It seems like a rare occasion when a Labour MP is interviewed on the BBC on a subject which is not simply about Labour’s internal problems. Perhaps I’m listening to the wrong programmes. So it was potentially interesting to find Shadow Chancellor Annaliese Dodds being interviewed on the PM programme this evening. The question, which perhaps she had been notified of beforehand was why has the UK got a worse recession than any similar country (along with a worse death rate)? Sadly, I didn’t discern any answer at all, but merely a re-iteration of the situation with no substantial analysis, and certainly no offer of an alternative set of policies. I have to say I believe John McDonnell wouldn’t have been shy of an answer to such a straightforward economic question. The more I hear from our front bench, the less I understand what Labour now stands for. Except ‘Tories are crap!’ which hardly requires an IQ of 50 to divine.
+South Wales police have had a very slight judicial rap over the knuckles for their semi-legal use of face recognition technology, following a case brought by a guy who was merely out shopping being found (wrongly) on a ‘watch list.’ In that case, it is clear that the force’s artificial intelligence systems weren’t quite up to speed. But now we’re all wearing facemasks and the whole surveillance scheme is up the spout. Perhaps we may all be told to wear face masks with our names on them, or maybe bar codes. I’m sure there’s a technical fix for this dilemma. It could be sold on the basis of being a bees knees, world beating track and trace system. Everything the state does is merely designed to keep us safe.
+John Swinney, the SNP’s education minister has offered a fulsome apology following the downgrading of Scottish A-level results (that was yet another successful algorithmic exercise). But his apology will do little harm to the SNP who will be able to claim they are at least being honest. It sounded quite refreshing compared to what we have to put up with south of the border.
+And in another day of breathless news, the Russians have it seems launched a Covid-19 vaccine, appropriately named ’Sputnik-5.’ Apparently Putin’s daughter has already taken the vaccine (shades of John Gummer here). Whether or not the drug works safely is clearly an issue, but hey—Russian athletes did pretty well in the Olympics didn’t they? Perhaps the same expertise is at play here. And surely Donald Trump will want to be first in the queue to order a few billion shots of it? Will there be a deal? Could this be Putin’s opportunity to save Trump’s re-election hopes?
I am watching less TV these days. This runs against the grain of the reported national average of 6.5 hours a day thanks to more people staying at home during the Covid-19 lockdown. What I have found is that a combination of staying in more, combined with Brexit doom is that I am much more inclined to only watch things with subtitles. The latest BBC4 Saturday night foreign TV slot was filled with The Last Wave, a French series of barely credible nonsense (unravel that). This is the only way one hears foreign languages now, a small compensation for not being able to visit foreign lands. Belgium I note is off limits again. I hope the Belgian TV industry gets its act together and makes a third series of Salamander, this time focused around my favourite bar in Bruges. It would be a small compensation for not being there. I would happily play a bit part as a British villain, although I imagine the competition for such a role would be tough.
The government is considering using the military to do something about the influx of refugees crossing the Channel on their inflatables. The idea is being touted by the Tory chair of the Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP. Pritti Patel is on board, unsurprisingly. But perhaps a different approach is called for. A policy based on the principle ‘you invade us, we’ll invade you.’ Many of the refugees are coming from countries we have ‘saved’ - Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. Trouble and strife in former colonies (e.g. Uganda and now Hong Kong) were no barriers to migration to the UK (in both those cases under Tory governments). The policy could be called ‘Reap what you sow.’ It might help future British governments think twice before embarking on military adventures.
