+Following on from yesterday’s cheery blog, it’s at times like these that we might wish we had a real Delphic Oracle (known as the Pythia, Apollo’s appointed voice). ‘While in a trance the Pythia "raved" – probably a form of ecstatic speech – and her ravings were "translated" by the priests of the temple into elegant hexameters.’ (Wikipedia) Now we have a prime ministerial scholar of classical knowledge whose trances are translated by SPADS (Special Advisors) although maybe not into elegant hexameters. I am prompted to wonder about the possibility of foreseeing the future because of the unfolding calamities of Coronavirus, climate change and Brexit. If the current slide in share values is anything to go by, the oracles of the City have already placed their bets (and hedge fund types must be having a good laugh).
+At least one priest who was booted off our very own Mount Parnassus, the egg-pated oik Sajid David may have been foiled in his own attempt to make matters worse. He has been widely quoted today saying it was his intention in the forthcoming Budget to cut income tax by 2p. No doubt he had bigger tax cuts in mind for top earners. Sorry, I meant to say ‘top wealth creators.’ I hope his successor thinks twice before adopting such an approach. We are shortly about to witness (as if we haven’t already) the deleterious impact of reduced public expenditure on our ability to cope, from flood defences to the NHS. The pandemics (in all but name) now sweeping the planet will call upon public resources as never before. When climate change science became more politically mainstream, the talk was all about mitigation, but as we have seen since Kyoto, it was all mostly just talk. Adaptation on the other hand was seen as somewhat defeatist. It was a battle between the sunny uplands of wishful thinking and the fatalist gloom of dark foreboding. But now we have no choice but to adapt to the unfolding new realities, and that calls for unprecedented levels of investment, not fiscal gimmicks and political games.
+Talking of political games, ‘peace’ is about to descend on Afghanistan as the US in their exclusive talks with the Taliban edge towards signing a deal which would allow US troops to withdraw. This is very important for Trump in an election year and of course the Taliban know it. What they also know is that as soon as circumstances allow they will resume their regime of terror, and in all likelihood Trump won’t by then giving a flying f**k. He will have yet another promise delivered! And there’ll still be time for Nobel Peace Prize nominations! (This year Trump will be up against Greta Thunberg though, and that could be awkward. But Trump possibly deserves his peace gong more than Obama did. That’s saying something).
Anyway, I’m a bit conflicted over this so-called Afghanistan peace deal. The Taliban can’t be trusted of course, and it won’t be long before women are once again treated to the same level of contempt they were twenty years ago—for example. But what of the UN? When I was a newly elected MP in 2001 I felt compelled to back a war which had the overwhelming support of the UN, so where is the UN now? Indeed, where is the supposedly democratically elected government of that benighted country in these negotiations? The fact that that government appears to be excluded from these talks shows where the real power in Afghanistan lies, and very sadly I have to confess that all the sacrifices made by our forces were for a lost cause. Some of my colleagues knew this from the beginning. Where is Phillip Larkin when you need him? ‘Your leaders fuck you up/they don’t mean to . .'
+It is, sadly, indubitably the case that the vast majority of the British public couldn’t give a Cod’s Wallop about the fate of Julian Assange, a person who is presented as a rapist suspect, a narcissist, a fugitive from justice and a foreigner to boot who had the temerity to hang out in the Ecuadorian Embassy for several years thus necessitating PC Plod and colleagues from the Metropolitan Police to rack up millions in publicly funded overtime waiting to feel his collar should he try to escape. People might feel differently if they read Craig Murray’s reportage of Assange’s current extradition hearing, taking place at the behest of the US government. Note: this is an extradition hearing, not a trial. Assange is innocent until proven guilty at least under UK law, but his treatment and imprisonment for many months suggests the verdict is in. But we don’t have political show trials in the UK, do we? I find it worrying that such a case, which is in effect a mini-trial, can be determined by a single magistrate. At least it took several magistrates to unleash the Peterloo massacre.
+But our courts are robust are they not? We’ve had the Supreme Court striking down Johnson’s bogus prorogation of Parliament, and now Heathrow runway three has been kicked into touch (for the time being) by the Appeal Court which rightly wondered how this massive infrastructure development could possibly conform to the legal obligation to meet climate change targets. It’s a question which needs a serious answer, and the private company that operates Heathrow will have to answer it (they can’t satisfactorily of course). But the irony is seeing the government hiding behind the court’s decision, as if it had nothing to say on the matter. The Transport Secretary, who currently goes by the name Grant Shapps says it’s nowt to do wi’ us, Heathrow’s a private company. But at the same time, the government says we need more runway capacity (provided flight paths are not over my country estate). Perhaps a few runways could be sprinkled over ‘red wall’ seats in the north.
