Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Boris Johnson

Careless People Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on May 25, 2021.

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/careless-people

David Cameron is under fire for his dealings with Lex Greensill

David Cameron was not the perfect guest when he visited Sri Lanka in November 2013. He tried to get the Commonwealth summit meeting to focus on human rights abuses and war crimes allegedly perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government in the closing stages of the successful campaign against the LTTE. He visited Jaffna and stirred up disaffected Tamils. I got the impression that his concern for the allegedly oppressed was not totally sincere.

Sincerity and a respect for truth are not notable elements of the Cameron character. Maverick Labour MP Dennis Skinner was expelled from the House of Commons for referring to him as Dodgy Dave. Recent events have proved the Beast of Bolsover to be accurate in his characterization.

Dodgy Dave Dodges Dodgy Questions

Cameron dodged questions throughout the hearings of two separate parliamentary committees (Treasury select committee and Public Accounts Committee) lasting a total of four hours on May 11, and May 13, 2021.The former prime minister was being grilled about his activities as a lobbyist for Greensill Capital, which involved him bombarding ministers and civil servants with needy pleas for favours for the dodgy company. Labour’s Angela Eagle said Cameron’s behaviour was “more like stalking than lobbying”. The opposition leader, Keir Starmer has had little to chuckle about recently, but he permitted himself a little joke at Cameron’s expense, describing him as “a former prime minister and now I suspect a former lobbyist”. Indeed, Cameron was not very good as a prime minister and pretty useless as a lobbyist, although he might have made money for himself. Dodgy Dave dodged questions about how much Greensill paid him for his efforts. He admitted it was more than his £150,000 salary as PM. He claimed that reports he stood to gain £60m were “absurd”. Labour’s Rushanara Ali told him, “It gives me no pleasure to say this, but your reputation is in tatters.”.

A Word in your Ear

In February 2010, Cameron promised to end the kind of corruption of which he is now accused. “We all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism.” Eleven years on, how does that sound?

Honest Dave told the committee, “I have spent most of my adult life in public service. I believe in it deeply.” One can translate that to mean that he had never done a proper job in his life before he became the UK’s youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812. Cameron became prime minister in at the age of 43 in 2010. He had been leader of the Conservative Party since 2005 when he was 39.

He enjoyed a gilded life. Born in London to an upper-middle-class family, he went to Eton and in 1988, got a first at Brasenose, Oxford (a source of bitterness to his former schoolmate Boris Johnson who only got 2.1 at Balliol).

He went straight from Oxford to the Conservative Research Department where he worked until 1993, at the later stages working for the Conservative prime minister, John Major. In 1994, before he became an MP, he went to work for Carlton Communications because believed a stint in the private sector would benefit his political career. He got the job through personal contacts such as Samantha Cameron’s mother who was married to William Waldorf Astor III, 4th Viscount Astor. Executives at Carlton Towers could eat gourmet meals in a private dining room, served by a butler summoned by pressing a button under the dining table. One senior business journalist who dealt with Cameron extensively describes him as “thoroughly unpleasant” and not a very efficient press officer. “Cameron’s affable demeanour is only skin-deep; he cultivated only those who could prove useful. “Cameron did this PR job until 2001 and this was the only work experience he had outside the cosy world of Westminster.

Human Rights

Although he made a show of distaste for the Sri Lankan government’s human rights record his own record is distasteful.

In 1989, while Nelson Mandela was still in prison under the apartheid regime, Cameron accepted a trip to South Africa paid for by an anti-sanctions lobby firm. A spokesperson for Cameron responded by saying that the Conservative Party was at that time opposed to sanctions against South Africa and that his trip was a fact-finding mission. However, the Independent reported that Cameron’s then superior at Conservative Research Department called the trip “jolly”, saying that “it was all terribly relaxed, just a little treat, a perk of the job. The Botha regime was attempting to make itself look less horrible, but I don’t regard it as having been of the faintest political consequence.” Cameron distanced himself from his party’s history of opposing sanctions against the regime.

It always seemed very odd that Saudi Arabia, a nation noted for a judicial system which included public beheadings and amputations and stoning of adulteresses, should be a member of the UNHRC which was condemning Sri Lanka for human rights abuses. According to WikiLeaks, Cameron initiated a secret deal with Saudi Arabia ensuring both countries were elected to the UNHRC. In 2015, Cameron’s government announced “firm political support” for the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen against the Shi’a Houthis, re-supplying the Saudi military with weapons and providing them with training.

Libya

The foreign affairs select committee, which had a majority of Conservative members, published a damning report in September 2016 on Britain’s disastrous intervention in Libya in 2011. Cameron refused to give evidence to the select committee. In one of his few reflections on the debacle, which turned Libya into a failed state exporting thousands of refugees, he blamed the Libyan people for failing to take their chance of democracy.

 

The result of Cameron’s decisions “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa”.

The committee concluded that the intervention was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country. Sir Alan Duncan, a Foreign Office minister, is quoted as describing the plans for postwar planning as fanciful rot and an unrealistic desktop exercise. The report concurs with Barack Obama’s assessment that Britain’s intervention was “a shitshow”, adding that Cameron stopped paying attention and became “distracted by a range of other things”..

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian, “It all adds yet more colour to the sketch history is likely to draw of Cameron. That he was hopelessly short-termist, too often acting for the moment, doing what he needed to get out of an immediate hole but failing to think things through. Sometimes, in the day-to-day tumble of domestic politics, that approach did little harm and served him well. It made him agile. But when blood and lives were at stake, it was a fatal flaw.”

The committee’s main charge was that Cameron allowed the original mission to creep into an undeclared pursuit of regime change in Libya. We in Sri Lanka are lucky that he did not get very with changing our regime.

More next week

Strategy of Lies

A shorter version article was published in Ceylon Today on May 10, 2021.

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/a-strategy-of-lies

He wiffles and he waffles; he piffles and he paffles. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson seems incapable of giving a straight answer. Every week at prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, Boris bats away the questions of the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, with a mélange of bluster and irrelevance and whataboutery. At PMQs on 28 April 2021, Johnson seemed to lose it completely as Starmer brought his forensic skills as a former Director of Public Prosecutions to the chamber. Johnson ranted and avoided answering the well-honed questions put to him.

Andrew Rawnsley in the London Observer wrote: “Those familiar with his pathology will know that he often dials up the bluster when he has something to hide. The worse the misconduct he is trying to conceal, the rantier he tends to get. He was very ranty indeed at the most recent prime minister’s questions.” Johnson has long played the buffoon and has often been mistaken for a Wodehousian silly ass. Johnson is Ukridge rather than Wooster. Ukridge is quick to blame his friends for his failures. Ukridge gets really angry when his friend refuses to injure himself for what Ukridge describes as the common good. Ukridge usually sees himself as the victim when his plans inevitably implode and blames fate or his friends – “It’s a bit hard…!” is a phrase that recurs often. Johnson’s fake buffoonery causes real distress to millions of real people. Ukridge is fiction. Johnson is ugly fact.

Here is Starmer’s first question, as recorded in Hansard. “It was reported this week, including in the Daily Mail and by the BBC and ITV, backed up by numerous sources, that at the end of October the Prime Minister said he would rather have ‘bodies pile high’ than implement another lockdown. Can the Prime Minister tell the House categorically, yes or no: did he make those remarks or remarks to that effect?”

Of course, we did not get a “yes” or a “no”. Starmer’s response was chilling: “I remind him that the ministerial code says: ‘Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation’. I will leave it there for now. There will be further on this, believe you me.”

Starmer followed up with another wounding thrust. “Who initially —and ‘initially’ is the key word here—paid for the redecoration of his Downing Street flat?” Johnson responded with a flurry of whataboutery, to which Starmer replied, “Normally when people do not want to incriminate themselves, they go, ‘No comment.’” Starmer followed up thus: “Either the taxpayer paid the initial invoice, or it was the Conservative party, or it was a private donor, or it was the Prime Minister. I am making it easy for the Prime Minister—it is now multiple choice. There are only four options. I ask him again: who paid the initial invoice—the initial invoice, Prime Minister—for the redecoration of the Prime Minister’s flat?”

