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.

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.