CategoriesHealthPoliticsHarrogate

Tory Contenders and Covid Deaths

Reflecting on the shameful vote this week by the majority of Tory MPs to support disgraced Tory MP Owen Paterson, and then for the Government’s immediate volte-face, my sense is that a potential challenger to Reckless Boris will soon break cover.

It is noteworthy that 109 Tory MPs didn’t vote for the Andrea Leadsom’s Putin-esque amendment (including Harrogate’s Andrew Jones and Ripon’s Julian Smith), with six Tory MPs voting against. Of the six, my analysis is that only Mark Harper MP is a potential challenger to Reckless Boris.

Harper previously stood for leader and has been critical of lockdowns. Candidly, I have not heard any chatter of Harper standing, but in most parties there is usually someone waiting in the wings for their moment to usurp their leader and this is such a potential moment. Thatcher had Heseltine, Major had Redwood, Blair had Brown, Cameron and May had Reckless Boris. But who challenges Boris?

If not Mark Harper, then Skipton and Ripon’s, Julian Smith MP – who took the unusual decision to demand the resignation of Phil Allott – is an unlikely, but potential, contender. He may trigger a leadership race so that others break cover.

My reading of him is that he is an honourable MP who is embarrassed by the Tories – yet again – descent into sleaze. By most accounts, Smith is meant to be a safe pair of hands, as judged by his time as Northern Ireland Secretary. In addition, Smith is unassailable in his constituency. By attacking Reckless Boris, with Brexit done, Smith is unlikely to suffer censure by his local Conservative Association, for the people in this area – particularly in Skipton, home to Skipton Building Society – abhor financial impropriety.

Watch this space.

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Out of the 830,000 people estimated to be living in North Yorkshire, according to figures collated by the North Yorkshire Outbreak Management Advisory Board, since Covid arrived in February 2020 there have been 559 excess deaths. According to Public Health England, in the same period, there have been 1,227 deaths where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate. Most deaths occurred during the first and second peaks.

Working on the assumption that dozens of deaths would have occurred indirectly because of Covid – for example, because people didn’t summon an ambulance for fear of catching Covid in hospital, and then dying at home; or because cancers went undetected – my educated guess is that around 400 residents of North Yorkshire sadly perished directly due to Covid.

There are 634 days between 1 February 2020 and 31 October 2021. Circa 400 deaths, in 634 days, for an above average-aged population, in a fairly prosperous and spaced-out population. Dreadful, but if you ask residents of this area, as I have done, what their own estimates of deaths in this area is, most likely you will get estimates into the thousands. In my social circle, the highest estimate I have heard was 10,000. Now that, if correct, would be rightly terrifying.

Each death, each Long Covid survivor, is tragic. But the figures, dispassionately analysed, are a cause for optimism. With our vaccines and boosters, armed with our knowledge and experience of this virus, though we must be cautious, though we must crush all new variants, we must enjoy life again.

CategoriesPoliticsHarrogateThought of The Day

New dictionary word: “Phillip-Allott-ed” 

Verb (transitive)

To be “Phillip-Allott-ed” is a four-staged test.

First, during a stream of consciousness, you brain-dump your most bizarre, innermost thoughts, at the most insensitive of times, in full public gaze, crushing your ability to carry out your new job. Your action reveals something particularly unusual about you that only your closest friends and family might have known, and which made you precisely the wrong person to carry out your new duties.

Second, you attempt an apology, but only make matters worse, compounding your first gaffe, drawing additional ire, ensuring that the story continues to run in both the local and national news.

Third, you try to cling on to your job, in the face of universal bewilderment, during which time you are publicly humiliated, time and again, before falling on your sword. See Margaret Thatcher’s demise, dragged out kicking and screaming.

Fourth, your unforgivable opinion expressed in the first stage of the test, ensure that such viewpoints will be forcefully tackled by your successor, thereby providing a total annihilation of the position you so publicly espoused.

Example

“That new guy at work, didn’t last long. After his tirade and his protestations, he’s eventually been Phillip-Allott-ed.”

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N.B. All MPs, mayors, PCFCs and councillors deserve our gratitude, including Mr Allott. I know many of them: all of them want to make their communities a better place. The politician has become a dangerous profession, too. RIP Sir David Amess MP and Jo Cox.