+I feel a certain sense of inevitability about this. Following the BBC’s decision (under the cosh from the Tories) to limit free over-75s TV licenses to those on means tested benefits, I have received a missive from Cycling UK (formerly the Cycling Touring Club, CTC) that from next year it is withdrawing its over-65s concessionary membership rate. I expect other organisations of which I am a member to follow suit, as the wellspring of resentment against ‘rich pensioners’ gathers momentum. It may be argued that age related concessions used to be offered because pensioners were poor—nothing to do with the possibility that after decades of normal contributions a little relaxation was in order as people entered the autumn (sniff) of their lives. It is now becoming the common theme (if it isn’t already) that pensioners are a bunch of freeloaders, who got their degrees for nowt, paid off their mortgages, went on cruises and generally need to be punished for being the architects of a world headed into one crisis after another. When it suited the commentary, ‘baby boomers’ were the blessed generation who having survived post-war rationing helped develop the liberal economies which hailed the ‘end of history.’ Well, that’s all buggered, and a younger generation wants payback. As regards the Cycling UK proposal to cease offering pensioners an automatic discount, I shall vote against it. The increase takes membership from £30 to £48. They should cherish their older members. We’re a dying breed.
+I have discovered today what Labour currently stands for: Inquiries. Absent any significant policies of our own, since anything that is branded ‘JC’ had to be ditched, our stance now is to call for inquiries into anything and everything Johnson’s shite government fails to deliver. Today it was the failure to deliver 50 million PPE masks. Why do we need an inquiry? We know the answer already. It is time, five or six months into this pandemic for Starmer and Co to say how things would have been dealt with differently by Labour. It is not inspiring sitting behind somebody who only knows how to ask questions, and not provide answers.
This will not be to everyone’s taste, but I’ve just watched a 37-minute attempt at an interview with Trump, available here. The main thought that came to mind was ‘God help us.’ But that comes as no surprise. What perhaps was of passing interest was the effort made by the interviewer, a chap called Jonathan, to try to get the President to answer questions. Wishful thinking on that score. The interview has been widely reported, not least that Trump wished Ghislaine Maxwell ‘well’ - practically referring to her as an old friend (pity she won’t be tried and convicted whilst he still has the power to pardon her). What hasn’t been reported was Trump’s repeated remarks that Jeffrey Epstein may have died as a result of homicide. He clearly intended his well wishes to Maxwell to imply that she too might meet a grisly end in a state penitentiary. Given that Trump is so routinely thick one wonders whether he blurted out a known unknown, an unknown known, an unknown unknown or merely something he dimly remembered seeing in an intelligence briefing. No, that’s asking too much.
+A coalition of green groups has called for the banning of adverts for ‘Sports Utility Vehicles’ (SUVs). Well, join the club! A dozen or so years ago whilst in parliament I sought the introduction of tobacco-style warnings on car adverts, but the environmental movement paid no attention. I am now reminded that in practically every sphere of life there is a degree of proprietorialism, which is to say ‘If I didn’t think of it first, nobody else is allowed to think of it.’ This has been the undoing of the great Aubrey Meyer, whom I along with other MPs nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the origination of the Contraction and Convergence approach to tackling climate change. Because they hadn’t thought of it first, many green groups shied away from it, even denounced it. But none ever came up with a better plan. And poor old Aubrey was made a pariah for his (unpaid) troubles.
+We might do well to remember that the American invention of SUVs had everything to do with simple tax evasion. They were designed to take advantage of tax loopholes for vehicles which might be classed as semi-commercial. If I could have my way, all SUVs, e.g. in supermarket car parks should be forced to park together. In standard sized parking spaces.
+I read in the Guardian this morning that the champagne grape growing season has been particularly good this year, and that there is likely to be some crop left to rot since there is already a surplus of champagne in stock. The growers are up in arms that they will be forced to see so much waste. And the brand name producers don’t want to see their prices fall. In the end, the French government may have to intervene to dictate the terms of what is allowed to happen in what you may have thought might be a free market. But the French have their traditions. One of which is that ‘good’ champagne must never cost less than £60 a bottle, and God forbid it ever becomes as commonplace as Prosecco. There is a certain irony in that the iconic symbol of free market excess is itself unable to function in a free market. Were it not for state intervention, I suspect we’d be looking at the £5 bottle of champagne. But if that was the price, would it have any more cachet than a bottle of Lambrusco? At that price no self-respecting quaffer would want to touch it.