There are now no fewer than three inquiries into how the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat was funded. “Cash for cushions” and “wallpapergate” are terms being bandied about.

I have been watching PMQs for a long time and I am able to discern the techniques that Johnson uses. He employs the same tricks when he appears before the select liaison committee. He never answers the question, which forces the questioner to keep repeating the question. Johnson then feigns frustration at the repetition and says something like, “I have already answered that question numerous times”. What he really means is that the question has been asked numerous times and he has avoided answering it numerous times.

Another trick is to hurl questions at Keir Starmer and berate him for not answering them. Starmer has drily pointed out that this is prime minister’s questions not leader of the opposition’s questions but if he wants to change places, he would be happy to do so. The speaker of the House, Lyndsey Hoyle, occasionally makes the same point but generally lets Johnson get away with his tricks.

There was a good example on April 28, when Ian Blackford, Westminster leader of the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party), speaking from his own home surrounded by DVDs and books, launched this missile. “Parliamentary rules stop me saying that the Prime Minister has repeatedly lied to the public over the last week, but may I ask the question: are you a liar, Prime Minister?” There was a stunned silence in the House. The speaker fidgeted uncomfortably and mumbled something about what Blackford had said not being out of order but being “unsavoury”.  Blackford’s question called for a yes or no answer. Johnson could not say yes, he was a liar. If he said, “No, I am not a liar” everybody would know he was lying and therefore a liar.

Johnson’s crimes are manifold. While Johnson was spending an estimated £200,000 on home decor, his government was pushing through a post-Grenfell fire safety bill that threatens ordinary leaseholders with financial ruin, saddling them with the cost of ridding their homes of potentially lethal cladding and other hazards.

As mayor of London, he wasted money on failed vanity projects and gave £126,000 of public money to his lover, Jennifer Arcuri, to whom the mayor gave a fast track to the taxpayer’s pocket. As prime minister he facilitated a VIP lane for ministers’ chums to make a profit out of the pandemic. There was a £276m contract that went to P14 Medical, run by a Tory donor, and the £160m deal with Meller Designs, also run by a Tory donor. Cronies like Dido Harding got the benefit of £37bn committed to a test-and-trace programme that never worked.

Strategic lying is a technique where a politician tells a deliberate lie with the purpose of shifting the news agenda onto his or hers preferred territory. Rebuttals are part of the plan because they result in the subject of the lie being amplified and kept on the news agenda.

The Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) was created in 2001 to lie overseas for the US, but after an outcry, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quickly announced its closure. However, he was not telling the truth when he said the US government had stopped lying. The OSI’s duties were taken over by the Information Operations Task Force.

Once a lie finds a sympathetic ear, rebuttals, facts, will not persuade people that it is not true. To believe anything else would create a sense of cognitive dissonance. Memories of corrections fade rapidly, but the memory of the original lie remains. Goebbels had something to say on this subject. Media scholar Caroline Jack coined the phrase “unintentional amplification”, which in turn leads to another phenomenon which she identifies as “inadvertent legitimisation” – the act of giving credibility to “strategic lies” simply by repeating them.

Nick Cohen wrote in the London Observer: “Boris Johnson has a sense of entitlement where a sense of morality should be. Put a man like that in charge of a well-governed country and anti-corruption investigations follow. Put him in charge of this country and, instead of detectives with warrants, we have chums looking at chums, morally compromised arbiters and intimidated watchdogs.”

Philosopher Bernard Williams coined the term “Government House utilitarianism” to describe the moral philosophy underlying the practice of the British Empire that envisaged an elite who knew the moral truth and could put out simple rules for the natives (or ordinary people) to use. In Truth and Truthfulness, his last published book, Williams focuses on what he identifies as the “virtues” of truthfulness, Accuracy and Sincerity. We can’t get along without trust (human flourishing creates a “need for cooperation” (b) but trust requires truthfulness, and (c) truthfulness presupposes that there are (at least some) truths. For Williams lies are pernicious for at least two reasons: (1) the liar betrays the trust of the dupe; and (2) the liar exerts power over the dupe, manipulating his or her beliefs and thus (potentially) his or her choices.

The results of recent elections indicate that the British people are happy to be dupes.

A Tale of Two Armies Part Three

This article was published in Ceylon Today on April 30, 2021

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/part-three-a-tale-of-two-armies

The main purpose and outcome of war is injuring. Elaine Scarry

 

A man called Johnny Mercer was the subject of many headlines in the UK press recently. This is not the Johnny Mercer who brought us such wonderful songs as Moon River, Autumn Leaves and Come Rain or Come Shine. This Johnny Mercer is a Conservative MP and was a government minister. He made a bit of a splash and some might have seen him as a hero for saying that Boris Johnson’s government was a “cesspit”, adding it was the “most distrustful, awful environment I’ve ever worked in”. He was going to resign from his ministerial post on a point of principle but the man with no principles got his retaliation in first and sacked him. Man with no principles versus a man with principles. One might think that Mercer was the good guy but, hold on. Let us look at what Mercer’s point of principle was.

The Quality of Mercer

Mercer was keen to prevent British soldiers being prosecuted for war crimes. In previous articles, I have discussed a book which is extremely critical of the British army and its operations in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq. Johnny Mercer gets a lot of attention in The Changing of the Guard by Simon Akam.

Mercer was an army man who completed three tours of Afghanistan and retired from service in December 2013 with the rank of captain. He was born in Dartford on 17 August 1981 and is the son of a banker and a nurse. Mercer worked briefly in the City of London before joining the Royal Artillery after graduating from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He became a Tory MP for Plymouth Moor View in May 2015. On 28 July 2019, Mercer was appointed as Minister for Defence People and Veterans. His responsibility included armed forces personnel and veterans’ welfare. In June 2017, Mercer published We Were Warriors: One Soldier’s Story of Brutal Combat, a memoir of his service and time in Afghanistan.

In a previous article I wrote about The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) which investigated alleged war crimes committed by British troops during the occupation of Iraq starting in 2003. Simon Akam writes that Johnny Mercer was a key force in getting IHAT closed down. In his maiden speech in the House of Commons, he set his stall out to concentrate on two main areas, mental health and provision for veterans. The speech had an impact and Mercer started receiving letters complaining about IHAT. Mercer got the impression that junior ranks were being targeted as scapegoats while more senior, well-connected former officers were being ignored. As Nick Cohen put it in the London Observer, “In Johnny Mercer, the Conservatives had a political entrepreneur ready to turn legitimate complaint into political capital.” Mercer was among the majority who voted against a motion calling for the extension of free schools meals.

Another person who has been in the news lately is former prime minister David Cameron who has been accused of corruption. According to the London Observer: “The exposure of Cameron’s links to the fallen financier Lex Greensill have dragged a man once regarded as too privileged to think about earning serious money into the cesspit of financial sleaze which he had said he was determined to root out of public life.”

This is the David Cameron who visited Sri Lanka in November 2013 and told the Sri Lankan government he would join calls for an international inquiry into human rights abuses during the nation’s civil war. In January 2016, Cameron asked the National Security Council to produce a plan to stop “spurious claims” against British troops. Mercer was the chair of a select committee investigating solicitors who were pursuing cases against former soldiers. He was leaking material to the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

Vexation

On March 23, 2021, the House of Commons passed the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill by 345 votes to 260. This is designed to prevent soldiers accused of war crimes being brought to justice. In June, an independent British investigator looking into allegations of misconduct by British troops in Iraq said that all but one of thousands of complaints – which ranged from rape and torture to mock executions and other atrocities – had been dropped.

Mercer claimed that his point of principle was about treatment of soldiers who had served in Northern Ireland. Did he not notice the name of the bill referred to “Overseas Operations”? Northern Ireland is a part of the UK.

To be fair, the legislation got stuck in the Lords as every retired general, admiral and military judge you can name warned the Conservatives they risked bringing “the UK armed forces into disrepute”. Former chief of the defence staff, field marshal Lord Guthrie, said the bill “would increase the danger to British soldiers if Britain is perceived as reluctant to act in accordance with long-established international law”.

