I feel very slightly sorry for Natalie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover. Her husband was her predecessor in the seat, until he was found guilty of sexual assault. Perhaps Natalie got a sympathy vote. But recent coverage of the P&O debacle has found Natalie seeking to join a protest at Dover docks but being shouted at ‘Shame on you.’ At first she thought the shouting was directed at P&O and she actually joined in until she discovered the truth. The protesters were shouting at her. This is because she is a member of the party which talked out Labour MP Barry Gardiner’s private member’s bill restricting the growing practice of ‘fire and hire.’ Exactly what P&O has done. Apparently some seafarers who were paid £28 per hour will be replaced with slave labour at £2.60 an hour. An awkward position for Natalie. Not least since she mentioned P&O in her little contribution to the debate on Gardiner’s bill.
This is a real problem for an MP. When you say something on the record when it’s not particularly controversial, how do you behave when it actually becomes controversial and you’re expected to stand by your words? A little bit of trim is called for (I think that’s a maritime expression). The above contribution Natalie made to the Commons debate on fire and rehire could come to haunt her. But one way she could row back would be to spend the next eight weeks standing by a picket line brazier protesting the rampant capitalist injustice her party stands for.
+Listening to today’s BBC PM programme I heard that the 1990s TV series Our Friends In The North is being translated into a radio series. I think the original series captured very well a sense of the suffocating corruption that was exemplified by the era of T Dan Smith and John Poulson, the corrupt architect, not to mention Andrew Cunningham, a leading trade union official, or perhaps we should say a leading north eastern fixer (and the father of Blairite minister John Cunningham aka Baron Cunningham of Felling). In the 1960s and 1970s corruption could amazingly lead to a prison sentence. A detailed study of north eastern corruption (which included the police) was written up in No Shining Armour by former Labour MP Eddie Milne (who was bounced out for his troubles). Anyway, during the PM programme it was seen fit to give Baroness (Hilary) Armstrong a former Blair Chief Whip a soft interview about Our Friends In The North being transferred to radio. Would she enjoy it? Does she enjoy binge watching TV series? Instead of 10 episodes, would it be great to have 90 episodes? Did she enjoy the original? Baroness Armstrong, who took over her father’s seat as MP for North West Durham had little difficulty answering these probing questions. The whole interview was rather pointless. I am minded to blog about it because I once fell foul of the Baroness for writing a letter to the Guardian complaining about how senior figures in the party, now out of office seemed to glide effortlessly into private sector jobs. One such person was Blair acolyte Sally Morgan (aka Baroness Morgan of Huyton) who excelled in her new roles as her Wikipedia entry affirms:
She was a non-executive director of Southern Cross Healthcare from 2006 until it had severe financial problems in 2011, before the company declared insolvency the following year . She also serves as Advisor to the Board of the children's charity Absolute Return for Kids (ARK ) and has been chair of the board of Trustees of The Future Leaders Trust, as well as its successor organisations, since 2006 .
In July 2017 Morgan was appointed as senior non-executive director of building and support services company Carillion, serving on the audit, business integrity, nomination, remuneration and sustainability committees . The company, which had many large government contracts and 43,000 staff, went into liquidation in January 2018 , with the UK Government ordering a fast-track investigation into the directors to consider possible misconduct .
I suppose you get these jobs with a good nod and a wink. But it was my contention that the rush of Labour ex-ministers into private sector jobs—some with clear interests in the further privatisation of government services—didn’t do the Labour Party’s reputation any good whatsoever. Where’s the distinction between us and the Tories? Anyway, such criticism didn’t go unnoticed by the former Chief Whip, who upbraided me at a party conference for my impudence. She noticed I was a councillor at the time, and seemed to suggest that this was equivalent to having a nice nod and wink seat on the board (as opposed to trudging the streets). This episode reminded me that the expectations of the so-called ‘great and the good’ in this country never seem to be far apart regardless of party allegiance. My letter called for a ban on such appointments. I think the phrase is ‘pissing in the wind.’
(Just to be clear: I am not alleging any corruption on the part of any of the peers mentioned in this blog)
+Here is a badge from my collection. It needs no further comment.
