As I was reading Finding Arthur, the word picaresque kept coming unbidden to my mind, because the plot revolves around a journey during which interesting and scary things happen to the protagonists. The author, Shama Perera, told me that one of her aims in writing the book was to take the reader on a journey around Sri Lanka. “The whole project was motivated by trying to get many readers to fall in love with Sri Lanka and want to visit.” Picaresque is not quite the mot juste though, because the definition of the literary term is “an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.” The definition of picaresque was first coined in English in 1810 and is still used in modern literature today. Examples would be Don Quixote or Tom Jones. Arthur is certainly appealing but not a quite a picaro – he is not rough or dishonest. Arthur is morally impeccable and loyal.
Arthur is a Golden Labrador.
Searching Every Which Way
Perhaps Finding Arthur belongs to the category of Quest Literature. Examples of Quest Literature would be Beowulf, The Grail Legend, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow, and, in cinema, John Ford’s masterpiece,The Searchers. Arthur goes missing and the search for him takes a family all over the island and into some hair-raising situations, introducing them to some bizarre characters. More significantly, the quest brings out some features of relationships between friends and family which would not have been revealed had not Arthur’s kidnapping provided the catalyst. “There have been too many secrets kept in this family for too long.”
Brothers Dilan and Sujith run a bar in Mount Lavinia. The bar is named after Arthur the Golden Labrador who has been with them sincethey were all puppies. Their parents, Amal and Nilani Alwis, have been separated for some time but are not hostile to each other, even though their paths have not crossed much. Nevertheless, Nilani can write, “Words cannot express my disappointment in you and what you have done to our sons. I know everything.” There is a good deal ofbanter among the family members. “We installed a security camera a few years ago to capture the lane because Thathi was concerned that there were undesirables wandering around the property. This was a dig at their bar and the customers they were attracting.” The boys can joke about their mother having affairs but, ”Amma chuckled to herself. They all knew full well that the only visitor to see her bedroom had been the occasional cockroach.” Amal says to Ronnie, “‘We were happy, machan, we were very happy until we weren’t. I can’t even pinpoint when things started to change between us.”
Bibi (Brigitte) is the daughter of the forbidding Dr Fernando. Dr Fernando’s wife, Tana, was killed in an accident and he has not recovered from his grief at losing her so young, still sad after ten years. Dr Fernando is not the ogre Dilan takes him forbut Dilan “had had a brief platonic liaison with one of the neighbour’s daughters and she had threatened to cut his bits off should he ever come near her again.” Bibi is pregnant and her father clearly thinks Dilan is a prime suspect for paternity.Dr Fernando takes a compassionate and relaxed attitude to Bibi’s pregnancy and does not press her to reveal the identity of the father. Bibi says, “He asked me who the father is, and when I refused to tell him, he just left the subject alone and has been carrying on as normal ever since.”
There are many intriguing plot twists but I do not want to spoil your enjoyment by giving away any surprises. The opening words intriguingly hint at the finale of the story: “The man had climbed over public safety barriers and up a dangerous stretch of rock to get there. He remains still in a trance for the longest time before inching his toes closer to the edge, until they peep over the stone. All he would need to do now is tilt forward.” The publicity material on the book mentions a heart-warming and engaging story and beautiful landscapes but there is clearly dark matter here amid the fun.One of the characters we encounter in passing on the trail of the missing Arthur is a brothel owner called Royce Perera. The questers think Arthur is inside Perera’s house and are surprised at the lack of security at the premises. “Mr Perera doesn’t worry about thieves; they all work for him anyway. There are no cameras anywhere on our street.”
Uncle Ronnie, a policeman married to Nilani’s sister, Bernie, arranges for the searchers to have the services of a driver who has a number of useful skills and has experience of “special projects.” “Nimal is an exceptional driver; he speaks fluent Sinhala and Tamil and he is trained for combat as he is ex-special forces. Yes, he has a reputation for being able to handle himself––”. Nimal proves to be a surprise: “Nimal was what can only be described as a jolly-looking fellow. He was on the small side, probably Amma’s height at around 5ft 4″ and a little rotund. He reminded them very much of a rather enthusiastic Labrador as he bounced about stacking boxes and having a chat with them all. Rather ironic given the nature of their trip. Nimal certainly didn’t look like an assassin.” Rather than the thug they were expecting, Nimal seemed to be a recruit from a meditation class although he did seem a little too efficient in putting an injured peacock out of its misery with a deft twist of the neck.
Shama writes with a light touch but some of the imagined permutations of relationships are dark enough for August Strindberg or Tennessee Williams and some of the twists are complicated enough for a Shakespeare comedy. Another serious aspect among the frivolity is the theme of suicide. One of the reasons that Arthur is such a pillar of moral fortitude is that he saved Dilan’s life when he was feeling in the depths of despair. “Arthur, who had been sleeping in Dilan’s room, had woken up and started to watch Dilan. He gently stood up and walked over to him, placing his head on Dilan’s lap. But Dilan didn’t budge. He had continued to stare at the tablets in his hand. Arthur jumped up onto Dilan and started to lick his face which caused Dilan to come out of his trance…”
According to the publisher’s blurb, Finding Arthur is based on real events. I asked the author about this and she confirmed that there is a real Labrador called Arthur and he was taken in a three-wheeler and traced to the Northern province. However, she stated categorically that her father, thelate Royce Perera, who sadly left us during the pandemic, had never owned a single brothel.
Shama Perera is a mother of three who lives in London. For 20 years she has worked in the corporate world, particularly in international law. Shama’s first writing project was in 2018 when she produced a children’s book called Big Bad Bunty’s Boat Trip from Brazil. She was invited to participate in the Children’s programme at the Galle Literary festival in 2019 and enjoyed being amongst renowned writers like Anthony Horowitz and Sir David Hare. Finding Arthur was written during lockdown in London. Shama has adapted the story into a six-part TV series in order to give potential tourists a visual introduction to the country. This is a well-organised piece of work, combining light and shade, with engaging characters, humour and serious themes. I look forward to the TV version. I will even buy myself a TV set.
Finding Arthur by Shama Perera is published by The Conrad Press and is available from Amazon and can be downloaded from Kindle.
Every foreign nurse gained by the NHS is a nurse lost to a poorer country.
On November 8, 2022, in her column in I-News, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown took strong exception to comments made by Keir Starmer on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show. Starmer had said that the NHS is “recruiting too many people from overseas” and we should be “training people in this country”. Ms Alibhai-Brown took this as an indication that Starmer was racist and described him as “a Labour leader who seems to walk only rightwards even when the party is way ahead in the polls.” She mentioned that the SNP MP Stewart McDonald tweeted about a “grubby dog-whistling for votes.”
In an interview on November 6, 2022, with BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show, Sir Keir said he would like to see immigration numbers go down in some sectors – including in the NHS. “We need a long-term plan.”
According to Adam Bychawski on Open Democracy, “Since 2017, 50,000 of the nurses who registered to practise in the UK were trained in countries that have too few of their own nurses to provide the standard of healthcare recommended by the United Nations.“
The latest NHS Digital shows the NHS in England faces a shortfall of 46,828 nurses and midwives as of June 2022, which is a vacancy rate of 11.8%, while NMC (National Midwifery Council) data from October revealed that international recruitment has increased 135% in the last year. According to a Nuffield Trust report, foreign nurses are contracted to work longer hours.
I have lived in Sri Lanka for over 20 years. When I told English friends that I was moving to Sri Lanka one said: “How can you risk leaving behind the National Health Service?” As it turned out, I found the Sri Lankan health service to be excellent whenever, which fortunately was not often, I had to use it. When I lived up in the mountains, I received first class treatment free of charge at Bandarawela Cottage Hospital when I slipped and cracked my head open. In similar circumstances in England I would have had to wait for hours in Accident and Emergency in the company of violent drunks (patients not doctors) and screaming children.
The Sri Lankan authorities responded far more effectively to the 2004 tsunami than did US authorities to Hurricane Katrina. Sri Lanka’s past investments in a broad-based public health system and community awareness of basic sanitary and hygienic practices ensured that there were no disease outbreaks. Essential medical aid, emergency food, and other relief supplies were mobilized within a day. We made several visits to Hambantota and witnessed the relief operation. It was possible to feed, clothe, and shelter survivors; provide the injured with medical attention; and ensure that the thousands of bodies were quickly cremated or buried.
Despite international criticism, the health services coped well in 2009 with the closing stages of the war against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and the aftermath of the 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). The extremely dire outbreaks of disease in the IDP camps predicted by foreign NGOs just did not materialize thanks to an efficient health service.
The then prime minister, Prime Minister Wickramanayaka claimed that public financing for healthcare began in Sri Lanka more than 2,000 years ago when Buddhist kings established public hospitals and maintained them with royal revenues. Ancient records show that 18 hospitals were established by King Dutugemunu in the second century BC This tradition was strongly influenced by Buddhist culture which accords high priority to actively caring for the needy, the poor and the sick.
According to the World Health Organisation, a modern health service can be said to have started in Sri Lanka in 1858 with the creation of the Civil Medical Department under a Principal Civil Medical Officer (PCMO). The department initially concentrated on the establishment of new hospitals in large towns. Primary care facilities at village level were initiated in 1877. Initially, preventive medicine was confined to measures aimed at preventing the spread of major communicable diseases. Sri Lanka has long had a very good record (which compares well to western countries, particularly to places like Louisiana and Detroit) of steady improvements on health indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy.
Sri Lanka is far superior to England in the matter of diagnostic tests. There are diagnostic centres in all localities and it is easy to get the tests done (without an appointment or waiting list) at a reasonable cost and get the results quickly on home PC or mobile phone.
Reintroduction of private practice for government doctors and liberalization of drug imports resulted in the growth of private hospitals in urban centers. There is a thriving private health sector, particularly in Colombo, which boasts a number of modern, well-equipped and well-staffed hospitals such as Apollo, Asiri, Nawaloka and Ninewells Gynecological Hospital. There have been efforts to encourage foreigners to come to Sri Lanka for treatment.
In Colombo, there is an excellent service where one can pay an annual membership fee to have an ambulance with doctor and paramedic call at one’s home when the need arises. They also call at one’s home to take blood tests and deliver the results. The doctors operating this service also work at the government general hospitals. In Badulla, the provincial general hospital (free care to all) is a fine modern building with the latest in modern technology. A new private hospital recently opened in Athurugiriya, where we now live. Way back in the 1990s, I found it difficult to get affordable dental treatment in London. I have had no problem in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan health service took a battering when Covid struck. Initially, Sri Lanka coped far better than many western countries, including the UK and the USA. The armed forces played a big part in organising tracing and testing and roll out of vaccinations. Things went wrong later when the authorities took their eye off the ball.
The economic meltdown in 2022 severely pummeled a health service already undermined by the pandemic. The previously excellent universal health care system is on the point of collapse. Hospitals are short of essential drugs and urgent operations are being cancelled. Doctors and nurses working in bad conditions in Sri Lanka might well be tempted by the siren call of the NHS and might think they will have a better life in the UK – if they ignore the news about strikes in the NHS and impending severe recession. I am all for the free movement of people but I do not think it is racist to point out that poaching trained staff from other suffering nations might not be wholly ethical.
On May 29, 2022, the Sri Lankan Sunday Times reported on a Memorandum of Understanding, between Sri Lanka and the UK, initially for four years, but to be renewed automatically, under which, “The governments would undertake a recruitment project to develop a sustainable recruitment pathway for nurses and other healthcare professionals from Sri Lanka to the UK; intensify bilateral exchanges of policy thinking with regard to nursing and healthcare workforce development and best practices in the delivery of healthcare; involve professional staff and healthcare managers in the project, particularly in relation to the education and training of Sri Lankan nurses and other healthcare professionals and draw up an action agenda to implement the project–especially with respect to addressing any gaps in the entire process of the recruitment of nurses and other healthcare professionals.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “It is misleading to suggest that the UK actively recruits nurses from countries where there is a shortage of nursing staff.”
