CategoriesPolitics

Goodbye to the Lib Dems

This week, I resigned from the Liberal Democrats as my membership expired. It’s hard to dislike a Lib Dem: they are good people. Usually ideology-free, the Lib Dems wants the best for their local. Localism is what defines them, which often leads to different political positions dependent upon the ward or constituency. This, in turn, irks the other parties, who fairly accuse the Libs of flip-flopping.

My criticism/observation of Libs is that their North Star – their guiding principle – is to disagree with the Conservative Party. Essentially, their identity is not to be the Tories. That was my view before I became a member and remains my view. In recent polling, they are marooned on 5%.

Sadly, most of the Lib Dems I know frown upon any prospect of an electoral pact with other parties, but this is their only route to electoral success, barring a Covid and/or Brexit seismic political event. Disappointingly, tribalism is alive and well in the Libs. Tribalism is of course a base, pathetic instinct from another era.

Nearly everyone that I have met in politics wants the best for their country, yet each side denigrates the motivations of the other. Party politics unnecessarily pits good people against each other. With the antiquated whipping system, good politicians vote for bad laws – like against Marcus Rashford’s free school meals plea – in order to survive, thrive and to climb the ladder.

The representative system is flawed. Constitutional reform is the order of the day, but how to achieve it when the incumbent system benefits those in power? E-democracy – like Polis from Taiwan – could shake things up.

CategoriesPolitics

Perfect is the Enemy of Good: Part One

So said Voltaire, with similar versions from Shakespeare and Confucius.

Throughout lockdown, the lack of schooling for my kids – and to millions of other children less fortunate than mine – has incensed me.

Generally, private schools have moved their lessons online, doing so at pace. State schools, however, have largely failed their children, though there are outliers, by mostly shunning online lessons.

For the sake of posterity, and so that my children know that I tried to make a difference. I offered constructive help to my kids’ school, even offering to pay for an IT consultant to help – which remains unacknowledged. I explained that the Information Commissioner has stated that they will take a common sense (read: generous) approach to data protection regulation during the pandemic. Sadly, my generous, helpful letter was rebuffed.

Broadly, the response from the school was:

  • Teachers are forbidden to check on their pupils by telephone, unless they attend school to make the calls. Hogwash.
  • Given that not all children have devices, we will not offer any online tuition. But we will make no effort to pool resources from other parents.
  • We will send numerous emails with work to be completed, with parents and carers having to sit with them all day, even if they are working full-time and don’t know how to teach.
  • We haven’t sought feedback from parents as to what they want: we know best.
  • Teachers aren’t trained to give lessons online, so we won’t experiment.

Given the disastrous, Delphic way that schools are managed – a hodgepodge of Local Authorities, Academies, powerless governors, Ofsted policeman, Department for Education, trade union involvement, with omnipotent, overworked Heads – not one organisation or person is responsible for the mess: but of course, all failures rest with the Government. Gavin Williamson must be fired.

Because it’s tricky to offer a proper education in lockdown, many State schools have taken the view that because online education can’t be perfect, nor equitable, they won’t try. Of course, the losers won’t be the privileged kids, rather it will be children who are less fortunate. Educational attainment levels will further widen.

I predict (yes, another prediction) that Boris will shortly launch a war against the teaching unions, which will, because of the failure to provide online education, enjoy popular support in the country. You have to admire Boris’ Machiavellian approach: tarnish the unions, even though millions of children have been deprived of an education since March, in order to crush them, permanently.

CategoriesPolitics

Return of the Lawyer Jokes

With Black Lives Matter rightly front and centre of debate, yesterday Keir Starmer commenced his PMQs by referring to the Lammy Report and the Windrush Report, highlighting what he said were recommendations contained therein which hadn’t been implemented by the Tories. Replying, Reckless Boris even muttered “Black Lives Matters”, and argued that recommendations contained in the reports – commissioned by the Tories – were in the process of being implemented. Watch this space.

