Modern life, eh?
I am sometimes tempted in the supermarket to buy food which has been ‘yellow labelled’ - i.e. discounted. So it was in Marks and Spencers the other day that I picked up a Vegan Lasagne. It wasn’t bad. I can remember the days of vegan ‘cheez’ and indeed there was a bit of this on the lasagne, though since for safe measure I added some cheddar on top I rather defeated the object of trying a vegan dish (I’m not actually a vegan, but a vegetarian). Yes, it was merely the yellow label that attracted me. Which is all a roundabout way of saying, should you wish to make your own vegan lasagne, here are the ingredients. Pretty straightforward I think.
I despair (pt.92)
The trouble with the energy price crisis, coupled with the Ukrainian situation is that politicians’ first instinct is to look for sticking plasters. The same is true of the climate crisis, where one half-baked policy after another is announced and then abandoned (albeit with one or two exceptions, like offshore wind). This has been the story of UK energy policy for as long as I can remember—so Labour is not to be excused. The government’s latest contribution is the ‘British Energy Security Strategy’ published on the 7th April. The main purpose of this seems to be to re-introduce the idea that only a massive expansion of nuclear power will keep the lights on (perhaps in two decades’ time). Listening to the chap who founded Octupus energy on the radio this lunchtime I was reminded of the question ’since wind and sun are free, why does renewably-sourced electricity cost so much.?’ His answer was that this was how the market worked—the market price we pay is driven by whatever costs the most, currently gas. Perhaps it’s time to introduce two markets—fossil/nuclear and renewables. Might this not speed up the transition?
A glaring absence in the Tories’ so-called energy security strategy, under the heading ‘renewables’ is geo-thermal energy.* This source could supply a very substantial component of UK heating demand. It’s not rocket science. I remember, as a member of Hull City Council’s economic development committee, back in the 1980s, visiting Southampton which was then tapping into geothermal energy resources for district heating. In the intervening 40-odd years little development has taken place in the UK. Why? It’s partly the cosy relationship between e.g. nuclear industry lobby groups and government. Another glaring absence in the government strategy is anaerobic digestion. The potential of this technology is tremendous (one estimate has been half of UK domestic gas demand). And as long as we have sewage treatment works (and what goes into them) there will always be a need to find ways of dealing with sewage outputs—rather than pouring it into our rivers and coasts. Once again, back in the 1980s I visited Yorkshire Water’s treatment works at Elvington, near York, where they were actually generating energy from the shit we gave them (for free).
What an irony it is. If UK governments had put as much effort into solving our looming energy crisis as Thatcher had put into defeating the miners and closing pits, we would be in a far happier situation. And yes, if the rest of Europe had followed suit we could laugh in Putin’s face—his fossil fuelled revenues wouldn’t be what they are now and just maybe, he couldn’t have afforded the cost of a senseless war.
* The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) have just published a very good report on the potential of geo-thermal energy. (post.parliament.uk)
Some boundaries of democracy
That’s fate. My old constituency of Morley and Rothwell was abolished in 2010 and eventually the new seat of Morley and Outwood, with a new candidate was lost to the Tories. Rather careless I thought at the time. But I’ve just looked at the proposed new parliamentary boundaries, and a new seat of Morley is to be created which, all things being equal, the Tories will lose. The population of the area must have grown quite a bit, since the new seat looks remarkably similar to my old constituency, minus the ancient town of Rothwell (which was once bigger than Leeds itself). All these changes look a bit random to me (not being a conspiracy theorist). But nationally they favour the Tories largely at the expense of Labour. And today the Supreme Court ruled out a challenge to the Tories’ plan to force voters to produce photo i/d at polling stations. Pure gerrymandering, Republican style.
