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I am basically a member of the UK Labour Party. I thank the late Baroness Thatcher, as I found her administration repulsive. I think though her greatest achievement was toxifying the Labour Party, and we are slowly making up for lost time. It is clear that some people are sick of being enslaved by financial markets, while some people seem to be doing extremely well, thank you. The way that the sick and disabled have been treated by the Liberal Democrats working for a ‘fair society and strong economy’, The annihilation of legal aid in their bid for a ‘fair society’ equally repels me. in conjunction with their Conservative masters disgusts me. In the Wartime coalition, Labour criticised the Conservatives’ policies and got credit for it. Instead, the Liberal Democrats have bent over backwards so much it hurts. They will reap what they so. We seem to have enough money to go to war, but not enough money to keep an adolescent with mental health problems out of a police cell for a night. The economy is clearly screwed, with falling tax receipts, in a race to the bottom with zero hour contracts favouring hedge funds and employers who don’t give a monkeys about workers’ rights. I have never seen David Cameron eat a bacon butty, but I don’t think I would like that either.
The LBC presenter didn’t know what to say.
The caller from Germany explained, ‘Germany thinks you’re a basket case’. While not totally convincing about his sources, he then articulated an argument to do with how Britain’s perception of its own brilliance wound people up. Exceptionalism in the wrong place.
The next caller simply started, “I agree with the previous caller”.
The New York Times has written a series of articles about how Britain is in decline. We can of course debate on the details but Britain is experiencing a worse energy crisis than the rest of Europe, a 37 year low of the pound against the dollar, and gross levels of inequality.
The Queen’s death was a hit for those who believe in the Monarchy and those who don’t alike.. Some ardent republicans found themselves soul-searching how they had quite liked the Queen but were ambivalent to the Monarchy as an institution.
Indeed, many thousands of people are queiung on the South Bank in London to see a box which may or may not contain the late Queen. The coffin is a symbol of a sense of national pride of times gone by. For me when the Queen died it was months after my mother had died. It felt like an end of an era, and the death of somebody whose values and character I found inspiring.
It may be that people waiting to pay their respects, either by legitimately queuing like David Beckham or queue-jumping, are truly emotionally invested whatever their means of showing it. People waiting for twelve hours or more in a queue may simply be there for ‘fear of missing out’, but likewise are there in a once-in-a-lifetime experience of something rather quite extraordinary.
An aside. People like David Beckham make me proud to feel British. An East End boy with extraordinary talent, who didn’t misuse his celebrity to get a VIP pass to see the coffin. Andy Burnham missed a trick here.
England decided in 2016 to propel itself into a period of society uncertainty and self-doubt through the EU referendum. The fact that the pound is tanking and that Sterling has increasingly become an unattractive currency to lend is symptomatic of the ‘shock’ liberal economics of Truss and Kwarteng.
There has been no realistic hope of reversing a collapse in productivity lasting for several decades through tax cuts for the wealthy. “Trickle down economics” is well and truly a busted flush. There is, however, one possibility based on actual economics. Increasing GDP through decreasing our trade deficit is not a bad plan, and joining the single market could be a practical way of incentivising productivity.
Criticising the New York Times is literally shooting the messenger.
A focus on the Oxford comma looks a bit like outright denial, or at the very least being a tad ‘out of touch’.
The current Conservative Government is trying to justify the removal of the caps in bankers’ bonuses by saying it is restoring the competitiveness of the UK. It is not. It is simply lining the coffers of those who are in a position to donate the Tories.
It is a Brexit benefit only in as much as leaving the European Union has facilitated bankers bonuses and international tax evasion. This particular lurch into England being a ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ is simply going to incentivise riskier banking behaviour, thus precipitating another disastrous global financial crash.
Rather than contribute to a mountain of marmalade sandwiches on the floor, it would be better to donate to food banks. Britain has no reason to be proud that it has more food banks than branches of McDonalds. It is no longer possible to hide or spin these facts. Twelve years of Conservative Government has led to Britain being a divided basket case. Sewage being pumped into the sea, and privatised utilities up the spout. Ambulance waiting times dangerously long, and the police being grossly under-resourced to solve any crime.
And yet the cheerleaders of culture wars and identity wars bugger on regardless. Even criticising a mega racist being invited into a safe place could lead to that person being ‘cancelled’ – and OUTRAGE. The only people who have benefited from this perpetual gaslighting are those with books and TV to sell. They are improving their brand, paying off the mortgage. They are the true anti-patriots, who couldn’t care less if the UK has trouble applying for the G-200 in future.
With there being no functional democracy in the UK, so long as proportional representation is kept off the agenda, Britain looks like lurching from one fiasco to the next. Tory landowners get a boost from selling off Tory land to frackers. Frackers, notorious for inducing tremors and earthquake-prone land and producing an energy supply which is totally non-sustainable in real terms, do not of course care.
Brexit meant we came out of the Treaty of Dublin. You know, the one where we had reciprocal arrangements to deal with those people crossing the English Channel by dinghy from France. One audience member to a Tory leadership hustings suggested “returning these boats back to Kenya” – but in the real world, the Tories are drawing ever closer to full withdrawal from the European Court of Human Rights, so they can dispose of meddlesome red tape on human rights, and get flights done (to Rwanda).
The left wing want this country to succeed. There’s nothing left to sell. There’s nothing left to de-regulate. But they are intensely patriotic too, but not the extent they need to shag flags.
It probably wouldn’t be a good idea for the Tories to hold another referendum on the Monarchy in 2025, despite this being a known issue. But then again the Tory Party are as united on the Monarchy as they are on capital punishment.
