All posts by Jim Gunther

About Jim Gunther

Husband, father, grandfather, humanist, republican, (very!) amateur anthropologist. Interests: politics, education, ethics, comedy, eclectic music taste. Former corporate manager. School governor, charity trustee, volunteer adviser

David Who?

Have you seen this man?

David Cameron wanted poster

Many rumours exist about this man:

  • He is believed to have once been Prime Minister of this country
  • If you see him, he is probably safe to approach. He is believed to be no longer dangerous.
  • At one time, he was seen as extremely dangerous: his laid-back attitude to the job allowed his henchman, Wild Gideon Osborne to wreak havoc and destitution amongst the poor and disabled
  • He put Party interest above the National Interest
  • He caved in to the Crazies (no, not the Crankies, but he’d probably do that too)
  • He split the country down the middle by calling an ill-advised referendum, thereby encouraging racists and bigots to commit acts of violence (Remember Jo Cox MP)
  • He made no plans in the event he would lose
  • He lost
  • He buggered off to write his memoirs.


He is rumoured to be lying low in an expensive caravan somewhere in rural Oxfordshire. If you find this caravan, take the following steps:

  • Creep softly up to the door of the caravan
  • Turn the key to lock it
  • Take the key
  • Throw it away where no one can find it.

    Paxman on Cameron

    In the more informal surroundings of Room 101, Jeremy Paxman finally told us what he thought of Cameron:

    “The worst Prime Minister since Lord North”. Probably just about sums him up. Enough said.



Nazi No, Nasty Yes

It’s an unspoken rule of diplomacy that one does not compare one’s opponent to the Nazis except in the most extreme of circumstances. Which is what makes former Civil Service Head Bob Kerslake’s comments on Newsnight earlier this week all the more extraordinary:

From his comments, it’s clear there was disagreement and strong misgivings within the coalition Cabinet about the stance being taken on immigration policy. For a senior (former) civil servant to use such undiplomatic language is truly shocking and should not be ignored.

Way back in 2002, Theresa May had warned at the Tory Party conference that the Conservatives were increasingly seen as the “Nasty Party”. Subsequent actions show she forgot her own advice. The latest revelations by the Guardian show just how Nasty the Tories and May have become. (At the time of writing, this story has been picked up by and the Daily Mail(!!), with some automated computer-generated versions on YouTube and Facebook. The Sun has a heavily-spun account and the Telegraph has an account which effectively reverses the truth. Significantly, I can find NO reference at all to the story on the BBC website!!!)

The leak is this. On 30 January 2017, mini-May, Home Secretary Amber Rudd sent a private memo to May, vowing to give immigration officials more “teeth” to hunt down and deport illegal migrants. Rudd wrote “…I will be refocusing immigration enforcement’s work to concentrate on enforced removals.”  This included diverting £10m of funding away from fighting crime “with the aim of increasing the number of enforced removals by more than 10% over the next few years”. May’s thumbprint is all over the harshening of policy. Rudd says her proposals had been “Informed by the review that you [i.e. May] commissioned whilst home secretary”. Nasty, nasty.


A short, but hopefully relevant, diversion here. I was captivated by the epic TV series Heimat by Edgar Reitz when it was first broadcast by the BBC between 1984 and 1993. I watched the more recent repeats on BBC4 a few years ago. Warning: total playing time for the 32 episodes is fifty-nine and a half hours(!) Of particular note was the portrayal of the Wiegand family in the 1930s and 40s. The Wiegands were a (fictional) middle class family ruined by the crash and hyperinflation of the late 1920s whose fortune and status were restored in the early 1930s. Their gradual accommodation to, and subsequent support for, the Nazis is told tellingly and convincingly. The message was clear: it could happen to any such family, anywhere. (The fissures and divisions in the UK engendered by Cameron’s insane decision to call a referendum on EU membership have increased significantly the chances of something similar happening here.)

I like Germany and its people a lot: most significantly because they openly acknowledge their dark periods of history (they don’t get darker than the Holocaust), they have learnt from them and moved forward. They teach their children well the lessons learned – in marked contrast to our denial of the dark side of the British Empire. I’m currently reading an excellent book: Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire. Even the briefest of readings of any review of this book (I chose Amazon’s at random) demonstrates there is a very, very different story to tell of the effects of the Raj from the Kiplingesque one we usually hear.

Nazi or Just Nasty?

None of this makes Theresa May an Adolf Hitler. But such empathy as she does possess lies solely with the sort of Maidenhead middle classes just like the Wiegands. From her authoritarian approach and her actions, both as Home Secretary and as Prime Minister, I could easily picture her as some middle-ranking official just obeying orders to administer the Final Solution.

So a reasoned and reasonable conclusion is that May isn’t a Nazi, but she’s done more than anyone else to turn the Tories into the Nasty Party. Nasty, nasty, nasty.

Amber Warnings

I have been banging on about May for three years now: call them “Amber Warnings” if you like. Take your pick:

Nasty Indeed 2015; Why Do We Think We’re So Special? 2016; We Are Entitled to Proper Government (on risk to Good Friday agreement) Feb 2016; Madness, Madness, I Call It Madness 2016; Who May She Be? 2016; Shame On You, May 2017; Obsession 2017; The Weight of History 2017; Don’t Vote For Mayhem! 2017; Which Theresa? 2017; Forever Walk Alone 2017; Mr Men 2017 (Little Miss I-Know-Best) 2017; Call It Out: Crazies! 2018; The Modes of May 2018; Vassal State 2018

So it’s a great relief to see that some of the issues I’ve raised are now mainstream news items. Let’s keep them in the headlines.

One last time: Nasty, nasty, nasty, nasty.



Whose Commonwealth?

Are you as bemused as I am about all the hype around the Commonwealth? Little Betty holds a meeting at Windsor Castle to engage in a pre-emptive strike by the House of Windsor to establish her much-criticized son as the new head of the Commonwealth, putting other Prime Ministers in an awkward spot. Not exactly democracy. It would appear she has got her wish: shame, shame, shame: missed opportunity.

charles windsor cartoon
New Commonwealth head?

What’s It Good For?

In “War”, Edwin Starr sang “War, huh, yeah, What is it good for? Absolutely nothing”.  I think much the same about the Commonwealth. Wikipedia gives a summary of the Commonwealth and a map of its 53 members, mostly former countries of the British Empire. I’ve always seen it as a nostalgia-fest for the Queen, which would be allowed to quietly die once she does.

commonwealth map
Map of Commonwealth

The Commonwealth doesn’t seem to be very good at anything. As Wikipedia says here, more than half the Commonwealth countries do not recognise LGBT rights and the majority of Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexual acts between consenting adults. A proposal by the UK government to bring this to the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) was watered down before it saw the light of day.