Why is Ms Alibhai-Brown condemning Keir Starmer when the blame clearly lies with successive Tory governments? According to Adam Bychawski, “The number of foreign-trained nurses registering to work in the UK has increased sixfold since the government axed a fund for training NHS nurses in England in 2016. Then-chancellor George Osborne scrapped £800m worth of bursaries that covered the tuition fees and part of the living costs of students training to be nurses.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the problems stemmed from “the failure of successive governments to provide a fully funded workforce strategy to help tackle the NHS’s 132,000 vacancies, to address the maintenance backlog of £10 billion, and to provide proper support for social care, with local communities and frontline staff all paying the price”.
Sylvia Watkins DM FRCP has written a paper called Migration of healthcare professionals: practical and ethical considerations for the journal Clinical Medicine. “Recruitment of healthcare professionals from developing countries to the UK is escalating rapidly and is severely damaging the fragile healthcare systems of the countries involved. This is happening in spite of the Code of Practice of the Department of Health, which, although voluntary, was supposed to restrict such migration; unfortunately it has not proved effective so far. Steps are now urgently required to reverse this trend, in order to prevent the total collapse of some overseas health services.”
Is Dr Watkins being racist when she writes, “Other measures, including promoting the retention of locally trained staff in the UK, are urgently required”?
When Liz Truss sacked her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, she held a press conference in which she gave an even more inept performance than usual in attempting to justify the U-turn (now called volte face) she had been forced to make after his “mini-budget” had come close to wrecking the British economy. The Prime Minister took a meagre four questions which she failed to answer and then ran away. The whole thing took about eight minutes.
One of the chosen was a portly fellow who asked a brutal question. “If you and the Chancellor were ‘in lockstep’ and concocted these plans together, often in secret, why has he gone and you are still here.”
The burly journalist was Harry Cole, political editor of the Sun, a Murdoch Paper which normally supports the Conservatives. It transpired that Cole, together with James Heale of the Spectator (another right wing organ) was writing a biography of Truss. The book was due to come out on December 8 but Cole said on Times Radio (a Murdoch channel) “the ending is being rewritten by those wonderful people at Harper-Collins” (a publishing house owned by Murdoch). In reality, the book was published on November 1 after substantial extracts unfavourable to Truss and the Tory Party were published in the Times (a Murdoch paper). At her last PMQs, Truss was asked by the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, “We are told, ‘out by Christmas’. Is that the book or you?”
Cole has written for publications including the Sunday Times and GQ mainly focusing on politicians’ expenses scandals and government waste. Cole was the co-editor of the right wing website Guido Fawkes site until 2015. He was once, allegedly, “in a relationship” with the woman who became Boris Johnson’s third wife, Carrie Symonds. There are similarities between the two men; they are both overweight and say amusing things (which are not always easy to grasp because of the plummy delivery) from a plump face. Johnson has a posher background and education than Cole.
In their introduction, the authors write: “We hope to provide the reader, and voter, with some clarity on the least-known incumbent of the highest office in recent times. It was written during the turbulent tenure of Truss’s premiership, when the judgement of history was yet to be passed. But the clues were always there, as this book will make clear.” They only started writing the book in August 2022.
For those of you who have not been following the teledrama that is British politics today as avidly as I have, here is a brief recap of Truss’s mayfly-like reign as prime minister. When Boris Johnson was forced to resign as party leader by his fellow Conservative MPs, there was a protracted and divisive leadership election to choose a successor. A number of contenders had a series of debates followed by several votes by Tory MPs until the contenders were whittled down to two. Then the members of the party (described as “swivel-eyed loonies” by one commentator) had the final say on which contender would become leader of the party and thus prime minister of the country. The general electorate had no say in the matter
In every round, Truss got fewer MP votes than Sunak but was one of the two left standing at the last round. She was then chosen over Sunak by Tory party members (but only by 57% to 43%, not by as big a margin as predicted). Meaning to say she was going to “hit the ground running,” Truss promised to “hit the ground” and she, indeed, landed on her face with a thud and a splatter like a Looney Tunes cartoon character.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s so-called mini-budget was an unashamed handout for the rich, aimed at stimulating enterprise but doing little for those on the lowest incomes. The plan required a mind blowing £400bn of extra borrowing over several years to fund what amounted to the biggest giveaway since Anthony Barber’s disastrous budget of 1972. Markets reacted very badly and the Bank of England launched a £65bn emergency intervention. The central bank was in effect being forced to save Britain’s economy from the actions of its own government.
Truss and Kwarteng are neighbours in Greenwich (as is another minister who Guardian sketch writer John Crace says is living proof that nominative determinism does not work, James Cleverly. Crace calls him Dim Jim.) Truss and Kwarteng were close friends. Harry Cole is showing his Sun credentials when he writes: “Amid their new-found political alliance, the Westminster gossip mill began to speculate about a relationship between Truss and Kwarteng. The rumour would persist in political circles for years thereafter, but sources close to both deny they were anything more than friends and only ever political bedfellows”. Their close friendship did not prevent Truss throwing Kamakwasi under the proverbial bus.
In his first interview since being sacked as chancellor, Kwarteng told TalkTV that he had advised Truss to “slow down” and take a “methodical and strategic approach” to boosting growth as prime minister. Kwarteng blamed Liz Truss for going too far and too fast with her radical economic reforms and says that he warned her it would lead to her downfall. He said Truss had rebuffed him, leading him to warn her “you will have two months if you carry on like this”. Kwarteng also revealed that he first discovered he had been sacked after seeing a tweet from The Times’ political editor. He said he told her that she was “mad” to fire him, adding: “People will ask, ‘If you sacked the person who was doing what you wanted, why are you still there?’ ” Kwarteng also insisted that he and Truss were “still friends” but revealed he had still not returned a missed call from her two days ago. “I will call her back,” he said. Kwarteng also insisted that he and Truss were “still friends” but revealed he had still not returned a missed call from her two days ago. “I will call her back,” he said.
It has since emerged that Truss allegedly used her personal phone while foreign secretary for numerous exchanges, including with officials from other nations, and for private chats with Kwasi Kwarteng. Asked about claims in the Mail on Sunday that these chats could have been read by Russian agents, Michael Gove, brought back to the cabinet by Sunak, did not deny this.
Truss, after sacking Kwarteng and making a number of U-turns, was forced to resign after a mere 44 days in office, making her the shortest-serving prime minister in the history of the United Kingdom.
In Her Beginning Was her End
In their book, Harry Cole and James Heale find many of the aspects of the Truss that we see today manifesting themselves earlier in her life. She came from a middle class background with both parents being activists on the left. Despite what she has said, she had a good education at a respected school in Leeds and went to Merton College, Oxford.
People who knew her at Oxford paint differing pictures. Friends recall her barely working in her first year and then doing virtually nothing but work in the third year. In those days she was a Lib-Dem not a Tory. Fellow student and future Guardian journalist Tanya Gold recollected her as “a library-bound anorak, with no lingering smell of depravity about her small, neat form”. Others detected a more mischievous and obdurate personality. In debate “she almost never backed down”. She displayed a “mischievous ability to read out essays on any number of the main events in British political history which always managed to say something new; not always accurate, but definitely new.” According to Cole and Heale, “Truss threw herself with some vigour into the political social scene, blending debate with heavy drinking.”
One contemporary said: “I thought she was personally obnoxious and obsessed with ‘radical’ causes like decriminalising drugs rather than the issues that actually were relevant”. Neil Fawcett told The Times: “I got the impression that she was more concerned with grabbing the limelight and being seen to be radical rather than believing in it.”
At Oxford, she met the man she was to marry, Hugh O’Leary (no relation to me, as far as I can tell). A fellow student said : “He was cruelly mocked as a Tony Blair grin-a-like … however hard he tries, Hugh is unfortunate in that he still looks like a Care in the Community case emitting a sad, desperate whine as he is exposed to the ridicule of the masses.” Someone else who knows him says O’Leary “is incredibly political, very right wing, unbelievably right wing – he’s almost as right wing as her. He loves the Tory party.”
After leaving Oxford, from 1996 to 2000, Truss worked for Shell, during which time she qualified as a Chartered Management Accountant (ACMA) in 1999. In 2000, Truss was employed by Cable & Wireless and rose to economic director before leaving in 2005.
By the time she went into politics in the grown-up world, Truss was a true-blue Tory. She had great difficulty getting a parliamentary seat. Tory grandee Sir Roger Gale is even today causing problems for the bunch of spivs, real estate agents and fireplace salesmen that tries to pass as a government. Gale was a problem for Truss a long time ago when she was trying to get on the list of approved candidates for the general election of 2001. At her interview by the Parliamentary Assessment Board, Gale was not impressed but Eleanor Laing approved her application. (Dame Eleanor is now Deputy Speaker).
There followed quite a struggle to get a seat. After trying in a lot of places, Truss succeeded when South West Norfolk Conservative Association chose her decisively against rival candidates, including a former British ambassador to Russia and future Cabinet member Thérèse Coffey.
Later, the Association was not too pleased by revelations that Truss had an extra-marital affair with Mark Field, the married Conservative MP who was her “mentor”. The press would not forget this. “Glamorous Tory Liz Truss, who shot to minor fame for having an affair with swarthy former frontbencher Mark Field, is reinventing herself as a boring policy wonk, taking a post at the think tank Reform.” “Cameron Cutie who had affair with top Tory wins plum seat”. “At a Spectator party, witnesses claim Mark Field had enjoyed the flowing Pol Roger champagne, and made a number of extremely ‘ungentlemanly’ comments to fellow partygoers about his affair with Truss.“
Field attained further notoriety when, on 20 June 2019, Greenpeace accused him of assault, after an activist who interrupted Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s Mansion House Speech was grabbed by the neck, pinned against a wall and then pushed out of the event by Field. Field said he reacted “instinctively” and referred himself to the Cabinet Office for an investigation. He apologised to the activist for “grabbing her” and said he was worried she might have been armed.
Some weeks after the affair ended, Truss was pregnant. Her baby, Frances, was born on 18 March the following year. Truss told friends that the baby was her husband’s, and Hugh O’Leary is named as the father on the birth certificate.
A Star Is Born
It was not until 2010 that Truss entered parliament. Elected with a majority of more than 13,000, Truss was already earmarked as one of the stars of an intake that contained more than two dozen future ministers who would one day sit around the Cabinet table. She came to hold a number of ministerial positions. On 4 September 2012, Truss was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education, responsible for childcare and early learning, assessment, qualifications, curriculum reform, behaviour and attendance, and school food review. In a 15 July 2014 cabinet reshuffle, Truss was appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural affairs. On 14 July 2016, she was appointed as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor in Theresa May’s first ministry. Truss became the first woman to hold either position and the first female Lord Chancellor in the thousand-year history of the office. Following the 2017 UK general election, Truss was moved on 11 June to the position of Chief Secretary to the Treasury, attending the cabinet but not a full member of it, in what was seen by some as a demotion. She was International Trade Secretary from 2019 to 2021. On 15 September 2021, Boris Johnson promoted Truss from International Trade Secretary to Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development affairs.
There were some achievements and some failures and at each job she displayed an innate Trussyness. That habit, which is so annoying today, of saying “I have been very clear”, was there a long time ago. “There was no strategic comms plan; it was just here’s what we are doing one day in a speech. There had been zero pitch rolling; there were no outriders. And frankly it showed. If Liz had the full support of the department, the secretary of state or even her own MPs it might have been easier, but it was all done on the hoof.” “She did it Gonzo style and she got whacked. There was very little pitch rolling on something so controversial”. David Laws said: “‘I like Liz but she doesn’t listen very much, and when people try to make points, she just talks straight over them in a slightly irritating and rather ‘deaf’ way.” There have been many gaffes and things which seemed designed to amuse the sardonic sketch writers. Some who have worked for Truss have vowed never to speak of the experience again.
Have Espresso and Instagram, Will Travel
Truss could be a demanding boss, fuelled up by espressos. She was “very particular about what she expected from officials on a foreign trip. While not a formal ‘rider’ in the style of a travelling rock star, orders were sent ahead to embassies around the world with details of what she would expect on a visit:
• Double espressos served in a flat-white-sized takeaway cup.
• No big-brand coffee, independent producers only, except Pret if in the UK.
• No pre-made or plastic-packed sandwiches — nothing to be served that has not been freshly prepared.
• Bagels or sushi for lunch — absolutely no mayonnaise on anything, ever.
• A bottle of sauvignon blanc provided in the fridge of any overnight accommodation.
