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You put your whole self in, your whole self out

Last year, I reflected a little on Civil Servants being encouraged to bring their ‘whole self’ to work. I wouldn’t have guessed that the very next year, under the same political leadership, the same workforce would be told to ensure that ‘your beliefs remain at the front door’ (because heaven forfend that someone should wear a non-standard lanyard).

Yesterday, I was interested to read Zoë Schiffer’s piece on Platformer about a similar—but altogether more thoughtful—change in the culture of technology firms.

It’s intriguing to watch the pendulum swing.

This post was filed under: Politics, Technology.

Which plan? What’s working?

In The Times last week, Matt Chorley wrote about a focus group’s reaction to the Government’s oft-repeated plea:

In the meantime, Sunak presses on, vowing to listen to voters while refusing to change. “Stick with the plan that’s working.” On our most recent Times Radio focus group of swing voters, we asked about that slogan. “Which plan’s that?” scoffed one. “And what’s working?” said another, before they all descended into guffaws.

This was still ratting around my mind when I saw this laminated sign above a hospital bed—not in deepest mid-winter, but on a glorious spring afternoon:

This isn’t a one-off: it has become the norm in many NHS hospitals these days. It’s this graph of the relative collapse capital spending in the NHS made photographic:

‘Which plan? What’s working?’ might be the most apposite piece of political commentary in years.

This post was filed under: Health, Politics, , .

Sick election result

Two weeks ago, the Conservative Prime Minister delivered a ‘major speech’ decrying Britain’s ‘sick note culture’ and promising punitive reforms to get people back to work. He expressed his profound disappointment that sick notes had become a ‘lifestyle choice’ for some.

Yesterday, the Conservatives had their first election victory in Newcastle in more than three decades, securing a single council seat. The newly installed Conservative councillor is a former GP, once suspended for falsifying a sick note to cover the holiday of an undercover Sunday Times journalist.

It’s a funny old world.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, , , .

Five percent

In an article published on the Financial Times website yesterday, with the fantastic headline ‘Sex and dogs and heads will roll’, Simon Kuper observes that:

One in 20 MPs elected in 2019 had left parliament, been suspended or had the party whip removed after misconduct allegations by December 2023.

It’s a jaw-dropping statistic which gives context to Kuper’s discussion of how scandals have changed over the years. Thanks to the unprecedented pace of social change, things which were resigning matters in the 1990s are not today—and vice versa. It’s astonishing to remember how recently homosexual relationships were considered scandalous, while overt racism was not.

This post was filed under: Politics, , .

I agree with Rishi

Yesterday, in his press conference about the Government’s plan to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda, Rishi Sunak said:

If Labour peers had not spent weeks holding up the bill in the House of Lords to try to block these flights altogether, we would have begun this process weeks ago.

There are 790 peers, of which 173 are Labour peers. Labour peers alone do not have the majority required to pass amendments and hold up the bill in the House of Lords.

Sunak also told us:

The only way to stop the boats is to eliminate the incentive to come by making it clear that if you are here illegally, you will not be able to stay. This policy does exactly that.

More than 6,000 asylum seekers have crossed the English Channel so far this year, a less-than five-month period. Rwanda has agreed to accept 1,000 asylum seekers over a five-year period… or about 83 per five-month period.

In his press conference yesterday, our Prime Minister claimed that:

the patience of the British people ‘is worn pretty thin by this point.’

I agree with him, though I think our patience is being worn through by him. I think that Ali Smith perhaps put it better in Autumn:

I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how those liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to anymore. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, , .

Out of ideas

In 2008, Dame Carol Black said:

Replacing the sick note with a fit note would switch the focus to what people can do instead of what they cannot.

Gordon Brown’s government subsquently replaced the ‘sick note’ with a ‘fit note’ which put a new focus what people could do instead of what they could not.

Yesterday, Rishi Sunak said:

We need to change the sick note culture so the default becomes what work you can do – not what you can’t.

It might seem like money for old role, but nevertheless, let’s focus on what Sunak can do, not what he can’t.

In 2008, 2.4% of all working hours in the UK were lost to sickness absence. By 2022, this had ‘spiralled’—Sunak’s word—to 2.6%. For what it’s worth, at the demise of the last Tory government in 1997, it was 3%.

In 2008, 2.6 million people were waiting for NHS treatment. By 2023, that had almost tripled, from 2.6 million to 7.7 million.

Here’s what Sunak, and perhaps Sunak alone, can do: look at those figures and conclude that people are staying off work too readily, and that the welfare system needs to be—Sunak’s word—’tightened’.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, .

