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Israel and the Palestinians: Violence Again: UK Foreign Office Weakness.

The terrifying upsurge of violence in the Middle East is shocking.  It is also all too regular an occurrence in a cycle of hatred and discord which seems almost everlasting. Arab and Jew occupy the same region and somehow have to be friends.

Some progress towards this obvious goal has be made recently, but the core problem, the absence of a formally recognised Palestinian state with defined boundaries and secured with a peace treaty with Israel, remains in hopeless disarray. So does the fantasy that some kind of Greater Israel can inclusively absorb and recognise Palestinian  territories and their populations into a harmonious state. The civil unrest in Israel itself is a new dimension which makes things worse not better.

There will and can be no solution until Palestine becomes a recognised state and Israel must be made to accept that. Then both states can be required to become responsible members of the international order and all its institutions. The present mix of Israel in continuous breach of UN resolutions it does not like, hell bent on illegal annexations and evictions of other people’s land which in turn provokes terrorism and violence in a desperate response, is a totally bankrupt political ideology which this country should be robust in condemning.

Instead our Foreign Office shuffles from one platitude to the next in a cowardly avoidance of addressing the real problems. Meanwhile as we wring our hands while ministers waffle catch phrases from platform to platform across the media, civilians on both sides are subjected to  bombings and rocketings which slaughter and terrify without justification by any civilised measure.

As a small child I was under bombardment from the air with missiles, bombs and rockets during WWII. I know what it is like. This should not be happening.

 

The Queen’s Speech

The most remarkable thing about it was that it was delivered by the Queen herself, flawlessly and without any stumbles at the age of 95, having in recent months lost her husband, had a family bust up and been locked down by Covid. No stamina or mental health issues here for sure. Whether you are a fanatical royalist, lukewarm about the monarchy like me or a committed republican, this was gold star.

Now about the content. It was big on aspiration but spare on detail. It dodged the most critical question of social care. The Tories have been in power for eleven years now and have continually promised, fudged and failed to deliver on this central flaw, not only in the welfare state but in the way our society is organised and with what priorities. After Boris promised at the beginning of his tenure on the steps of Downing street that he had a plan to fix it and he would, the vacuous remarks in the Speech, if not untypical of his showman style, were disappointing.

The proposal to sort out  some aspects of our unwritten constitution is on the other hand bold, welcome and right. It seems to be willing to deal with two points. The first is the idiocy of a fixed term parliament linked to a first past the post electoral system with a constitutional fudge which invests enormous power in the person of the monarch but refuses to allow the incumbent to exercise any of it, without the express direction of parliament which, in all matters, is sovereign.

The result was  chaos during the two years of May’s premiership following the loss of her majority in 2017, when parliament thought it could become the executive, but could not agree on any plan it wanted to execute. What should have happened (the Queen was unwilling to intervene,  her grandfather George V would have) is  either a national government or May going back to the country for a specific mandate. Finally Johnson was able to engineer this, but by a procedural manoeuvre rather than exercising the traditional reserve power of all previous prime ministers before the now tarnished Cameron, to ask for and get a dissolution. So restoring that power is very welcome.

The second point is this. You cannot have a Supreme Court making political judgements, as it did twice during the Brexit chaos, without a codified constitution which lays down clearly the rules by which government must govern. Since England, at least, seems incapable of agreeing to such a thing, the only other option is to limit by statute the power of the Supreme Court to rule on issues of  governance. This is, it would appear, the plan and it if is it is good.

 

A Bashing For Labour: But Whose Fault Is It?

Well that is a big and complicated question. With multiple answers. But the rot set in under Tony Blair.  Having triumphed in 1997 he won two more general elections, but lost votes at each until at the fourth, under Brown’s leadership, the loss of votes for Labour since 1997 totalled nearly 5 million.

In the pursuit of power Blair shifted Labour from its working class roots to a left of centre middle class party, which embraced most of the dogma of Thatcherism and did little to correct the terrible imbalances in her economic model. It ignored or took for granted the Labour industrial heartlands north of London  and especially Scotland.

So the working class either stayed at home or voted Lib Dem or later UKIP and SNP. Corbyn in his first general election in 2017 recovered Labour’s lost votes in England and Wales, coming in just short of thirteen million. That compared to Blair’s final 9.5 million, Brown’s rock bottom 8.6 million and Milliband’s 9.3 million, which included a wipe out for Labour in Scotland.

In 2019 Labour dropped back to 10.3 million, which was by no means its worst performance in votes, but it was a disaster in seats. This was due to the famous crumbling red wall. That happened because voters there, having being energised in 2017 by Corbyn’s left wing offer, lost faith in Labour. The seemingly endless and intractable row about anti-Semitism, the muddles and many faceted strands of Labour’s Brexit policy (Kier Starmer directed), the fear that it had become a Remain party and the economic illiteracy of its  spending plans, tipped lifelong Labour areas to turn blue with anger and frustration.

