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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The next coalition?

Does soul-searching over the 2010–15 coalition leave Liberal Democrats in danger of failing to take the credit for our real achievements in government and undermining our relevance by being reluctant to try again?

Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair: last time Liberal Democrats and Labour planned for coalition

Even before the arrival of Covid19 we were in turbulent times. British politics since the referendum has been highly dysfunctional.

In the 2019 General Election, my sense was that the Tories and Labour had lurched to extremes. On the doorstep I found even Remain supporters switching from us to the Tories for fear of a Corbyn-led government. Labour seemed to have prioritised ideological purity over electability, which was the place from which they were attacking us over the coalition.

Under normal circumstances, their choosing, in Keir Starmer, a leader who would be a credible Prime Minister would change everything and point to a revival of their fortunes and ours. As it is, the proposed changes to constituency boundaries are likely to favour the Tories. If the country is to move away from having an anti-European, authoritarian and incompetent government, we will need to work with Labour — which has to include the possibility of coalition.
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Did Dominic Cummings pull a fast one in his lockdown-bending trip to Durham?

He’s (rightly) been criticised — but has an uncanny knack for mobilising people’s frustration to his advantage. Has he done it again?

I want to describe his trip to Durham during the lockdown as somewhere between “grossly irresponsible” and “utterly foolish”. But it is a little too easy to write him off.

This is the man who took a pile of grievances about things that had little to do with the European Union and coalesced them into a vote for Brexit — even though this will make life worse for most of those who voted for it.

This is the man who (apparently) took last year’s parliamentary stalement and Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament and enabled the Tories to win a handsome majority — even though the tiny increase in the Conservative vote makes it look more like a vote against a Corbyn government than support for a Johnson one.

His Durham trip has been roundly condemned, but he’s survived. I fear that, once again, he has done something I think is foolish, but which might just work to his advantage.
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Dominic Cummings: denying reality over lockdown and Brexit?

Breaking the lockdown was bad, but what about the damage Dominic Cummings has done to the country over Brexit?

Dominic Cummings at press conference after trip to Durham

People are rightly angered at Dominic Cummings’ decision to visit family in Durham when the rest of us were following the government’s advice to “stay home — protect the NHS — save lives”. But this is a fraction of the irresponsibility he’s shown over Brexit. People should be looking at all that he has done — and they should be angry.

As I write this [26 May], people are angry at his decision to travel from London to family in Durham during the lockdown. Apparently his uncle died from Covid19 while he was there which doesn’t really cut it with people who’ve been unable to visit loved ones dying in hospital from Covid19 or going to their funerals.

Keir Starmer has been right to criticise loudly. He says that, in not sacking Cummings, Boris Johnson has “treated the British people with contempt”. He has a point. The contempt is about more than the lockdown.
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Universal Basic Income: a sensible economic response to Covid-19

Offering a stable basic income to all, without the risk of people falling through the net has been a good idea for a long time. It’s become a compelling one in the face of the economic consequences of Covid-19

A closed corner shop: what about the people who worked here?

The idea of a Universal Basic Income is that the state pays something to everyone, regardless of circumstances. It needs to go with a changed tax system, so that the money is taken back again in tax from most people.

It means that, if people fall on hard times, they stop paying the money back in tax, rather than needing to claim benefits. This matters because there are inevitably flaws in the design of any system of benefits. People can fall through the gaps, whether those are oversights or bureaucratic errors, and face destitution. The five week delay before receiving Universal Credit is a good example. There was credible reasoning behind it, but the number of people needing help from food banks in that period shows that that reasoning was flawed. Not being sure where your food will come from or how to keep a roof over your head does real and long term harm to someone. With a Universal Basic Income, bureaucratic mistakes mean that the tax authorities get their money a little later — which does a lot less harm.
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Covid-19, Brexit, and denying reality

Pretending Covid-19, Brexit and climate change don’t matter: why do some people need to ignore reality?

On 24 March 2020 Paul Bullen, formerly leader of the UKIP group on Cambridgeshire County Council, put out a jaw-dropping tweet where he said:

“Isn’t it about time we stopped this nonsense. The majority don’t care about Covid-19, don’t care if they catch it and know that it won’t have any adverse effects. Do we really want to kill our economy? Let’s get back to work, open our pubs and restaurants and get back to normal.” (click to view tweet)

After the Brexit party chose not to stand candidates against sitting Tories, Bullen became an independent candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in the General Election, where I stood for the Liberal Democrats. He took a position that was strongly in favour of Brexit. In hustings he repeatedly claimed that climate change, though real, is not the result of human activity, and that, if elected, he’d not be beholden to any party line, but would speak for his constituents.

I don’t know Bullen well enough to speculate on what he actually thinks, and note that this twitter account seems to have been deleted.

What this does crack open an interesting question about a set of attitudes on Brexit, Covid-19 and climate change more widely.
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