Turning to the numbers of deaths, Starmer told the Commons that the “numbers haunt us” and that the death count is amongst the highest in the world. Challenging RB, Starmer asked whether there could be any pride in those numbers. RB deployed his usual refrain: it’s too early for international comparisons. Hogwash. We are a basket-case and everyone knows it.

Then to school re-openings, Starmer asked whether RB would work with him to determine the best way to get children back. Again, RB retorted that he had telephoned Starmer – same response as last week – to discuss this. Replying, Starmer essentially accused RB of lying – that RB hadn’t spoken to him about the re-opening of schools, instructing RB “to please drop that”.

This running sore is yet to be picked up by the parliamentary sketch-writers: Starmer is accusing RB of lying. As a lawyer myself, nothing riles us more than when your opponent plays fast and loose with the truth. Drilled into lawyers is the notion that we shouldn’t accuse anyone of deceit unless a high threshold is passed.

“I understand how the legal profession works” retorted Reckless Boris – yes, adhering to our code of ethics; never lying; upholding the rule of law; acting in our client’s best interests – all the traits which any public servant should hold dear.

Guaranteed: more lawyer jibes from RB.

Possible: more predictable questions from Starmer.

Unknown: how will a QC cope with an opponent whom he believes – with justification – has a penchant for falsehoods.

CategoriesPolitics

Double Praise for Boris Johnson

Parking Covid for a moment, frequently people on ‘the left’ chastise Reckless Boris (RB) – as I like to call him but not for the rest of this blog – for his countless misdemeanours. It’s a good sport, with plenty to go at. For my part, I’ll certainly highlight incidences of his numerous errors, most of which stem from his character flaws. Levelled at our Prime Minister by many is the accusation that he is racist.

Undeniably, as a provocative journalist he has written some truly ugly words, so ugly that I won’t repeat them here. I can’t and I won’t forget the words and descriptions he has deployed over the years. But it’s a non sequitur to conclude that journalists who use such terms are, ipso facto, racists. There is a strong correlation, of course, and I won’t defend the practice.

No doubt Boris will say almost anything to anyone in order to get what he wants, but what can we learn about his actions rather than his words. I’ll give you a recent example, one which he didn’t get enough credit for; one that I wholeheartedly support.

Plugged-in followers of international affairs will be aware of the on-going unrest in Hong Kong, triggered by China’s attempts to dominate the populous, scrapping the one country, two systems principle which has governed the quasi-state since independence.

With Brexit proper just months away, with the world orientating towards Beijing – as the US self-destructs – Boris has just done the unthinkable – unthinkable if you paint him as a racist – and offered nearly 3 million inhabitants of Hong Kong a path to British citizenship should China enact the Hong Kong-grabbing legislation. Not only is this brave, bold leadership at a time when we are de-coupling from the EU and the laughingstock of the world for our Covid horror show, but this policy squashes the notion that Boris is racist.

Boris’ essay appeared in the South China Morning Post and The Times under the heading “For Hongkongers fearing for their way of life, Britain will provide an alternative.” Here’s the key Boris offer:

“Today, about 350,000 of the territory’s people hold British National Overseas passports and another 2.5 million would be eligible to apply for them. At present, these passports allow visa-free access to the United Kingdom for up to six months.

If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change our immigration rules and allow any holder of these passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship.

This would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history. If it proves necessary, the British government will take this step and take it willingly.”

Boris has made me proud. He has done the right thing. Those who will be most troubled by this are people for whom Brexit was all about curtailing immigration. To them I say, “Ha, ha”. Boris isn’t a xenophobe, he’s one of the most cosmopolitan Prime Ministers we have had. Xenophobes don’t become London Mayor.

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Inspired by the famous Blair v Christopher Hitchens debate, some years ago I ran Harrogate Debate – an Oxford Union-style debating chamber here in Harrogate. Assisted by others, I hosted debates such as: Is Religion a Force For Good In the World? This House Would Ban Faith Schools; Assisted Dying; and of course, our most attended debate: Brexit.

