“Freedom day” — detached from reality and spiked with racism (just like Brexit)

The relaxing of Covid rules, at a time when infection rates are rising, is a rash triumph of political will over reality, which will land badly, particularly for some minority groups.

“Freedom day” night clubbing
19 July 2021 — trumpeted as “freedom day” — with Covid regulations coming to an end, saw infections rising and 39,950 new cases. The daily number of new cases hasn’t been that high since the emergency tightening of rules at Christmas (where the surge peaked at 68,053 on 8 January). That’s not a good sign. Vaccinations have helped bring numbers down, but the increased infectiousness of the delta variant is pulling the other way. No vaccine is 100% effective, and it’s right to be concerned about parts of society where people are chosing not to be vaccinated.

Denying the seriousness

In the Daily Mail of 17 July, Graham Brady argued that relaxing the rules is about freedom. He likens the people’s reservations about the change to “Stockholm syndrome” — where captives identify with their captors. Choice extracts from the article include:

“After 16 months of being told by the state when we could leave our homes, whether we could see our families, with whom we were allowed to have sex, or what kinds of sports we were permitted to play, many of us are eager to regain the human dignity that comes with the exercise of our own free will.”

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The Trump legacy: a reminder from history, and a mammoth task for Biden

The case for impeaching Trump seems overwhelming: but is it wise? The risk is that it inflames division and creates a future for Trumpsim.

Watching a documentary about the rise of Nazism on the weekend before Biden’s inauguration, I am struck by historical echoes.

I don’t buy the idea that Hitler “magically” cast a spell over the German people. In another time he might have been a failed artist ranting on a street corner, ignored by passers-by. The point is that his words struck a chord. They gave form to a range of not-quite-articulated grievances.

In another blog post I tried out the idea of “quasi-religious” support for Brexit, suggesting that some of the Brexiteer myths got support because they focussed people’s anxieties. An obvious example is immigration. “Immigrants taking out job” and “immigrants scrounging our benefits” don’t work together: an immigrant can’t be both taking our jobs and our benefits. They don’t make economic sense either — as the evidence is that the economic activity of immigrants boosts the economy. But the myth of “immigrants taking our jobs/benefits” might well resonate for people living with lack, who don’t hear their experience reflected in the words of political leaders. The problem is that the words are not on the lips of political leaders because things are more complex than that — which is heard as “politicians don’t care”. I’m mentioning Brexit, but one of the Hitler echoes is that there never was a “Jewish problem”, but it was a shorthand for issues that were more complex. Using that shorthand might have had an emotional appeal, but it did no more than enable immense suffering.
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Harsh realities of Brexit appearing: is this what people voted for?

The government has been claiming they are implementing “the will of the people” but as reality bites, how many will be saying “this is not what I voted for”?

On 28 December, Sky News ran a story about Peter Wood, who runs a business exporting glass eels, and voted Leave, who now faces going out of business because of Brexit. He commented:

“be careful what you wish for. I thought we were going to get a global market. This was going to be a new opportunity. It hasn’t turned out like this. I would never have voted for Brexit if I knew we were going to lose our jobs”

There are many more stories of this sort on the horizon as we face disruption — to travel, insurance, exports and even the fishing industry realising it’s not getting what it hoped for.
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Not disregarding Tony Blair because of Iraq

There’s a tendency to dismiss Tony Blair because of Iraq. Even though the invasion was a mistake, might he have been right to support it? Might people be wrong to dismiss him because of it?

President George W. Bush and Tony Blair

At the time, I didn’t support the invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was clearly unsavoury but the evidence made public for his having weapons of mass destruction that posed a real threat to Europe was weak.

My sense at the time was that things would have looked very different if Iraq’s neighbours had been appealing for help.

The best account of the messiness of the situation that I saw lay in some deft editing by John Wilkins of The Tablet. My memory is that he published five articles, in successive issues. Two were from supporters of invasion and two from opponents. His editorial masterstroke was that the fifth article written by an Iraqi Kurd arguing that Saddam Hussein’s killing Iraqi Kurds twenty years earlier had put a duty on the international community to act (and Hussein was eventually executed for the killing of 148 Iraqi Kurds in 1982). The fact that the international community had waited for two decades before acting put a very different light on the “urgent” invasion.

Things would have looked very different if the West had waited and trusted the Iraqi people to change their own government rather than “bring” then democracy. In this sense I thought and think the invasion was wrong.

But, if the US had decided to invade anyway, might Blair have been right to join in?
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Is creeping consolidation of power in the Executive a sign of authoritarianism in post-Brexit Britain?

Timing the Brexit deal so Parliament has no choice between this and the disaster of “no deal” is the latest in a long series of steps that look like a consolidation of power in the Executive. This is dangerous.

Downing St entrance

The leader article in The Economist for 21 November, “remaking the state”, offered a chilling and credible reading of the present government’s attempt to reform the state — by concentrating power in the Executive through a mix of reducing the power of judges, pushing back against devolution, reforming [sic] the civil service and tipping power from parliament to government. It comments (rightly) that “The Tories are right to advocate constitutional reform, bit their proposals take the country in precisely the wrong direction”.

