Archive for the ‘Malcolm Blair Robinson’ Category

Sunday Blog 7: March 22 2020

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

The Government

If you watch a press conference with ministers and experts, you are easily left with the impression that mostly they know what they are doing. On the other hand a news feature which casts a wider net to test the government’s assertions,  often leads to the conclusion that they may  not. The truth is probably somewhere in between. I believe the moment for one party leadership has passed and we need a much broader talent pool in government, as my last post laid out.

What is very clear to me is that there was undue delay in putting into effect social distancing and other measures which has increased the risk of a meltdown by a margin. The potential challenge to the NHS was far too low on the list in early modelling, which relied heavily on pre-cooked scenarios and turned a blind eye to what was going on at the front line. The West is nowhere near as efficient as Asia in this whole crisis.

The People

Except for a small minority of the old who can remember what it was like in the war and in the post war recovery period (which took longer in the UK than in all the countries we had defeated; here food rationing did not end until 1952 for example) nobody has before experienced a profound disruption to the structure of everyday life, not for the better, but for the worse. Most are coping well. A multitude of healthcare and other essential workers are rising to the life and death demand on their services with dedication and heroism on a par to the armed services in war. The rest of us are trying to evoke the spirit of optimism and defiance which became a legend during the Blitz. Then the killer fell from the sky, brought over by enemy bombers and later missiles. Now the killer steels silently upon you, brought there by your dearest friend or family. A very different experience altogether.

The Deniers and Hoarders

People who defy advice to keep up social distancing, which is far less demanding than social isolation, are plain selfish and also very stupid. They not only put themselves at risk, but, so much more important, they put others at risk too. They become the ally of the contagion and help it spread. They cost lives.

Those who panic buy toilet paper or hoard food supplies beyond their immediate needs are certainly selfish, but at the heart of it are driven by fear. In an age of plenty, there is an irrational fear of running out. Perhaps it is easier to deal with the fear of shortages, than it is to deal with the fear of catching the virus. The irony is that by jostling in queues and crowded supermarkets, they increase the risk of catching the virus themselves. Surely a cupboard full of pasta and toilet paper cannot be worth a life.

 

Covid 19: Time For A National Government

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Last Sunday I criticised the ridiculous herd immunity theory which appeared to drive government responses to the c-virus crisis, with the result we were faffing around not doing things all the rest of the world and the WHO regarded as critical. Indeed the government lead advisers in health and science toured the media studios promoting their story in an atmosphere of calm reassurance.

Then suddenly the roof fell in. More than one model, based, not on theories and elegant intellectual predictions, but on analysis of hard facts with evidence and reports from the virus front lines across the world, demonstrated that our jolly Brit Keep Calm We Shall Win Together government was headed to a biblical catastrophe in which millions of us would die.

So on Monday draconian new measures were announced, but by no means all that should then and there have been done. Timing is everything say these people, in whom this blog has almost entirely lost confidence, but ‘more in the coming days and weeks.’ The next day stuff weeks away is banged into immediate effect. And the day after schools, the thing which would probably, they said would do more harm than good, are shut down until further notice.

The structure of this government is not fit for an international crisis on this scale. This is a moment when all talents come together to form a National Government. The fact that Boris has a majority of 80 is irrelevant. When Churchill came to power in a coalition with Labour 1940, the Tories had a majority over Labour of 233. The Tory lead National Government (a political grouping formed after the 1930 slump and mass unemployment) had an overall majority of 243.

 

Sunday Blog 6: March 16 2020

Sunday, March 15th, 2020

Herd Immunity

As a subject for a learned paper or even a PhD, the theory of herd immunity might be a worthy offering. But as a platform for policy at the height of a global pandemic, it is absurd. It is even outrageous because the ‘the best scientific advice’ cannot possibly include unproven (in this case) theories, which in order to prove them will require the sacrifice of tens of thousands of lives.

If the official government assertion, through its advisers in whom the country is fast losing confidence, suggests that up to 60% of the population might become infected while the herd (us) tests the theory, that is nearly 37 million, 37  million, cases.  Given that the NHS could cope with the significant fraction needing care, which realistically it could not, and everybody got the very best and appropriate treatment, you are still looking at an overall death rate if things go according to this crackpot plan, way above the worst of nightmares.

There is however clear evidence that the government has woken up to the fact that what it thought was science, was in fact theory, projection and assumption. The science, real science, now shows that this is a respiratory disease and dealing with it is socially about lock down and medically about ICU beds, respirators  and the staff to man them. So everything is about to change. Let us hope it is not too late.

In the key and critical areas the signs are that the government itself, if not some wiser folk outside it, was completely unprepared. One snippet is that when they counted the ventilators available, then rushed to buy more, they found all the other non-herd immunity countries, which is all of them, had got there first and that the shelves were bare. Hence frantic calls in the night to industrialists to tool up to make them.

