Politics

Looking East

It seems that the UK is in conflict with China over three clusters of issues. Firstly, there is Huawei and the 5G network. Huawei is probably the leading contractor for 5G works. Huawei is already embedded in 2 and 4G set ups. Huawei is not a company as known in the West. It receives huge subsidies from the Chinese government allowing Huawei to offer very cheap contracts. Further, under Chinese law any company has to do the works of the State. So from unfair competition to the risk of spying and espionage Huawei is problematic. Until this week, the government had accepted Huawei as a partner in 5G. However, American pressure and pressure from our intelligence allies and pressure from Tory backbenchers and the Opposition finally achieved its objective. Huawei is no longer a partner and its current installations are to be stripped out.

The second area of conflict is over Hong Kong. The UK handed back the colony of Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997. The Chinese were to accept a democratic (ish) Hong Kong in China’s one country two systems settlement. This was to last for 50 years. However, there has been an increasing Chinafication over Hong Kong. The worst of this was a new law allowing the Chinese authorities to extradite suspects from Hong Kong to mainland China. This was seen as a law too far and demonstrations began. Over many months the demonstrations grew and they took on the mantle of demonstrating for Hong Kong’s independence from China; the British colonial flag was flown as a symbol of independence. Eventually China reacted. They passed a security law banning subversion and punishing people with up to life imprisonment; the Chinese have already arrested flag-wavers.

All of this has led the UK government to offer 3 million Hong Kongers sanctuary in the UK. The government has just suspended our membership in a 30 year-old extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

The third area of conflict is over the Uigars of south-west China. These are Turcomen Muslims. China sees them as a threat to the unity of China and has taken action to forestall any moves to independence. Thousands of Uigars are being re-educated in camps. Families are being broken up and children being brought up in orphanages. Women are being forcibly steralised. Now there are concentration camps and Uigar hair is being sold in a grotesque reminder of the Jewish Holocaust of the second world war.

It  took the UK government a long time to act on behalf of the Uigars. It seems that Tory backbenchers and the realpolitik of finding another weapon with which to beat the Chinese has led to government support for the Uigars.

In all of this China has threatened retaliation. However, the last time there was a diplomatic crisis, trade patters were maintained and trade even increased. Further, neither side wants to raise the temperature too far. China is already involved in a nasty trade war with Trump’s USA; China does not want a further conflict. The UK has been the destination for considerable Chinese investment. Two nuclear power stations are to be built with Chinese involvement; it is doubtful that the UK could make good the potential loss of investment. There needs to be some kind of resolution in Hong Kong. Huawei could be reintroduced to the process if the Democrat Joe Biden is elected and takes a slightly easier view of relations with China.

Politics

New futures?

Two things have happened this week that may be pointers to the future. The first is happening today. In Parliament there is to be a Commons debate on the behaviour of Robert Jenrick, minister for Communities. One of his powers and authorities is to be the final appeal for planning matters. Richard Desmond, a property developer has been planning the future of a printworks in Tower Hamlets. He wishes to convert the printworks into housing. The local council planners had turned down the planning application. Desmond appealed to Jenrick. Later Jenrick met Desmond at the dinner; Desmond showed Jenrick a video about the proposal. Lobbying is strictly controlled and Jenrick should have refused to see the video. Following this meal, Jenrick approved Desmond’s application. This was two days before Tower Hamlets council could impose a financial duty on this scheme; Jenrick saved Desmond £4 million. Tower Hamlets council took Jenrick to court. In this hearing, Jenrick admitted that his actions were illegal, but not the principle behind his actions; his decision was still justifiable. Jenrick stood down from making a second decision and instructed another minister to make the final decision. A few days later Desmond donated £12000 to the Conservative Party. This implies a “cash-for-favours” approach to planning applications.

The Labour Party is going to lose the vote. But Tories will be embarrassed by having to vote for bribery. The Labour Party is making a claim to be above “cash-for-favours” and wanting to clean up politics. If this is followed through we should get a promise of cleaner politics.

The second event involves the BBC. Yesterday the retiring director-general, Tony Hall, announced that the BBC would set aside a considerable sum of money to pay for programs from diverse backgrounds. We live in a time when Black Lives really do matter and the BBC is reflecting this pressure. BLM pressure may actually forcing the BBC to act upon its fine words.