The official Commonwealth website shows that it actually has a Charter! Here are the pages  for  Tolerance and  Human Rights. Fine words, but unenforced, just a load of bollocks.

Lenny Henry’s Commonwealth

I watched the Lenny Henry programme about the Commonwealth, where he revisited his Jamaican roots. He pulled several punches, but at the end of the programme, I was none the wiser as to what the commonwealth does. Everyone knows about the Commonwealth Games: there was much hype and extended coverage on the BBC, trying to make it look like a mini Olympics. There’s also a War Graves commission and some cultural and literary connections. The criteria for joining the club are suitably vague.

Barak Obama

Now that the bad news has been announced that Little Betty embarrassed her guests in a most unconstitutional way, the sooner the Commonwealth is laid to rest, the better. Under Charles, it will simply be a rallying point for the Leaver post-imperial deluded as a sort of Empire 2.0. With only 9% of our trade going to the Commonwealth countries, it will never make up for the loss of 44% with the EU. India, the most populated country, owes Britain no favours.

Barak Obama in London
A better choice

A few weeks ago, The Guardian put forward an interesting idea: that Barak Obama become the new Commonwealth leader. Now that would be an interesting idea, and a rallying point around those opposed to Trump. Sadly, that opportunity has been lost. Better to kill it off. Goodbye and good riddance.


We Say No

About four years ago, I was returning to the UK via Luton Airport. I was struck by the number of Home Office signs on the approach to the UK Border starting with he word “NO”. I was half expecting to see signs stating “No Blacks”, “No Irish”, “No Dogs”. By the time I got to passport control, I felt ashamed and emabarrassed to be British. But never mind, my passport was the same colour as everyone elses’ in the EU Passports line, so I could merge with the crowd.


My thoughts today with the Windrush generation, I remember also the insincere PA announcement you get when a train reaches its destination. “Thank you for travelling with X today”. For X, insert your own privately owned monopoly supplier of train services – as if you had a choice.

So for the Windrush folk, we get “Thank you for choosing the UK to spend your life, work hard, bring up children and pay your taxes. Want something? Pension? Cancer treatment? Now fuck off!”


A brief history, for Daily Mail readers, who joined the fight today.

  • Theresa May was Home Secretary at the time of my Luton Airport embarrassment, implementing a “hostile environment” for “illegal” immigrants. Schools, The NHS, employers, landlords and the rest were turned into Home Office police, to check the immigration status of all who dared use publicly funded services. Vans patrolled the streets of north London telling illegal immigrants to “Go Home”.
  • The Guardian published stories about the plight of the Windrush generation on 01/12/2017, 21/02/2018, 22/02/2018, 10/03/2018 (the £54,000 cancer story), 22/03/2018 (May’s refusal to intervene in the cancer case), 12/04/2018, 13/04/2018 and 16/04/2018.
  • 12/04/2018: Law Society says 50% of immigration cases are overturned on appeal to an independent panel. It says the system is “seriously flawed” and having a “devastating” effect on the families. Home Office said it was “meeting its targets” and some cases were “complex”. Both political decisions.
  • Theresa May resisted calls from Caribbean leaders for a formal meeting with heads of the 12 countries at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting until the early hours of 16/04/2018.
  • 16/04/2018 07:16 Penny Mordaunt MP says “We need to do a better job”
  • 16/04/2018 12:57 Caroline Noakes MP, Immigration Minister admits “some people were deported in error”
  • 15:54 Amber Rudd MP, Home Secretary, the Mini-May, is sent to the Commons to apologise and denounce May’s policy. Rudd blames her officials for getting it wrong.
  • At about the same time, May announces U-turn and will hold an “informal” meeting with the 12 Caribbean heads.

A special task force is set up to clear up the mess in two weeks. Oh yeah? So that’s all right then. Except it isn’t.

So how’s about a civil disobedience campaign where everyone who is forced by law to check immigration status just stops. As Chair of Governors of a school , I’d be happy to persuade my governors to do this – as long as a few others join in: like the Poll Tax in Scotland, the government can’t fine us all.

Sing Song

Bumsrush Martin Rowe Guardian 17/04/2018 (sorry about any copyright!)

In the meantime, here are some new words to a well-known song. All together now:

Land of “Nope” and Tory, Mother of the Free
How shall we exploit thee, those not born of thee?
Wider still and wider, may th
y checks be set
May, who made thee Nasty, make thee Nastier yet
May, who made thee Nasty, Make thee Nastier yet.





Vassal State

Welcome to Little Britain, the Vassal State. May has used powers grabbed for themselves by mediaeval kings to wage “war” when England’s very existence was seen as under threat – usually from the French! It was bad enough when Blair chose to become Bush’s poodle – at least Bush was rational and he sought Parliamentary approval first. This, strategically for the longer term, is much worse.

Syria 14 April: Missiles and rescuers looking for civilian casualties

Is this what the Leavers intended when they said “take back control” – only to hand it straight over to a US president with the attention span of a gnat and the social development of a 3 year old? Let’s keep some sense of proportion. No, this is not World War Three by any means: a raid roughly twice the size of the last one, but limited. But peace now depends entirely on Putin’s reaction.

Two Egos

We’re now trapped, helpless, between two giant egos, both of whom have said some very stupid things in the (recent) past: Trump and Putin. Trump has done most of the provoking (in words), Putin, more sinisterly, by covert action (fake news, etc.). So the ball would appear to be in Putin’s court- as I write this. The problem is complicated by the uncertainty in the US position: 6 hours ago, CNN reported a contradiction between Trump’s comments and those of his Defense Secretary James Mattis. So uncertainty rules.

Brave New World?

Forget international law since the end of WWII, based upon the UN and lessons learnt from the collapse of the League of Nations. Trump has rewritten the rules – partly (some would argue mainly) because Putin has vetoed all attempts to use the UN Security Council to do its job. The putative New World Order is based purely on raw power. Using the average of two sets of figures on Wikipedia, the US accounts for 36% of all global military spending, at $607bn or 3.3% of its GDP, Russia $65bn (5.0%), France $52bn (2.2%) and the UK $49.5bn (2.0%). (The UK GDP figure is not declared on Wiki, so I used the BBC 2016 figures). By contrast, Germany spends only 1.2% of its GDP, or $41.4bn; the next highest EU figure (by amount) is Italy at $25.4bn (1.4%).

