It won’t be long before we see the first books published on the subject of coronavirus and capitalism. That is, how the latter is both a propagator of and a parasite on the former. The spread of this virus is a natural consequence of globalisation, which even Sun readers may not find surprising. (Daily Express readers look away now). Since there will inevitably be an avalanche of books on this subject by people better qualified than me I won’t dwell too much on the connection, except to say the great strength of our current post-historical model is that in all of this current hysteria there are so many new opportunities emerging for the visionaries—it’s unbelievable!
Some people have even gone so far as to suggest that it’s all about clearing out the elderly . . . i.e. those who are non-contributors, a net cost on the society of the young, who are increasingly fewer in number. I believe there are a number of conspiracy theories floating around on this theme. Where’s Malthus when you need him? Social scientists will be having a field day. Moral panics take certain forms and express themselves in certain ways. Currently we in the UK are torn between being British (that is to say phlegmatic, perhaps not the best word at the moment) and determinedly alarmed. I am sure this is what it means to be an island culture. On the one hand we want our government to reassure us, not least because we were the greatest civilising force in the world (apropos Boris Churchill), but on the other hand we feel vulnerable because we are so insecure we wonder if all our hand sanitiser gels are being imported from China (I was up early yesterday and managed to get two little bottles for 75p each. I could use a bit from both and maybe put the rest on eBay for £10 each—what do you think?)
As a country which has been self-isolating for the last few years, we seem to be facing this pandemic with insolent confidence. Could this really be the explanation for why our response to coronavirus is so less robust than just about every other country in Europe, that because we’re all Brexiteers now, we’re immune? If you’ve got a Farage mindset, how hard is it going to be to accept that much of what goes on in the world (outwith sophisticated trading systems, and hardly even then) doesn’t respect political borders anymore? Those bloody foreigners! Closing all their schools at the drop of a hat . . well, I think the drift of this is clear, and with any luck we’ll have an extension of the Brexit period (if this May’s elections can be delayed for a year, so can Brexit negotiations) and people will take a breather (apart from the elderly) and realise that self-isolation is no insulation from the forces, some natural, some human, that rule this world. If only . . .
Much of the mainstream commentary on Coronavirus has focussed on its global economic impact, and this seems reasonable enough at first sight. GDP forecasts have been downgraded, share prices are down and governments have been scrambling to both reassure their publics whilst at the same time finding themselves sowing the seeds of panic (which is a narrative about trust in government these days). The whole issue has been framed, in other words, in classic fatalistic capitalist terms, which is to say we must protect the model, now extended globally, which through its in-built strength will learn how to extract value added (i.e. profit) from this epidemic of fear and return us to normality. As with the so-called credit crunch, it’s a case of ‘bear with us’ rather than ‘change the system.’ For this system, like water, knows how to find the natural level of profit and thus our future success in all that we do.
Let’s be a little more imaginative and suggest that Coronavirus is nature’s way of saying ‘we’re having a general strike.’ For what is happening is not dissimilar to a general strike. On an increasingly massive scale, labour has been withdrawn. It is not those temporarily untapped natural resources left underground that bothers the international finance markets (I’m sure such hiccups can be corrected with futures trading), it is the withdrawal of labour, and indeed the interruption of spending power of workers that is upsetting the global economy. It is the potential for worker rebellion in the aftermath of this virus that will be worrying the capitalist ruling classes of China and elsewhere. Periods of economic upheaval always sow the seeds of dissent.
Perhaps then we should welcome the overwhelming media hype being given to this latest global reminder of our vulnerabilities as a species. The more we are fed a 24/7 diet of impending doom, the more people might be encouraged to ask what were the critical steps that led us to this particular calamity and how often might it be repeated? Or is that wishful thinking? Err, well it is wishful thinking. Individuals have, by and large capitulated to the powers that control their lives, and don’t/won’t grasp the power of their collective strength. Hence the decline in trade union membership. Hence the impotent fretting over whether my individual actions might make any difference. There are of course counter examples where collective action is being taken. But such altruism, whilst commendable is no match, e.g. to your desire to being well stocked up on toilet paper. It is my rather depressing view that societal collapse is only two or three notches down the scale of what we may call ‘trust in the system’ which is to say not very much. But on the more hopeful front, such collapses can eventually lead to positive outcomes, after the pain barrier has been conquered. I cite the election of a Labour government in 1945 as evidence of that. The trouble with today’s challenges is that they are more incipient and stem from our own behaviour, not an outside ‘other.’ The transition to an effective response is thus far harder to achieve. None of which is very helpful to our next Clem Attlee, whoever she or he may be.