So to blame any individual, even the colourless Starmer, who is deadly against the blustering Boris in the Commons, but becomes invisible in a crowd of three on the campaign trail, is pointless. It is not all bad news. Labour had some good wins, especially in the regional mayor contests, and my have laid the foundation to build a different kind of Labour fit for the modern age, when so much is wrong in the country and crying out to be put right.

First the party has to unite, second build on its strengths and third reconnect with voters in its heartlands, at least as well as it seems to be connecting in Wales and some of the regions. A while back I wrote a little book called Turn Left To Power. The biggest problem for Labour is that it is Boris who has turned left. And he certainly has gained power. He thinks he can keep it. Labour’s mission is to take it back.

G 7 Meeting: Threats To Democracy?

The G 7 summit is of foreign ministers, with representatives from guest democracies in attendance, is currently meeting in London. A major item on the agenda is how to respond to and protect from  threats to democracy posed by autocratic powers, namely Russia and China. Unfortunately the stark fact is that the greatest threat to democracy comes not from without, but from within. Put simply, it comes from the multiple structural, social and economic failures of democracy itself.

For far too long it has been a given  that democracy was in itself so pure, that within it anything goes. I am not convinced this was ever true, but it is very not true now. And the problem for the image of democracy is that it shows. No longer is there certainty that the freedom to do as you like and say what you want are the only freedoms of value. No longer is it a given that the democratic state serves the people. There is a growing perception that it serves the elite.

Its economic model favours assets over labour. Often it favours private enterprise over the state, with resulting shortfalls in infrastructure, capability and support. Public services operate under varying degrees of financial restraint and scarce resources. Rewards for the professional classes are generous, often excessive, but for ordinary workers who keep the wheels of modern life turning, their lives are ones of long hours and low reward. Costs of housing,  private childcare and social support are out of control and for those who have to rely on state support, these services are inadequate or non-existent.

The pandemic has exposed many truths lurking thus far unseen. When it comes to the crunch it is not the lawyers and hedge fund managers you need. It is the bin collectors, the healthcare workers, the people who provide light, power and connectivity. When comparison is made between the Covid performance of the world’s largest democracy, India,  with the world’s largest authoritarian regime, China, China wins hands down.

Because of the absence of a written constitution laying out clear rules for government, Boris Johnson has been able to use the almost limitless powers of the prime minister and cabinet to curb freedoms and drive through programmes in the pandemic emergency. After early mistakes and a good deal of incompetence,  the Johnson government is delivering world beating outcomes in both vaccine rollout and emergency financial aid. The more democratic EU has done rather less well.

So rather than blame outsiders for threats to their equilibrium, real though they may be, the G7 and its guests also need to take a long hard look at themselves. They will find much they need to fix.

Boris Sleaze Crisis: But Are The People Listening?

I am no fan of Boris. I am satisfied he is a liar with little integrity and few scruples. He is driven by ambition which knows no bounds. His childhood aim to become king of the world still courses through his veins.

The media, especially the Westminster element, is now obsessed with every intricate detail of the general attack on this unpredictable prime minister’s integrity, which began to simmer when news of Cameron’s approaches to save his friend’s busted company first broke. The word sleaze begin to fly and recollections of the Major years were brought out of the attic and dusted down.

After Cameron came Dyson. Then Cummings. The temperature rose. The Cummings goal is to bring down Boris. Yet it may not be that easy. The actual constitutional power of a UK prime minister is almost limitless until stopped by a vote in the Commons. Most holders of the office have been cautious in using it unless absolutely necessary. But Boris uses it with gusto every day. At the moment to forgive himself for whatever it is he said or did. But mostly to cut corners and get things done. The peoples’ things.

The people like it. They like Boris and they like what he does for them. Not the shopkeepers of Ulster or the fisherman in Scotland, but the general mass of ordinary people. The more the Establishment attacks, the more they root for their champion.

That is why the opinion polls are moving in the Tories’ favour. Whatever the plan of Cummings, the Opposition and the hostile elements of the media is, it is not working yet.

Pressure Builds On Boris: But Does It Matter?

It does if you give priority to probity and integrity in public life. But if you think all politicians are, if not liars and cheats, a bit dodgy, but the critical thing is whether they they can get things done, then you will back Boris. Polls indicate that while some have turned queasy and walked away, the majority are still with him.

The media and the Westminster bubble are obsessing about  following the money that paid for some kind of lavish refurbishment of the Downing Street flat. I find this whole saga odd. Surely the state pays for offices and residencies owned by the state, where tenancy is dependent on the office held? And surely this is to a comfortable and serviceable standard, not some designer chick of the moment, which as we all know, quickly becomes tomorrows tat. Anyway if you don’t like it, you don’t have to live there. Wilson didn’t for his third and fourth terms and Callaghan never did.

Coming up we have the extended May elections, the Hartlepool by-election and a Queen’s Speech.  It is upon the outcome of all of that which is most likely to determine Boris’s future. Labour hope the sleaze smells will drive voters from the Tories back to them.  Maybe. But maybe not. Remember this is Boris. His popularity is not founded on rectitude. The worse he behaves the more popular he gets. Until he fails to deliver. Then he will be gone in a flash.

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.