Archive for the ‘Malcolm Blair Robinson’ Category

Sunday Blog. Boris Re-Sets: Trump in Denial

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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?

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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.

 

Covid 19: The Failures Start To Show

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020

To describe the national leadership of Boris’s government as politically chaotic is to understate the case. The spectacular U Turn of loads more cash for businesses and individuals  facing ruin because of  restrictions in escalating Tiers, cascading out of the Treasury today when it was not there yesterday, shows  that Downing Street was rattled that Andy Burnham, while losing his battle with the frightful Robert Jenrick over how much money, had won the political argument.

Unfortunately we are now at the point where the failure of test and trace is really having not just an impact on the lives and health of Covid victims and their families, it is packing a massive negative economic punch. In spite of gobbling up £12 billion. Part of this lies in the political fixation on test numbers, as if testing was an end in itself. It is not . A test is to find an answer. The answer is to formulate a response. The response informs the action. And in the fight against Covid 19, the priority action is to hunt Covid down.

So what should now be happening is an army of test track and tracers should descend on every Tier 3 region. The mission to test every single member of the population of those areas over the age of twelve. This will show who has the infection, where it is embedded, who is at risk, who needs to be protected and what scale of medical response must be at hand.

That is the fastest route, indeed pre-vaccine, the only route, through this multi-layer crisis, to some kind of predicable normality in which the economy can be re-booted. The fact that this route is not open amounts to an historic political failure which will be remembered for many generations to come. Like Churchill, in whose shadow Boris imagines himself to dwell, Boris will indeed be remembered. But for very, very different reasons.

Covid 19:Test, Treat,Track, Trace, Isolate, Test, Treat.

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

It is now becoming clear. There is only one way to deal with Covid. Attack it. Go after it. Root it out. Extinguish it. The two countries best known for doing this successfully are New Zealand and China. The majority Western policy of defend by lockdown of varying degrees of severity, offers only respite and at very great economic, social and personal cost. But the pandemic returns as soon as restrictions are eased. So everything depends on treatment and vaccines. Until then we carry on in the twilight world social distancing, bubbles, curfews and closures. Nobody knows for how long, nor what the cost will be. In every sense.

There is an apt analogy from the war, any war in fact. Maybe it springs to my mind because of experience in shelters under falling bombs as a child. When the enemy is overhead or his guns and missiles attack, you can go down into a deep shelter and survive. But when it is safe in a lull to come back to the surface, the enemy has not gone away.  It is a matter only of time before the next wave. And every time you return to the surface there is less and less of your world standing. The only way to end the nightmare is to go after the enemy and destroy his ability to bombard you.

The failure of track and trace to fulfil the many promises made by its leaders and promoters in the government, is the single greatest disaster in this sorry UK Covid tale. Yes we are conducting loads of tests, but we are fumbling the results and the follow up. And we have to put this right. £12 billion has been blown on the project already, but we have to press on. And we have to go after the virus. Lockdowns are a shelter, but they are not a solution.

We saw recently how the government in New Zealand locked down the whole country after a second wave of a handful of cases developed. Less well publicised was an outbreak of a dozen cases in one of the Chinese provinces. There was an immediate lockdown and over two weeks the entire affected population of 9 million was tested. All the positives were treated and isolated, all their contacts isolated and repeat tested. The outbreak was stopped. Critically 75% of the positive cases showed no symptoms. Testing only those with symptoms is to be forever playing catch up. You have to test everybody.

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Friday, October 16th, 2020

 

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National Discord: Not A Good Moment

Friday, October 16th, 2020

From the very beginning the Boris led government did not understand the pandemic. It was totally focussed on Brexit and drunk on the elixir of victory. It was complacent with an 80 seat majority, with many new greenhorn MPs who would do as the whips told them. The road to future triumph was open, the sky was the political limit and it was blue, true blue. Everybody loved the get go Boris.

Here we are now with the economy suffering the greatest contraction since modern style records began. Covid 19, having apparently succumbed to the spring lockdown, is surging back. The government is split, splintered is a better word, between lockdown,  herd immunity and everything in between, with Brexit looming to divide the political shambles once again. The unity of government, opposition and people has shattered, because continuous misinformation and muddle has broken the confidence anybody has in anything anyone else decides, predicts or promotes. Boris is becoming more  Spitting Image caricature than steady crisis leader.

Ahead is a gathering storm incoming from three directions, the economy, Brexit and the ever present Covid 19. We do know there is going to be a lot of damage to almost everything we hold dear. What we do not know is which element will do the most.

Oh, and don’t forget climate change.

Sunday Blog 32: Tough Times Are Coming

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

We can all remember the good humour of millions coming onto balconies and front gardens to clap in support of the NHS week after week. There was enthusiasm, and a sense of unity of a very special kind. Yet, as the virus now surges once more, there is an alarming mixture of anger, confusion, disagreement and a sense of being let down.  Because the virus has not been ‘beaten’ in spite of the massive economic, social and emotional costs, together with the biggest price of all, over 40,000 deaths of loved  ones. Underlying everything there is a current of fear. Not just for health but for jobs, businesses, careers and futures at every level.

The government appears indecisive and confused, no longer united, and at odds with many leaders of local and regional government. The science too seems to vary because of continuing weaknesses in the format of modelling favoured by the Whitehall machine. None of this will be resolved quickly, but I think I detect a shift of what might be called Covid power from the Whitehall centre to the regions, where local government and medical structures are increasingly at grips with the challenges of the pandemic. The failures of central contract tracing, in spite of the scale of testing, are the most high profile examples of how local authorities, given resources and data, can do better.

This will leave the central government held accountable for the economic impact of whatever is coming, the remedies to prop up the economy  and the plan to build recovery upon investment in new industries, retraining, infrastructure and affordable housing. Entangled in all that will be Brexit and the outcome of the US presidential election in November. The outcome overall will be that somehow we will muddle through. No victories, no moment when anything is over. Just stiff upper lip and get on as best we can. We are rather too good at that. It really is time we did better.

It is now over ten years since the great financial crash was brought about by over inflation, over borrowing and over trading in property assets, while neglecting the creation of new basic wealth. In the UK we still have an economy heavily reliant on and driven by house price inflation, high personal borrowing, shopping and eating out. This is not sustainable. In the end it will be the government’s, indeed any government’s, ability to rectify this which will determine whether the rising generation in particular and the nation in general, have a future worth looking forward to.