A lot of the advice about Coronavirus seems to be directed at that vulnerable group, the ‘elderly.’ The assumption seems to be that everyone knows what this word means. That it is never officially defined leaves one wondering whether it applies to oneself. Perhaps, when life expectancy was shorter than it is now the word could have been applied to anyone in receipt of a pension—but with the pension qualification year drifting ever upwards— with the consequent assumption that working lives are to be that much longer, would it be right to say that people of working age could be classed as ’elderly?’ I don’t think that fits with our original understanding of the word.
The Oxford English Dictionary isn’t a huge help. Elderly is there defined as ’Somewhat old, verging on old age.’ What is thought of as being old rather depends on how old you are. Some Pew Centre Research discovered that people aged between 30 and 49 thought old age began at 69; between ages 50 and 64 old age started at 72 and if they were aged over 65 they thought old age started at 74.
Women on average were found to believe that old age starts at 70, whereas men thought it was at age 66. Given that women tend to live longer than men, perhaps that is not surprising.
So for the purposes of taking the precautionary approach to Coronavirus, should I at age 66 (going on 67) self-isolate? Perhaps it’s not all down to age. There are other things which might indicate if you are elderly or not. For example, do you read the Daily Telegraph? Do you still go to church? Did you vote for Brexit? Do you go on cruises? Do you still think of Prince Charles as that nice young man?
+I was in London for a couple of days this week, mainly for the purpose of listening to Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou give Humanists UK’s annual Rosalind Franklin lecture, entitled Made in man’s image: How God’s body haunts us today. A brilliant talk, which I will return to shortly.
+Buried in the news this week was the story that the Equality and Human Rights Commission had been asked by the Muslim Council of Great Britain to conduct an inquiry into Islamaphobia in the Tory Party, after they had passed on to the EHRC 300 documented complaints. What was the EHRC’s response? Some woolly remarks about waiting to see what was happening with the long promised but not delivered internal party investigation. The EHRC didn’t give the same latitude to the Labour Party. No surprise there then. And no surprise either that this story has not become a featured story on the BBC News website.
+Is it ever right to rejoice in other people’s difficulties? I’m afraid I have to sheepishly admit that yes, it is perfectly OK in certain circumstances. It has brought a smile to my face to see the Barclay brothers, the tax-savvy creatures (that’s not libellous, is it?) who own the Daily Telegraph engaging in something akin to sibling sibilation. It’s great that their respective families are now fully exposed in the great public washing machine for the money grubbing press barons they are. The Johnson-loving readership of the Telegraph, many of it as old as the octogenarian twins themselves are a dying breed and their imminent demise is something much to be welcomed. Sooner the better. Ohhh! Dear!
+The fate of Flybe has served several useful functions. It has shown up the emptiness of Johnson’s government’s ‘commitment to the regions.’ It has shown up the emptiness of ‘taking back control’ post-Brexit. The government, post-Brexit could easily have manufactured an excuse to shovel some money Flybe’s way. EU governments do it all the time. It has shown up the vacuity of the argument that we need more runway capacity in the UK. It has revealed the contradictions in UK climate change policy. All these things would give anyone a headache, although I imagine Johnson has some Mogadon-like drug to keep his brain from getting frazzled.
The BBC interviewed a Cornwall resident who used Flybe to commute to London. If that’s what regional connectivity means, it’s as well that a major spanner has been chucked into the works. To aspire to a nice life in the country, remote from the great clogged-up capital, but to enjoy all the benefits of the city—it’s not something everyone by definition could attain, nor expect. Sometimes living on the fringe is no bad thing. The big difference between the awful dump that is Blackpool and the pristine perfection that is Scarborough (the original seaside resort) is that we don’t have a motorway right to the beach. Some locals think that turning the A64 into a motorway would be a good idea, but it would destroy everything that Scarborough is. Sometimes, surely, the harder a place is to access the greater the reward when one gets there. The idea that everywhere should be accessible in the shortest possible time is to assert that our regions should be homogenised, just as the pervasive presence of Starbucks et al drives out the local, independent provider. So, it may be surmised that the demise of Flybe and its role in ‘connectivity’ is neither here nor there so far as I am concerned. One day I may get to Tate St Ives and the visit may be all the more rewarding for having taken two days.