CategoriesQuakerismHarrogateThought of The Day

Living Adventurously, in Settle

Typing this blog on my phone, in Settle Quaker Meeting House, North Yorkshire, I can hear an English language lesson taking place, one on one, in the room above. The student, I imagine, a recent newcomer to this country. I’m not eavesdropping: you cannot help but hear it.

Quaker Meeting House Settle

By some distance, this is my favourite Meeting House: simple, wooden, in a central location, and surrounded by an enchanting garden, together with a Quaker burial ground. Founded in 1678 during the usual period of Quaker persecution, it’s one of the oldest Meeting Houses.

Quaker burial ground

Interestingly, the founder of Birkbeck College came from here, George Birkbeck. He had previously founded the Mechanics’ Institute, which were adult education centres, focussed on the working man.

Soon, I will be launching a radical, consensus-building, democratic tool called Pol.is, to be hosted by the newly formed: The Crowd Wisdom Project. On this project, I work with a talented tech whizz, who lives in Ghana. He designed this website for me. Coincidentally, as I sit here, on the poster, before me, is a list of some of the Quaker Meetings around the world. One of them is in Accra, Ghana!

Quaker Post

I’ve never felt more like a Quaker: sitting peacefully, alone, at the beginning of this movement. It’s tranquil, here, yet still international, even in this sleepy Dales town.

 

CategoriesLegalPoliticsHarrogate

Live on BBC Radio: Resigned to No Resignation

Here in North Yorkshire our Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner is Phillip Allott, a Conservative. Until the last few days, almost nobody in this area knew his name. That’s not a criticism of him, for the same is true for all Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners.

All that changed on Friday 1 October 2021. During a live interview on BBC Radio York, to discuss the heinous murder of York woman Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, Mr Allott said:

“So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that.

“Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process.”

Twitter went into meltdown. Keir Starmer, Piers Morgan together with thousands of others demanded his removal from office. Even Reckless Boris criticised him, describing the comments as “wrongheaded”. Mr Allott apologised.

Given that Reckless Boris has given senior Tories carte blanche to do as they please, free from the expectation of being fired or being compelled to resign, I knew that Mr Allott’s resignation was the very last thing Mr Allott would do. This culture is wrong.

Fondly, I remember the time when politicians of all stripes would tender their resignations when they messed up. Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned when Argentina invaded the Falklands and – more memorably, as resignations go, Estelle Morris, Education Secretary under Tony Blair, resigned because, in her own words, that she wasn’t up to it. Her resignation letter reads:

“I’m good at dealing with the issues and in communicating to the teaching profession. I am less good at strategic management of a huge department and I am not good at dealing with the modern media. All this has meant that with some of the recent situations I have been involved in, I have not felt I have been as effective as I should be, or as effective as you need me to be.”

Oh, to have that candour and introspection today! Those were the days.

As luck would have it, the PCFC’s team were due to be in Harrogate on the morning after his comments, in order to garner feedback during their planned roadshow – something which should be lauded. Knowing this, I messaged some people whom I thought would be interested in running a petition outside of their roadshow. With only a few hours to arrange it, with social media more use than harm, a “motley” group assembled in the cold and rain, with our sign and our petition.

Petition Phillip Allott

We secured 165 signatures, in less than an hour, despite the inclement weather. People of all ages attended. I’ve never seen members of the public more keen to sign a petition. Perhaps if we had set up the stall on the Sunday instead, when the story was better known, there would have been more signatures, as many of the people who walked by didn’t know about the story.

Pleasingly, random lawyers – many of whom I didn’t know – attended. Speaking to them, all of us would have accepted arrest – as Sarah did – knowledge of the law or not. (Lawyers who know me are bored of my complaint that lawyers exist as a profession: we exist because citizens do not have access to all the laws which govern them, so in that, I have some sympathy with Mr Allott).

My interview in the Yorkshire Post is here.

As I explained to the Yorkshire Post and as you may have seen in this essay, I was subjected to an assault/wrongful arrest on my first day as a lawyer in Manchester. A completely different set of circumstances to the heinous murder of Sarah of course, however, I did feel that this experience of being arrested/assaulted by an off-duty police officer (who was trying to do the right thing), gave me some insight to speak up.