There is, however, a lot to do. Things really can’t get much worse.
I laughed out loud when I read a tweet by someone who reported she had been watering a pot plant. The difference was that the pot plant was artificial, with ‘life like’ leaves. She thought that she was going to make a difference.
This sort of thing can easily happen, of course. The more I came to reflect on this tweet the more I felt the disconnect between action and outcome. I then felt that it was an excellent allegory for voting in our current political system here in the US.
Truss and Sunak are playing to their loyal membership base. I am not the intended audience, so I cannot be offended if I find their values on degrees and money earning potential, WASPI or unpaid carers perplexing.
I was most politically active when both my parents were alive in 2009, under a Labour government. My mum died at the end of July 2022. This has become my yardstick of whether I feel that life has improved much. There used to be a measure, for example, that you would want to leave the country or world in a better place than when you had found it. I felt this sharp reality when I was watching an item on the new TV channel about ‘levelling up’.
That TV channel, like the Tories and its recent political journey, is thought-provoking certainly. I too believe that one can be allowed to disagree, without being disagreeable. The discussions frequently can revert to certain topics. Take for example: why do the Police advertise their rainbow flags? The discussion is never about why funding for the Police has drastically been reduced, such that community policing is under-resourced, and a small minority of crimes such as theft or burglary reach prosecution. Or, take another example. Why shouldn’t you get angry about a statue about someone you haven’t heard of has been pulled down in a location you haven’t heard of? Of course, this cultural vandalism would be objectionable, until you realise that, also under a series of consecutive Tory governments, local libraries have been shut down.
In an elegantly executed leadership debate with Liz Truss on that TV channel, one member of the TV audience suggested sending ‘illegal immgrants to Kenya’, missing totally the point that the number of dinghie crossings had massively gone up due to UK’s pulling out of the Treaty of Dublin through Brexit. This is another problem caused by Brexit, caused by a Conservative government, which has whipped up idiotic views out of nowhere. It is not difficult to realise that the UK needs co-operation with other countries to have any standing in the world. And it is not difficult to understand that Brexit has damaged that, and that any political party should face up to that.
One can assume that one of the critical functions of any government is to run public services safely. Whatever your own belief about public services adding to the ‘productivity’ of this country, we can all agree that delays in ambulances for medical emergencies is unsafe and is unacceptable. A bad dancer will always blame the floor, but the media attention to this issue is at least as deserving as whether we should have unisex toilets.
Back to the ‘levelling up’ TV report package. The one from Cornwall. I remember when David Cameron with immense pride talked in the 2015 Conservative Party conference announced how the whole of Cornwall had gone Tory. So much for the deceit of levelling up. If you talk to most people even in the Red Wall, they will confirm a decline in public services, ranging from NHS, to social care, to libraries, which coincides with the period of austerity and decline from the Conservatives in the last decade.
And another event happened in 2016 which has led to an enduring process. Whatever you feel about Labour’s participation ever in the Brexit process, it is hard to work out why it has never allowed a discussion of participation in the single market. If Keir Starmer is indeed worried about ‘partnerships’ and ‘productivity’, like he now claims to be, it is of concern why he should wish to exclude a large market on his doorstep, unless he has other markets in mind.
If Brexit is the solution from the Tories, what problem did it fix? The most parsimonious belief is an internal dispute within the Conservative Party. It is obvious if you ‘replay’ the speeches of David Cameron that he wished to settle this dispute in the same direction as the Scottish referendum. He lost – and the fact that he didn’t know how to cope with it explains why he simply walked away. The Conservatives have never explained why their exit plan was never articulated. One can assume, perhaps, that the plan all along was to make the UK a successful ‘Singapore on Thames’. Labour could have decided instead to demonstrate solidarity with Scotland on important issues. It didn’t. So it should not be surprised if Scotland seeks solidarity with the European Union instead.
It could have been up to Labour to advance a sense of solidarity with the Scottish, except that the leadership of Scottish Labour was not that friendly to a left wing Labour. The Scottish SNP have always been more popular and more left wing than the Westminster Labour. Nicola Sturgeon is a much more charismatic politician than Keir Starmer, whether you agree with either of them or not. The most relevant, point, however is that it is in the Conservatives’ interest for the SNP to be more popular than Labour in Scotland. Every time that the SNP is popular, a bit of the probability that Labour will win an outright majority drops just a little bit more. Brexit was of course a gamechanger for the Scots. It may be the Conservatives ultimately lose the UK Union because it gifted Scotland to the SNP on purpose.
Therefore Brexit was another solution to a problem which caused more problems. It’s as if the Conservatives not only did not ‘fix the roof while the sun was shining’. It’s as if the Conservatives actively set fire to the roof while the sun was shining.
About a decade ago, in an evening course MBA, I studied economics and markets. I learned that if you privatise a state-owned monopoly, if you don’t break it up, you get a privatised monopoly. One can blame it all on the Ukraine War as an externality, but the catastrophic outcome with the privatised utilities from Thatcherite economics was entirely predictable. It was so predictable that Ed Miliband actively campaigned on it in 2014 prior to the 2015 general election, discussing ‘predators’ and ‘producers’. And he lost. The tragedy is that national ownership of basic resources is not a terribly controversial policy. More controversial is a ‘regional’ water company being owned by Malaysian private equity.
So it might be that the artificial pot plant is not actually innocuous after all, but is a “triffid”, or something which you would buy off a little shop of horrors. Can Labour now make the UK a better place with such an open goal? Time will tell.