+Trump’s call for the 2020 elections to be postponed is as even some on his own side agree, thoroughly anti-democratic. We on this side of the Atlantic can see that quite clearly, and may scoff at yet another iteration of the President’s desire to become King. But with Johnson appointing 36 cronies and turncoats to the House of Lords—already one of the world’s largest legislative chambers, it would be well to remember that we already have somebody who thinks and acts as if he were a King. Or perhaps Johnson is merely trying to demonstrate how urgent the case is for the abolition of the House of Lords. I hope rubbing shoulders with this latest bunch of unworthies gives longer serving peers a burning sense of injustice.
+The BBC is in an awkward situation today, with the new system for giving some pensioners a free TV license starting—such freebies are now only available to those on pension credit. The government blames the BBC for this cut, when of course it originated from their own austerity programme. The BBC should promote the take-up of pension credit, enabling more pensioners then to get a free TV license. But if they did that, it would only cost them more in lost license revenue. On the other hand, a successful campaign could be revenge served cold. It is estimated that 1.6 million pensioners are missing out on claiming an average of £1,700 each (Wikipedia). If all those pensioners claimed, it would cost the government £2,720,000,000—rather more than the £750,000,000 the parsimonious Tory bastards cut from the BBC.
+Today is Yorkshire Day. Independence for Yorkshire!
+Losing weight for someone Johnson’s age and current proportions poses a risk—namely that he will suddenly look a lot older. The previously fleshed out wrinkles will reveal themselves, and he will look more care worn and shot than he does now. Confronting this new physog will the populace be so enamoured with his cheeky-chappie character? Or will the government’s new obesity campaign run on similar lines to the them and us model preferred by Dominic Cummings?
+An appeal to raise money to support Jeremy Corbyn in an impending libel trial launched by John Ware of Panorama infamy has raised around £300,000 in small donations. I am tempted to wonder if Ware launched a similar appeal for his legal expenses whether it would even make it to three quid.
+Under Starmer, Labour’s retreat from its 2019 manifesto has been conducted at full pelt. Under cover of the Coronavirus this does not seem to have upset that many Party members. But how would you know? With no party meetings, and no party conference later this year, the leader has been presented with an opportunity Blair could only have dreamt of.
+The single most prevalent form of litter here in bonny Scarborough is now the ubiquitous, discarded ‘single use’ face mask. Unless I am reliably advised otherwise, I shall wash my ‘single use’ masks each time after going out when I wash my hands. This will also ensure that washing does indeed last 20 seconds or more. It seems to me that there’s going to be a lot of senseless waste during this crisis—along with a lot of useless advice.
In a perverse way, the Labour Party’s best strategy currently is to cheer the Tories on. The more Johnson and Co. dig themselves into a hole, the more in theory we the opposition can benefit from the public’s reaction to that deep pit of despond we are all being plunged into. I suppose it’s an approach familiar to the Socialist Workers (sic) Party and Leninists everywhere. In a milder form, it’s the old saw that governments lose elections, oppositions don’t win them. Polls in the US suggest that this hypothesis will play out well for Joe Biden in November’s presidential election. Trump’s polarisation of support has left him it seems with a greater number of ‘enthusiastic’ supporters than Biden has garnered, but Biden can count on many more enthusiastic opponents of Trump—offsetting the relative lack of his own ‘enthusiastic’ supporters (all this stuff analysed on the FiveThirtyEight website). These sort of considerations will have an impact on those highly paid political advisors who hang around in the shadows of our own political system. Their judgements will weigh heavily on the media orientated behaviour of their frontsmen. Is it a mere coincidence that shortly after Trump began extolling the use of face masks, our own Johnson confessed that his government may have poorly assessed how the Coronavirus was spreading? What political signalling is going on here? A little (possibly too late) show of attrition to appease those who are still undecided about the incompetence of our Liar-in-Chief? I have to say that with this backdrop, had Corbyn still been Labour Leader media pundits would all be having a field day telling us how many open goals Jeremy had missed at PMQs. As it is, Starmer is a wondrous hero of forensic questioning (but he might perhaps remember that new leaders from the centre left-right generally have honeymoon periods) It will only take one (amazing) Johnson big success to put Labour on its back foot. I’ve not seen any evidence that Starmer is preparing for this possibility.