Different Rules for SLA

Much of the propaganda against the SLA stems from falsehoods propagated by Gordon Weiss. However, in his book The Cage, even Weiss has good things to say about the SLA. “It remains a credit to many of the front-line SLA soldiers that, despite odd cruel exceptions, they so often seem to have made the effort to draw civilians out from the morass of fighting ahead of them in an attempt to save lives. Soldiers yelled out to civilians, left gaps in their lines while they waved white flags to attract people forward and bodily plucked the wounded from foxholes and bunkers. Troops bravely waded into the lagoon under fire to rescue wounded people threading their way out of the battlefield or to help parents with their children and gave their rations to civilians as they lay in fields, exhausted in their first moments of safety after years of living under the roar and threat of gunfire”.

Killing for one’s Country

In her book The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry writes, “the soldier’s primary goal is not, as is so often wrongly implied, the protection or ‘defense’ of his comrades (if it were this, he would have led those comrades to another geography): his primary purpose is the injuring of enemy soldiers; to preserve his own forces has the important but only secondary and ‘negative’ purpose of frustrating and exhausting the opponent’s achievement of his goal”. Bertrand Russell calls attention to the morally problematic statement, “I am going off to die for my country” rather than acknowledging that “I am going off to kill for my country.”

Scarry writes: “war is exceptional in human experience for sanctioning the act of killing, the act that all nations regard in peacetime as ‘criminal’”. She continues, “consenting to kill, 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.”

“War kills; that is all it does,” writes Michael Walzer in the midst of a complex analysis of just and unjust wars.  Walzer reveals that Allied planes during World War II were incapable of targeting their bombs with any more precision than a five-mile radius, yet the misleading term “strategic bombing” was habitually used, and the massive, wide-of-the-mark damage was then designated “unintentional,” even though it was in all instances “foreseeable.” “Being shelled is the main work of the infantry soldier,” writes American poet Louis Simpson about his experience in World War II.

Led by Donkeys

A few from the lower ranks had their knuckles rapped for individual acts of brutality but no one who created the mess was punished in any way. Indeed, as Akam notes they were rewarded for their incompetence.  “All those who ran that blighted campaign continue to move up the promotional system unimpeded.” As a result of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, “Britain developed a globally unprecedented web of accountability measures for individual malfeasance on the battlefield. Yet it did so while establishing almost zero accountability for the high-level decision-making that led to the prosecution of two deeply troubled campaigns”.

Akam explains why he wrote his book. “I thought that perhaps this idea that there was glory in the profession of arms was not just an inevitability of adolescence, but a violent trick, the revenge of old men upon the young. There is little redemption through violence to be had in foreign fields, and legs blown off are gone for good. It was then that I knew I needed to write this”.

Goose Is Cooked

This article was published in Ceylon Today on January 1 2021

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/goose-is-cooked

There has been much bluster from Boris Johnson about an ‘oven-ready deal’ for the UK to leave the EU. There was much anxiety that there would be no deal at all or that it would be a Christmas turkey. In the end, a deal was struck on Christmas Eve and there was much relief and a fatigued kind of feeling that it might have been worse. Repent at leisure. It could be that the UK’s goose is well and truly cooked not just oven-ready.

Carry on trading

A positive aspect of the deal is that there will be no tariffs on goods exported and imported between the UK and the EU. This should allow the UK and the EU to carry on trading much as they do now. This should limit price increases and prevent stocks of goods in shops from running out. Tariff-free and quota-free access to one of the world’s biggest markets goes beyond the EU’s deals with Canada or Japan. Chris Johns in the Irish Times explains what a Canada-style deal means: “The relationship between the US and Canada offers a template for what will happen next: A dominant power that periodically delivers an economic kicking to its smaller neighbour. “

There will be mutual recognition of trusted trader programmes. This means UK producers will have to comply with both UK and EU standards. However, there will be more red tape, which is bound to mean delays and extra costs. According to the Cold Chain Federation, The UK’s food chain could well be “slower, more complex and more expensive for months if not years”. 

It will make it much harder for Britain to sell services to EU countries, where they once had an advantage. The financial industry, lawyers, architects, consultants and others – was largely left out of the 1,246-page deal, despite the sector accounting for 80 per cent of British economic activity. Britain sells $40 billion of financial services to the European Union each year, profiting from an integrated market that makes it easier in some cases to sell services from one member country to another than it is to sell services from one American State to another. That will end.

Restricted freedom of movement

UK nationals no longer have the freedom to work, study, start a business or live in the EU. Visas will be required for stays over 90 days. Coordination of some social security benefits such as old-age pensions and healthcare will make it easier to work abroad and not lose any pre-existing buildup of contributions to national insurance. UK citizens wishing to travel to Europe should have at least six months left on their passport before they travel. From 2022, they will have to pay for a visa-waiver scheme to visit many EU countries. The European Commission says the choice to end free movement “inevitably means that business travel between the EU and the UK will no longer be as easy as it currently is”. People are advised to check with the member state they are travelling to.

There will be no more automatic recognition for doctors, nurses, architects, dentists, pharmacists, vets, engineers. 

They will now have to seek recognition in each member state in which they wish to practise. A framework is being drawn up to facilitate some form of mutual recognition in the future. It may well be that each UK qualification body will have to negotiate a bilateral agreement with its counterpart in each respective EU member state.

Britain’s thriving TV and video-on-demand service providers will no longer be able to offer pan-European services to European viewers unless they relocate part of their business to an EU member state.

Exile from useful institutions

Britain will no longer be a member of the European Investment Bank, which lent billions to depressed regions of the UK. Inward investment, which boomed under EU membership, and which has already fallen by four fifths since the referendum, will remain depressed. The UK will also be out of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, crucial to the fight against climate change and essential to the economics of wind farms and new nuclear power stations. The UK loses all automatic access to EU databases.

The UK will no longer be part of the European Arrest Warrant system. Nor will the UK be a full member of Europol or Eurojust. There will be “continued cooperation between the UK, Europol and Eurojust” with “strong cooperation between national Police and judicial authorities”.

Cost of chaos

I used to write regular monthly columns on Europe for two Sri Lankan business magazines. Reading those articles now, I can see that most of them were critical of aspects of the EU. A rational case could have been made for the UK leaving the EU, although it would have made more sense to stay in and reform it, while having a say on the rules.

Chris Johns again: “The British voted for Brexit but whatever they thought they were asking for, this was not it… Before the referendum, few people in the UK had strong views about Europe. Most now just want Brexit to disappear.” Get Brexit done. It will never be done. I doubt if anyone voted in the 2016 referendum for the years of expensive chaos that ensued from the decision to leave or for the deal that will surely bring more years of expensive chaos. According to the think tank the Institute for Government (IfG) the UK Government committed to spend £6.3 billion on Brexit preparations up to April 2020. That is the equivalent of buying two brand new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, or the money being spent on extending the Thameslink railway in the south-east of England.

Bloomberg Economics analysed how much the decision to leave the EU cost the economy. Bloomberg economist Dan Hanson said, “As the UK comes to terms with its new trading relationship with the EU and grapples with the productivity challenge that has hindered growth since the financial crisis, the annual cost of Brexit is likely to keep increasing,” Economists believe that, as a result of this, the British economy is still three per cent smaller than it would have been if the UK had voted to remain in the EU in 2016 – even with the slowdown of the global rate of growth taken into account. 

Meanwhile, business investments have been held back by Brexit uncertainty, they said, with the annual rate of economic growth halving to one per cent. 

An analysis by UK in a Changing Europe, a research organisation funded by the UK Government, estimated that Brexit’s ultimate economic cost to the UK would be larger than that of COVID-19. The UK economy contracted 20 per cent between April and June because of COVID-19. Some forecasters expect the UK economy to recover rapidly now that a vaccine is available, but they predict that less trade and immigration because of Brexit will have deep and prolonged effects. The UK Government’s own estimate suggests a trade deal like the one agreed to this week would leave the country’s output five per cent lower in 15 years than if Brexit hadn’t happened.

The money spent on Brexit would have helped the NHS to cope better with the pandemic. The UK goes into 2021 suffering from the incompetence of its government’s handling of COVID-19. The economy is shattered because of the virus and now there is Brexit to cope with as well. Martin Kettle commented in the Guardian about the circus leading up to the deal: “For probably the first time in human history, these have been trade negotiations that aim to take the trading partners further apart, not closer together.”

