CategoriesPolitics

Our Duty to Pummel Reckless Boris (RB) now

Our death toll is so extraordinarily high (now over 40,000) because we had ten years of needless austerity, coupled with the least suited candidate for PM in memory. Had the Lib Dems or Labour or the Greens been in office for the last ten years, then we wouldn’t have lost so many people. This is painful for Tory voters to accept, but it is unarguable.

Thankfully, Keir Starmer is ramping up the pressure on the Government, though he is careful not to stick the dagger in. Ed Davey, temporary Lib Dem leader, explains his views on how to hold the Government to account here.

“Of course the Tories cannot be blamed for the coronavirus, but there are so many questions that will need to be answered, such as why, after the trial-run we had for a pandemic – codenamed Cygnus – four years ago, we hadn’t made the recommended provision for ventilators, PPE and critical care beds. We will have to ask also why big events such as Cheltenham [Festival] were allowed to take place.”

The article goes on to state: “Davey feels there is nothing to be gained by being “finger-pointingly party political”, and says that, while there are legitimate questions that need to be asked about, for instance, whether the government should have locked the country down earlier, they should be kept for the public inquiry.”

Cleverly, Reckless Boris (RB) has invoked the wartime spirit. In war, what matters is not so much the casualty rate, but whether victory is declared. History is written by the victors. If the UK overcomes the pandemic, victory will be proclaimed. This could be years away, though we may need to live with this spectre until a vaccine is found. Therefore, any public inquiry, which would need to trawl through thousands of pages of documents, cross-examining hundreds of witnesses, will take years. By way of comparison, the Iraq War Inquiry took seven years. The outcome of a public inquiry into the Covid disaster might be finished by 2030.

In politics, control of the narrative is crucial. Just look at the headlines on the red tops below, which went to press as we passed 30,000 deaths.

lockdown tweet

Most of these newspapers supported RB in the 2019 General Election, aiding and abetting our parlous predicament.

The Lib Dems, which I joined last year, have always been too nice. And a consequence of being too nice is that we haven’t had a majority in 100 years. For unfathomable reasons, many in the Lib Dems are basing their electoral calculations on the premise that the next General Election is five years away, as specified in the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011. Such thinking misses the obvious: that the recent General Elections occurred in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

With the UK the laughing-stock of the world, with British exceptionalism squashed, and with our service sector-heavy economy falling into a depression, a General Election should take place far sooner. To do so, to remove the chance of another disastrous Tory Government, with its associated risks to public health, the Lib Dems should lead the charge against RB and his Government of Brexit sycophants, now.

Opposition to RB and his cronies is being led by Piers Morgan, who described the slaughter as a “genocide”. His excoriating interviews of hapless Tory cabinet ministers are a national embarrassment. So much damage he is doing that the top Tories are refusing to appear on his show, leading to this awesome monologue. Dominating the political narrative now, tapping into Morgan’s line of questioning, may make the Tories political toast for a generation. It is our duty to ensure that they never rule again and are removed from office forthwith.

CategoriesPolitics

You must be kidding, right?

With the UK set to have the highest death rate in Europe – currently we have the third highest death rate in the world – any sane, dispassionate, thinking person would presume that whichever Government presided over such a disaster would be getting hammered by the electorate. But you would be wrong. Welcome to the UK.

In terms of the polls, at the end of January, Reckless Boris had a net approval rating of– 1 per cent. By April 13, with the country reeling, the PM’s ratings had increased by 41 per cent! This paragraph is worth re-reading.

Additionally, during this same period of time, the proportion of people likely to consider voting Tory at the next general election rose from 41 to 45 per cent.

Now let’s take a fair look at what the Government has done well and what it hasn’t.

What has gone well

  • Some of the economic measures, notably furlough, VAT payment cessations, and business rates rebates, which have secured, as much as they could, the lifeblood of capitalism: confidence.
  • Some of the public health broadcasts have been fine.
  • The NHS hasn’t collapsed.
  • The nationalisation of the railways.