Today, 4 October 2021, I was interviewed live on BBC Radio York about this situation. I followed on from an interview of a long-standing disability champion, as well as the leader of the Fire Brigade’s Union, in calling for the resignation. Being interviewed live wasn’t good for my heart!

During my career, I have represented police officers and have I also brought civil claims when there has been wrongdoing. In my experience, 99.9% of police officers are the very best of us, doing a job that, frankly, I’m not brave enough to do. As George Orwell noted, we sleep peacefully in our beds because we have an army and a police force. I would take our police force over any other that I have seen.

I don’t know Mr Allott. Until those comments, he might have been doing an excellent job. As 99% of politicians go into it for the right reason – to make their community better – and assuming good motives for Mr Allott, I should place on record my gratitude to him for his service. My preference is that politicians in specialist elected roles – such as in Defence, Health, Justice and Policing – have some knowledge of their spheres of influence before taking up such a role. Otherwise by the time the politician has spent a number of years in the role – just to understand the basics – they are then turfed out of office. What a waste!

Mr Allott’s comments came from another era. For a PR man before being elected, his comms couldn’t have been worse. Not only has he lost the support of the public and the victims’ groups, but he’s also managed to make the work of the police far more difficult. A triple whammy. The frequent accusation on this online petition (7,000 signatures at the time of writing) was that he was blaming the victim, Sarah.

Sadly, from the position as a male, the overwhelming majority of those who signed our petition and this one online, are women. Men should be just as appalled, equally keen to sign the petition. Although men are far more likely to be killed by a stranger, the murder of Sarah has shone a spotlight on the fact that a very high proportion of women feel unsafe alone on the streets, including the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss. This is a sick culture.

Sadly, when the Tories introduced these commissioners, they didn’t include a power of recall for precisely this type of situation. So, unless Mr Allott does the right thing, then we are stuck with him for four years, probably eight. If Mr Allott remains in post, then although I believe his credibility is shot, perhaps on his cathartic quest to upgrade his thinking, we shall all benefit. I wish him well, whether he stays or goes.

Professionally and personally, I do wonder what will happen to me.

CategoriesHarrogate

Up and Out in Middlesmoor and The Dales

Thankfully and inexplicably, for a few days now, my health returned, almost back to normal. But how long it will last, I don’t know. So, let’s enjoy it whilst I can. No time to waste.

Without question, my favourite part of the Yorkshire Dales is the hamlet of Middlesmoor. I remember stumbling across it some years ago, puzzled – as I still am – that it wasn’t well-known. Plonked atop of a hill in Nidderdale, 8 miles from Pateley Bridge (where I used to run a free and never used law clinic!), its reminiscent of an Italian hill-town, but probably older, as a settlement has been here since 1200. And you can see why, for although there is no obvious fortifications, its position would have made it impregnable, with sweeping views all around.

Together with our new puppy, I just drank it up. Photographs do it more justice than my words ever could.

Given that the puppy ate every sheep poo within lead-distance, my stay was cut short. Therefore, I went exploring somewhere new, finding the reservoirs of Scar House and Angram, at the start of the River Nidd, a short distance from Middlesmoor. Building work commenced on these reservoirs almost a century to the day. They still supply Bradford with water.

Again, photos will do it more justice. What was pleasing to see is the number of new tree plantations, not far from my law firm’s woods just outside of Summerbridge.

As with Middlesmoor, though this area is stunning, it is largely empty of tourists, even on a Sunday basking in fine weather. Had Wordsworth ventured here, rather than the Lake District, perhaps Middlesmoor would have become like Ambleside, jam-packed with cars. My preference for beauty is always for awe-inspiring natural views, but only if accompanied by something man-made, like a castle or a reservoir.

I wonder what else is on my doorstep.

CategoriesLegalEnvironmentHarrogateThought of The Day

Lord: where’s the flies?

As a teenager, during the summer holidays I would wash cars with my mates, for cash. Never have I felt so flush, handling all those one-pound coins. Great times. Although knocking on the doors of strangers was nerve-jangling, without question the worst part of this job was cleaning dead flies from the front of the cars. Awful. My sponge would change colour, from yellow to black, so many flies had met their end at speed.

(That reminds me, my favourite joke as a child would go: “What’s the last thing to go through a fly’s mind as it strikes the bumper of a car at 70mph?…..It’s butt!)

