Yesterday I hinted that Sunak would at least temporarily reinstate the triple lock on the increase in pensioners incomes—purely for self-serving political interests. Today I was reading that a Labour frontbencher, the baby-faced Wes Streeting was saying that if the Tories abandoned the triple lock, it should lead to a general election, since it was a Tory manifesto pledge in 2019. It makes for a good attack line, only slightly (ha!) demolished by Labour’s refusal to commit to the triple lock if it itself were elected. Lisa Nandy, the shadow ‘levelling up’ secretary of state used the old, worn out formula: we’ll have to wait and see what the public finances are like come the election before we can say what we’ll do. This is a reliable, tried and tested response. And it is totally disingenuous. It suggests that His Majesty’s opposition can have no pre-election positions on anything that requires fixing with public money. Of course we hear the mantra that that the promises Labour does commit to will be fully costed. Apparently, every item of expenditure will be subject to the scrutiny of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). Of course it will. It’s not dissimilar to the line taken by John Smith in 1992, when he had Labour publish a full budget before that year’s general election. It was subsequently seen as a big mistake. Perhaps it just went over people’s heads. Today, when it comes to promises, it’s best to keep them vague. So now, whilst Streeting bangs on about the potential failure of the Tories to honour their manifesto commitment on a big budget item, he’ll have little to say about Labour’s own commitment. With good reason. There is no commitment.
The right wing press, judging by the stories relayed through Microsoft’s news feed, are tearing themselves apart over whether the ‘triple lock’ on pensions will survive. It seems we’ll have to wait until a financial statement on the 17th November to find out if this rather expensive commitment is to be maintained. My guess is that it will be, since whenever the general election comes the key older demographic of Tory voters may be less likely to vote for Prime Minister Sunak if the triple lock is abolished or downgraded. The Labour opposition is of course seeking to put the government on the spot on this issue, but I very much doubt it will be a Labour manifesto commitment come the next election—there will be a mincing of words, or some evasion tactic. There will probably be a promise that sounds like the triple lock, but it will not be universally applied. We’ll only find out the details after the general election. It will be similar to Starmer’s party conference speech vaguely promising a nationally owned energy company, only later to discover what a limited commitment that actually was.
As I lay awake the other night (as one does) I was wondering if any occupant of No.10 had ever suggested, if not exactly promised, that things would get worse. No jam tomorrow. Or the day after. Or the day after that. The only person that comes to mind is Churchill, who I think made a virtue out of how bad things were going to be. But then we had a clear, identifiable enemy. Now, the enemy is in our midst. I’m not just referring to the likes of Shell, who have reported yet more record profits and handouts to shareholders. But as one article today (I think in the Independent) suggested, with Sunak in No.10 the City has finally, conclusively won control of the nation’s levers of power. His predecessors bowed to the City. Sunak is the City. And for as long as he accepts their leverage, there will be some slack given to him to dole out some electorally popular goodies. This is what in the short term may be described as ‘stability’ - but it will be a very short leash for which we’ll all have to pay later. So in the meantime the triple lock may briefly survive.
I do hope King Charley 3 didn’t shake hands with Liz Thick this morning when she collected her P45. Look what happened to his mother. The Tory rigmarole goes on, but for now there will be a pause. Like anybody who enters No. 10 Rishi Sunak will convince himself that his words at the lectern in Downing Street will be borne out through the sheer force of his willpower. Gordon Brown had similar ambitions, but the job overwhelmed him too. A PM ideally needs 10 years to make a difference, but that is not always a desirable outcome. Much has been said about Sunak’s ‘coronation.’ Labour has taken umbrage with this but has signally failed to recall Gordon’s coronation. ‘Coronations’ are not such a rare event. John Major, Jim Callaghan, Alec Douglas Home and dare I say even Winston Churchill never entered No. 10 on the back of a general election. These in-term transitions are quite a feature of our first past the post election system and the stability it provides. Along with five years of a Tory/Lib Dem coalition which helped bring the country to its knees (or ankles, depending on your view of the UK economy).
