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Combining cruelty and self-harm

After the Prime Minister decided that the level of immigration into the UK was ‘far too high’, it felt like he’d decided to come up with a new plan in about thirty seconds. Wendy and I watched in total bafflement as the seemingly nonsensical details appeared on our screens.

Perhaps the best commentary I’ve seen on the topic is from Jonn Elledge, who properly captures the sense of utter befuddlement we felt:

There are so many issues with this policy that it’s hard to know where to begin. It’ll reduce Britain’s competitive advantage in sectors, like science and higher education, where non-British people choose to work here for reasons other than money. It’ll wreck the NHS and social care system, which depend on immigrant labour to function and will struggle to recruit if workers can no longer bring their children. (Sure, you can argue that those systems should wean themselves off cheap migrant labour by hiring more staff domestically; but doing so would likely require substantial budget increases which ministers have made abundantly clear they have no intention of providing.) It means smugly telling the public that we are reserving not the best, but worst, paying jobs for the domestic workforce – and doing so just as we approach an election year.

And it means telling British voters that they no longer have the right to bring someone they love to their own country, simply because they don’t earn enough money. The estimate doing the rounds for the proportion of the public affected is 73%; given that people are more likely to fall in love when they are young and not earning very much, that may well be an under-estimate. And on Tuesday night, the government declined to promise that this would not affect visa renewals for those who are already here. They’re literally telling the voters that, to get the numbers down, they’re going to deport their partners.

This post was filed under: Politics, Post-a-day 2023, .

Medicine and mandates

They say that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

This morning, I’ve been reading two articles where it strikes me that there is a particular resonance in the themes.

The first is Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite’s remarkable account in The London Review of Books of the NHS infected blood scandal: ’We’ve messed up, boys’. This is the first thing I’ve read about these events that allowed me to grasp the totality of the tragedy. It’s a remarkable piece of writing, even by the exceptional standards of the LRB.

The second is Devi Sridhar’s editorial in The Guardian Weekly about the way politicians used scientists in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This isn’t quite such a must-read, and I don’t entirely agree with Sridhar’s views but fully support her conclusion that we ought to reexamine the power and independence of Government advisors. This discussion has been bubbling away in public health circles since the creation of Public Health England, which many saw as reducing the independence of scientific advisors.

Doctors and politicians both have essential parts to play in the management of public health crises. Crises require both technical expertise and democratic oversight. Doctors sometimes tend to dismiss the role of politicians by thinking that only technical decisions have weight. Politicians sometimes ignore expertise, preferring their own views or feelings about the right path. The balance isn’t easy to get right, and both doctors and politicians are eminently capable of getting things wrong.

There’s much to ponder in Sutcliffe-Braithwaite’s piece, of which this is only a very minor part. Yet, when reading the two essays in sequence, the spectre of the problematic relationship haunts both crises.

This post was filed under: Health, Politics, Post-a-day 2023, , , , .

Who’s counting?

In December 2019, the Conservative Party won the UK General Election with a minority of the vote: 43.6% of voters supported them or—if you prefer—29.3% of the electorate.

In the former Home Secretary’s second letter of resignation from that position, published yesterday, she claimed:

I have always striven to give voice to the quiet majority that supported us in 2019.

The majority—56.4% of voters—supported candidates other than Conservatives.

Perhaps political maths isn’t Braverman’s strong suit.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, Post-a-day 2023, .

All change, please

Forty-one days ago, Rishi Sunak declared in his party conference speech:

Politics doesn’t work the way it should. We’ve had thirty years of a political system which incentivises the easy decision, not the right one. Thirty years of vested interests standing in the way of change. Thirty years of rhetorical ambition which achieves little more than a short-term headline.

You either think this country needs to change or you don’t.

Yesterday, the man who led the Conservative Party for more than a third of those thirty failing years was appointed by Sunak as our Foreign Secretary.

It seems that Sunak is placing himself in the ‘don’t’ category.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, Post-a-day 2023, , .

United in befuddlement

Just occasionally, a line in a newspaper editorial captures something so succinctly that I can’t help but smile. This line about Suella Braverman, from Clare Morrison in The Independent this weekend, is a great example:

She somehow managed to get the entirety of Northern Ireland, regardless of background, to come together and say in one voice: “What is she going on about?”

Surely we’ll have a new Home Secretary by this time next week.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

Mysterious ways

Sixteen years ago, Nadine Dorries—who has a book out today—told the world:

I am not an MP for any reason other than because God wants me to be. I constantly try to do what Jesus would do.

I’m an atheist and therefore ill-placed to comment on whether Jesus would publish a book containing ‘many colourful claims and lurid allegations about figures cloaked in anonymity.’

I wouldn’t like to speculate on whether Jesus would resign from Parliament after being denied a peerage.

The Bible is full of violence; it’s not for me to say whether Jesus would threaten to ‘nail your balls to the floor using your own front teeth’.

Jesus lived in less enlightened times, so we shouldn’t speculate on whether he’d have blocked cross-party talks to establish mental health support for NHS staff during the pandemic.

Perhaps Dorries explores the link between her faith and her actions in her new book. I’m certain that I won’t find out either way.