By playing fast and loose with the Northern Ireland protocol, and even wishing to overrule the international rule of law previously, it is clear that the current Government has no intention of being respected – or even liked – in the world. Even though Boris Johnson may feel a temporary grandiose delusion, pretty much in keeping with a narcissistic persona, of British exceptionalism when talking about his contribution to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, it is patently clear that if the conflict escalates to involve the European Union more including neighbouring countries things will change more. That is, Britain will ‘feel’ its identity as being a geopolitical loner. It already has had a taste of being a loner with the perception from France, and much of the world, that Britain is now a laughing stock. British people, especially Scottish and Welsh citizens, need to prioritise not being tarred with the same brush. British conflict with France means that Britain will remain unsuccessful in ‘securing its borders’. Immigration policy is fitting for Priti Patel’s Britain: having an immigration issue getting more out of control, and yet having a lack of freedom of people inwards to keep key industries going, whether that be lorry drivers, fruit pickers, or people to wipe your grandma’s arse in the care home.
The problem with the populist media, and the stereotype of the Red Wall, is that they collectively are dragging the rest of us down. The stereotype is that they’re at home watching Ricky Gervais, fist pumping attacks on ‘women’s with penises’, but all along they’re simply sticking two fingers up at the people who stole their jobs. Fine, this is a stereotype. But why has their war so far been on lawyers, NHS, GPs, the BBC, Starmer, people who care about equality, University academics, and so on. It is all nonsense. This all points to an arrogant Executive, loving their freedom of speech but suppressing the feelings and views of others, a deeply nasty autocratic authoritarian state. The fish rots from the head down and Starmer’s difficulty is that he has no interesting offering on the European Union, no clear strategy on improving the NHS and social care, no overall idea about how to win on inflation despite screaming rather sanctimoniously about his Windfall tax. Labour currently is a deplorable collection of has beens, some of whom are nasty, unpleasant, and so on, but they are needed. Britain needs to get out of one party rule. One Nation Toryism has turned into a tinpot dictatorship, where it feels impossible to get rid of Boris Johnson despite the fact he is unbelievably crap. Whether it be P&O Ferries, or the fact that the British automobile industry has imploded, the phobia to discuss how badly |Brexit has gone is now really rancid. It is stopping getting in the way of the country. The people who are holding the country to ransom are not the Unions who want to protect transport from being so automated that disabled people don’t have a chance. The people holding the country to ransom are the Tories.
Sunak probably has a skimpy idea of behavioural macroeconomics despite having had a well paid job in the City and access to lots of other money. But be in no doubt that his recent helicopter drug is an ideological addiction which will see inflation, coupled with Brexit, go through the roof. It does matter that Nadine Dorries does not have a clue, because her ignorance is totally dangerous to the rest of the UK’s (ironically) culture. The destruction of the BBC, enabled by its senior membership, has already begun. Look at CBeebies or BBC4. Not everyone has access or means to universal broadband. Yes, remember the nasty git who wanted to introduce a green economy, improved social care and NHS, rail nationalism to stop unconscionable fair increases, break up of the energy companies (a known issue since about 2014 and successfully ignored by David Cameron in the 2015 election to ‘get Brexit done’ and a load of other crap), national broadband, and so on? Yes, that evil Jeremy Corbyn. Thanks to the power house of intellectuals at the Guardian (I am joking), partly, and despite socialism going from strength to strength in Wales and to a lesser extent in Scotland, we now have permanent Tory rule in England. The Lib Dems, under Jo Swinson, have shown how toxic they can be. Back to the internet. Not everyone can watch Netflix, or the Disney Channel, so these kids definitely will be sorry to see the back of Hacker T Dog. Be in no doubt the Tories are holding the UK to ransom. Sure, you can blame it all you like on the COVID-19 pandemic. Or you could explain it through naked opportunism from a bunch of corrupt crooks with no moral compass.
It is undeniable that the Tories have unleashed a series of political fiascos that could accelerate the breakup of the United Kingdom. That’s ok with me, because it will remind these people that ‘take back control’ and tub thumping about national sovereignty can go in one direction. Talking of one direction, even musicians are feeling the pain of Brexit. But why the news blackout in talking about how dire Brexit is, costing about £400 million per week? Surely it’s time to call time on those who personally profited out of Brexit but who have happily seen the UK implode. Boris Johnson with his culture of corruption has to go. Even if the Guardian are complicit in keeping this lot in power, something radical has to be done to get rid of this lot. The Tories can’t be allowed to hold the UK to ransom any more.
I had been a lifelong Labour voter since 1992. When I ‘came out’ in support of Jeremy Corbyn as the democratically elected leader of the Labour Party, twice in fact, I was much derided on social media. I was attacked for supporting someone who was alleged to be ‘anti-semitic’, and the whole thing became totally unpleasant with much time-wasting leadership bids from Owen Smith and Angela Eagle.
There’s currently much for all of us to be concerned about – to name a few, the ‘cost of living’ crisis including sky high energy bills, inflation creeping up to 10%, record waits on the NHS waiting list, the possible independence of Scotland and Northern Ireland, crises abroad such as Afghanistan or the Ukraine. I would not consider the numerous fixed penalty fines from Johnson (or Starmer, if they happen) an issue to be one which occupies my mind much (so called “Partygate”), or his dreadful gaffes including the CBI Peppa Pig speech.
You may knock GB News, and to be honest I’m not that interested in the “culture wars”. But watching the channel, with some favourite shows, for a few months has exposed me to an open discussion of many issues which I simply did not hear on the BBC. Likewise, just because I am a regular GB News viewer, that does not make me ‘far right’. To imply that is to imply GB News viewers are all far right. It’s as insulting as saying Brexiteers are lacking intelligence, an easy insult to make in the heat of the moment.