Each time, the format was that the audience would vote on the motion upon entry to the chamber and then again after hearing the debate. The winner was the debater who persuaded the most people to switch to their position.

Today I watched the debate: Ancient Greece v Ancient Rome, which used the same debating format. Debated in London in 2015, chaired by Andrew Marr, Boris Johnson – who read Classics – argued that Ancient Greece was more impressive, more influential than Rome, with Cambridge Don, Beard, arguing the counter. On entry, the audience were broadly even, with some “don’t knows”. In the end, Beard won. (If I had attended, I would have voted for Ancient Greece on entry and at the end).

Hardly was it a fair fight. Boris read his degree in the mid-1980s and was London Mayor at that time of the debate – i.e. he had other things to do than prepare for a charity debate. Mary Beard was a current professor of classics. Watch it. For the first ten minutes Boris meanders without purpose, occasionally impressing the audience with his smattering of ancient Greek, before then springing into life, cogently arguing his case, predicated on two simple points.

First, Greece was the midwife to Rome: without Ancient Greece, there could be no Ancient Rome. Second, Rome was far crueller than Greece – no crucifixions nor gladiatorial shows. When Beard takes her turn, she eviscerates Boris for being – you guessed it – casual with the truth.

After their position statements are over, when they spar, Boris displays his quick-wittedness and deep understanding of his subject, recounting the years that this or that ancient event occurred. Regardless of who won, regardless of whether Boris accurately portrayed Ancient Greece, we – perhaps begrudgingly, depending on your position – must accept that we are governed by a very capable person.

CategoriesPolitics

Liar-In-Chief

To accuse anyone of lying one must be sure of the facts, even if that person is Donald Trump. Of course, no thinking person could conclude that the President is a “nice guy”, but is he a liar? Well, that’s another thing.

Though examples of his chicanery are numerous, I want to focus on a recent Trump tweet which I instantaneously knew was a falsehood.

Let’s consider the recent episode with James Mattis, a Four-Star US General, who made his name in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. Famously, Mattis made some pretty brutal comments about the conduct of war. No doubt based on his uncompromising approach, Trump appointed Mattis to be Secretary of Defence, even though he was within the 7-year period which prevented former military personnel from serving in office. His appointment required the approval of the Senate and Congress, passing with ease. Mattis assumed office in 2017.

In 2019, Mattis resigned because of Trump’s foaming-at-the-mouth mad policy towards Syria and NATO. Until recently, he has kept his mouth shut, as is the norm for retired generals.

Why write about Mattis today? Because of the below tweet from Trump:

tweet

In it, Trump declared that he nicknamed Mattis “Mad Dog”. But Mattis has endured – because he doesn’t like it – this nickname since at least 2004, if not before. This 2013 article – 6 years before Trump approached him – refers to “Mad Dog Mattis”. And this clipping from the Los Angeles Times dated 2004 – a mere twelve years before Trump selected him – also refers to the “Mad Dog” nickname. Trump’s tweet – like many of them – is a provable lie.

But proving that Trump lies is like shooting fish in a barrel. What’s more interesting is why Trump has a penchant for untruths. In this particular case, no votes could be won in declaiming that he came up with the nickname. Lying about a Four-Star General will not go down with his base, most of whom will have heard of Mad Dog Mattis before he became Secretary of Defence. Frightening, dangerous behaviour by anyone, let alone someone in the highest of office. He has no concept of truth. Perilous times are ahead.

CategoriesPolitics

George Floyd and Donald Trump

For posterity, I am posting the video which gruesomely shows the murder of George Floyd here. It needs to be seen to be believed.

For posterity, I am posting a memo, dated 2 June 2020, from General Mark Milley in which he reminds all military personnel their duty to uphold the US constitution.

letter2

Quoting Jim Mattis, Trump’s former Defence Secretary: “When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens -much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Writing in ForeignPolicy.com here, Retired Marine Corp four-star General John Allen, stated.

“The slide of the United States into illiberalism may well have begun on June 1, 2020. Remember the date. It may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.”

We will see.

