Friday 30 April 2021

Nothing to see here


The traditional context for using the phrase “Nothing to see here. Move along now.” is the policeman given the responsibility of keeping bystanders away from some incident or other. It never means that there is actually nothing to see, merely that (s)he and those who stationed him or her there don’t want people stopping to see it. When the perpetrator of the incident uses the phrase, (s)he is either trying to hide what has happened, or else merely extracting the urine. And as Boris Johnson demonstrated yesterday, the two are not mutually exclusive.

His demand that people stop asking him awkward questions to which there is no truthful answer which does not expose his failure to follow rules, and no lie which can be made to fit the known facts (not that that is something which overly worries him), is based on his assertion that people at large are either not interested in establishing whether he’s followed the rules or not, or else simply don’t care. It amounts to saying that if electors don’t care how venal, dishonest, or corrupt he is, then opposition politicians and the media should just shut up and accept it as well. It plays to the popular trope that all politicians are only in it for themselves anyway, and has the added advantage – for him – of enabling him to tar others with his own used brush.

Sadly, his assertion that people don’t care has an element of truth to it. It is based on the results of opinion polls which show that, despite all his lies, bluster and evasion, despite presiding over one of the worst death tolls in the world due to Covid, and despite all the contracts corruptly awarded to mates and donors, if an election were held tomorrow, he would still win a clear majority of seats in England: enough to continue in government across the whole UK. He’s wrong, though, in claiming that it means that ‘people’ don’t care; what it actually means is that ‘people who vote for the Tories’ don’t care enough to change their vote as a result. To him, those two caveats might not be important – like Trump, he seems to believe that the only opinions that matter are those of people likely to vote for him. But his current majority, like any future majority in line with the polls, is based on a minority of votes which gifts him near-absolute power as a result of an electoral system which is unfit for purpose; the ‘people’ to whom he is referring constitute only a minority.

But even if he were right, even if ‘people’ in general really don’t care about how dishonest he and his government are, does that really mean that they should not be questioned or held to account? There have been major crimes in the past which many have almost admired for their audacity, but no-one seriously suggests that the criminals should not be prosecuted as a result. A democracy – even a partial democracy like the UK – in which governments are excused from breaking rules or even outright criminality because the electors don’t care is a democracy which is doomed. The opposition should care, the media should care, we all should care whether those we elect to lead us are honest or not. Whatever Johnson says, there really is something to see – and we should insist on seeing it.

Thursday 29 April 2021

The moral compasses are still as broken as ever


What makes the Bullingdon Club so infamous is the members’ habit of smashing up the restaurants in which they hold their ‘events’ and then paying up on the spot for the damage caused. The act of paying for the damage, in their eyes, somehow makes it all right to go around damaging other people’s property as and when the urge takes them. In the process, it draws a clear line between the wealthy who can afford to destroy first and pay later and the rest who can only stand back and watch as years of work and investment is destroyed in front of their eyes. And it reduces everything to its monetary value. But, when the club leaves the premises, the owner is not out of pocket, and that, apparently, makes it OK.

It’s an attitude which has direct parallels in the case of the Downing Street refurbishment undertaken by a member of that infamous club. In this case, it’s not so much physical property which has been damaged (although we can’t, yet, discount the possibility that the nearly-new furniture removed from the flat has been skipped) as the rules, conventions and laws under which things are supposed to happen. But, at the end of the day, the PM has repaid the costs out of his own pocket (allegedly – it’s still not clear how the money found its way into his pocket in the first place), and that, apparently, makes it OK. It is, in his eyes, the end result which matters, not the process of getting there. I’m sure that he’d be equally forgiving of a bank robber who, when caught, repaid all the money. At that point, the bank has lost nothing, so why make a fuss?