Who voted for this?

The breakup of the United Kingdom gets closer. SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford described the deal as a “disaster for Scotland”. He said the agreement was an “unforgiveable act of economic vandalism and gross stupidity”.

Did anyone vote to make their lives worse? As Tom Kibasi, founder of The Institute for Public Policy Research, wrote: “People voted not to terminate our economic cooperation but to put it on a new and different political basis, with sovereignty more explicitly and firmly rooted in Westminster rather than pooled in Brussels. Instead, Britain will have the same trading arrangements as far and distant countries.”

Many people have expressed relief that the annus horribilis of 2020 is over. It is doubtful if 2021 will be an annus mirabilis. 

Covid 19 and Cronyism UK

This article was published in Ceylon Today on September 24 2020

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/covid-19-and-cronyism-uk

Shambolic Shitshow

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought untold suffering to many the world over. In the UK, there have been at least 41,367 deaths and 371,000 recorded cases. The real figures are probably much higher because the shambolic performance of Boris Johnson and his cabinet of incompetents gives no-one any confidence that the figures are correct. Sri Lanka has been outstandingly successful in dealing with the virus but has received little acknowledgement from the rest of the world. Western commentators who have noticed that there have been only 13 deaths in Sri Lanka and 43,000 in the UK have carped that Sri Lanka has overridden democracy and human rights and militarised the issue. Such tactics would be unacceptable in a beacon of democracy such as the UK. The real reason that the UK is in such a mess is that the government is giving priority to rewarding its cronies over the welfare and safety of its citizens. 

The Shambolocracy

 

Symptomatic of the cronyist approach of the current government is the meteoric rise of Dido Harding. In May 2020, Harding was appointed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock to head NHS Test and Trace, established to track and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. She has not done a good job but nevertheless, when the Government decided to abolish Public Health England, they appointed Baroness Harding to head the replacement body, the National Institute for Health Protection. She said she did not apply for the job. She has no qualifications for it. She is well-placed in the Tory chumocracy. She deserves an article all to herself.

Testing and Tracing  

The NHS website advises the public: “If you get any symptoms of COVID-19 (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste) while you’re self-isolating: get a test to check if you have COVID-19 as soon as possible; anyone you live with must self-isolate until you’ve been tested and received your result; anyone in your support bubble must self-isolate until you’ve been tested and received your result”.

Unfortunately, in many areas it seems to be impossible to get a test. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that no-one should have to travel more than 75 miles for a test, after it was revealed that some were being sent hundreds of miles away. It seems quite a trek to have travel even 75 miles! Even people who work within the system and have good know-how are finding it difficult. A GP in north-west England, applied for a test for her seven-year-old son after he developed a continuous cough and changes to his sense of taste. After being offered a test in Sunderland, about 130 miles away, she applied via her local NHS’s staff portal – designed to prioritise health staff. She was directed to Telford, almost 100 miles away, and then to London, a distance of more than 200 miles. No home kits were available.

The Government has shut down a COVID-19 testing centre in Kent because it needs the land to prepare a lorry park for a no-deal Brexit.

Outsourcing

Privatisation of the NHS has been happening by stealth since the early 1990s and Labour have been just as guilty as Conservative Governments. The current crisis has given an ideal opportunity for the Tories to reward their cronies and donors. Ministers have used special powers to ignore the usual tender procedures in order to award contracts to compliant private companies and global management consultant firms on the sly. 

Those thus rewarded are the usual suspects who have an abysmal record on previous contracts. Many contracts were granted to global accountants Deloitte, which then appointed outsourcing specialists Serco, Sitel, Mitie, G4S and Sodexo, and the pharmacy chain Boots, to manage the testing centres. A coalition of private companies and public bodies have come together to form Lighthouse Labs, to test samples in three centres in Milton Keynes, Cheshire and Glasgow. Clipper Logistics, a Yorkshire-based logistics and supply chain firm founded by the Conservative donor Steve Parkin, was awarded Government contracts to supply and deliver protective equipment to NHS trusts, care homes other healthcare workers. Critics have accused Deloitte of getting supplies from China – where prices have leapt and supply is tight – rather than focusing on retooling UK factories to make PPE. Retooling of factories to produce PPE has been a key part of the Sri Lankan strategy.

Private Is not better than Public

I worked in the UK civil service in Manchester in the 70s and in various departments of London HQ from 1982 to 1997. I have more experience of the NHS than Baroness Harding. I was able to see at first hand the corrosive effects of creeping privatisation and outsourcing in many areas of Government business. I did a number of detailed studies which demonstrated that the idea that the private sector was always more efficient than the public sector was a myth. 

We can see during the current crisis that the NHS is being undermined because of the government’s voodoo philosophy about the entrepreneurial spirit of their cronies in the private sector. Serco and Sitel only reached 55 per cent of those in the worst-hit areas in the four weeks to 9 September. The privately-run pillar of test and trace has failed to improve since August when ministers renewed the contracts of Serco and Sitel, who have been paid £200m between them.

Matt Hancock refers to “NHS Test and Trace” and sticks the NHS logo on it but it isn’t formally part of the NHS at all (and Serco call handlers certainly aren’t). Private outsourced online and call centres reached only 59.8 per cent of contacts whereas local public health teams reached 97.3 per cent. NHS hospitals turn around test results within 24 hours in over 90 per cent of cases while mobile test centres and drive-through test centres achieve 53.2 per cent. Some in the health service are increasingly worried that ‘NHS Test and Trace’ is undermining the NHS’s brand.

According to the Treasury, £10bn of public money has been allocated to England’s test and trace programme. Only £300m of additional funding has been offered to local authorities to support the system. Allyson Pollock is clinical professor of public health at Newcastle University and author of NHS plc: the Privatisation of Our Health Care. She has joined more than 100 public figures – including academics, journalists and health professionals – in writing to Matt Hancock, demanding he publishes the contracts given to private companies as part of the test and trace system. “Right now, we can’t see how much they’re being paid, for how long and for what. How are these contracts being monitored and by whom? What about subcontractors, and their contractual agreements?”

Operation Bullshit

Civil servants were instructed to carry out a plan for all 68 million people in the UK to be tested weekly. Health secretary Matt Hancock has insisted the Government is aiming to achieve the “moonshot” of population-wide testing for COVID-19 – but declined to give any timescale on when it could be implemented. “Ramp it up” is the latest meaningless slogan from this inept team.

Civil servants greeted the scheme with incredulity, given the Government’s previous record on testing and tracing. One senior civil servant told openDemocracy: “We all double-checked the figures,” and described the plans as “crazy”.

Most of the work (and the profit) will go to Deloitte. Labour MP Clive Lewis has described the deal with Deloitte as “potentially the biggest NHS privatisation in history”. Lewis asked: “Why not give the contract to the NHS? It’s too easy to get the impression that this Government will hand out contracts to whoever happens to be mates with the right minister.”

On 21 September, the chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty, and the UK chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, made a rare live televised address to appeal directly to the British people. They warned that the COVID-19 trend is “heading in the wrong direction” and “a critical point has been reached”. The Prime Minister continues to bluster and pretend everything is fine while leaving it to his cronies to carry on messing things up.

Lords of Sleaze Part 1

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on September 9 2020.

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/lords-of-sleaze

Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the UK House of Commons becomes more embarrassing as week succeeds week. It should be renamed PMB (Prime Minister’s Bluster). Boris Johnson never actually answers a question. He changes the subject and often harangues the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, firing questions at him. Starmer recently reminded Johnson that the prime minister was supposed to be the one answering the questions but if he wanted to change places, he, Starmer, would be happy to do the PM’s job.

Traduced by Lies

 

Last week Johnson contrived to traduce two party leaders – Starmer, Labour Party leader, and Ian Blackford of the Scottish National Party, both men of integrity and intelligence who always engage in rational argument. While various crises were bubbling up and the government was pirouetting in a series of U-turns, Johnson did his usual trick of going on holiday. He went camping on farmland in Scotland (without asking the farmer’s permission) in Blackford’s constituency. Johnson or his minions leaked to the press the fake news that Blackford had told the press about Johnson’s presence in his constituency. Blackford strenuously denied that he had even known that Johnson was there and demanded an apology for the inconvenience the lie had caused. Blackford and his family had been deluged by hate mail and death threats. Despite a somewhat limp intervention by the Speaker, no apology was forthcoming.