CategoriesPolitics

PMQs on 3 June 2020

In PMQs today, Reckless Boris (RB) was in defensive mood, despatching Starmer’s attacks with consummate ease. The PM – king of winging it – knew what was coming because Starmer’s attack-piece in The Guardian was published the previous evening. Poor politicking from Starmer. Starmer must familiarise himself with The Art of War: attack your enemy when he is unprepared, not when he’s had 18 hours of prep time.

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Again at PMQs, startingly for an ethics-obsessed lawyer, Starmer appeared to breach any confidence that he had built with Reckless Boris (RB) by referring to a letter (below) which he sent to the PM on 18 May. Starmer complained that RB hadn’t had the courtesy to write back. Incensed, RB retorted something like: “But I called you and we discussed it on the phone”. Contrary to RB’s penchant for untruths, I have heard nothing to suggest that RB misled us on this. If so, naughty, naughty Mr Starmer. Apologise!

letter

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Avid readers of my blog might recall my suggestion that RB would attempt to bring Starmer into the General’s Tent – a move designed to share collective blame when the economy plummets into a depression. Sure, Starmer made the first move and, sure, RB telephoned. But who knows if RB’s emissaries had been previously sounded Starmer out, probably via a deniable back-channel. Await the autobiographies!

Regardless, with trust in the Government understandably evaporating, Starmer wouldn’t want to tether himself to this disaster. RB knows that. Tory knives are already out for RB and they know how to terminate a loser. Let RB own this one, backbench Tories are thinking.

CategoriesPolitics

Blairism and Borism

Saddo political anorak that I am, on what was a yet another gorgeous day (has the weather ever been better?), I cantered through – in awe – A Journey by Tony Blair. Never a fan of his, I want to know what made him tick; how did he get to the top; what were his routines, his secrets of success; and did he have a moral compass. Living through the Reckless Boris (RB) and Dominic Cummings age, what parallels could I draw from the Blair and Campbell time?

Slaloming through his early years, his ascendency and of course the 1997 win, nothing caused me greater dismay than how he managed his time whilst PM. Candidly, Blair explained that he would tell people what they wanted to hear – that he would meet them – when he knew that this was a lie. Blair’s words must be read:

“We used to have a phrase in the office called, in mock severity, ‘SO’, which stood for ‘sackable offence’. It applied to scheduling a meeting with people who were never to cross the threshold. It applied even if I had agreed to the meeting. It applied – I am a little ashamed to say – even if I had expressed to the individual concerned my deep frustration with my own office for defying my wishes and not scheduling the meeting.”

Dissecting these words, there are three elements to the lie. First, that he would meet this or that politician, usually a Labour backbencher. Second, when the thwarted MP asks when the meeting would take place, Blair would blame his office. And third, Blair must have briefed his office about the lies that he had told, preparing them to thwart the MP once more. Feigning anger to a Member of Parliament is stomach-churning stuff; deception of an advanced level.

Whilst unsurprised that this was Blair’s modus operandi, for someone so smart, it’s puzzling that he declared his innumerous deceptions in his book. And he wasn’t lying to the likes of you and me, oh no, he routinely lied to elected politicians, who just wanted to provide wise counsel. Blair could have omitted the anecdote. Perhaps writing his memoirs was cathartic, expunging the stains on his conscience.

Like any muscle, the “lie muscle”, if there is such a collection of cells, becomes stronger with repetition – just a little one here and another one there, the mind is readied to deceive. After a while, truth and fiction become inextricably entangled. President Jefferson nailed it when he wrote in 1785:

“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.”

The origins of our participation in the Iraq War can be traced to his routine use of the white lie. Today, we are experiencing Reckless Boris at his worst. Sacked by The Daily Telegraph for making up a source, sacked by Michael Howard for lying to him about an affair, we knew what we were getting: a charlatan who would mislead on the big stuff. His former boss, Max Hasting, wrote of RB before his coronation: “Johnson would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade.”

But must politicians lie to get to the top? And does the end justify the means? I don’t know. But what I do know is that Quakerism, like most religions, abhors a lie, and I’m a Quaker.

