All posts by Malcolm Blair-Robinson

Boris Government? Is It Fit For Purpose?

Obviously its detractors will say definitely NO.  But its supporters, ever more nervous at currents trends in both the political leadership and the surging pandemic, are becoming themselves uncertain.

And it is not just about the reckless Freedom Day fiasco. It is about economic recovery, how it will be financed and how that will impact employment. And don’t forget climate change and social care.

On all these things a confident Boris had been declaring there is a plan or plans. But are there? There is a suspicion that there are actually none or none which are, in his favourite phrase, oven ready. There are convincing reports from commentators and insiders of rows and muddle.

The spectacular chaos of the the isolation status and obligations of both the PM and Chancellor tell us something for sure.

All is not well.

Racism: Has The Government Stoked It?

Not directly in the overt sense, but in its general commentary it has nodded through attitudes and views which previous governments would have called out.  The government depends on far right votes which would  have gone to Farage and his continuously  reconstituting political factions, best known as UKIP. These votes were critical for Brexit. They were also critical to the 2019 Tory victory. They delivered the Red Wall. So naturally Boris and his mates are cautious, often ambiguous at first, condemning only when faced with a public backlash, like right now.

The problem for the Tories however is that the public mood has changed. The destructive nationalism which delivered Brexit and more recently a vile outpouring of racism, is now giving way to patriotism, which is very different. It allows national pride, while at the same time promotes broad international engagement and the demolition of barriers,  boundaries and inequalities. It is essentially a one nation concept, which pre-Thatcher was a Tory rallying cry. Not now. Very not now.

Boris has a levelling up agenda, but in spite of a bravura speech today, there remains very little detail of how this can be achieved and no finalised plans to put it into effect. There will be consequences politically if practical stuff is not delivered quite soon. What these last few days have shown us, especially if you add in the anxiety surrounding the bonfire of Covid restrictions,  is that for Boris, now two years in power, the honeymoon is over.

Euro Cup Legacy: The Will To Win

There was something inevitable about Sunday. Everyone confident of an England win. A goal in less than two minutes. The stuff of victory surely? But enter the challenge of penalties. Then tears.

Yet that is not the end of the story. It is a chapter on the road of national recovery in England’s place international football. A generation of incompetent managers came and went, unable to control  a generation of prima donna players, who proved unable to fuse as a team, who repeatedly let their country down, turning England into the laughing stock of international football. But no worries, because they did so knowing that their country was dominated by a generation willing to laugh it off.

Times have changed. Gareth Southgate has leadership qualities absent from his predecessors for decades. He has built a team composed of young players who do not entertain the culture of the good loser. They are, to the last man, determined to win. They felt it keenly when they lost on Sunday. They disappointment was acute. But their determination to win was enhanced not diminished. They look to the World Cup as an opportunity to prove they can deliver.

And England as a nation does not yet have the national pride of winning the trophy of an international football competition. But it can and does take pride in the fact that it now has  a credible team who stand a very good chance of delivering that ultimate win.  After  the defeats of decades, that is a win in itself.

Afghanistan Failure: This Time We Must Learn

Early on, after the intervention to disable the Al Qaeda terrorist base, I pointed out that no country had ever successfully occupied, governed or conquered this spectacular region known in Empire days as the North West Frontier. Even the Russians had left. So if we went in it would end in failure. The Taliban, formerly known as the Mujahidin when in Soviet days we regarded them as allies and friends, would bide their time. But in the end they would take over again.

This is happening now. No military intervention to stop them will work. Some Special Forces cover for our diplomatic and aid assets may be needed, but we will have to accept that in spite of the massive resources poured in to enable the elected government to function and its forces to prevail, sooner or later it will fall. It is too corrupt and incompetent to survive and its western values are inherently abhorrent to Afghan national culture.