While avoiding a well-constructed question about the exam fiasco, Johnson insinuated that Starmer had been an IRA sympathiser. Unusually, Starmer was visibly angry and demanded that the Speaker reprimand the prime minister. The Speaker mumbled something ineffective but Johnson did not withdraw or apologise. Starmer made an irrefutable point by telling the prime minister that in his five years as Director of Public Prosecutions he worked closely with the Northern Ireland police service and brought many IRA murderers to justice.

Foxy Lady

I thought Starmer missed a trick here by not challenging the prime minister’s decision to award a peerage to Claire Fox, a former Brexit Party MEP. She was once a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) who defended the IRA’s killing in 1993 of two young boys, Tim Parry (aged 12) and Jonathan Ball (aged 3), in Warrington. Bronwen Vickers, the 32-year-old mother of two young daughters, had to have a leg amputated, and died just over a year later from cancer. The Irish Rock magazine Hot Press recently featured an article by Eamon McCann, who was a prominent nationalist member of the civil rights movement in Derry. He reminisces about a visit to Derry by the RCP in the early 90s. “I knew the minute I set eyes on RCP-ers that they were well dodgy. Clean fingernails, glossy hair, that sort of thing.” Lady Claire and her buddies  were polite enough when they were telling the locals what to do: “they engaged innocent Bogsiders in detailed discussion of how the community might slough off the congealed muck of British imperialism, patiently explaining that armed struggle was your only man.“ When the IRA declared a cease-fire in 1997, she went “Bat-shit crazy” and “stormed along to the Blutcher Street home of one of Derry’s top Sinn Feiners, banged on the door and demanded an explanation. His response that she should – to use a technical term – fuck off, appeared to dampen Claire’s fervour.” She was never seen again in Derry.

Was the Queen Graciously Pleased?

“The Queen has been graciously pleased to signify Her intention of conferring the following Peerages of the United Kingdom for Life.” The honours list was sneaked out on a Friday evening to avoid attention but it still caused a great deal of shock and disgust. To judge by the comments on   the TelegraphTimes and ConservativeHome websites, even Tory supporters are disgusted. Just like the National List in Sri Lanka, the House of Lords has been corrupted and perverted from the useful device that it could be. The Lords could be a forum utilising the wisdom of experienced professionals who had not made a career in politics. There is a need for a check on the Commons that is not distracted by elections every five years. Johnson is not the first prime minister to depart from this ideal but this list is the most blatant expression of contempt for it since Lloyd George.

There has been criticism of the size of the Sri Lankan parliament and we have endured bloated cabinets constructed, not to provide efficient administration, but to build support and pay dues. In the UK, there is a cross-party consensus that the House of Lords has too many members. Johnson has chosen to swell the ranks of those getting £162 a day for remotely attending a meeting (£323 a day in normal times), plus expenses. This influx of cronies will increase membership of the Lords to 830. That is 160 more than 20 years ago; France’s upper chamber has 348, the US has 100 and Germany has 69. The Seanad Éireann has 60.

Johnson has rewarded cronies, Brexiteers, family (a peerage for his brother Jo),

Tory donors, time-serving Conservative MPs and Labour rebels. Would Ian Botham have been given a peerage had he not been a vocal supporter of the Leave campaign in 2016? What kind of asset will Beefy be to the national legislature?

A History of Sleaze

The Johnson list has little to do with “honour”.  Although, it is a particularly egregious example of cynicism and contempt for the nation’s institutions and citizens, there is a long history of prime ministers doing this kind of thing. Lloyd George’s 1922 list prompted King George V to say it “must be regarded as little less than an insult to the Crown and to the House of Lords“. The Lloyd George affair led to the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 which states that it is a criminal offence for someone to offer “any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour”. The 1976 list of Harold Wilson – the “lavender list” – caused merriment as well as anger. On December 14 2006, Tony Blair became the first serving British prime minister to be interviewed by police conducting a criminal investigation. In November 2014, former Liberal Democrat Treasurer, Lord Razzall, blithely admitted that he was often approached by rich businessmen offering donations in return for honours. Although he had been a solicitor for 30 years, he claimed he was not aware that these approaches constituted criminal offences which he should have reported to the police. The three biggest donors to the Liberal Democrats had been given peerages by Nick Clegg when he was deputy prime minister in David Cameron’s coalition. In less than a year of becoming PM, David Cameron created 117 new peers. He bestowed honours on 46 aides, advisers and ministers in his resignation list.

More on this next week.

 

 

Move On. Nothing to See

Fuss about Nowt

There is a particularly creepy kind of commenter on Facebook. They will insidiously try to gain your trust by pretending that they are just like you. One of the good guys. The opening gambit goes something like this: “I am just as liberal and progressive as you are, probably more so, and I detest Brexit/Boris Johnson/Donald Trump/Dominic Cummings/Harvey Weinstein/Jimmy Savile/Adolf Hitler/Vlad the Impaler/Attila the Hun/Caligula (insert to taste) even more than you do, but, come on, in the interests of common sense isn’t the lefty press going overboard and stirring things up when really nobody cares so why don’t we  just move on and deal with the really important issues”. There will be talk of “moral panic”, “mass hysteria”, “witch hunts” “lynch mobs”. You will see these terms used often on Spiked by Brendan O’Neill and his merry band of contrarians.

Fintan O’Toole

The peregrinations of Dominic Cummings to the north-east have brought the “what’s all the fuss about? Nothing to see here.” brigade out in force. Veteran Times journalist Walter Ellis writes: “Not for the first time in recent months, the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole has seriously overestimated the extent of the outrage felt by the British people over the actions and behaviour of Boris Johnson and his cronies.” Ellis claims to dislike Cummings but asserts that he  has suffered more than is reasonable. Speaking as an Irish citizen brought up in England who is currently watching Johnson’s Britain from the jaundiced perceptive of my Sri Lankan sojourn, I would say that O’Toole has hit many nails on their heads. I am a regular reader of his articles in the Irish Times, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books. I always find them stimulating and would differ vociferously from the elegant view expressed about O’Toole by Rod Liddle (I almost wrote Rod Hull).  Recent articles about the disintegrating status of Britain under Johnson’s incompetent and mendacious rule were particularly effective. O’Toole is good on the dire consequences for Ireland of contamination by its neighbour.

Anger, What Anger?

Ellis asks the question: “Are ‘the people’ really baying for Cummings’s blood?”. Let us deconstruct that short question. Ellis puts ‘the people’ in scare quotes which nudges us towards thinking that it is not a concept to be taken seriously. Is anyone baying for Cummings’s blood? There have been some mild scenes of people expressing their discontent but very few would advocate causing him physical harm. This does not mean that we can hire the Eddie Stobart van and move on. Henry Mance wrote in the Financial Times (lefty rag), “The government wants us to move on so Dominic Cummings doesn’t have to”.

Maybe not ‘the people’, but some people, many people are angry. An Opinium poll on May 31 shows that 81% of all voters think Cummings broke the rules, and that 52% of Tory supporters think he should resign. Almost half of 2019 Tory voters say their respect for the government they voted in has been reduced. Many more people are sad. Many are tired and fed up. Many are insulted. I think O’Toole puts well how I feel watching Matt Hancock laughing uproariously on Sky News, Helen Whately giggling at Piers Morgan’s questions (and disintegrating on Question Time), Priti Patel smirking on the Andrew Marr Show, Johnson burbling vacuously and betraying his ignorance of the benefit system and just about everything else at the Liaison Committee. O’Toole writes about “the soundtrack to the images stored from these months in the mind and the heart, an unpardonable snigger of elite condescension.”

Ellis does not feel the way I do. “I don’t agree. O’Toole is mistaken.” Then he trundles out ‘the technique’. “There are certainly many out there who think Cummings was wrong to do what he did and that he is a nasty piece of work anyway. I am one of them.” Although Ellis claims to be one of the good guys in detesting Cummings, he asserts that there are not enough people who care about the issue to justify “serial blood-letting or a scene from opera bouffe.” Again, a jokey exaggerated language of violence is used to deflect us from the main point. He does the same again later: “The mob senses blood, and a hue and cry, based around revenge for Brexit, has been unleashed.” “It won’t be the mob, with torches and pitchforks that restores decency and competence to Downing Street”.