There is another parallel as well – when they smashed up those restaurants, the money for reparations may well have come from their own pockets at the time, but it was almost invariably put into those pockets by someone else, usually the parents. And the expectation that that he can and should be absolved of all blame by using someone else’s money to pay for the consequences of his actions is another aspect of the Downing Street saga. But what is there, in his background and life experience, which would lead him to think otherwise? This is a man who has gone through his entire life without ever having had to face up to the consequences of his own actions, a man who has repeatedly found that lying brings rewards, not punishments (literally in the case of many of his made-up and paid-for articles over the years), a man who has always got away with ignoring the rules which apply to others, a man who has demonstrated to his own satisfaction that the world takes him at his own estimation of himself.

It isn’t just him, though. A whole generation of politicians, and not all of them in the Conservative Party, have outsourced any sense of morality and judgement to the people who make the rules. They don’t need a moral compass, just a rule book, and if the rule book doesn’t explicitly ban something then it’s permitted. Johnson has, admittedly, taken that a step further in arguing, effectively, that as long as the outcome meets the letter of the rules, then following the rules to get there is an unnecessary hindrance on his freedom of action. But the people who put him there and defend him daily, the members of his party, are equally culpable. Their moral compasses seem to be incapable of telling them whether something is right or wrong, merely whether the public care or not. If a sufficient proportion of the public don’t care (as measured by opinion polls and elections) whether their leaders are honest or not, if they don’t care about the integrity of their leaders, then honesty and integrity don’t matter.

Perhaps the palpable anger of the PM yesterday at the temerity of anyone daring to question what he does will mark a turning point. Even some of his most loyal supporters in the media seem to be turning against him. It would be nice to be able to say that they’ve all discovered a sense of morality and outrage, but I can’t help but feel that it has more to do with deciding that he looks like a loser after all. It’s not as if any aspect of his character was ever unclear in advance.

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Investigating Johnson will not be straightforward


‘Investigation’ and ‘review’ are curious words to use to describe the task which the PM has entrusted to the new Cabinet Secretary in respect of the expensive refurbishment of the PM’s flat in Downing Street. It amounts to an individual who knows (and may even be the only person who knows) exactly what happened asking someone who was not in post at the time and claims to know nothing to investigate and report the facts back to the person who already knows them anyway. One might expect that it ought to be a very quick process –the Cabinet Secretary simply needs to ask the PM what happened, write it down and then tell the PM.

However, it will apparently take a few weeks to conduct this review, according to the Cabinet Secretary. Never let it be said that the civil service machinery acts in haste. It could simply be that the PM is too busy personally phoning newspaper editors briefing them against his own current or former staff to find time to talk to the top Civil Servant. He does have a certain difficulty with prioritising his time, and we know, for example, that at the outbreak of the pandemic he was far too busy attending to the ‘complications’ of his private life to attend Cobra meetings. And it would certainly be convenient if the outcome were not to become known until after next week’s elections.

On the other hand, Simon Case probably didn’t get to the top of the Civil Service by simply believing what ministers tell him, and there are some obvious good reasons why the review might take some time. In the first place, he’s intelligent and observant enough to know that whatever the PM tells him is unlikely to be the whole and unembellished truth. And in the second place, writing a report which exonerates the PM – which is clearly what he’s expected to do – without compromising his own integrity would challenge the report-writing skills of any would-be Sir Humphrey. A few weeks might turn out to be an optimistic assessment.

Monday 26 April 2021

Truth and lies are not of equal value


A couple of day ago, the BBC reported that the UK and Australia had agreed “the vast majority” of the details of a new free trade agreement between the two states. Whether that was achieved by tying the Australian minister to an uncomfortable chair and having Liz Truss harangue him for nine hours was not reported, but agreeing the vast majority of the text of a trade deal is the easy part. It’s always the details which cause the problems. Time will tell – the possibility floated in the report that the final agreement will be signed in June, something of a record time for a deal, suggests either that one side has given a lot of ground, or else that the deal will turn out to be remarkably similar to an existing deal.