+Following on from yesterday’s cheery blog, it’s at times like these that we might wish we had a real Delphic Oracle (known as the Pythia, Apollo’s appointed voice). ‘While in a trance the Pythia "raved" – probably a form of ecstatic speech – and her ravings were "translated" by the priests of the temple into elegant hexameters.’ (Wikipedia) Now we have a prime ministerial scholar of classical knowledge whose trances are translated by SPADS (Special Advisors) although maybe not into elegant hexameters. I am prompted to wonder about the possibility of foreseeing the future because of the unfolding calamities of Coronavirus, climate change and Brexit. If the current slide in share values is anything to go by, the oracles of the City have already placed their bets (and hedge fund types must be having a good laugh).
+At least one priest who was booted off our very own Mount Parnassus, the egg-pated oik Sajid David may have been foiled in his own attempt to make matters worse. He has been widely quoted today saying it was his intention in the forthcoming Budget to cut income tax by 2p. No doubt he had bigger tax cuts in mind for top earners. Sorry, I meant to say ‘top wealth creators.’ I hope his successor thinks twice before adopting such an approach. We are shortly about to witness (as if we haven’t already) the deleterious impact of reduced public expenditure on our ability to cope, from flood defences to the NHS. The pandemics (in all but name) now sweeping the planet will call upon public resources as never before. When climate change science became more politically mainstream, the talk was all about mitigation, but as we have seen since Kyoto, it was all mostly just talk. Adaptation on the other hand was seen as somewhat defeatist. It was a battle between the sunny uplands of wishful thinking and the fatalist gloom of dark foreboding. But now we have no choice but to adapt to the unfolding new realities, and that calls for unprecedented levels of investment, not fiscal gimmicks and political games.
+Talking of political games, ‘peace’ is about to descend on Afghanistan as the US in their exclusive talks with the Taliban edge towards signing a deal which would allow US troops to withdraw. This is very important for Trump in an election year and of course the Taliban know it. What they also know is that as soon as circumstances allow they will resume their regime of terror, and in all likelihood Trump won’t by then giving a flying f**k. He will have yet another promise delivered! And there’ll still be time for Nobel Peace Prize nominations! (This year Trump will be up against Greta Thunberg though, and that could be awkward. But Trump possibly deserves his peace gong more than Obama did. That’s saying something).
Anyway, I’m a bit conflicted over this so-called Afghanistan peace deal. The Taliban can’t be trusted of course, and it won’t be long before women are once again treated to the same level of contempt they were twenty years ago—for example. But what of the UN? When I was a newly elected MP in 2001 I felt compelled to back a war which had the overwhelming support of the UN, so where is the UN now? Indeed, where is the supposedly democratically elected government of that benighted country in these negotiations? The fact that that government appears to be excluded from these talks shows where the real power in Afghanistan lies, and very sadly I have to confess that all the sacrifices made by our forces were for a lost cause. Some of my colleagues knew this from the beginning. Where is Phillip Larkin when you need him? ‘Your leaders fuck you up/they don’t mean to . .'
+It is, sadly, indubitably the case that the vast majority of the British public couldn’t give a Cod’s Wallop about the fate of Julian Assange, a person who is presented as a rapist suspect, a narcissist, a fugitive from justice and a foreigner to boot who had the temerity to hang out in the Ecuadorian Embassy for several years thus necessitating PC Plod and colleagues from the Metropolitan Police to rack up millions in publicly funded overtime waiting to feel his collar should he try to escape. People might feel differently if they read Craig Murray’s reportage of Assange’s current extradition hearing, taking place at the behest of the US government. Note: this is an extradition hearing, not a trial. Assange is innocent until proven guilty at least under UK law, but his treatment and imprisonment for many months suggests the verdict is in. But we don’t have political show trials in the UK, do we? I find it worrying that such a case, which is in effect a mini-trial, can be determined by a single magistrate. At least it took several magistrates to unleash the Peterloo massacre.
