The 2020 honours list has been published. Here we are in Gong-Ho Land and I regret to inform you that yet again I have been overlooked. This omission doesn’t reflect well on The System. More on that later. I scanned the list of 1,000 plus names to see what it could tell me about current trends. Obviously a lot of charitable work has been recognised, and I thought I might see ‘services to food banks’ appearing somewhere—but sadly, not: it could be that some recipients’ brief descriptions of their charitable work simply didn’t mention the UK’s largest growth industry. Then I realised how mistaken I was, since the country’s greatest contributor to the growth of food banks was made a knight of the realm! Yes, arise Sir Iain Duncan Smith! (IDS for short—that is short for Irritable Defecation Syndrome.) His place in this list has naturally attracted some criticism, but in this world we mustn’t imagine that guilt is a concept that applies to anybody but ‘benefit scroungers.’ IDS is so blameless he could merge into a bank of estuarial mud without leaving so much as the trace of a worm. Or something like that.
My quick scan of the honours list suggests that if you’ve already got a gong, you’re in a better place to get another one, not least if you live in Greater London. Lower down the hierarchy of gongs you may stand a better chance if you live in the regions. The British Empire Medal is at the bottom of the heap. The BEM was discontinued for a while but was reintroduced by David Cameron in 2012. I reckon this move was designed as part of his ‘Big Society’ initiative, and indeed it could have been renamed the Big Society Medal (modernisation and all that). Sadly, this couldn’t happen because it may have been confused with BSM, that is, the British School of Motoring. Anybody passing their driving test may have become entitled to be known as Joe/Jane Bloggs, BSM.
The history of our glorious honours system is now mainly forgotten. Who now remembers singing ‘Lloyd George knew my father, father knew Lloyd George?’ I can remember just about anybody of my age back even in the sixties singing this refrain, never knowing what it meant, although I think there was some understanding that there was something fishy about it. Only a lot later, when I read the story of Maundy Gregory and the scandals relating to honours for sale in the 1920s and 1930s did I begin to understand how corrupt the entire system was, and remains. No time now for going over that territory, but the lessons are still relevant. The history of these honours, some of which Lloyd George introduced as a money making venture make their rejection now a matter of real honour. I was pleased to read on the Huff Post website an article about 37 ‘celebrities’ who had rejected honours, from Rudyard Kipling to John Cleese. As yet, nobody has been given an honour for 'services to celebrity' or for that matter ’influencing’ - but I guess it’s only a matter of time.
Well, as regards my own overlooked honour. I have spent fifty years and anything between £100,000 (low estimate) to maybe £200,000 (inflation adjusted) supporting the British drinks industry. I have unfailingly done my best to contribute whatever I could to ensure that no brewery, distillery or whatever went bust. Perhaps this sacrifice on my part has had its own rewards, I can’t remember. Anyway, the best thing about it is I will continue with this vital contribution to society as long as I can, and in the meantime I drink to all those whose lives have been enhanced by the chance of briefly meeting a royal (or a Lord Lieutenant) to receive their well-earned gong. I’m not sure which way round it will be in the case of Sir Elton John (CH). But the sashes! The ribbons! The bling!
A means to the end
One of the most depressing features of our recent political past has been the rise of the deliberate falsehood. The decade just gone began with the lie that it was Labour’s profligacy that brought on the recession. Then the narrative became ‘blame the poor’ to balance the books. The books were never ‘balanced,’ total debt has risen and the annual deficit never disappeared and may well now sharply rise again. Despite not achieving any of its objectives, austerity was sold as a necessity—and many foresaw the truth of that. But enough of the voting public bought the lies, and the decade became a Tory decade (with a little help from the LibDems).
What is it about such political lying that makes it so successful? An article by Professor Ivor Gaber succinctly presents three reasons why what he calls ‘strategic lying’ succeeds:
First, because correcting inaccurate statements, by either journalists or fact checkers, might persuade the uncommitted, but those sympathetic to the original message will reject the correction. Indeed it can actually increase the intensity of their belief in the original lie as a means of avoiding cognitive dissonance.
Second, for those sympathetic to, or neutral about, the original message, the memory of the correction fades rapidly but the memory of the original lie remains.
Third, because of the tried and tested power of repetition, if a lie is repeated often enough its content becomes easier to process and subsequently regarded as more truthful than any new statements rebutting it.
So, in an age of ‘permission to lie’, it appears that the benefits of strategic lying far outweigh any costs which could well mean that soon enough all politicians will be doing it and the quality of our democracy will further decline.