There is an obvious “push” factor here. The more a country chooses to spend on bombs, planes, aircraft carriers, troops and the rest, the more willing it is to use it. Eisenhower, at the end of his Presidency, warned of the lobbying power of the “military industrial complex”. The Wikipedia entry for “Why We Fight” refers only to the seven propaganda films made by the US military in the 1940s; it does carry a link to the 2005 documentary by Eugene Jarecki “Why We Fight” which I’ve seen. It gives a clear exposition of the “push” effect and is hard to come by in the USA. It’s available in the US on DVD, but hurry, Amazon has only one copy in stock! (At the time I write this.)Not quite censorship, but close.

So, frankly, the UN’s future hangs in the balance, suspended between the twin narcissistic egos of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. May has tied the UK firmly to the former, without any vote in Parliament. Is that democracy in action – or taking back control? Not for the 48% who voted Remain, nor many of the Leavers, I suspect, when they realise what has happened.

Timing and Parliament

The timing of the attacks was very convenient for May – two days before Parliament reconvenes. Macron was in a great hurry – for purely domestic purposes which are not clear. The trick was to get Trump’s attention long enough – and the famous US Constitution’s “checks and balances” to propose a measured attack. (One advantage of reading Fire and Fury – see my earlier post Book Review –  is that I have a better understanding about  how the Trump White House currently operates.)

Macron and Napoleon

I had my suspicions about President Macron: there was always something of the Napoleon about him. Previously, in true Nicholas Parsons style, I had given him the benefit of the doubt. But no more. We need to watch him like the hawk he has turned out to be.

The future stability of the EU now depends basically on the relationship between France and Germany: the UK has made itself irrelevant (other than as a destabilising force) by May’s mishandling of the EU referendum result. As a result of choosing to abjectly follow Trump’s tweet agenda (with political cover from France on timing), we have already left the EU, in all but name.

At the time of drafting (Saturday morning), it was hard to find any definitive news on Germany’s current position: Here’s a couple, from the New York Times and  It seems the Americans and Pakistanis are better informed than the British via their media.

The Devil Has the Best Tunes

The mood music will clearly favour May in the short term. Simple, decisive action always looks attractive at first. As religious apolgists often say, “The  Devil Has the Best Tunes”.  It’s arguable that Cliff Richard’s Best track, during his 1977 revival period, was Devil Woman. The “measured attack” mentioned above included a great deal of use of hotlines and back channels between the USA and Russia. We know we’re in trouble when we don’t talk any more.

As a phrase that’s been around since Roman times, “bread and circuses” have been used to pacify the masses over the centuries. Karl Marx probably had a thing or two to say on the subject, as did his younger siblings (or not)…

At three and a half minutes, this video is a bit long: younger viewers may find the racist (Black and White Minstrel Show) feel offensive. This was standard for 1930s Hollywood.

When the Truth Emerges

No doubt, Parliament will have its revenge at not being consulted: we’ve just seen May in full-blown Little Miss I-Know-Best mode. I think there will be some debate in Parliament on Tuesday and there will be ample aopportunity during the committee stages of the Exiting the EU bill during the Autumn.

In the short term, the BBC will revert to its WWII comfort zone as Government propagandist, last used to good effect in the Falklands war. There’ll be lots of talk of “precision strikes”, but Trump’s (contradictory) tweets will ensure that Assad moved key assets out of harm’s way.

But the truth will slowly emerge, and who will you trust?

Those of us who wish to see a brighter future than as America’s supine vassal may need to find a little of the Bogart-style steel… Here’s looking at you – and you – and you, to keep up the pressure on May and her ragbag of a government.

Be very careful about what you wish for – and who you cheer for – in the days and weeks ahead.



Missed Connection

About 15 years ago, a group of Head Teachers, together with the Chief Executive of our group and I, went on a fact-finding and exchange of ideas to a group of schools in Doncaster. We travelled by train and the consensus route involved a change at Derby. The outward journey passed off uneventfully and we completed our business. The first leg was by Virgin Cross Country and the second by whatever name the operator of the Midland Main Line had at the time: it’s changed hands so often I forget.

We had 12 minutes “transfer” time at Derby station and we knew it was a simple cross-platform transfer: about a 30-second walk. A succession of minor holdups meant it looked like we would arrive in Derby 12 minutes late. No one was particularly bothered, as we knew how easy a transfer it was.

We arrived at Derby only to see our train pull out of the platform. It was dusk and my most vivid visual image was of our train’s red tail lights disappearing into the distance. As the Chair of the group, I understood the need to act professionally and chose my words very carefully, so there would be no misunderstanding. I approached the young man who had obviously flagged off the train we wanted. I said “Will you please tell me who has the authority on this station to hold that connection?” His reply surprised me at the time: “Nobody”, he said. There was no point in extending the conversation, so we all went into a huddle and waited for the next London-bound train.

Here’s a picture of a train like the one we missed. (This picture was taken at St Pancras in 2005). I tried to get the right livery – for rail buffs. They, and anyone who’s actually travelled by train more than 20 years ago will note that the rolling stock still betrays its BR origins. They’d only painted the loco. And to anyone north of a line from the Trent to the Mersey, you’d be bloody lucky to find any train that isn’t old hand-me-down BR stock covered in several layers of different coloured paint – unless you’re lucky enough to hop on a passing train on the way to or from London. Northern Powerhouse? Don’t make me laugh.

Midland Main Line train
The one that got away?

A Trip to Brussels

At about the same time, I went to visit an old university friend who was now working there. He joined British Rail a few years after graduating. His dad was a railwayman: like the military, working “on the railways” seemed to be in the blood. We had a couple of bottles each of Belgian beer: I knew already how tasty it was, but I hadn’t observed just how strong (7% ABV)! We both got a bit pissed.

He told me, when the railways were privatised, he was moved over to Railtrack – of which more below. As, by then, he was a fairly senior BR manager, he was put in charge of a project. This was to design a system of incentives to deal with what happens when trains are delayed that would fit with the new, fragmented structure. Its basic design was this:

  1. A train is late.
  2. Someone must be to blame.
  3. Find out who: this pitched Railtrack against Operating Companies, Operating Company against Operating Company.
  4. Settle any disputes: this was bound to take up a lot of time and resource.
  5. Debit the faulty party and credit the other party.

At the end of the month, add up all the debits and credits for each company (they’re all profit-maximising private companies, so there are bound to be more disputes at this stage. Settle the accounts (details unknown).

My immediate thought at the time was “gravy train for lawyers and accountants” (no pun intended – then!) but said no more.

The thought struck me in the last day or two: do you know what we have here? It’s an algorithm! Not of the lines of computer code sort, like Facebook and Amazon, but in the rules of the game. And the game, if you’re a profit-maximising entity, is to end the month in net credit. So you instruct your staff on how they must behave to maximise your company’s profits.

