, the Downing Street machine, a clunky misfiring relic of the smooth campaigning juggernaut which won the 2019 election, was insisting that the policy leaked and finally confirmed in a press briefing over two and a half hours late, was not an option as it would be a disaster for the economy.

I am not going to go once more into all the reasons why we have got here, nor to speculate where we may end up. In the present circumstances of the here and now, a mini-lockdown or circuit break or whatever this is, is the only option. But if all the boasting and promises of test and trace had come to fruition we would not be here. And until the ability to track trace and isolate is added to the ability to test, we will not get out of this. Yesterday Boris promised some new instant track and trace system, based on a new form of test giving quick results, which would be run by local health departments assisted by the army.

Let us hope this is not just another Boris dream that he and his government prove unable to deliver, in the right place and on time.

Sunday Blog: Weak Links

October 25th, 2020

I have  said so many critical things about this government, adding to the list seems pointless. However three issues struck me this weekend which highlight why things go wrong, leaving confusion and U turns scattered across our lives.

The first is the shameful decision not to provide free school meals during holidays, half terms and lockdowns. The rigmarole of getting help from charity,universal credit or hardship funds is mean and cruel, because it grinds down on the most vulnerable in society. These children do not all come from feckless families who snort their benefits instead of buying food, as the far right propagandists would have us believe. They come from the very families employed in lower paid jobs without whose endeavour much of our civilised way of life would collapse. It is not the decision which surprises me. Nasty governments are a hazard of free democracy. But the political ineptitude does. In the end it will be the Tory party which will exact revenge upon its own stupid government.

The second is the peculiar habit of making public appointments to critical pandemic and economic leadership roles of individuals without the skills or experience required, but who spin within the magic Johnson/Cummings circle. Most glaring of these is the hapless Dido Harding, whose track and trace is a mismanaged farce, and for whose sacking senior Brexiteer Conservatives are now publicly calling. This is a dangerous moment for Downing Street. Of course these silly appointments are driven by fear. Fear that people who would really know what they were doing would quickly spot that the Boris led government didn’t.

Finally there is everywhere an atmosphere of angry resignation. Trust in the nation’s leadership has entirely drained away.