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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, , , .

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, .

Cozzy livs and letters

Sitting at the Harrods Champagne Bar last week, I overheard a conversation between two customers. One pulled a book of stamps from a handbag—“Ten pounds! And there’s only eight in it now, not twelve! Can you believe it?!”

“Talk about the cost of living!”

Today, they’d be even more appalled: the price of a first-class stamp rose to £1.35 this morning, so the book of eight sticky portraits of the King now costs £10.80.

If this interaction had been filmed and played to Rishi Sunak, I’m fairly sure he’d deny responsibility. And in a technical sense, he’d be correct: the price of first-class stamps was deregulated by his Prime Ministerial predecessor, and current Foreign Secretary, David Cameron. In 2012, when that decision was taken, a first-class stamp cost 46p; a book of twelve, £5.52.

For the Prime Minister, if the cost of living crisis—aka “cozzy livs”, apparently—is the topic of conversation in Harrods Champagne Bar, you’ve probably already lost the argument. Hailing a “new economic moment”, as Sunak was yesterday, probably isn’t going to cut the mustard.

But then, I don’t know what could save the Prime Minister now. As one Sunak-supporting MP said this week,

We’ve got to stick with the plan. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve got to stick with it and it’s working.


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

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

The silly Cnut

On Sunday, the country was subject to the ignominy of our Prime Minister standing next to a flood and talking about how his Government had spent £5.2bn on flood defences—as he put it, ‘overall investment that’s going into flood defences is at a very, very high level’.

I don’t know what reaction this was intended to provoke, but it’s hard to believe that anyone who witnessed the spectacle didn’t think, ‘Well, it’s not bloody working, is it?’

This would be a slightly unfair conclusion—Government investment in flood defences protected thousands of homes—but the choice of imagery is baffling to the point of incompetence.

King Cnut is often maligned as believing he could use his power to stop the tide from coming in, whereas the legend is actually that he commanded the sea to retreat as a demonstration of his own lack of power. There is a hint of the, shall we say, ‘silly’ version of the Cnut story in standing in a flooded area and talking about the billions the Government has spent on avoiding that very fate.

Of course, the heavy periods of rain which cause this sort of flooding will only increase as we further corrupt Earth’s climate. A warmer atmosphere means more evaporation which means more rain: I don’t need to rehearse the water cycle for you, though basic scientific principles are sometimes a challenge for senior politicians.

Sunak’s decision to pour cold water on the UK’s net zero strategy also guarantees pouring floodwater into people’s kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms.

For example, over 80% of new cars sold in Norway are now electric; sales of petrol and diesel cars will be banned next year. Rishi Sunak refuses to aim for the same here even within a decade.

When Sunak expels hot air in claiming that the UK is ‘leading the world’ on climate change, it neither makes it true nor dries anyone’s flooded home. It only serves to underline his disconnect from the reality the rest of us face.

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

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, , .


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, , , .

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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