The discussions on GB News tend to be respectful and informed. Clearly, some of the panels are a bit Mail/Sun/Express for me, but I choose to watch these individuals. Some arguments are bit off-the-wall and to my knowledge incorrect, but you get that everywhere. But the election results from England came as no surprise to me. Keir Starmer will not become Prime Minister, and I am certain that the Labour Party in due course will replace him.
The exclusion of Jeremy Corbyn is an admission that we live in a Presidential system, and that there should have been processes and procedures in place to root out all antisemitism in the Labour Party. But that is clearly not the only problem in the Labour Party – others include its funding crisis, the lack of publication of the Forde Report, allegations of Islamophobia, and so on. The attacks on Corbyn simply look like a hate campaign, a highly personal one, and disenfranchises all the people who supported him for the last few years. Last Thursday, the ‘get out the vote’ door knocker who came to my flat was clearly a young person recruited during the Corbyn era, who did not really want to be there.
Having read Paul Embery’s book ‘Despised’, which I strongly recommend by the way, it struck me that I fall into the demographic which did not really understand Brexit, living in North London, a Europhile and University-educated. The book is very elegantly argued, and it has helped me understand what has gone badly wrong from the ‘left’. For example, we have pumped a huge amount of an effort into an university class saddled with colossal debt with few opportunities to build a future sometimes. It happens that, from my personal experience, that the people on the left who have succeeded have come from privileged backgrounds.
Seeing gains in the North East for other parties, and basically the performance of Labour flatlining, made me think that Dehenna Davidson MP’s opponent in a TV debate really didn’t understand why Labour was so unattractive to the voters, almost to the point of lacking all insight. It was totally exasperating, almost to the point that that Labour MP looked dangerously out of touch.
The next general election could come sooner than you think. Starmer offered no alternative thinking in the pandemic, nor on Brexit. OK, he has put all his eggs in the windfall tax basket, but it seems that Starmer cannot put forward a political argument and take people with him. Optics matter. The spectacle of Sadiq Khan euphoric in Barnet in London as a ‘game changer’ was utterly ridiculous, and possibly itself alienated voters. The issue is that Labour did not do well in the rest of the country, and the Conservatives and LibDems even managed to make some gains.
The fact that Labour can’t even discuss Brexit or immigration is staggering. The lack of opposition on Brexit is extremely worrying given the potential effects this is having economically and geo-politically, and even Brexiteers, I assume, don’t want a total cover-up. At a time when freedom of speech is so cherished, why is that the problems regarding Brexit aren’t discussed in a mature manner.
Rather surprisingly, I was called a ‘fat gammon’ this week on Twitter, despite the fact that I troll Tweeps with my profile which says, ‘Woke’. Watching GB News as entertainment has helped me to understand other people’s views, even though I may not necessarily agree with them. There are, for example, reasons why some people felt they did not benefit from membership of the European Union. I suspect some Tory MPs know that Johnson is more in touch with his voters than they are, whatever your personal views about these voters. The election results from England last night therefore made perfect sense to me, even if the BBC pundits seemed extremely surprised.
As it happens, I too feel despised by the Labour Party, and the discussions on GB News have in fact opened my eyes. There’s a lot there I disagree with, rest assured, but I am mature enough to make up my own mind.
The narrative from the media is: Cressida Dick bad, the rest of the world good.
I’m not surprised Baroness Claire Fox’s head was hurting after hearing two opinions on GB News, about the resignation of Dame Cressida Dick.
I am likely due to the ‘footballification’ of politics likely to indulge in a bit of conspiracy theory that Dame Cressida Dick is best mates with Boris Johnson, both having been to the same Oxford college (perhaps, I haven’t checked the factoid).
But if the referendum has taught us anything at all, it is dangerous to do ‘binaries’. And the world is full of them: vax or no vax, net zero or no net zero, Brexit or no Brexit, lockdown or no lockdown, and so on. Life could just be a series of referenda.
Dame Cressida Dick is the top of her profession, regardless of her gender or sexuality. And uniquely so, regardless of her politics.
It would therefore be unlikely that Cressida Dick is a misogynist, and so on.
For all the talk of the Met Police being institutionally racist and sexist, why would they need so much training in these domains? Why go to so much effort with rainbow armbands or “taking the knee”?
To reuse a binary, the Met Police is either misogynist and racist – or it’s not.
But I personally am fed up of the abuse of marketing about diversity.
For all the talk of the disability employment gap, the NHS is ineffective in employing people who are disabled at the bottom or the top or in between in the NHS.
I attended a teaching day yesterday, and there was no discussion of the value that disabled doctors could bring to the NHS. The teaching session went straight in with ‘reasonable adjustments’ under law.
Somebody I had never known before tweeted me to say he had been encouraged to seek a non-medical job, despite being a very intelligent doctor, on account of ‘you can’t cure autism’.
I am not especially surprised at this sentiment from others. For ages, I have been wanging on about how adults who suddenly find themselves disabled need a phased return under reasonable adjustments of the Equality Act 2010. That is their right.
In effect, nothing happens. The NHS does not even have a workforce plan for disabled doctors. It instead has a glossy ‘People Plan’ which is no more useful than Grazia magazine.
Not for the first time I find myself in agreement with Claire Fox.
And I am no contrarian!
I don’t have any skin in the game.
I voted Labour all my life – between 1992 and 2019. I’ve never voted Tory.
A small confession. I’ve never met Sir Keir Starmer. I have seen him sitting in the audience as he was supporting the then newly crowned leader of Labour, Ed Miliband.