One week to go before the local elections. The excitement is intense (not). Reading what little coverage there is in the news contributes to the apathy. Labour is worried its national poll lead is in reality wafer thin and is downplaying any notion of major gains, so if we do make some progress it can be spun as a significant leap forward and a vindication of Keir Starmer’s leadership. Tory spin doctors are rather wistfully doing their best to talk up their chances, taking a leaf out of the Johnson ‘boosterism’ playbook. At least in this corner of England, North Yorkshire I can say with confidence that Labour is well ahead. The North Yorkshire Climate Coalition sent a questionnaire to all candidates, and according to their website (nyclimatecoalition.org) as of 24th April, responses have come in as follows: Labour 17; Green 6; Conservative 4; LibDem 2; Yorkshire Party 2; Everybody else: none. In my ward, none of the other candidates have responded. The responses look worst for the Greens—their platform after all is usually ‘Think global act local.’ To which one could add ‘perhaps.’
Zuckerberg to be run out of town
My first reaction to Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter was one of faint bemusement. Does it really matter which over-sized ego billionaire runs the company? Is there really any direction Twitter could take which might remove it from my list of despised ‘social’ media outlets? But on further reflection, taking Musk at his word that he wants it to be a genuine platform for ‘free speech’ there are some innovations he could introduce that might turn it into something more useful. He could, for example, make it mandatory that every Twitter account is linked to a real person identifier, removing the curtain of anonymity which enables so many nasty people to courageously share their abusive thoughts without fear of comeback. He could, like the tech-wizard he is, immediately stop the trolls, the bots and cyberspace surveillance merchants using the platform for their own nefarious ends. And since Musk clearly wants to run the world (he is currently its richest man, with the possible exception of Putin) he might also use it to launch a Presidential bid. The future is bold. The future is Musk. Mmmm. I think the world would be a better place if he went into luxury handbags instead.
A call to arms
I’m not entirely sure it’s safe these days to quote Noam Chomsky when one is a Labour Party member, but I feel emboldened after having listened to an interview he recently did with the Intercept (and he’s also Jewish, if that counts). The key thing he said (in my mind) was that there were only two ways wars can end: a) by the complete defeat of one side or b) in negotiation. Clearly the latter option in many people’s minds means something akin to appeasement, which must be rejected at all costs lest it gives the aggressor encouragement. There is actually a third option, which is a hostile stalemate, and that I think is how the Ukrainian war will end up—it is an option which the West would probably live with, since nothing much happened after Russia reacquired Crimea, or indeed effectively took control through a puppet, of Syria.
But retired British generals, who are free to speak out on the BBC will have none of it. We in the British Isles must prepare ourselves for war, something which was left too late in the 1930s. I heard one such today saying that Brits were (alarmingly) going about their normal lives as if nothing was happening (perhaps he’s insulated from the cost of living crisis). Remember that in 1930s, only at the last minute did we rearm, only late in the day did the pacifist camp lose its dominance before WWII (and let’s not forget that it would be a fairly accurate description of Neville Chamberlain to call him a pacifist of sorts). There is now this constant pressure, from various sources for NATO ‘to do more.’ Well, here’s a suggestion. Why don’t we nuke some obscure city in Russia? Let’s show ‘em we’re not lily livered cowards hiding behind President Zelinsky’s Churchillian resistance-coat! This may of course border into Dr Strangelove territory, but isn’t it time we nailed this nuclear war business for good, and with a nuclear winter crack the global warming threat at the same time?
Naturally, this is not my opinion. But you can sense that the hubris of triumphal Western (military industrial complex) thinking will if given half the chance outpace and then trump common sense. Diplomacy is a dirty word in the world of the top brass, their world is more concerned with logistics and tactical advantages. And the great thing about that world is that it is so simple (despite its human toll). What’s changed since the days of General Haig? Or for that matter Richard M. Nixon who (if I recall correctly, I was in the RAF at the time) put his worldwide nuclear weaponry on alert during the Yom Kippur war? It’s all so simple: blast ‘em to Hell!
Say no to nihilism!
