Sunday 12 November 2023

Poor Suella


Poor Suella Braverman. It has long been her fondest dream to see a plane taking off for Rwanda filled with unhappy, and preferably tearful, would-be immigrants. It looks very much as if the Supreme Court will tell us all on Wednesday whether her dream is lawful or not. One rather suspects that she would quite like to be at Heathrow to wave it off on 25th December. There can, after all, be few more thoughtful Christmas gifts for desperate people than a free one-way flight to a country of which they’ve never heard. It is also looking extremely probable that she will by then, in any event, be just another former Home Secretary, leaving someone else to gloat over the flight, if it is indeed to take place.

The reason for her pending departure, assuming that Sunak manages to find a tiny fragment of backbone down the back of the settee where he usually hides his principles, is that her second fondest dream came true just yesterday. She hoped for disruption, violence and mass arrests and was presumably delighted when she got some. She is probably a little disappointed that those arrested for the disruption and violence were her supporters rather than the ones she wanted arrested but will probably conclude that it just confirms what she said about police bias. It is clearly unfair that the police deliberately targeted those using violence rather than those just doing a bit of chanting. She probably wishes that the other Suella Braverman – the one who told police to stop messing about investigating hate crimes and concentrate on real crimes such as violence – had never opened her mouth.

Thursday 9 November 2023

The power of the hat


This week saw the official state opening of parliament. This is a strange ceremony which sees a posh bloke and his wife arrive in a horse-drawn carriage, with his magic hat following behind in a carriage of its own because, apparently, only three people are allowed to touch it (presumably in case the magic wears off or gets imparted to the wrong person). The procession is followed by people responsible for sweeping up the inevitable results of parading horses through the streets. When they get to parliament, the posh bloke sits in a posh seat, wearing his magic hat, and his wife sits in another slightly less posh seat deliberately placed at a lower level so that no-one ends up looking taller than the posh bloke himself. 

He then gets handed a speech, written on goatskin parchment which contains no trace of goat, which he is obliged to read out to an audience comprising as of right several hundred legislators who have not been elected to the role, including the hierarchy of a single sect of a single religion of only a part of the UK as well as a group which are only there because some ancestor or other did something or other which pleased one of the posh bloke’s ancestors. The officially humble elected legislators are summoned to attend whether they like it or not and forced to stand, which is not entirely strange to them because the legislature has never considered it necesary to provide enough seats for its members anway. The speech contains details of things that the government might or might not do during the next twelve months: there is no obligation on the government to do something just because they’ve forced the posh bloke to say that they would, and there is nothing to stop them doing things which they didn’t even tell the posh bloke about. It also contains party political propaganda which the posh bloke is obliged to read out whether he agrees with it or not.

Apparently, the UK’s so-called modern parliamentary democracy cannot operate without this pantomime being performed before each session. But who, in their right minds, would ever invent a process which placed such a dependency on the alleged powers of that magic hat?

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Is peace ever a bad thing?


Sir Keir Starmer sems to have got both himself and his party into something of a twist over calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, preferring merely to support a ‘humanitarian pause’. From the point of view of those being killed, any halt to the shooting has to be better than nothing, but the two things are entirely different. A pause suggests that the killing will be resumed once the potential victims have had their deliveries of food, water and medicines – more a case of providing a final meal for the condemned than of granting them a reprieve. Principled it is not, and it’s been a pleasant surprise to see the extent of pushback against him from his party’s members.

His argument is an ‘interesting’ one. There is no point calling for a ceasefire, he says, when neither side is going to agree at this stage. It may well be true that they won’t agree, but it’s a curious argument against seeking a ceasefire, and he doesn’t seem to understand that it renders much of what he says on other issues completely pointless as well. If you believe that Sunak is not going to agree to an early election, then it’s pointless Labour calling for one. Indeed, there’s little point in the opposition ever calling for anything if they know that the government isn’t going to agree. They could probably sack half their press team if they stopped calling for things to which those to whom the call is made aren’t going to agree. Worse, he and many of the senior members of his party seem to have fallen into the trap of believing that anyone calling for a ceasefire is necessarily supporting one side in the conflict – and from his perspective, that would be the wrong side. The idea that some people might just want to stop the slaughter is clearly alien to him.

There’s something equally strange about the government’s obsession with trying to prevent any marches on Remembrance Day, because they would be somehow inappropriate. On my understanding of history, the whole point of Remembrance Day is to remember the fallen, celebrate the subsequent peace, and remind ourselves that we should never let it happen again. It’s hard to understand why calling for peace is in any way at odds with those sentiments. Except that the act of remembrance has been increasingly hijacked as a celebration of British exceptionalism, nationalism and military victory, rather than a tribute to those who lost so much. It’s true, of course, that not all of those marching are limiting their demands to a ceasefire, and that there are elements who are calling for a victory for one side in a long-standing and complex conflict. But most just want to stop the killing – is that really so inappropriate on the day we remember the fallen in so many other wars?