Kirsty Buchanan, a former aide, once remarked: ‘She drinks about 42,000 espressos a day or she used to when I worked for her … she would sit there with a massive meatball sub or eat three croissants for breakfast. She would carb up; frankly no woman in her forties should be eating that much and getting away with it.’ Other aides note a long-suffering espresso machine was lugged from department to department each reshuffle, while another former staffer was at pains to point out that under no circumstances was the foreign secretary to be served fruit for breakfast.’”
When she resigned she gave another weird speech outside Number 10 at the special lectern that looked like a collapsible Jenga tower. Truss’s farewell speech was even more embarrassing than her press conference announcing the defenestration of Kwarteng. In her desperate scrabbling around for positive things to say about her truncated premiership, she seemed to be claiming credit for the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of King Charles. That was edited out from later broadcasts.One wonders what the future holds for Truss. Boris Johnson can make a lucrative living from public speaking and journalism. Truss’s abysmal communication skills would appear to rule this out but I understand Theresa May she has made £450,487 from delivering speeches this year. Who knows?
“A bright and decent man with bad ideas.” The Economist.
A Prime Minister who Understands Money
Labour Party supporters might have been cast down by the prospect of a seemingly competent Tory leader after the destructive ineptitude of Liz Truss had given Labour a 36 point lead in the opinion polls. There are many things to like about Rishi Sunak. He is the youngest British prime minister since 1783, the first prime minister “of colour” and the first Hindu prime minister. My country, the Republic of Ireland, got there first and also ticked another diversity box. Leo Varadkar, whose father was born in Mumbai, was appointed Taoiseach, (prime minister) in 2017 at the age of 38. During the campaign for the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum, Varadkar came out as gay.
After the boosterish bluster and scandalous sleaze of Boris Johnson, it is a relief to have a prime minister who dresses smartly and seems to have a happy family life. After the sheer incompetence and abysmal communication skills of Liz Truss, it is a comfort to have a prime minister who can speak in seemingly coherent sentences and give the impression that he knows what he is talking about (even if he is avoiding answering the question, like they all do). He is the first prime minister with an MBA and his successful career at Goldman Sachs and eye-watering personal wealth indicate that he understands money.
Liz Truss put a lot of misplaced faith in the ideas of an economist that most people consider a quack, Patrick Minford. Her reliance on a quack made her first a lame duck then a dead duck. Criticism was water off a duck’s back until she U-turned out of the pond.
The prospect of a fiscally literate leader has begun to calm financial markets and make them feel slightly better about the UK. Johnson and Truss sought cheap points in vilifying civil servants and received hostility in return. Sunak was a minister respected by his officials. Allies later claimed that he had not taken a holiday during his two years as chancellor. After his defenestration, Boris Johnson took three holidays before saying he wanted to run again for the prime minister’s office. He was often absent at crucial times when he held the office. The polls have improved for the Tory party and Sunak almost ties with Starmer in popularity for the time being. However, if a general election were held tomorrow, Labour would probably score a convincing win.
The Economist is not convinced by Sunak: “Competence ought to be a given, not an ambition. Even if his government provides stability, that is nowhere near enough. Productivity growth has disappointed for years; Britain is the only G7 economy still below pre-pandemic levels of output. Impoverished expectations lead to a more impoverished country.”
At his first PMQs on October 26, Sunak acknowledged his new relationship with opposition leader Keir Starmer and said while it was important to have “robust” debate during the weekly PMQs, he hoped they would be conducted in a sensible manner. He performed well in the sense that he did not waffle like Johnson and spoke more confidently than Truss. It did not last long. When asked to justify the reappointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary after she was sacked for breaking the ministerial code, he resorted to unsubstantiated ad hominem jibes about the leader of the opposition’s stance on crime. The Tories have traditionally presented themselves as being tough on crime. This is belied by the fact that they have cut police numbers and police no longer bother to investigate a lot of crimes, more concerned about pronouns than rape or burglary. Some police have actually increased the rape statistics by attacking women themselves. Starmer gently reminded the new PM that he ran the crown prosecution service (CPS) for five years, so calling him soft on crime was bizarre.
Sunak also resorted to Johnson’s tactic of spouting random statistics rather than answering the question. He did not answer a single question, apart from telling Caroline Lucas that fracking would not be pursued. He took a leaf from Suella Braverman’s playbook by insinuating that there was something inherently sinister about living in North London, implying that it was as bad as owing allegiance to North Korea. This is pure silliness from someone who has been welcomed as the “grown up in the room.” Sunak’s slickness can be undermined by an inherent geekiness. The 42-year-old can come across as a nerdish 15-year-old in a school debating competition. Marina Hyde described him as, “the Conservative party’s idea of a cool person.”
Starmer scored a palpable hit when he referred to a leaked video in which Sunak boasted to Conservative party members in Tunbridge Wells that as Chancellor took public money out of “deprived urban areas” to help wealthy towns like Tunbridge Wells.
The after-feeling about the duel was that Sunak seemed like a clever performer for about half an hour until you thought more carefully about the substance or lack of it and waited for many more stories to break. The same old same old jousting is not sustainable.
Covid Criminals and Cronies
Sunak was popular during the Covid crisis because he released money to support people whose livelihoods were threatened. However, it was not all positive. He presided over Covid schemes mired in billions of pounds of waste, cronyism and in some cases outright corruption and criminality. The bounce back loan scheme’s hasty launch meant criminals helped themselves to billions of pounds at the taxpayer’s expense. Billions of fraudulent claims were written off while foreign aid was cut.
Why did Sunak bring Suella Braverman back as Home Secretary only six days after she was sacked for a breach of security? Labour and the Liberal Democrats called for a Cabinet Office inquiry into national security concerns after Braverman was reinstated despite admitting leaking official documents, which government sources said was a “serious breach”.
She had emailed proposals from her ministerial account to her personal account and then attempted to send them on to Sir John Hayes, a fellow member of the European Research Group and the Common Sense Group. Hayes has been a Braverman confidant for many years. Both believe severe cuts in even legal immigration is a crucial issue for the Conservative party. She made a ridiculous speech about “the Anti-growth coalition“ but disagreed (vehemently) with Truss about the importance to growth of easing immigration restrictions at a time of labour and skill shortages. “She doesn’t make any decision without consulting John Hayes.” Some have painted Hayes as a Svengali who has been influential in her rise from backbencher to a great office of state.
The official line has been that she made a mistake which she reported to Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case. While trying to copy in Hayes’s wife, she mistakenly sent the email to a staff member working for another backbencher, Andrew Percy. She claimed to have been out on a police raid at 4 a.m. and did not have the government phone with her. Sources said the timestamp on the email showed it was sent several hours after the police raid. Andrew Percy informed the chief whip of the breach. The chief whip passed the information on to Case. Case was reported to be “livid” over her swift return. A government insider said: “She only owned up to it when she was confronted with the evidence.” Rather than coming forward herself about what had happened, she was challenged by Case.
When she was attorney general, she was part of a leak inquiry that raised “concern” in MI5. She has moved from Cruella to Leaky Sue. Mark Pritchard, a Tory MP and former member of parliament’s intelligence and security committee, said MI5 needed confidence in the home secretary and any breakdown in that relationship was bad for the government and the security services. “It needs to be sorted ASAP,” he said.
Four Conservative MPs and a former home secretary publicly raised concerns over her reappointment. Former party chairman Jake Berry said, “To me, that seems a really serious breach, especially when it was documents relating to cyber security, as I believe.” The sole hope now, according to some Sunak allies is that Braverman makes a further error and goes for good — leaving Sunak and her deputy Robert Jenrick to press on peacefully in her absence.
Braverman has long been known to have a complex relationship with the truth. John Crace wrote in the Guardian, “She has yet to find a rule that applies to her. Amazingly, she’s supposed to be a lawyer.” She wrote about herself on the ConservativeHome website: “When I was involved in my University Conservative branch at Cambridge in the early 2000s, Blair-supporting friends were constantly baffled by my political allegiance. Starting my career as a young barrister in London, I was the shy Tory in my Chambers of ‘right-on’ human rights lawyers.” In fact, the chambers dealt with mundane matters not human rights and included a former Tory MP. When she moved on to a large set of Birmingham barristers, her profile boasted that she was a “contributor to Philip Kolvin QC’s book Gambling for Local Authorities, Licensing, Planning and Regeneration (2007)”. Braverman’s name does not appear anywhere in the volume. She claimed to have acted for “the Ministry of Defence in the Guantánamo Bay inquiry”. Investigative journalists have failed to find any record of her involvement.
Her excuses for the breach do not impress Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary. Braverman ran from the Commons when she was due to answer Ms Cooper’s charges. Replying for the government, the paymaster general, Jeremy Quin, was unable to say whether the home secretary had been given full security clearance. The Speaker did nothing. Ms Cooper said Braverman’s appointment contradicted Sunak’s promise to bring “integrity, professionalism and accountability” back to government. Do we want a Home Secretary who lies about her CV and admits to doing stupid things when tired. Ian Blackford of the SNP referred to a “sleazy backroom deal.” John Crace in the Guardian: “But the reality is he’s not so different from any other Tory leader. Party before country. Self before party. Always open to any grubby backroom deal if it works to his advantage.”
News just through that she has rejected all the recommendations in a damning report published in July following a two-year inquiry into the small boats crisis.
Sir Gavin Williamson
There was surprise, and possibly jollity, at the news that Sir Gavin Williamson was returning to government as Minister without Portfolio. The former fireplace salesman has often shown himself to be Minister without a Clue. He has frequently been called “Private Pike” after the dumb and sulky youth in Dad’s Army. To my mind he is more like the cretinous accident-prone Frank Spencer played by Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. Out of the fireplace into politics. While he was managing director of fireplace firm Elgin & Hall in 2004, Sir Gavin had an affair with a married colleague. The Sunday Telegraph reported that a senior co-worker stated that the woman involved was in tears when reporting the relationship to her line manager and that Williamson was subsequently the subject of a meeting with managers. Days after this meeting, he left the firm. The fireplace world’s loss was the nation’s gain.
He made a certain impression as Chief Whip. Some likened him to Francis Urquhart, the ruthless parliamentary enforcer in Westminster TV drama House of Cards. “I don’t very much believe in the stick, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot.” He kept a tarantula called Cronus in a glass box on his desk, seemingly to intimidate MPs who thought of rebelling. One cabinet minister described him as a “chop-your-head-off type of man”. Many Tory backbenchers were not impressed and regarded him as a merely a slippery government toady who has deliberately cultivated a Machiavellian image. When he made his U-turn on A-level results, Williamson was photographed with large bullwhip on his desk, with a red notebook balanced on top of it. A theory was advanced that the whip was there to remind people that he used to be the Chief Whip. The red notebook was there to remind people that he has recorded where the bodies are buried.
Williamson served in Theresa May’s Cabinet as Secretary of State for Defence from 2017 to 2019, and as Secretary of State for Education under Boris Johnson from 2019 to 2021. As defence secretary he caused anger and hilarity. He dined with Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of a former Putin minister, in exchange for a £30,000 donation to the Conservative party. Later that month, he said that Jeremy Corbyn had betrayed his country by, during the 1980s, meeting a Czech diplomat who was later revealed to be a spy. After the Salisbury poisoning, he said “frankly, Russia should go away, and it should shut up”. Putin must have been very scared. Williamson supported the Saudi Arabian-led military intervention in Yemen against the Shia Houthis despite concerns from human rights activists and Labour MPs about war crimes allegedly committed by the Saudi military. He was sacked as Defence Secretary, following a leak from the National Security Council; Williamson denied leaking the information about Huawei’s potential involvement in the British 5G network.
He caused a lot of grief when he was education secretary at the height of the covid crisis. There was a great deal of confusion and anxiety about A levels because of Williamson’s indecision and incompetence. I am surprised that, in a cabinet of all the talents, room can be found for Williamson but not Chris “Failing” Grayling.
Labour MP, Stephen Kinnock, asked Sunak at PMQs on October 26, 2022: “did he seek or receive any advice on security concerns about the right honourable member for South Staffordshire (Mr Williamson) before his appointment to the Government yesterday, given that he was sacked in 2019 for leaking sensitive information relating to our national security?” The Prime Minister replied: “He is talking about events that happened four years ago. It is right that he raised the topic of national security because members opposite four years ago were busily supporting the member for Islington North, who wanted to abolish the nuclear deterrent, who wanted to leave Nato, and who wanted to scrap our armed forces.” A non-answer that Boris Johnson would have been proud of.