There is no mob. This is not about mob rule; it is about decent people who have been trying to follow the government’s own guidelines angered at being treated as imbeciles. A woman in rural Durham said: “If there were stocks in the village, Dominic Cummings would be in them. There is not one single person around here who is not disgusted. Everyone is furious because we have all played fair. People haven’t been able to go to funerals, they haven’t been able to go to weddings, they haven’t been able to look after people who are dying. I can’t go to see my friend in Barnard Castle who is dying and yet that four-letter word goes out for a trip. I was born in this county. I have never come across ill-feeling like this about anything. Everyone feels it is one law for us and one law for them. That is so unfair.”

Bloody Liberal Hypocrites

Blood came up again the next day when Ellis returned to the topic. “My post yesterday on the public’s reaction to the Dominic Cummings affair has brought home to me how easy it is to get on the wrong side of liberal opinion when its blood is up.” As if an experienced journalist like Ellis would be surprised at the reaction.  Note the casual contemptuous sideswipe at “liberal opinion”. Elsewhere, he described the “liberals” who disagreed with him as “hypocrites”. He is calling me a hypocrite for disagreeing with him. We are hypocrites because (Ellis knows this for a fact) we are picking on poor Dom because of his role in Brexit not because we care about the undermining of the strategy to deal with the pandemic. Ellis sees himself as a victim of the same “hue and cry” raised against Cummings.

Remember that Ellis said, “how easy it is to get on the wrong side of liberal opinion when its blood is up?” One might expect the leftie press to froth up on the subject but the Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Financial Times, the Spectator and even the Daily Star have been highly critical of Cummings and Johnson.

Baying Tory MPs

The baying mob included many Tory MPs. Now Ellis says, “I clearly underestimated the extent of public disquiet over what Cummings did.”  He had said few people cared. He was wrong. A Guardian analysis covering 117 MPs found they received a total of 31,738 emails since the story broke. Across all 650 MPs, it would suggest the revelations may have sparked as many as 180,000 items of correspondence. More than 100 Tory MPs, many saying they were motivated by their constituents’ anger, criticised Cummings. In a statement to her constituents Theresa May said she could “well understand the [public’s] anger”. She said, “I do not feel that Mr Cummings followed the spirit of the guidance”. Another Tory, Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham, said Cummings’s position was ‘untenable’ and that he certainly broke the rules.

Tory MPs Sir Roger Gale and Richard Fuller reported a sharp increase in their mail and stressed that these were all individual, sometimes emotional, communications and not computer-generated or cut-and-paste. Several Conservative MPs in marginal seats said they had received more than 1,000 emails about Cummings, Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham, has a majority of 981; Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, whose majority is 628; and Andrew Bowie, the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, with a majority of 843. Elliot Colburn, 27, the Conservative MP representing the marginal Carshalton and Wallington seat, wrote to Johnson to say he had received more emails on this issue than any other. He said “many hundreds of messages from concerned constituents” had called on Cummings to resign. Many MPs said their mailbox was overwhelmingly weighted towards criticism of Cummings.

Tory hardline Brexiter Peter Bone dismisses the idea that it is Remainers stirring trouble. “Every announcement on changes to the lockdown rules, track and trace, and government support, is bogged down with questions about Mr Cummings. I believe that Mr Cummings did break the rules. Now, if he had accepted that he had done something wrong, and apologised for it, as a fair-minded person, I would have thought that that would be the end of it. It is the insistence that he did not break the rules and the refusal to apologise that has outraged so many.”

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, has already relayed the extent of anger on the Conservative benches to Downing Street.

According to the Guardian, “Other Conservatives vainly try to claim the fuss is being whipped up by bitter and twisted leftwing and liberal Remainers who want revenge on Cummings for delivering Brexit for Johnson.” That is exactly the line taken by Walter Ellis.

Baying Bishops

Senior Anglican bishops criticised Cummings’s actions and his refusal to apologise.  Many of them received death threats as a result. The Bishop of Worcester said “the whole Cummings drama is not about politics but life and death”.

Baying Experts

The government’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam went out of his way at the daily coronavirus briefing to make clear that people in positions of authority had a duty to lead by example and obey lockdown rules.

Senior UK academics and health administrators wrote to number 10 to warn that public faith in the government is essential if the Covid-19 crisis is to be tackled effectively. They say that trust has been “badly damaged by Dominic Cummings. “The public mood is fragile and unlikely to cope with another over-optimistic target-based strategy that goes on to fail.”

At Least Cummings Isn’t a Butcher

Ellis is aware of all this but he is insouciant. Still he says, “I would hazard a guess that a majority of people will have other things on their mind today than the fate of one 48-year-old political apparatchik.” Of course they do, but that is not the point. Cummings “is not Jack the Ripper or one of the Shankill Butchers. He is a political apparatchik who made a poor decision and has suffered for it more than is reasonable because he is who he is, the Butcher of Brexit.” Jack the Ripper killed five people, the Shankill Butchers 23 – the virus has killed a possible 60,000 in Britain. Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the Rhondda, said he received 20 messages a day all angry with Cummings and has had a constituent tell him he now has no intention of abiding by the lockdown rules.

Consequences and Condescension

Fintan O’Toole does not speak for the Irish people or the British people but I doubt if many people would call him “naive to think that ‘the people’ are working themselves into a frenzy over this.” Ellis is using a variation of the straw man trope. If we all agree that not everybody is worked up to a frenzy we can move on. The issue is not about how many people Ellis thinks are angry. The issue is not about punishment. It is about the disastrous effect on the public psyche and indeed public safety of the actions of this arrogant man and the clown who is supposed to be prime minister.

Where does Ellis now stand on his assertion that “Fintan O’Toole has seriously overestimated the extent of the outrage felt by the British people”?

Enough people are disturbed about this whole business to mean that moving on is not possible. James Butler wrote in the Guardian, “consequences are for little people and, in any case, anyone who really matters is in on the act”. The little people ARE angry. They may not be clear what they are angry about or what to do about it. There is a general feeling of being disrespected. Politicians are taking the piss. To add insult to injury those politicians are making a complete bollocks of everything.

Blame the Media

Because of Cummings and Johnson things will never be the same again. What is the main thrust of Ellis’s argument now that he admits underestimating the extent of public disquiet? In the rose garden Cummings went for the Trump line of blaming the media.  “A lot of that anger is based on reports in the media that have not been true,” Cummings said. It was the media’s fault. Is that what Walter Ellis is doing? In spite of all the evidence, is he still saying this is a non-story puffed up by the media? Ellis says Cummings has suffered more than is reasonable.

I watched Johnson’s performance at the Liaison Committee several times. I couldn’t believe how awful it was the first time. Bernard Jenkin was not as bad as expected but bad enough. He did ask one fairly challenging question but then did not control the proceedings. He allowed Johnson to take the Walter Ellis line. We’ve heard enough about this. Move on. Jenkin chastised Yvette Cooper for over-running her time and for repeating questions. She had to do this because she was not getting answers. Johnson was batting away questions by saying he had dealt with that already. However, the previous answers also only consisted of “I have been quite clear about that before” and “We mustn’t let petty politics divert us from the task ahead”.

It is clear that government decisions are not motivated by concerns of public good. They are rushing out new wheezes and devising apps that crash to distract our attention.  Johnson is facing new criticism for easing the lockdown too soon and risking a second wave of infections. There is a perception that this is being done to distract attention from the Cummings affair. Why is Walter Ellis, posing as the representative of common sense, trying to distract our attention?

Lying and Lying Liars

This article was published in Ceylon Today on December 16 2019. A little late I am afraid.