Weeks in to the local election campaign and I’m still none the wiser about what the results will be. There has never been a great deal of enthusiasm amongst voters for local elections, with turnouts often well below a third. Perhaps many people detect that councils are often unable to make a significant difference when their hands are tied by central government. ‘Localism’ it has to be said doesn’t have that stirring feel to it either, especially if genuine local choices lead to ’postcode lotteries’ in the delivery of services.
So it’s a mixed picture on the doorstep, although I have not come across any hostility—there have been a lot more friendly responses in fact. But it is clear that voters are still scratching their heads about what Labour stands for, and there is no denying I have come across quite a few people who think of Starmer negatively. Perhaps this leadership factor explains why Labour isn’t leaps and bounds ahead in the polls in the midterm of one of the worst governments we’ve ever experienced.
The cost of living crisis should provide Labour with the opportunity to radically reappraise how the economy is run, but nothing has been proposed (so far as I can see) which addresses the structural deficiencies of the economy. For Starmer ownership is not an issue. The invisible hand of the market only needs the occasional gentle slap to put things right. That gentle slap, in the form of say a windfall tax on energy company profits makes a good line for election leaflets but only addresses the symptom not the cause.
Are we allowed to question causes? Apparently not. Anyone foolish enough to ask whether NATO’s expansion up to Russia’s border was a good idea risks being disciplined in the Labour Party, on the grounds that this question suggests that there is an equivalence between NATO and Russia, as Starmer put it. The question does not suggest an equivalence, but what the hell, Labour is the party of NATO, and NATO is part of our flag-waving patriotism. It is deeply ironic that our fear of mutually assured destruction has not stopped this war, and has stymied NATO’s response to it. But to question what NATO is for is now deemed reprehensible.
Still the fight goes on. The alternative is nihilism. And we can glimpse what that means the more ‘social’ media intrudes into the public discourse.
The House of Commons has agreed to hold an inquiry into whether Boris Johnson misled the House over his denials of any wrongdoings during Covid lockdown. Johnson’s defence is that he genuinely thought he hadn’t broken any rules, and nor had anyone else in Downing Street. So essentially, the parliamentary inquiry will have to probe the Prime Minister’s mind, to see if there was intent with malice, or simply on the other hand, like what a Green Party leader once blamed her poor performance on as a ‘brain fade.’ Except we know the truth, and neither malice nor brain fades come into it—Johnson is nothing more nor less than an easy come, easy go serial liar whose life is littered with evidence for that assertion.
It seems that thanks to ‘purdah’ rules, all revelations now about ‘Partygate’ are to be kept under wraps until after the local elections on the 5th May. There’s another insult to our vaunted democracy. It seems the Metropolitan Police will hold off issuing any more fixed penalty notices until after the 5th May, and the ‘Partygate’ investigation final report of senior civil servant Sue Gray will have to wait for the police to finish their bit. This all smells of a cosy bureaucratic relationship in which the British ‘constitution’ is steeped, a constitution which will never put the establishment in harm’s way.
As a defence, the concept of ‘I thought at the time that I was doing the right thing’ begs some difficult questions. We all know how Tony Blair has repeatedly used this defence in relation to his faith in his righteous war on Iraq. At least Blair allows that God may be his judge, if not the people, or the deceased and injured victims of his self-belief. Now it is clear that the same self-belief propels Putin along a similar path of destruction. So how can society rein in this propensity for untrammelled self-belief in its leaders? And yet isn’t self-belief what we demand of our leaders? I think you’ll find evidence aplenty that people like leaders who are ’strong,’ who know what they want and are determined to get it. On the other hand we want them to listen to us, to show empathy and understanding, even if we know that they are almost by definition going to be totally detached from us because of their increasing proximity to elites, the wealthy and in many cases the inevitable corruption of power.
