Sunday Blog 31: No Good News

September 27th, 2020

This will be a short blog as I have book projects ongoing which are taking up much time. But this weekend two major news threads need watching in the coming days.

Boris Johnson’s premiership is in trouble. He is fast becoming a figure of fun. His government is all over the place on practically everything from Covid to Brexit and the consequences of both. Mixed messaging, bombastic declarations, scarce on detail and low on delivery, underpin policy failures at every level. Problems in testing and the app, in a programme which has already cost an eye watering £10 billion, only to be allocated £2 billion extra, underscore that those who boast are the biggest botchers. Parliament is becoming restive and Tory rebellions are  being hatched. At the end of the day this is a weak government of second division players who are simply not up to the greatest set of challenges in modern history.

Trump’s rush to nominate a hardcore Roman Catholic to ensure liberalism is buried in the Supreme Court will, if it goes through, have catastrophic implications for the future of the United States. Mark my words.

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September 13th, 2020

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Sunday Blog 30: Three Dangers: Three Crises: Economy, Covid and Brexit.

September 13th, 2020

Back from holiday and resuming my Sunday Blog, it is hard to know where to start, so full in the doleful menu of misfortune and mishap across the world. But the home front is where this blog lives and there are currently three simultaneous crisis points, buffeting a government seemingly losing its way. I will briefly deal with each separately. For all of them it is something of a wait and see. Things may get better, but on current projections they will first get a whole lot worse.

The Economy.

At the moment there is no certainty on the final nature of Brexit nor do we know when Covid will be brought under some kind of control. So estimates of future economic anything is guesswork and in the context of this blog pointless. But we do know that the costs of Covid thus far are eye watering. One statistic stands out as a marker. Borrowing by the government is now over 1 x GDP i.e. £2 trillion. Against this must be set the total of quantitative easing (government debt owned by the Bank of England). This currently stands at £745 billion. Technically this is held by the B of E, which is at arms length from the government, but the government owns the Bank. And that means that ultimately the government owns that proportion of its own debt.

Nevertheless we are now entering uncharted waters in modern times. Much more money will have to be printed before the economy picks up enough to to provide the tax revenue to pay the nation’s running costs. This will require the careful balancing of inflation/ currency value/ interest rates/borrowing and printing. It cannot be done without some tears for sure. If done well it will cement a strong recovery from the current nadir. But if mishandled by a Treasury hooked on irrelevant dogma about good housekeeping, it could precipitate economic mayhem.

Covid

Cases are on the rise big time. The R number is has passed 1. Hospital admissions, while still a fraction of the initial crisis, are going up. The mandatory Rule of Six comes into effect on Monday. Widely supported by medical and actuarial scientists, modellers and those on the front line of the pandemic battle, the usual gang of Tory right wingers are grumbling. It is obvious that something not good is coming down the track. The race to sort out a vaccine, track and trace, as well as improved treatment of those Covid sufferers who become really ill and need help, is well and truly on. Broadly commentators,  scientists and medics give a measured analysis of the challenges and potential solutions. Sadly when the government speaks it is often hard to extract facts from fantasy. Especially when the prime minister is doing the talking.

Brexit

This is now a big mess. The origins of the mess are Boris signing a Withdrawal Agreement which he either had not read or did not understand. Maybe both. For those who did read it, I am one such, it was obvious that if no final trade agreement were reached, there would be a border down the Irish Sea. It is beyond comprehension why this was not understood. Or was it? Was the plan always to dump it? With this unscrupulous gang calling themselves a government, anything is possible. It seams beyond credibility that they did not get correct advice from expert lawyers and officials at the time.

Blog Holiday

August 29th, 2020

This Blog will be closed for a while for a holiday break and to allow me more time to work on a fiction project. Stay safe.

Sunday Blog 29: Exams Fiasco

August 16th, 2020

This is yet another disaster  for a fumbling government which collectively believes itself to be rather good. The plain fact is that by setting up an algorithm based upon  past performance of schools as institutions and applying the statistical outcome to individual students is crude and  grossly unfair. Not only that, it is mathematically flawed.  OFQUAL, another quango whose reputation is now shredded, responsible for overseeing the whole process, requires that teachers rank all students in order of ability, even if the evidence shows their attainment identical. In other words somebody comes out top and somebody comes out bottom even if they are equal.

Put simply, in a 50 student cohort in a school with historic low standards now achieving much improved results, the top ranked student in the subject could end up with an A, while the lowest and E, even though they are equal in attainment. This has happened. It is ridiculous and cruel. It discriminates against schools in poor areas and greatly favours the top fee paying schools. It has to be abandoned.