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/47349

“Score me up for the lyingest knave in Christendom”

Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew

In the first article that I published in Sri Lanka back in 2007, I quoted Rauf Hakeem: ““The subject of political morality is a relative thing. The current electoral system does not give any government the confidence to try and deliver on the commitments made during the polls.” Who knew? The only thing we could rely on politicians for was to lie to us and break their promises. Since then things have got worse with Donald Trump who has taken lying to  a stratospheric level. There are many websites listing and rebutting Trump’s porkies; here is one chosen at random:

https://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/statements/byruling/false/

New words have been added to the lexicon as a result of Trump’s twitterings: truthiness, alternative facts, post-truth. Politicians have always lied and set out to deceive the voters. Perhaps a paradigmatic change occurred during the Vietnam war when politicians had to pretend to believe that the mightiest nation on earth was not being humiliated by poorly equipped guerrilla fighters. Hannah Arendt described the way lying became insitutionalised and telling the truth became treasonous. “The extravagant lengths to which the commitment to nontruthfulness in politics went on at the highest level of government…the concomitant extent to which lying was permitted to proliferate throughout the ranks of all governmental services, military and civilian”.

I am in London, watching with fascinated horror the performance of Trump’s mini-me, Boris Johnson, in the general election campaign. Johnson is one walking, breathing lie, a porky on legs. There is nothing genuine or honest about him. He even lies to himself about himself. Political commentator Ian Dunt wrote: “There’s this great yawning chasm between the way the prime minister thinks of himself and the manner in which he actually behaves. In copy, he is a tower of strength, a thoroughly manly masculine man of the most magnificent macho order. But the things he does in real life serve to effectively pop the bubble. He evades, he ducks out, he cowers, he blames other people. He’s ultimately just a bit of a coward.” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed to be interviewed by the fearsome Andrew Neil and got a severe mauling. Johnson is even evasive about whether he will be interviewed by Neil. As another commentator, John Crace, might have put it, “pifflepaffle, whiffle waffle”.

The Conservative Party tried to mislead the public by rebranding one of its Twitter accounts “FactCheckUK”, suggesting that it was a neutral site rather than biased propoganda. It had one of its ads banned by Facebook after using footage of BBC presenters without permission and out of context. They also doctored an interview with Labour front-bencher Keir to suggest that he was not answering questions. In fact, he did a great job.

Every time Johnson open his mouth lies come tumbling out. He cannot resist repeating things that have been convincingly rebutted. He is aware that the National Health Service is a strong point for Labour. In their TV head to head Corbyn scored a good point by displaying a redacted document showing Conservative plans to sell off the NHS piecemeal to US companies. Johnson denied this and countered with the promise to build 40 new hospitals. This cannot be true as only GBP 2.7 bn has been set aside for six ‘upgrades’ over five years. Only one hospital, Whipp’s Cross, can, by stretching the imagination, qualify as a new hospital and it will have less beds than the old hospital. Surplus land will be sold for housing.

In 2015, the Conservatives promised to make the NHS “the safest and most compassionate health service in the world”. They promised 5,000 more general practitioners. The reality is that GP numbers have fallen with senior GPS retiring early because an anomaly in the pension system means that they are paying more in tax than they earn. There are 100,000 unfilled vacancies in the NHS but somehow Johnson is trying to blame the Labour Party for this even though the Tories have been in power since 2005. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can tell you categorically I’ve never advocated privatisation of the NHS.” Presenter Nick Robinson told the Foreign Secretary: “It’s not that long ago, is it, that you were involved in writing a pamphlet which advocated a health service where ‘two thirds of hospitals are run privately’.”

Johnson has tried to blame lefty ideas for the stabbings on London Bridge last in spite of pleas from the families of those who died in the attack not to besmirch their loved ones with political contamination.

Johnson did agree to be interviewed by an Andrew, but it was Marr not Neil. Marr allowed him to get away with four lies. He said that Labour wants to withdraw from NATO – false. He said that Jeremy Corbyn wants to disband MI5  – Labour politicians may have made off-the cuff remarks about this in the distant past but it is not Labour policy. Blatantly and shamefully he said that child poverty has fallen in the last ten years – in fact, it has risen by 400,000 since 2011. The fourth lie was that Parliament had blocked the Queen’s Speech – it was passed with a 16-vote majority. There were a number of complaints to the BBC that the prime minister was not challenged about his lies. However, the BBC seem to be encouraging viewers to complain that Marr interrupted too much.

Channel 4 is doing better than the BBC. In the past, the BBC was often accused of left-wing bias. These days, they are accused of giving too much rope to the Brexiteer right. Recently, Channel 4 broadcast a debate on climate change. The Conservative Party and the Brexit Party declined to send their leaders. Channel 4 placed blocks of ice in the shape of the planet on the empty chairs allowing them to melt during the course of the programme. The Conservatives made a complaint to Ofcom and threatened to withdraw Channel 4’s licence. (Ofcom rejected the complaint.) This is all of a piece with attacks on the judiciary and parliament. This is a conscious attempt to subvert institutions and to smear all who criticise the party.

Paul Mason wrote, “if you suddenly have a political class determined to ignore these implicit rules, and newspaper journalists willing to act as propagandists for one side, then the broadcast media has to adapt its own behaviour.”

Truth is constantly under threat. The threat will be greater if the Tories win the election. We will be trapped in what Hannah Arendt called “a defactualised world”.

Dirty Britain

Many detached observers have asked what the point of Brexit is. Who benefits?

Many people have asked the simple question: why is the UK going through the ghastly and costly process of leaving the EU?  Remainers are fighting to keep jobs and save businesses, are fearful about their livelihoods. The government’s own research has clearly shown that there will be major disruption to the economy and to the daily lives of ordinary people. Did anyone vote in the referendum to be worse off? Who benefits from this chaos?

The prime minister’s more attractive and brighter sister, Rachel, has some ideas on the subject, “People who have invested billions in shorting the pound or shorting the country in the expectation of a no deal Brexit”. Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, explored the same theme, alleging that Johnson “is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a hard Brexit – and there is only one outcome that works for them: a crash-out no-deal Brexit that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring.” Nick Macpherson, former permanent secretary to the Treasury, said Hammond was right to question the political connections of some of the hedge funds with a financial interest in no deal.

Peter Jukes wrote in Byline Times on 23 September 2019: “according to City insiders, Boris Johnson’s push towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit is a ‘free lunch’ for hedge funds and currency traders.” Sir Jim O’Neill, the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs’ Asset Management, said “A lot of them are saying thank goodness for Boris, he’s giving us a chance to make some money”.

Byline Times determined how many donations to Johnson’s Conservative Party leadership campaign came from hedge funds, City traders or wealthy investors. This revealed that, between 24 May and 23 July 2019, £357,500 of the £552,500 came from such donors. They made up 65% of the value of the donations, and 30 out of 40 (75%) of the number of donors. “Boris Johnson remains heavily reliant on one of the few sectors hedge funds, foreign exchange and derivative trading which could actually profit from a sudden decline in share prices or the fall of sterling.”

Molly Scott Cato is a current Member of the European Parliament. She writes: “Lives may be lost and our economy destroyed, but for many of the key Brexit players a No Deal scenario and the chaos this would cause is simply an opportunity to maximise their returns.” Jacob Rees-Mogg was a thorn in the flesh of Theresa May with his clique of radicals within the Conservative Party, the ERG (Economic Research Group). Although he was strongly in favour of Brexit, he was canny enough to move his own hedge fund to Dublin to retain the advantages of being in the EU. He is no longer a rebel, but is in the government as Leader of the House of Commons. His Somerset Capital Management was managed via subsidiaries in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Singapore. Many of those who strongly support Brexit have reason to fear new EU regulations on tax havens. The EU recently tripled its list of tax havens to include fifteen countries.

Crispin Odey was a major contributor to the Leave campaign. He told the BBC on the morning of the referendum result that he had made £220m speculating that the markets would fall, saying “‘Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca’ – the morning has gold in its mouth”. He has now bet £300m against British businesses, so that he will profit when they collapse as a result of No Deal Brexit. Odey Asset Management – friend to Boris Johnson– has been actively shorting UK high street retail chains.  High street retailers are doing badly because of online shopping.  Odey is shorting their shares wholesale, which only makes matters worse.