When not washing cars, I was more likely to be found playing football, often until quite late into the evening. During balmy summer’s evenings, the midges – those buggers! – were so numerous that they would follow a player around, buzzing into the ear, ruining the match, attracted to the sweat. Players could be seen swatting the air with rage, their enemies invisible to everyone else. If the swarms went for me, then I would surreptitiously amble over to another player, in the hope that the swarm would latch onto them instead. Those were the days.

Cycling home, you’d better close your mouth, or else you’d swallow a few. Yuck!

I miss those days.

Take a look at any car bumper today: no dead flies. Go for a walk in the evening, even near the trees: again, no swarms of midges, just the odd one or two flies, conspicuous by their scarcity. Walking across The Stray in Harrogate – genuinely – I am more likely to see a bird of prey, usually a Red Kyte, than I am a swarm of midges.

Whilst of course inextricably bound-up with climate change, the decimation of biodiversity in my lifetime (I’m 41) should lead the news, on the hour, every hour. Like a boiled frog, as a species we don’t seem to notice the extinction event before us.

As Professor Dave Goulson writes in The Guardian:

“Few people seem to realise how devastating this is, not only for human wellbeing – we need insects to pollinate our crops, recycle dung, leaves and corpses, keep the soil healthy, control pests, and much more – but for larger animals, such as birds, fish and frogs, which rely on insects for food. Wildflowers rely on them for pollination. As insects become more scarce, our world will slowly grind to a halt, for it cannot function without them.”

As to the percentage of decline, he writes:

“In 2015 I was contacted by the Krefeld Society, a group of entomologists who, since the late 1980s, had been trapping flying insects on nature reserves scattered across Germany. They had amassed insects from nearly 17,000 days of trapping across 63 sites and 27 years, a total of 53kg of insects. They sent me their data to ask for my help in preparing it for publication in a scientific journal. In the 27 years from 1989 to 2016 the overall biomass (ie weight) of insects caught in their traps fell by 75%. In midsummer, when in Europe we see the peak of insect activity, the decline was even more marked, at 82%.”

This mirrors my own estimate of the decline during my lifetime. What is your estimate?

Goulson argues that we should urgently do the following:

  • Create a society which values nature, by educating the next generation.
  • Greenifying our urban areas.
  • Transforming food production, by reducing pesticides.
  • Properly funding groups, such as Natural England.
  • Improving legal protection for rare insects and habitats.

I’m no scientist, but I fear that we moved well beyond the tipping point some years ago. Whilst the political class catches up, on an individual basis, we all urgently need to do much more. I need to do much more.

CategoriesHealthHarrogateThought of The Day

A New Vocation

This chronic illness lark is like having a new job. So many appointments to attend. So many biological readings to document. So much research to undertake:   a never-ending, insurmountable amount of research to perform. So many Facebook groups to scour for information, lending support to others when I can.

So many medical experts to juggle. So many letters – yes, letters! – to write. So much evidence to archive. New tablets to collect, to ingest and then the impact thereof, if any, to document. All the while, my I-watch tells me how little movement I have done, how few steps. And food – did I eat the right stuff and at the right times? And is there an alternative medic – a witch doctor will do! – with the silver bullet, just waiting for me locate?

I could do with a break from this job. It’s knackering – and then there is the illness to contend with, and my obligations unperformed.

Of course, my chances of recovery are far higher than for any person in preceding centuries, but I do wonder whether all these burdensome, self-centred tasks are in some ways detrimental to a recovery. In years gone by, perhaps some people in my position would go to Harrogate to “take the water” just as Karl Marx did with his daughter, Eleanor, in November 1873, staying for three weeks. I’m already here!

CategoriesHarrogate

Return to the Office

Quite rightly, Covid has given us the chance to reconsider our lives. Nobody, it seems, wants to return to commuting. Environmentally, this is indisputably a good thing.

Home working – which my firm has been doing for years – has countless benefits. The negatives, however, have not enjoyed enough oxygen yet. A balance – a harmony – is usually optimal. For knowledge workers like me, it is our solemn duty to train the next generation. It’s a mistake to think that such training can happen remotely. It can’t.

