+There’s many things to miss in this Covid lockdown, and perhaps one of the things I miss most are my little trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges and occasionally Copenhagen. All cities with art galleries that I particularly enjoy, all the more so when you can feel a sense of familiarity borne out of maybe only one visit a year. Old friends as it were. It’s clearly not quite the same thing but at least the BBC I-player has filled some of the gap since so far as Paris goes I’ve been going there practically every night, binge watching Spiral. I don’t know if anything comes close to this in current Anglo-Saxon crime thriller TV, I confess I’ve never watched Line of Duty. Indeed, it is probably the case that the last Brit crime TV I regularly watched was Z-Cars and Dixon Of Dock Green. Perhaps that experience developed an aversion in me. So the exploits of Ch. Insp. Laure Berthaud, Inspectors Tintin and Gilou, Judge Roban and totally amoral lawyer Ms. Karlsson, and all the rest, with Paris streets in the background has sufficient exotica to keep me entertained. The other important feature of this is that with subtitles I feel I’m able to keep up with the dialogue even if the sound recording sometimes might be dicky (and it doesn't help not to speak French). And now I can tell when the subtitlers drop repetitive ‘merdes!’ (etc., etc.) I imagine there wouldn’t be enough space at the bottom of the screen to capture all the expletives.
+The BBC has not responded to my request that they substantiate the claim made in one of their news bulletins that Boris Johnson ‘nearly died’ of Covid. I take their silence to mean they can’t defend the statement. But they could still prove me wrong, although I’m not holding my breath.
+Following China’s initiative, I am wondering if there are any other countries that could sanction ‘Sir’ Iain Duncan-Smith, the obnoxious pillock who once, briefly led the Tory Party? Could he for example be banned from visiting or living in the UK? Given his concern for human rights, he could be exiled to one of Pritti Fatal’s new island asylum seeker detention centres—to keep an eye on the UK’s abuse of human rights, of course. Peu de chance!
+Alex Salmond, former SNP leader and all-round (reader to supply word) has founded the Alba Party, which almost sounds like the Albion Party, and will contest the Scottish parliamentary elections in May. Dear old Alex has united all the other parties, with each of them singing from the same hymn sheet, which is to say they all think ‘Now is not the time, during a pandemic, to be playing politics.’ This response is, of course, total crap. There is never a good time to be playing politics, oh, and by the way our party is the only serious game in town because we would never dream of ‘playing’ politics. So shove off with your new party and stop imagining that you have any right to throw your hat into the ring, during this errr, what’s it called? Oh yes, election! Failing this profound blitzkrieg of condemnation, the next step is to play the man, not the ball, and listening to the news yesterday this wasn’t long coming. Scottish politics gets interestinger and interestinger. Some SNP wally on the radio along with many others simply choke on Salmond’s innocence verdict. Once upon a time his erstwhile colleagues praised him to the skies without ever noticing his apparent ‘appalling’ behaviour. . .
+The Daily Mail, always a trustworthy source of accurate and unbiased information has produced a graph to illustrate how far ahead of Labour the Tories are in a poll. They’ve taken a leaf out of the LibDem playbook, whose abuse of graphs was (and probably still is) notorious. In the illustration below one can see a somewhat mysteriously large margin representing the difference between 4% and 6%. The devil’s in the detail, as they say.
+How many cabinet ministers can you name? How many shadow cabinet ministers can you name? I’m sure I’m indulging in a generational sort of thing here, but I have this fond idea that ministers and their counterparts 30 or 40 years ago were in some way more substantial, that is they had ‘bottom,’ could actually write books, sounded authoritative and were often household names. This is strictly not a party political point. It just seems to me that in my living memory, the 1960s and 1970s and even in the 1980s UK politics was a scene inhabited with political figures who had something resembling stature, even the seriously flawed types like Reggie Maudling and George Brown. Yes, this sounds a bit preposterous, rosy tinted spectacles and all that, but where one might ask is today’s Barbara Castle, Michael Foot or Tony Benn (and there are names on the other side too)? Now we seem to be stuck with more sycophantic crews on all sides who owe their position not to some serious and weighty political presence but merely to their obeisance and on-message discipline.
I’m not sure I should have mentioned Reggie and George in this context but at least they didn’t resemble cardboard cut-outs.
+Prime Minister Johnson thinks Covid-19 shows or has ‘an insensitive and cruel disregard for others,’ in a word he thinks the disease is ‘callous.’ This abuse of language is his metier and a lot of people seem impressed by it, as if it made him very witty. I accept that if he truthfully described the disease as ‘indifferent’ it wouldn’t have the same dramatic effect. So we’ll have to live with a heartless and cruel ‘mugger’ which (who?) lurks in wait for innocent victims. One day it might serve us well to learn that nature is totally and utterly indifferent to human sensibilities which is not quite what ‘heartless’ means.