+It seems to me that we are heading for a perfect storm, largely of human making. The stock markets are now reacting to Coronavirus which could lead to an economic downturn equal to that of 2008. If such be the case, more austerity will follow, thus reducing still further our capacity to respond effectively to the imminent/present threats. Lurking in the background is Brexit, and I imagine for Johnson’s government these other crises will come in very handy in deflecting blame for Brexit’s contribution to our woes.
+I spent a very pleasant day in York today. The omens it has to be said weren’t good. When I picked my paper up on the way to the station, the red topped rags were talking up panic hitting schools because of the Coronavirus—PANIC!! - and it seems the Daily Express was telling its readers not to start stockpiling. Don’t panic! Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army couldn't have been prouder. Then, on the train a woman a bit older than me (i.e. elderly) got on in the same compartment and was sniffing profusely. That’s bad enough at the best of times. And I heard one or two people coughing. Naturally, one just sits there trying hard not to breathe, but that’s hard for 50 minutes.
+One upside of this hysteria is that we can all start wearing face masks, and so foil all the new face recognition technologies being introduced very gratuitously by the forces of law and order.
+And now that we’re in the hands of experts telling us how best to beat the virus where is Michael Gove telling us not to pay attention to experts?
+As far as I’m concerned I’ll carry on calling this virus by its original name, Coronavirus. I know it now has a new official name. So has Wind ‘it was only a small accident’ scale.
+York not only had (it was reported and then somehow forgotten) two positive reports of virus stricken people, but has much more visibly been stricken by flooding. Now the only crowds to be seen are on Lendal Bridge taking photographs of the swollen River Ouse. My own picture (above) was taken in a more discreet location. If only I’d brought a selfie stick—me and the floods! The city did seem a lot quieter than normal—tourists from China were notably absent—so there’ll be a double whammy local economy-wise.
+The pubs were quieter too. One of my favourites, the tiny Blue Bell, consistently one of York’s deservedly top ranked watering holes, was a bit like God’s waiting room with each corner of the front room occupied by a single old geezer nursing his last pint before whatever fate might beckon. At least I found a seat, and was able to pick up the pub’s Yorkshire Post. The front page headline was ‘Peer quits as report into abuse condemns inaction.’ You don’t get tabloid headlines in the Yorkshire Post—this one's practically a full sentence. The story related the resignation of David Steel from the LibDems and from the House of Lords after he was severely criticised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse for not doing anything to bring the child abuser ’Sir’ Cyril Smith to book. The story went further: “The report also identified how former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and ex-Conservative Party Chairman Norman Tebbit were aware of rumours that MP Peter Morrison [Thatcher’s Private Parliamentary Secretary] [had] a penchant for small boys but did nothing about it.”
So—will we hear more about this from Norman Tebbit? Or will he be left alone? There is another who might have been party to this omerta, one Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s press secretary. By pure coincidence he had a column in today’s Yorkshire Post (yes, he’s still alive, although I harbour the possibility that his columns are now the product of some sort of algorithmic process). Ingham was writing about the alleged bullying antics of Home Secretary Pritti Patel. Bernard was well versed in the ways of his masters, and even once had to tell Thatcher to her face that she was being ’bossy.’ He then wrote “Peter Morrison (her PPS) told me I had upset her. He said he had told her it was only because I loved her. Steady on Peter, I said.”
All very chummy. Very chummy indeed.
Decision time approaches. Who to vote for to be the next Labour Leader? It remains the probability that I will vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey, despite some serious reservations. For example, of the three candidates for leadership, hers is the campaign I have not heard from. Emails came from the other two, and a leaflet from Keir Starmer. But despite receiving perhaps upwards of £400,000 worth of donations of money and in kind, I have received nothing directly from Long-Bailey. As a former party organiser, this suggests to me a not very well organised campaign. Perhaps with Jon Lansman of Momentum organising it and me not being in ‘Momentum’ perhaps I am not deserving of a communication?