What has gone badly wrong

  • Thousands of unnecessary deaths.
  • PPE shortages.
  • First and second versions of the CBIL scheme were disastrous.
  • The PM shook hands with Covid patients on 3 March, whilst other countries were locked down.
  • Cheltenham Festival and other events were allowed to continue.
  • Very limited testing.
  • Under-funding of the NHS for a decade.
  • Social care on its knees.
  • Initially, the bonkers idea of herd immunity.

With our impressive National Health Service, the additional weeks for preparation, our island advantage and as the 6th richest country, our death rates are simply staggering. Lest we forget that Reckless Boris missed five COBRA meetings. Lest we forget that Captain Tom felt compelled to raise money for NHS charities, so starved of funding the NHS has been. Lest we forget that Reckless Boris succeeded in his mad mission to catch Covid, when his umpteenth partner was heavily pregnant with his umpteenth child. With all that, surely the public must be dismayed with his handling, but no.

What can explain such defective thinking by so many?

Though a lobotomy would be needed to think in such a flawed way, perhaps the electorate who voted for Reckless Boris in December knew that they had elected a charlatan, but he was their charlatan. They knew that he didn’t know all his children, knew that he had been sacked multiple times for bending the truth, but he was better than “terrorist-sympathiser” Corbyn. Confirmation bias as much to answer for.

But why are there new converts to cause Johnson, given the mounting evidence that his actions and omissions will have killed their loved ones? To hazard a guess, the fear of Covid is so awful, so all-consuming, that to add to the woe the realisation that we couldn’t have a worse leader at such a crucial time would make the Covid stupor even more unbearable. So, don’t think about it. Presume faith in Dear Leader. Suspend intellect.

And we shouldn’t forget Reckless Boris’ gift for politicking. Britain’s identity is wrapped up in our obsession with World War Two. Once Reckless Boris took Covid seriously, he whipped the country into war mode, with him playing Churchill. It’s heresy to question Churchill’s decisions, though there were many hair-brained Churchillian calamities. Brainwashing of millions now complete. But Boris is no Churchill, he’s like a First World War general, sending his men over the top.

CategoriesPolitics

The Government of National Blame

Regular readers to this blog may have spotted my prediction on 4 April here that Operation “Nail Starmer” had begun. I foresaw that Starmer would be invited into the General’s tent, when Corbyn was not.

Today, twenty-three days later from Starmer’s ascension, on his first day back after his brush with death, Reckless Boris said he would bring “in opposition parties as far as we possibly can because I think that there is no less that what the British people would expect…” Sensible British people expected this move months ago.

Why this move now? From the country’s perspective, the optimum time to involve opposition parties was during the five COBRA meetings which Reckless Boris missed. Opposition parties were ignored at the outset because of Corbyn’s toxicity and the Tories’ delusion of competence. Quite simply, Starmer would have been invited to the party many days ago had it not been for the PM’s absence.

As Reckless Boris told us today, now is the time of maximum risk – that’s why this amoral political genius will look to Labour for political cover. But will Starmer get involved? If he doesn’t, Starmer will be painted as unpatriotic, but if he can withstand that criticism, and the country’s fortunes nosedive, we may see an election before the five years specified in the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. Providing the narrative – that Reckless Boris missed five COBRA meetings – is repeated ad nauseum, the Tories will be toast.

Skilled Starmer must dance on the head of a pin in order to escape the accusation of treason – for not helping the PM in this hour of need; in addition, he must dodge the charge of Joint Enterprise – for being associated with economic collapse if he does join the quasi-Government of National Unity. Starmer must set a price which is both reasonable in the eyes of the public and yet unpalatable to Boris. Already the PM’s emissaries will be doing his bidding. As Boris is twice the political operator, my money is that he will get his man.

Postscript: The Times chose not to report the PM’s words about the potential involvement of opposition parties.

CategoriesPolitics

99-year old Tom Moore shouldn’t have needed to do that 

Today, legendary Captain Tom Moore opened – virtually – the new nightingale hospital in my hometown of Harrogate. By walking, very slowly, 100 times around his garden, Captain Tom has raised £27m for the NHS. Just when we needed a fillip, here it came.