Reverting to teacher assessment may mean some grade inflation, but that is the price to pay for the extraordinary Covid dominated situation in which we find ourselves. The government has already backed down on the scope for appeals. Now it has made them free. But it needs to show the humility of the Scottish government and make them unnecessary. Teacher assessments are the only useable option in a pretty bad situation, made worse by the entanglement of weak ministers, powerful quangos and vested interests in which the elite wins at the expense of the mass.

Moreover children from the better off backgrounds will do well anyway but those from the underprivileged neighbourhoods get their life changing moment snatched from them. That is an injustice which cannot be allowed to stand.

Sunday Blog 28: Test Track and Trace

August 9th, 2020

This government has a lot of problems piling up. There are pressing issues with the economy, Brexit and above all, still, Covid.

There is now a mounting anxiety at worst of a second wave and at best a series of regional, local and sectional lock downs. There are high hopes for a vaccine and reports are good, but even the optimists warn this will not be tomorrow. Maybe not the day after either.

So the return of a restricted normality and a semi-functioning economy depends above all upon the success of the test track and trace system, which Boris, in one of his idiot one liners, described as world beating. It works, but not well and according to almost all the epidemiologists and public health professionals not under the control of the Cummings Downing St machine, not nearly well enough.

If I had  been in government and someone had come to me and said the solution to track and trace was to outsource it to Centrica and put Dido Harding in charge, I would have upbraided them for an unfunny joke on a deadly issue in very poor taste.

But I am not in government. And those who are, with a few exceptions, are simply not up to the challenge. Especially Boris. He is always talking of the ‘right thing at the right time’. To the misfortune of us all it is now very clear he is the wrong person at the worst time. To be in charge of anything. Especially our country.

Sunday Blog 27: Covid Crisis: Confidence Falters

August 2nd, 2020

Suddenly the back to normal by Christmas theme has vanished. While yet far from a wave, there is certainly a Covid surge in parts of Europe and in England, mainly in the North. Boris, minus some of his bounce, cancels at little more than a moment’s notice, most of the extra restrictions which were to be rolled back yesterday. This caused confusion, upset and hurt as plans at every level had to be cancelled, including the reopening of businesses on the edge of survival without revenue. The Chief Medical Officer warns that we may now be at the edge of how far we can go in reversing lockdown until an effective virus is universally available. There is even talk that pubs might have to close in order to guarantee schools can reopen as planned.

At the heart of this mess lies the Boris machine of government of unsuitable people, who most of the time barely know what they are doing. They locked down far too late but opened up too early. Now they are caught in a maelstrom of rising R-rate, regional and local spikes, mounting economic pressure and fear of a no deal Brexit. The trumpeted track and trace, inexplicably led by someone with well known form on failure, is exasperating local political and health leaders for its delays and being slow to share meaningful data. Moreover instead of building a programme on the excellent foundation of the local and regional public health structures, for whom tack and trace is part of their daily agenda in normal times, the government has gone down the crony road to the outsourcing conglomerates, whose ability to deliver quality outcomes on time and on budget is tantamount to nil.

Boris is now in trouble. It is his own fault. People have stopped believing him. Starma stalks him down the political corridors. Too many of the public, especially the young, are now ignoring him. The vagaries of his presentations and their lack of critical detail are beginning to jar. Putting his friends in the House of Lords, including his brother and a Russian Oligarch, has hardly helped. Boris may once again bounce back. But then again he might not. If you observe him closely, most of the bounce has gone.

Sunday Blog 26: Is this the Smart Way Forward?

July 26th, 2020

We are hit by the effects of Covid 19, which has subsided for the moment, but it has very not gone away. We have to face a stupendous economic challenge of the biggest recession in three hundred years. We are thundering down the track to a no deal Brexit. So we need all the friends and trading opportunities we can get. This is not a moment to focus on the internal workings of other countries, however alien to our standards they may be, but rather to focus on our common interests for the common good.

Moreover China is not a monolithic and moribund system like the old Soviet Union. It is the world’s second largest economy, is technologically advanced and is a big investor and partner in all manner of commercial and infrastructure projects in the UK.

So to row at the same time, now, with the EU, Russia and China, making critical trade with all three more difficult and less likely, is not smart. It will achieve not one iota of influence over the governments in situ in those countries and groups, nor will it change the behaviours of which we complain. But it will make life harder for us here in the UK. It will impair business, reduce employment prospects and increase by a significant margin the volume of money we have to print to get us out of this mess.

It has always been my view that the notion of borrowing money by a country with its own sovereign currency is something of a fiction. The real resource to drive growth is expanding the money supply to fund start ups, infrastructure renewal, modernising communications and creating enough affordable housing to smack the housing shortage out of existence.

To achieve that without inflating fixed assets but at the same time inflating the dynamic economy enough to drive up living standards and repair public services, requires economic skills and attention to detail of an unusually high order.

