Archive for October, 2020

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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At the heart of the British State lies a secret, to keep which a cabal of shadowy establishment figures is authorised to kill. At the centre of the drama is a family with baggage from the past which has access to the truth and determines to expose it. That provokes a battle of wits among security services on both sides of the Atlantic, with links into Russia, Germany, France and Africa. A gripping narrative taking place in the modern day with a cast of ruthless characters determined to kill their way to victory. Male and female, old and young, engaging yet sinister, none quite what they seem. A sophisticated thriller of unusual pace and power written in an edgy modern style.

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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.