A former minister said of Sir Gavin, “The man is poison. A lot of colleagues are concerned about it. I think it risks damaging Rishi as he tries to unite the party.” Williamson was a key supporter of Mr Sunak’s leadership campaign and some Tory MPs claim the new PM has rewarded him with a job in return for his loyalty, rather than his scant ability.A senior Tory MP said: “the person who has been sacked by two prime ministers and was perhaps the worst Cabinet minister in living memory when he was Education Secretary has been brought back.”
Equality and Levelling Up
Sunak promised, “I will unite our country, not with words, but with action,” Good luck with that. It is notable that more than three-quarters of the cabinet are men. However, all seven of the female ministers are in senior ministerial roles – including the new attorney general, Victoria Prentis – meaning they will attend as “full” cabinet members. Under Truss, for the first time, none of the four great offices of state (prime minister, chancellor, home secretary and foreign secretary) were held by a white male. With 16% of Sunak’s cabinet of a minority background, this means it is more representative than the broader population.
However, Government ministers are eight times more likely to have been privately educated than the general population. More than half of the new cabinet (58%), including Sunak himself, attended private schools, compared with only 7% of the British population. The proportion of Oxbridge alumni is higher than the one-third in Liz Truss’s first cabinet.
Nine cabinet ministers represent the Tory-strong south-east, a region which has nine ministers in the cabinet – 29% of the total – meaning the region is more than twice as well-represented than its proportion of the UK population (13.7%). The east of England, which has six cabinet members, and the south-west (five) are over-represented by similar margins. Not one of the 31 members of the cabinet represents a London constituency. There are no cabinet ministers from north eastern constituencies and none from red wall constituencies.
Sunak has a very small window to reverse the party’s fortunes before he is defenestrated. He has taken over a Tory parliamentary party which may well be ungovernable and unable to govern. A large section of the party is addicted to dissent. The membership is even worse, described by a former aide of David Cameron as “swivel-eyed loonies”. Politically, Sunak is a contradiction. He is a rightwing Conservative, a Brexiteer as a teenager, who has relied on the centre and left of the party for his support and has been called a socialist (by outgoing business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy was suspended for referring to arch Brexiteer MP Steve Baker by a name that rhymes with Hunt but starts with a ‘C’. Baker is currently supporting Sunak but still has that mad fundamentalist look in his eyes that suggests he is always ready for a righteous fight. He played a prominent role in ousting two previous prime ministers. Ominously for Sunak, on the day he became Conservative leader Baker’s European Reform Group could not agree about endorsing Sunak. Sunak is under pressure from the rightwing to scrap post-Brexit trading rules with Northern Ireland, thus further poisoning relations with the EU. It will be difficult to achieve growth without the EU as a trading partner and friend but Sunak has always been a Brexiteer.
“The new found unity in the Tory party was only skin deep. Wendy Morton, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kit Malthouse – all newly returned to the backbenches – remained completely silent throughout. Jake Berry, the former party chairman, was absent. Missing, presumed disloyal. Last seen writing a tweet trashing Sunak.”
Warring Tory tribes have been brought together around the cabinet table. Sunak brought Braverman back to appease the right-wingers in his party because he inherits a deeply fractured party facing decisions on issues such as spending and immigration that will never go away. Truss wanted to ease immigration rules in order to promote growth by bringing people in to compensate for labour shortages but Braverman spent 90 minutes berating her for such a plan. Whatever it is, someone will be against it. It is doubtful if Conservatives have any capacity to become once again a serious party of government.
Conservative MPs who support Sunak are urging him to crack down on the right-wing of the party and extirpate the influence of Boris Johnson.One MP said that after the failure of Johnson’s leadership bid, “we can get rid of these shits now”. Another accused Johnson of “poundshop Trumpian bullshit” . Sunak’s allies expect him to carry out a fresh reshuffle next year, removing lukewarm ministers such as Braverman and Ben Wallace.
The Economist thinks the problem has moved on from addiction to a taste for human sacrifice. James Ball in the New European goes further. “The Conservative Party, having become political cannibals, will not soon forget the taste of blood. Once the spoils of Rishi’s rise have been distributed, those who have been left out will be waiting to strike from the shadows.”
Sunak’s Black Hole
There is a £40 billion (some say more) black hole in the UK’s finances. The situation was exacerbated by Truss’s little experiment. Strikes will continue as workers face effective cuts in pay because of inflation. There will be cuts in those public services that are already desperately strained. Energy bills will need supporting. NHS waiting lists stand at seven million and people who have a heart attack wait for an hour for an ambulance. If military spending is cut Sunak will face the resignation of Ben Wallace who did not support him in the leadership contest but remains as defence secretary, presumably after some promises being made. Taxes may rise alongside brutal cuts – a deadly combination. Sunak has dropped his pledge to fine patients £10 if they miss a GP or hospital appointment.
The Economist: “The rot in the Conservative Party did not begin with Ms Truss. Britain’s departure from the EU, which Mr Sunak supported, is the thing that acts as a handbrake on the country’s economic prospects. Mr Johnson’s chaotic reign, which he also supported, caused even more ruin. It is the Conservative Party’s failure to take on its supporters that does so much damage to the country. Mr Sunak may be the only available man to fix the government’s errors. But he also helped make them.”
Those who extol Sunak’s fiscal expertise forget that he has been a fan of Brexit since his adolescence. Brexit has placed Britain in a financial mess that has been exacerbated by Covid, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Truss’s bombshell. Sunak was comfortable with a “no deal” Brexit so long as Britain actually left the EU. Sunak has pledged a more constructive relationship with the bloc. Better not to have broken the relationship in the first place. Sunak has advocated low-tax “freeports”, which shuffle economic activity around rather than generating it.
As chancellor, Sunak championed the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme when the government in effect paid unvaccinated people to sit together during a pandemic and infect each other. Mr Sunak pushed the Royal Mint to issue a non-fungible token this summer, just as the market for these digital assets crashed. He is not as clever as some people would like to think he is.
Liz Truss told King Charles not to attend Cop 27. Sunak said he is not going. The British president of the COP26 climate summit Alok Sharma said on Friday that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government should explore extending a windfall tax on oil and gas firms in a fiscal statement next month. He has been shuffled out of the Sunak’s cabinet and will not be attending the conference. Graham Stuart remains Minister of State for Climate but no longer sits in cabinet.New environment secretary Therese Coffey will be attending. When asked for some ideas about saving the planet she mentioned reusable cups.
According to Byline Times, Rishi Sunak has received £141,000 from individuals and companies with financial ties to the oil and gas sectors.The party Sunak now leads has itself directly received £1.3 million in donations from fossil fuel interests and climate sceptics between December 2019 and October 2021.”Those who donated to Sunak are not accused of wrongdoing and it is not suggested that his premiership will be beholden to fossil fuel interests. But it is clear that the Conservative Party and its leaders have a financial reliance on these corporate interests – which may filter through to Government policy, especially given the party’s history of awarding exclusive access to ministers in exchange for donations.”
Sunak says that pressure of urgent work on the economic crisis prevents him from going to Egypt for Cop27 but he will be finding time to go to Qatar for the FIFA World Cup thus lending his support to the brutal Qatari regime.
Centrist Conservatives were delighted by the return of Andrew Mitchell, a veteran of the David Cameron era, to oversee foreign aid spending. “We need more old heads giving advice,” a former Cabinet minister said. “Part of the problem recently is there have been too many young’uns making decisions.” How long will Mitchell last if Sunak is determined to cut aid?
Sunak was criticised for slashing the foreign aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income when he was chancellor, as well as setting a precedent for letting the Home Office and other departments use the money, and stretching the rules on what can be counted as aid.Ranil Dissanayake, a policy fellow at CGD (Centre for Global Development), said: “The development budget – the pot of money we put aside to help the world’s poorest people – is being squeezed from every angle…Saying we spend 0.5% of our national income on aid is becoming meaningless, when such a huge proportion of this pot is being spent domestically, rather than on helping people facing enormous hardship across the world.”
Disadvantages of Wealth
Sunak is the first British prime minister to be richer than the monarch. This is not a political plus at a time when many people who were not so long ago quite comfortably off are now struggling to pay their fuel bills. The cost of some basic food items has risen by almost two-thirds in a year. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has set up an advisory panel which includes Rupert Harrison, who was the architect of George Osborne’s austerity programme.
People will find it difficult to see Sunak as “one of us” and this is not just about race. In April 2022, he admitted he had held a US green card until the previous year and he has a luxurious home in California. James Ball in the New European: “It is quite something to do the finances for a country you claim to regard as a temporary residence (despite, of course, having been born here).” He was forced to admit that his wife had benefited from non-domiciled status, allowing her to avoid UK tax on her foreign earnings while he was chancellor.
If austerity measures are introduced and public services are cut even more savagely, people will be resentful about being told to tighten their belts by a man whose own belts probably cost thousands of pounds. In his PMQ answers, he used the word “compassionate” a lot to describe the Conservative Party but his cabinet choices and the response of ordinary people suggest that “brutal” is a more apt description of the nasty party.
Tough choices will have to be made about wages, on spending and on taxes. These kinds of policies are always difficult to push through. According to James Ball “they are much harder when the man asking everyone to share the pain has a familial net worth of £700m. Given how little Sunak enjoys discussion of such matters, he is likely to find the winter ghastly.”
There is opposition to austerity from many quarters. The head of the Confederation of British Industry, Tony Danker, has warned Sunak against pursuing an austerity “doom loop” of cuts to public spending and tax rises. He suggested that swingeing cuts to public spending could undermine the government’s ambition to grow the economy. Recent polls have repeatedly shown that voters want increased spending on public services and would welcome a general election. The Tories are consumed with the party’s own existential dilemma to the exclusion of actually governing or seeking a genuine mandate for today’s circumstances.
Stephen Bush wrote in the Financial Times: “Ultimately, Sunak has formed a government with an exclusive focus on being able to pass austere budgets. He needs to find a way to make his political messaging line up with that, too. “ It is far from clear whether Sunak’s irreconcilable opponents are ready to accept any sort of budget at all from whatever leader the system might throw up. That the Conservatives’ new leader can’t yet point to a transformation in the party’s fortunes may make it harder still to persuade his fractious party to back difficult measures in his budget. The party could be irredeemably ruined — whoever is in charge.
A man waiting in a bus queue is anxious about an aggressive, unleashed dog who is continually barking at him and intimidating him. He says to the man next to him in the queue, “Does your dog bite?” “Naah,” says the man. At this point, the dog bites the first man savagely on the calf. “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite!” “Not my dog, mate.”
The Land of the Shifting Buck
In Part One I described how our silver anniversary excursion was marred by having to stand for the whole of our train journey and then being locked out of our apartment in Bath.
It was only after we had boarded the train at Paddington that we discovered that the train had been reduced from nine coaches to five and that all seat reservations had been cancelled. We had to stand in a crowded corridor for the entire journey of two and a half hours with unmasked people breathing in our faces. If we had been told before boarding that the train was being truncated we could have made the informed decision to wait for the next train as we were only committed to the 14.02 because of our seat reservations which were now void. There are normally 52 trains per day travelling from London Paddington to Bath Spa.
Not My Dog, Mate
The “train manager” (in my far-off youth, they were called “conductors”) was apologising for the inconvenience throughout the entire agonising journey and advising passengers to seek a refund from GWR (Great Western Railways). I claimed a refund but was not surprised when GWR said compensation was not their responsibility. “We’re unable to process a refund for a ticket that wasn’t bought from GWR. If you bought your tickets via another retailer, you will need to contact them directly. I can see from the tickets you attached, that it was purchased via Trainline, so you would have to submit a refund via the Trainline website for unused tickets by following the link below.”
My situation exemplified the great Ponzi Scheme that is privatisation, the fragmentation of public services and the evasion of responsibilities to the public that comes with outsourcing. Trainline (which, I believe started as a Branson company) said: “Sorry, this booking cannot be cancelled or refunded. This could be because of fare type, validity period or expiry.” There seems to be no way of contacting Trainline to get a clarification of this gnomic utterance. It does not seem possible to discuss the specifics of the situation with an individual human being. Entities morph into each other and span the globe in impregnable hidey-holes.
