If you are easily offended please don’t read on.
I have just sent back my NHS bowel cancer test sample. Everybody in the UK over the age of 60 has the opportunity of sampling their shit and finding out whether there is blood in it. I’ve done this four times now, thankfully with no results to worry about so far. This year’s sampling equipment has made the whole process a lot easier. Instead of having to take two stool samples each day for three days, there is now a single sample required. I guess the technology has moved on. Thank god for that—or should I say thank god for people who have made it their career to improve looking for blood in shit. I wonder how that becomes a career option? Is it something you just naturally end up doing?
Anyway, this is an example of state care. We may all have complaints about the faults of the NHS, but at least we have the NHS. I googled ‘United States bowel cancer testing.’ The first results didn’t detect that I had requested information on the United States. But there were adverts for tests starting at £49. A further refinement of my search found the following (actually relating to the U.S.):
Most insurance plans and Medicare help pay for colorectal cancer screening for people who are 50 years old or older. Colorectal cancer screening tests may be covered by your health insurance policy without a deductible or co-pay. For more information about Medicare coverage, visit www.medicare.govexternal icon or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1 (877) 486-2048. Check with your insurance plan to find out what benefits are covered for colorectal cancer screening. (emphasis added)
So what I have just pooped might have cost £49 in the UK privately, or in the States ‘may be covered by your health insurance policy.’
I wonder why we can’t spend another £350 million a week on the NHS. What’s stopping us? Only the desire to be liberated!
Geoffrey Cox—our plummy voiced Attorney General has described the now non-prorogued parliament as ‘dead.’ In other words, he finds himself beyond the grave, but in it. Perhaps he seeks to be disinterred. There are many times when being in parliament felt like death, which is to say when a government with a large majority gets on with relatively non-controversial legislation everybody just gets their head down, looking for career opportunities or perhaps finds time to pursue personal policy goals.
Then you have something like going to war cropping up. Then parliament comes alive, with packed chambers and heated debate-within limits of course. The anti-Iraq war opposition, given Tory support for the government was doomed to failure from day one. The debate was had with a foregone conclusion. Did that make parliament dead? Given what had happened on the streets outside the Palace of Westminster, the answer must be yes, parliament has its debates but the course of events as prescribed by the executive continues unabated.
Now we seem to be in a different situation, which is the exact opposite. Cox, aware of a shift in power wants parliament to be dead. He doesn’t seem to understand that at its best parliament cannot be ruled, it has a need, a duty to be unruly. That’s the job it should perform. I can only hope that this whole period of the useless f*****g Brexit crisis invigorates our institutions of governance. They bloody need it. And the population at large hopefully may get a better grip on what democracy entails, rather than having simplistic notions of democracy as a tick box exercise in binary options.
In your court, Johnson
The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court to find that Johnson had unlawfully prorogued parliament rather puts our beleaguered prime minister in the dock, although sadly not one in the Old Bailey. Parliament is the highest court in the land—it’s the only place that can change the law, not merely interpret it. Therefore Johnson should face MPs tomorrow in a prolonged session which needs to examine in detail his legitimacy in the office he holds. A close examination is required, perhaps with extra time. But would he face it? Perhaps this is his Norway moment—where we find he is no Churchill (we knew that already) but a pale imitation of Chamberlain whose understanding of his chief European interlocutors is woefully absent. Cummings perhaps also should be summoned to the bar of the House for interrogation. Although he probably prefers to remain in the shadows (lest people discover he is not quite the genius he thinks he is) he should be exposed to the full glare of the nation. What was it Cameron was so fond of saying? ‘Sunshine is the best disinfectant.’ Whilst I’m at it, we could also hope that this moment kickstarts a deeper conversation about how the establishment works. The role of the so-called Privy Council deserves attention, as does the power of the Queen’s closest advisors (our non-existent constitution does suggest that the prime minister is chief amongst her advisors, but what of Her Majesty’s own coterie of establishment lackeys?).
A word of praise to Gina Miller, whose appeal against the High Court’s ruling was successful today. She must be everything the Daily Mail, et al hates: a black immigrant woman who made a success of herself when she landed on her feet in the City! How dare she? I imagine she’ll probably need police protection after this latest victory.
Now we’ll have to wait and see how Johnson responds. The Brownshirts in our neo-fascist media (eh? Come on . . ) will be egging him on to burn down the Reichstag (dearie me, don’t overdo it!) sorry, the Palace of Westminster . . . (that’s better).
Corbyn's demise postponed again
As I mentioned in passing on Saturday, I missed the climate strike in order to go to the Scarborough Jazz Festival. Of course, I felt a little guilty, although as an old age pensioner (surely not) there wasn’t very much I could strike from, as opposed to against (I suppose I could have left my NHS bowel cancer testing kit unopened for another day). I now feel a little redeemed by an article in Counterpunch entitled ’Jazz is activism,’ which recounts some of the politics found in jazz, not least of course (given its roots) protests against racism. This brought to mind the continuing campaign against anti Zionist jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, who holds controversial, but considered views on the subject of Israel. Jazz is the sound of the challenge to order.