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

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


Rishi Sunak claimed yesterday:

This King’s Speech delivers change. Change in our economy. Change in our society. Change in our communities.

It doesn’t, though, does it?

The only thing ‘delivered’ was a speech, once in a ceremonial pouch and once verbally from a throne.

There was precisely no difference in our economy, society or communities after the speech compared to before it. We can argue all day about whether the speech discussed meaningful change in those areas, but nobody—nobody—can credibly claim that it delivered any change whatsoever.

Rishi Sunak appears to use ‘deliver’ as a synonym for ‘talk about.’

Once this is understood, a whole load of puzzling pronouncements suddenly make sense. Take this from the Government’s briefing on the King’s speech:

Integrity, professionalism, accountability. That’s what I promised when I stood on the steps of Downing Street just over a year ago – and that’s what we have delivered.

Read ‘talked about’ for ‘delivered’, and this is a far less disorienting description. It’s a similar story for this section of his recent conference speech:

I have seen up close the quality of our Armed Forces and intelligence services. Truly, the finest in the world. The debt of gratitude we owe them is why we are making this the best place to be a veteran.  I know we will deliver because we have a minister for veterans affairs sitting in Cabinet.

We ought to parse this as ‘I know we will talk about this because I’ve appointed someone to talk about it.’

It’s maybe churlish to point out that the Government’s own guidance says that the word ‘deliver’ ought to be avoided as insufficiently clear:

Use ‘make’, ‘create’, ‘provide’ or a more specific term (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like improvements)

But at least the Prime Minister has helped us understand his idiosyncratic use of the word.

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

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, Post-a-day 2023, .

Bold new timidity

It’s the State Opening of Parliament today.

Wendy and I have been speculating for weeks on who might lead the BBC’s television coverage in the absence of Huw Edwards—there’s never a dull moment in our house. We’d guessed Kirsty Young, but the job has gone to Wheel of Fortune and radio phone-in host Nicky Campbell.

It may turn out to be today’s boldest decision. Rishi Sunak appears to be pursuing a slightly weird strategy of promising boldness while delivering abject timidity. His bold new plan for HS2 was not to build half of it. His conference ‘rabbit’ was to ask Parliament to have a little think about banning smoking, but not to ask his MPs to actually vote for it. His solution to overcrowded prisons is not to reform criminal justice nor build more cells, but to rent some rooms overseas. His approach to meeting targets on net zero is to water them down. He’s exercised about tinkering with the guidance for local Councils on speed limits. The King’s Speech will announce a bill to ban some leaseholds, but not the tricky ones such as flats.

I’m no fan of the majority of policies pursued by this Government, not of its approach to governing, so I ought to be thrilled that Sunak has set his sights so low. Yet the overriding impression is of bathetic smallness and inadequacy.

Surely the country can do better than this?

According to YouGov, 77% of adults in Great Britain think Sunak’s government has achieved ‘not very much’ or ‘not much at all.’ It doesn’t feel like this approach is a great way to tackle that perception.

The picture at the top is my own from a few years ago. I like the unusual opportunity to see Parliament with all the ugly security barriers removed during the State Opening. I also used it in 2014 for a post reflecting on the legislative harm associated with the State Opening.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

Meaningless soundbites

A local politician popped up on our regional news bulletin yesterday evening. This was the sum total of his contribution:

What we’ve seen today is a series of meaningless soundbites that will provide very little reassurance to families that are struggling right now. To turn our economy round, we need tough but necessary decisions.

These two sentences could have been ejaculated by any representative of virtually any UK political party discussing virtually any issue. There is poetry in their vacuity. It is content-free speech lamenting content-free speech. There’s no hint of an idea, a political message, or even a substantive criticism.

Rather than the politician spending time on constructing such empty verbiage, the reporter and crew attending to film it, and the viewers having to listen to it, perhaps in future we could just replace it with one of those classic slient film caption cards: “ … “

This post was filed under: Media, Politics, Post-a-day 2023.

The Rishiversary

A year ago today, Rishi Sunak stood outside the front door of 10 Downing Street and gave a speech. The opening lines were:

Good morning,

I have just been to Buckingham Palace and accepted His Majesty The King’s invitation to form a government in his name.

It is only right to explain why I am standing here as your new Prime Minister.

He never did get around to covering the topic he set himself and explaining why he is the new Prime Minister. It’s a peculiar omission which struck Wendy and me at the time. It comes across almost as though he’s not quite sure how he ended up there.

That’s not an impression that has faded with time.

There’s this odd section, where I can only assume he unintentionally skipped a line or a page from his script:

After the billions of pounds it cost us to combat Covid, after all the dislocation that caused in the midst of a terrible war that must be seen successfully to its conclusions I fully appreciate how hard things are.

There’s no pause nor flicker of recognition of stringing together 39 words into a single sentence that is devoid of meaning. It sounds though he’s slightly robotic, as though he’s converting text to speech in a manner that bypasses higher executive function.

That, too, turned out not to be a passing vibe.

I’m rubbish at political predictions, but—despite what the commentators might say about an election that’s as late as possible—I just can’t see this charade lasting another year.

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

This post was filed under: Politics, Post-a-day 2023, .

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