But Captain Tom shouldn’t have had to do this. These last ten years, the NHS has been systematically and deliberately decimated. Staff shortages and A & E waiting times are at an all-time high, whilst thousands of medics quit the scuttled ship. The donations are so numerous that I can’t help but speculate whether people who voted for the ruination of the NHS are those who felt compelled to donate the most. Buyer’s remorse, perhaps.

Who can forget when Tory MPs cheered as they voted down a pay-rise for nurses in 2017. Of course, true to form, Harrogate’s MP voted against that motion.

Whilst PPE shortages beggar belief, I can do no better than to quote Councillor Pat Marsh:

“Just as Captain Tom would not have been sent to the frontline without at least a helmet and a gun, then our frontline staff have to be given the right tools in their fight against coronavirus.”

CategoriesPolitics

What is work? Enter: Universal Basic Income (UBI)        

Before this crisis, most of us had some sort of work to perform. You might be thinking: what about the retired and the super-rich – surely, they didn’t perform any work? Well, that depends on how you define work.

One of the “gifts” of Covid is that the concept of what is and isn’t work is now up for debate. Whether you are a grandparent schooling a grandchild on Zoom; or a neighbour shopping for a vulnerable neighbour; or a furloughed parent home-schooling their child; or a humdrum office worker, like me, now typing away in a spare room. All of us are performing work. Society might pay – and pay handsomely – for some of these jobs, but not all are considered to be worthy of the title “work”. It’s time for a re-configuration of our definitions.

By chance, two years ago I read Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman’s, career-defining Utopia for Realists. So inspirational I found this book that I sent some friends copies. In it, the historian examines efforts – notably by Richard Nixon (who was born a Quaker!) – to introduce a Universal Basic Income (UBI). Thereafter, Bregman argues – semi-cogently – for the introduction of UBI, internationally. Who would have thought that it was a Republican President who was closest to introducing UBI! Bregman notes that Nixon performed a volte-face when his advisors gave him a paper about the first experiment in UBI the 1830s Britain. Nixon’s advisors argued that the British experiment proved that it couldn’t work in 1970s United States.

In brief, the UBI concept goes as follows: due to technological advances, millions of people will lose their jobs. One way to solve the mass unemployment is to pay each citizen a chunk of cash each month, without any assessments. Citizens can still earn more with paid work. Stay-at-home parents, students, hedge fund managers, retirees et al, all receive the same sum from the State each month, enough to pay for a home, utilities and food. The rate would vary per country. With no assessments, the State wouldn’t need to waste so much time and effort on the Department for Work and Pensions, or equivalents. Some might regard this as the fulfilment of one of Marx’s best-known quotes:

“… society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

But UBI isn’t Marxism. UBI doesn’t interfere with property rights, nor does it agitate for class struggle.

UBI experiments have taken place all around the world, notably in Finland. The 2019 Labour manifesto was filled with so many give-aways, including the hilarious free internet for all, that its commitment to experimenting with UBI, contained in page 60 of its manifesto, garnered little attention. Labour stated: “And we will explore other innovative ways of responding to low pay, including a pilot of Universal Basic Income.”

Much of the supposed madness of Corbynomics has been introduced by the Tories. Furloughing – where an employee received 80% of pay up to £2,500 per month for doing no work – and the £2,500 scheme for the self-employed, are, combined, UBI by another name. At the very least, the Chancellor’s giveaway should be regarded as demi-UBI. Yet, our media are using the new-fangled furlough terminology rather than the better-known, UBI. However, one main difference is that our UBI doesn’t apply to non-employees or those who weren’t self-employed. But it’s a good start.

According to The Independent, on 6 April, Spain is the first European country to introduce UBI in response to Covid, even though we have implemented demi-UBI first. The difference being is that in Spain UBI is likely to remain post-pandemic. Billionaire Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey, is spending up to $1bn on promoting UBI as a cure to the Corona Depression.