Private Eye (21 October 2022 issue) reports that a traveller who had been buying tickets monthly from Trainline for 20 years wished to end the arrangement after being issued and billed for three tickets instead of one. Trainline refused to refund. They confirmed receiving his special delivery package which had gone to its “refunds department”. Then, they claimed he had not posted his “physical tickets” and refused to accept photos of the tickets they had lost. They were, they averred, bound by rail-industry policies “beyond our control”. As former Nazis used to say, “I was only obeying orders.”
Complete and Utter
After our trip, I started receiving letters from a company called Complete Savings. I ignored them at first because I had never heard of them and thought it must be scam. The letters said that they had tried contacting my email address without success. I had no record of this. I check my junk mail frequently. When I saw that they had taken £15 from my account I decided I needed to contact them. This is the reply I got: “We confirm receipt of your request. We are currently receiving a high volume of queries and it may take us up to 7 working days to respond to your email. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and can assure you we are doing our best to get back to you as soon as possible.”
I waited well over seven days without getting a reply, so I wrote again. This was the reply: “Our records show that you or someone with access to your credit/debit card completed an online transaction with Trainline. After your transaction, you were offered the opportunity to join the Complete Savings programme with a £16.87 cash back voucher and a 30 day free trial. Immediately next to the offer, the offer and Billing Details were displayed. By entering your name, postal code, selecting the relevant postal address from the drop down list, inserting your credit or debit card details and then clicking on the ‘yes’ button to accept the offer, you authorised us to charge the monthly membership fee of £15 to the credit card or debit card that was provided after your free trial period ended.”
I did indeed buy tickets from Trainline but have no recollection of agreeing to anything else. I got my £15 back. There is a popular programme on TV called “Rip-Off Britain” which features mostly elderly victims complaining about the spivs who have been cheating them. The spivs go on to be ministers.
Never Explain, Never Apologise
Common sense suggests that GWR should bear the responsibility. It was GWR, not Trainline, that cut the train from nine coaches to five. Trainline is just an intermediary that brokered the ticket sale. GWR has operational responsibility for physically running the material entities that we know in common parlance as “trains”. It was GWR that failed to keep us informed of the situation which led to the truncation of the train. This all shows an appalling, but not surprising, contempt for the paying customer.
Rail workers are currently striking to counter the effect of inflation on their wages as they struggle to meet their energy and housing costs. John Major did to the railways of Britain what he did to Edwina Curry.
Government ministers have the Galle Face to blame the rail unions for the fragmentation of rail services and maintenance that was solely caused by government policy of privatisation and outsourcing. The GWR “train manager” gave industrial action as the reason for shortening the train. This is what will come to be categorised as a “Liz Truss apology” or a “Priti Patel apology”. The sub-text is that we should be grateful that GWR had gone to so much trouble not to disappoint us by cancelling the train altogether. The railways used to be run for the benefit of the travelling public. They are now run for the profit of dividend holders. Mick Lynch of the rail union is the one with the rational arguments.
Railway Company Condemns Trafficking
When I applied for a refund, I received a communication from GWR which said at the bottom “My pronouns are she, her and hers.” There is also some virtue-signalling guff about “working together to end domestic abuse”. GWR is part of an international conglomerate known as FirstGroup plc. In FirstGroup’s mission statement it says: “At FirstGroup we are committed to conducting our relationships to the highest ethical and moral standards and acting with integrity and professionalism in all our activities. This is in line with our corporate values and the expectations of our colleagues, customers and other stakeholders. It includes the prevention of modern slavery and human trafficking in all its forms and extends to all business dealings and transactions in which we are involved, regardless of location or sector.” Blahderdash. Bluuuurgh!
I am proud to be politically correct or “woke” if that means sensitivity to others. Widespread use of the term politically correct began as a pejorative term suggesting the Stalinist orthodoxy of left wingers. The red-faced, ranting right claimed sole ownership of Common Sense. All else was mere ideology. The term Political Correctness, used by the right, means “excessive deference to particular sensibilities at the expense of other considerations”. The term “politically incorrect” came into use as implicit self-praise by the Gammon class, indicating that the user was not afraid to speak plainly. Some might say they were just rude and insensitive.
I am against sin. Domestic violence is a bad thing and should be prevented or punished. Slavery and human trafficking are to be abhorred. The human trafficking in which a railway company should be interested is that which involves getting me and other paying customers from A to B, or in this particular instance, from London Paddington to Bath Spa, on time, in reasonable comfort and at a fair price. GWR failed to do that for me and their stance on domestic violence, modern slavery and pronouns is of no relevance to my situation.
“Rail experts say that the government has serially ignored FirstGroup’s failures, and carried on handing it fees and favours it simply doesn’t deserve. ” John Harris in the Guardian.“The recent history of Britain’s trains is much the same as that of the country itself: a hare-brained plunge into privatisation and crony capitalism, followed by endless underinvestment, chronic short-termism and that achingly familiar approach to industrial relations that regards partnership and consensus as suited only to wimps. Worse still, as with so many of the constituent parts of everyday British life, the pandemic delivered a shock from which the system shows no signs of any convincing recovery. The World Economic Forum now places the UK 29th in its global rankings for the quality of its railways, in between Kazakhstan and India. Compared with the rest of western Europe, what we now have to put up with is not just unacceptable. It is not normal.”
I used to enjoy travelling by train. Privatisation has made it a nightmare. Stuart Maconie writes in his book, The Nanny State Made Me: “Arriving at the station, I was dismayed though not surprised to see my train cancelled ‘due to staff shortages’. ‘Oh, it’s not really shortages,’ said an employee who I shall not name or describe. ‘It never runs. It’s cancelled every week for the same reason, as if it’s an unforeseen problem.’”
Like GWR, Avanti comes under the FirstGroup umbrella. Passengers who have no choice but to use Avanti have suffered greatly. “There were pregnant ladies lying on the floor in the corridors to try and be near the breeze because they were overheating. You couldn’t get into the toilets. Some men were having to urinate in empty Pringles pots.” Jas Taylor, 23 said, “People think it’s acceptable to sit on my wheelchair, or lean against me, finding any space between the wheels or pressing against my back to slide in or store their cases,” they say. “It’s a consistent experience for me when I travel now. It has made me very scared and upset to take the train.”
A direct 190-mile, three-hour journey from the capital turned into an 11-hour epic requiring three Avanti trains. Problems with the power lines left 450 other passengers trapped inside for four hours, without food, water or air conditioning, just past Milton Keynes. Avanti West Coast, which is in line to receive a seven-figure performance bonus despite abandoning proportionately more journeys than any other operator.
Rail cancellations have reached their highest level on record with more than 314,000 trains fully or partly cancelled across Great Britain in a year
The Customer Is the Enemy
I used to write monthly columns on customer service for two Sri Lankan business magazines and a Gripe Corner for a Sunday newspaper. A common theme of the cases I dealt with was corporate hogwash, systems designed to deter the complainant and a tendency to blame the customer. “The customer is always right” used to be the motto. These days it is “nobody else has had a problem. It must be something about you.”
A new weapon in the spivs’ armoury is the smart phone. In the past, organisations as big as Amazon would be quite blasé about believing the aggrieved customer and refunding large amounts of money, but today one is asked to provide screen shots and photos over complaints relating to footling amounts. Jeff Bezos has enough money to fly into space in his own vehicle why would he be bothered about refunding the cost of a bottle broken in transit? We live in a world dominated by apps and it is difficult for appless, hapless people who are not tech-savvy to negotiate it. The strategy is to debilitate by delay until the customer gives up – or dies.
Something that I found amusing – I have a warped sense of humour. The group of which my rental company was a member asked me to provide a review of the accommodation. I provided a balanced and fair assessment, listing the many positive aspects of our stay. I felt duty bound to mention the problems we encountered, mainly the fairly big thing of our joining the homeless of Bath (I have commissioned a statue of myself) because we were locked out of the apartment that we had paid good money for, but some other mundane issues also. My review was posted on the website with the negative aspects omitted.
I wrote to the rail Ombudsman complaining about GWR, but, to date, have not received even an acknowledgement. The UK’s new prime minister is calling for more growth and proposes further deregulation. It was not too much regulation that got the country into its present parlous state. Customers are likely to get even less protection in the future. I wrote to my excellent Labour MP, Steve Reed, and he got me an apology from the Managing Director of GWR and a full refund. I look forward to the day when Steve becomes Minister of Justice. There is a shortage of justice in Britain today.
“Have you got a photo or a screenshot to prove what you allege? Otherwise you must be a liar.” No admittance of fault. Deniability. Circle the wagons. Repel all boarders. How do we blindside the customer?
During our lengthy visit to the UK from Sri Lanka, my wife and I went to the Walter Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain. I bought Matthew Sturgis’s hefty biography of the painter from the Tate shop and found it an absorbing read. Sickert was a handsome, witty and charismatic figure, friend of Degas and Whistler, with more female conquests than a rock star of today. Sturgis authoritatively dismisses crime writer Patricia Cornwell’s absurd notion that Sickert was Jack the Ripper.
In the summer of 1917, the Sickerts went to Bath. “Bath is it”, Sickert wrote. “The mellifluous amiability of west-country gaffers & maidens …” He took a studio at 10 Bladud Buildings.
Bath would indeed be a lovely city if it were not for the visitors (meself excluded). The resident gaffers and maidens are splendid and the streets and surrounding countryside are magnificent. Perhaps I am a curmudgeon (“no ‘perhaps’ about it! Was the cry”) but my experiences of Venice, Taj Mahal, Macchu Picchu and even St Paul’s Cathedral were spoiled because of the presence of other people.
My wife and I decided to celebrate our Silver Wedding anniversary by spending a week in “a luxury Regency apartment in the historic and cultural city of Bath.” I have enjoyed many visits to the city over many decades, but I had not visited Bath since I left England in 1998 and I was shocked to see what the once-elegant and sophisticated city has become.
I wondered what Jane Austen would have made of it. There is a tawdry museum in Ms Austen’s honour on Gay Street (not even her actual address) with a tasteless, tatty waxwork effigy of the great lady soliciting like a bawd on the pavement outside. (One visitor was not impressed with the visitor centre: “Expensive, not engaging, full of replicas and felt like visiting an old b&b with loads of red wallpaper where you can see what it’s like to write with a quill and some ink. Waste of time.” Another said: “The most exciting thing for me was the exit onto the street.”) Netflix has produced a determinedly anachronistic and debased version of Persuasion for these crass times.
Would the Divine Jane if she were alive today be clinically obese and be festooned with tattoos and piercings?
The “cultural city” seems to have become a venue for stag and hen parties. There were huge gangs of bizarrely attired young women roaming the streets and hordes of shouty, boozy young men endangering elderly, slow-moving pedestrians like mygoodself by whizzing along the pavements on Escooters. When I left England, pavements were safe spaces for pedestrians.
All the restaurants and pubs in Bath are jam-packed and noisy (one pub dares to misspell the name of the sainted Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan). Flann had a thing about bicycles. What would he have made of Escooters?) and some only take orders by apps and reject cash payments.
The “cultural city” seems to have become a venue for stag and hen parties. There is a website dedicated to ideas for hen parties. There were huge gangs of bizarrely attired young women roaming the streets and hordes of shouty, boozy young men whizzing recklessly around pedestrian areas on Escooters. All the restaurants and pubs in Bath are jam-packed and noisy. Boozy Brits have a pungent reputation all over the world (horrible crimes committed on stag dos in Dublin and Prague) but they also practise their thuggery in their own country. Drunk in charge of a limited vocabulary (I stole that from Alan Bleasdale).
Bath has entered the contemporary world with a vengeance and turned into a Benidorm located in boozy Britain itself.
Oxters of Maskless Strangers
I am a methodical kind of a chap, and I planned our trip meticulously in advance. Before setting off from London, I stored as much vital information as I could on my smart phone and made sure the dread gadget was fully charged. My OCD nature was no match for GWR (Great Western Railways), who were providing our transportation, or for the property rental company providing our accommodation.