Compare this to a similar experience I recall from my student days. Birmingham to Oxford on a Sunday, change at Banbury. Owing to the dreaded “weekend engineering works (probably – I can’t remember) our arrival at Banbury was a few minutes late, after the scheduled departure time of the connecting service. Some relatively junior member of the station staff would have said something like “hurry along” and we all scuttled across the platform. The result? Everyone on both trains was a couple of minutes late – no big deal.

Who Benefits?

Well, the lawyers, accountants and shareholders, obviously.

So who else? The staff? Compare or man in Banbury with the one in Derby – yes, they were both men. The Derby man looked younger than my memory tells me about his Banbury counterpart. But, there again, police officers all look about 12 now, so maybe it’s just me. Think about it. The guy in Banbury was probably proud of working “on the railways”, just like my friend and his dad. His day would have been boosted, just a tiny bit, because he had used his common sense and held the connection so that everyone got to their destinations on time – or near enough. The important point is that he had the authority to do so. Nobody gave it much thought, it might not even have been written down in some rulebook, but everybody knew that’s how British Rail worked.

Now think of the young man at Derby: he probably felt slightly embarrassed about the answer he had to give me. The key point is that he had been disempowered and deskilled. He was reduced to being just a pawn in someone else’s game. A unit of labour. Wave the flag. Follow the rules. Which of these would have the higher self-esteem after years of doing each of the two jobs? It’s not hard to draw the obvious conclusion.

So, anybody else? Not the Passengers, obviously: half the people (or at least those So let’s add paint suppliers to the list of beneficiaries.

I already know that 80% of us support Labour’s policy to renationalise the railways. And that’s mainly beacuse (a) they’re very expensive, with walk-up fares and deason tickets costin up to 3 times those in other parts of Europe. And they need about 3 times as much public money to prop up unprofitable bits and pay for major capital projects.

A Word About Words

I absolutely, unequivocally refuse to use the “C” word when describing rail passengers. Customers buy baked beans: it’s a transaction. Rail travel is a whole different experience. Just ask Michael Portillo or his millions of regular viewers – that probably includes you! The people who travel by train are Passengers. Capital P. Using the C word reduces rail travel to a commodity. That’s another part of the problem.


So, finally, as promised, let’s turn to Railtrack: the company that liked to kill its users. I’ll explain.

Formed in 1994 to take over the infrastructure assets of British Rail, it was floated on the Stock Exchange 2 years later, a few people in the know mainly city types and rich friends of Government, made a killing with the shares. This always happens with privatisations and represents a one-off transfer of wealth to a privileged few (let’s call them the elite shareholders). Public and freight users of the railways began to express gave concerns about Railtrack’s safety and improvement record. The regulator, John Swift, appointed earlier by the Tories, continued to treat them with a soft touch.

Following a Labour election victory and the Southall crash (1997, 6 dead), John Prescott (in his role as transport secretary) took a much tougher line and appointed a much tougher regulator, Tom Winsor. The crashes kept coming: Ladbroke Grove (1999, 31 dead), Hatfield (2000, 4 dead) and Potters Bar (2002, 7 dead) As well as the 50 dead, a total of at least 769 people were injured.

So what had been happening inside the company? The clue is in the expertise built up by the staff over the years: remember the pride and father and son working on the railways examples above? Let’s face it, much of BR’s expertise never got written down. Experienced staff tended also to be more expensive. Finding themselves in an alien profit-maximising environment, I guess some just left. But Railtrack had 3 choices: (a) wait until the individual retires at normal age; (b) offer early retirement / “voluntary” redundancy; (c) offload to subcontractor. Given the cultural liking for sub-contracting to cut costs and save money, each subcontractor had the same 3 choices, including offloading to their sub-subcontractors. The important point to note is that expertise was either lost altogether or fragmented over a myriad of subcontractors and nobody knew where the “experts”, or certainly Railtrack didn’t, in any systematic way – always useful in times of emergency, e. g. just after a big crash.

In other words, Great Britain, pioneer of rail travel in the 1820s, had wantonly lost the ability to run a safe and reliable railway service!

Rail deaths during and after Railtrack

Data for this graphic and the numbers quoted come from this Wikipedia page: the Railtrack years are easy to spot, even without my colouring! Most of the narrative is adapted from here.

Railtrack panicked after Hatfield; the susbsequent repairs across the network cost £580m. I can do no better than quote Wikipedia verbatim here: “Because most of the engineering skill of British Rail had been sold off into the maintenance and renewal companies, Railtrack had no idea how many Hatfields were waiting to happen, nor did they have any way of assessing the consequence of the speed restrictions they were ordering – restrictions that brought the railway network to all but a standstill”. Yes – I was one of millions caught up in that time, a journey to London on a “fast” train, normally taking 40 minutes, took 2 hours 15 minutes: I found it excruciating: every time we got anywhere near a point of danger (typically, literally, points!), the train slowed to 20mph before speeding up to the next one. I cannot imagine what it was like for commuters at that time.

Public revulsion and a share price hit did it for Railtrack (the repair costs and a massive overrun on the WCML modernisation were the main causes of “exceptional” losses.

Shareholders’ Reaeguard Action

The Government decided to renationalise Railtrack and form Network Rail. There was one last sting in the tail, the elite shareholders staged a revolt and staged a very effective and time consuming legal fight to hang on their ill-gotten gains – or to have their cake and eat it, as we say today. This consumed an awful lot of Ministerial and civil service time and energy which could have been concentrated on setting up a safe and reliable railway in public hands. So there are people out who see their own selfish financial interests rather than people’s i.e. rail Passengers’ lives. So I dedicate this blog post not to tem, but to the 42 “hypothetical” people who, statistically speaking, died during Railtrack’s dismal 8 year stint at running the railway. [Calculation: Railtrack deaths 62 over 8 years (average 7.75), Network Rail 28 over 11 years (average 2.5); excess (7.75-2.5)*8 =42.]

And , above all I dedicate this to the memory of the 50 real dead, their friends, relatives and loved ones, who lost their lives at Southall, Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield and Potters Bar.

Soyhall, Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield, Potters Bar: Railtrack’s Greatest Hits

In Memoriam: Lest We Forget


Book Review

I’m not usually in the business of writing book reviews, but here goes…

Some friends with whom I’d normally volunteer heard, back in January or February, that I was back in hospital and sent me a present. It was the book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff. In the event, I had other reading material and only read it a few weeks ago. It was published after much hype on 6th January. My colleagues were well-intentioned: they knew how deep my contempt for Trump was thought it would keep me amused.

dung sir
Dung sir?

