Archive for January, 2021

EU Blunder: Protocol Disaster

Saturday, January 30th, 2021

There is no more ardent supporter of the EU than I am, anywhere. But  it is abundantly clear that the European Commission has completely mismanaged the whole of the EU’s vaccine programme, with excessive bureaucracy, dithering and delay, leading to a failure to order enough of what they needed in timely fashion. Too many eggs in one basket when the sponsored vaccine and the biggest order failed to work.

Aware that European politicians would be after its blood, the decision was taken to blame others, rather than take responsibility. The UK would be the fall guy for hoarding vaccines for itself which were actually due for the EU. This proposition was based on fantasy. These disreputable bureaucrats, to cover their failings, then invoked rules to allow member states to ban vaccine exports from factories in their countries, even if bought and paid for.  If that was not enough, they added invoking Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, to close the border for vaccines between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Uproar.

Rescinded within hours, with various grovelings and excuses, the damage is immense. Brexiteers, somewhat on the back foot because of the trade disruption and extra costs associated with Boris’s so called trade deal, now have the wind in their sails. Europe is not to be trusted, look what a mess there are in, their true colours revealed,  we are so much better off out, what a success we have made of our vaccine programme, etc. etc..

Time for a  Merkel Moment. Nothing less will do.

A Thriller With a Difference: Download or Paperback

Friday, January 29th, 2021

Hidden: Zara Vine 1 by [Tor Raven] 

Zara Zara Vine is a modern detective with a troubled history has a talent for turning baggage into power.  But who exactly is she? Who are her real masters? What is her agenda? Dubbed the She Wolf, she drives all before her to find hidden secrets and numbing horror. The nail biting climax drives Zara Vine to edge as treachery puts the lives of her team on the line. 

Education: England’s New Front Line

Friday, January 29th, 2021

There is an old saying that England wins its wars by losing all battles but the last. There is an echo of this in Covid. So many mistakes, except with the vaccines. Here a world class performance is being achieved every day and, provided supplies are maintained, this will be the means by which Covid is brought under control, allowing the economy to be rebuilt.

Throughout the pandemic the political focus has been on protecting the NHS from being overwhelmed. This obvious priority was to avoid a complete collapse, with patients being refused admission, left untreated and spreading even more virus in the community, with a biblical level of deaths. But there was a political imperative too. The NHS is the jewel in the political crown. It is the nation’s proudest possession. To break it would be a political catastrophe for the Tory party, as it would reveal years of underfunding had left the NHS unfit for its core purpose, which is to be on hand to deliver, no matter what.

Yet there is a second front line, which now looms and which can have as great an influence on the future of the Tory party. Education. The weakest minister in the government is put in charge, presiding over a bewildering programme of U turns and muddles causing the lives of university and college students to be chaotic, at a time when they should be inspirational. Secondary schools and primary schools likewise have been subject to change and confusion, let down by inept leadership from government, leaving teachers and parents to pick up the pieces, while the students themselves  miss out on a year or more upon which the foundations of their future success were supposed to be built.

Even the terminology is confusing and grossly undersells the enormous effort and long hours which the situation demands of teachers and staff. Schools are not ‘closed’.  They are open, but to restricted admission, which can be as high as 40% or more. These students have to be taught in class face to face, while at the same time those at home have to be provided with on line learning. Covid protocols create all manner of extra challenges for schools, colleges and universities and increase the demands on staff. But it is not so much the fact of Covid, as the government’s educational response, which causes near universal anger among everyone involved in education at every level, either providers or receivers.

The political price for that will be long lasting. And it will be heavy.

Trump: Impeach or Not?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

Never before has the United States had so dysfunctional an administration. But that is just a bad record and the incumbent was defeated in a Presidential election and denied a second term by a majority of voters, by a margin of six million. The outgoing President also lost in the Electoral College by a convincing margin. The two candidates each won 25 States. Each gained a record number of votes. So far, so good. Democracy is alive and well in the USA.

Then Trump starts declaring not only that he won, but by a landslide. He refuses to concede. He accuses the democrats of cheating with fraudulent votes. His lawyers mount sixty lawsuits all across America and lose every single one. The Supreme Court refuses to intervene. The reasons for this universal rejection of the legal challenges to the outcome of a meticulously observed and monitored national election are actually just one. Not a single scrap of credible evidence was presented to back up these wild claims, by anyone, anywhere.

But Trump continued and continues still, to pedal and promote preposterous lies which not only seek to undermine confidence in America’s democratic processes, they also cause incredulity across the world. It does not end there. No. He holds a rally of his supporters outside the White House and incites them to march on the Capitol when Congress is sitting and size it in an violent unprecedented in even America’s violent history. His defence is Free Speech.

If you believe in that absolute interpretation of this basic freedom, no matter the consequences,  you will want his Impeachment Trial to end in acquittal or not to happen at all. If you believe that with power comes responsibility, you will want Trump to be prosecuted by every means available and to be banished from holding public office for life.

Either way it was the whole event of this challenged election, which happened, is on the historical record and will never go away, which has done huge and lasting damage to the world standing of the United States. There is just too much that is not a road other democracies want to follow. The image is tarnished forever. It may be polished up and the ruptures  in the architecture of the Union may be repaired for the moment, but they are too fundamental to resolve.

Soon or later they will bust open again.