+It’s that time of year when building society AGMs take place, and voting forms plop through the letterbox. I always take pleasure in voting against the executive remuneration packages, but it makes no difference. Despite being told that by voting I ‘can make a difference’ one AGM report notes that on this topic votes are purely ‘advisory.’ So I can’t make a difference after all, unless re-appointing the auditors and re-electing the board takes us into a new world. The top dog at one of my building societies got £646,000 last year. That might sound a lot, but compared to the City, it’s peanuts. Votes tend to make no difference there, either.
The ‘culture wars’ are hotting up and could partly explain why the Tories are riding high in the opinion polls. Their latest ruse is to declare that all government buildings must fly the Union Jack all the time and not just on Royal birthdays, etc (I hope they consulted the Queen on this implicit downgrading of Her Maj and Co.). Even some journo on the BBC was prompted to ask whether this new era of flag waving was designed to wrong foot the Labour Party. Of course that is one of the intentions, but it cannot be pure coincidence that this flag fervour comes in the same week as the British Army’s establishment is to be slashed from 82,000 to 72,000. It is another aspect of the government’s deflection strategy, or I suppose these days it’s called the dead cat ploy. Poor old Keir Starmer’s flag hugging will look even more insincere (even if it isn’t) since he will be the one called upon to defend his sincerity. We can expect to see a lot more of this crap as time goes by, and I wonder if we will see as a consequence an increasingly partisan politics, as we have witnessed in the US. There—demonstrating a clear cultural difference—flag waving is not a partisan issue, they all do it. But here it signifies something else altogether, with the Tories always using it to mark their peculiar brand of patriotism, e.g. incorporating the Union flag into their brand logos. That’s one reason why many people will find this latest initiative repellent, me included, and probably most of Scotland too.
The BBC PM Programme’s lead news bulletin yesterday contained the phrase (when referring to the anniversary of the first UK Covid lockdown) that ‘Boris Johnson nearly died.’ This was news to me, and it’s the kind of thing one suspects came straight out of a No. 10 press release. So I’ve written to the BBC to ask them to furnish proof that he ‘nearly died.’ Being very ill from Covid is not the same thing. I think introducing this statement at this time will have been part of a deflection strategy to help erase our memory of Johnson’s serial errors of judgement which did indeed lead to one of the worst death rates in the world. At the same time we were told that we are to have a ‘national memorial’ to commemorate all those who died from the pandemic. I wonder if we’ll hear about those ‘who gave their lives’ and will Johnson have the nerve to be present at its unveiling? And all the while he doesn’t want a public inquiry.
I felt rather privileged on my walk this morning, spotting four roe deer and two frogs. And a Bill. Actually this latter beast was found on the House of Commons website, and it’s called the Climate and Ecology Bill, presented by Caroline Lucas, the Green MP from Brighton. It’s fine so far as it goes, but it is what may be described as a ‘bouquet’ climate measure, which is to say it has lots of parts, all desirable, but which don’t necessarily add up to much more than desirable objectives which would still fall short of its desired result, which is, presumably, to contain first and foremost climate heating. Sadly, it takes as its cue the Paris Agreement of 2015:
‘The objectives in tackling the climate and ecological emergency are to ensure that the United Kingdom— (a) reduces its anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (‘emissions’) at 10 a rate that would be consistent with keeping the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, in accordance with the provisions of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, taking into account— (i) the United Kingdom’s greenhouse gas footprint, and (ii) the United Kingdom’s and other countries’ common but differentiated responsibilities, and respective capabilities, given national circumstances.’ (emphasis added)
I am sad to report that when you introduce the phrase ‘given national circumstances’ you write an open cheque for countries to do what ever it is they think they might plausibly get away with. It is just one, and possibly the greatest defect of the Paris Agreement. I am sorry that Caroline has chosen to use the Paris Agreement as her benchmark for this Bill. I suppose the politics of it mean that she could garner greater cross party support for it in the UK, but sadly I didn’t find a single Tory MP supporting it. As a private members bill it has little chance of progressing, not least since it concerns such a wide topic. Despite my reservations, I wish it were otherwise—but I know from first hand experience what the general utility of private member’s bills is.
P.S. Nicola Sturgeon is innocent! OK?
