I am rather hoping that Nicola Sturgeon does impose Coronavirus border controls between Scotland and England. They shouldn’t be too difficult to set up. Indeed, the Johnson government has declared our first ‘plague city’ in the form of Leicester, so the concept of isolating a ‘plague country’ can’t be much of a step. Even the BBC 10 O’clock News last night had a stand alone report on how poorly the UK, and particularly England had performed tackling this ’unprecedented’ crisis. With Winston Delano Johnson having raised people’s expectations that we’re moving into the sunlit uplands, he (and more importantly we) are moving into the most vulnerable stage of this pandemic. The discipline of the initial lockdown may be hard to replicate when more cracks appear in this government’s chronic performance. The sight of queues on the A1 north of Berwick would accentuate the growing realisation that we, south of the border suffer from a very English disease. Such a realisation is long overdue., so c’mon Nicola, don’t delay!
Yesterday we heard more about the hapless minister Robert Jenrick’s unlawful handling of the Richard Desmond planning application. Obviously it was not a favour nor a little arrangement to boost Tory Party coffers by £10,000—an inconsequential amount by Tory standards. But perhaps that was just a down payment. This affair has cemented one’s impression that Jenrick, who let’s not forget broke lockdown rules to visit his parents considers guidelines and laws purely for the ‘little people.’ I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Dominic Cummings hasn’t got a pin-up of Jenrick on his bedroom wall (for purposes best not examined). Also reported yesterday was the heart warming story of a company owned by brothers Simon and David Reuben (combined worth £16bn) - the Wellington Pub Company - which has been demanding full rent from tenants who haven’t been able to trade since March. The Reubens share a dirty little attribute with Richard Desmond: they too are Tory Party donors, ‘their family has donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party over the past year’ according to the Guardian. And then, in the same paper we read about another nice little earner, this time involving Jenrick again. This concerns the fate of the North Yorkshire potash mining company Sirius Minerals which is developing a new mine and which had thousands of local investors (ironically, mostly Tories I suspect). Sirius’ costs had mounted and they asked the government for support. This request landed on Jenrick’s desk in 2018. After the government turned down the request, the company was eventually sold at a knock down price to Anglo-American—a massive loss to the local investors. But who had Jenrick been in touch with? Another billionaire (I wonder if mere millionaires get a look-in these days?) called Idan Ofer, the owner of rival Cleveland Potash. Another of Ofer’s other businesses very generously gave the Tory Party £10,000 in March 2019. Sirius’s request was rejected in September of that year. Back in the days of honours peddler Maundy Gregory £10k was the price of a knighthood. How times have changed.
N.B. For the sake of clarity, there is absolutely no connection between donations to the Tory Party and the way ministers make decisions. None whatsover.
I was taken aback today when the BBC’s PM programme, which as I’ve mentioned before is tolerated whilst I’m having my tea (or me supper if that’s where you come from) actually interviewed a Labour MP about a news story. Usually Tory MPs are the usual fare, e.g. people like Jeremy ‘I’d love to be a minister again’ Hunt, invited on to tell us what a good job Johnson is doing. But sadly, the only excuse for inviting on a Labour MP this time was to answer questions about Starmer's defenestration of Rebecca Long-Bailey as Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education. The invited MP we discovered was of course entirely critical of Long-Bailey. There you go, all remnants of that popinjay Corbyn’s tenure must be expunged as we retrace the steps of a rabbit with myxomatosis sitting firmly in the centre ground waiting for ‘our turn.’ According to Skwawkbox there is now a growing movement of left wing Labour MPs plotting to challenge Starmer’s leadership next year. I’m not holding my breath. I did enjoy a nice bit of Quorn sausage with salad though. One’s repast doesn’t all have to be bad news, and I could of course switch the radio off.