Blimey you can’t go away for three days and not come back to a new prime minister. Liz Thick will be the least lamented ‘leader’ we’ve ever had. She failed on the most basic test a politician faces: do your numbers. Not only did she fail with her ‘mini-budget’ where 2+2=7, but hadn’t even considered the number of her back benchers who might not support her tripe. She must have thought that all those Sunak supporting MPs (many more than she could muster) would immediately accept her diametrically opposed so-called ‘growth’ strategy. Anyway, it’s a relief we don’t have to watch her in slow-motion implode mode like we did with Theresa. An old joke: what lasts longer than a Conservative PM? Chewing gum. As it was I was in Venice when Liz did the decent thing, and clearly events in Blighty were resonating globally. In Mestre, where my hotel was, there was a festival of politics –La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles) — taking place, and I briefly looked in on one event. Naturally I couldn’t understand a single word. Though that’s not quite true. The speaker, a left-wing politician, Stefano Bonaccini was giving a very robust and forceful speech in which I distinctly heard the word ‘Inglesi’ used a few times. The audience might have burst out laughing. I imagine Stefano at least was having a bit of fun.
I have to confess to having flown. Easyjet claim all their flights are carbon offset, so perhaps I could offset my guilt a little that way, but no, it won’t wash, even if I had at last caught up with the Biennale, this year called ‘The Milk of Dreams.’ Perhaps I should see some irony in that. Coming back, with my bird’s eye view I could see that between London and Manchester there are an enormous number of distribution sheds and warehouse parks, recognisable by their gleaming white roofs. So where’s all the solar panels? There’s a task for Starmer’s ‘Great British Energy’ company.
In Café Nero at Manchester station I sit at a table where someone’s left a copy of the Daily Mail. Five minutes later a polite middle class woman comes up and says ‘I left that there.’ She takes it and leaves it at another table to return to the counter to await her order. A young chap then sits at the newly blessed table. She comes and moves it again. If this is a way of reserving a table (as opposed to parking your bum there, then it’s a new one on me) then it’s not very clear. The only explanation I can think of is that the Daily Mail is such a disgusting rag nobody would want to sit anywhere near it. The headline story, as it happens, was about Johnson and Sunak being urged to form a ‘dream team’ to unite the party (if not the country). Such is the milk of dreams.
+Everyday I get updates on the art world from eflux, the US based art network service. Here galleries proudly advertise their upcoming highlights. These missives often contain descriptions which defy all understanding. Sometimes I wonder how linguistically stunted I am when I read the art bollocks that forms some announcements. Here’s something from Zurich, the birthplace of Dadaism and the longterm home of James Joyce. What to make of it? Perhaps I am only seeing it from the point of view of a heteronormative patriarch:
Kino Roland is closing down. As a sex cinema running for more than 40 years, it has been providing pornographic material until recently, and hereby complementing the array of sexual services at Zürich’s Langstrasse. It has been a mediating institution within the city, one that modulates and regulates the contemporary sexual subject through its semiotic-technical government. Its bricks, neon signs and mural paintings have been in charge of reproducing the biopolitical norm of the heteronormative patriarchy, inducing sexual excitement in the male viewers while unveiling the disobedient nature of sexual desires.
+I watched a three part BBC series on the Young British Artists (YBAs). Each episode was much the same, which is to say nothing happened outside London, wherein dwelt some hip art students (Goldsmiths mainly) who found a cheap way of living (squatting) and drinking and shitting around until along came Saatchi who made their reputations when he bought some of their stuff. Then they all got pissed again. What a party! One or two went further, and now in their middle age they reflect on the scene from their Tuscan (or wherever) retreats. I have to say I too was a Young British Artist, it was just my unfortunate circumstance to be a postman in Malton (North Yorkshire) at the time. Talk about missed opportunities! I don’t resent my fate. I’m still a contemporary — as indeed we all are whilst we still live and breathe.
+It is useful in times like these to refer to George Orwell when it comes to deciphering political statements. So in her remarks today when she referred to her sacking of Kwasi Kwarteng, our PM Liz Thick said she was terribly sorry to lose him as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was a friend, they shared the same ambition: growth. But she sacked him anyway. In other words, she was sorry for herself that she found herself in this position—finding that in politics there are no such things as friends when scapegoats are needed. Perhaps Kwasi will get a sympathetic phone call from Peter Mandelson who was sacked twice and so knows the limits of ‘friendship’ in politics.