It is however possible to influence  positively  the future direction a Taliban dominated country takes. It will not be done militarily. Nor will the expectation be realised that democracy will triumph as a structure because it is best. It is best for the West for sure and we slaughtered millions of our own on the journey to reach it. But it is not best for everywhere. There are other ways of governing, even if we do not like them.

Where we can influence is with money. The Afghan economy depends almost entirely on aid or the growing of opium to fund illegal drugs across the world. Putting money into local industrial development of a mixture of modern technologies and traditional crafts would transform much of what is wrong there now. But there is one condition. The Taliban would have to be on board with the project. That may not be as difficult as it looks.

England Glory: But Will It Long Shine?

I am not a football expert. I was useless at school. I was especially bad at goalkeeping so I was always put there by teachers who wanted the other team to win. My side of course lost and then  I was set upon by angry team mates and blamed for their own failures. So I hate the game. But I keep up with the general drift of what is going on. I was surprised, I am ashamed to admit, that England won last night because the last time they got this far in anything was before I was thirty.

So now the big moment approaches against Italy, unbeaten in 33 games. A big ask. But the nation’s widest dreams will be realised if just one cultural attitude is stamped on before the game starts. It is an English cultural phenomenon that it is somehow okay to lose. It is a decent thing to be a good loser. The nation can be proud of heroes in defeat. Forget all that.

The only reason we play is to win. Nothing else. Winning is all and everything. That is what team England can, will and must do. Then the nation can fall at their feet in a delirium of celebrations. For at last, real gold standard history making heroes they all will be.

Forgotten Brexit: But Not In DUP Land

The pandemic has more or less driven Brexit from public consciousness. Except in Northern Ireland.

NI voted against leaving the EU by a comfortable majority. Inexplicably, the DUP who lead the government there, campaigned for Leave. They got their way. Now the consequences are clear they don’t like it. Sorry, no sympathy from me. The simple truth is you can either be in the UK home market or you can be in the EU single market. NI, by the Brexit treaty, remains in the EU single market. But some concessions were made so that it could continue to trade with the UK mostly tariff free, but subject to checks. These take time. Get efficient, or get your stuff elsewhere.

NI remains in the political union of the UK and is outside the political union of the EU. It has always been my view that Ireland is one country, partition was a mistake and the sooner it becomes one the better. It is now clear this will happen because the majority will, when given the opportunity, vote for it. This will be sooner than many people think.


Pandemic Progress: Managing Expectations

Nobody expected in early 2020 that we would still have much of our lives controlled by a pandemic that few even realised was one, over half way through 2021.

Optimists now believe the vaccine roll out indicates we can ditch all restrictions before the end of this month and life can return to normal, although most accept that it will be a very different normal. Pessimists believe that while the vaccines are helping we still need to maintain some level of restrictions into the foreseeable future, since otherwise the the NHS will be overwhelmed in the autumn by a combination of seasonal flu, winter respiratory ailments among the frail and elderly and Covid among the unvaccinated.

The political problem for the government is that it has bet the house on the vaccines and the vast majority of the public across the political spectrum, whether they love Boris or hate him, have bought into the project. They have done so for their own and their families’ safety. But also, this is important, because they are doing the right thing and helping to protect others.

Now if we keep the focus narrowed to the pandemic, a compromise between these two views is relatively easy to imagine. But if we add in the economy, education, jobs, wellbeing, mental health and the whole range of socio economic challenges, then what is best is far more difficult to determine. It is clear the public has largely had enough of curbs to what they can and cannot do, especially now that the majority are vaccinated, so politically the government has little choice than to live up to the enthusiasm of its freedom day offer.

It will do this, even though the case numbers are rising fast and with further easing will rise faster still. It believes the link between case numbers and serious illness or death has been broken by the vaccine.  Even if it has, there is highly regarded modelling out there that shows a surge of hospital admissions, which though it may not topple the NHS, will again put it under considerable strain. Many more will live because of younger ages and better treatment, but the process of treatment will still demand that extra heave from an NHS which has already given more than a very full measure.