What I noted at the end of the report, however, was the matter-of-fact way in which the BBC report told us that “Trade can also be made simpler if countries have the same rules … The closer the rules are, the less likely that goods need to be checked”. It’s a statement of fact with which it is impossible to disagree, but it marks a major change of position for the BBC. During the EU referendum campaign, and in the interests of a specious form of ‘balance’, they regularly treated this key fact about trade as though it was merely an opinion, and treated the opposite opinion – that having different rules is no barrier to trade – as a position of equal validity. ‘Balance’ is difficult to define, and even harder to achieve, but it should never result in pretending that an obvious untruth has the same degree of validity as a provable fact. There is an old saying in journalism that “If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. It’s your job to look out the window and find out which is true”. It’s the least we should expect from a publicly funded broadcaster, but the EU issue is far from being the only one on which the BBC seems to forget this basic tenet of news. Getting it right 5 years after allowing the lie to gain credence simply isn’t good enough.

Friday 23 April 2021

Puppetry doesn't cover it.


Back in the days when Brezhnev ruled the Soviet Union, an acquaintance of mine went on a trip to Moscow, which included a guided tour of the Kremlin. As the guide showed them around the government part of the building, she pointed out one corridor and identified that area as being the offices of the Communist Party. One of the group then asked her what happened when the government disagreed with the party. It was not exactly an unknown problem in the UK at the time – as I recall, Harold Wilson was the PM, and to say that he occasionally had a few ‘difficulties’ with his party would be making the word ‘difficulties’ do a lot of work. The guide looked puzzled, as if she didn’t understand the question, before the questioner helped her out by suggesting that maybe that didn’t happen in her country. Her reply, delivered with a huge smile of relief, ran along the lines of “Ah yes, you are correct. In our country that never happens”.  It was a recognition of where the power lay: Brezhnev’s principal formal role, after all, was as General Secretary of the Communist Party.

The attempts by the former and future ex-leader of the Tories in Wales, Andrew RT Davies, to explain how he would respond if he felt that a decision taken by a Tory leader at the other end of the (M4) corridor was damaging to Wales reminded me of that poor tour guide. It was as if the hypothetical question had no meaning for him – how could a decision taken by a Tory PM ever be wrong? Even if Johnson says one thing one day and the opposite the next, he’s still axiomatically right on both occasions in Daviesworld. Like any good foot soldier, Davies understands that there are only two rules concerning the General:

Rule 1: The General is always right, and

Rule 2: In the event of the General being wrong, Rule 1 above applies.

The accusation by Plaid that this somehow makes him a puppet of Johnson is entirely unfair – a puppet has neither a brain nor a capacity for independent thought. Possessing both and consciously deciding to use neither is far worse than mere puppetry.

Thursday 22 April 2021

Cheese, tea and uncomfortable chairs


One has only to remember her infamous speech about cheese to realise that bizarre, Liz, and Truss are words that sit together in an entirely natural way. Indeed, any mention of the UK Trade Secretary without using such an adjective would be, well, bizarre. The story which emerged this week when the media were briefed by her ‘allies’ (and ‘bizarre’ would also be a fitting description of the thought processes of anyone who thought that such a briefing was a helpful act of friendship) that she intends to pursue the UK’s trade talks with the Australians by tying the Australian Trade Minister to an uncomfortable chair and making him face her for 9 hours of talks until he agrees to her demands is wholly credible – even including my little embellishment about the use of rope and knots. I’m not sure which is supposed to be the most punishing aspect of this – the uncomfortable chair or spending 9 hours face to face with Liz Truss discussing the import and export of cheese. On balance, I suspect that the uncomfortable chair is an unnecessary extra.