Being at the jazz festival also meant of course not being at the Labour Party conference. Apparently it was to be Corbyn’s comeuppance with Labour's members over his Brexit stance. Even the Guardian thought this would be a showdown. But it wasn’t. The vote today went overwhelmingly in Corbyn’s direction. The only issue much of the media has with Corbyn’s approach to Brexit is that he is not being painted into some corner, which is the usual first step to discovering a great betrayal later on. They hate it that he is not playing their game. Others—Johnson and Swinson for example—want quick headlines of 110% certainty and simplicity. But is everything serious government about to be reduced to Thatcher-like tweets (it’s a good job she was dead before tweeting took off)?
The attempt to rather peremptorily abolish the post of Labour Party deputy leader, and hence get rid of Tom Watson at the start of this year’s conference was at the very least inept and badly thought through. The blame attaches itself firmly to Jon Lansman, the leader of Momentum, who seems to think he has some magical contribution to make to the party. Personally, I would be quite happy to see the back of Watson, who has serially failed to fulfil his constitutional deputy leader role. But this can’t be achieved through a last minute back of a fag packet motion to the NEC. It’s the sort of thing Watson himself was guilty of in the Blair/Brown wars. Watson plots in his sleep, usually on a foundation of solipsism and careerism. Having said which, he may have slightly more electoral appeal than Lansman, who comes across as a humourless ideologue, a kind of hangover from Militant days where a sense of humour was not necessarily considered essential in the make-up of a working class revolutionary. As it is, Lansman’s actions have detracted attention from issues of substance at the start of the party’s conference—not that that would have stopped the media from latching on to some other ‘Labour in crisis’ story.
Yesterday’s climate strike was a worthwhile exercise, at least in raising awareness of the issue. But not a lot stopped (confession: I was on my way down to the Scarborough Jazz Festival). There will be plenty more opportunities of course. What must be said is that real shockwaves would be felt by particularly western governments if there was a consumer strike. This might involve, e.g. no more flying, not replacing the car, not buying clothes for a couple of years, going vegan. Doing this on a mass scale would save people a lot of money, but also put millions out of work (although I can see opportunities here for service industries). So it won’t happen—it doesn’t fit the growth-led economic model governments rely on to stay in power. That I’m afraid sums up their lack of imagination. It would be far easier to address the issues raised by a consumer strike than it will be to deal with the consequences of climate change. Some people predict the Brexit economic impact on the UK economy could be a minus 5% on economic growth. Could be a good thing if it reduces carbon emissions . .
But there won’t be a consumer strike. Fed on a daily diet of buy, buy, buy and adverts which portray ever happy people in photoshopped bliss (which reminds me of the Jehovah’s Witnesses portrayal of heaven, albeit without cars) the addiction to consumerism is hard to resist by ordinary mortals.
Thinking of a plausible, and technologically possible shift to a low or no carbon economy would necessarily require us to slow down a bit. One example—long distance flying. Instead of pouring their spare cash into space tourism projects for their fellow billionaires, Branson and Musk would do everyone a favour if they invested in new, large sailing ships. Perhaps with battery powered stabilisers. Sailing ships?! How backward! But how else can we follow in Greta’s footsteps? Such ships could be at sea within a very short timescale, and I bet they would be very popular. Airships too for that matter—contrary to opinion, they had a good safety record. We can all recall the photos of the Hindenburg crashing in flames, and we can all remember the same happening to Concorde. There were no survivors of the latter, on the former there were 97 people—and two thirds of them survived. So the message is: slow down!
It would be easy enough for governments to legislate to slow things down. But in the absence of such laws, individual action on climate change will often seem pointless when so many others are still wedded to unsustainable consumption. How is it that cars are getting bigger - on Britain's roads? There is no law of physics that I'm aware of which states that cars have to get bigger. When everyday you see utterly useless developments taking place, in effect mandated by government, where's the incentive to change?
An episode of the BBC’s Hardtalk programme (shown 15th August—I’ve only just caught up with it) has caused a bit of a stir, as well it might since the subject was climate change and the guest was Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion. His uncompromising defence of civil disobedience rather unsettled the host Stephen Sackler. What has sparked something of a debate in climate change circles is Hallam’s statement that six billion people are doomed. A sober assessment of this claim can be found here. Putting a figure on what climate change will do to the size of the global population is bound to be fraught with difficulty. But where I think Hallam was spot on was him saying that compared to the disruption Extinction Rebellion might cause, the civil disruption that will follow in the footsteps of one climate catastrophe after another will be a thousand times worse. And the trouble with that is that we don’t know quite when it will begin to hurt. Hallam pointed to the likely starvation that will spark a response which no government will be prepared for.