Richard Tice co-founded the Leave campaign with Arron Banks, whose finances in relation to the Leave campaign are far from transparent. Tice is the chairman of the Brexit Party, a Eurosceptic political party which participated in the 2019 European parliamentary election. Tice has listed his property business offshore on a stock exchange in Guernsey. In 2019, Tice was elected as a Brexit Party Member of the European Parliament for the East of England. Molly Scott Cato writes that Tice describes his economic activity as “expertise in ‘distressed debt’. Others would call this vulture capitalism, and sharks like Tice are circling as the Brexit they have campaigned for destroys genuine businesses and makes their assets available for snapping up at low prices.” Tice is the lover of Isabel Oakeshott whose book on David Cameron included an allegation that Cameron, during his university days, performed a sex act involving a dead pig. The unsubstantiated story was dependent on hearsay and Oakeshott subsequently conceded her source could have been “deranged”.

Five candidates for the Brexit Party were businessmen and millionaires with links to tax havens. Nigel Farage admitted setting up a tax haven trust fund on the Isle of Man for “inheritance purposes”. Yorkshire candidate John Longworth advised the Hottinger Group, which is owned by an offshore firm named in the Panama Papers. South West candidate James Glancy is chief executive and part-owner of a security consultancy whose largest shareholder is based offshore on the Isle of Man. South East candidate Chris Ellis was chairman for a diamond mine business operating through a company in the British Virgin Islands and named in the Paradise Papers. London candidate Graham Shore is co-owner of Shore Capital Group which says it will “take advantage of Brexit uncertainty” and whose ultimate parent company is based in Guernsey. Among the City hedge fund operators backing Boris Johnson are David Lilley of RK Capital, Jon Wood of SRM Global, and Johan Christofferson of Christofferson, Robb and Co. These patriotic Brexiteers are seeking financial gain from undermining their country and its institutions.

Some people have rubbished claims of dirty dealings and told us we do not understand how hedge funds work. That may be true because they are specifically designed for us not to understand. Hedge funds are risk-takers. They invest in risky stocks or projects, in the hope of making above-average returns. George Kerevan writes: “Brexit is not a cry for help from the English underclass.  It is a carefully stage-managed campaign by global finance capital in the form of the hedge funds.  It is being orchestrated out of hedge fund self-interest and the greed of billionaires.  Boris Johnson is their front man.”

Guto Bebb, a former Conservative minister ejected from the party for opposing a no-deal Brexit, said: “The dubious financiers who supported the ‘leave’ campaign and the prime minister’s leadership campaign are betting against Britain. The PM should put the interests of the country first rather than facilitating a financial bonanza for a few.”

This Septic Isle

This article was published in Ceylon Today on October 7 2019

 

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/42031

I am planning a trip to the UK and am somewhat trepidatious about what I might encounter there considering the increasingly tense situation arising out of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit. When I was there last year, I was pleasantly surprised by a number of things.  I was staying in a very ethnically mixed area.  One rarely saw a white face and when one did, it spoke Polish. Despite the heterogeneous nature of the population, what used to be considered as British values generally prevailed. People queued in an orderly fashion at the post office and held doors open for other people. If one held a door open one would be thanked. If one hesitated at a pedestrian crossing indicating one might be thinking of crossing, vehicles would immediately stop. They would even stop if one was not on an official crossing. People thanked bus drivers when alighting and the drivers reciprocated.

I only saw the native English in central Croydon. They were generally elderly, frail, wheelchair-bound. I was astounded at the number of grotesquely obese people – of all ethnicities. Health is a major anxiety. I have just finished reading John Bew’s excellent biography of Clement Attlee, a mild-mannered, quiet man who transformed Britain (for the better) when he was prime minister for the first years of my life. The chancers who run Britain today have destroyed the welfare state, driving poor sick people to suicide.

There were stories on the news every day of knife attacks. Children were being stabbed to death for no reason. A pregnant woman was stabbed to death in her own home near to where I was staying. Adults were attacked for the sole reason of being Muslim or for speaking a language not English. An Indian customer in Lidl (a German-based supermarket chain offering a cornucopia of culinary delights at reasonable prices – how will Brexit affect that?) was berating a rather alarming tattooed assistant possibly of Baltic origin. Soren rarely smiles but is always polite and competent. When we were walking to Lidl we passed a severely burnt-out car which made one think of downtown Damascus. I was vaguely aware of a small, middle-aged, white-haired Afro-Caribbean man veering over to our side of the pavement. He shoulder-barged my wife and then complained that we had attacked him and demanded an apology. This was humbly given but did not stop him shouting filth at us.

Encounters with homeless beggars can be problematic. Some appreciate what they are given and understand when one is unable to donate.  Some can be aggressive and abusive. There were so many hapless people shivering in the bitter cold, it was difficult to keep enough cash about one’s person to help all of them. Many of them have mental health problems and austerity policies have meant cuts in services. We are now told that austerity is over and Boris Johnson is promising jam for everyone from the Magic Money Tree. All that suffering was for nothing. It is very difficult to earn enough money to buy or rent a home in London. Not all those sleeping rough are unemployed. Many people who are not actually homeless are living in squalid conditions.

Successive governments have continued Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 policy of selling off social housing. While there may have been some merit in council tenants being able to buy their own homes, the policy has caused severe social problems. An analysis of Freedom of Information data showed that that more than 40% of council houses sold in London are now privately rented. Around 466 individuals or companies have the leasehold for at least five former council homes each. Councils have spent £22m a year on renting back properties they once owned to use as temporary accommodation.

The Leave vote in the EU referendum was, to a great extent an expression of disgruntlement. People were unhappy about many things caused by the policies of the UK government but they saw fit to blame the EU, which was pouring millions in subsidies into deprived areas like South Wales and Sunderland. A post-Brexit UK will not replace these subsidies.

Disgruntlement is exacerbated now by uncertainty and the poison encouraged by the current government. Political analyst Ian Dunt writes: “There is a genuine concern about the country, a fear for its future, and a sense that their understanding of themselves as Brits is going through an upheaval. It is political and personal. And then there is the background thrum of abuse, like a distant drumbeat, forming an awful soundtrack to a horrible process…We’re all sick of hating one another. People yearn to go back to a country that wasn’t severed in half in this way. But they can’t get back there. The map is lost.”

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve was ejected from the Conservative Party for opposing a No-Deal Brexit. He writes in the Daily Mail: “I have been astonished to hear ministers talking up the possibility of civil disorder if we do not leave the EU on October 31… The message coming from Downing Street is we have to leave by October 31 or there will be riots.”

The party of law and order is using the incitement to violence as a cynical strategy. Brexiteers seem determined now to stir up hatred and to incite violence. Nigel Farage said the civil service will be looked at: “Once Brexit’s done, we’ll take a knife to them”. Apologists for Farage claimed that he merely wanted to cut civil service numbers. However, Dominic Hornberger, from Birmingham, was charged with grievous bodily harm and possession of a knife in a public place at Westminster Magistrates’ Court after he stabbed a civil servant outside the Home Office. The 29-year-old accused was also carrying a banned CS spray and a ferret. Professional contrarian Brendan O’Neill of the Spiked organisation (funded by the Koch brothers) said there “should be riots on the streets” to get the UK out of the EU. Boris Johnson said we must not give in to the “betrayal” of the “surrender bill” which blocks No Deal.

MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death while campaigning against Brexit by a right-wing fanatic shouting “Britain First”.

 

In the Commons last week, many female MPs talked about the death threats they were still receiving from Leave supporters. Johnson was asked to apologise for the immoderate language he was using. Far from saying sorry, he said it was “humbug” for a Labour MP to request he temper his language, to try to protect MPs’ safety. He said the best way to honour Jo Cox, was to “get Brexit done”. MPs left the chamber in tears.

 

 

 

 

THE PRESS | Music Reviews

Click Header to Return Home

Julie MacLusky

- Author and Blogger -

HoaxEye

A fake image is worth zero words

Poet's Corner

Poems, poets, poetry, writing, poetry challenges

Casual, But Smart

Pop Culture From An Old Soul

PN Review Blog

‘The most engaged, challenging and serious-minded of all the UK’s poetry magazines’ - Simon Armitage

The Manchester Review

The Manchester Review

Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Stephen Jones: a blog

Daoism—lives—language—performance. And jokes

Minal Dalal

Spreading resources for potential living.