My summary: don’t bother – it’s a pile of crap.

The Author

Wolff’s face stares out from the end cover of the sleeve, which informs us he has received “numerous awards”. He certainly has an over-inflated sense of his own self-importance and access to the Trump White House during his early months in office. Try as he might, it’s obvious he’s a bit of a fan of Steve Bannon: the book kind of runs out of steam when Bannon joins the long list of White House resignations and sackings.

Apparently, according to Wikipedia, it was the New York Times’ No. 1 bestseller, which tells you more about the alien nature of the USA, and New York City, than anything else. Well, whoopee-do.

Not familiar with Steve Bannon: if you saw any of the amusing Saturday Night Live sketches in early 2016, he’s the one depicted as the Grim Reaper standing behind Trump at his presidential desk and exercising a malign influence over the totally inexperienced (to politics) Trump. A fair depiction of the man. Bannon and Breitbart’s views are so far to the right they would be off the scale in any European context.

The Beach

Nevertheless, I read the whole book from beginning to end, but I was mightily relieved when it was all over. It put me in mind of an incident from the 1980s when I was on holiday on a Greek Island with my first wife and kids. A friend, whose judgement I thought I could trust, lent me a book by a very well-known American author. Clue: he sold over 750 million books and is mentioned in the episode of Fawlty Towers called The American. Against my “better” judgement, I took the book on holiday: it was the only reading material I had.

The incident I remember distinctly took place on the beach. A fellow Brit tourist, noticing what I was reading, approached, thinking he had found a fellow fan. He made some reference to the book and how much he enjoyed it. In an excess of candour and distinct lack of diplomatic skills, I said just four words in reply – I regretted the words even before they had left my lips: “I think it’s crap”. I still recall his disappointed facial expression as he backed away, confused: why would this idiot (i.e. me) read a book he didn’t like? Why indeed?

The Language Used

The book is really unsuitable for a UK audience. It’s written in a style which required a good understanding of US (or New York) slang terms and requires a great deal of knowledge of the workings of the White House. It’s full of the characters Trump has surrounded himself with and the macho, testosterone-fuelled aggression of the rich and powerful. Much of the language is simply inaccessible to a UK reader and I had to let it wash over me and get the general drift.

The Premise: Life in the White House

The overall tale is of a bunch of non-politicians totally unprepared for government: the Trump White House is utterly dysfunctional. It starts its days as a random bunch of feuding tribes, all busy stabbing each other in the back and leaking like crazy to the traditional media, the purveyors of “fake news”. Then it gradually coalesces into two rival groups, vying for Trump’s attention (his attention span is notoriously short). One faction is the uber-right, an incomprehensible world inhabited by Bannon, Breitbart and such like, the other faction Wolff calls “Jarvanka”, basically the family running government like the Trump businesses, Sopranos style. (It’s a conflation of Jared and Ivanka, of course: witty or not?)

The overall picture presented is of entirely dysfunctional White House. Two of our favourite US box sets were The Sopranos and The West Wing. The picture painted is pure Sopranos. Trump’s White House differs from the Sopranos in two ways. Unlike Tony Soprano and his extended family, no one in the Trump White House has any endearing human qualities: it’s all scheming and back-stabbing. And Trump and his rich cronies with whom he has chosen to surround himself are rich enough to pay for very clever lawyers who can help keep them out of trouble with the law.

(That having been said, Jared Kushner’ s father Charlie has spent time in prison for “tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations” – p17).

Trump Himself

If the book is to be believed – and it’s clearly “sexed up” to sell more copies – Trump himself is every bit as dreadful as your worst nightmares – and then some. He has the attention span of a gnat, refuses to read any written brief if at all possible and certainly not any longer than one side of A4 paper. He refuses to watch PowerPoint presentations (some sympathy there!) so White House staff have had to try various methods to get his attention. His outright refusal to study detail and his almost total ignorance of foreign policy matters are confirmed in the book. One chink in his armour is a child-like need to be liked personally: this trait is exploited by the cannier members of staff.

I’ve always seen him as a petulant 3 year old. At different points in the book, colleagues liken him to 2 year old and 9 year old. In the latter stages of the book, it’s clear Trump has absolutely none of the basic attributes needed to be President. Audit trails exist all over the place, any one of them damning enough to start impeachment proceedings. By the end of the story, his supporters on the uber-right broadly divide into two groups. There’s the “let’s make the best of it and wait until 2020 and find another empty vessel as our puppet” group – Trump doesn’t have the self-discipline to be their man. And then there’s the “Trump must go now” camp.

The UK

These folks are really not interested in the affairs of our little island. Theresa May makes her first – and only – appearance on p258 – and then only in describing the seating plan at a G20 conference. Mr Slime fares rather better, if only in word count. On p275, he is described as “the right wing British Brexit leader who was part of the greater Breitbart circle”. Oh, and on the following page, there is, surprisingly, an extensive quote lifted from the Guardian. And that’s it.

So, further evidence (of sorts) that our infantile, needy delusion about a “special relationship” with the USA is just that: delusion. I draw the obvious conclusion as to who our best friends are (and it’s not Trump’s America).

A Warning for the Future

I finish with a direct quotation from the book: it brought a chill to my spine.

Trump, in Bannon’s view, was a chapter, or even a detour, in the Trump revolution, which had always been about weaknesses in the two major parties. The Trump presidency – however long it lasted – had created the opening that would provide the true outsiders their opportunity, Trump was just the beginning.

Standing on the Breitbart steps that October morning, Bannon smiled and said ‘It’s going to be as wild as shit’” (My emphasis)

Be very afraid, and avoid this dreadful book!

[Since writing the above, I have looked at “professional” reviews from the Guardian, Irish Times, Amazon (4 stars) and the New York Times. Two comment on Wolff’s previous notoriety for inaccuracies in reporting. Otherwise, nothing to add.]

[And finally, I realised that the still picture comes from a Monty Python Sketch called Book of the Month Club. Its selling point, according to the John Cleese deleivery character, was “Join our club and, after the third book, you get a pile of dung”. It left me pondering what three books I’d be forced to read to get Wolff’s book for free!]



The BBC is, by common consent around the world, the best broadcasting organisation – by about a billion miles!  At 40p a day, it’s also the best value on earth. We get multiple channels of uninterrupted TV and radio broadcasting, a definitive source to turn to on the internet, and much more besides. And we share our radio services with the world (World Service and domestic channels via the internet, for free. It’s called soft power.) (The news that children and young people spend more time on Netflix than the whole of BBC output saddened me considerably and shows what a difficult time traditional media have in this digital age.)

broadcasting house
Broadcasting House

Changes Needed

But some things need to change: the BBC, in some respects, has been bullied and starved of funds for so long that some of its output is cowed and subservient to Government propaganda.