The problem with the climate change narrative, which is changing far too slowly is that it has been framed in the context of what the world might be like in 2100—almost as if nothing will happen between now and then. But if six billion were to die ‘by 2100’ it stands to reason that some will have already been struck down by the impact of climate change. I think this is indubitably the case, but of course nobody wants to say it’s definitively the case just yet lest they be seen as alarmist. Hallam is quite prepared to be alarmist and I wish him the best of luck.
It is now ten years since my book Too Little, Too Late: the politics of climate change was published. I have taken a quick dip into it, and I can only observe that if the politics have changed since 2009, it’s for the worse. Carbon emissions have risen dramatically since then. Fossil fuel subsidies have risen massively since then. The elites, as Hallam repeatedly refers to the enemies of action, continue to lie—or deny. Sackler suggested to Hallam that he was a revolutionary, as if perhaps this was just another iteration an of anti-capitalist movement. The point to remember is that revolutionaries don’t start revolutions: circumstances do. A lesson Lenin may have learned when he dashed to Russia after his longed-for revolution had already begun.
Thought For The day
The former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was on the BBC Today programme’s ‘Thought for the Day’ slot this morning. On the morning after Israel’s general election, in which the two leading parties both espouse the annexation of more Palestinian territory (much of which is already under military occupation) I thought he might have something to say about that. Perhaps some soothing, thoughtful and inspirational insights? Not a bit of it. All we got was a paean of praise for outgoing presenter John Humphrys (who at 76 should have gone ages ago. Ooopps! Ageist!) What a pleasant little club. But I wonder if Sacks could recall what Humphrys said about Though for the Day? ‘Deeply boring.’ Say no more.
But I will say more! According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, the UK population is now 52% non-religious. Perhaps, like the 51.9% who voted for Brexit, our voices must be obeyed! Do or die! Thankfully, for most of the non-religious majority in this country, there is no compulsive behaviour disorder which makes us believe that everybody else has to think as we do—although the time has obviously come to disestablish the Church of England. Only 12% of the population describe themselves as ‘Anglican.’
So it was good to see that a British jury unanimously found an 80-year old woman not guilty of the murder of her 81-year old husband who was terminally ill with bowel cancer. This was clearly a case of compassion above all else, not something driven by religious—or any other kind—of dogma.
A brilliant letter in the Guardian this morning, in response to a leader comment that the Lib Dems were the party of Keynes and Beveridge:
'The Lib Dems . . . home to Keynes and Beveridge?' No I don't think so. The Liberal Democrat party came into existence in 1989. Its only taste of power since then would have Keynes and Beveridge turning in their graves.’
Yes, I confess to writing it.
The Lib Dem conference stage backdrop carried various demands: ‘DEMAND BETTER FOR SCHOOLS DEMAND BETTER FOR OUR COMMUNITIES DEMAND BETTER FOR THE NHS DEMAND BETTER FOR THE ARMED FORCES DEMAND BETTER FOR . .’ - you get the drift. All this I suppose is part of DEMAND BETTER FOR AMNESIACS — an essential condition for being a Liberal Democrat these days.
I have just booked a couple of train journeys with Transpennine Express—an activity I have performed for donkey’s years. Their website tells me I have seats reserved, but doesn’t provide seat numbers. This means that on busy trains there is a much greater likelihood of having to ask somebody to move, or to stand—wishing to avoid an argument. The statement that ’you have seats reserved’ is therefore somewhat disingenuous. I thought I would try out the ’live chat’ function on the website to see why things had changed—for the worse. This is as far as I got:
Started at: 16th September 2019 at 17:59
Pre-Ticket Data I have just booked seats for a journey next month. I'm told seats have been reserved but have not been given seat numbers. This means in effect that seats have not been reserved since anyone with an (e.g. any time ticket) could take the seats available. What's going on? Have I got a reservation or not?
Kyle K 18:01: Good evening , thank you for using our live chat. You're speaking to Kyle on the TPE Web Support team.
Colin Challen 18:02: Hello. Have you got my message?
Kyle K 18:04: Yes, if you have selected reserved seats then the seats will be reserved. However you will not have a specific seat. You can sit in any seat that has the "reserved" ticket above.
Colin Challen 18:05: Is this a permanent change - it will still make life more difficult especially on busy trains
Kyle K 18:06: This is only the case on some journeys at certain times of the day.
Kyle K 18:10: Thank you for chatting with me today. As I have not received a reply from you for some time now, I am going to have to end the chat. If there is anything further I can help with, please do not hesitate to come back to me.
I was typing my reply when I was timed out. I’m not blaming Kyle K. here by the way. I suspect Transpennine Express have some glitch in their system which has simply prevented them from doing what they always did in the past, namely to issue reservations for actual seats. Apart from getting cheaper tickets one of the main points of booking in advance was to get a guaranteed seat. No longer it seems. I shall be interested to see what the explanation is. Having complained I am fully expecting some techno-goobledgook heading into my in-box.
Meanwhile I think I ought to start a crowdfunding exercise to help me over the distress.