My target was to check in at our Bath accommodation at 16.00. The tube trains heading for Paddington were scrunched to the gills with unmasked passengers in shorts, many of them carrying cute little dogs, (like the one which allegedly voided on Johnny Depp’s bed) which seem to be this year’s fashion accessory in Britain. We contrived to arrive at Paddington Station with plenty of time to spare to catch the 14.02 Bristol Temple Meads train which stops at Bath Spa. The passengers awaiting that train were getting cricks in their necks looking up at the information board to see which platform to go to. Screaming hyper-active infants were writhing about on the ground where the miniature dogs had micturated and humans had vomited.
It was way past 14.02 when the information board told us that the train was “preparing” but the board still did not tell us which platform to go to. The concourse was throbbing with sweating, obese, tattooed people. When the go-ahead was given to board the train, the masses wobbled forward menacingly but I did not panic, because I had reserved seats in Coach H. Except….. there was no Coach H! A stressed GWR functionary manandwoman-handled us on to the train. We were left standing in the train corridor for the entire two hour journey with our faces in the oxters (not all armpits are charm pits) of maskless strangers, buffeted by back packs.
We were glad when we arrived at Bath Spa station but the place was upheavaled because of building works. There was also an unexplained police presence, which surprised our Bath friends, who thought Bath police station had been closed because of government cuts. British police these days only investigate pronouns not real crimes. Disrupted Britain. The prime minister (at time of writing) Liz Truss celebrates disruption “move fast and break things.” She has broken the economy and the international reputation of Britain.
In days of yore, we might have been able to relax in the café of Debenhams department store just opposite the station. The store had been operating since 1813 but closed in May 2021. An elegant 1930s building remains but it is empty. We waited a long time for a taxi but it was only a short drive to our accommodation. On the taxi journey I noted that, despite the demise of Debenhams, most of the nationwide retail chains were represented – Primark, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer – and each had in their doorway their statutory homeless person with dog (or two). Food banks and street sleepers have become part of the warp and woof (pun intended) of British life (along with shuttered-up shops) even in affluent locations like Bath Spa. There is even a statue of a homeless man and dog outside one Bath store.
I had been notified by an email from the property rental company that the keys to the apartment would be in a box outside the house which could be accessed by using the code 4774. I had made a note of that number on my phone as well as on old-fashioned paper. The key box did not open in response to code 4774. I had been told to ring a mobile number at the rental company when we arrived. I did so, but nobody answered. I also sent three WhatsApp messages which were ticked as being received, but, to this day, no one has responded. Would Jane Austen be on WhatsApp, I wondered? Would she respond to messages?
We went to the Queensberry Hotel opposite the apartment and made phone calls to several of the rental company’s numbers while consuming very expensive beer. Nobody answered any of the calls. The hotel receptionist was anxious to help and gave us an address at Bladud Buildings (a few doors away from Sickert’s studio) which he said was the office of the rental company. The streets of Bath are steep and the sun was intense but we hastened to Bladud Buildings and found that there was no office there, only rented apartments. Luckily, one of the tenants at Bladud Buildings (a young man with rather fetching black nail varnish and much metal facial furniture) used his phone to call another number for us. I spoke to someone who suggested that I try the key code 1812. The tenant said that was the code he had been given to access his apartment at Bladud Buildings. We climbed back up the punishing incline to Royal Crescent. I tried 1812 and it worked.
I note that a six-bed apartment (popular with the hen-parties that roam the streets of Bath) in Bladud Buildings was available in 2017 for a rate of “From £1,277 per night”. At today’s exchange rate that is LKR 512,277 per night. The company that locked us out is clearly doing well, although there was a note in our apartment reminding us that refuse bags were expensive.
The boss of the rental company (whom I will call A) seems to have a penchant for overblown language. (Never knowingly understated.) In spite of our travails, we got a standard message on departure expressing confidence that we would have had an “amazing time.” When I first told A about our problems getting into the apartment she said she was “mortified”. She said “I feel terrible for you both. Certainly not the arrival we want any of our guests to have. Please accept my sincerest apologies.” That is fair enough, but I detect a strategy often adopted by organisations dealing with customer complaints. A said, “I don’t understand why your calls were not answered? Did you have J’s and the main office numbers?” Later, I got an email from the Office Manager, whom I will call B) who remarked in passing, “Normally we are all extremely organised so I am unsure how this has happened.” No admittance of fault. Sorry, it must be me.
An Absence of Humans
Office Manager B did clarify something for me. There was no human being actually available from the rental company when we were locked out. I had dealings with at least eight people at the rental company. A said, “I was at Lucknam Park for my anniversary so didn’t have reception.” I was also trying to celebrate my anniversary, but I am a mere paying customer, so don’t worry about me, just pardon me for interrupting your celebration. Sorry to be a nuisance.
Office manager B said, “I was actually on leave when you arrived.” B promised to contact K (who had given us the misinformation that banished us to the street) “when he returns to the office later today”. K does not work on Fridays, so why did he ask me to phone him when we arrived? B said she would speak to J (the Property & Logistics Manager who had claimed to have sent me the correct code) “when he returns to the office on Thursday”. At the time B was writing this A was “currently out of the country.” Lights on, nobody home.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the Sunday Island on September 18 2022
My mother had the same name as the UK’s latest and current (as I write) prime minister. My mother was Elizabeth Jane King and when she married Jeremiah O’Leary, the Irish labourer who helped to build her parents’ house, number 9, Stanway Road, Coney Hill, Gloucester, she became Elizabeth O’Leary. When Mary Elizabeth Truss married Liverpool accountant Hugh O’Leary she became Elizabeth O’Leary, just like my mother.
During the Second World War my father served in the Royal Pioneer Corps Corps and on June 6, 1944, D-Day, he was on the Normandy beaches burying the dead.
My mother worked at the factory of GAC. This was the Gloster Aircraft Company (spelt that way because it was easier for customers outside the UK) – since 1935 part of Hawker Siddeley Aircraft, Ltd. GAC Gloster received a contract in early 1940 – to design and build Britain’s first jet aircraft. It is interesting to note that Frank Whittle, who invented the jet engine, proposed to Stafford Cripps, Minister of Aircraft Production, that all jet development be nationalised. He pointed out that the company had been funded by private investors who helped develop the engine successfully, only to see production contracts go to other companies. Nationalisation was the only way to repay those debts and ensure a fair deal for everyone, and he was willing to surrender his shares in Power Jets to make this happen. Two airframes were built secretly. Because of the risk of bombing, one of the aircraft was built offsite from Brockworth at Regent Motors Cheltenham. The jet design became the Gloster Meteor, the only jet to be used in combat by the Allied Forces during the Second World War. We used to have a model of the Meteor, made by one of my mother’s workmates, as a doorstop in my childhood home.
Princess Elizabeth and her family earned great praise for staying in London during the Blitz. My mother’s youngest sibling, my Aunty Evelyn, told me that she ran home from school in Coney Hill during an air raid, with German bombs falling all around her.
Although on a map Gloucester looks to be well inland, it is, because of the Sharpness Canal, a port and the docks, with their mariners’ chapel, are today a tourist attraction. The aircraft factories would have attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe.
Another of my mother’s sisters, my Aunty Joyce, apparently did sterling work for Anglo-American good will during the war and afterwards worked alongside my Aunty Joan, making England’s Glory matches at the Moreland’s Match Factory, on Bristol Road, Gloucester, near the Berkeley Canal. It was outside this factory that Elizabeth II waved and smiled at me when she paid a visit in 1954, the year that wartime rationing ended. I remember that her skin looked very smooth and soft.
The Queen on the Day She Smiled at Me
I was well aware of the Royal Family while living with the King family at number 9, Stanway Road. Over my bed was a picture of George VI with a quotation from his Christmas speech to the Empire in 1939.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.
This was from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins written in 1908 and privately published in 1912. In a book published for Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday it is claimed that it was the young Princess Elizabeth herself, aged 13, who handed the poem to her father.
I remember the death of George VI. I compiled a scrapbook in which I, rather messily, glued pictures of his funeral from the newspapers. I remember more vividly the coronation of Elizabeth II.
Like many households in Britain, the King family of Coney Hill acquired a television specifically to watch the coronation. The set was a very different kind of gadget from the huge smart monsters that grace every living room today, spying on their owners. This was not home cinema. The screen was small and encased in a wooden box. When not in use there were doors to shut to protect the screen and at night a cloth was draped over the cabinet in the same way that the budgie’s cage was covered.
I also watched the proceedings in glorious Technicolor at the cinema. Despite June, it was a rainy day for the event, but the gloom was lightened by the presence of the monumental (she was six-foot three in her prime) Queen Salote of Tonga. She refused a hood for her carriage and rode through the pouring rain in an open carriage with Sultan Ibrahim IV of Kelantan, endearing herself to the spectators she waved at. Among the spectators was Noël Coward who was attending a party with a good view of the procession. A guest asked, “who is that little man with Queen Salote?” Coward replied, “he is her lunch.” The minuscule Sultan may have been but an hors d’oeuvre but he had six wives and 27 children.
Fragmentation of the Nation
The NHS was born two years after me. My mother worked for the institution for many years and got me a job as a hospital porter at Gloucester Royal Infirmary in 1969. From 1988 to 1993, I worked as an NHS management consultant and saw at first hand the “reforms” brought in by that nice Kenneth Clark who has the same taste in jazz as me. The changes laid the groundwork for the eventual privatisation of a much-loved and admired institution. Privatisation of nationalised industries was an essential part of the Conservative Thatcherite creed but was taken up with enthusiasm by Labour leaders Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Two of their health secretaries have moved from far left philosophies to lucrative positions in the private health care industry. Alan Milburn used to run a radical left bookshop in Newcastle called Days of Hope which was rechristened by local wags as Haze of Dope. Milburn became an adviser to Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm backing private health companies in Britain and worked 18 days a year advising Cinven, a private equity, which owns 37 private hospitals. Before becoming Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt had been head of National Council for Civil Liberties when they were listening sympathetically to child abusers In January 2008 classified by MI5 as an alleged communist sympathiser. In January 2008, she was appointed ‘special consultant’ to the world’s largest chemists, Boots. Hewitt also became a ‘special adviser’ to Cinven.
Gas and Rail and Water
My father worked for a nationalised industry. It was the South Western Gas Board then. The British Gas Corporation was privatised as a result of the Gas Act 1986, instigated by the government of Margaret Thatcher. This was criticised at the time for replacing one monopoly with another. Today, a consumer might feel nostalgic about the days of benign state monopoly. Today, Centrica owns British Gas. CEO Chris O’Shea gets an annual salary of £775,000 salary but has nobly forgone his £1.1 million bonus. British Gas Energy saw a 44 percent jump in profits to £118 million last year. Its parent company posted a £948 million group profit which goes to shadowy entities like asset management firms Schroders and Abrdn and banks such as Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (BNY Mellon) with no public accountability. Consumers look forward to a grim winter because they cannot afford to pay their energy bills and eat as well. The new Chancellor proposes to remove the cap on bankers’ bonuses.
British Rail was not loved but privatisation was not the answer to its problems. When John Major was prime minister all the obvious privatisations had been done but he wanted one to be remembered for. He proceeded to do to British Rail what he had done to Edwina Curry. I am moderating my language here for a family audience. Who thought it was a good idea to split a national network up into multiple franchises each with their own timetables and pricing and ticketing systems? All the companies are foreign-owned. Instead of taking back control the UK has ransomed its fortune to foreign companies, some of them nationalised state organisations.
Water privatisation always seemed an unacceptable step. Why not enable companies to profit from the air that we breathe? People are being exhorted to save water but the privatised water companies are wasting untold gallons through leaks while paying out dividends to their foreign shareholders.The amount of raw sewage that water companies are pumping into the seas and rivers has increased by no less than 2,553 per cent over the past five years.
Liz Truss continues to pursue the fantasy that further outsourcing and deregulation will solve the horrendous problems that previous outsourcing and deregulation wrought. Providing services through outsourcing ensures a fragmentation which means no one can be blamed for anything.
