I’ll try to mention this only once. One of the main reasons my blog has been silent for several weeks is the fact that I was in hospital for 19 days getting treatment for pneumonia. An “atypical” strain, as the doctor called it. One of the things my “atypical” pneumonia did was to send me mad for two or three days. Enough detail.
But one thing a patient has in hospital is time: lots and lots of time. Enough time to think about… whatever. Every day, after lunch, my wife would bring me that day’s newspaper. I had plenty of time to keep up with the news, albeit at least half a day behind everyone else.
A few days after coming home, I was looking frustrated, or depressed, or something. “What’s wrong?” my wife asked. “Too much news,” I replied. She looked more confused and concerned. I tried to explain: it went something like this. In more “normal” times, the odd jaw-dropping ridiculous piece of news would be reported every few days. You know, the ones that make you want to SCREAM with frustration, because you can’t think what, practically, you do about it. It felt to me like there was an average of about three such news items in every day’s paper. I’ll mention some examples later.
For several days, I agonised over what to do about this: something different, perhaps. But then I thought, for now, all I’ve got is this sodding blog. So here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking.
We Have No Government
Belgium famously survived 589 days in 2010-11 without an elected government. The USA effectively has had no government since Trump took over as president: not only because of his own complete unsuitability for the job. He also dismissed practically everyone with any expertise in the White House relating to their departmental responsibilities and replaced them with partisan zealots and idiots.
More worrying is the lack of a properly formed government in Germany. Federal elections were held on 24 September last year. Angela Merkel has been trying to form some form of minority or coalition government since. Google “formation of German government 2017-18” and you’ll get a whole series of articles published at various dates showing the twists and turns. Right now, everything seems to hang on the internal politics of German’s Social Democrats and its leader, Martin Schultz. (This is far more important to the UK’s future relationship with the EU than the death throes of UKIP: BBC please note!) Wikipedia, as is often the case, has a useful summary here.
And so, finally, to the UK. On the face of it, we have a stable-ish minority Tory government, but in hock to the worst possible political party with sitting MPs in Westminster, the DUP. The best summary I’ve heard is that the DUP are “the political wing of the 17th century”. Women’s rights not a strong point. Arlene Foster knows how to turn the knife to extort £1 billion for her pet projects. She’s a hardened negotiator: as a schoolchild, she was on a school bus that was bombed by the IRA because the driver was a soldier in the UDR. She can run rings around Theresa May, brought up in the sheltered environment of a vicarage in leafy Oxfordshire.
May is a shy character who made few friends as she rose up the political ladder, ran the Home office with minimal consultation with cabinet colleagues. There is practically no cabinet discipline – yes I do mainly mean Boris Johnson, with Michael Gove as the more Machiavellian side-kick. By not standing up to the crazies in her party, she has trapped herself in a needless “leave / remain” balance every time a minister gets sacked for misdemeanour. She is famously in office, but not in power. A sharp drop in interest in what she had to say at Davos this year (not much) reveals that the rest of the world is losing interest fast in the UK’s plight. As a German radio commentator remarked astutely last month, the UK is not only leaving the EU but is also walking off the world stage.
The practical consequence of all this is that May doesn’t have a snowball in hell’s chance of agreeing what the UK wants out of the EU negotiations – to the increasing frustration of the EU27 and key figures in Brussels.
Theresa May Keeps Sucking Up to Trump
After her notorious rush to Washington DC in early 2017, the hand-holding and the premature offer of a state visit, May seems to have had a bit of another love-in with Trump at Davos this week. So here’s a little game to play. Hands up all those who think any UK-USA trade deal agreed to by Trump’s America will NOT be heavily biased in favour of the USA. Any with their hands up, check out Trump’s past form on deal-making: it’s always a “win-lose” arrangement. AndTrump always has to win. Any still with their hands up? I say you’re either deluded or have not been paying attention.
Free Market Fundamentalism Is Finally Falling Apart and Its Name is Carillion
The collapse of Carillion, with public sector workers like firefighters rallying round to deliver school meals, is probably the turning point in public opinion about how we run our economy. The “privatise everything, cut working conditions, use PFI to fiddle the public deficit figures” approach has finally been caught out for what it is: dogma and sheer bollocks. The evidence has been piling up for years: privatised railway companies and ever-higher rail fares, to take an obvious example. A cry from the heart by Andrea Albutt, President of the Prison Governors’ Association, in Tuesday’s Guardian tells you all you need to know about the folly of more outsourcing and expensive, inflexible contracts.
The Tories will pay lip service to this change, but they don’t really get it.
The NHS Is In Crisis: I’ve Seen It
I said I wouldn’t mention it again, but I was in an NHS hospital on the busiest day of the year (New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day). I saw an excellent, safe system begin to crumble at the edges. I was moved wards 4 times in as many days as there simply weren’t enough beds. Sound familiar? Now it’s personal!