Checks and balances are supposed to save us from the worst effects of all this, but as we have seen in the US, where gerrymandering, from Congressional boundaries to Supreme Court appointments now seems the norm, and here in the UK where the Tories are intent on following the same pattern, checks and balances tend to be relatively obscure mechanisms which can be tampered with with impunity. The electorate may not be all that bothered whether Parliament is illegally prorogued if there’s a cost of living crisis to contend with. As is clear, the arcane niceties of our so-called constitution are all relative in the hands of the ‘strong’ leader, or in the case of Johnson, the ‘brilliant election winner’ who will be forgiven every sin so long as he cheers us up with his inanities. I suppose in his case the big question is what substance lies behind his masquerade of governing? Is there anything there?
In the words of the old joke, endlessly transmissible, should Johnson visit an old folks’ home and ask a resident ‘Do you know who I am’ she would reply ‘No, but why don’t you ask the nurse?’
A rare opportunity
Following the resignation of the Tory MP for Wakefield after his conviction for a sex offence, there will be a by-election in the city—a constituency which was close to my old seat of Morley and Rothwell. Up until 2019 it was held by a Labour woman MP, so I would expect the party to want to ensure that a female candidate is chosen to fight the by-election, as would normally be the case if the election followed a Labour female MP standing down. But because there has been a male Tory MP in the intervening period I wouldn’t be at all surprised if male parachutists are already eyeing up the chance to land in what should be a significant contest for Labour. If Labour doesn’t win the by-election, which can be called at a time of the Tories’ choosing, then it would be a devastating blow for Keir Starmer, especially if we don’t perform well in the local elections on May 5th.
Who could be contemplating a run? Might David Miliband come to our international rescue? Or might Ed Balls strictly come dancing around the members? His name might not go down too well, since he lost, or perhaps even gave away my successor seat of Morley and Outwood. And would Starmer want a ’big name’ character returning to Parliament? Both of the aforementioned would come with leadership ambitions. On the women’s side, Frances O’Grady who is leaving her post as head of the TUC might fit the bill, but she is probably one of the few people one could think of who actually deserves a seat in the Lords. There will be a plethora of locals looking for support, and in the words of one resident quoted in the press what Wakefield doesn’t need is an Islington type, a remark I think that was aimed more at the previous Labour MP than Jeremy Corbyn. We must always remember that there are two ‘Islington Types.’ Better to have a genuine Yorkshire ‘type’ I think. That’s not discriminatory is it?
How interesting that our war leader, Johnson, who only a few days ago went on a PR mission to Kiev has now perhaps briefly replaced the war narrative with his own irrepressible persona dominating the headlines, him being fined (along with formerly Dishi Rishi) for breaking the law he wrote on Covid lockdown. I wonder if Johnson will pay his fine himself or get a Tory donor to help him out? Clearly Rishi Sunak can afford to pay his own fixed penalty notice. Tory MPs are rallying around the Prime Boris Chump on the grounds that we’re in the middle of a war and it would cause all sorts of problems letting go of such a noble war leader at this juncture. Actually, WE are not in a war, nor are we at war—contrast our situation now with 1940 when we were at war with Germany and at a moment of crisis, e.g. the fall of France we swapped Chamberlain for Churchill. Tory MPs don’t wish to recall that episode since the immediate consequence was Churchill formed a national government with Attlee as his Deputy. The rest is history, as they say. So Tory MPs are clinging onto Johnson purely for partisan reasons (Oh! What a surprise!). For now, anyway. Dishi Rishi is clearly dished up, and Tory MPs will be genuinely concerned that a loose canon like Liz Truss could take the crown. Once again the country is prey to the vicissitudes of internal Conservative Party politics. The natural party of government.
Addendum: Watching Johnson trying to exculpate himself from his 'Partygate' guilt reminded me of Bill Clinton's infamous 'I didn't have sexual relationships with that woman.' I wonder if this new style of doing politics could be codified somehow, so that we all could know how far you can go these days in politics - and get away with it.