Here is a little personal vignette which nicely illustrates what a Ponzi scam privatisation and outsourcing is. Recently, we decided to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary by renting an apartment in a Regency house in Bath Spa. We travelled from Paddington by rail. I had the foresight to reserve seats in advance but had not reckoned with GWR (one of the franchises) cutting the train from nine coaches to five without any prior announcement and cancelling all seat reservations. It was bad enough standing in a cramped corridor with unmasked strangers breathing viruses in one’s face, one also had to endure repeated whingeing apologies from the “train manager” who assured us that we could seek recompense. GWR’s response was that they had no responsibility because I had bought my ticket online from Trainline (a Branson company). It was not Trainline who had cut the train to five carriages. Of course, Trainline refuses to compensate me and there is no easy way to get in touch with them. More about customer service next week.
The UK now has a new head of state and a new prime minister, neither of them elected by the general public. Queen Elizabeth II died soon after meeting her new prime minister, Liz Truss. What kind of country is King Charles III inheriting? How will Liz Truss manage what is left of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth that Elizabeth II held so dear? So far, it looks as though she will carry on supporting the ghastly bunch of spivs that have got us into this mess.
In broken Britain, bad deeds go unpunished. The police are under great stress but have time to lecture people about their use of pronouns. Dissidents holding up blank sheets of paper are chastised and others shouting their republicanism are wrestled to the ground. Words are punished but burglaries are not. NHS staff are praised fulsomely but badly treated. Operations are cancelled while the nation mourns and MPs go off on yet another holiday. NHS staff suffer real term pay cuts and all manner of people, from train drivers to barristers (now transformed from QC to KC), are striking because they cannot cope with inflation.
While so many people suffer from the cost of living crisis, the new Chancellor is set to lift the curbs on City bonuses, because bankers, allegedly, need more encouragement to rob the rest of us. As the EU plans windfall taxes on energy companies who are making more profit than they know what to do with, the unelected government of the UK plans to cut more taxes to benefit the already rich and steadfastly refuses to raise additional revenues from the windfall profits of the hydrocarbon extractors. Senior executives at several power generation groups now concede that a windfall tax would be the least worst option for this winter, since it would only target actual profits and could be designed to protect investment.
I am swept up in the mourning and feel sadness and respect for the departed Queen, but I am cynical enough to ask some questions. Like Charles, I followed my mother’s occupation and worked for the state – I was a servant of the Queen, On Her Majesty’s Service. My mother was a cleaner in the NHS; Charles’s mother was not. Charles and I are near contemporaries and during my childhood I was used to seeing pictures of him all the time. When I was at Manchester University, there was, in my Hall of Residence at Owens Park, a fellow student who looked exactly like Prince Charles. We all felt sorry for him. I was, like Charles, born, and grew up in, state-subsidised housing. I was born in a council house in Coney Hill, Gloucester, not far from a Victorian Gothic lunatic asylum. We later moved to another council house at Longlevens, not far from the greyhound track and the football ground.
Charles enjoys state subsidised housing of a different kind. He was born in Buckingham Palace and now lives at Highgrove, in my native Gloucestershire, and has accommodation in London at Clarence House. He has another gaff in Scotland at Birkhall. He has a few other places to doss down – Balmoral, Sandringham, Windsor Castle, Holyrood House, Craigowen Lodge, Delnadamph Lodge, Llwynywermod, Tamarisk, Hillsborough Castle.
Human delusion is a serious problem in many contexts. Seeing broken Britain as a Ruritanian fairyland where the rulers dress up in fanciful military costumes is not helpful. People who say that the monarchy contributes to the unique and positive character of British democracy, rarely give concrete practical examples of how the Queen made a difference in real life. Are there examples of the Queen exerting a positive symbolic function in the way Juan Carlos did with the Spanish fascists?
Did the Queen try to stop the invasion of Iraq, which most of her subjects opposed? All the royal family have a fetish for dressing up in military uniforms. I wonder if the royal family expressed their solidarity with the British armed forces by trying to persuade Her Majesty’s Government to give a better deal in terms of equipment, homes and pensions or to help the soldiers who became homeless and mentally shattered and suicidal?
This article was published in Ceylon Today on July 29, 2022
Sri Lankan readers with a taste for schadenfreude might find light relief from their own troubles by enjoying the shenanigans in the British ruling party. The UK is on a similar trajectory of misgovernment, democratic deficit, inflation, budget deficiency, low growth, corruption, cronyism as are South Africa and Turkey, not to mention Russia. Like Sri Lanka, the UK has been cursed with a ruler who had a huge electoral success in 2019, but in a very short time, turned out to be a man of straw clinging to power, desperate and deluded.
In December 2019, Boris Johnson won 365 seats, a record majority of 80, in the Commons. This represented 43.6% of the popular vote, the highest percentage for any party since 1979. Johnson was eventually forced to go because Tory MPs could no longer tolerate the lying and cover-ups. The final straw that destroyed the man of straw was the predatory activities of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher (he had drunkenly groped two men at a club) and Johnson’s failure to act.
People had been waiting for so long for Johnson to resign that they did not at first notice that his “resignation” speech of July 7 was not what it seemed. He did not resign as prime minister, just as Conservative Party leader. He planned to hang around like a bad smell until a new party leader was chosen on September 5.
Five candidates were reduced to two after a number of ballots of the 365 Conservative MPs. Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, whose resignation precipitated Johnson’s demise, is one of the remaining contenders; foreign secretary Liz Truss is the other. The members of the Conservative Party across the UK will choose between them. Roughly 180,000 Conservative Party members will decide the next leader of the UK. They are mostly old, posh, white, male, southern and very Eurosceptic. A close ally of David Cameron described them as “mad, swivel-eyed loons.” Around 0.3 per cent of the UK electorate will decide who the next prime minister will be. This puts into perspective our Sri Lankan method of choosing a leader.
The first televised debate, organised by the ConservativeHome website, was a pallid affair with robotic performances and technical glitches. They clearly decided to liven it up a bit for the Channel 4 and ITV debates. Things turned so nasty that a planned Sky News debate was cancelled. Sunak asked Truss: “You’ve been both a Liberal Democrat and a remainer. I’m just wondering which one of those you regretted most?” Truss had earlier accused Sunak of “raising taxes to the highest level in 70 years”. The debates seem irrelevant because the general public do not get a vote in this contest. viewers were reminded that the Tories are not called “the nasty party” for nothing. This has been a gift to the Labour Party. An attack ad prepared by the opposition, simply featuring quote after quote from the contenders in the debate, has attracted more than 3m views online.
Sunak has been the smoothest performer and was front-runner when it was MPs voting. He claims he is the only one who can beat Keir Starmer in a general election. Liz Truss has performed very poorly, admitting, “I might not be the slickest presenter on this stage”. She makes a virtue of ineptitude. “What you see is what you get.” I see it and I don’t want it.
Despite Sunak’s superior performance, Truss is now the favourite. Her main thrust is a Gota-like mania for cutting taxes. Sunak also wants to cut, but not yet while inflation is raging. She wants less tax and more spending at the same time. The OBR (Office of Budget Responsibility) warned that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, saying that Britain’s finances were on an “unsustainable” long-term path; the debt burden could treble without tax rises to cover the mounting cost of an ageing population. Experts point out that the UK has among the lowest tax burdens in Europe. Growth is supposed to make up for lost taxes but where is it? Will she borrow money to cut taxes? As Simon Jenkins wrote in the Guardian: “Since every public service is now screaming for cash, for Truss to preach tax cuts is not just to preach severe austerity. It is to preach what she must know the Treasury and cabinet will not actually do.”
The OBR has estimated a 4% drop in UK growth since Brexit, which the FT calculates as £40bn in lost tax revenue every year. Just over half the electorate now think leaving the EU was a mistake. Sunak is being painted as a closet Remainer (or even socialist) despite the fact that he was espousing the Brexit cause in pamphlets when he was 16. Truss shows all the zealotry of a convert, but not so long ago, during the referendum campaign in 2016, she claimed Vote Leave was based on lies and Remain was going to win. This raises questions about her authenticity -are her other positions mere poses?
According to a Tory strategist, “The problem for Sunak is that he has the manner and the behaviour of a Remainer. He doesn’t have the revolutionary zeal of Truss.” Those who supported Remain in the Brexit referendum are backing Sunak, while Leavers overwhelmingly back Truss. This is despite the fact that Sunak campaigned for Leave while Truss was a Remainer.
Truss blames Labour for the country’s woes, ignoring the fact her party has been in power for 12 years. Sunak pledges to put the government on a “crisis footing” from day one if he becomes prime minister because Britain is facing a national emergency over the economy, NHS backlogs and illegal migration under the Tory watch. By the time of a 2024 general election, the Tories will have been in power for 14 years. There will be an overwhelming public mood of being sick of the sight of them. I got sick of them a long time ago.
Today we can see the poisonous effects on American society itself of the interventions in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The horrors veterans endured in those hell holes caused an epidemic of PTSD. Communities and families have to deal with the effects of mental illness, gun crime, alcoholism and drug addiction. Elizabeth D Samet, in her book Looking for theGood War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness, wrote about records of war service when looking at post WW2 culture, particularly film noir: “Routinely investigated by law-enforcement officials and others, these records are invoked as evidence of good character, competence, or trustworthiness, even as they raise concerns that the erstwhile serviceman has developed a dependence on violence to solve problems. By proving a veteran’s ability to kill, a service record makes him a likely suspect in violent crimes at home.” Samet continues:” War records provoke discomfort among civilians in these films not only because they might be fake but also because they show up the less heroic or imply that veterans are bringing war’s violence back home.”
Elaine Scarry wrote in The Body in Pain: “It has often been observed that war is exceptional in human experience for sanctioning the act of killing, the act that all nations regard in peacetime as ‘criminal’. This accurate observation acknowledges that the act of killing, motivated by care ‘for the nation’, is a deconstruction of the state as it ordinarily manifests itself in the body. That is, he consents to perform (for the country) the act that would in peacetime expose his unpoliticalness and place him outside the moral space of the nation.”
Americans Over There
During World War II, the English comedian, Tommy Trinder, popularized the phrase about US servicemen based in Britain, “overpaid, oversexed and over here.” Historian David Reynolds subtitled his book Rich Relations, which deals in detail with Yanks in World War 2 UK, The American Occupation of Britain.
David Vine is associate professor of sociology at American University.He is the authorof Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. The US maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. Vine estimated that maintaining bases and troops overseas cost $85 to $100 billion in the fiscal year 2014; the total with bases and troops in warzones is $160 to $200 billion. The data comes from the Pentagon’s annual Base Structure Report and additional government, news or academic sources. Hundreds of bases in Europe have closed since the 1990s, but the base and troop (11,500) presence in Italy has been relatively constant. Recently, the military has built new bases and expanded Africa-focused operations in Sicily. A “cooperative security location” in Ouagadougou reflects a new generation of small, clandestine “lily pad” bases appearing in countries with little previous US military presence. At least eleven such bases in Africa host special operations forces, drones and surveillance flights.
Since 1995, anti-base protests have escalated in Okinawa. There are 38 US military facilities on the island, taking up 30% of the land mass, and over 40% of the arable soil, once some of the best agricultural land in Japan. Figures up to 1998, show that since 1972, 4,905 crimes were committed against Japanese people by US military personnel, their dependents and US civilian contractors and employees. More than 10% of these were serious crimes – murder, robbery or rape. In most cases, the Japanese authorities were not allowed to arrest or question the alleged perpetrators.
I wrote on July 24, 2019, in these pages about US attempts to set up bases in Sri Lanka.
As someone who has lived in Sri Lanka for twenty years. I am sensitive to the threat of foreign intervention. The Sri Lankan government was fighting the separatist forces of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) for nearly thirty with much economic disruption and great loss of life, both civilian and military. Foreign intervention helped to prolong the conflict. From August 1983 to May 1987, India, through its intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), provided arms, training and monetary support to six Sri Lankan Tamil insurgent groups including the LTTE.
On 5 June 1987, the Indian Air Force air dropped food parcels to Jaffna while it was under siege by Sri Lankan forces. At a time when the Sri Lankan government stated they were close to defeating the LTTE, India dropped 25 tons of food and medicine by parachute into areas held by the LTTE in a direct move of support toward the rebels.
GOSL alleged that weapons were also supplied to the LTTE by India. The original intention was that IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) would not be involved in large scale military operations. However, after a few months, the IPKF engaged the Tigers and continued to do so during the two years in which it was deployed. There were allegations that Indian troops committed atrocities. The IPKF began withdrawing in 1989 and completed the withdrawal in 1990.