A manifestly different outcome

Since I spent far too much time looking at the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto when writing yesterday’s post, here’s another astonishing insight.

Only one of the 22 Conservative politicians pictured in the 2019 manifesto serves in the current Government.

It’s Kemi Badenoch, if you’re wondering… and even she’s resigned from the government once since the last election.

This post was filed under: Politics, .

Forgotten promises

On the front page of yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, a Conservative source is quoted as saying:

The Government was democratically elected on a mandate to stop small boat crossings. It is a fundamental threat to our democracy if an unelected overseas court is stopping that delivery and leaving the European Court of Human Rights must be on the table if it is the only option to uphold that promise to the British people.

Small boat crossings weren’t mentioned in the Conservative Party’s last election manifesto, so I’m not sure where that mandate came from.

The phrase ‘get Brexit done’ appeared an astonishing thirty-three times. Jeremy Corbyn received thirteen mentions—his plans were a ‘recipe for chaos’, something we can hardly claim to have avoided. Even the phrase ‘We love Boris’ appeared once—the clownish egotism promised by its inclusion was delivered in buckets.

Migrants crossing the English Channel, however, didn’t make the cut. For what it’s worth, small boats in the Mediterranean were mentioned in Labour’s manifesto, even if they weren’t on Conservatives’ minds.

On the other hand, human rights made six appearances in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto, including this committment:

Getting Brexit done will allow us to do more on the international stage. We will continue to be an outward-looking country that is a champion of human rights.

Threatening withdrawal from the world’s most effective international court on human rights would be a peculiar approach to keeping this promise.

Things have reached a pretty pass when a Government seeking re-election can’t accurately recall what it promised last time around.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Politics.

The millstone of incumbency

Sixteen years ago, in March 2008, I predicted that David Cameron was ‘cycling towards election victory’. I was wrong: the result in May 2010 was a Hung Parliament.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to revisit that post with a 2024 mindset. My argument was that the incumbent in any election has an automatic advantage.

People inevitably like to vote for something known over something unknown. Political parties all too often forget that people don’t vote on the basis of promises, but on the basis of actions: Telling people you’ll do all of what they want can never rival the power of actually doing some of what they want.

On top of this, the incumbent has the advantage, by default, of being the more Presidential or Prime Ministerial figure – exactly the kind of figure one would want leading a nation.

And yet, there are rare moments where the incumbency becomes a millstone.

Now, in 2008, Labour’s greatest achievements no longer resonate. We’ve tired of hearing of the New Deal, the minimum wage is old news, and NHS reform has been done to death. It seems like this government has nothing new to do – it’s done it all before, and we’re comparing Labour’s current promises with Labour’s previous delivery.

Indeed, even systemic failures of government – such as the recent furore over MPs’ expenses – now enter the public consciousness as failings of Labour by default, as they are in government, even though they are often cross-party failings which should tar the Parliamentary machinery as a whole.

It’s easy to make a case that Brown’s lament has been inherited by Sunak. Perhaps Sunak doesn’t get a fair hearing as a result of the millstone of the Conservatives’ record dragging him down.

I think I was onto something when I talked about ‘comparing Labour’s current promises with Labour’s previous delivery’. These days, the litany of broken Conservative promises makes it challenging to set any store by Sunak’s pledges. I moaned earlier this week about passport price fluctuations indicating a lack of a plan, which I think feeds into the same narrative.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Politics.

They giveth, they taketh away

Like me, you may have a dim recollection of Monday 3 September 2012. The Minister for Immigration was thrilled to announce a £5 cut in the cost of a standard UK passport, a result he attributed to his hard work in driving efficiency at the Identity and Passport service.

So good was his performance that the very next day, he was promoted to become Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice.1

As of next Thursday, the passport fee will increase by £7, capping off a total increase of £27.50 since that 2012 announcement. The fee will reach triple figures for the first time.2

You might note that next week’s £7 increase isn’t being promoted nearly so much as that £5 decrease. We got a fiver off, but then stung for the better part of thirty quid over the ensuing years.

Let me be clear: I don’t begrudge the increase in the passport fee. I’d happily pay twice the price if it protected some of the essential services that are no longer financially sustainable thanks to this Government’s choices.

It’s more that cutting the price then jacking it up gives the impression that there’s no strategy: no ‘long-term economic plan’, no ‘plan that we need to stick to’. And when repeated across, well, basically all areas of Government policy, that begins to feel like something of an electoral challenge.

  1. It wouldn’t be until five years later that he’d be sacked for having pornography on his work computer and lying about it, issues which were uncovered during an investigation into alleged sexual harassment.
  2. There is an £11.50 discount for applying online these days, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that you’re still much worse off.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

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