Is this why Dominic Cummings is paid up to £100k a year from the public purse—to deceive the public? He has fine-tuned Mandy Rice Davies’ famous statement ‘He would [say that], wouldn’t he’ to ‘they would deny that wouldn’t they?’ It really is a problem (what, another one?) for democracy when such strategic lying becomes respectable. Politicians (and their observers) used to fret about whether negative campaigning was legitimate, but the top-down ordained strategic lying phenomenon takes things to a new level. Negative campaigning was seen to be OK so long as what you accused your opponent of was actually true. Does this new, political amorality herald the end of seemingly guileless politicians like Jeremy Corbyn ever rising to the top again? Many ambitious politicians in the future will shudder at the thought of leaving such a useful tool as ‘strategic lying’ unused in the tool box.
How worried should we be about what 2020 beckons? The UK will be the focus for three dominant themes: climate change, Brexit and break-up. Climate change comes first because it is by a country mile more important than practically everything else combined, and of course the UK will host the COP conference in Glasgow towards the end of the year. I regret to say I don’t see any progress being made on that front. The Copenhagen COP meeting in 2009 was widely regarded as the ‘last chance saloon’ and ever since—a whole decade for God’s sake—participants have been drinking themselves under the table, a bunch of unreformed alcoholics (can you blame them?).
Brexit next. A UK/EU trade deal may easily fail to materialise by December 31st next year, in which case we crash out without a deal. In the year ending June, 2019 of the UK’s total trade of £1,336.5bn, £654bn was with the EU. Our next biggest market was the US, amounting to £190bn.(ONS figures) It would seem clear where our bread is mainly buttered, so why wouldn’t we want to maintain a most favoured status with the EU? But how compatible will such a deal be with whatever new deal we might strike with the land of chlorinated chicken and defenestrated environmental protections (Trump has abandoned scores of US environmental regulations since being elected)? Our beloved Prime Minister may feel somewhat conflicted. Surely not getting a new, expansionary deal with the US would negate the whole point of Brexit (never mind the ‘taking back control’ bullshit)? Other markets are dwarfed by our two biggest: total trade with China for example came to £68bn. So unless we really want to cut our nose off to spite our face, we should aim for a deal on practically the current terms with the EU. That would suit them, so it shouldn’t actually be difficult to achieve by the end of next year—it will be interesting to see by whom, and how that prospect will be undermined.
Thirdly, the break-up of the UK. Let’s get on with it. The imperial crap is over.
The all new Titfield Thunderbolt
I used to think that high speed rail was the solution to the problem of domestic aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions, but I’ve changed my mind. HS2 has all the makings of a complete disaster. It has become abundantly clear that its price cannot be contained, so the standard cost/benefit ratio has been revised downwards ever since the first estimate of its costs came in. Its costs won’t just be financial, of course. There is a carbon cost in its making—all that carbon intensive concrete for example—coming at a time when we are supposed to be heading towards net zero carbon (if we can believe Johnson is the least bit interested in that subject). Then there is the opportunity cost, that is, what could have been done with all that money if it was spent on something else? Rail journey times and punctuality could be greatly improved at a fraction of the cost of HS2. Our existing rail network could be improved, e.g. with more passing loops to better accommodate faster and slower trains, with more electrification and simply better maintenance. In my mind there is something rather stupid about the idea of travelling from York to London, via Birmingham to cut a few minutes off my journey time. Perhaps it’s time we learnt how to go a bit slower and make better use of our time. And start taxing aviation fuel to reflect its external costs, namely its impact on the climate. But HS2, very much like Trident is a super expensive vanity project and who are the vainest people in the land?
Don't make his Tory
Perhaps one of the best forms of Brexit relief is a trip to Europe. I’ve just returned from Amsterdam, and even in its over-crowded state there are escapes from the aimlessly meandering crowds available. The Van Gogh Museum at 9am is one of my regular haunts—start on the top floor and work your way down, and for the most part you have the place to yourself—the crowds always start at the bottom and work their way up. Obviously this only works by arriving at opening time. Next stop for me is next door, the always thought provoking Stedelijk contemporary art gallery with its massive and eccentric bath-tub extension. Crowds are not generally a problem here. Perhaps the threat of a giant bath doesn’t appeal to everybody. So, a couple of days in the beating heart of Europe (by ferry from Hull) provides a fillip in these dark days, even if I guiltily enjoyed a slight boost to the value of my cash thanks to Johnson’s victory. I can’t think of any other benefits, and he’s already reneging on ’promises’ made on e.g. workers’ rights, the minimum wage, etc. The poster illustrated here (seen in Rotterdam) kind of expresses what the story is, though it seems to have suffered in translation. It should of course say Don’t make Boris’s story—Make the future. At least they get it in Rotterdam.
Socialists in America?