Ed Miliband is somebody I could happily have as Prime Minister. I remember David Cameron’s Twitter jibe, now infamous:
That was of course he set in motion a chain of events that led to the referendum, causing Britain to exit out of the European Union. It is widely thought that Nigel Farage can be thanked for precipitating this. He of course is not especially happy how Brexit has gone now. And who can blame him, with fishermen losing business, pig culls, huge loss trade, marked shortages in certain sectors of the economy, to name but a few. Luckily for the current Conservative government there are voters who are desperate for Brexit to work, like they are for the Tories to reverse years of Tory austerity under the guise of ‘levelling up’.
I understand Rachel Reeves’ optimism about a possible Labour victory. I also have experienced this illusion of ‘one last heave’ – where one final push will guarantee a Labour government.
But having followed this for years, I don’t think we’re there yet.
There are a number of reasons.
If “Captain Hindsight” can only be offering ‘constructive criticism’ while continuously to carp irritatingly like a back seat driver, “General Sit on the Fence” hardly inspires confidence with his endless streams of boosterism and lies.
A rosette on a Starmer cannot explain the lack of input into policy on Brexit, coronavirus or even the reorganisation of NHS and social care. Starmer and the whole shadow cabinet are lost in action. Nowhere to be seen.
They indeed, like Hilary Benn was so obsessive about, seem to be more focused on winning power than turning heads with policy. The brut force of Michael Foot intellectually, or indeed Enoch Powell, offered something quite unpalatable politically – though in defense of Foot, he never wore a donkey jacket and much of his 1983 offering has now been assimilated into current policy.
I want a Labour government, more than a Johnson one.
I don’t think people are keeping diaries about what they think of their civil liberties, the vaccination programme, or the battle of the dinghies.
But the step before the public vote for a Labour government is them endorsing a new Tory Party under someone like Liz Truss. I thought nobody would ever vote for Boris Johnson, but it turned out the media loved him, and that people had ‘factored in’ all his misfeasance.
Starmer would prefer to keep his mouth shut on environmental issues, or human rights, or policing, or housing.
But this policy of muscular silence is going nowhere. Nobody knows what he or Labour stands for, much that they find this current Government sleazy and a bit dodgy. It could be argued that Starmer has bus loaded in a lot of ‘serious people’ but I can’t name many of them apart from Yvette Cooper or Rachel Reeves who were instrumental in making my life hell for much of the 2010s for feeling guilty for being disabled.
The arithmetic is pointing to a solid SNP victory in Scotland, and it’s very hit or miss who will be the dominant party in England and Wales. Possibly Wales might save Starmer’s bacon, so to speak.
Dame Maureen and Dame Margaret are totally irrelevant to me.
Whilst the poll lead is welcome for Labour, I don’t think it is at all meaningful. John Rentoul, for all his brilliance, is badly wrong – or maybe it’s merely wishful thinking.
Donnez-moi a break.
At a time when Labour has voted in a new General Secretary in David Evans, the news is of sacking staff, threatening compulsory redundancies, losing revenue, and a full frontal attack on members. Evans was hardly voted in with a supermajority. Sadly, the vote was not advisory, even if it was at the level of 59/41, almost exactly the 60-40 split estimated.
To revisit an era, things can only can get better.
It’s on days like this that Dame Margaret Beckett had wished that she’d stayed in her caravan.
Labour has had a disastrous start to its latest conference.
The best that the political commentators could say to Keir Starmer’s handling of the launch of the Labour conference was that ‘it is good for Labour to be seen fighting the Unions’.
I suspect it would be good for Labour to be seen fighting the Sun newspaper, but, at the latest count, the Sun newspaper is out in force too.
At the launch of the Labour conference in Brighton, the day normally begins with something motivational for the membership. Not this time.
This time, we are told that, for the Labour leadership, the proposals are to raise the threshold of mp nominations, get rid of the “registered supporters”, and a commitment to review rules inc how to restore vote for unions’ political levy payers.
As far as the membership is concerned, Starmer has spent the last two years brown nosing the Johnson government, having given up even on the slightest of ‘constructive criticism’. Nobody can see the point of what is possibly the worst Labour opposition in my lifetime certainly.
Emma Radacanu, having won the US Open, has just said goodbye to her coach. Starmer, on the brink of the worst Labour disaster in history, even with the media this time supporting him to the hilt, is about to make all the offenders Knights of the realm or CBEs in his mission to promote failing upwards.
Starmer had a golden opportunity at the start of conference to make his mark over the energy crisis, inflation hike, driver shortage exacerbated by Brexit, dumping the triple lock, UC cut, NI hike, or public sector pay freeze.
As far as the over-spotted Red Wall voter is concerned, Labour is fronted by a Remainer who hated Jeremy Corbyn so much he was more than happy to be in his Cabinet. This particular Remainer, as it happens, can’t wait to get his teeth into the necks of anyone vaguely socialist in the Labour Party.
Let’s face it – not even an interview between Wes Streeting and Gloria Di Piero on GB News can stop the rot now.
The Conservative, Unionist and UKIP Party don’t especially to seem have any ideological direction to their roadmap, apart from an addiction to authoritarianism and the “market” which has consistently failed in the NHS, gas, education, and, you name it. All it cares about is media management of the latest crisis. Even Liz Truss MP is tipped for the top now.
Labour should be a hot bed of democratic socialism. It is instead a hotbed of undemocratic croneyism. A relatively popular contribution could be Labour’s proposed Fair Pay Agreements would give working people a pay rise and boost our economy. Labour would bring together representatives from workers and employers to agree minimum pay and conditions in their industry. A radical look at workers vs employees, and a revision of workers’ rights in a gig economy, to revise the Employment Rights Act (1998), would be a good contribution.