Great efforts were made back in the 1990s to ensure that parachuting Peter Mandelson into the Hartlepool parliamentary seat was successful. The Regional Office did all it could to ensure Mandy came out tops in the selection contest. Now, with another by-election in the seat pending, even having a members’ selection meeting seems passé. Under Starmer’s rule, it is merely sufficient to impose a ’longlist’ of one. A longlist of one! God knows internal party decisions are often wrapped up in imaginative and nonsensical language, but this takes the biscuit. As does Starmer’s satisfaction with this outcome “Over the last year, the Labour Party has been listening and changing: returning the party to the people.” Who exactly has the party been listening to? Starmer might remind himself that the party is only a party because it has members. Presumably these are not people but expendable foot soldiers. Starmer has staked his all on his by-election candidate. Perhaps that’s for the good, since we’ll get to see if he himself has got a parachute.
Talking of post-colonial claptrap (see last blog) I have been wading through a torrent of it—namely, the government’s just-published ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age,’ or if you will its ‘Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, Foreign Policy and World Domination.’ Actually, I made the last bit up, but make no mistake Great Britain is back as the world leading purveyor of hollow clichés and vague commitments. And we know where we are too, which is somewhere in the Atlantic, indeed, to be more precise the North Atlantic since ‘The UK is the nearest neighbour to the Arctic region.’ (p64) Never mind Canada, Russia, the US or Greenland, or Norway or Iceland . .
This cobbled together document is merely a restatement of existing positions on most subjects, which is hardly surprising since it repeatedly refers to something called ‘the Prime Minister’s vision.’ As with Covid, the Prime Minister has no talent for prescience but merely stumbles into things until he’s forced to act. Now we’re being told that the UK is to make a tilt to the Far East and the Pacific, since somebody has discovered that’s where it’s all happening. Hallelujah! In relation to China we’ll certainly raise the temperature, when they see our new aircraft carrier sailing past (with or without aircraft). Putin too is on notice now that we are saying we’ll have 40% more nukes. Whether we’ll be able to fit them all on our new Trident submarines must be an open question. We’ll need an extra sub, surely? Or make that two!
I’m not entirely sure these documents serve any useful purpose. It does have an appendix which shows where pots of money may be spent, but such amounts will have been previously budgeted for, and as we know with the Overseas Aid Budget, cut from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%, which will tell a great many countries where we stand. I suspect if it does anything, the so-called Review merely augurs the dawn of a new age of chest-puffery by a Prime Minister whose vision is no more than a comb-over (etc., etc.)
There can be little doubt that if the UK had repaid the Iranian state the £400 million it owes them for the non-delivery of Chieftan tanks back in the 1970s Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would now be a free woman. She faces more time in prison whilst here in the UK £30 to £40 million in legal fees are being racked up fending off the Iranians’ attempts to reclaim their money—which the UK government admits it owes, but feels obligated not to hand back. This story has the extra ingredient of the UK saying it is observing sanctions against Iran because of its alleged nuclear weapons program. There can be no excuse for either side to behave in the way that they are, and I find much to be offended by on either side of what has become a personal tragedy. Warm words of diplomacy from the Foreign Office clearly won’t be matched by substantive action. When there’s £400 million at stake (on which the UK government contests another £20 million or so interest) what price the life of one human being?
This situation rather exposes the double standards of the UK and the West generally towards political hostages. The US continues to run the Guantanamo detention centre where people are held indefinitely without charge or trial (and here we keep Assange locked up on tendentious political accusations). At least the Iranians have managed to cook up some absurd charges against Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Then of course the UK played its part when under a Labour government rendition flights were operated. Who has been prosecuted for that deliberate evasion of international law?
I don’t doubt that Iran holds hostile sentiments against the West (and rather more hostility to Sunni Moslems, of course) but one wonders if anyone ever stops to think about the potential consequences of stoking such hostility? Western interference in countries with regimes it doesn’t like has rarely (if ever) produced a positive result, from Latin America, to Africa, the Middle East, the Far East . . can anyone recall a positive result? I occasionally wonder whether Tony Blair once grasped this point when he met with Ghaddafi and Assad. If only they’d paid attention to Tony! Yes, such dialogues didn’t last. We know what happened.
None of our current hostilities will produce a positive result if history is anything to go by. Perhaps it’s something to do with our Judeo-Christian background, bearing a crusader’s witness to a God who is as vengeful and plain evil as could be imagined? Having said which, where would you find the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel? Answer: Iran (according to Wikipedia).
Pay the Iranians what we owe and start talking! (Without the holier-than-thou post-colonial claptrap.)
