From India: A Warning

The terrible scenes in India of the pandemic out of control, in a country which a few weeks ago was declaring it had beaten Covid 19, must serve as a clear warning to all countries and especially here in the UK.  This virus is aggressive and dangerous and until it is brought under control everywhere it is under control nowhere. Moreover it may never be eliminated, like for example smallpox. It may, like conventional flu, always remain as a fact of life and death and one with which we we have to learn to live.

At the moment Covid 19 is still on the advance globally and even in the UK with our supercharged vaccination programme, a third wave is not impossible. Some additional pressure in the autumn is a near certainty, even if we successfully manage it with social restrictions short of a lockdown.

Of course every government has to show it is putting the welfare of its own people first and foremost, but more will have to get used to the idea that to do that priority must also be given to funding and administering vaccinations and treatments worldwide. Until every fire is controlled the forest is not safe.

Cummings Launches Attack: Is Boris Vulnerable?

Not immediately. But further down the line of Cummings revelations, if more are coming, perhaps. If something unforeseen happens in the Covid battle, or if the economy fails to achieve a smooth recovery, then yes, he is vulnerable. The thing to remember about Boris is that the thing he is best at is winning.

He won, against predictions, the Brexit referendum, he eventually won the Tory leadership battle and he won spectacularly the 2019 general election. He is way ahead in the polls and the vaccination programme is among the most successful  public projects ever undertaken. The economic support package, although not perfect, is one of the most generous in the world. There is nobody else in the current cabinet who could give  the Tories the can do, go get  image that goes with Boris.

Nevertheless he is not in the clear. Cummings, although hated by more than he is loved, with his own reputation for honesty and integrity battered by a combination of his Brexit slogans and lockdown lies, remains a formidable force, especially because he has copies of everything that can do harm to his former friend and boss, which he has promised to use to make his case. That case is not a gentle nudge to do better. It is a massive shove to exit Number Ten. On the grounds that the prime minister is incompetent, untrustworthy and a political sleazebag.

So if fights to the finish are your favourite stuff to watch, then you are in for some fun. Because Cummings is determined to destroy Boris. And it may be that in the end the only way open to Boris to stop his former right hand man from succeeding, is for Boris to destroy Cummings first.

 

The Divided House of Windsor

It does not matter which side you are on or what is your interpretation of events  either side of the Atlantic. Somehow the House of Windsor has allowed its internal divisions, rows, jealousies and archaic protocols  to erupt into a world class brawl. It has divided opinion all across the world. More especially it has divided opinion within the United Kingdom, which is the opposite of its core mission.

It was Abraham Lincoln who famously declared that a house divided against itself cannot stand. He was of course talking about the USA in the 1850s.  But it is true of most houses and very true of Royal Houses. This is an existential moment for the Windsor dynasty. If it does not in short order get a grip, it will fall. Not now or next week and not while the Queen is alive.

Remember we have had the Saxons, Normans, Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, Hanovers and what became the House of Windsor. The monarchy could certainly survive another transition to a new beginning. Maybe the House of Spencer, in memory of Diana.  William and Kate as the first King and Queen. British, stripped of excess and hangers on, with a clear Constitutional platform as Head of State, with responsibilities, powers and limitations. The rest could scatter to the four winds, like the multitude of other European royals whose time was called.

And Charles? It will be on his head that responsibility for the mess will be poured when his mother is gone. Which is unsurprising, as much, though not all of it, is of his own making. Nobody envies him. For  over seven decades he has been in waiting for the crown which now looks, more than ever, ready to pass him by. All is not lost quite yet, but very nearly.

History in the making for sure. But what sort of history depends on the qualities and perceptions of those making it.

Destructive Rows: The SNP and the Crown

There is a lot happening at the moment. Across the world there are conflicts, famine and suffering. Many countries are either run by despots or militias. Two rivals, China and America, vie to become the world’s first Mega Power, with China looking likely to surpass America. There is a global pandemic disrupting normal life everywhere and climate change remains the greatest threat of all. After centuries of infighting the part of modern civilisation known as the West, has been pretty stable and life, pre-Covid, processed with relatively little drama, through nearly eight decades.

But nothing is certain in our funny old world and this weekend we see in our UK how the silliest things can change the course of events, almost without rhyme or reason. There are two titanic rows now taking place, which are destroying the participants and the dreams they promote.

The first is between Sturgeon and Salmond and their respective camps within the Scottish National party. Both, in their own way, gave bravura performances in a tedious theatrical investigation into who knew what when about Alex Salmond’s sexual advances to female staff, which even he agrees were improper, and the consequent discussions about what kind of prosecution should be brought by whom, with what evidence and where. Or something like that.

None of this has the slightest effect on the hard pressed Covid driven lives of ordinary people in Scotland, whose disquiet is reflected in a drop below 50% of those planning to vote for independence given the chance. Moreover the landslide predicted for the SNP in May is now projected down to a majority of one. Westminster, seeing the enthusiasm for separation from the Union wavering, will refuse the opportunity to offer a vote and even if they grant one, the SNP, like last time, will very likely lose.  Having promoted the bright side of an independent Scotland with such success over the last two decades, the exposure of its dark side will be enough to put key voters off. Institutional catfights can be won side or another. But the institution itself is always the loser.