+I’m standing as a candidate in this year’s local council elections. Much to my surprise I still find canvassing enjoyable, talking to complete strangers on their doorsteps. Some are reluctant to say anything, others are clearly taken aback by the fact that a candidate has actually called upon them. It’s not their fault of course to find this a rare event, but it’s not as if you can get around 5,000 or so people once every week. Even once a year would be pushing it. Naturally that great weapon in our old fashioned armoury, leaflets, are no substitute for the personal encounter but they do at least signify that somebody has physically been up your street. Candidates have to have leaflets, no matter what the cheerleaders of ’social media’ may say. You could run your social media campaign from Florida, but only by walking the streets can you learn what’s important. But not everyone seems totally appreciative of my activity. One guy came out of his house to hand my leaflet back, with an uncomplimentary grunt. He has at least allowed me to mark him down as ’against’ without having to ask him. Three doors later another chap, similarly distressed by the sheer force of my case crumples his leaflet up and tosses it in his wheelie bin. That took a bit of effort, he must have moved like a rapier from his sofa in order to ensure I witnessed his contempt. I guess some reaction is better than none, although I dare say if I wasn’t six foot two and half and 16 stone I may have suffered a few verbals into the bargain. This dissatisfied customer scuttled back indoors as quickly as his outraged pins could shift him.
+Polling evidence suggests that Johnson is creeping back ahead of Starmer in the public’s estimation, thanks to the ‘Ukraine effect.’ Our very own Boris Winston has the war he wants (is that unfair?), a foreign business which like the memory-wipe pens in Men In Black he hopes will erase our collective memory of his appalling uselessness. Right now the long delayed investigations into ‘Partygate’ don’t seem to matter. That could still change. We only need to learn of a single No. 10 party at which somebody faintly Russian attended. And that is not stretching the imagination one iota.
+I have just received my latest energy bill from my supplier (I didn’t choose). It could have been worse this month, but from the 1st of April I guess it really will be worse. Still, my energy company, whose name alliterates with ‘shame’ has sent me my bill headed with a photograph (below) which in the circumstances is inexplicable. What kind of numpty thinks that a picture of a young smiling woman on her mobile phone, expressing clear delight is appropriate? Is she so happy because she’s just been made bankrupt and is about to be evicted? Or is she actually a senior employee of the company looking at its latest profit figures (which are huge)? I understand of course that in ad-world, we live in the best of all possible worlds with a quick solution for everything. Candide take a bow, you’d do well on the Apprentice.
+Well bugger me! I was just thinking a day or two ago how seized Russian oligarchs’ assets could be used for the benefit of Ukrainian refugees. Those Berkshire mansions, those Kensington pads, those luxurious yachts could all be housing the victims of Putin’s aggression. And then lo! On the news this morning ‘Levelling Up’ Minister, Michael Gove has had the same idea! But he’s meeting resistance from government lawyers questioning the legality of it all. It’s in situations like this that Gove should take back his old mate Dominic Cummings and shake-up these dusty denizens of Whitehall with a piece (at length) of his mind. It is slightly disturbing to discover that me and Govey are on the same wavelength at least about one thing.
+Perhaps the West’s failure to turn Russia into a nice liberal democracy back in the 1990s has something to do with the current crisis. I did my bit though. Back in the days when I was a Labour Party Organiser I took part in a kind of ‘learn about democracy’ session for some visiting Russians. They seemed somewhat bemused about the whole thing. In the Q and A at the end one asked ‘What do you do with the petrol?’ I asked what he meant, and he answered quite happily that where he came from giving people petrol was part of the election (bribery) process. I didn’t have time to explain that in this country we have far more subtle methods than that, by which I meant (of course) that the Tories had mastered these dark arts.
+These efforts at teaching ‘democracy’ continue of course, in some cases backed by a propagandist funding regime, a soft form of diplomacy you might call it since from experience such efforts cannot guarantee any immediate results. Unlike perhaps lessons in autocracy which might more quickly bring rewards. In 2008, again through the Labour Party I went off to speak at a weekend training course for grassroots socialist party workers in Romania, the week before the NATO summit which was being held in Bucharest that year. My subject was climate change and local election organising. Judging by the audience's desultory response I sensed I might have gone to the wrong venue and was perhaps speaking to a wedding party. Having everything translated doesn’t help. But things perked up nearer lunchtime, and my fears of having accidentally spoken at a wedding party weren’t allayed by the fact that a large buffet with copious amounts of alcohol were on offer. It was judged that my services were no longer required and I was free to clear off. This gave me the opportunity to visit Bucharest’s art gallery, which like the city itself was pretty much deserted, apart from the flags of NATO countries fluttering on the empty airport—city centre road. The gallery was full of medieval religious icons. I was followed around at a distance by two totally inconspicuous gentlemen in black over coats, who never once took an interest in what was hanging on the walls. This time I seemed to have attracted some attention.
Monday, 7th March
On the first leg of my first trip abroad in two years - to Amsterdam. I find I am the only person in my (UK) train carriage wearing a mask. What's the point I ask myself? If it's something for the good of society, but isn't legally mandated, why bother? It's a good job driving on the left is mandated. But even then there a few who don't seem to care. There’s a slightly better performance on the buses in London where it’s meant to be mandatory. Here half the passengers seem to have been able to read the notices which tell them mask wearing is mandatory on the buses. I will soon find out if the Dutch are similarly affected by this unfortunate apathy. Perhaps in the UK it's a Brexit thing.