The Good Stuff

Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of stuff on the BBC which reflects life in modern Britain. In drama, I particularly liked David Hare’s highly political Collateral, completed only recently on catch-up following my extensive hospitalisation. No exaggeration, but I think that Nish Kumar’s Mash Report is the best satire on TV since That Was the Week That Was, way back in 1963. Nothing else comes close in the years between, except possibly Spitting Image. That was on ITV in the days when the channel was obliged to observe its obligations as a Public Service Broadcaster.

On the Mash Report, I particularly like Rachel Parris, who very cleverly walks a wafer-thin line between satirising the inanity of much of today’s TV output and making some razor-sharp political points. BBC Radio has The Now Show and, more genteelly, The News Quiz, where Government stupidity is called to account. (BBC1’s Have I Got News for You, originally a spin-off from The NewsQuiz, has grown a bit safe and flabby with age, but has its moments.)

No, the problem is more narrow that this – but oh so important. The problem is not with the BBC’s output as a whole, but with BBC News.

New Labour and Beyond

New Labour under Blair didn’t exactly tell it straight. Every new initiative – and there were many – came with some form of spending target. Spending was announced again when plans were finalised and when funds were allocated to specific plans. Those working in the voluntary sector at that time quickly learned to keep an eye open for any financial commitments from which they could benefit, add it all up over time and divide by 3. (The same money, often grouped differently in different announcements, was typically repeated 3 times in different ways). Each statement was, in a sense, true, but the end result was always less than it seemed at first sight.

All pretence at honesty went out the window under Cameron and May – particularly under the malign influence of the all-powerful Osborne, for whom political machinations, rather than economics, was his strong point. Propaganda demonising the poor and deflecting the blame away from their friends (and Tory donors) in the City was broadly successful. The BBC didn’t seem to notice – or care – too much.

The Low Point

The BBC had a lamentable time during the EU referendum campaign. It was all over the place, trying to find a false “balance” between the arguments of the Remainers and the Leavers. There was no moral equivalence between the two sides. The Leavers (especially the more extreme Leave.EU) simply told lies after lies after lies. The two most notorious were this. The implication that we would be £350m a week better off outside the EU and the money could be used to fund the NHS was never remotely true. And the claim that Turkey was about to join was ludicrous, a piece of dog-whistle Islamophobia, very thinly disguised. To be an EU member, 32 boxes need to be ticked, Turkey had managed just two and was going backwards under the authoritarian rule of Recep Erdogan.

The Remainers, meanwhile, had Project Fear: a series of wild speculations about what might happen. There was barely a mention of the benefits 40 years of membership of the EU had brought to this country, nor indeed of its effects on other countries. I lamented this last point, in iambic pentameter, two days before the vote, in my post This Blinkered Isle. It was essentially Tory v. Tory. Cameron, in particular, made a wholly unconvincing convert to the cause with his magnificent negotiation of further “concessions”, having been happy to be a member of a party which had consistently slagged off the EU for the best part of 40 years. Corbyn’s evident lack of enthusiasm for the EU didn’t help and Labour’s Remainers were given about as much airtime as the handful of the Labour Leave rebels.

It was over 40 years since there had been a UK-wide referendum, a constitutional aberration in our “Parliament is sovereign” way of running the country. I guess the BBC’s over-cautious approach was partly through lack of skills and experience. With evidence now emerging of dodgy dealing between Leave.EU and Cambridge Analytica and a breach of the rules (which is a crime) in the arrangements between Vote Leave and BeLeave, the whole process looks increasingly shabby. As the brave Gina Miller said earlier this week: “If the referendum had been a court trial, a retrial would have been ordered by now.”

But the BBC did a piss-poor job of informing and educating the public in those crucial months in early 2016.

What’s Needed Now

There are some small signs that things are improving. The BBC website often includes “Explainers” and “Reality Check” links for those who want to get a more balanced perspective. But BBC News needs to find its mojo: to assert its independence from Government and show some courage.

But far, far too many news items on BBC TV and Radio take the following form:

  1. Some academics, researchers or lobby groups – beware the Thought Police! – produce some well-researched analysis of a problem and manage to get some BBC airtime, or an item on the news;
  2. The BBC gives the group a reasonable amount of time to make their argument;
  3. The report finishes with a bland reading of a statement that begins something like “A government spokesman said…” and what follows is some bland statement from a departmental Press office which, 90% of the time, fails to address the substantive issue. (You can feel for the poor civil servant obliged to churn out this stuff. The evident lack of conviction shines through between the words. Another little bit of the man’s or woman’s soul dies.)
  4. Move on to the next item; once again, the BBC lets an element of Government policy off the hook.

Must do better: it’s our BBC and we want be informed.


Bad Week, Good Week

On the face of, at least until Wednesday, Theresa May has had a good week, Jeremy Corbyn a bad one – just look at the headlines and BBC news. But look a little more closely.

May and Corbyn


May was quick to claim credit for the UK government for the coordinated approach to sanctions against Russia following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. There’s better news on Thursday about Yulia’s recovery, but father Sergei remains “critical but stable”. I can only wish him well.

Surely the critical matter here is that the UK is a member of NATO and May quickly convinced other NATO members that the Russian state was culpable. The other states then had to examine their NATO treaty obligations. May’s decisive approach was good politics. Jeremy Corbyn took a more judicial approach and was way too slow off the mark. That’s bad politics in these days of 24-hour rolling news.


Similarly, Corbyn has been way too slow on the matter of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Although all forms of discrimination are anathema to the very values of Labour, this running sore has been allowed to fester until it boiled over. The rumblings continue in the media several days later. And Corbyn has baggage where, as a backbench rebel outsider never expecting power, he was not always careful about his friends and associations in the past. There’s nothing anyone can do about the baggage, but, Corbyn was way, way too slow to sound convincing. By Wednesday morning, it was 2-0 to May.

Return to I-Know-Best and Maybot

For nearly a week, May looked (almost) Prime Ministerial. I was relieved to see that May had reverted to her two default operating modes by Thursday. After a spell as Maybot at the last Prime Minister’s Questions before Easter, she became Little Miss I-Know-Best on her whistle-stop tour of the UK on Thursday. She visited Ayr (Scotland), a children’s day care centre in Northumberland (England), a farm near Bangor (Northern Ireland – you know, the place where power sharing broke down over a year ago) and the  Aston Martin factory in St Athan (somewhere in South Wales, apparently). She tried to tailor her message to each audience, but the Maybot mode got switched on and she kept lecturing everyone how they must all be “strong and united”. (See The Modes of May for definitions if you’re not sure).