Of course the big question hanging over this contest is who members might think is the most electable? In which case, they would choose Starmer, a) because ‘he’s a man and looks the part’ and b) because he is a centrist establishment type (with membership of the Trilateral Commission to boot). I reject this proposition. Who exactly today knows what will be the winning characteristics in five years’ time? Who knows what the issues will be? Who will be best placed to address those issues—one of which is climate change, steadily creeping up the agenda? I guess some members are worried that Long-Bailey is the Corbyn continuity candidate, and his is a project closely associated with failure. But I don’t think that argument holds. To my knowledge the intense level of smears thrown at Corbyn will not stick on Long-Bailey. Nor will the next election be a surrogate referendum on Brexit. And Long-Bailey will have plenty of time to carve out her own agenda. There is also the strong possibility Johnson will fail on several fronts, one of the most testing of which will be meeting the expectations of voters in the so-called ‘red wall’ seats. How many times have many of these former mining and industrial areas been promised the earth, only to find that politicians do not work miracles (at least in the lifetime of a single parliament)? It’s not inevitable that these voters will flock back to Labour. I think it’s even less inevitable that they would flock back to a centrist, post-Blairite Labour. I suspect many of them voted for Johnson because they thought he was sufficiently radical to ‘make Britain great again’ with presumed knock-on effects for their run-down estates.
Notably, Tony Blair hasn’t publicly backed either of the centrist leadership candidates, but he has backed Ian Murray, Scotland’s only Labour MP for deputy leader. As for my vote for the Deputy, that will go to the person who is most likely to give unstinting support to the leader—we don’t need another Tom Watson type.
Hijacking a significant anniversary for political ends—that apparently is the master plan. Having failed to get the bongs of Big Ben to sound on the 31st January, ‘Brexit day’ Johnson has now decreed that Churchill’s VE Victory speech must be broadcast in public places on the 8th May, the 75th anniversary of victory in Europe. This date has been declared a bank holiday, being shifted from the previous Monday’s usual slot. I don’t suppose there’ll be much opposition to this particular date shifting, but it craftily achieves another long-held Tory ambition—to end the association of a public holiday with International Workers Day. They have wanted to shift this bank holiday since 2011, to ‘Trafalgar Day’ in October. This year’s change is going to be a deft little move to make that happen. I don’t suppose the public will react very much to such a change, indeed they may welcome a bank holiday in the long holiday-free autumn period. But it will be one of those little tell-tale signs of contempt for workers which ‘ex-red wall’ voters in the north may wish to mark. Johnson cares little for them, and any concern he had will evaporate as fast as has his demonstration of concern for flood victims, who now that the election is out of the way have experienced neither sight nor sound of him.
For my money I would have an extra public holiday in autumn—it would be on the Monday after Remembrance Sunday– but given Johnson’s lamentable performance at last year’s Cenotaph ceremony, he probably doesn’t want to go there.
A rather rude and perhaps typically ignorant petrolhead made it on to the BBC Today programme this morning to talk about possible rises in fuel duty. The lad wanted a reduction of 3p, and naturally felt that motorists get the blame for too much these days. In support of his argument he cited the factoid that the UK is only responsible for 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions. This kind of factoid is used in all sorts of debates, not least by the aviation sector, which claims to be ‘only’ responsible for 2% of CO2 emissions. But the stupidity of this style of defence is plain for all to see—or at least those who want to see. For a start, we’re only 0.8% of the world’s population, so we’re already using more than our fair share; but the factoid almost certainly won’t take account of imported, embedded CO2 emissions (e.g. on goods from China or the US) which would double our tally. Then, if those countries which could say ‘we’re only responsible for 1%’ were tallied up, we would soon overtake the country emissions of China and the US. I wonder if 66 million Chinese are responsible for the same level of emissions as we 66 million Brits? I very much doubt it. And the Chinese have a point when they ask on whose tally should embedded emissions be counted? It’s been a sticking point.
It would be nice to think that that royal petrolhead, Prince Charles could put his fellow numpties straight—he has some environmental cred hasn’t he? But perhaps not. In today’s Guardian he is photographed admiring the new Aston Martin DBX, the firm’s first SUV, priced at £158,000 and which the company hopes ‘will widen the brand’s appeal to women.’ The car looks typically and unnecessarily massive, but if you have £158,000 to waste and your parking skills are up to scratch, who cares?
I have to sympathise with the three remaining contenders in the Labour leadership race. At a time when members must be well in the dumps, the hopefuls have to light a fire which will inspire and regenerate, and unite, and, and, and. But I’ve not yet heard the call or the triumphant blast of new-found hope. Perhaps if one of our contenders was a self made billionaire there’d be something to talk about (only joking—Labour has not yet become the Democrat Party, despite what some may say). As things stand, my vote remains with Rebecca Long Bailey, but she needs to seriously up her game, and one thing that would be a plus in my book would be if she chucked her campaign manager Jon Lansman overboard. That man clearly has an over-inflated sense of political self-importance so great I suspect he could easily spend a long night discussing politics with his own arse, or the next best thing, Dominic Cummings. At their level there must be a mutual loathing come respectful common understanding enabling some communication with each other.