Instead, whilst the Labour rulebook states that conference should have a formal vote (show of hands) on the NEC report. Dame Margaret Beckett is not one for following rules to hold the vote. There’s no need to rig a vote any more. Just don’t hold it.
Of course, the HGV and tanker driver crisis is nothing to do with Brexit, and all to do with those pesky unions in Swansea at the DVLA, or refusal to do medical checks from lazy GPs. This is a weird dystopian Universe where Starmer has been taken hostage by a weird sect in the Labour Party determined to make Labour look out of touch and irrelevant.
“If Sir Keir Starmer QC wishes to resign, I will support him.”
Groan. I started the pandemic, it feels like many years ago, being a loyal Labour supporter. I had voted Labour all of my life. But this policy of ‘constructive opposition’ was the pits. All of the mistakes Johnson had made were whitewashed, but in fairness the vaccine rollout from the NHS was a massive success.
Starmer and I have an interesting history together. I once saw him sitting in the audience of an election hustings for Ed Miliband in a primary school which Ed Miliband attended in Haverstock Hill. I remember thinking that Starmer would be the future one day. I remember reading about him in the Times. I suppose in those days there was a strong movement for Labour members to be in the metropolitan graduate class – the wokey class, rather than the working class.
It’s a ridiculous stereotype of course that the working class wear cloth caps, drink beer and eat fish and chips. And yet that is precisely the stereotype Starmer bought into with his photo ops when visiting ‘the North’. The argument from Labour goes that the Conservatives have parked ‘tanks’ on Labour’s lawn. But this framing for me exposes part of the problem. It is not Labour’s lawn. Daniel Finklestein is half right – and has told a half truth. The Tories are good at ‘reinventing themselves’. But unpacking this a little bit, the Tories have been very good at convincing voters, somehow, that they are the “party of change” – and will come to the rescue after years of austerity. This is the austerity that they caused.
It could be that Andy Burnham is also right. His landslide victory is a demonstration that localism can work. Not only can woke. I think there is a connection there with voters who want investment in people and services, and that this energy is both powerful and positive. It might be that extrapolation that Labour is finished as a national party. But Johnson can do localism too – look at the Mayor of Teeside, or the good showing in London. The travesty is that there are many in the Labour Party who want to exit now because they are sick of being victimised, in everything from micro aggressions to finding themselves as defendants in a lawsuit from members of a WhasApp group. My frustration is that this extreme version of navel-gazing meant that decent conversations about a national broadband offering, a national social care service, or a national education service got jettisoned. And from that point in Labour deserved all it got, as far as I was concerned.
If Labour has taken for granted, it could be that the Conservatives have taken the voters for fools. But, if so, I feel it is equally the case that the Labour leadership has taken some of its membership for fools. It screwed up on Brexit. That is public knowledge. If you wish to engage in single issue politics, it is crucial not to misjudge that single issue. And again history repeated itself. Starmer took a single issue. Sleaze, encompassing wallpaper in John Lewis, and Johnson’s morality. Except, this doesn’t work. Why? Most people dislike hypocrites. And we know that Tony Blair, pre-existing widespread use of the mobile phone, himself was embroiled in cash for peerages and Formula 1, and so on.
So Alastair Campbell is partly right too. Johnson is a perpetual liar, and somehow gets away with it. People know this. Millions of people have factored Peter Stefanovic’s video into their understanding of the situation. Supporters of Labour when it was led by Jeremy Corbyn were not all anti-Semitic. The problem was many innocent people, by supporting Corbyn, suddenly became anti-Semitic as a matter of guilt by association.
Starmer of course did another issue on top of the single issues of Brexit and sleaze at different times. He has consistently made hating Jeremy Corbyn his flagship policy since he became Leader, quite ironically given that Starmer was a major architect of Labour’s failure in December 2019. Even Adonis knows that Starmer has no political capital in the bank and wants to sell sell. Some Blairites know their reputation is soiled by having Starmer as the pin-up boy of their legacy. For all of Blair’s faults, his Government had major successes in human rights, minimum wage and freedom of information. And Blair’s fiascos in government that even he is very much haunted by them, one assumes. But Blair had a policy on the NHS. It was a legacy of Thatcher’s, and it could be that many voters think they might as well give the Tories a ‘go’ as Labour has at least contributed as much to this mess as the Tories. And to dismiss community investment as ‘pork barrel politics’ is not the point. Years of underinvestment has been coupled with false promises from Labour about levelling up.
So I might be yet another ‘woke social media warrior’. But I am deeply concerned about the direction of Labour. It could be that there is as much problem with the messenger as the message, but then again I don’t know anyone who forms their views after reading ‘Labour List’. Corbyn may not get away in blaming all his misfortune on media misrepresentation. Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson had both been the targets of intense smear campaigns – and they survived.
Either way, Starmer needs to go. The needs of the Labour Psrty are more substantial than the needs of a single mega-Establishment mouthpiece. Starmer has no vision apart from exterminating Jeremy Corbyn. Starmer’s problems are focal to Starmer, however. Steve Rotheram did well. Mark Drakeford did well. I completely reject the notion that there’s no obvious challenger to Starmer’s leadership. I think Clive Lewis would be a great future Labour leader.
I think Starmer is offensive to my values as a former Labour voter. It’s too late definitely for a Starm offensive in any case.
Brexit is not the direct reason why the Nightingale Hospitals can’t be staffed adequately in the current pandemic. But it is a boil which David Cameron wanted to lance once and for all.