Sometimes movements emerge when the time is right. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police has sparked a very serious reaction by the British communities, Black and White. They are then pressurizing elements of the State to reform. This may be over the future of statues through to the Church of England apologizing for its involvement in slavery, through to the BBC seriously funding television from the Black community.

Politics

Comings and goings

The last few days have been dominated by anger of very many about the antics of Dominic Cummings. Cummings is Boris Johnson’s chief adviser. They first worked together on the 2016 referendum. Cummings has a long history of being anti-Europe. Johnson appreciated Cummings skills and hired him for the 2019 General Election. Cummings became Johnson’s chief adviser following the election. It can be said that Cummings is absolutely central to the Johnson regime and is the most influential person save the prime minister.

It has emerged that Cummings’ wife fell ill with the coronavirus symptoms. According to the lockdown in place at the time, she should have stayed at home and not moved around. Then Cummings fell ill with symptoms. At that point, being unsure of child care for their four year old child, they took a decision to drive to Cummings’ parents in Co. Durham, a journey of 260 miles. They should have stayed at home and if there really were no childcare resources and they could not cope, contact social services.

The Cummings family were housed in a separate cottage on the farm. Both were ill with coronavirus but made quick recoveries. Having recovered they went for a riverside walk. The lockdown said that such strolls were out of bounds.

Then Mrs Cummings was concerned about her husband’s vision which might have been affected during his illness. So they went for a drive to a nearish (thirty miles each way) beauty spot. The lockdown says that unnecessary journeys should not be undertaken.

The last drive showed that Cummings was capable of driving back to London – which they did. Again, this was an unnecessary journey. Cummings and family racked up a minimum mileage of 550 miles travelling to Durham and back again. All of these journeys broke the letter and the spirit of the lockdown.

In a Press Conference Cummings argued that journeys for childcare were permitted. In the letter of the law he might be right but this is an argument from small print. The basic thrust of the lockdown was that of “Stay Home”, “Protect the NHS”, “Save Lives”. The small  print was there to  permit local journeys to care for sick children, not permitting extravagant journeys across the country.

The Press Conference was supposed to end the speculation. It did nothing of the sort. Some 40 MPs have argued that Cummings should be sacked. And those same MPs have reflected the hundreds of constituents who are blisteringly angry about this.

It really does look like there being one rule for the country and another rule for 10 Downing Street and its employees. And the police are now saying that it is going to be very difficult to enforce the lockdown. Polling evidence suggests that only 65% of the country would be willing to follow the lockdown.

Cummings has no honour; he should have resigned before now as have done other lockdown infringers. Johnson is desperate to keep Cummings. Johnson leant Cummings 10 Downing Street’s Rose Garden, usually the place of visiting heads of State. It says a great deal that a mere special adviser should merit such attention. And Johnson’s ratings of handling coronavirus have fallen from 65% to -1%.

Cummings might well survive the scandal, but at what long-term cost is hard to tell. But the people show no sign of forgiving, let alone forgetting.

Politics

Coronavirus

We are witnessing a serious change as to how the world works. This virus which appears to have come from bat-eating people in Wuhan, China, is changing how all of us behave. In the UK we are all bade to stay indoors and only go out to shop for food and other essentials, to handle medical issues and to exercise once a day. The police have powers to impose fines on the disobedient. This kind of lockdown is now common across Europe. National borders have reappeared as governments wrestle with how to deal with this virus. The Schengen area has all but disappeared. The European Union has been mute in how to handle the virus.

Governments across Europe have initiated emergency legislation. In the UK our own government has so legislated and given to itself very strong powers to limit where we can go, to force testing upon people. The government wanted the legislation to last for two years; that was amended to 90 days. And rightly so. Such legislation all too often remains on the statute book as the government finds its new powers strangely compelling in their utility.

In Hungary, their parliament has accepted Victor Orban’s argument that he should rule by decrees and do so for an unlimited period of time and without consulting parliament. This is highly illiberal and shows the sham of a majoritarian political structure. This is where a majority is sufficient for absolute rule, ignoring the other parties. Westminster can be seen to be a majoritarian structure, but our parliamentary system forces the other parties into some kind of respect by the governing party.