But we don’t need Svengalis. We don’t need gurus. We don’t even need ‘blue sky thinkers’ (how old fashioned). Does anybody remember John Birt by the way? Can you name five of the lasting achievements of that particular brain-fest, employed if a I remember by T. Blair to shake things up?
Anyway, my vote for the next Labour leader is still a bit up for grabs, so all I can do now is wait. That is, given this age where algorithmic technology reigns supreme, I assume that what I have just written will be somehow read and digitally understood and a tailormade message will soon be winging its way to my inbox. Like Billy Bunter, I will gorge on aunty’s cheques, if they arrive.
It seems even the tabloid press are wondering ‘where is Boris (sic)’ in the current flooding crisis. This is a tough call for the yellow press, wondering which is the most important ‘Boris’ story today—the flooding or his divorce settlement announced with his former wife. As ever we can rely on them to get the priorities sorted. One explanation provided by the as usual unnamed No. 10 sources as to why Johnson has failed to show up anywhere near a flood is that he sees himself as a the delegator in chief, chairman of the board, etc., etc. As I have remarked before this is not so much down to liberating his minions, but acting in the interests of his inherent laziness. He doesn’t really want to do the graft. But there sits his Achilles heel, since his Cabinet of Nonentities can’t really do anything without his (or Cummings’) say-so, a la Sajid David. Johnson is thus constructing a barricade of disposable nappies, absorbent idiots charged to remove the shit before it hits his fan (to mix metaphors a little).
It’s a little ironic that this flooding is so dominating Johnson’s honeymoon period just as the same subject did when Gordon Brown was newly anointed PM. Then in 2007 Brown was seen to be actively in charge and the afterglow almost lit his election hopes (only to be dashed by the Big Man’s knowledge that it was bit of a risk when he could still have three years to burnish his reputation even more). Perhaps Johnson’s strategy will work—can there be a more supposedly decisive sight then a PM sacking ministers? It’s very much like reacting to events with new legislation—without then following up with the necessary resources to make the legislation meaningful. Anybody in local government will know what I mean. How much councils must relish their ‘new powers’ when at the same time their budgets are being stripped. Anyway, a few ministerial sackings always gives the commentariat a gift, whilst nothing changes.
It will come as a great relief to many people, particularly those whose homes have been devastated by flooding, to learn that these latest floods are merely ‘freak events.’ That is at least the assessment of George Eustace MP, a former public relations executive who now holds in Johnson’s Cabinet the position of Environment Secretary. He described the flooding as such when interviewed on the BBC Ten O’clock news last night. What were once described as once in a hundred year events now seem capable of happening twice a week. Nothing to do with changing weather patterns brought on by climate change. Just ’freak’ events. I wonder if the insurance industry shares the same view? What a shame Eustace wasn’t tasked with presiding over this year’s climate change talks, he could have reassured everybody not to worry too much. Never mind that what climate scientists predicted 10 or 20 years ago is now coming to pass. Winters they said would see less snow and more rain. Never mind ’red walls’ we’ll need flood walls.
+Back from a pleasant trip to Ghent, where I paid my respects to the great Jan van Eyck, a major exhibition of whose work is on show. More on that will appear under ‘Perambulations’ shortly. Back home and it’s the same old same old. Here’s a headline I saw today, provided by Sky News but lifted from the Sunday Telegraph ‘Millions of people could be told to self-isolate in UK - report’ which purports to reveal some government suggestion that if cases of Coronavirus in the UK exceed 100 then the whole country faces virtual lockdown. The only problem is that the headline is not supported by any evidence, direct quotes or anything which suggests that ‘millions’ face staying at home, isolated like so many Howard Hughes in their living rooms. Perhaps even cats and dogs should be placed in quarantine too for good measure.
But doesn’t this hyperbolic treatment of a story with the attention grabbing headline sound familiar? Doesn’t it remind one of that other horrendous virus which swept the entire Labour Party prior to the election?
+Speaking of the Labour Party, the leadership contest is now pretty much a done deal (and there’s only another six weeks to go). With only three candidates left, and only one who is labelled as being on the left, it is the case that if she, Rebecca Long-Bailey doesn’t win outright on the first round, she will lose as the second preferences of either Lisa Nandy or Kier Starmer will mainly go to either of them. The longer this race has dragged on, the less impressed I have been. It doesn’t seem to be energising anything, and my support for Long-Bailey, predicated purely on her commitment to a Green New Deal is being undermined by her readiness to sign up to the anti-Semitic accusations and their supposed remedies, as well as having the support of Momentum, which increasingly looks like the plaything of one individual whose reputation as a bit of a dictator seems to be growing daily. It all looks a bit depressing. Even the departure of the detestable Sajid David hasn’t compensated.