+But our courts are robust are they not? We’ve had the Supreme Court striking down Johnson’s bogus prorogation of Parliament, and now Heathrow runway three has been kicked into touch (for the time being) by the Appeal Court which rightly wondered how this massive infrastructure development could possibly conform to the legal obligation to meet climate change targets. It’s a question which needs a serious answer, and the private company that operates Heathrow will have to answer it (they can’t satisfactorily of course). But the irony is seeing the government hiding behind the court’s decision, as if it had nothing to say on the matter. The Transport Secretary, who currently goes by the name Grant Shapps says it’s nowt to do wi’ us, Heathrow’s a private company. But at the same time, the government says we need more runway capacity (provided flight paths are not over my country estate). Perhaps a few runways could be sprinkled over ‘red wall’ seats in the north.
+It seems to me that we are heading for a perfect storm, largely of human making. The stock markets are now reacting to Coronavirus which could lead to an economic downturn equal to that of 2008. If such be the case, more austerity will follow, thus reducing still further our capacity to respond effectively to the imminent/present threats. Lurking in the background is Brexit, and I imagine for Johnson’s government these other crises will come in very handy in deflecting blame for Brexit’s contribution to our woes.
+I spent a very pleasant day in York today. The omens it has to be said weren’t good. When I picked my paper up on the way to the station, the red topped rags were talking up panic hitting schools because of the Coronavirus—PANIC!! - and it seems the Daily Express was telling its readers not to start stockpiling. Don’t panic! Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army couldn't have been prouder. Then, on the train a woman a bit older than me (i.e. elderly) got on in the same compartment and was sniffing profusely. That’s bad enough at the best of times. And I heard one or two people coughing. Naturally, one just sits there trying hard not to breathe, but that’s hard for 50 minutes.
+One upside of this hysteria is that we can all start wearing face masks, and so foil all the new face recognition technologies being introduced very gratuitously by the forces of law and order.
+And now that we’re in the hands of experts telling us how best to beat the virus where is Michael Gove telling us not to pay attention to experts?
+As far as I’m concerned I’ll carry on calling this virus by its original name, Coronavirus. I know it now has a new official name. So has Wind ‘it was only a small accident’ scale.
+York not only had (it was reported and then somehow forgotten) two positive reports of virus stricken people, but has much more visibly been stricken by flooding. Now the only crowds to be seen are on Lendal Bridge taking photographs of the swollen River Ouse. My own picture (above) was taken in a more discreet location. If only I’d brought a selfie stick—me and the floods! The city did seem a lot quieter than normal—tourists from China were notably absent—so there’ll be a double whammy local economy-wise.
+The pubs were quieter too. One of my favourites, the tiny Blue Bell, consistently one of York’s deservedly top ranked watering holes, was a bit like God’s waiting room with each corner of the front room occupied by a single old geezer nursing his last pint before whatever fate might beckon. At least I found a seat, and was able to pick up the pub’s Yorkshire Post. The front page headline was ‘Peer quits as report into abuse condemns inaction.’ You don’t get tabloid headlines in the Yorkshire Post—this one's practically a full sentence. The story related the resignation of David Steel from the LibDems and from the House of Lords after he was severely criticised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse for not doing anything to bring the child abuser ’Sir’ Cyril Smith to book. The story went further: “The report also identified how former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and ex-Conservative Party Chairman Norman Tebbit were aware of rumours that MP Peter Morrison [Thatcher’s Private Parliamentary Secretary] [had] a penchant for small boys but did nothing about it.”
So—will we hear more about this from Norman Tebbit? Or will he be left alone? There is another who might have been party to this omerta, one Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s press secretary. By pure coincidence he had a column in today’s Yorkshire Post (yes, he’s still alive, although I harbour the possibility that his columns are now the product of some sort of algorithmic process). Ingham was writing about the alleged bullying antics of Home Secretary Pritti Patel. Bernard was well versed in the ways of his masters, and even once had to tell Thatcher to her face that she was being ’bossy.’ He then wrote “Peter Morrison (her PPS) told me I had upset her. He said he had told her it was only because I loved her. Steady on Peter, I said.”
All very chummy. Very chummy indeed.
Decision time approaches. Who to vote for to be the next Labour Leader? It remains the probability that I will vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey, despite some serious reservations. For example, of the three candidates for leadership, hers is the campaign I have not heard from. Emails came from the other two, and a leaflet from Keir Starmer. But despite receiving perhaps upwards of £400,000 worth of donations of money and in kind, I have received nothing directly from Long-Bailey. As a former party organiser, this suggests to me a not very well organised campaign. Perhaps with Jon Lansman of Momentum organising it and me not being in ‘Momentum’ perhaps I am not deserving of a communication?