It is surprising that the European Union is silent over Hungary. It really is time that the EU spoke out against Hungary’s illiberalism. It is time to expel Hungary from the democratic club.

The virus is going to cause many countries to end up being authoritarian. This could be the end of western liberalism and the ushering in of a new age of the authority of the State. This is seen in the reversion to national boundaries and the enforcement of travel restrictions. Supply chains are fracturing and there is a desire for our local supply chains. Globalism seems to be in a headlong dissolution.

Politics

Where is Boris?

It is now three weeks since Storm Ciara initiated the current round of flooding. Storm Dennis added to the agony. We now have floods in Calderdale and other parts of Yorkshire, south Wales and the Severn and Wye valleys. These floods are the fulfilment of the threat of climate change. These floods are part of the wetter winters we were promised. They are truly miserable for those who have been flooded and my heart goes out to them.

Boris Johnson is being seen through his absence.  A politician normally driven by good publicity, Johnson is utterly not seeing the floods. He did go to Yorkshire and mop a floor – how we chortled – but that was in the election period. This cynical government is so corrupt that it cannot even send out the prime minister to give comfort to the people. It is noticeable that Prince Charles has been to the Welsh floods, why not Johnson?

It is said, on Johnson’s behalf, that he is working hard on behalf of the flood victims. The heavy lifting of the initial disaster is over; it is time for Boris to be seen. It was so good to know that he was at Chevening, a stately home in Kent rather than Downing Street.

It is a matter of leadership for the prime minister to be seen to be caring in a state of emergency. The morale of the people is raised if the prime minister is present. The prime minister may not have skills to directly help, but just being present is sufficient to show that the “high-ups” care.

It appears that Boris wishes to avoid bad publicity, such as mopping incompetently. That is not sufficient. Boris needs to find his wellies and get to see people. He needs to know how things are.

On another tack, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has fallen out with her permanent secretary, the head of the civil service branch of her department. This has led her to seek his removal, including appealing to Downing Street.

This is typical of this government. It assumes that only yes-men and yes-women should be welcomed. Good government accepts conflict and contestation to allow many views to come through and answer the width of our current difficulties. Saying “yes” is corrupting. Inevitably wrong questions are asked and wrong answers given merely because they please the hearer.

It is time for this government to learn that it is no longer in election mode but is governing and there we need as much width to questions as possible.

Politics

Speaking the truth

Lord Hall has announced that he is standing down as director-general of the BBC. He wishes to give his successor a clear run at two governmental reviews, including the renewal of the BBC’s Charter.

He stands down at, as Harriet Harman said yesterday, a time when the BBC is very vulnerable. The BBC is almost unique in having a charter which allows State funding but then independence from the State. The BBC is designed to speak truth unto power.

The BBC still speaks for the nation. The fact of us all paying a licence fee makes the BBC ours in a way that other TV and Radio channels are not. It is not for nothing that the BBC ran the Andrew Neil interviews, seen as being the critical interviews of the election. Boris Johnson refused to appear on the interviews; one can only assume that he was running scared.

The BBC runs a uniquely broad range of programming on both TV and radio. TV ranges from arts to quiz shows to politics and news. The radio stations cover pop music and Asian sounds, through classical music to jazz to informed speech radio to sport. I have yet to see any such coverage on the private radio stations.

Sometimes the BBC gets things wrong. There have been complaints from left and right over the BBC’s coverage of the election last year. The fact of being attacked by left and right suggests that the BBC was getting something right. However, the same fact suggests that there might be something to reform.

However, the main threat is from the right. Boris Johnson has suggested that the licence fee should go. This would turn the BBC into a subscription service. In effect the BBC would be privatized, functioning at the whim of shareholders. This is likely to be deleterious for standards and content.  Yet the Conservatives have many who long to see the BBC cut down merely because they do not like having a sharp and critical BBC.

The defence of the BBC needs to begin. It is, like the NHS, a uniquely valuable institution that needs to be maintained in the face of vengeful Conservatives, streaming TV channels and the other difficulties of our current age.