+There’s a very interesting piece in the current London Review of Books by Long Ling, a government official in Beijing and a Communist Party member. She describes the straightjacket of thought which CP members must adhere to, with a detailed examination of the brainwashing they must undergo to progress in Chinese society. This process revolves around learning the profound theories of Xi Jinping, theories which have been elevated to the same status as Mao’s equally profound thinking and are as equally mind-numbing. China can’t be far behind North Korea in its mind-controlling instincts. But I wonder how deeply this effort permeates. After all, Mao could change his mind about what was the right thing to do as often as changing his theoretical underwear (if not his actual tunic) and everything would have to change to follow suit, which suggests a degree of fickleness—credulity- on the part of the population which with a different leader could be harnessed for quite opposite objectives. In other words, commitment to a cause can only be superficially ingrained by rote, just as commitment to The Leader will not be any deeper because his (nearly always his) portrait appears on every street corner.
In a mild way these thoughts drift into our situation. It is de rigueur for Conservative Party offices up and down the land to display a portrait of their dear leader, presumably to enthuse local party activists into a frenzy of activity. Barely have they taken down Boris and put up Liz Thick before they’ll need a new portrait of whomever is coming next. Xi Jinping would no doubt be amused by the fluidity of our ’democracy’ but if I were privileged to whisper in his ear, I would merely say: Saddam. His picture was everywhere. Now it’s nowhere. Ditto innumerable others. All those leaders who thought saying ‘repeat after me’ was sufficient—hubris got them all in the end.
Burbling along with this theme a moment longer, we’ll soon see pictures of our new King hanging in Council chambers and other official locations across the land, replacing Her Maj. I bet there will be a bit of reluctance to let her go, not least given the replacement. And unlike all the pictures of Queenie, when she was perpetually portrayed in her blessed middle age (a bit like Brezhnev) Charles comes to us as an old man. The psychological impact of this portrait change could be significant. Perhaps Charles will have to learn a few lessons about the cult of personality, although hopefully that won’t go so far as teaching our schoolkids, a la Xi Jinping, what Charles’s Theory of the Crystallisation of the Experience and Collective Wisdom of the Monarchy means for us all.
The fame of my successor but one as MP for Morley has crossed the Atlantic, to be noticed by Counterpunch. Stupidity travels fast, here's the evidence:
UK’s Higher Education Minister Andrea Jenkyns: “The current system would rather our young people get a degree in Harry Potter studies, than in construction”… universities are force-feeding students “a diet of critical race theory, anti-British history and Social Marxism.”
Number of students currently studying architecture, building, planning and engineering in the UK = 245,395
Number of students currently studying “Harry Potter Studies” in the UK = 0
Note the title ‘Higher’ Education Minister. Whoever let her in?
When are the Tories going to throw a dead cat onto the table, to distract us from their current travails? They seem to be floundering about somewhat, looking for a suitable feline victim without success. It was laughable to hear a cabinet minister today saying that Nicola Sturgeon’s use of the phrase ’I detest the Tories’ was ’dangerous.’ Many of us have detested the Tories for decades, and we’re not dangerous (maybe that’s our problem). They’re also reviving the idea that Labour will rely on the SNP to form a government after the next election. Clearly they haven’t been reading the opinion polls of late. Liz Thick’s only hope is to go to the wire (December, 2024) by which time we’ll all see the benefits of ’growth.’ Her predicament is much like Gordon Brown’s—you’ve got just two years to prove your worth. But generally there are few macro-economic policies that can deliver that fast. A dash for growth? For some reason the Tories are not using that phrase. I wonder why. Maybe because it invariably ends in disaster. Any attempt to artificially pump the economy will at some point crash into reality. The question is what shape this disaster will take. The best the Tories can do now is take especial care of their core voting demographic—and get more pensioners onto cruise liners.
+According to the BBC news half of France’s nuclear power stations are ‘switched off’ at the moment due to a ‘systemic issue.’ Given that we import a fair bit of our electricity from France, this is a problem for the UK. It’s also a problem for the nuclear lobby, who without fail tell us that nuclear is the most reliable source of baseload electricity. What they never tell us is that it is also the most expensive. Back in the eighties, when Thatcher was in full privatisation mode, nuclear power was left out of the equation. As Nigel Lawson said at the time (in so many words) the market wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. No wonder EDF is owned by the French state. Here in the UK we’re promised mini-nuclear power stations all over the place, helped along by relaxed regulatory standards. I hope they aren’t going to be built near fracking sites.
+Will we have power cuts this winter? That’s a danger flagged up by the National Grid. I’m sure if it is the case there will be loads of opportunities for Liz Thick’s ‘growth’ agenda to flourish. Entrepreneurs will already be eyeing up their chances, like Private Walker in Dad’s Army, albeit on a much larger scale. The opportunities for gouging will not be resisted by the energy companies, who have already shown their form in the current crisis.