Of course the big question hanging over this contest is who members might think is the most electable? In which case, they would choose Starmer, a) because ‘he’s a man and looks the part’ and b) because he is a centrist establishment type (with membership of the Trilateral Commission to boot). I reject this proposition. Who exactly today knows what will be the winning characteristics in five years’ time? Who knows what the issues will be? Who will be best placed to address those issues—one of which is climate change, steadily creeping up the agenda? I guess some members are worried that Long-Bailey is the Corbyn continuity candidate, and his is a project closely associated with failure. But I don’t think that argument holds. To my knowledge the intense level of smears thrown at Corbyn will not stick on Long-Bailey. Nor will the next election be a surrogate referendum on Brexit. And Long-Bailey will have plenty of time to carve out her own agenda. There is also the strong possibility Johnson will fail on several fronts, one of the most testing of which will be meeting the expectations of voters in the so-called ‘red wall’ seats. How many times have many of these former mining and industrial areas been promised the earth, only to find that politicians do not work miracles (at least in the lifetime of a single parliament)? It’s not inevitable that these voters will flock back to Labour. I think it’s even less inevitable that they would flock back to a centrist, post-Blairite Labour. I suspect many of them voted for Johnson because they thought he was sufficiently radical to ‘make Britain great again’ with presumed knock-on effects for their run-down estates.
Notably, Tony Blair hasn’t publicly backed either of the centrist leadership candidates, but he has backed Ian Murray, Scotland’s only Labour MP for deputy leader. As for my vote for the Deputy, that will go to the person who is most likely to give unstinting support to the leader—we don’t need another Tom Watson type.
Hijacking a significant anniversary for political ends—that apparently is the master plan. Having failed to get the bongs of Big Ben to sound on the 31st January, ‘Brexit day’ Johnson has now decreed that Churchill’s VE Victory speech must be broadcast in public places on the 8th May, the 75th anniversary of victory in Europe. This date has been declared a bank holiday, being shifted from the previous Monday’s usual slot. I don’t suppose there’ll be much opposition to this particular date shifting, but it craftily achieves another long-held Tory ambition—to end the association of a public holiday with International Workers Day. They have wanted to shift this bank holiday since 2011, to ‘Trafalgar Day’ in October. This year’s change is going to be a deft little move to make that happen. I don’t suppose the public will react very much to such a change, indeed they may welcome a bank holiday in the long holiday-free autumn period. But it will be one of those little tell-tale signs of contempt for workers which ‘ex-red wall’ voters in the north may wish to mark. Johnson cares little for them, and any concern he had will evaporate as fast as has his demonstration of concern for flood victims, who now that the election is out of the way have experienced neither sight nor sound of him.
For my money I would have an extra public holiday in autumn—it would be on the Monday after Remembrance Sunday– but given Johnson’s lamentable performance at last year’s Cenotaph ceremony, he probably doesn’t want to go there.
A rather rude and perhaps typically ignorant petrolhead made it on to the BBC Today programme this morning to talk about possible rises in fuel duty. The lad wanted a reduction of 3p, and naturally felt that motorists get the blame for too much these days. In support of his argument he cited the factoid that the UK is only responsible for 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions. This kind of factoid is used in all sorts of debates, not least by the aviation sector, which claims to be ‘only’ responsible for 2% of CO2 emissions. But the stupidity of this style of defence is plain for all to see—or at least those who want to see. For a start, we’re only 0.8% of the world’s population, so we’re already using more than our fair share; but the factoid almost certainly won’t take account of imported, embedded CO2 emissions (e.g. on goods from China or the US) which would double our tally. Then, if those countries which could say ‘we’re only responsible for 1%’ were tallied up, we would soon overtake the country emissions of China and the US. I wonder if 66 million Chinese are responsible for the same level of emissions as we 66 million Brits? I very much doubt it. And the Chinese have a point when they ask on whose tally should embedded emissions be counted? It’s been a sticking point.
It would be nice to think that that royal petrolhead, Prince Charles could put his fellow numpties straight—he has some environmental cred hasn’t he? But perhaps not. In today’s Guardian he is photographed admiring the new Aston Martin DBX, the firm’s first SUV, priced at £158,000 and which the company hopes ‘will widen the brand’s appeal to women.’ The car looks typically and unnecessarily massive, but if you have £158,000 to waste and your parking skills are up to scratch, who cares?