Politics

The Ukranian Flight

After three days of mounting pressure, the Iranian authorities admitted that they had accidentally shot down the Ukrainian flight leaving Teheran. It emerged that a member of the revolutionary guards had deployed a missile, believing the flight to be a cruise missile. The poor man said that he wished he was dead.

The Iranian public reacted with shock and then anger, red hot fury. Vigils held to mark the deaths of the people became politicized as the people called for the prosecution of those in charge and then called out for a referendum on the Khatamei government. The British ambassador, at one such vigil was arrested. As Dominic Raab said, this was a flagrant breach of international law.

Alistair Burt, one time Conservative MP and Minister for the Middle East wrote a piece for The Observer. He concluded with four points that might mean change:

  • The US should rescind last week’s ban on Zarif (Iran’s foreign minister) travelling to the UN. Zarif should take the opportunity to go and have meetings either at the UN or outside its confines with ministers and diplomats keen to make progress according to the European Council on Foreign Relations last week.
  • The French proposal around last September to release some Iranian oil sales to further the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal might be revived. This could morph into JCPOA 2 taking in US concerns. As Burt said, this should involve all regional Arab states.
  • Iran could and should rethink the imprisonment of dual nationals, such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – releases that could unlock much.
  • The UK can play a vital role through its diplomats and its relationships with the US and EU..

In reality this depends upon Donald Trump. On hearing the admission, Mike Pompeo immediately talked about Iranian “brutality”. This does not help. Nor do the currently awful connections between the US and Iran. If there is to be any good news about the Ukrainian flight there must come about a better relationship between the US and Iran.

Politics

To be or not to be

Labour’s defeat last week was profoundly catastrophic. The Conservatives drove a coach and horses through Labour’s seats in the north of England and midlands. It is now possible to cross coast-to-coast without leaving Conservative held territory. The Conservatives took well over 50 seats from Labour.

But there are other, darker ways of viewing the defeat. The Conservatives wooed long-term Labour voters and broke apart the covenant between Labour and the working classes. This covenant had been getting threadbare over many years. But the Conservatives completely broke up the covenant. It is not impossible to see this covenant to be permanently broken. It may be that the voters never return to Labour. All this needs is for the conservatives to “do” Brexit and then throw a few baubles at the left-behind communities to win a second term. The only hope for Labour is that there are many small Conservative majorities which imply that Labour can win these seats.

Another issue that Labour needs to face is that of what is its purpose. Does it really represent the working classes and the “progressive” voice or has that calling passed on? If it has passed on, then is it now irredeemably middle class and professional.

Christmas is nearly upon us. I am taking a break. I hope that you have a great Christmas.

Politics

Yet again

Last week, Labour crashed to one of its very worst defeats and the Conservatives won an 80 seat majority. Let us take the Conservatives first. They have had the best win since 1983 and won on the largest share of the vote (44%) since Thatcher’s first victory in 1979.

Johnson has no need to worry about the opposition. The opposition is wrecked, representing a wasteland of lost opportunities. Labour has been reduced to 203 MPs; the Lib Dems 11. Only the SNP has thrived winning 48 out of 59 seats. For the next five years the Conservatives rule everything they perceive.

That opposition is also within the Conservative Party. The European Research Group has been reduced to the nonentities they always were. Boosted by a hung Parliament and by serial disloyalty the ERG accrued influence. But now that is gone. Johnson can ignore the ERG and do what he wills; he has the votes on this side.

There is a theory that Johnson will miraculously be seen to be a genuine ‘one nation’ Tory. Given he sacked the genuine ‘one nation’ Tories in the last parliament this is not likely. What might happen is that there will be softer Brexit, of the sort opposed by the ERG. Given the short time-frame given to negotiate a trade deal (by December 2020), the only way of achieving this will be by being reasonably congruent to the EU. This implies a softer position. There is hope yet.

Then we come to Labour. Corbyn’s Labour has lost its heartlands in the North and Midlands. The greater the Leave vote the greater the swing against Labour. But even in Remain areas Labour lost votes. Since 2017 and the last election Labour has lost over 2,500,000 votes at a rate of roughly 2180 a week. I feel bereaved by this defeat.