Apparently, she also became Maybot when the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg managed to catch up with her for an interview.

The whole thing smacked of a re-run of her disastrous 2016 General Election campaign, where May toured a succession of empty factories and warehouses in front of a small, hand-picked audience and tried – and failed – to look Presidential. She generally succeeded in her other objective: to avoid exposure to ordinary members of the general public. The woman clearly hasn’t learnt anything from her election campaign; she certainly continues in I-Know-Best mode by not listening.

Proper Consultation

A majority of the Scots and Northern Irish voted to stay in the EU; so, too, did 48% of us English folk. Dashing around the countryside on a single day is no substitute for proper consultation with the people in the constituent parts of our “United” Kingdom and their devolved governments – where they haven’t broken down by neglect of what matters (including the peace secured by Blair and the Good Friday Agreement).

So, business as usual, then: Tory party politics before the National Interest.

But it does also clarify my thoughts in relation to Jeremy Corbyn and the recent 3-part post on the Road to the Promised Land. Corbyn is not the man to lead us there, mainly because of what he’s done in the past (when he had no ambitions for the top job), rather than what he’s going now. Which is a shame, because Jeremy Corbyn is a good man.


Road to the Promised Land (3 of 3)

Getting There

This is the third part of a 3-part blog post. Part 1, Where We Are, and part 2, Tribes and Tribulations, were published over the previous two days.


The UK stays in the EU

It should be screamingly obvious by now that it is essential that the UK stays in the EU. But we have to do it in a way which is consistent with our values, the wider principles of democracy and our so-called “unwritten” constitution – thanks, Gina Miller. My ideal scenario for the next few years would look something like this:

  • May, or a credible alternative (see below) “caretaker” Prime Minister, steers us through to a transition period which is, in all but name, the status quo;
  • Public opinion, armed with a few home truths, shifts to a clear majority in favour of Remain: two-thirds should do it;
  • At some point, triggered by some opportunist event, a General Election is held: Tories lose big time. Labour, alone or in a formal coalition with the SNP (and even any Green MP), form a majority government
  • A suitable Prime Minister buries the “Leave” message and can concentrate on the important challenges facing the country: basically, what’s left of my “Pressing Priorities” in part 1.
  • After a suitable interval, the UK begins, at last, to play a useful and constructive role in the EU’s affairs. We have much to offer: perhaps the subject of a future post!

Sounds simple? Obviously not: there are dangers and pitfalls on the way and the chances of success are slim: it all depends on the timing.

Dangers and Pitfalls:

  • Public opinion will never shift enough until sufficient people see through the greatest con trick perpetrated by the Tories, basically Cameron and Osborne, aided by their media “outliers” – see “The Great Conflation” below;
  • The Crazies and any rump from the defunct UKIP form a populist party like the FN or AfD and peel off committed Labour leavers;
  • The right-wing media – and some Tory Crazies, will simply play dirtier and dirtier tricks, aided by sympathetic companies exploiting lax regulation of Big Data;
  • The danger of a Crazy as PM for a crucial period in the negotiations;
  • The EU and/or EU27 run out of patience with the UK’s wavering position as to what it wants (Perfidious Albion 2.0?)

Reasons for Hope:

Addressing each of the above in turn:

  • It’s all in the timing. I suspect Labour has the bigger task on its hands with its traditional working class base. The Tories most inclined to vote Leave will simply die of old age. Yesterday, 29 March, marked 12 months until we “leave” the EU: the Daily Express front page looked like this:

I knew the Express had long since given up any attempt to be newspaper, but this was a classic of its genre. All that was missing were pictures of Churchill and Vera Lynn and it would have been perfect! How about a few bluebirds? It would be funny if it wasn’t so delusional. Just how “uncurious” do you have to be to lap up this stuff?
On the same day, the Guardian published a handy checklist of the 12 concessions made by the UK government, all clearly spelled out 15 months ago. The detail is here, courtesy of PressReader; the list, in short, Ease of Brexit, Article 50 talks sequencing, Transisiton Deal, “Implementation” period, Time Limit, Money, Trade deals, Hi-tech customs solution, Free movement, Rule-taking and role of the ECJ and Fishing. (PressReader is a Canadian digital publisher who republishes interesting and informative articles from around the world.) Express readers had to make do with some sub-sub-Churchillian waffle from Britain’s very own mini-Trump.

  • Yes, a replacement “UKIP” is a worry. But Labour has a huge army of activists – hats off here to the indefatigable Owen Jones, who, by sheer numbers and organisation, can get Labour’s advantages to its traditional base across., This already happened in the 2017 General Election to some degree. The resounding defeat of the Tories I expect in the May local election – essentially the London results as the media are over-represented there – will give Labour some Momentum: in more senses than one. Tory voters supporting Crazy candidates may also vote for some neo-fascist party, negating the arithmetic.
  • Yes, so that’s why the threat of Big Data undermining democracy becomes a very high priority issue any government can sell to the public. Self-evidently, this can best be moved forward by the UK working in full concert with its fellow EU members and officials in Brussels. Only the EU working together, based upon past experience, will be willing and able to take firm regulatory action: it’s a natural fit.
  • See comments on Prime Minister below
  • Key EU27 countries, including Germany and France, have been remarkably patient and indulgent of the UK’s shifting position so far. Ironically, the threat of terrorist attacks and the need for good shared intelligence works in everyone’s favour.

The Elite: The Great Conflation

Perhaps the greatest deception played on the British public, and swallowed whole by simply too many of us, is what I call the “Great Conflation”, essentially the work of Cameron and Osborne, in opposition between 2008-10 and as government propaganda from 2010. It’s basically this: the meaning of the word “elite” has been fudged to confuse and combine two very different groups of people: (a) the rich and super-rich, who have gained most from the rise in inequality over the past 35 years and (b) professionals, academics: the “liberal intelligentsia” if you like. Both groups were more likely to vote Remain, but for very different motives (a) financial self-interest and (b) through rational analysis and examination of the evidence.

Populist elements in the Leave campaign could then present the referendum votes as a simple “elite v. the ordinary people” binary issue. Privately educated, ex-City stockbroker Mr Slime’s entire shtick was based upon this deception. This all culminated in Gove’s now notorious remark about “the people” not needing “experts”. Added to this was the insidious drip-drip feeding of the American idea that the poor and disabled, i.e. those on benefits, were, per se, undeserving.