I apologise that, before writing this, I haven’t “cancelled” the use of labels such as ‘Brexiteers’ and ‘retainers’. We are a deeply divided nation, and even more so due to the 2016 referendum. The UK could become even more divided, literally, if Scotland becomes independent, and Northern Ireland splits to unite with Southern Ireland. Even if Labour abstains on the deal today, it would still be partly responsible for the whole package. This is because when the referendum result was announced Jeremy Corbyn launched a three-line whip to trigger Article 50. Labour has had no part to play in the negotiations with the European Union, so it has played the silent bystander since 2016 about exiting the European Union. It chose to leave the single market, and it chose to set up a hard Brexit. So it shouldn’t be surprised now that that was what was negotiated. With all the best will in the world, you would expect Alastair Campbell and Lord Andrew Adonis to reject the resultant trade deal. You’d expect Ben Bradshaw MP to reject it. To all intents and purposes, the proposed trade deal might be quite fair in that both parties have made massive concessions, but it is not what anyone wanted ideally.
The terms of the EU trade deal in large part are not a surprise, given the way that the Conservative Party negotiated it. This is why it has ‘passed’ the inspection of the Star Chamber, some operation within the ERG. There is no sovereignty about fish quotas, there is an abolition of freedom of movement, and so on. What is more mysterious is why the British government are so trenchant about our departure in ERASMUS, but it has hard to tell what the vision of UK in the world is from the Tories. We do however know that Boris Johnson has held repulsive, racist and xenophobic views, which might quite play well with members of both Labour and Conservatives in ‘Red Wall’ Britain.
The vote today is irrelevant in far as rubber stamping this deal is concerned. The Tories have the numbers there, despite the position of the SNP and the Liberal Democrats. Also irrelevant to the general public is the view of the current professor of EU law at Cambridge about how the new legislation is good for a supremely powerful Executive and international public lawyers. How the Conservatives got into a position of abolishing free movement of persons and abolition of frictionless trade through the erection of non-tariff trade barriers is easy to understand for the need of the Conservative Party leadership to control a micro-culture heading back to the leadership of Enoch Powell. The rot has persisted under Hague, Cameron, and Major. And now Johnson. The hard Brexit is an ideological position which could mean EHIC is replaced by some private subscription to private health insurers, but that is entirely the choice of certain individuals who want to see private insurance flourish.
Labour is not supporting the terms of the deal as such, but says that is opposing a “no-deal”. The trouble is, however, that everytime something goes wrong with the deal, the Conservatives can legitimately say that Labour voted for it. Labour could of course abstain. What is ridiculous is that a lawyer can agree to a document without having read it. This is like a surgeon agreeing to do an operation without reading any of the medical notes of a patient.
The European Union is sick of the excessive time they’ve spent on it, but they are not pursuing arrangements out of love or goodwill. They are agreeing to the deal to protect the single market in future. And they’ve been utterly united throughout. The main political parties have got away with taking a wrecking ball to the geo-political relationship between the UK and the European Union, and our international reputation is one of a basketcase. The deal is still subject to the UK’s co-operation with the European Court of Human Rights, which is in the sights of certain members of the Government (like the death penalty.)
The positions taken by Alastair Campbell and Lord Andrew Adonis are totally understandable, in that the actual deal is nothing like the requirements for passing the ‘tests’ Labour had set. But they are also not flavour of the month of some ardent Brexiters. And Frances O’Grady leading the TUC has opined that the proposed deal is barely better than ‘no deal’, as regards issues as fundamental as workers’ rights. So there is a strong case to oppose the proposed deal, but it is better than ‘no deal’. But voting for the deal makes the perception of the Scottish independence case amongst the Scottish nationalists. It trolls the ‘remainers’ in the Labour Party, who are not easily going to forgive and forget in the name of unity. The damaging effects of Brexit will be felt for decades, and there are no obvious advantages to the UK’s exit from the European Union.
But whatever Labour does now it will never be perceived as having got behind Brexit. It will have successfully alienated some of the ‘remainers’ in the Labour Party if it votes for the proposed deal, but it will also have garnered the support of others who feel that this is the time to move on. The time to move on is possible if Labour has a vision about what it wants from its place in the world, but it needs to spell out what it wishes to surrender in the name of improved sovereignty. The problem is that in the real world sovereignty is a bogus notion, because international market entry depends on nurturing relationships between party and understanding the law of conflicts as well as contract.
The leadership of Labour does however have to be called into question over this. The approach taken by Keir Starmer elsewhere of ‘divide and rule’ is unlikely to work over the thorny European question, and could precipitate the splitting of the Labour Party at the very worst. The Labour Party is quite unlikely to split over this, although it could split over Jeremy Corbyn. And if Labour sits on the fence then perhaps it can be seen to work better with the Liberal Democrats who remain utterly opposed ideologically to the current deal. But it is completely unclear what Labour wants to achieve in a renewed negotiation in the European Union, and whether it really wants to fight for it in the pursuit of voters more interested in ‘flag and country’. However, the argument that the European Union is not the source but rather the potential solution has never been put vociferously by Labour recently. At the moment, it looks as if it is being opportunistic in waiting for the deal to unfold, rather than being in any way pro-European.
But there is not going to be an imminent “second vote”, and at the moment there is no contemplation of the re-running of the arguments. It would be hard to tell that, if the economy implodes, whether that’s due to Brexit or the worsening coronavirus pandemic. But the increased cost of living and the increased unemployment may not be a price worth paying. One thing is for sure that, whilst David Cameron’s wish that we all shut up over Brexit may not be heeded, the Conservatives maintain their competitive advantage in completing Brexit whatever the consequences.