I posted about to this issue on Linkedin. In response, one professional put it elegantly: “It’s difficult to replicate the on-the-job learning, snatched questions, observations and ‘ear-wigging’ of conversations etc. which all contribute to a lawyer’s development.” Indeed.

Although I have been back in the office for months, I appeared in this week’s Harrogate Advertiser, given that this is the week that Reckless Boris has pushed the return to the office. Here is my quote to the paper, though only a few words were used:

“The duty of any professional person is to train the next generation. Such training cannot all take place by Zoom, email or telephone. This training – often by osmosis – must take place in person. Too many employers are making the mistake – which isn’t easily fixed – of thinking that their junior staff can learn their profession adequately from their spare rooms (if they have them).

Pre-Covid, for most knowledge workers – particularly lawyers, for whom I can speak about – it was farcical that so many were forbidden to work from home. During and post-Covid, many businesses have gone too far. Harrogate businesses must find a middle-ground.

If all professionals are now home-workers, then the main factor which will determine for whom you work is pay. Many jobs will therefore be outsourced to cheaper countries. Though home-working, which crushes the curse of presenteeism, is perhaps more meritocratic, new people to an organisation will struggle to bed-in. Any existing cliques will continue. Through home-working, the culture of an organisation will slowly perish.

The pandemic reminds us all – should we need reminding – that we are all, from a health perspective, inextricably linked. What’s more, the pandemic has revealed that, economically, we are also inextricably connected: if some businesses collapse, then so will others. Harrogate is at precipice: we must act in unison to save it. Adhering to guidance, the businesses of Harrogate must return to the office, for our town needs our presence and our cash.”

Here is the story in the paper:

Harrogate Advertiser September 3 2020 A

Harrogate Advertiser September 3 2020 B

CategoriesHarrogate

Improved Online Schooling During Lockdown

My children have now been away from school for two months. Disappointingly and surprisingly, their teachers have not called to check in on them. Via email, we have received exercises to complete. It isn’t easy to home-school and work full-time.

Over the last three weeks (perhaps prompted by my letter), all they have had is one hour of contact, per week, with their respective teachers. It has been the highlight of their lockdown, as of course it would be. Simply, this isn’t enough.

I realise that my kids are privileged: I blogged (not bragged) about our life as a family here, my most popular post. My fear isn’t for my children, rather I’m most concerned for children who aren’t as fortunate.

After huffing and puffing, I decided to do something additional about it. Below is my petition, which I have sent to North Yorkshire County Council. I fear that their website will not permit online signatures. Let’s see what develops.

I want to record, for my kids, that I tried to do something about it.

Action required:

We, the undersigned, request that during lockdown, all North Yorkshire County Council schools provide 9-3pm optional online lessons for their pupils. We note that most private schools are providing optional online full lessons. State-educated children need more interaction with their teachers.

We thank the teachers, teaching assistants and support staff who have provided schooling in person to children of key workers.

We are concerned that disadvantaged children are suffering most during this crisis. We request that disadvantaged children are provided with the appropriate equipment necessary to take part in online lessons.

 

CategoriesHarrogate

Local Tory-Imposed Austerity

Conservative Councillor Skidmore, of Ripon, celebrated our council’s 16.7 per cent drop in funding by telling our local paper:

“Everybody is feeling the same pain, perhaps some more than others, but we have got to put the sovereign debt issue to bed and the only way of doing that is to stop spending,” he said.

“It’s like if you don’t want to get fat, don’t eat – stop eating cream cakes.”

Such economically backward thinking is going to cause a crisis; such a poor analogy. If you want to lose some weight, how about you do some exercise? Similarly, if you want to stimulate the economy, so that more people are in employment and the tax take increases, do some spending.

The Tory lie that this country is like a household seems to resonate with the public. But when a household cuts it’s spending, it doesn’t have to think about the wider economy. But when a Government cuts spending the net effect is the depression of the economy. The Tories, arch-clingers-on to the past, are making the same mistakes that were made in the 1930s.

And what makes me particularly angry with the likes of Councillor Skidmore is that he implies that he doesn’t want to see a reduction in the council budget, but this is political raison d’être: to reduce, by any means possible, the effectiveness of the state.

So, no crocodile tears, councillor; the people will see straight through you in the end. You know that the cuts are ideological. This is what you came into politics for.