It was not Brexit that did for Labour. Only 17% of voters said that Brexit mattered. It was Corbyn, time and again on the doorstep and (in my case) on the phone bank that came up. This country of England is essentially conservative. That means that the country is basically patriotic and in favour of an active defence policy. Many family members are in the armed forces. Corbyn set out to alienate that vote. By not singing the National Anthem, by not being properly dressed for State occasions, by being pro-CND by being a pacifist, Corbyn alienated what had been the hard core of Labour’s votes. The metropolitan elite of north London managed to lose the North and Midlands. Even Bolsover fell to the Tories.

Then there was the manifesto. Taken apart, the policies were tolerable. Taken together they were alienating.  I wonder how the manifesto was tried out. Did the authors fairly try out the manifesto as a whole or did they assume that all the policies could be taken together?

Yet Corbyn lingers on. Like a bad smell Corbyn hangs around. It is time for him to go and allow an interim leader to be elected while the Party takes time to think. Corbynism must also go. We have lost two elections, 2017 and 2019; Corbynism must be driven out. It is time to swing back to the centre. We have tried tacking from the left three times (2015, 2017 and 2019) and failed thrice. The centre is where most voters are. Jess Philips MP has rightly said that Labour has stopped talking with and to her kind of people (working class).

The selection process has begun. May we not be seduced by promises of the Promised Land but decide with realism.

Politics

London Bridge

The recent terrorist attack at London Bridge left two dead and several injured. What was the politicians’ response? They indulged in a bout of the political game rather than speaking of the grief of the moment. As far as I understand the chronology, Johnson began this by issuing condolences and then blaming (wrongly) the Labour government’s legislation for the release of the killer from prison. Corbyn then joined in by blaming austerity and Tory cuts to the prison service and police. Of the two Corbyn made more sense. But that is cold comfort to the bereaved who, rightly, expect something more heartfelt. Indeed, the father of the man who died has insisted that politicians should stop using his son’s death to justify their stance. Further, he argued that his son would be appalled to find his death being used to justify penal policies that speak of revenge.

The London Bridge attack is a time in which we should expect prime ministerial candidates to be prime ministerial. This is a solemn time that should be outwith the daily dose of election politics. And Johnson should take the blame for this not happening.

Boris Johnson is also at fault over his attitude towards interviews. He has refused the invitation to be interviewed by Andrew Neal. Neal’s interviews are aggressive, robust and searching. All the other leaders have undergone this purgatory; Jeremy Corbyn had a peculiarly difficult time over antisemitism. It is customary for all prime ministers seeking re-election to be interviewed by Mr Neal. It looks as though Johnson is running scared as he refuses this form of accountability. He knows that he has been caught out in being utterly untrustworthy. It is time Johnson stops being the coward and faces up to his fate.

Finally, I want to know where the other parties in my seat have gone to. I’ve had leaflets from Labour (2), one from the Conservatives (at least I think it was the Conservatives, it was so badly written as to be unintelligible) and none from anyone else. I know that Labour members have been out canvassing but I’ve seen no-one else.  The Greens and Lib Dems appear to be backing Labour. This reduces my choices to two candidates. I guess that might be three with the Brexit Party. I shall be holding my nose as I vote Labour. This vote is to keep out the Tories in a marginal seat. Fortunately, my local Labour candidate is a good MP.

The Lib Dems are having a torrid time. Jo Swinson is not proving the draw they thought. It may be that there is prejudice against a younger woman. The Lib Dems have lumbered themselves with a policy that does not look liberal or democratic as well as being silly. If the Lib Dems form a majority government (absolutely impossible) then they will revoke Article 50 and return us to the EU. Even fervent Remainers believe that a referendum can only be cancelled by another referendum. The Lib Dems used to be in favour of the Peoples’ Vote; their policy has questioned whether this is still so. The Brexit policy is so unpopular that the Lib Dems have returned to the Peoples’ Vote.

But the basic problem the Lib Dems face is that of the first past the post system. With poll ratings of 15% that means getting only a similar number of seats; in a proportional system they would be getting a magical 100 and being the holder of a balance of power. On top of that comes a traditional squeeze. People wishing to block Boris and liking the Lib Dems opt for Labour to block Johnson. Others like the Lib Dems but wishing to stop Corbyn will vote Conservative. The upshot is that the Lib Dems, nice as they are, lose out.