Now that Covid-19 has been beaten and we can all emerge from our great national hibernation without having to worry too much about the invisible mugger, isn’t it time we showed some gratitude? No, not the NHS silly, but the great team at the nation’s helm, and its captain (whose father told us he had ‘taken one for the team’). Here in Scarborough, it is clearly now safe for the vast majority of people down at the seafront to rub shoulders once again in the queues for fish and chips and ice cream. They’ve got the message, viz. immunity to facts is a condition for the selfish gene to prosper. This is the true herd immunity. But Scarborough’s chippies and parlours had better watch out: whilst we enjoy temperatures around 20°C, we have some competition in the form of Verkhoyansk where 38°C has been recorded. Never mind that Verkhoyansk is inside the Arctic Circle. Nothing to worry about! Covid probably never reached it. Let the good times roll!
+Any moment now there’s going to be a massive outcry in the press about the racist jottings of our Dear Leader. You may recall what happened when it was discovered that Jeremy Corbyn had written a foreword in a reprint of the historian John Hobson’s Imperialism, first published in 1902. In that book, Hobson had set down a number of anti-Semitic views, although Corbyn’s attention was focused on what the author had to say about exploitation and colonialism in Africa. The press had a field day, and predictably the Jewish ‘Labour’ Movement was mightily upset. Will such outrage emerge now that, according to today’s Guardian, ‘City bank praised by Johnson had links to slavery, database reveals’ ? The private bank, Arbuthnot Latham, which serves the wealthy, had a founder who was compensated when slavery was abolished. It is currently run by a mega donor to the Tory party. Johnson praised the bank’s role in a foreword in a book on its history — it ‘financed everything from coffee plantations in Ceylon to gold mining in South Africa to banana growers in Jamaica.’ Some businesses with historic links to slavery have promised to pay reparations—Greene King brewers for example. I would say at the very minimum that those whose predecessors received compensation from the state for the loss of their slaves should repay that amount, adjusted for inflation. Arbuthnot Latham owes £370,000— less than its chief Sir Henry Angest has donated to the Tory Party, so they should have no grounds for complaint. It is interesting to note that the loan the government borrowed to pay off the slave owners in the 1800s was only finally paid off in 2015.
+Trump, as we already knew is as thick as pig shit (how coarse! - but that’s Trump) and now his former National Security Advisor John Bolton has joined a long list of Trump’s ex-servants to make the point in his own memoir soon to be published. This apparently quotes Trump asking Theresa May ‘Oh, are you a nuclear power?’ Well, actually I think this question demonstrates Trump’s great intellect, since he must have grasped that without US permission, the UK’s ’independent deterrent’ is no such thing. Perhaps the President has a sense of irony after all.
No better example of Johnson’s racism can be found than in his decision to wind-up DfID. In the Guardian this morning he is quoted as saying “We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, though the latter is vital for European security. We give 10 times as much aid to Tanzania as we do the six countries of the western Balkans, who are acutely vulnerable to Russian meddling.” So the object now of aid is to support countries against Russia and countries with black populations—vulnerable to the effects of (non-Russian) post-colonialism— can go hang. No doubt Johnson will want to fly (in his newly repainted RAF jet at a cost reckoned to be in ‘six figures’) to Ukraine to personally hand over the cheque. If they’ll let him, what with his world-beating Coronavirus record.
You would have to be a terrible cynic to associate the government’s U-turn on funding free school meals through the summer hols with its announcement on the same day that it is abolishing the Department for International Development. The latter course is one which Tory backbenchers have long wished for. Johnson says it will lead to more ‘efficiency’ for the taxpayer. We all know what that means. Staff cuts, fewer field operations and crucially the merging of budgets which will conceal cuts to the overseas aid given by the UK. This at a time when developing countries during and post-Covid-19 will find themselves in desperate straits. So, what did I learn about this development on today’s BBC evening news? The PM programme, (which coincides with my teatime) had the emollient Evan Davies, (who sounds more and more like a government apologist) interviewing a Tory MP (as ever) about the school meals U-turn. The message is well done! Johnson is listening! Curious that there was no mention during the time I listened to the programme of a Labour motion in the House of Commons to force precisely such a U-turn in government policy. The sidelining of Labour, even with its new clearly very responsible leader is a matter of concern to all of us who want to hear what the party has to say. The BBC—or at least the bits I capture— is failing badly to provide balance. Perhaps the BBC is getting wound up by the thought that it might be merged with Fox News after the licence fee is abolished, hence the current fawning.