Skills which Boris, for all his charm and optimism, just does not have.

Sunday Blog 25: A Confusing Time

July 19th, 2020

The latest miss-step of the Boris campaign (government is not really the right word) is that the daily death rate is found to be so badly wrong that the information has been withdrawn pending the outcome of another irritating ‘review’. Our problem is that ministers are at sixes and sevens over a wide range of issues at a time of twin national emergencies, Covid and the economy. And coming down the track, Brexit. Mixed messaging, U-turns, systemic failures, muddled decision processes and flawed or missing data, all contribute to mounting anxiety about what the future holds.

Adding to our woes, we have decided to sour our relations with China and Russia, we are leaving the EU (sorry we have left, but we a currently in transition so we don’t feel it yet) and we have just taken a political decision over Huawei which looks like turning into an economic disaster. Because Chinese technology is cheaper and much better than any alternative on offer. So we now have to wait on Eriksson and Nokia to step in, at what extra cost and delay we have yet to discover.

The promise to be among the first in the world to install 5G across our country, enhancing our connectivity to boost our economy, was a bold one. To mess up the plan because Trump & Co are angry that Chinese technology is way ahead of their own, while here the Tory nationalist right wing treat Boris as their poodle because he is, is plain stupid. The security issues are rubbish. China does not want to screw its customers by turning out their lights, not least because they know perfectly well we have the capacity right now to turn out theirs. And they have more lights.

As for the pandemic, here are the figures.

China  83,660 cases, 4634 deaths.  New cases yesterday 16.

America  3,883,716 cases, 142,881 deaths. New cases yesterday 74,710.

Nothing more to be said.

Sunday Blog 24: A Time to Reflect

July 12th, 2020

Public Services and Frontline Workers

During the unique (thus far) pandemic emergency it has been striking and heartening to witness how ordinary frontline workers, not just in the NHS,  have kept going, at varying levels of personal risk, to keep the fabric of our integrated and civilised society working. The NHS staff, right at the ground zero of the crisis, have rightly acquired iconic status for their dedication, courage and commitment. Many have lost their lives. All of this has been achieved upon a foundation of years of cuts in the funding of every nook and cranny of our public services, to the point where preparation for, and supplies of, everything needed in a national emergency were run down, inadequate and in the worst cases, non-existent.

The Governing Establishment

Has failed at every level, the government worst of all. Lack of preparation, bad modelling, faulty interpretation of science, ignorance of vital data, fumbling delivery, mixed messaging, clumsy announcements, delay and indecision have been the hallmarks, in England, of the crisis experience. Not so in the devolved administrations where the outcomes have been better and public confidence in the governing authorities much higher.

At the heart of these failures towers the disheveled and bumbling Boris. Surrounded by Brexit junkies, he appointed a Brexit cabinet with very little depth of experience, nationalist and narrow, which has been largely overwhelmed by the magnitude of everything. The outstanding exception in Rishi Sunak. His star is rising so bright that it dazzles. Does he threaten Boris? That depends on how successful his programme to invest his way out of the Covid induced depression turns out to be. If it reduces unemployment and kick starts growth in real jobs, yes, he may well threaten his bumbling next door neighbour. But if he fails and unemployment soars, they will both go down together.

China

China is a fact. It is not in the general sense a choice. It will soon be the number one superpower. It will never become a democracy on the Western model. It is infinitely more powerful than the original Soviet union because as well as being a Communist State it is also a capitalist one. Its economy is now at least as powerful, perhaps more so although not yet quite as big, as that of the United States.

For many years we have cozied up to China and wrecked our own manufacturing base, by exporting most of our skilled jobs and manufacturing capacity East. We now make almost nothing we use as everyday consumers. China is also technologically very advanced. At first it mainly copied Soviet stuff, then American, but now it does its own and it’s good. Very good. Anyone using a top Lenovo laptop or Huawei phone will testify to that. And in 5G it is way ahead of everybody else. And we need 5G now as part of our recovery plan from the pandemic recession and Brexit reboot.

GCHQ has the capacity to protect against and deter with counter measures any Chinese cyber aggression. The UK has thus far enjoyed excellent relations with China, now deeply imbedded in our economy at many levels. Certainly we do not approve of much of China’s domestic agenda, but we are in reality no longer the power we once were, and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. What we have to do is become far more self sufficient in every aspect of our daily consumption, so that we rely less, even for our strategic core supplies, on other countries, including China. And we really do have to start making phones, mobile equipment and much else here in the UK.

But in the end the world will be made up of two sorts of countries. Those who can get along with China and those who cannot. Prosperity will envelope those who can. The rest will struggle. Because the other great truth in the geo-political world is that America has passed its high water mark and is now a waning power. Its inability to offer its own 5G system and its failure to manage Covid 19 are but straws in the wind.