In fairness, the Brexiteers did promise us a buccaneering approach. Being ‘trussed’ to an uncomfortable chair could be considered merciful compared to being made to walk the plank or being keel-hauled, those methods of persuasion favoured by the buccaneers of old (although it’s possible that those approaches are merely being held in reserve). It’s an astonishing way to approach trade talks with a supposedly friendly independent state, although whether the Brexiteers understand that Australia is independent rather than still a colony is an open question. Attempting to bully other countries into opening their borders to UK exports whilst simultaneously demanding that UK purchasers only buy British-made products suggests that they have learned little since the imperial parliament unilaterally defined the terms of tea imports to the Americas. Perhaps one of Truss’s ancestors had a hand in that, too.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Fig leaves and vision


The Scottish Tories are probably breathing a huge sigh of relief following the news that the PM will not, after all, be visiting Scotland to ‘support’ their campaign for the Scottish Parliament elections. Given Johnson’s unpopularity in Scotland, it’s the sort of ‘support’ that they can well do without. They are perfectly capable of losing votes and seats all by themselves without the PM turning up to accelerate the process. The reason given – coronavirus restrictions – is a fig leaf at best, given the cavalier disregard the PM has shown for such restrictions previously and his campaigning activities elsewhere, but they’ve gone past even bothering to try and come up with a half-credible lie any more.

The Scottish Tory campaign itself seems to be based entirely concentrating all pro-union votes behind a single party by maintaining an outright refusal to allow a second independence referendum under any conceivable circumstances. It’s based partly on the almost certainly false assumption that Labour voters in Scotland hate the SNP more than they hate the Tories, and partly on an equally flawed assumption that they can indefinitely refuse a referendum because ‘the law’ allows it. It means that they are left trying to argue that there is no legal or democratic means of holding such a referendum. Despite what they say, it is far from clear that any referendum organised by the Scottish government would be unlawful, and labelling it as either illegal or ‘wildcat’ is a desperate act. It’s true that constitutional matters (including independence) are reserved to Westminster, but it doesn’t follow that organising an advisory (as opposed to binding) vote on a reserved matter is also outside the remit of Holyrood; it’s something which has yet to be properly tested in court. Even assuming that they are either right about it being unlawful currently or that they bring forward legislation at Westminster to make the situation crystal clear, telling people who currently seem almost certain to vote in a pro-referendum majority of MSPs that it doesn’t matter how they vote seems an astonishingly inept way of proceeding if the intention is to win those people over. Depending on the force of law – backed up, presumably, by actual force where necessary – to compel Scotland to remain part of the union seems almost deliberately designed to have the opposite effect.

The problem that they have, however, is that they have nothing more positive to offer. There was a time when turning the UK into some sort of federation might have satisfied enough people, even though it would never have been enough for some of us. But if all they can offer is that what the Scots vote for doesn’t matter because London will decide, their cause is hopelessly lost. Here in Wales, Mark Drakeford faces a similar problem. He argued this week that, “… the experience of coronavirus has strengthened in people’s minds the extent to which we have had independent powers and use them independently … because that’s what I think devolved Wales would be, an entrenched devolved Wales with powerful, independent right of action to take decisions on behalf of people in Wales on things that only affect Wales”.

He may well be right – in principle. There might well be a majority in Wales supportive of such a position, perhaps not indefinitely, but probably for some time to come. The problem is, though, that a “powerful, independent right of action” is not on offer – certainly not from Johnson who is busily undermining such right of action as does exist, and not, as far as I can see, from Starmer either. Drakeford’s position therefore amounts to saying that:

‘in the improbable event of England electing a Labour government in the foreseeable future, we can ask the Labour PM to entrench Wales’ powers in law, and there is a remote possibility that (s)he might even agree to do so’.

It’s not much of an offer and without significant reform (of the sort for which neither Drakeford nor Starmer seem to have any appetite) even if there was any chance of them being in a position to do something there is no guarantee that the next English nationalist government in London wouldn’t simply reverse or over-rule the law, as they have with the existing devolution settlement and the Sewell convention.