There is another creeping anxiety. Boris the clown, who became the brilliant politician and the popular prime minister, may turn out to be the clown after all. He is certainly no Churchill. Not least because Churchill chose his words carefully. And he was able to finish his sentences.

China, Huawei, H.S.2 etc.

Commentators became excited when the Boris government’s majority sank into the twenties over the ongoing agitation over Huawei. There are two sorts of people in politics and public affairs. One sort looks to the past to inform their wisdom. The other looks to the future. Over China it is more complex than that.

The past lookers are wedded to the traditional values of the West and seek to shore up barriers to protect that heritage. They see China as, at best, a rival and at worst an enemy. The future lookers know that the dominance of the West is in decline. America’s power is waning, China is well on track to becoming the world’s first mega power, technologically and economically. Not militarily in the absolute sense but enough to neutralise the supposed military superiority of the US. In other worst if America were to use force to destroy China’s power, it would in fact destroy its own.

The UK is now in the position that, as a country unshackled to any group, the survival of its own Union now depends on its ability to grow its economy at such a speed as to secure that Union. It has to demonstrate to its own people that they are much better off because of Brexit and much better together.  The country which can offer the UK the technology, skills and trade it needs to make sure it can achieve consistent year on year growth through an infrastructure upgrade and a home production reboot, is China. The heart of the new Tory Left government knows this. America has no 5G technology, that works, to offer, nor has it a clue how to build HS2. China can offer everything from nuclear power stations onwards and is happy to build the hardware, like trains, in the UK. It can also show us how to deliver these big projects within budget and on time. And, as we know, in a crisis can be called upon. It is China which has rescued British Steel.

To the new Red Wall Tory heartland, China can mean proper jobs and increasing living standards. Better by far than an unquantified ‘special relationship’ with a country, led by a president who freaks most people in the UK out,  and which appears not only to have lost its way, but also to have lost its touch. The fumbling confusion of its response to the c-virus, the inadequacy of its health care system, its inability apparently even to measure the extent of its outbreak, all compares very badly indeed with the Chinese focus and mounting expertise with what has now become a global pandemic.

Farewell to Austerity

There has been no occasion since WWII when a budget has been presented to Parliament to a backdrop of two gold star economic emergencies. Corona virus and Brexit both pose exceptional economic challenges. The first will be draconian but hopefully short lived. The second may go on for years depending on negotiations between two sides bound by common interests but separated by opposing red lines.

So the first Budget from the Boris Government was keenly awaited to see whether and by how much it departed from the good housekeeping strictures of the financially prim treasury which have dominated policy for the last ten years. The scale of the proposed spending, whether day to day or investment for the long term, was breathtaking by comparison to the meagre hand outs of recent years. Austerity is very definitely over. However the success will be measured by the degree to which growth is stimulated.

On the spending front the offer was dominated by critical financial support during the c virus emergency. The infrastructure plan is only just big enough to shore up the decay through ten years of under investment. There has to be a lot more to get ahead in the race to become a cutting edge country for sustained growth in a troubled world. Failure to go the extra billions will in the end just increase debt without real benefit long term.

The new chancellor has made a good start. For a Tory chancellor of the post Thatcher era, a revolutionary one. But make no mistake. He has a long way yet to go. It remains to be seen whether the Tory right wing will back him. There will have to be a big bonfire of Conservative economic verities and rules. They will have to be replaced with something much closer to Keynes and even Corbyn. This is, after all, the self proclaimed People’s Government. The People are waiting. And watching.

 

 

Sunday Blog 5: March 9 2020

Sunday, March 8th, 2020

C-Virus

This now dominates the media at every level. It has wrought havoc in global markets and is now seriously affecting all manner of business and social activities. Many businesses are threatened by the economic backlash. Even the Budget is set to be governed by the mounting drama, much of which is yet to unfold. The government has been accused of being slow off the mark, but I am not sure that is fair. More recently its response has been measured and coherent, unlike the fumbling about in the United States.

There things seem to be on something of a knife edge. We must hope a late start will be remedied by a bumper catch-up. Pence hardly seems the dynamic leader of the hour, although he heads the Federal response. There is a lot at stake for the Vice President and his boss. If things turn bad and the death toll balloons, Trump will stand accused of costing American lives. All hope of a second term will be gone.

Meanwhile it now seems inevitable that in the West a generation which has never had to face major international disruption from some uncontrollable event, will find itself challenged in more ways than one. When the emergency has passed, or perhaps we learn to live with an annual renewal of the C-Virus, we can be sure of one thing. Things will not return to the way they were before. They never do after something like this. People emerge with different priorities and values. That is where the biggest change will be. The terms pre-corona and post-corona will be part of the everyday conversation. They will infect almost every collective decision.