Despite the introduction of demi-UBI, with consumer spending decimated, no amount of Government stimulus will be able to kick-start the economy until a vaccine has been found, implemented, and implemented internationally. Our economy is led by consumer spending, but now that consumers are hard-wired to stockpile food and cash, consumers will not come to the rescue. As a result, it’s likely that we will be stuck in a depression, with millions out of work, whilst technology – now used by people of all ages – hoovers up jobs. Protectionism may well stymie international trade, exacerbating the negative spiral. A full UBI may be our only way out.

During World War Two we have Keynes working away, and then shaping post-war Britain for the better. With the world economy on its knees, our welfare state was created. Do we have a Keynes today? Bregman is no Keynes, but to his credit he has only popularised an idea which has been around for nearly two centuries. Perhaps UBI will be our saviour.

CategoriesPolitics

Covid healed the Brexit wound

Tonight’s NHS clap on our street was the loudest yet! Accompanying the obligatory clapping and clattering of pans were fireworks and music. Although Dominic Raab’s instruction, just a few hours before, was for a further three weeks of lockdown, our neighbours were in rumbustious mood. At a distance, we discussed with them just how many times we had performed this weekly ritual: three, four or five? Who knows: the days have become indistinguishable.

And what a change from the toxicity of Brexit. Pre-31 January 2020 (and every other imaginary date set by this Government), our Whatsapp memes were all anti-Brexit; we were at each other’s throats. But these last few weeks our Whatsapps contain hilarious videos of people – often older people – ridiculing their lives in lockdown. Society has become so much nicer, more collegiate.

At work, with our stock-in-trade being disputes, our lawyers report that conversations with their opponents are now, believe it or not, pleasant. Cases are settling quickly, as egos have been despatched with. We are all in it together, to a greater or lesser degree.

And then Brexit ruined the day by rearing its ugly head again. With good reason, the EU have hinted that they may need to extend the transition period because, frankly, there are more pressing issues to contend with, like a pandemic which has triggered a depression. The response from Downing Street: non! Given that the officials cannot meet in person, and remembering that even Michelle Barnier contracted Covid, our Government’s response is undiplomatic, un-British, unkind.

We are a courteous nation of people who apologise to someone who has accidentally bumped into us. Few sane Brits would hold it against Boris if in these wild times the transition period was extended, regardless of your Brexit views.

Covid has brought the British people together, because we are grown-ups: we know that regardless of whether we are Brexiteers or remainers what is important is that we get along, helping each other out. Disappointingly, this Up Yours Delors moment from our Government portends future isolationism, and the worst of all Brexit deals. This, at a time when we need international cooperation, as the United Nations Secretary General implores, is not in the British national interest. The EU won’t forget this, nor should they. We should hang our heads in shame.

CategoriesPolitics

RIP The British Economy: murdered by bureaucracy         

As a small business owner, and as someone who interviews business owners for the The Harrogate Podcast, I fear for our SMEs. Most have been clobbered by COVID. My best guess is that 1 million businesses will perish in the next few weeks – all caused by British bureaucracy and presided over by this incompetent Government.

Regular readers to my blog will note my fury at the lack of preparedness and foresight displayed by this Government, particularly when it comes to matters of health. Just remember the debacle over ventilators (see my post here) as well as the disgraceful absence of PPE.

However, I welcomed the Chancellor’s semi-blank cheque to businesses and to workers. I welcome the Chancellor’s proclamation that this is not the time for ideology (code for: our right-wing economics will fail here, as it failed with austerity). And I praise the Chancellor for essentially introducing universal basic income in the form of the furlough scheme for employees and the £2,500 available to the self-employed. Praise where praise is due. The Chancellor started this crisis well.

But as all business owners know, cash is king. Hopeless zombie businesses can survive for years when money is plentiful. Although the concept of Government-supported loans for SMEs is to be applauded, the schoolboy Chancellor should have realised just how impossible it would be for the banks to provide the lending and to do so at pace and scale.

