It’s hard to keep going in shielding “lockdown” without going bananas to some degree. Here are my thoughts on some recent (and one very old) news items, loosely connected to the theme of bananas.
This one’s a bit of a classic – but worth repeating here.
We start today with the famous Euromyth about straight bananas. Undoubtedly just one of many lies written by Boris Johnson to fend off boredom when he was Brussels correspondent at the Daily Telegraph. The Wikipedia link in the sentence above contains several other myths. My memory is long enough to remember an actual Daily Express headline from before we joined the “Common Market” in 1973. It was warning the Great British public that joining the EEC would lead to the banning of the traditional British kipper. Well, we can all work out for ourselves that that prediction turned out to be decidedly fishy.
And so from fish to the seaside.
A great many people, me included, were horrified at the sight of the crowds on Bournemouth beach last week, with no respect at all for proper physical distancing. Local council workers collected 50 tonnes of rubbish from the beach on just one day: the average for a June weekday is about 5 tonnes apparently. It seems that there is a section of the British population who, as temperatures climb towards 30 degrees, “go bananas”. They find it essential to travel in their thousands to beaches and beauty spots, even in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
I am sure that a major contributory factor was the rule breaking by Dominic Cummings and the lamentable speech by Johnson in his support when the truth was revealed by the Guardian and Daily Mirror. If ever it was a case of “one rule for us, another for the rich and their friends”, this was it. This was a watershed moment: the day the UK government lost control of the public health message.
Johnson has compounded this major error of judgement with his announcements on easing lockdown restrictions in recent days. Johnson’s whole tone and body language result in a strong message that everything is being relaxed; the message of caution is sotto voce at best.
I for one expect to see coronavirus cases and deaths start to rise again soon. The USA is a warning to us all about what happens when a country is badly led.
Without a Trace
Finally, I turn to three examples all illustrating Britain’s descent into the status of a banana republic. They all stem from the gross incompetence and hubris of the “Leave EU” mind set running (ruining?) the country.
In early May, we were promised a “world beating” app after rejecting the Google / Apple version adopted successfully in other countries. This was “global Britain’s” very own version of a Track and Trace app, now sadly abandoned adding months of delay.
Here’s a technical account of what went wrong. An article for more general reading can be found here on the Metro website. What a pitiful shambles of a country this makes us appear to the rest of the world. But it gets worse: read on.
Taking a Pounding
Our currency, the pound sterling, is another factor moving the UK towards the status of a banana republic. A Financial Times article from a few days ago uses the term “emerging market currency” because of the erratic behaviour of the pound’s exchange rate on currency markets.
This may all seem like esoteric stuff, only of interest to finance people and exchange rate obsessives. There is a very basic real world effect, which anyone travelling abroad from the UK will shortly find out. That is in the so-called “spread” of exchange rates: the difference between the buying and selling rates. Broadly speaking, the higher the reputation of a country’s economy, the narrower is the spread between buying and selling rates. The “official” exchange rate – the one usually quoted in the media – is the mid-point in the range between these two.
So the rate that holidaymakers get at an exchange bureau, the number of euros or dollars that they actually get when they exchange pounds, will be further below this middle figure if the spread is wider. In short, people will feel even more ripped off than usual. And the blame lies with the country’s plummeting reputation caused by the government’s incompetence.
Where on Earth?
And just when you thought it couldn’t get more stupid, here’s another tale of Br*xit hubris and idiocy by our government.
Remember Galileo? No, not the famous scientist of old – no, Galileo, the EU’s joint project to have a GPS system that was not dependent on the US military. (Sometimes, the US military turns off GPS, usually when they’re up to no good somewhere in the Middle East. Then all the satnavs in cars and smartphones stop working until GPS is turned on again.) The UK has spent £1.2 billion as its share of Galileo but is walking away from the project to devise our own system, as part of the government’s stance on EU negotiations. The estimated cost to the UK of this decision is somewhere between £3 and 5 billion.
Our plans for yet another “world leading” go-it-alone project looks like it will be as big a fiasco as all the other deluded dreams. The government has invested in a 20% stake in a company called OneWeb. They are designing a completely different network of satellites designed to serve a completely different purpose from Global Positioning. All the developed GPS systems use satellites in orbit 20,000km above the Earth. The OneWeb system uses satellites only 1200km up, designed to provide internet access, not GPS.
How long will we have to wait until – just like Track and Trace – it’s back to the drawing board, following months of wasted effort?
The “Lollipop” Plane
Still, we can console ourselves that our Prime Minister now has a vanity jet aircraft repainted from camouflage grey with £900,000 quids’ worth of red, white and blue paint. Critics say it looks like a lollipop; it’s more conspicuous appearance will handicap its previous use for fighter jet refuelling when not needed by the PM. An easy target in hostile airspace!
It’s hard to imagine anything more designed to place the UK in utter contempt with other world leaders – apart, of course, from the world’s autocratic rulers who revel in such tat. Banana, anyone?