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.

CategoriesThought of The Day

In defence of Reckless Boris (RB)

After the PM’s apparent bungled performance on Sunday evening, which was supposedly exacerbated by his “clarifications” on Monday, I thought that I would – candidly – spring to his defence.

Like many people, over the last two days I have been frequently interrupted by the pinging of my phone. Each time, a hilarious Whatsapp meme or Twitter video, sent from a variety of surprising sources, arrived, all mocking Reckless Boris’ for his do work, don’t work; do go out, don’t go out; do see family, don’t see family messages. If anything has become clear during lockdown is that we Brits love a joke.

Unquestionably, RB botched the pre-lockdown period, leading to the unnecessary slaughter of the innocents. Never was he a fit and proper person to hold such high office. But it doesn’t follow that his post-lockdown phase is flawed.

Levelled at Boris by many is the accusation that his recent messaging was confusing when he should have been clear. The messaging was unclear, just as they planned it to be. More effort would have gone into preparing for RB’s piece to camera on Sunday than in any of the previous announcements.

Evidently, somehow, the Government must make the country flow again, just as most European countries are unlocking. Nobody envies those who must make such decisions. The Government must, therefore, edge us, step by step, to the new-normal. But how to do this?

Imagine if the Government attempted to give coherent advice which was to be applicable to each person, to each organisation, would that have worked any better? I doubt it. Such clear advice would have had to be age group-specific; specific to town, city or country; specific to each job, and each sector; specific to people with or without young children; relevant to carers; the list goes on. In that scenario, the instructions would conflict. Our lives are unique: no set of rules could apply to all people. Bespoke rules per family would take eons to prepare, when time is not a commodity we have.

By perfecting obfuscation (a skill RB is endowed with), those who feel most able and most willing will move to the new normal, taking preventative measures. Those who return know what to do. The dog’s breakfast of advice, mostly, self-selects. There is something for everyone to cling to.

There will, of course, be employers who encourage the return of their employees when it is not “Covid secure”, but employees who are able to resist the foolish return to work can, for now, accept furlough. There will be casualties, but there would be casualties whichever way the Government now moves.

Other than voting in a buffoon, we had no personal responsibility for the pre-lockdown failures, but we do have some personal responsibility for how we tentatively get going again. The anger directed at RB now is because of our unforgivably high death toll. Trust in RB is evaporating, even if his approach to the great unlocking is appropriate.


Update to self: I am a key worker!

In an earlier blog post entitled Are You Important I declared that the Government did not deem me to be a Key Worker, as that was my reading of the guidance. The guidance was then – like most edicts from the Government during the pandemic – updated. The frequency of these updated schemes stinks of unpreparedness. The new guidance states that lawyer Key Workers include:

  • advocates (including solicitor advocates) required to appear before a court or tribunal (remotely or in person), including prosecutors
  • other legal practitioners required to support the administration of justice including duty solicitors (police station and court) and barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and others who work on imminent or ongoing court or tribunal hearings
  • solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills
  • solicitors and barristers advising people living in institutions or deprived of their liberty

I’m proud. My Harrogate law firm’s work, acting for circa 800 people and some businesses, fall into these categories. Of course, we aren’t paramedics, doctors, supermarket workers, teachers or such other key people, but I am pleased that what we do has been recognised by Government as central to the functioning of the country. The Rule of Law must survive during the pandemic.

Where we lawyers have common ground with the NHS workers and teachers etc is that these last ten years access to justice has been under attack by the Government. Believe it or not, but The Ministry of Justice’s budget accounts for only around 1% of Government spending, yet this Government and its media buddies would let you believe that Fat Cat Legal Aid lawyers have bled the country dry. Under this Government, the spend on the MOJ has fallen by a whopping 40%. To quote from a Labour MP in a debate on 3 October 2019:

“The Ministry of Justice budget fell from £10.6 billion in 2010 to £7.9 billion in 2020. Let no one be mistaken: those reductions have had a consequence on the services delivered by the Ministry of Justice, on the performance of staff under pressure and on the safety of staff in prisons across the estate for which the MOJ is responsible. They have also had a consequence on the MOJ’s ability to improve reoffending rates and reduce crime and to provide a service to consumers and constituents of mine and every Member of the House regarding work on legal aid, access to justice, fighting for employment rights through the tribunal system and a range of other matters.”

In the same debate, a Tory barrister, Alex Chalk MP, stated:

“I want to take this opportunity, if I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, to pay tribute to all those lawyers up and down the country who give of their time to speak truth to power, to redress grievances and to do so entirely free of charge. They really do heroic work. It is ​unfashionable in this place to pay tribute to lawyers, but those who work pro bono are some of the best in our society.”

Amen to that: we do more pro bono than any firm I know.


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.