Peter Drucker, the icon of business management, is widely credited with one of the most important phrases of the field: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
And prima facie that would seem the purpose of Matt Hancock wanting to ‘ramp up’ the number of tests to 100,000 per day minimum.
The NHS has long had a problem with metrics, and this has been encapsulated in Goodhart’s law. Charles Goodhart first advanced the idea in a 1975 article, which has been phrased by Marilyn Strathern as “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
It has been argued for some time that this approach is actually very dangerous, as it is related to an approach that says that what can be measured matters and that what is not measurable does not exist. (1)
In 2017, Dr Peter Bennie, who was at the Scottish council of the British Medical Association, said: ”Multiple targets, an ageing population and the funding gap are creating a vicious circle, stretching the system and the workforce beyond their means. The current culture of using crude measures, often taken in isolation, to judge the complexities of the whole healthcare system, and to apportion blame, must end.” (2)
And target chasing can result in strange behaviours. It must be that Hancock was desperate to fulfil this metric, if a recent interview is anything to go by. Maybe he was trying to avoid blame – and the sack.
The presenter, Nick Ferrari, said: ‘Are you prepared to have a £100 wager, and I will never be happier to write a cheque for £100, when you deliver that 100,000 tests on May the first and the money goes to NHS charities. Are you up for the bet, Mr Hancock?’
Hancock replied saying: “I’ve got enough riding on this already, Nick.” (3)
The current Secretary for State for health and social care has now further been embroiled in accusations of artificially inflating the number of coronavirus tests, in framing the rapid increase in numbers that allowed him to get up to a self-imposed 100,000-a-day target as a “national achievement”. Following meticulous investigation from the HSJ, it later emerged that a third of the 122,347 tests included in the final 24-hour period before the deadline were counted before they had been carried out. They had merely been sent out in the post. (4)
Following a target ignoring other issues is a problem which is a great threat to patient safety in medicine. “Fixation errors” occur when the practitioner concentrates solely upon a single aspect of a case to the detriment of other more relevant aspects. These have especially become recognised in anaesthetic practice, where they can contribute significantly to morbidity and mortality (5).
Take for example one repercussion of focusing on that target of the number of tests. It distracts, for example, from a sensible discussion of where other clusters or outbreaks of infection might take place. There is now the realistic possibility that mental health units will be the next locus of an outbreak in the NHS akin to the crisis in care homes. We don’t know how many infectious doctors or patients there are on mental health wards, which we know have had a problem with supply of personal protective equipment too. Only recently, for example, of the longest-serving staff members, a ward clerk at the Highgate Mental Health Centre, died of coronavirus, as staff nationally have continue to speak out about their safety fears over lack of personal protective equipment (6).
We’ve been here before back in 2008, when the then Labour Government was inundated with complaints of a “culture of fear”, where patient safety came second to presenting a set of statistics suitable for dispatch-box delivery.
In oral evidence, Sir David Nicholson in 2013 said famously, “When I was first appointed to the job, when I came into this particular job, I coined a phrase, which at one level sounds trite but it is really quite an important phrase-“Hitting the target and missing the point.” This is the dangerous place that some organisations got into.” (7)
A later King’s Fund’s review into leadership and engagement for improvement into the NHS, recognised a “command and control style” of management had contributed to poor care, leading for a new ‘push’ for a style of leadership that engages staff and patients (8)
Other industries have had problems with ‘command and control’ cultures. There has clearly been much resistance dragging the NHS away from the nostalgia of the Lancelot Spratt consultant figure-head towards one where a more junior member of the team is actually listened to (9)
The NHS has been desperately trying to move away from ‘command and control’ culture in recent years, not least because international research has mandated that collective leadership is taken seriously, where staff at all levels act to improve care – within and across organisations (10)
If anything, the recent coronavirus crisis has emphasised, furthermore, potential deep seated problems in the culture of the NHS. Particularly worrying has been there has been talk of institutional racism arising from social inequalities.
It has now become imperative for the government to look at the full range of structural inequality impacting BME people in the NHS (11). This means that more attention has to be given into making sure that the NHS culture is truly diverse, rather than relying on a few BAME leaders to make a public show that senior BAME figures can find themselves in leadership positions.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of BMA Council, recently stated, “We need to ensure that ethnic minority doctors, alongside all medical staff, can confidently speak up if they feel they have inadequate personal protection. They must not risk their lives due to feeling inhibited from doing so.” (12)
The coronavirus crisis has thankfully, at least, allowed us all to take a step back and think how we would do things differently. Thinking about whether much has changed in NHS culture would be a good start.
(1) Davies, P.G. Measuring performance and missing the point? BMJ 2007; 335 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39377.387373.AD (Published 22 November 2007)
(2) Cramb, A. Doctors call for end to target-driven ‘blame culture’ in NHS, 28 December 2017, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/28/doctors-call-end-target-driven-blame-culture-nhs/.
(3) https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8265219/Matt-Hancock-makes-100-bet-Nick-Ferrari-UK-meet-100-000-coronavirus-tests-day.html Daily Mail, 28 April 2020.
(4) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/01/ministers-accused-of-changing-covid-19-test-tally-to-hit-100000-goal, Guardian, 1 May 2020.
(5) Fioratou E, Flin R, Glavin R. No simple fix for fixation errors: cognitive processes and their clinical applications. Anaesthesia. 2010 Jan;65(1):61-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2044.2009.05994.x.
(6) http://camdennewjournal.com/article/two-minute-silence-at-health-trust-after-psychiatric-hospitals-ward-clerk-dies-from-coronavirus, Camden New Journal, 24 April 2020