John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy has declared that countries aren’t doing enough to tackle climate change. It is in many ways a very welcome admission, and it is a very welcome fact that the US is back in the game. But one wonders how Kerry came to the conclusion that not enough was being done to cut carbon emissions and put us on track to achieve net carbon zero by 2050? When it comes to the politics of climate change, it is a recurrent narrative that whilst fabulous future targets are set, new commitments to meet them are often scaled back, overwhelmed by hostile lobbying, demoted to political backwaters and drowned in greenwash. At the root of the problem is the strong possibility that politicians have never quite understood what a global carbon budget looks like nor what it means for them. In other words, they seem to be oblivious to any metric as to how to equitably share out that rapidly diminishing carbon budget.
In the case of the developed world, whose historic carbon emissions have had the greatest impact on climate change, it is easy to see why they fear a fair distribution of emission ‘rights’ whilst poorer countries which made the least historic contribution to climate change justifiably demand to be treated with the greatest fairness. So when Kerry says ‘no country or continent is getting the job done’ is he assessing Africa’s role as fairly as he might his own country? In that context it is more likely than not that he will merely sow the seeds of yet another post-colonial injustice, which will not be forgotten by African COP26 delegates.
Unfortunately the present global struggle against climate change is configured to fail. The Paris Agreement allows countries to set their own targets, and these do not add up to the sum of what is globally necessary. In those countries which are aggressively pursuing industrialisation as the route out of poverty, targets are necessarily lower, and given that there are no sanctions in this regime, there is no penalty for failure. The developed world’s targets too are more honoured in the breach. For example, between 2005 and 2018 Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by a mere 0.1% - from 730 to 729 Mt CO2 equivalent. Canada signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, pledging to reduce emissions by around 5% against 1990 levels by 2012. In 1990, Canada’s emissions were at 603 Mt CO2. Ironically, Canada’s position may now improve thanks to President Biden cancelling the Keystone XL oil pipeline. However, Prime Minister Trudeau is controversially pumping CA$2billion into the Trans Mountain pipeline, so keen is his government to get more Albertan oil sands fossil fuel into the world’s economy. Local, national and regional imperatives always seem to complicate the path to lower carbon emissions. Sometimes something good happens, and that will be touted as a great leap forward; when something bad (or indeed, nothing) happens it’s merely unremarkable ‘business as usual.’
The path to the solution for climate change is littered with failure, and an inability to learn from our mistakes. That inability is rooted in the political denial culture which pervades international climate talks. It’s as if the rapidly diminishing carbon budget (determined by the goal of seeking to contain an average temperature increase to 2⁰C) is not a hard reality. Instead most contributions seem to be based on different targets based on what can only be described as a series of nationally introspective judgements which pay heed to considerations which have little to do with tackling the global problem.
The UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 did seek to address this issue, insofar as the then government sought to determine what the UK’s CO2 reduction target should be based on. If the global climate change solution is to reach zero carbon emissions by a given date, then that goal will by definition be the culmination of the complete contraction of emissions and complete convergence of per capita carbon emissions. As Lord (Adair) Turner told the Environmental Audit Select Committee in 2009 “When we proceed from the global target to the UK target, we are suggesting something that is reasonably pragmatic close to ‘contract and converge’. And I think it is important to realise that actually, although people get very worked up about precise methodologies – contract & converge, triptych etc –it is very difficult to imagine a long-term path for the world which isn’t somewhat related to a contract & converge type approach.’
After Paris it is at least the case that the date for ‘contraction and convergence’ is 2050 - although not quite since China wants another ten years. So at least we think we know when the problem is meant to be solved. Sadly, that still doesn’t tell us how the problem is to be solved. For one thing, if China says 2060 will do, how many other countries will follow suit? Another issue is the measurability question – how much self-reporting will there be? How honest or comprehensive will measurements be? And the big ‘what if’ in this anthropocentric nightmare is what impact will feedback mechanisms have on our calculations, and how will that affect national targets? Ocean acidification, methane releases from permafrost, the albedo effect – take your pick as to which may be the tipping point beyond no return. Some climate change effects, widely recognised now in the science, such as increased storm intensity or sea level rise will divert attention from mitigation to adaptation. Witnessing the latest flooding in the UK, I suspect adaptation will demand more from under-pressure public spending than mitigation. In politics, the present is always the more demanding suitor than the future. And, given that Covid-19 has provided some slight and temporary relief from rising CO2 emissions, we could see that providing a little political cover for a re-ordering of priorities. It cannot be allowed to happen. The government needs to refresh its commitments to the framework on which the UK Climate Act is based and keep COP26 focussed on that disciplined approach.