Now enter Buckingham Palace v Harry and Meghan. The Royal Family, like some never ending TV soap, has engaged in catfights and exclusions of its own like no other, which is why the series telling its story, the Crown, is a world number one must see, season after season. But what Megan and Harry do with their independence from the ossified flunkies who stand guard over an institution of unmatched privilege and entitlement, is a matter for them.

Counter briefing by the flunkies, designed to destroy the credibility of the errant couple, places at risk the very foundations upon which all they guard, stand. Because they rest on the principle that they are above it. Making the Crown and all it represents  part of it, destroys the integrity of its purpose. Without that it becomes expensive, irrelevant and pointless. The old may still remain loyal subjects, but the young, who are independent citizens, have had enough.

Thoughts on the Budget: What Lurks in the Shadows?

Now that the commentators have had time to read all the details it is nether as clever nor as good as the performance of its author delivering it yesterday. There are contradictions in forecasts and gaps in provision. What about social care? There is the inability to grasp what inequality actually is. Why do the poorest in society have to lose most of their additional funding through universal credit, rent support on so on in September of this year, when the wealthiest corporations, have their  the tax hype, modest by G7 standards, deferred to 2023?

But let me offer you these thoughts. Much is made of government debt. I am not sure whether this is to make political points or news headlines, but a sovereign government with its own currency cannot be in debt as one without a currency, ie Greece in the Euro. The UK government owns the B of E and the B of E has printed money to buy in 47% of all UK government debt. Basically the government is printing about half what it borrows and will have to go on doing so.

If you want to stay awake at night, worry about interest rates. I have for years argued that holding these at close to zero for year after year so that they cease to be a factor in consumer financial planning as well as disincentive for saving, has created a misshapen economy, over borrowed and under saved. Assets have inflated way ahead of basic inflation, which is mostly lower than the target 2.5%.

Now lurking in the shadows are three types of inflation, any of which could suddenly break cover, as the economy begins to grow again, many predict quite strongly. Velocity inflation, wage price inflation and demand inflation. All three together and you have hyper inflation. But what if it is just 6% or 8% and interest rates have to go up to say 5%? Quite suddenly? That means mortgages at 7% or more. You can work out the rest.

 

Sunday Blog: Royal Service: Many Questions

The Queen is perhaps more popular now than at any time during her reign. She is loved, admired, respected, even revered all over the world. She has been there, as Queen, throughout the lifetimes of the majority of humanity.

I am not a royal watcher. I am agnostic about the monarchy. If that is what the country wants, that’s fine by me. But I do draw a line about confusion between crown and state. To many the crown is the state. To me and many millions, it is not. It is a tradition. It is part of the fabric of government, now stripped of the last vestiges of its power by parliament, without whose authority it would disappear overnight.

It is the property of one family, by inheritance rather than merit and very not by universal franchise. That family has a turbulent history of deceit and cruelty, especially to each other, making it one of the most dysfunctional families on record, a spectacle rather than an example. And yet it enjoys preferment and privilege without equal anywhere, much of it at direct cost to the taxpayer.

Its rules are archaic, possessive and spiteful. You have to belong to it like some mafia gang and woe betide you if you step out of line. All of this is to preserve the ownership of the crown by the family Windsor. They will go to any length to keep it. But that crown is not the state. That belongs to all of us. Post Covid we maybe understand that better than we ever did before.

Three cheers for Harry, Meghan, little Archie and their baby to come. As they say, service is universal.

Kier Starmer Speech: Is Labour Lost?

There was a lot of hype in the build up for Kier Starmer’s speech as Labour leader. I cannot see why. It had little in it of real substance and nothing which was not obvious anyway. I suppose the new Recovery Bond caught attention, but it is not something which will draw millions out to vote Labour. The point is this was a routine, worthy offering from the Leader of the Opposition, who now sees the opportunity to set out an alternative to Boris’s Tory vision, in rather general terms, but with a caring undertone. There had also to be a break from the Corbyn inheritance.

The the offering was pretty typical Centre Left. Decent stuff.  The problem is Boris has already taken the Tories Centre Left and there is no room for two centre left parties in England. So Labour now looks somewhat lost. Of course Boris may be forced by the Treasury to move centre right for the Covid recovery phase and that would help Labour a lot. But if this does not happen, then the groundswell will require Labour to return to its roots as the party of the true, unambiguous Left. It has already been slaughtered in Scotland and looks rickety in Wales. In England it is confined to the cities. It is facing a daunting challenge but there is no doubt the post Covid landscape will be ideal for it to prosper on the left and from the left.

That begs the question. Kier Starmer was the right leader for the Covid crisis, but is he right for the massive reboot of society, the economy, the State and everything? We shall soon know. Labour has to show big gains in Scotland and Wales, as well as England, in the coming  regional and local elections in May. Big gains will cement his leadership for the long haul, but failure to break through will be a blow, likely to reinvigorate the Corbyn tendency.