Monday 6 November 2023

They know their members


Those great British values so beloved of the Home Secretary, or at least her new degraded version of them, have been making a number of outings in recent days. Apparently, showing any sympathy for people who end up sleeping rough is now un-British, as is failure to support all of the institutions of the state, and holding a demonstration of any sort on 11th November. One rather suspects that they actually wanted to criminalise failing to kick homeless people, failure to wear a poppy, failure to observe the two minutes’ silence, and failure to be an ardent monarchist. And, probably, failure to be a member of the Tory Party. The only thing that stopped them is the realisation that they don’t have enough prison cells or detention camps to house all the people who would thereby be criminalised. Yet.

In truth, they will have real difficulty in drawing up legislation to implement these totalitarian views, unless it simply says that the police can and must do whatever the Home Secretary tells them to do. Keeping it simple. Barring that, for instance, if they ban giving tents to the homeless, will they also ban giving them money for a cup of tea? And if it’s OK to give them money, will there be a limit on it, or can we give them enough to buy a tent? And even if there is a limit, what if a group of people gang together and collectively give someone enough to buy a tent?

The devil, as they say, is in the detail, and the detail will give the legal draftsmen nightmares, if it ever gets to the point of drawing up legislation. I doubt, thought, that it ever will; it’s all about winning votes rather than passing laws. I don’t know how many voters at large will be attracted by such a programme, although I’m sure that the number isn’t as low as I would like. But that isn’t the target electorate in this case: the target is those people who will have a vote in the forthcoming leadership election in the Tory Party. Those putting forward this sort of proposals have used their best judgement and concluded that that particular electorate contains many of the most nasty, cruel, inhumane, unempathetic, jingoistic, backward-looking, and mean people in the UK. It’s not often that I concur with the judgement of Suella Braverman.

Friday 3 November 2023

Catching the PM by surprise


When the pandemic struck, it seems to have come as a complete surprise to Boris Johnson that the hopelessly underfunded NHS and Social Care systems had not sorted out what he called the “decades-old problem of delayed discharges”, meaning that something like 30% of hospital beds were occupied by people who didn’t need to be in a hospital at all. He’s probably going to be even more surprised, not to say angry, when he finds out who had been in charge for the previous decade, and who had been cutting budgets for the whole of that period. On second thoughts, probably not. Everything that happened before 2019, in his mind, was the fault of a different government and party. It’s only in the world that the rest of us live in where there’s any connection between the two.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Nature's Way


Yesterday’s session of the Covid inquiry heard suggestions that Boris Johnson saw the virus as “nature’s way of dealing with old people”. For once he may have been, albeit only slightly, unfairly quoted. What he actually said was that his party believed that to be the case; as for himself, he merely said that he wasn’t entirely sure that he disagreed. It’s an important distinction, and it’s one that does make a difference. Whilst the rats seem to be quite happy to desert a sinking ship those who were closest to him seem quite happy to heap the blame on one man, the issue which should worry us more is that the phrase reflects the thinking of the government party as a whole. And it really isn’t that surprising.

Covid has been just one example of a mindset which thinks that the only important people in society are ‘working people’, and especially ‘hard-working people’ (and it’s worth noting in passing that on this point, as on so many others, the difference between the Tories and Labour is striking mostly for its absence). It is a philosophical viewpoint which, as often commented on this blog, places the needs of ‘the economy’ above those of ordinary people, and sees most of us as nothing more than resources to be exploited in the interests of that ‘economy’. But the ‘economy’ isn’t some amorphous undefined general good; from their perspective, ‘the economy’ is all about companies and businesses, not people. Enriching those who own and run those companies is the main purpose of economic activity; others simply sell their labour. And if people have no labour to sell – the old and the vulnerable – then they are disposable. Johnson may, on behalf of his party, have put it in starker terms – more honest terms, even, an unusual word to use in relation to Johnson – than his colleagues, but it would be a mistake to let the others off the hook just because of his rare burst of honesty. ‘Eat out to help the virus spread’ was simply one example of that philosophy in action – the interests of the businesses concerned were seen by the then Chancellor as trumping the interests of those who would die as a result. Sunak may not have put things in such forthright language as Johnson, but he’s every bit as guilty, and we shouldn’t allow anger with Johnson’s insouciance to cloud that fact.

Another thing we learned yesterday is that the PM’s then communications chief, Lee Cain – a man whose principal claim to fame is having dressed as a chicken to pursue David Cameron around the country during the 2010 election – believed that Covid was the wrong crisis for this particular PM (i.e. Johnson). ‘Wrong sort of crisis’ might make it sound as though he’s competing with Thérèse Coffey for that job at Network Rail, but while it has a certain air of truth, it leaves one very big question unanswered – exactly what sort of crisis would have been the right one to have someone like Johnson in charge?