Drakeford’s difficulty is that he is putting all his eggs in the basket of improbability labelled ‘Labour Government at Westminster’, and that he neither possesses a Plan B, nor seems capable of constructing one. It's another figleaf; it will probably be enough to keep him in power at this election, albeit leading a lame drake administration until his pending retirement as First Minister, but it’s not much of a vision for the future.

Thursday 15 April 2021

Rediscovering their core principles


For at least ten years, the Conservatives in the Senedd have been telling us that a policy of issuing free prescriptions is wrong in principle, because it means that a millionaire can go to the doctor and get a prescription for paracetamol instead of just picking up a packet for a few pence at the local supermarket. As far as I know, they’ve never been able to identify a single millionaire who would prefer to telephone the surgery, make an appointment, travel to the surgery, spend an hour or so in the waiting room, collect the prescription, and then travel to a pharmacy to obtain said paracetamol rather than just pick up a packet at a supermarket, but it’s always been about the principle. The fact that millionaires don’t do it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be banned from doing it – poorer people with more serious requirements who would also be hit by prescription charges are just so much collateral damage.

This week, however, we find that free prescriptions is not such a bad thing after all; the same people are now in favour of retaining free prescriptions. The cynical amongst us might think that this is just some sort of electoral ploy – after ten years of plugging a highly unpopular policy, they’ve suddenly realised, with an election pending, that it might be losing them more votes amongst those who benefit from the policy than it gains them from those who don’t. There is, though, an alternative possibility: the performance of the UK government during the pandemic has reminded them that one of the core ‘principles’ of the Conservative Party is actually to stuff as much public money as they can into the pockets of the richest in society. Seen from this perspective, they might just be eliminating one small inconsistency in their thinking.

Wednesday 14 April 2021

Accidental inoculation


Yesterday, First Minister Mark Drakeford told us that he’s against independence, because being independent would shut Wales off from the world and make us inward-looking rather than outward-looking. He may be correct, but if he is it’s only because he’s chosen his own definition of what being independent means. He is, of course, entitled to define the words he uses in any way he chooses, although using a definition which isn’t the same as that used by others can make discourse and debate a little difficult. In this case, choosing a quirky definition in order to dish the outcome also raises other problems. There are 193 member states of the United Nations, each of which presumably believes itself to be an independent state. Under the Drakeford definition, that must mean that all 193 of them are inward-looking and shut off from the world. That doesn’t leave much of a world to be outward-looking and open. Who’s going to tell the likes of Germany, China, and the US that their independence is such a bad thing that it needs to be stripped off them forthwith in order that they can be more open to the world and outward-looking?

Perhaps I’m being unfair to Drakeford here. Perhaps he simply means that his definition, under which independence makes countries inward-looking and shut off from the world, only applies to countries which might gain their independence at some future date, and not to those which have already gained it at some point in the past, although the mysterious force which only acts on countries which become independent after an arbitrary date specified by a politician has yet to be identified by science, let alone by Drakeford himself. Perhaps he’s being even more selective; perhaps he believes that there’s something so special and different about Wales that it would uniquely be unable to cope with independence in the same way as any other country (although someone might need to explain to him that believing there to be something special and unique about his own country comes dangerously close to being a perverse form of that nationalism to which he is so opposed).

There is nothing wrong with believing that the best future for Wales is as a subordinate part of a greater whole, and it’s not unpatriotic to believe that there is strength in unity, even if evidence suggests that either of those beliefs is a triumph of future hope over past experience. There is, though, something very odd about a belief that one’s own country is somehow uniquely unable to cope with a constitutional status which most countries in the world believe to be entirely normal. It’s a belief with some strange side-effects, one of which is that it causes its adherents to perform complex mental and verbal gymnastics in order to try and explain away this unique lack of capacity. Traditionally, it’s also a belief which has infected the majority in Wales, but unfortunately for Drakeford and others who think like them, English politics has developed a strong and effective antidote in the form of a certain Boris Johnson, and the, entirely accidental, vaccination programme across Wales is currently proving successful beyond the wildest dreams of many independentistas.