That may be a very good thing.

Sunday Blog 4: March 1 2020

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

A Government Under Pressure

Things do not always go according to plan, yet for Boris, Cummings and Gove, so far things have worked out rather well. Javid, who had become infected with the narrow Treasury mantra that the financial core of the nation was only about good housekeeping, was given the heave-ho in such a way as to own his own sacking. Clever. The master plan for a no deal Brexit was rolled out, disguised as a set of red lines to which it is impossible for the EU to agree. There has been very little push back. The initial stages of the coronavirus emergency appear to be well planned and the policy of keeping ministers with their noses to the grindstone and not spouting off to the media held firm.

Suddenly things took off in the wrong direction. Across the world markets have panicked, fearing that containing the spread of coronavirus causes enough disruption to trigger a recession, even before it becomes a pandemic, leading to the biggest market crash since the banks went bust in 2008. Taken together with Brexit, which makes the UK a financial loner unhitched to a bigger minder, this puts huge pressure on the Budget to come up with a credible and economically viable programme for the biggest economic stimulus in living memory. There was no doubt advance thinking for a post Brexit boost, but not  in step with recession brought on by an unforeseen pandemic.

Suddenly the Home Office blows up, I mean politically. As far as I know never has a Permanent Secretary (CEO) of a Great Office of State resigned and sued the government for constructive dismissal for any reason. And certainly not because of the alleged behaviour of their Secretary of State. Wow. Even for Boris that is big. The problem for the country is that for  gang master Cummings it is just the beginning. According to reports he has a hit list of mandarins. Maybe it is about time for a shake up, but now surely is the wrong moment to start it.

And of course there are still the floods. Not everybody is happy with the government’s performance on that front. Especially those who have lost everything.

Sunday Blog 3: February 23 2020

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

Dredge the Rivers

Experts from the Environment Agency continue to exhibit a reluctance to put at the top of their agenda dredging those rivers which pass through towns and villages, on their way to the sea. Some urban floods are caused by the sewers becoming overwhelmed by water volume and the remedy here is to enhance the underground network, much of which is Victorian. But all too often it is rising rivers or incoming tides which do the damage, and will go on doing so.  Flood defences help, and preventive eco management upstream will help even more, but in the longer term.

Meanwhile a crisis exists now in the lives of far too many and some current action with the power to have immediate preventive effect is urgent. Every time a farmer from a family which has managed the same land for generations comes on the media, the response always gets round to river maintenance and a failure to dredge. Over recent decades there has been a focused and successful effort to improve water quality, but because most rivers are no longer transport arteries with extensive traffic of both people and cargo, little has been done to maintain their depth. River dredging is now a priority for which the people’s government will have to come up with the cash. Not token sums spread over forever, but real money for work now.

A Double Squeeze on Business

We begin to get a better feel for the way our new people’s government thinks. It thinks the private sector is inefficient and relies too much on cheap migrant labour and cheap imports. It trades in easy bespoke markets and fails to invest in skills training, because it can hire off the EU shelf whatever staff it needs. Meanwhile well qualified Brits are doing unskilled jobs, more than one in many cases, in order to pay their bills. Employment is at record levels of high while productivity  plumbs record levels of low.

So making immigration difficult and having the flimsiest trade deal with the EU, which is barely worth having, is a good way to force business to mend its ways and power up. When Boris said ‘f….. business’ it was not, after all, a slip of the tongue.

This blog is not sure all the traditional Tory voters expected this. But the people’s government, now safely elected, does not care about that either.

Beating Trump

This is possible, but difficult. If the Democrats become obsessed by beating Trump, they will likely fail. But if they concentrate on winning the presidency because they have a Federal programme which chimes with the urgent needs of American voters, they stand a good chance of succeeding. They need someone who can capture the hearts of young America, secure the wallets of the doing okay and give real hope to the left behind. If they can do that they will likely win. Beating Trump in the process would be the bonus.

Ministers Under Fire

There has been a lot of comment about ministers in the new government this week, or rather about their absence from the scene. Especially the prime minister hidden in the Kent countryside at Chevening and Priti Patel who is having a bust up with the Home Office Permanent Secretary. There is a lot of briefing and counter briefing from opposing sides, but little of any of it is official. Commentators and reporters are finding themselves in a kind of desert of political stories. This requires gossip to become news.

The truth is that for good or bad, the government sees ministers as action people to get things done. For too long, the spin goes, ministerial rank has acquired celebrity status, distracting attention from weak and procrastinated outcomes. This has contributed to the State in a process of decay. The government knows it has to reverse it or become electoral toast. Public services across the piece have to start working as they are supposed to and infrastructures failures, to which we can now add rivers, ditches and sewers, have to be remedied. The cost of all this is not a billion here and there over x years. It is more immediate and mind blowingly big. Very soon the new Chancellor will have to start telling us how much and where it will come from. No wonder in the meantime ministers are more than willing to accede to the gagging demands of Gang Master Cummings.