I share the diagnosis from The Economist, but am less optimistic.
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Rules or guidance over Covid19: an authoritarian problem

The government’s authoritarian approach to Covid19 has tilted the balance from medical sense to a demand for obedience — this isn’t good either for civil liberties, or handling the medical, social and economic problems caused by the pandemic.

The outbreak of an infectious and serious illness is a global problem. It needs mature and collaborative leadership. Sadly a failure of leadership in the UK has been making the situation worse.

An illness that kills some, makes many more very seriously ill, and yet leaves others unscathed, is a perfect storm. Those who want to say “it’s nothing” or “it’s no worse than the flu” can find plenty of people to illustrate their point, and yet intensive care units and mortuaries show that they are ignoring reality.
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Ursula von der Leyen gets it right on Brexit, alas

In contrast with Boris Johnson’s hubristic announcement, Ursula von der Leyen has got it right on the sadness of Brexit — and the folly of the fantasy of “sovereignty”.

Ursula von der Leyen
In her statement on the conclusion of the talks she said, with measured dignity:


So, we have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road but we have finally got a good deal to show for it. It is fair. It is a balanced deal. It is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.
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The Brexit deal is done: a shabby Christmas present from a shabby government

Was the Brexit deal announcement timed for Christmas Eve so that its shabbiness would go unchallenged? Does Boris Johnson actually believe in it?

Boris Johnson’s bluff-and-bluster announcement of his Brexit deal on Christmas Eve sounded more-or-less credible, as long as you didn’t listen too closely.

He managed 30 seconds before mentioning the “oven-ready deal that you voted for” [in the General Election], deftly overlooking the fact that, if it had been “oven-ready” it would have been signed a year ago… instead it was concluded with just over a week to go before the brutal realities of a “no deal” Brexit would have kicked in.

His words might have sounded more-or-less credible had I not just listened to Ursula von der Leyen’s wise and balanced comments on the same deal. The contrast should ring alarm bells.
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An extra concern about bullying in government

Allegations of bullying against Priti Patel — and the Conservative Party’s defence of her — point to a much more serious problem in Boris Johnson’s administration.

On the face of it this is a matter of workplace bullying, with one person having received a £25,000 payout in 2015, the looming prospect of an Employment Tribunal case and an enquiry showing that she broke the Ministerial code.

If this were simply a matter of a cabinet minister behaving badly they’d resign, the justice system would do its work, and things would move on.

Instead, there’s been a remarkable level of support from within government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has chosen not to push her to resign, and there’s a claim that he “asked for Patel report to be palatable”. Continue reading “An extra concern about bullying in government”

More than relief at the election of Biden & Harris

Reactions to the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris show how deep globalisation has gone — the sense is that people identify with the US President in a way that goes deeper than if they were just a “foreign” leader. This might shed some light on continued support for Trump and where we go from here.

I didn’t think much of Donald Trump when he first emerged as a potential candidate for US President, and he has lived down to my expectations. I smiled when a friend sent me a photo of a pumpkin carved for Halloween with a caption that it was “hollow, orange, and thrown out in November”.

But a clear that there was more than that in play came when an American friend told me she had sent in her mail-in ballot (for Biden) and I found myself close to tears. My reaction to the actual election process has been far from neutral. It is as if this is much more than the election of a foreign leader.
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“No deal” Brexit: are people thinking this means things carry on as before?

There are grounds for believing that some people see a “no deal” Brexit as meaning things would carry on as they before, as if it’s refusing imagined future encroachments from Europe, rather than a rash leap into the unknown.

This article was originally written at the start of 2020, but it gives a perspective on why Brexit supporters are not (yet) switching away from support for Brexit, even with the threat of no deal — or a very bad one (and why they don’t seem to share others’ horror at the Internal Market bill, even though this breaks what the British Government agreed last autumn and presented to the electorate as an “overn-ready deal” in the 2019 General Election, runs foul of our commitments under international law and has led the EU to begin legal action.

No deal

A “No deal” Brexit would mean leaving the EU without the benefits of any of the trade deals the UK currently enjoys. The UK would immediately face tariffs on international trade, major disruption along the border with the Republic of Ireland, and significant damage to all the businesses currently using just-in-time delivery chains that cross borders. Failure to recognise its seriousness make it easier for supporters of Brexit to dismiss any adverse predictions as “project fear” and fuels the claims of people like Nigel Farage, that the softer forms of Brexit are “Brexit in name only”. Both introduce an unhelpful level of unreality into the process around Brexit.

The evidence

In February 2019 a Yougov poll suggested that just 4% of people actually think “no deal” means “Remain in the EU”, implying that the problem is minimal.
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What responsible opposition is, and what it isn’t… (it’s more than attacking Tories and demanding voting reform)…

It’s not about “getting rid of the Tories” or “changing the voting system”. It is about holding the government to account, and giving a voice to the millions who are unhappy with the way things are going.

There’s a powerful case for voting reform. There’s been a powerful case ever since the Labour party emerged as a force in British politics a century ago because first-past-the-post only makes sense in a two party system.

There’s a great deal to question about the present government. I can understand opposition parties wanting to see it gone. But action is needed now, if there’s a change of government in four years’ time.

At an emotional level the bracketing-together of “opposition”, “getting rid of the Tories” and “voting reform” makes most sense as a reaction against the turbulent time we are in, but makes it harder to achieve each of those three aims.
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