Monday 12 April 2021

The way things work


Some years ago, when I was working as an IT Project Manager, I went for an interview for a similar job with another company. From their advert, they seemed to be seeking exactly the experience which I could offer – a match which turned out to be far from accidental. At the interview, it rapidly became clear that they were looking to do business with my, then, current employer, and weren’t in the least interested in what I thought was my brilliant skillset and experience in the field, only in who I knew and what doors I could open for them. The advert had been worded specifically to attract applicants from the staff of the company which employed me at the time. Charitably, I marked it down to experience and a misunderstanding, and moved on.

I doubt that there was anything as formal as an interview involved when David Cameron was appointed to his nice little earner at Greensill. But whatever appointment processed was used, he can surely have been under no delusion that he was being sought out for any presumed skills or experience in the world of finance, because even he must be sufficiently self-aware to realise that he possesses neither. They wanted him – and appointed him – for one thing only: his contacts in government and his supposed ability as a consequence to get the company preferential access and preferential treatment. His messages to the Chancellor, his cosy chat with the Health Secretary – this bypassing of official channels in pursuit of favours was exactly what he was being paid for, and he seems to have been quite assiduous in carrying out his duties, even if, ultimately, rather less than entirely successful.

This is, of course, as my own experience on a much smaller scale attests, simply the way things work. It’s not the exception, it’s the norm. Mutual back scratching and the Old Boy network still hold sway over vast areas of business and politics in the UK. The really strange thing is that so many people seem to believe that the Cameron affair is some sort of newsworthy exception, and that meritocracy is the norm. But the only thing that’s truly different about the current government is that they’re so blatant and shameless about it all.

Friday 9 April 2021

Tories, the NHS, and meaningless gimmicks

The Conservatives have come up with what they seem to think is a wizard wheeze to convince us that they’re serious about their support for the NHS: in the highly unlikely event of their forming a government in Cardiff after the Senedd elections, they will pass a law guaranteeing that the NHS stays in public ownership. It doesn’t take a genius to identify that there are a few minor little problemettes with this proposal, since implementing them also requires:

·        passing a law preventing any future government from reversing their NHS protection law, and

·        passing a law forbidding the government in London from over-riding their new law (which probably also requires a law removing the power of the Supreme Court to over-rule Welsh legislation).

The first represents a huge change to one of the fundamental principles of constitutional law in the UK, and the second a huge step towards establishing the principle of uniquely Welsh sovereignty over devolved issues. Not bad for a party which is also simultaneously promising no changes to the devolution settlement, no more constitutional tinkering, and no ‘unnecessary’ (a word which they usually seem to interpret as equivalent to ‘any’) divergence from what is happening in England. Indeed, if they’re truly serious about it, it’s as radical a proposal as anything to be found in Plaid’s manifesto.

On the other hand, it could be either that they’re too stupid to understand the implications of their own proposals, or else that they think the electors are too stupid to realise that it’s a meaningless gimmick. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Thursday 8 April 2021

Stocking up on tinder


The politics of Northern Ireland are complex, and it’s generally a mistake to ascribe an outbreak of violence to a single cause in a society where two different identities sit uneasily together in the same space. It’s easy enough for politicians to condemn ‘lawlessness’, but that lawlessness never exists in isolation from political events and debate. It is doubtful, though, that the failure of the police to conduct mass arrests of republicans over attendance at a funeral in apparent breach of Covid regulations would be enough in most contexts to spark off the sort of violence which has erupted in recent days, were it not for underlying tension. And it is clear that at least some of that tension is a direct result of a Brexit deal which leads some to feel that their British identity is under threat – the sort of threat which a carefully negotiated and implemented Good Friday agreement had managed largely to assuage for decades.