 

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Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

 

 

Labour’s Road Map: The Missed Way: Read Free or Buy Now

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

When this dissertation, it is too short to class as a book, was published in 2016,  there was an expectation that Labour would have a  chance of winning in 2020. The unexpected snap election in 2017 was far better for Labour than anyone expected but then came disaster in 2019. One of the major problems for Labour on the doorstep was a lack of credibility in its lavish economic programme. Compared to the detailed specification set down in Turn Left To Power, Labour’s election offering was unconvincing. Although voters liked the economic programme in principle, they and commentators were sceptical of plans for funding it.  Read about the ideas which may have lead to a happier outcome. If you are an activist they will give you confidence to contribute to the debate about Labour’s future.

International Thriller: Read Free with Prime

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Sunday Blog: February 16 2020

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

New Cabinet

There is much more to this than a shift of places and faces. For the first time for decades we have a government led by a prime minister, not chaired by one. The cabinet is now made up of people who are signed up to Boris’s vision and understand that their careers depend on the success of that vision, not on jockeying around for advantage or in competitive briefing. And that vision is like no other seen in the Tory party in modern times. For Boris is not just the person who delivered Brexit. Part of the package was Texit. It was kept a big secret, hidden by bluff and fumble with the attention span of a goldfish. All of this was necessary because had anybody realised what he was actually about, the full Tory and Establishment machine would have been organised to stop him.

This blog was fooled for sure, but now accepts that Boris is the most formidable politician in Britain by a country mile. The only other to get even close is Nicola Sturgeon. He has shifted the Tory party so far to the left economically that it will not be able to recognise itself. He has mobilised natural Tory patriotism and given it a nationalist edge. He built a stunning election victory not in the Shires, but in Labour’s English bedrock heartland. He outflanked Labour and Farage. He told his new cabinet yesterday and filmed it to rub home the point, his is the people’s government and will prioritise the people’s business.

That will include the biggest programme of public investment probably since the end of WWII. The hegemony of the Treasury is over. For far too long it has run the economy like a single parent shopping for bargains in a budget supermarket. Everything is underfunded and insufficient.  Our productivity is among the lowest in the industrialised world and our household debt is the highest. Because all attention has been on balancing the budget, there has been a complete failure to recognise the importance of expanding the economy. GDP is now just too small to meet  modern demands at reasonable taxation levels.

The priority is to invest to grow the economy.  That is the legitimate role of the state. To facilitate and drive growth, big growth, as well as to maintain sound money. It is not one or the other, it is both. It can be done. Boris is determined that it will be. Because if not, Brexit will fail, the economy will tank, the Labour heartland will return to the fold and the reign of the World King will be over.

So expect more Huawei style decisions. Incidentally their phones are brilliant. We need the best for our country now. Global Britain means tapping into that world. All of it. So China building the full HS2, all branches, in five years for a good deal less than the current budget is not just idle chatter. It is the people’s future. Blue blooded Tories will just have to get used to it. They have nowhere else to go.

But What of Labour?

Labour has very big problems of which finding a leader is the least of them. The biggest is Scotland. Here it has but one MP. One. Founded as a Scottish party, of its six prime ministers, three have been Scots, although Blair sat for an English constituency. Labour has been the vehicle through which the Scottish people felt themselves to be fully engaged in running the UK. Only three Labour prime ministers have managed to win their own majority, Atlee, Wilson and Blair, for which Scottish seats were the critical bedrock which pushed English gains into winning numbers in the Commons. Corbyn actually did quite well in votes in 2020, and better than Milliband 2015, Brown 2010,  Blair 2001 and 2005,  but crashed to the lowest number of seats since 1935. So it is not just votes, but seats they need.

Proportional representation would help, but first past the post suits Boris so well it is most unlikely they will get it. Labour must regain traction in Scotland and shore up Wales to stand any kind of chance. But the SNP is on a roll and the Union looks threatened, so that will not be easy. So electing a new leader is the easy bit. Whoever wins, there is no room for new splits. The page must be turned and turned for keeps on anti-Semitism. And the half of the parliamentary party whose candidate loses, cannot muck about with the sulks.

The Union.

This is Boris’s biggest challenge, although like a gathering storm, it is not yet upon him. If the economy takes off and Britain becomes the must country with which to do business and all the properly funded public services begin to whizz and hum, he is in with a chance. Why unhook from a  Union just when, after years of stagnation, it suddenly comes alive and takes off?

But if this Tory government relapses into the old ways of lavishing upon the few at the expense of the many, then the people will feel conned and the Union will, among much else, be over.