UK Covid Deaths: Big Questions Loom

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

It is becoming apparent that the UK is leading most of the world in two specific areas. Vaccine roll out, which is good. And deaths per head of population, which is bad. More than bad it is shocking. The gold standard John Hopkins University stats show that among the leading nations, the UK tops this sombre death table table. Why?

When challenged government ministers shuffle and and defer, but they do not answer. Above all they go nowhere near admitting that it could be down to them and their muddled decision making. They promise a Public Inquiry later, no doubt in the hope it will, as is the custom, whitewash the guilty.

What has struck me as odd from the very beginning is the complete absence of any available treatment until the sufferer becomes so ill as to require hospital admission. But surely as soon as a positive test is received the patient should get local treatment at home in the form of drugs and therapies, normally led by and within the scope of GPs? Steroids, anti-viral drugs, inhalations, anti-inflammatories, etc.? Instead they are simply told to rest and isolate ‘until the symptoms subside’. If anxious about their condition they are told not to contact their doctor but rely upon a telephone help line.

The giant wave of those who then fall very ill has all but overwhelmed the NHS’s capacity to respond. And of course the death rate is horrific. But need this happen in the first place? Normally you end up in hospital with an illness, when all else has failed.

Not when nothing else has been tried.

UK Politics: Is The Johnson Government Finding Its Feet?

Sunday, January 24th, 2021

That depends on your political perspective. If you are a Tory maybe you feel just a little more confident, but if you are anything else, the list of failures grows with almost every passing hour. As I see it, amid muddle and misjudgment, the one bright success is the vaccination programme.

Having just had my first Pfizer jab (because I am so old in years, I think I am young at heart!) I was impressed with the speed, punctuality and smooth organization at the local surgery, normally a centerpiece for bad time keeping, congested parking and rushed consultations.

More and more media coverage focusses on the world beating roll out, driven by the reconstituted post Cummings Downing St. Press Office. So the government appears more confident, ministers more positive and above all, the bombastic optimism of Boris himself is replaced by a more measured and frank dialogue with the people. But the pandemic is not over, and the new caution suggests it may not be over by Easter. Hints are being dropped that it could still be causing restrictions  in the summer.

But even if Covid disruption vanishes from our lives altogether as the days become long and lazy, we are left with rebuilding a shattered economy, to a very different model. The hospitality, shopping and house price inflation set up, with all its attendant inequalities, food banks and child poverty, was on its last lap before anyone heard of Covid.

The notion of zero hours contracts and three jobs to pay the bills has to be replaced with a massive boost in public investment, plus high paying jobs through green re-industrialisation, backed by a transport and cyber connectivity revolution. All doable but not by a fuddled government. Then there is Brexit. And serious cracks in the structure of the Union. What a mess.

So I am jolly glad I am not a Tory. Because after nearly eleven  years in power, all the messes are of their making, driven by selfish ideology which puts individual advantage before the public good. Ever since the advent of Thatcherism, the state and its institutions have been starved of the resources to do their job properly.

Although Labour is not blameless, it was in power for 13 years, it is the Tories who have governed for 29 of the 42 years since the dawn of the Iron Lady. The outcome is a crisis in which the state has had to take control of everything, even how we spend our days. And every pound saved in so called efficiency savings over  four decades, will have been spent on stopping a total economic collapse, before the Covid/Brexit crisis is over.

You can sum it up with the slogan that we have to pull together to save the NHS.

The whole idea of the NHS in the first place was that it would be there to Save Us.

E U Ambassador to UK: The Foreign Office Fails Again.

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

News that alone among all the nations of the civilised world, the UK, is refusing to grant the EU diplomatic status for its mission in the UK is both childish and ridiculous. It has an awful Trumpian feel to it. Apparently this infantile government of ours takes the view that the greatest political union in European history, with its own democratically elected parliament and currency, is an ‘international trade organization’.

No wonder the fools screwed up on the Brexit negotiations.

So Can Biden Heal?

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

The Inauguration ceremonies of Joe Biden were impressive. Powerful, coordinated, dignified and on message. His speech, the stunning poem, the music and the vocals all spoke of healing and unity in the face of monumental challenge. There was no glossing over the stark fact that America is divided as never in living memory or maybe even  since 1861. That alone is enough, but to add to that, there is a pandemic which has killed already more Americans than all its external wars. It is still raging.

Then there is climate change with its unprecedented weather events and a summer when much of California was continuously on fire. To this inventory we have to add the shattered pieces of America’s international standing and you perhaps have the grimmest to do list of any incoming administration since that of Abraham Lincoln.

So can President Biden heal and restore? If by that we mean can he put back an America which bestrides the world and can he make the Union whole? The Answer is no. But he can and will repair and renew. That will seem to most just as good. It will not be but he will be the best he, or anyone else, could do. For there always have been two Americas. The structural flaw of the architecture was to try and make them one.

Meanwhile the rest of the world will breathe a sigh of relief that America now has a fully qualified and functional government which seeks to globally reengage and domestically clean up the wreckage of the most incompetent administration in its history. This is good. But it will also be sad.

Because the rest of the world is growing up fast and as it does, so the magic of America as a shining light of good example, like that of Father Christmas to the teenager, has faded. Instead America will be judged piece by piece, issue by issue, on what it actually does to, and for, the world at large.

And especially on what it does to itself. As for global leadership? That has gone. And it will stay very gone, until the all of the United States together demonstrate convincingly that they themselves can, in unity, be led.

2021: Wow! What a Beginning!

Thursday, 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.