Having Net Immigration Targets Is Asking the Wrong Question
Anyone with eyes to see or ears to hear will observe one obvious truth about the NHS. It’s staffed with dedicated, hard-working people from around the world, both from within the EU and beyond. If even one in ten left, the entire system would come crashing down around our heads.
Two newspaper reports this week really did make me want to SCREAM with frustration. The first was on the difficulty facing the NHS in recruiting nurses: nationally, only one in seven advertised vacancies get filled. In May’s leafy Maidenhead constituency (where house prices are SO high), the success rate is one in 400. Osborne’s austerity policy of 2010 slashed nursing training places and we’re still living with the consequences. Similarly, an article told of at least 20 doctors who had been recruited, at great expense, from outside the EU and offered posts with salaries of around £30-£40,000. Unfortunately for the doctor and the hospital desperate for their skills, the Home Office had unilaterally changed the rules: the one that limits visas to “skilled” workers. And the definition of “skilled”? Those offered at least £55,000. I guess the Government was thinking of all those highly paid city types. I’ve seen nurses at work first-hand in recent weeks, and I’m in no doubt who are the more skilled. And it isn’t the City types.
Add in a ridiculous tale of a Pakistani Humanist who was threatened with deportation because he couldn’t identify Aristotle as a humanist philosopher. 120 philosophers, including A C Grayling, have weighed in stating that the question was not a reliable way to establish someone as a Humanist. In other words, the Home Office official who had dreamed up a “trick” question was stupid and ill-informed. Probably racist too: after all, surely all Pakistanis are really Muslims, deep down?
These cases illustrate the rotten core and sheer inhumanity at the heart of the Home Office. Many of Theresa May’s predecessors at the Home Office didn’t last long: I guess their humanity couldn’t cope. The fact that May thrived there and Amber Rudd is turning into a very effective Mini-May, should give cause for great concern about the suitability of these two holders of key government posts.
Finally, net immigration targets. This was a pledge made by Cameron and became the obsession of May as his Home Secretary. It doesn’t even relate to real people! It’s merely the arithmetic difference between two sets of figures: The number of immigrants entering the UK each year (i.e. real people) and the number leaving (also real people). The numbers go up and down, mainly in line with wars and conflicts around the world and the skill needs of sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and healthcare. To cap it all, May suppressed the report showing only 5000 students a year overstayed their visas: the home Office had estimated 100,000. When the facts conflicted with the policy, the facts were suppressed for a period.
So, anyone believing the “net immigration” figure is a sensible target is so, so missing the point!
UKIP Is Falling Apart Before Our Eyes
So, enough of frustrating news and the evidence that we are living under the most incompetent government in my lifetime. Here’s some good news instead. UKIP is clearly in its death throes. Let’s just let them die with the minimum publicity they deserve. And, memo to the BBC: stop giving publicity to Jacob Rees-Mogg! We don’t need another loony on our screens to replace the Farage creature.
The Tories Will Split
Finally, a prediction. I think it is inevitable that the Tories will split. The irreconcilable crazies have had too much of the running. May is still running scared of them and their rabid cheerleaders: Paul Dacre, Rupert Murdoch and the Barclay brothers. Remember the quote: “I once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. ‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.'” “Take Back Control”? My arse. Remember, it was the EU who took on Microsoft and Apple over anti-competitive and tax-avoiding behaviour. The EU also took on the mobile phone companies and abolished mobile roaming charges.
The Tories have been split over Europe, to a greater or lesser extent, since 1973. The stench of death reached a peak in the late 1990s in the dying days of the Major government. The same smell is in the air today. Despite their famous discipline for sticking together, no one can hold together the irreconcilable crazies and those Tories who actually understand enough about the economic consequences of leaving the EU. The split will come: it’s a matter of when, not if.
Let’s face it. Theresa May has the shittiest job in the UK right now. If she had any skills of leadership, a vision for the future or even an ability to make friends, things would be different. She could have ignored the crazies and their media supporters, reached out across the floor of the Commons and said this issue is too important to be left to a minority party propped up by a bunch of loonies. It’s obvious the likes of Keir Starmer and Anna Soubury have more in common that Soubury and Fox, to give a random example. A cross-party committee of the “sensibles” would have worked out a reasonable negotiating stance by now.
Let’s hope the Tories split before too much more damage is done. I’m feeling faintly optimistic. But our enemies are very strong, rich and powerful.
If you agree with anything in this post, or want to challenge something, please, please send me a comment. I’m tired of my readership being a small group of like-minded people. Forward this (by Facebook, Twitter, email or whatever) to those you know who disagree. Let’s get a proper discussion going.