Two weeks ago, I had the misfortune to telephone my business bank. After 102 minutes, my call was answered. I was told that I could get a call-back in two weeks’ time! Businesses will be going under as I type because of the predictable difficulties of transferring billions of pounds from banks to businesses, whilst obtaining approval from the British Business Bank – an institution that I bet you hadn’t heard about before this crisis.

The first iteration of this loan scheme had to be scrapped because it demanded that businesses could only obtain funding if they first applied for commercial lending – at a time when it takes 102 minutes for the phone to be answered! In addition, the scheme required business owners to accept personal guarantees. Why would a business owner accept personal guarantees up to £250k if they didn’t know how long the lockdown would last, nor whether there would be future demand for their services? Pre-Covid, most SME owners moaned about their banks. Any business owner could have told the Chancellor that his first scheme was doomed to failure. Our Chancellor, who is married to a billionaire’s daughter and who has only worked in city hedge funds, couldn’t possibly know what it is like to run an SME. Why would he?

Am I being harsh on our Government? Let’s contrast how our system is working compared to Switzerland. This article appeared in The Times several days ago. The author, Tyle Brule, a Canadian entrepreneur working in Switzerland, described the Swiss scheme as follows:

“Fill out a form with six basic questions, send it to your bank and, all being well, you would receive a loan covering up to 10% of your turnover, with a ceiling of 500,000 francs, within 24 hours — zero interest, no penalties, repayable in five years and a jail term to match for wrong answers.

As Switzerland is home base for my businesses, I tried it out. Would they come good on the snappy turnaround? Could they really make a decision that quickly? Just 18 hours later I had my answer: 500,000 francs was in my account at UBS in St Moritz. My partner sent in an application at 11am on Tuesday and the funds were with him three hours later.”

Businesses will survive in Switzerland, but they will not here. Prudently managed businesses, run by caring competent owners, are going to the wall, leaving a trail of destruction and a negative economic tornado. This is all entirely preventable. Using data from Companies House, the Government could transfer 10% of last year’s turnover to the nominated bank account which pays Corporation Tax or VAT. Moreover, as humans cannot make the lending decisions fast enough, particularly when so many are poorly and/or caring for children at home, technology could have saved the day.

Clearly, it is better for the economy – for people – that most businesses receive some financial support and that there is some abuse, rather than the current farce which prevents abuse, but leads to SME insolvency en masse.

If businesses are to survive – and therefore the economy is not to tank – loans need to be paid to businesses now. There is no time for due diligence. This is the time for rapid action.

RIP to the economy as we knew it.

CategoriesPolitics

The Key Worker Party?

Whilst it’s the zeitgeist to make for predictions for the post-COVID world (and I have made a few already), here is another.

The Key Worker identity is here to stay, and so it should. This diverse group – some of whom are unionised and most of whom are not – will become the electorate group that all political parties will seek to impress. In time, Key Workers may become a homogenous political group. Given that this group will – with good justification – have realised their worth to society (though it was never in doubt for me), they will turn out to vote in higher numbers, enhancing their electoral allurement.

And it doesn’t stop there. I have already noticed that people speak with heightened pride that their friend or relative is a Key Worker. And so they should. I foresee that people who live with Key Workers, and the wider families of Key Workers, will want to identify with the party which seeks to represent Key Workers best. The Key Worker political identity will be born.

In the similar way that families of military personnel have for generations tended to vote Tory, (despite the usual Tory cuts made to defence spending), and as trade union members are usually friendly to Labour, the Key Worker vote may ally themselves with one party for decades. But which way will this heroic, patriotic group vote?

To entice them, the Tories will, I bet, increase pay for public sector workers, whilst perhaps increasing the Living Wage for all other Key Workers. But the lack of PPE will rightly hinder the Tories from successfully wrapping themselves in the Key Worker flag. In addition, the Tory hostility to immigration will live long in the memories of Key Workers, many of whom are immigrants, such as the two nurses who saved the PM’s life. With the now-humbled Boris already ahead in traditional Labour areas, with the first (pointless) budget of March being the middle-ground land-grab, the Tories have the chance to seize this new political territory. And as Boris isn’t a right-wing ideologue, he will do what it takes to create his legacy. Although Boris will wield his COVID survival story in due course, the Tories will struggle to seduce the Key Worker heroes.