It’s too facile simply to blame a Brexit deal negotiated by careless ideologues who ignored all the warnings about the impact on the delicate balance which had been put in place, but it would also be facile to pretend that deliberately introducing an element of instability into that delicate balance has had no effect. Calculated and persistent dishonesty about the impact of the agreement which they negotiated merely rubs salt in the wound. The tone-deaf approach of the current UK government continues to exacerbate rather than improve the situation. The PM said yesterday that “The way to resolve differences is through dialogue…”, and just a few days ago, Lord Frost, Johnson’s Brexit negotiator, said that it is difficult to see how the NI Protocol can be "genuinely durable" without the consent of "all of the people" of NI. Well, yes to both of those – and won’t both men be furious with whoever decided to negotiate a deal which involved neither dialogue with nor the consent of the people and parties of Northern Ireland?

Of course they won’t; it didn’t occur to them in advance that they needed any such dialogue or consent, and what they mean by the words now is that those on whom the deal has been imposed need to listen to what they’re told and then give their consent to what has been imposed upon them. And as a fallback, they can always blame the EU for actually wanting to implement the agreement to which the UK signed up. It’s the sort of cavalier attitude to the opinions of others which one might expect from a world king, and underlies the approach which the PM takes towards the Welsh and Scottish legislatures as well, to say nothing of the House of Commons, where he regularly lies and misleads. Absolute monarchy means that other views can be disregarded and overridden at will.

History tells us that absolute monarchy as a method of government often works rather well, from the point of view of the absolute monarch at least. Until it doesn’t, at which point there is a distinct tendency for the absolute monarch’s head to become physically separated from the rest of his body. One of the few historical certainties about absolute monarchies is that they always end, and they often do so rapidly and unexpectedly. Messy endings aren’t quite such a historical certainty, but they are the norm. To return to where we began; the event which sparks the end may be something relatively inconsequential in itself (such as, in this case, a failure to comply with Covid regulations), but it is the underlying resentment and anger which turns a spark into a conflagration. It’s hard to say what Johnson’s spark will be or when it will come, but his dogmatic, mendacious, and arrogant approach means that he’s certainly building up a good pile of tinder.

Thursday 1 April 2021

Playing to the audience


The UK government’s report yesterday on racial discrimination deserved the panning that it got from all quarters. Whet it did not deserve, however, was the surprise which so many expressed at the suggestion that discrimination is more to do with the mindset of those discriminated against than the UK’s institutions. Victim-blaming is the standard approach of the current government – in their eyes, the poor are responsible for their own poverty and the sick are responsible for their own illnesses. Why wouldn’t they also blame minorities for being treated unequally?

It’s not deliberate; it’s the result of a mindset which truly believes that the rich are rich because they work hard and apply themselves, and the healthy are such because they look after themselves. It’s neither prejudice nor discrimination to assume that if ethnic minorities are being treated differently from white British people, then that too must be down to them. It’s an assumption that they can’t help making, and stand no chance of understanding why it’s wrong. If they were capable of understanding why it is wrong, we’d have a properly funded NHS, and a decent benefits system.

Of more concern than leopards putting on a display of their spots is the politics behind it. They don’t care what anybody with a different mindset thinks, because their attitude strikes a chord with their target supporters. When so many electors are happy to go along with blaming the poor for poverty, for instance – to say nothing of their attitudes towards people of a different ethnicity – playing to those prejudices is ‘good politics’ if your objective is unlimited power indefinitely. Saying what they know a substantial proportion of people want to hear hardens and strengthens those attitudes and bolsters their electoral support. And that is the real issue that should worry us: not that a hand-picked bunch of people who could be relied on to support the government’s position have done exactly the job with which they were tasked, but that the report will resonate with those who are already disposed to prejudice. Those who have leapt to criticise the report are missing the point – Johnson and his ilk don’t care what the critics think. They only care what their carefully selected section of the electorate thinks.