Let's pass the tin around for Lord (Greg) Barker, who has (I bet with a huge degree of reluctance), resigned from his chairmanship of a Russian metal business. The former Tory MP, who sat on the Environmental Audit Committee was a buddy of Cameron, hence the ermine. I don't think his elevation could have been for his green credentials. He it was who fronted up the Tories’ Green Home scheme, which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Hopefully the Russians thought they were getting value for money. Making sure that Western green initiatives don't work, perhaps. I learned of Barker's departure in the Evening Standard. This paper now seems wafer thin. I think it is making a loss for its owner, Boris's friend Lord Lebedev. I wonder when it will go under. Another triumphant legacy of former 'editor' George Osborne? When's he getting his peerage?
I have a pleasant evening with my old friend Aubrey Meyer whose lifelong work promoting an effective climate change framework - Contraction and Convergence - has been universally praised but ignored. The great problem with C&C is that it imposes discipline and that is anathema to politicians. I organized a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Aubrey with cross party support (MPs are allowed to nominate) but whilst he deserved it there was very little chance of success. I think someone called Obama got it instead - that remains one of today's unsolved mysteries.
Later I have a brief chat with a chap in the army. Inevitably we discuss what's happening in Ukraine. He says the Ukrainians are not attacking Russian tanks as much as they are attacking Russian tankers. Their tanks probably only do two or three miles per gallon. Why attack the armour when you can blow up their fuel? My source suggested that Putin might use a dummy nuclear missile to warn off NATO. The trouble with that theory is that we'd have no way of knowing if it actually was a dummy. The way things are we may know the answer by the time I upload this diary at the end of the week. (n.b. thankfully it didn't happen)
Tuesday, 8th March
On Eurostar. At St Pancras the French passport people stamp my passport. The first time in 45 years or so. Ahh, the joys of Brexit, we can look forward to getting all those empty passport pages nicely stamped! Eurostar insist that passengers wear face masks. Most passengers don’t, even though on the other side of tunnel it’s the law. I am pleased to discover that in the Netherlands, where it is also the law to wear face masks on public transport, the law is universally observed. Occasionally I forget to put mine on, and discover it’s a good way to ensure that nobody sits next to you.
Wednesday, 9th March
I am on the look out for what’s changed over here after an absence of two years. Some shops have closed down, and Amsterdam is slightly more subdued than usual with fewer tourists around. There’s a few Ukrainian flags fluttering from buildings but no other signs of the crisis unfolding on this continent. RT (Russia Today) is not available on the hotel’s TV service, but then neither is any British channel. Al Jazzera is one of the English language channels still accessible, and their coverage seems to be treading a fine line of neutrality – they report the explosion at a children’s hospital but steer clear of saying whose fault it was. Of course, the bombing wouldn’t have happened if the Russians hadn’t invaded Ukraine, so it’s not difficult to understand where the ultimate blame lies.
After a fruitless search in Amsterdam Centraal for the direct train from Holland’s largest city to its capital, The Hague, a service I have often used, I discover it no longer exists. Unfortunately this information is not relayed in any of the printed timetables on display on the platforms, which are misleadingly suggesting the service still runs. Should you want to follow in my footsteps, please change at Leiden. This little sign of a system slightly losing its way is replicated with some of Amsterdam’s trams, which can only be described as phantom trams. Their arrival is indicated on the electronic signs at each stop, but sometimes no tram appears. Very frustrating. I ask a couple of passers-by if they know what’s happened, but neither of them speaks Dutch and can’t translate what the signs say.
Thursday, 10th March
Minor travails apart, this journey has been relatively hassle free, Brexit and Covid notwithstanding. I return to London with a slight sense of liberation.
Friday, 11th March
The war becomes less and less explicable. It confirms my conviction that the human species still lives in the Medieval period. If humans survive another millennium that’s how they’ll look back on us. What needs to happen right now seems very unlikely. That is, a) Russia should immediately withdraw from Ukraine; b) Putin and his cronies should face prosecution for war crimes and c) Russia should pay for the damage it has caused (I hesitate to use the word reparations). Actually, whilst the first two things are unlikely, whatever the outcome Russia would have to dig deep to repair the damage whether as victor or loser. Has Putin actually considered this, or has he simply taken a leaf out of the West’s playbook in Iraq (i.e. leave them to it, there is no post-war plan). The fact that Putin calls this war a ’Special Military Operation’ signals that he hasn’t given any thought to the aftermath.
My trips to art galleries in Amsterdam and the Hague brought the usual pleasures, and I hope as ever to post my Perambulations under that heading on this website—and this time, with films! Once I figure out how to do it, all over again.