+The other night I watched ‘The Laundromat’ a film by Steven Soderbergh shown on Netflix. It is a somewhat flawed presentation of the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal, starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Co. making the best of a bit too much of an ‘in your face’ script. It is a film which makes up with anti-corruption evangelism what it lacks in subtlety. Anyway, what is the impact of these films about financial misdoings? We’ve seen and been entertained by Wall Street, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short et al and nothing of course changes—the message is lost when corruption is presented as entertainment even though every scene tells us we’re suckers. In Laundromat there is a telling line (which I’ve just forgotten for the moment) which reminds us, the viewers, of our passive victimhood. For me, the most significant message to come out of Laundromat is the amorality of accountancy as a profession in the hands of the lead protagonists Mossack and Fonseca, the offshore business pals who facilitated multiple financial scams. These two lead characters appealed to the audience for indulgence, begging they were not the criminals, they only handled accounts. Why shouldn’t they feel aggrieved if they were caught up in holier than thou recriminations? It reminded me that one of today’s most gilded establishment financial institutions, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) had a history of thorough amorality too. The story is well summarised in a New York Times article Global Central Bank Says It Held Gold Looted by Nazis - The New York Times (nytimes.com) BIS allegedly handled 13.5 tons of Nazi gold, partly to pay interest payments on the reparations exacted by the victorious allies in WWI. These payments were made throughout WWII (what was Hitler thinking?). Some of this gold came from the teeth of Holocaust victims. 13.5 tons of gold is worth around £560,479,000 today. The point I’m making is blunt: if you can stay in the grubby financial market (and all its offshoots) long enough, you will become respected. I’ve not done a proper Google search where Mossack and Fonseca are now, nor where the fallen titans of Lehman Brothers are, nor where ’Fred The Shred’ has ended up—but I’m willing to bet they’ll all be forgiven by their peers, even if they have to lead a less prominent life. (I’ve since read that Mossack and Fonseca are both Panamanian citizens and so cannot be extradited anywhere.)
+Electoral Calculus has the astonishing prediction that Labour will win a majority of 292 at the next general election. Unbelievable. But such a prediction will create a headache for party staff, because unless they exercise total control over selection procedures, we might see elected quite a number of candidates who don’t see themselves as Starmerites—just as in 1997 quite a few candidates from the left, whom nobody seriously thought would be elected were. Their vetting for Blairite credentials wasn’t as vigorous as it might have been. I think a similar thing may have happened to the Tories in 2019, with Tory ‘red wall’ seat candidates now creating headaches for the leadership. But as we’ve heard so often, Starmer’s got a grip, and the mass exodus of Corbyn followers from the party will help Starmer clones gain nominations. The signs of this are already all too apparent if one looks at the Skwawkbox website.
+I had another Covid booster jab the other day,and given that the leaflet handed out to patients said that a number of side effects may occur (’very common’, which is to say 1 in 10) I can imagine many people having second thoughts. The side effects include swelling, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle ache, pain, tiredness, chills and fever. It is suggested in the leaflet (which it is recommended you read before the injection) that if any of these things show up you should get urgent medical attention. The leaflet is A3 size, printed both sides in small type. I’m happy to say that so far I am in the 9 in 10 category, so touch wood all will be well. But there is an assumption in the leaflet that if you get any side effects a bit worse than the above you should see your doctor. I think that by the time you can get an appointment, the side effects will have disappeared. I am very happy we have an NHS, but the advice in this leaflet (produced by the vaccine’s manufacturer) suggests that it has been written by somebody who has worked for the customer service department of an energy company whose favourite form of customer interaction is exemplified by the patronising and utterly misleading ‘Let’s chat’ box that pops up on your screen. You just know there’s nobody there. How exactly do you ‘chat’ with a bot? Well, at least I got my booster . . . and I’m good to go.
+Liz Thick’s knowledge of her own party’s history seems slight. In her conference speech today she will say that there will be more ‘disruption’ to come and that will be the price of success. This is just another way of saying there’ll ‘be no gain without pain,’ the Tories' winning slogan in 1997. Now I’m just waiting for some old Tory soak to tell Thick ‘I knew Margaret Thatcher, and you’re no Margaret Thatcher.’ The danger here of course is that she may be tempted to outperform her hero—never mind disruption, we could be in for a spell of destruction. But we’ll all feel cleansed.