The lockdown, at least in England is effectively over. With the re-opening of shops today, just here in Scarborough the high street was crowded this morning, and ‘social’ distancing was out of the window. It’s not hard to understand why, since the government’s advice has become so multi-layered and confusing people are taking liberties left right and centre. Out for a walk this morning, I noticed groups of three or four people strolling along hogging the whole pavement, oblivious to others walking in the opposite direction. It still seems safer to walk in the road. At least here there’s less chance of being knocked over by new cyclists, many of whom seem to believe that it is normal to ride on the pavement. I take with a pinch of salt the idea that a new communal spirit of respect has swept the nation, although I’m sure there are plenty of examples of that. Maybe it’s just that you don’t notice good behaviour quite as much as the bad. But things at least for me are likely to become more paranoid, since it is quite obvious that the incompetence of the government which has led us to one of the worst death rates in the world is showing no signs of diminishing. So now we’re entering a phoney war period. This only heightens my levels of anxiety. Thus, when I see some geezer in Marks & Sparks inspecting a food item and putting it back on the shelf I find myself muttering ever louder beneath my breath ‘Don’t touch it if you ain’t buying it you stupid &%**er! And then in Lidl, thinking I was buying two bars of 95% cocoa chocolate I got home and discovered that the second bar was a raspberry flavoured version from the same brand—which can only mean somebody picked up something they decided they didn’t want and put it back in the wrong place. Does this mean I have risked bringing the virus into my house? (Of course, there's no logical reason why what I wanted would be any less infected.) Each little and seemingly inconsequential example we can think of like this, whether based in common sense or not is bound to increase exponentially now that we have supposedly ‘conquered the invisible mugger’ when it is plainly obvious that we haven’t. Most relaxations of lockdowns around the world have led to increases in Covid-19 cases. I think there’s a good case to be made for paranoia on this one, even when it comes to buying that all-time essential, chocolate, which I'm sure has anti-viral properties. Surely there's some theory doing the rounds on social media to back that one up?
According to the Microsoft news feed both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph reported today that a key government committee charged with the task of preparing for, among other things, pandemics, was scrapped six months ago. ‘According to the Daily Mail, the group - called the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency Committee (THRCC) - was suspended by former prime minister Theresa May on the advice of Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill so that civil servants and ministers could focus on Brexit.’ It seems it was actually Johnson who authorised the abandonment of the THRCC, a few days after being elected. The more one hears about our incompetent (and overstretched) government the more one despairs. But this story deserves attention for its linking Brexit to the Coronavirus. It illustrates one of the unintended consequences of Brexit, and I’m willing to bet many more will be unearthed after the transition period ends, which for some chauvinistic reason the government will not delay, pandemic or not. Ironic too that this story should first appear in the pages of two of the main cheerleaders for Brexit, and indeed that their elderly readers have a higher than average chance of suffering from Covid-19. Let justice be served.
+Here’s a solution, and I guess I’m not the first to suggest it. Let’s do a deal with the US and swap Prince Andrew for Anne Sacoolas (the CIA woman who allegedly drove on the wrong side of the road and killed the British motorcyclist Harry Dunn). What could be fairer? We don’t even need to ask for the return of our prince. He really is expendable.
+The Washington Post is running a fact checker on Trump’s lies which have now passed the 18,000 mark. This is a remarkable achievement. Lying (and Tweeting them) is possibly what keeps the President too busy to start a war. Meanwhile we here in the UK with our own wannabe president do not have a venerable old newspaper with the world’s richest man behind it to save us from untruth. But we do have journalist Peter Oborne, who despite his traditional Conservative background (or possibly because of it) has set up his own website https://boris-johnson-lies.com/ Unfortunately when I looked at this it didn’t seem to cover the post-2019 general election period, since when Johnson’s lies have multiplied like err . . a virus. I wonder of there will be an 'operation' on Mr Oborne if he persists in his insolence.