CategoriesPolitics

Action

I’m a relatively new member of the Liberal Democrats. I was a Tory at school, because my parents were Tories. University broadened my mind: as Jordan Peterson states, conservatism is more of a state of mind than a philosophical belief. Working as a classroom assistant in one of the most deprived parts of the country nudged me on my way to joining the Labour Party, even though at the time it was led by Tony Blair.

I spent 15 years in the Labour Party, serving as chair of the CLP for a time. Erroneously, I supported Jeremy Corbyn first time round. His leadership was so evidently shambolic and the media response to him so acerbic that he had no chance. My mistake – and I have made many – was assuming that Jeremy Corbyn would realise, once he had rejuvenated the party, that he was the wrong leader, stepping aside. Corbyn did love his personality cult – who’d have thought it?

Once Corbyn defeated Owen Smith for Labour Party leader, I was off. In part, I wanted the space to be free from as much ideological interference as I could muster. In addition, even though I have always thought that Labour’s analysis of the flaws of capitalism reigned supreme, I struggled with Labour’s approach to small businesses. Most of Labour Party bigwigs regarded business owners as, essentially, thieves. Furthermore, during Labour Party meetings rarely did anybody speak on environmental matters. Class politics dominated most discussions.

I recommend a break from a political party. You can always return. Political parties are not football teams: you should never change your football team. As Keynes said: “When the facts change, I change my mind.” In politics and economics, facts – if there are any – are always changing and therefore a wise person would frequently be forced to volte-face.

Changing parties may well lead to mistrust in the new party, but playing the game is not my game. Speaking truth is much more fun and frankly much more useful to those who hear it.

Tonight, I came face-to-face with a leader (at least a co-leader) of the Liberal Democrats, Dr Mark Pack. Infinitely brighter, more eloquent and more experienced in politics and I am, I suspect that he impressed our local party. In so many ways, I was very impressed too.

As the meeting was recorded, and is already available online, I can explain to my readers what it was that I asked him. I quoted Ed Davey’s interview in the New European which I blogged about here. I said that it was likely to be folly to await the outcome of a public inquiry into the Tory-caused Covid tragedy which we are living through, given that public inquiries, like the one in relation to the Iraq war, take many years. I suggested that the narrative needs to be defined now; that we are just lucky that we have Piers Morgan to do the work which opposition politicians should be doing.

He disagrees. He cannot see a General Election occurring outside of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – i.e. over four years away. Mark takes the view that because we only have 11 MPs, even though we have millions of voters and many millions more who do not despise us, that we must simply act accordingly – that whatever we do we will not be able to make any political headway.

I could not disagree more. This Government is a threat to public health, a threat to each and every one of us and to each organisation that we are involved with. It is our duty to our fellow countrymen and women to terminate the tenure of this Government forthwith. The Liberal Democrats should, in a few months’ time, demand a General Election. During this period, Liberal Democrats must find their Keynes, their North Star.

In times like these, what we do and what we don’t do, will be remembered always. The neighbours who helped you, you won’t forget. Opposition politicians who show character, show leadership, who speak truth to power, will be remembered and thanked, always.

Now is not the time for timidity; now is the time for action.

CategoriesPolitics

“Oven-ready” Fit-for-Covid Household Analogy

For as long as I can remember the Tories have argued, to huge effect, that a country’s economy is akin to a household budget. Simple, understandable, brilliant. Also, untrue.

The narrative – which the Tories usually command – goes like this: a household must balance its budget. If a household is in debt, then the household should cut spending. Debt must be repaid. Who could disagree with that?

Applying the same logic – with the economy like a household – the Tories argue that, particular in times of a recession, the Government must cut public expenditure in order to “balance the books”. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

To coral public opinion in order to lay waste to public spending, beggaring millions of people, the Tories routinely trot-out this simple household analogy. As very few people have a grasp of economics, this simple argument becomes the narrative: the sun, around which all other policies submissively encircle.