As we look to the US for ideas, now that we are about to become equal partners (sic) here’s something that Johnson & Co. should look at: the move by Kansas City authorities to make all bus travel free. Incredible as it may seem, this act of socialism is being enacted in mid-America, in a largely Republican state. If only they knew some people might call such an idea ‘socialist’ - that could soon derail it. But there are plenty of reasons why such an idea makes good sense, which I’m sure we can all guess. So as Johnson searches for ways of embedding his victories in the hard-bitten north of England, might he not turn to simple ideas such as this to further ingratiate himself with the working classes? He did not after all as Mayor of London dare to cancel the Freedom Pass, which as I understand it gives every London resident aged over 60 free travel on all modes of public transport. For early political gains, free public transport (well, at least on the buses) would be a quick win. And because it can be said that they’re doing it in Kansas, nobody—even, say for example, Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian—has to worry that it’s SOCIALIST and is therefore by definition a massive vote loser.
All has been said and not done
+So, absolutely (again coining a non-phrase beloved of interviewees on the Today programme) the race for the leadership of the Labour Party has begun. The most immediately painful aspect to this is that for several months the UK’s opposition party is going to be allowing the Tories to get away with all sorts of lies, deception and the like, as happened in 2010. Well, so be it, I guess there’s not a lot we can do about that. As Labour’s leadership hopefuls come forward I shall watch closely to see who is most likely to ditch Labour’s new found environmentalism. If we end up with a leader who retreats from the green policies in our 2019 manifesto, I will have to consider whether he or she is actually to be taken seriously. The days for mouthing platitudinous best wishes for our children and grandchildren are over. This is the time for real effort and given that we now face on this front several years’ worth of wasted time under Johnson, Labour’s task in 2024/5 is going to be much greater than before. This is the only test I have for the leadership contenders. Nothing else matters more. A failure on this front will see the new leader losing at least one long standing member.
+Hold the front page!! The Madrid climate change conference has broken up without a result. This time honoured tradition seems as likely to be broken these days as me discovering an original Leonardo da Vinci in the attic. Our new government says it is disappointed with the outcome. We know they’re telling the truth. The interesting climate change development will be how Johnson prepares for next year’s conference, to be held in Glasgow. Will he convince his mate Trump to attend? Coinciding with the US elections, this poses a number of questions. Trump could perform a complete policy U-turn, and say he’s in favour of climate change action after all. This could make sense of the fact that since his election, when he promised to reinvigorate the coal industry, more mines have closed down.
+Back on the Labour Party front, I’m a bit dis-chuffed with those ever so clever deep centrist thinkers who pronounce disparagingly of the tendency of leftists to put their principles (bad) before power (good). Principled capitalists get away with power all the time.
Review your purchase
What is life going to be like after Brexit, when everything tumbles into a state of total market freedom? We’re going to have to rely on internet reviews even more to find out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve been looking for things using the search term ‘motion’. A clear picture emerged from only a few reviews:
“Firstly, this product comes with only Polish installation instructions; fortunately, it’s not difficult to install. However what isn’t clear in the listing is that it is smaller & therefore does not fit into a standard pattress. I managed to make an adapter plate in order to mount it the way I need, but it was a waste of time because once installed I discovered that the detection range is very poor. It’s claimed 160 degrees is dubious – it behaved much worse than a cheaper 140 degree sensor I intended to replace. Sent back for a refund. Opening the box, these seemed fine. The plastic is a totally different plastic to usual poo bags, it's more rustly and seems thicket. However after the first use 3/4 of a roll I found that when trying to turn the bags inside out as you need to when picking up a handful of poo they have no flexibility and rip right down the middle around half of the time
“What did cause me difficulty was the extreme sensitivity of the motion sensor. I have a similar device fitted to the ceiling in my porch, which works very well as people and dogs come and go through the doors at either end. There's no messing about with light switches when you're dealing with a couple of dogs who need cleaning-up after being out in the rain. So I thought I would install a similar arrangement for the set of tiny LEDS in the en-suite adjoining our master bedroom. Who wants to grope for a light-switch when their brain is befuddled at two in the morning? Let technology do the work; set it to remain on for twenty seconds after detecting the last movement, and light-switch night terrors would be history. Well the box is nice and the bags seem really strong, but i have had these a week now thus using around 15 and I would say 10-11 of them have ripped as i try to turn them inside out. I only have a little jug wouldn’t want to try and pick a hefty one up with these!
“Such a waist of money. All bag split open when you try to take if off the role and if your successful getting one off without splitting it then your finger gose through when your picking up the [poo]. DONT BUY waist of money.”
OK. I have copied two or three reviews from the net to mash together two disparate meanings of motion (I imagine you think I think that’s funny. You’re right.). But the point is, we are moving towards a place where we don’t want interfering bureaucrats in Brussels or anywhere else telling us what’s good or bad, not when we’ve got Trip Advisor and TrustPilot, etc., etc. because in a marketplace governed by the complete and perfect delivery of knowledge our purchasing decisions will all be based on perfect market knowledge (obviously). It sounds so simple! It’s self-regulating! Bad guys will be driven out! And we’re hooked on it. It doesn’t seem to matter that many reviews will be false, whereas it is hard to falsify a law—I’m afraid capitalism is usually five steps ahead of the law anyway, and now that our lawmakers are about to find they have less to do, we’ll all become even more beholden to Trip Advisor et al. Great stuff! Keep the crap out of my life! We’re all free! The rip-offs will die out just like that!