Support for the LTTE in India dropped considerably in 1991, after the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a female suicide bomber named Thenmozhi Rajaratnam.
Save that Tiger
In 2009, when the LTTE were once again close to defeat, foreign nations sought to intervene. David Miliband, who was then UK foreign secretary, put pressure on GOSL to agree a cease-fire. The foreign secretary visited Sri Lanka with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner on 29 April. In the past, the LTTE had used ceasefires to regroup and rearm without actually ceasing fire themselves. GOSL were not prepared to make that mistake again, preferring to definitively defeat the Tigers while they had the chance. A leaked May 2009 cable quotes the official, Tim Waite, a Foreign Office team leader on Sri Lanka, explaining Miliband’s intense focus on the plight of the country’s Tamils in terms of UK electoral geography. “He said that with UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka, with Miliband recently remarking to Waite that he was spending 60% of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka.”
The Disease of Victory
Thirteen years after the GOSL comprehensively defeated the LTTE, the winners are still not allowed to enjoy the fruits of victory. There is no demand from Tamils actually living in Sri Lanka for a separate state and there have been no terrorist incidents in those 13 years. The Tamil diaspora still has the influence for the annual ritual of hauling Sri Lanka before the UNHRC, which currently includes such doughty champions of human rights as Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, Kazakhstan, El Salvador, Venezuela.
Richard Haass, the dean of America’s foreign policy establishment, argued that America should curb its global ambitions until its “own house is in better order.”
I will leave the last word with Elizabeth D Samet: “The countries the United States sought to liberate and subsequently occupied inevitably tired of it before we did. In this case, our ‘garrulous populism’ expressed itself, as the pocket guides warned, as a belief that the world should be grateful for American military might, which was exceptional because it was always applied in the name of freedom.”
In last week’s article, I warned that the Depp case was not over even though the jury had sung. In February 2019, Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard for defamation over a December 2018 op-ed for the Washington Post in which she claimed to speak for women who had suffered intimate partner violence. Heard counter-sued Depp in August 2020, alleging that he had coordinated “a harassment campaign”. For Depp’s lawsuit, on June 1, 2022, a jury in Fairfax Virginia found that all three statements from Heard’s op-ed were false, defamed Depp, and were made with actual malice. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages from Heard. The punitive damages were reduced to $350,000 due to a limit imposed by Virginia state law. Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and zero in punitive damages from Depp. In short, the jury believed Depp and thought Heard was lying.
Not Western Union
In their closing statements, Heard’s principal lawyers Elaine Bredehoft and Ben Rottenborn called on the jury to send a message to abused women everywhere by supporting Heard’s version of events. This was not an acceptable approach and should have been challenged by Depp’s team. They complained later but, as YouTube lawyer Emily D Baker commented, “that shit has left the horse.”
A jury is not Western Union. Its job is not to send messages but to decide on facts.
After the trial was over, Bredehoft did a number of TV interviews in which she made the same point and also trod on dangerous ground for a working lawyer by implying that the jury had not followed instructions to avoid reading about the case and that the judge was biased. She also referred to the Depp legal team holding “a victory parade.” In fact, Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez did not do any TV interviews until after Bredehoft had abruptly ceased hers. It may be that she had been reprimanded for her conduct by the judge. The trial is not officially over until June 24 and Bredehoft’s conduct veers dangerously close to contempt of court. She is also giving Depp further grounds to sue for defamation. Chew and Vasquez conducted themselves with dignity in their interviews, refusing to criticise their opponents – they used the word “disappointed” a lot.
The trial verdict was seen as a setback for the Me Too movement. I rejoiced at MeToo because it seemed to herald a significant cultural change which should be beneficial to women. I noted that the legal system was capable of finding out the facts about Harvey Weinstein and convicting him. Despite the alleged widespread misogyny demonstrated by the Depp case, Weinstein is still in jail. Calling out a woman for being a liar is not misogyny.
MSM and Misogyny
The MSM (mainstream media) have generally taken Heard’s side and not shown much interest in the facts. The Guardian’s take on the case has been particularly egregious throughout. It has run a number of opinion pieces which were short on fact and heavy on generalisation. In an article headed “An orgy of misogyny”, Moira Donegan wrote: “The strange, illogical, and unjust ruling has the effect of sanctioning Depp’s alleged abuse of Heard, and of punishing Heard for speaking about it. It will have a devastating effect on survivors, who will be silenced, now, with the knowledge that they cannot speak about their violent experiences at men’s hands without the threat of a ruinous libel suit. In that sense, women’s speech just became a lot less free.” It is no longer “alleged abuse”. It is no longer abuse. A Guardian editorial said, “There is a risk that, in future, other women who wish to speak or write about domestic abuse may be deterred by the fear of being sued by former partners.”
Throughout the proceedings the MSM had taken the side of Heard because she was seen to be representative of abused women. This ignores the obvious fact that thousands of women were rooting for Depp. Andrea Burkhart is an experienced criminal lawyer. She addresses the misogyny issue thus: “Mainstream media are saying that millions of women support Depp because they want to fuck him. That in itself is misogynist.”
The MSM cannot cope with the fact that millions of women, including real victims of violent abuse support and believe Depp. It is ironic that the MSM claims to be speaking in the public interest and on behalf of women but most women disagree with them. It ignores the high profile involvement of women. We are able to make our own judgement and it is insulting to be told by people who have not been following the trial that we are misogynist.
At least some in the MSM had a sense of reality and justice. Jack Houghton of Sky News Australia wrote: “Individual cases of sexual or physical violence should not be conflated with others. Each allegation needs to be assessed in isolation. Many are true and many are not. That is why we have courts. Instead, many in the media want us to view cases as collectivised examples of cultural trends. The problem with this narrative is that when a court does find that a woman has lied about her experience, #MeToo activists find it hard to separate that notion from their reality.”
The MSM in general are proving to be sore losers. Even the Washington Post, which published the defamatory article in the first place, is showing no contrition for getting it wrong. I have cancelled my subscription. The view that one gets from the mainstream media is very different from what one gets from actually watching the proceedings and listening to YouTube discussions of the legal aspects. Someone who attended the court said there was no MSM there to report on it. The MSM has been struck with a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb. Tapes clearly prove that Heard assaulted Depp and berated him for running away and avoiding conflict.
The LA Times was so out of touch that it published an article saying that Aquaman star Jason Momoa had given evidence; he had not as anyone who had been watching the trial would have known. The LA Times was fooled by fake video of Jason Momoa.
I feel more qualified to comment on the trial than those commenting in the Guardian.I actually watched the proceedings live or in repeats. I listened to endless discussions on YouTube in which experienced, qualified, practising attorneys discussed the evidence and the technicalities of the procedures. A community developed. As with other online communities, there were fallings out and a couple of the participants seemed a little sleazy to me. Nevertheless, it was good to see productive friendships develop as they guested on each other’s YouTube channels. Ian Runkle travelled from Alberta, Canada to endure the rigours of the line and actually attend the hearings. Rob Moreton, who is a lawyer in Fairfax, Virginia also attended and gave Runkle bed and board and whiskey. Moreton does a channel called Law and Carpentry. He brought his knowledge of wood to debunk Heard’s story about the bed being damaged by Depp’s boot. He claimed the damage was caused by a knife and managed to locate a knife in the photo of the bed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRSxKSMpr8Q.
A number of other lawyers bring their helpful knowledge to YouTube in an entertaining and stimulating fashion : Peter Dragos, Bruce Rivers, Nate Broady, Daniel ShenSmith (an English Barrister who sheds light on the UK case). Quite a number of the YouTube lawyers are females who started out thinking that Depp could not win.One of them was Natalie Whittingham-Burrell who was busy with a double-homicide trial when the Depp trial began. As the Depp trial developed she began to change her mind. Eventually, she wrote an article about the trial which she could not get into MSM. Someone plagiarised it though. She published the article on Medium. In it, she says:”It is exceptionally difficult for a celebrity to win a defamation case. Like all other litigants, Depp had to prove that Heard defamed him by a preponderance of the evidence. However, as a celebrity, Depp had the additional burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that Heard acted with actual malice in defaming him.” She continues: “Based on the rubric provided to the jury and the facts actually presented at trial, I came to a jarring conclusion: Amber Heard was not credible.”
“The call to “believe all women” as a solution to the problem with physical and sexual abuse is alarming, dangerous and counterproductive. This is best explained if we outright state the inverse: “disbelieve all men”. This framework asks for the public, the media and the courts to disregard the presumption of innocence. The problem with allegations of sexual abuse being swept under the rug, cannot be solved with treating those accused of abuse as though they are guilty without the accused being given an opportunity to be heard in a court of law.”
The Washington Post has gone to war with social media.The Washington Post was the paper that found out the facts about Watergate and brought about President Nixon’s resignation. The main lesson of that saga was that the cover up is usually more dangerous than the initial crime. When in a hole stop digging. The current iteration of the Post seems to have forgotten that lesson.
Taylor Lorenz published an article in the Post which set out to demonize those on YouTube who were covering the case. There are practising and experienced attorneys who have channels on YouTube and have brought their knowledge and expertise to analysing the proceedings and explained legal technicalities to lay people. They started out as individuals but have formed a community and have been appearing on each other’s channels. A British barrister is also contributing with his knowledge about the UK libel case against the Sun which Depp lost. He has started a petition to get that verdict overturned. There have been some fallings out in this community but generally they stick together and talk good sense.
Lorenz’s article was rather peculiar in that it mentioned some teenage Instagrammers that nobody had ever heard of. She quoted them as saying they made modest amounts of money from posting about the trial. One of them said he had gone on Instagram to see pictures of hot guys. These people are not influencers in the Depp case.
Her main thrust was against two YouTubers whose work I have found useful. “LegalBytes” host Alyte Mazeika is a lawyer and she has chaired many discussions involving other lawyers. TUG (That Umbrella Guy) is a mental health professional who has been investigating the Depp case for about six years and has come up with a wealth of information of which the MSM knows nothing.
Lorenz claimed in her article that she had reached out to those two for comment but they had not responded. They were able to prove that she was lying. The Post stealth-edited the erroneous claim from Lorenz’s report, though it remains unclear whether she herself removed the claim or an editor did the needful. I will not bore you with the numerous confusing corrections that have subsequently been made.
Lorenz’s main gripe was that YouTube “content creators” benefited from the courtroom frenzy by increasing their audience and making money. Lorenz alleged that according to Business Insider, Mazeika “earned $5,000 in one week by pivoting the content on her YouTube channel to nonstop trial coverage and analysis.” She also claimed that ThatUmbrellaGuy “earned up to $80,000 last month, according to an estimate by social analytics firm Social Blade.” TUG responded: “The Washington Post also FLAGRANTLY misrepresented my earnings report and needs to correct it. Social Blade says I made between $4.9k and $79.1k. They ADDED TO the highest estimate, over-reporting for dramatic effect.”
It is ironic that what has come to be called the legacy press is whining about YouTubers monetizing content when there are ads all over the Washington Post and the paper is owned by possibly the richest man on earth, Jeff Bezos. The YouTubers have got their hands dirty by actually digging out facts and some have queued up under gruelling conditions to attend the court. The MSM has not bothered to attend.
Elaine Bredehoft said the trial should not have been televised but being televised meant that millions were watching and deciding whether Heard was credible. Millions will lose their trust in media if the MSM tell millions that they are mistaken. A majority of people watching the trial were female. I have read thousands of comment on YouTube and overwhelmingly the females, especially those who identify as abuse victims, despise Heard. Initially, Amber was believed. The allegations were treated seriously and investigated but were found wanting. Depp’s case was an uphill struggle but many who doubted him at the beginning ended up believing him. Many have taken the line, “We did support Amber and she played us.”
A lot of people will mistrust the MSM after this. You think they are doing real journalism but they have let you down. The Washington Post inserted a sour note into its coverage of the Congressional hearings on the attack on the Capitol. “Maybe someday, if democracy is again under attack, such a horrific event will seem more urgent than a verdict in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial.” Maybe someday we can rely on the MSM to report the truth. Whatever Taylor Lorenz might say many people place more trust in YouTube than they do in the legacy press.