According to the Independent, Keir Starmer has put on hold his calls for Boris Johnson to resign:
“Sir Keir Starmer has all but withdrawn his previous calls for Boris Johnson to resign as he said the country needs “unity” in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Labour leader said there was still “a basic question of trust” in the Government, but that for now the Prime Minister was “concentrating on the job in hand”. Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, Sir Keir said Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to divide the West, and therefore it was very important “we demonstrate unity”. He said: “I do think there’s a basic question of trust (in the Prime Minister) and it does seem a long time ago now we were talking about all of the allegations that Prime Minister faces. Sir Keir appeared to have put his calls for the Prime Minister to resign over the partygate saga on hold for now.
“I’m very clear as the leader of the opposition, leader of the Labour Party, that when it comes to standing up to Russian aggression, and standing in support of Ukraine, it’s very important in the United Kingdom and in our politics that we show the world that we’re united and, therefore, whatever the challenges and frustrations and criticism I have of the Prime Minister, and I’ve got many on this issue, there is unity, and it’s very important that we demonstrate that unity,” he said.
Unity behind incompetence and soft-pedalling on Russian sanctions? Hardly seems the right thing to me. Perhaps Keir hasn’t read about how Churchill got the keys to No. 10. That was when we were already at war with Hitler. Chamberlain had to go and the Labour Party supported his departure. Perhaps today’s equivocal approach from Labour’s frontbench explains why some polls are currently showing a decline in support for Labour.
+What could possibly be the explanation for the Johnson government’s dragging of heels over sanctioning Russian oligarchs et al ? If one used Occam’s Razor one would alight on the fact that the Tories have received millions in donations from Russians who may or may not be connected to the Kremlin (and that must be a murky field, regardless of the Electoral Commission’s say so—a body which of course the Tories want to defang). According to numerous reports, the UK is near the bottom of the list imposing sanctions. The EU is well ahead (is this what ‘taking back control' means?). Our awful, detestable Foreign Secretary seems to be worried we’ll be hit with lawsuits and the process could take ‘weeks or months.’ But the highest court in the land, which funnily enough is called ‘Parliament’ (highest because it makes the laws) could easily pass in one day a law of barely a paragraph or two authorising HMG to seize, sequestrate, take over, freeze or whatever the hard earned assets of the Russky users of the ‘Laundromat’ that is London. If France can seize Abramovich’s yacht, why can’t we do something similar? (Perhaps this would be a cheap way of getting the replacement for the Royal Yacht that Johnson’s so keen on.) If Liz Truss is so bothered by lawyers for oligarchs, it shouldn’t really trouble her since she could act now and plead in court later. But we know why this not happening, don’t we? By comparison with this shower of corruptoids, Tony Blair stands out as a shining example of a straight-up kinda guy, since it didn’t take too much pressure for him to ensure Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million departed the Labour Party’s bank account pretty pronto.
+The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov in a recent comment criticised Hollywood for its demonisation of Russia. Perhaps he has been watching too much Killing Eve. And a new series has just started, poor man. On the BBC of all places. ‘Mad’ Nadine Dorries take note! The BBC’s on our side!
How much worse will things get before they get better? This must be the question on everybody’s lips, if indeed they haven’t already had cause to worry about the nuclear option (in which case things won’t get better). It seems rather incredible that a country with a GDP roughly the same size as Spain’s can hold the word to ransom. But for decades we have been told that Russia, and previously the Soviet Union, has had a military capacity that equals or outstrips that of the NATO countries, a message which has always been good business for the armaments industry, as an excellent blog by Craig Murray exposed. As Murray has made clear, the Russians have embarked on a disastrous mission based more on belief in their own propaganda than any commonsensical appraisal of their capabilities. This is the worrying part. The current BBC2 series on ‘The Rise of the Nazis’ begs a direct comparison between Hitler’s delusions and Putin’s. After his army's defeat at Stalingrad Hitler practically went into hiding, but then came von Stauffenberg’s failed assassination attempt which somehow revived Hitler’s sense of his pre-destiny as a leader on whom providence had taken a big liking. Perhaps Putin with his extremely long tables, where he sits isolated 30 feet away from his advisors is worried that one of them may nudge a briefcase bomb towards him? A widespread western media question is whether Putin’s hubris will lead to his toppling. Do his bodyguards have live rounds? Couldn’t one of them do us all a favour? I fear that like Hitler, Putin has no option but to dig his heels in, and as his campaign to subjugate 40 million rather resentful people falters, he will search out a wonder weapon to bring the matter to a decisive victory. I wonder if he has watched the film Downfall. I wonder if his generals have. Or are they all toadies with more medals than brain cells?