This explains the Tory’s cruel policy of austerity which caused a double-dip recession i.e. a recession that, when the economy eventually improves, then falls into a second recession. This article from 2012 neatly sums up what was happening at that time: the Tories took over a recovering economy, which then plummeted into a second policy-caused recession.

The fact that most of the welfare state, in particular the NHS, was formed in the rubble of World War Two, escapes most people’s consciousness. Austerity would have been an anathema to our greatest economist: Keynes. If only we had a Keynes today.

But why write about this deceit in the midst of the pandemic? Because, in order to defend the Government from the allegations that they failed to prepare, the Government reminds us that this pandemic is “unprecedented”. As most people’s lenses do not see far back into history, most people would concur that the pandemic is – duh – unprecedented.

Even a cursory knowledge of history would reveal the numerous plagues to have struck all parts of the world. The bible describes seven plagues. Reckless Boris’ (RB) hero is the Greek statesman Pericles. RB even has a bust of Pericles, not Churchill, on his desk. As RB will know, Pericles had to steer Athens through a plague which killed up to 100,00 Athenians, including Pericles himself. By the skin of his teeth, RB nearly followed in his hero’s footsteps.

Even in my lifetime we have contended with SARS, Ebola, MERS, Swine Flu and, for animals, foot and mouth. With the world more interconnected than ever, a pandemic would spread faster than before. Bill Gates foresaw it all, as mentioned in my blog on 31 March 2020 here.

RB’s poll rating remains absurdly high, even though our people have been slaughtered, because most people assume that an event which caught them unawares, of course caught the Government unaware too. Therefore, the Government can be forgiven for its lack of preparedness.

I have spoken to and witnessed on social media people use this argument: it’s fair enough that Government didn’t prepare for an unprecedented event, because we weren’t prepared as a household; my family didn’t foresee this. Burned into most people’s consciousness is that the household is a microcosm of a country.

But the primary role of Government is to protect its people. Our Government wastes billions on Trident, all in the name of self-defence. But with the Cold War over, with people criss-crossing the planet more than at any time in the history of humans, a pandemic was inevitable. The greatest threat to us in the short-term was never terrorism, it was a pandemic. This isn’t hindsight-thinking: our world-leading epidemiologists knew this.

In 2014, Public Health England (PHE) released its report into a likely pandemic found here. PHE’s Chief Executive stated: “The prospect of a flu pandemic is one of the highest risks faced by the UK. Ensuring the country is fully prepared and able to respond quickly and effectively is a top priority for PHE and, of course, for the government.”

The report also states (my underlining):

“With unpredictable frequency, novel influenza viruses emerge or re-emerge to cause an influenza pandemic. When this happens, it is likely that global spread will ensue rapidly, affecting large numbers of the population because there will be little or no immunity to this strain. However, until such an event occurs, the impact, expressed as the severity of the illness and proportion of the population that will be most severely affected, will be unknown. As a guide, the impact could range from a 1918-type pandemic, where severe disease was mainly in young adults, to a 2009 pandemic, where the illness was mild in most groups of the population.”

Two years after the report, in 2016, the Government war-gamed a flu-like pandemic, codenamed Exercise Cygnus. The Government never published the findings. However, the Chief Medical Officer at the time, Sally Davies, said: “We’ve just had in the UK a three-day exercise on flu, on a pandemic that killed a lot of people.” Davies highlighted that we needed more ventilators. As I blogged here, only in mid-March 2020 did the Government beg the private sector to immediately produce ventilators. “If you build them, we will buy them,” said a desperate Hancock.

Post-simulated apocalypse, the Government did nothing to prepare us. If anything, our defences weakened as PPE stockpiles deteriorated and our NHS and social care continued to decline.

Undeniably, the Government was on notice that a pandemic was coming. In the greatest derogation of duty, they didn’t protect us. So far, politically, this Government has been saved thanks to people’s learnt logic. What is needed, now, is intense, forensic decimation of the Tories as a political force. Tory Governments are a threat to us all, rich and poor.