I recognise of course that what I have chosen as exciting examples of failed expectations expose what things are like even whilst we are still members of the EU. Nothing’s perfect. But how much better will they be when we’re free—eh? No more fingers ‘going through’ I dare say. What will slip through our fingers is the bigger picture, whilst we’re distracted fretting over our micro-consumer choices.
All over bar the pouting
+Prime Minister Johnson now owns Brexit 110%. Indeed, he has well and truly staked his entire reputation on delivering it. But this does not simply mean ‘leaving’ the EU on January 31st—it means that the effect of Brexit should be noticeable in our everyday lives, very much for the better. If things get worse, as most economists predict, then quite a few people are going to end up with buyer’s remorse. Perhaps a Black Wednesday moment beckons. Je ne regrette rien.
+A key revelation of the leaked secret trade talks document brandished by Jeremy Corbyn was the demand of the Americans that ‘climate change’ should not feature anywhere. Trump doesn’t believe in climate change, so that’s hardly a surprise. The lip service that Johnson gives the subject will be exposed in the big, beautiful trade deal he wants with the US. This sadly will be a more negative aspect of any agreement than the price of drugs, bad though that is.
+I read an article by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian today, hoping to find him patting his back for his role in demonising Corbyn. Unfortunately, the man is too modest. Nor did he apologise. But he’s Mr Angry. It seems nobody paid proper attention to him, a pouting prophet without a land.
+The Scottish question is going to be up there with Brexit. The Tories say they won’t allow another independence referendum, largely because they have the word ‘unionist’ in their official title. But Scotland doesn’t deliver very much for the Tories, and if their new Maoist tendency wins the day, they will allow a referendum to take place, albeit not straight away. If Scotland were to gain independence, it would at a stroke remove one of the oft irritating obstacles to Tory hegemony in England. This could be coupled with the now inevitable constitutional and electoral gerrymandering the Tories plan.
+If Labour is ever going to rebuild itself in Scotland - where once again we're down to one MP - then the time has clearly arrived for Labour north of the border to become fully independent. I think the same should be true in Wales. For the rest of us, we need a Labour Party that can represent England, which is after all where 90% of the UK population resides. If the Party cannot figure this one out, it's going to be out of power for a very long time, and an ugly form of nationalism will secure its grip.
The mourning after
What to say? A few quick thoughts. Firstly, the electorate. They have given a mandate to a known, serial, mendacious liar. Surely, they chose to ignore that fact for whatever reason (well, actually Brexit) and in doing so they will have to keep their fingers crossed that anything he promised comes to pass. Most of it won’t come to pass, and the country will continue on its merry way towards the fan. So—since I’m no longer a politician, I feel I can openly contradict the received wisdom that 'The People are always right.’ They aren’t, and stupidity can be manifest just as much in a crowd as in an individual.
Secondly, following on from that, Johnson has been given a mandate to do whatever he likes. Since he brazenly lied so much, he now has a liar’s licence. Apart from Brexit, nobody expects anything from him (not least since he made few policy commitments that withstood scrutiny). He has a blank sheet of paper in front of him, and in the hands of such a feckless individual (he doesn't even know how many children he has) he will be prey to every passing fancy. That is, every Trumpian whim.
Thirdly, as for Labour, I regretfully say Tony Blair was right. He once told the Parliamentary Labour Party that to win elections we had to stand on Tory territory. Be Tory lite. This country doesn’t want a left wing government, and thinking about it, regardless of the anomaly of the Attlee government (exceptional circumstances) it never has. Those of us on the left would prefer to deny this, but the evidence is there for all to see. Even 'our own’ once solid supporters demonstrated this last night.
Fourthly, whilst Brexit was clearly the most significant factor in this election, it in itself as many people have said was only the consequence of cumulative factors, many of which stem from the new age of insecurity in which we live. Brexit or no, those factors still exist and will now be made worse (e.g. since Johnson will be swayed by Trump on climate change, much worse). Our country is in denial.
Fifthly, two positives from yesterday’s poll: the SNP have won a clear mandate for another independence referendum. In a way, Johnson’s victory is a dream come true for them, although he will resist giving in to this demand. There is going to be a constitutional showdown. If I lived in Scotland I would vote for independence. It might help little England to wake up to its true status. Secondly, most elections these days deliver a Portillo moment. We need something to smile about the day after a defeat, and this time Jo Swinson duly stepped up to the plate. Well done Jo, I’m sure you’ll soon land on your feet. But perhaps not in P.R.