A similar fudge happened in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when the Bush administration coined the term “weapons of mass destruction”, similarly ill-defined to obscure its meaning. Blair was his poodle on this, and much else.

The Dilemma: Who Is To be Prime Minister?

The tricky bit I’ve left until last: who will lead us out of this mess? Bear in mind the relative strategic, long-term importance of two very different matters:

  1. UK stays in the EU and the issue is settled in the public mind for at least one or two generations: a key constitutional matter and a statement of the kind of country we want the UK to be;
  2. Tackling the problems affecting ordinary people’s lives: my “Pressing Problems” listed in part 1.

Self-evidently 1 is strategically more important than 2, as its effects will be felt for generations. Equally obviously, a Tory-led government would grudgingly deal with the minimum tinkering on the “Pressing Problems”, to the extent that public opinion forced them to. The grudging “with strings” pay offer to NHS staff last week is an example. By contrast, a Labour-led government, under Jeremy Corbyn or someone who broadly shares his policy agenda, would find no difficulty in prioritising (approximately) these issues. Labour’s problems would be sniping from the usual quarters about “tax-and-spend” or “back to the 70s” in economic terms.

There are two possible scenarios:

Tories cling to power until after the start of the Transition Period

For nearly all her time as PM, May has played her role extremely badly – see my previous post The Modes of May There are indications in the last few days that, as a reluctant Remainer during the campaign, she may be steering her party towards a “Norway plus” destiny. She dare not speak its name, for fear of upsetting the Crazies and splitting her party – not to mention the hard nut cases of the dreadful (and unrepresentative) DUP.

May is safe for the foreseeable(!) future as any alternative Tory contender would be so much worse: the two favourites with the Tory faithful (aged, out of touch and down to 70,000 members by some rumours: the Tories refuse to publish up-to-date membership figures) are both Crazies. Johnson is a petulant 4 year-old child: a mini-Trump with a bit of Latin; Rees-Mogg is the role model for privilege and lack of any contact with the real world. Why are Little Englanders so impressed simply by a posh accent and a posh school?

And, of course, Westminster Tories are ruthless at getting rid of inconvenient leaders or leadership candidates: Thatcher was stabbed in the back by her Cabinet colleagues when they finally accepted she had gone completely mad. (I speak with authority having seen her in person about a year after the coup – but that’s another story!) Comparison with The Godfather and horses’ heads would be way, way too far-fetched. But May was “crowned” Tory leader – and hence PM – in 2016 clearly because Tory Central Office could not trust their members to do the right thing. So, better the devil you know.

Snap General Election

So, we can probably conclude that a Tory coup or May repeating her mistake of calling a snap general election won’t happen. The May local elections will set the mood at Westminster for the summer and autumn, when detailed, line-by-line scrutiny by Parliament of our so-called “deal” will be debated. So it will either be one too many government defeats in the Commons (or maybe the Lords) or something really silly that captures the public mood. In that situation, Jeremy Corbyn will become Prime Minister.

So, on the more important issue (EU membership), ironically, we will probably get to much the same place in terms of the transition arrangements whether it’s May or Corbyn. (May’s machinations in focusing on internal Tory Party infighting has simply wasted about 15 months: her latest proposals were clearly stated by Barnier and the EU27 as unacceptable well over a year ago. So it’s been all about damage limitation.) But every day that the Tories cling on to power is a day wasted in tackling the “Pressing Problems” – things that would make a difference to ordinary people’s lives.

So, and here’s the crunch: my concerns about Corbyn – even though I agree with practically everything he has said, consistently for many years – and making few friends (in and out of the Labour Party). First, the plus side. He has enthused a new, younger membership to join and fight on the ground – door to door stuff targeted at marginal constituencies: Labour has the foot-soldiers – the Tories clearly don’t. In John McDonnell, he has an able “elder statesman” lieutenant with broadly the right economic policies – see any number of my past posts on economic matters!

And now, my concerns. Corbyn personally carries a lot of baggage from his well-documented past, in relation to his (Bennite) position of lack of enthusiasm for the EU. Principled and consistent though this may be, it means I question his true motive for his current stance as Leader of the Opposition. May’s appalling mishandling of negotiations so far are legion: as a blinkered Home Secretary with no notion of the “National Interest”. As hinted earlier, this may be playing a clever game of gradually moving Labour to an anti-Leave position. As I said, it’s a much trickier task for Labour’s 2 distinct sets of voters: our unfair first-past-the-post voting system requires aspiring Prime Ministers to play that game. And of course, as an “Islington socialist”, Corbyn doesn’t exactly play well in Labour’s traditional heartlands in Northern England.

Cruel and unfair as this may be to a principled man with whom I share most views, that is the political reality. So Labour, under any leader, will also need to play the long game.


So, for me, it’s all in the timing. May has had a relatively good week (Russian diplomat expulsion in 26 countries, etc.) and Corbyn a bad one (Antisemitism, etc.) – see future post. (For the rest of her tenure, she’s been crap.) The important thing is that not too much damage is done. Uncertainty can be put off only for so long. We can only hope that not too many more businesses choose to move to other EU countries. The genuinely seamless border between the Republic and Northern Ireland remains unresolved. The spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace it brings, is in peril. Who knows, the Irish, for so long the colonised power, may save the UK from the foolishness of the Little England mentality.

May bangs on about the unity of the United Kingdom (see next post Bad Week, Good Week): well, give a proper say to the votes of the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland (who voted Remain), to the Welsh. Note also the 96% Remain vote in Gibraltar and the effective veto the EU officials have given to the Spanish Government over that element of the transition arrangements that apply to the status of Gibraltar. Above all, consult and listen!

Step One is to hold the status quo through the transition period. Step Two is to transform public opinion enough for Parliament to do its job. And for Parliament to vote that, all things considered, we remain in the EU and start acting like a grown up member. That will need a General Election and probably a new leader of the Labour Party. Some very promising rising stars in their thirties and forties are emerging.

Those of us on the progressive side of politics need to keep our nerve, be eternally vigilant to the dirty tricks of our enemies (you know who I mean) and to play the long game, for the sake of our future generations.

I won’t live to see that Promised Land, but I hope my children and grandchildren will. That gives me hope for the future.

[Editorial note: Looking at the File Properties details, the source Word document used for this 3-parter was started on 15th March and substantially completed on the 27th. Publication was delayed by my medical issues. I was amused to see that the Guardian lead article for 29th March makes basically the same points. The main difference is this: my 3 posts take nearly 6000 words to make my argument; The Guardian  managed it in just 1266, and with more diplomatic language.

Which proves one thing at least – I’m no journalist!]