As for Labour’s chances, now under the stewardship of someone who cannot be as incompetent as the last leader, Labour will believe that they are the natural home of the Key Workers. However, Corbyn and his coterie have damaged the Labour brand to such an extent that those who deserted the party will think twice about returning. Labour will do well with the non-doctor NHS staff and teachers. The doctors and delivery drivers will be harder to convince. Labour are prime placed to hoover-up these new votes.

Had the Lib Dems be in a stronger position, then they could also dominate the Key Worker demographic. With the news dominated by COVID, a weak third party will not for some time get a media hearing. It shouldn’t stop the Lib Dems from trying, though. Whichever party cultivates this land first may win.

But is there a fourth party on the horizon? Probably not. In our rotten first-past-the-post system, new parties will struggle to breakthrough. UKIP, for all its European success, never had any Westminster success. The National Health Action Party, Women’s Equality Party (could a party have a worse name?), The Independent Group/Change UK, the Referendum Party and – who can forget The Monster Raving Looney Party, which wanted to ban winter – have all failed. But with change in the air, with many people taking the view that the Brexit debacle exposed the silliness of our unwritten constitution, perhaps constitutional change will gravitate to the top of the agenda. As Lenin said: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Nothing would surprise me anymore.

CategoriesPolitics

Testing, testing, 1, 2, not 3       

In mid-February, I started with a sky-high temperature. After that, I was absolutely shattered for two days. Adhering to governmental instruction, I telephoned 111, and followed their advice: no need to isolate, nothing to see here, move along now. Not long thereafter, my wife fell ill with a temperature, lethargy and then a persistent cough. During her illness, the advice changed, so we as a family stayed at home.

Was that coronavirus? Perhaps, and perhaps we will never know. Had we been living in South Korea, Hong Kong, China, Singapore or Taiwan, we would know. As a result, we continue to live as if we are vulnerable to coronavirus, when we might be immune. It is not a great imposition on us. No sympathy required. Millions of you are in our boat.

Unfathomably, however, the Government hasn’t tested, to any proper degree, the people that really matter most: the heroes in hospital who are risking their lives. Medics who live with someone with a cough are now obligated to isolate due to the dearth of testing. At a time when the NHS is calling up retired medics to re-join, it is madness not to test the current health practitioners who are languishing at home, well. On top of that, medics who carry the virus but are asymptomatic are spreading the virus to the healthy. You couldn’t make it up. The NHS staff know this: what a personal burden to carry at the most challenging of times. Medics, particularly from a BAME background, are dying.

The countries closest to the virus epicentre have the best reason for being unprepared. Equally, those countries furthest from the virus epicentre have had the longest period to prepare. But we didn’t, in what was the greatest dereliction of duty by a Government in my lifetime. We could have followed South Korea, but we didn’t. Contact tracing, coupled with an early shutdown, could have squashed it, just as New Zealand has done. But we had reckless Boris at the helm, someone who viewed the ill as somehow lacking in moral fibre. To quote the PM’s biographer, Andrew Gimson, in The Guardian:

“Boris never used to believe in illness. He neither admitted to sickness himself, nor noticed it in others. He believed he was strong enough to keep going regardless of any symptoms from which he might be suffering. His strong inclination was to overwork, not to put his feet up. In the light of his experiences one hopes he will change his outlook.”

Though we are as a nation plugged in to the global movement of people, the Government squandered our island advantage. When I returned to the UK by plane in February there were no checks at the airport. We were asking for it. From early February onwards, what has happened to us was entirely foreseeable.

Postscript: I’m writing to record precisely what is happening so that, when the pandemic passes, the Government – through its media allies – cannot spin us all out of the calamity of their making. The Government must pay for its incompetence.