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There’s No Business Like Brexit Business

Since my previous blog, then there has been a period of calm or, if you prefer, a period in which Brexit matters were briefly absent from the headlines whilst the various opposing factions got down to some serious plotting.

The peace process – Chequers style

Mrs May, presumably hoping to get her retaliation in first, convened an all-day cabinet gathering at Chequers on July 6.

Her objectives in calling the meeting were reported as being:

  • To spell out her plans for Brexit to her cabinet colleagues.
  • To bounce her cabinet into accepting her plans by the time-honoured tactic of giving them very barely enough time to read the plans, much less the time required to grasp their implications and consequences. This latter objective was said to apply especially to the perceived usual suspects.

The arrangements for the Chequers meeting appeared to your aged blogger to be based on the away days much beloved by bullshitters masquerading as managers with all the apparatus normally associated with such fraudulent gatherings.

It would appear from the copious leaks that emanated from the proceedings that great pressure was applied throughout to spell out the serious consequences of failing to unite behind her banner. Of these the most horrifying was that “Corbyn will get you,” a warning sufficiently terrifying as to subdue all but the most determined of her critics.

Those emerging from the day-long ordeal indicated that the outcome was that a united cabinet was now united behind a sound plan and that the next step was to present the said plans to our enemies in Brussels and, then – just like that – dictate the terms of a final agreeable Brexit.

The Sunday papers were full of praise for the latter day Thatcher – she had routed her internal fifth column critics and she was now about the to apply the same treatment to the pesky nuisances in Brussels (‘Iron Lady May has crushed the egos and the weasels’, trumpeted Dan Hodges in the Mail on Sunday). All downhill from now on.

Well – up to a point, Mrs May.

I awoke on the morning of Monday, July 9 to learn that Mr David Davis had resigned sometime around midnight. Good to see that our politicians are busy even at that unlikely hour.

This development had not been on the hymn sheet that the crowd of spokespersons clustered in No 10 were consulting, and there was confusion as the May team sought to minimise the problems arising from the departure of Mr Davis. To aggravate matters further Mr Davis made it clear in an interview on the following morning with John Humphreys that he had no intention of going quietly, by mounting a spirited and rational and plausible defence of his resignation on the Today programme.

So much for the overture.

As the day wore on, rumours began to circulate that BoJo had taken the day off – rather in the manner of his long trip to Afghanistan to avoid the Heathrow debate.

It emerged early in the afternoon that BoJo too had resigned and had poured petrol on the fire by noting in his tear stained resignation letter, a doleful despairing document etched in bitter tears, his grief at the betrayal of his beloved Brexit dream.

This development did indeed fox me – sorry about the pun, Liam – because I had always understood that the one consistent political principle pursued at all times by Boris was to advance the political career of Boris. It just shows how wrong you can be.

It has to be said that the timing of the BoJo resignation letter was masterly, because Mrs May was occupied and preoccupied with the formidable task of preparing to defend her Brexit plans to a House of Commons that was not wholly persuaded of her case and her cause. BoJo evidently holds firmly to the principle that you wait until your opponent is down before you kick them – nice work, BoJo.

The press coverage the following day broadly reflected the predilictions of the organs in question. True to form, Richard Littlejohn’s Daily Mail column urged the resignation of Mother Theresa (“She has repeatedly misled the British people and forfeited the trust of being our Prime minister”). Conversely, a Times leader opined that “The foreign secretary’s resignation is neither unexpected nor unwelcome. He has been a disruptive cabinet member and Mrs May has greater authority without him”. Meanwhile, in the same newspaper, Rachel Sylvester’s column argued that “The fantasies promoted by Leavers have led us to the cold reality of a government in chaos and a PM no one dares to kill”: not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mrs May.

Brexit – What next?

Sadly, much of the Brexit debate will continue to focus on the survival prospects of Mrs May in No 10, rather than on the most important issue to arise in the politics of the UK since 1945: namely, how can the absurd Brexit fiasco be jettisoned to enable the UK to reverse the outcome of the 2016 referendum and return to the comparatively sound and sensible political, economic and social arrangements developed over tens of decades throughout the EU?

We Remainers note with glee (and BoJo notes with gloom) that the Brexit dream (for dream read nightmare) is dying.

What political actions will kill it off?

Holdenforth suggests that a combination of the following developments should do the trick.

1. Mrs May to be forced out of No 10 by either losing a vote of confidence in the Commons or by a successful leadership challenge. Holdenforth can assert with confidence that Mrs May will not opt to follow the action of Neville Chamberlain in May 1940 and go voluntarily – it will have to be the old heave-ho.

2. The ensuing general election will be in effect a re-run of the referendum in all but name.

3. The outcome will be that there will be a majority in favour of the Remain cause as the voters belatedly grasp how they were conned the first time round.

4. No need at that point for any delay – just a brief note from HMG to the senior management of the EU to apologise for any little local problems triggered by Brexit – a spot of meiosis would be appropriate here, our application to invoke article 50 to be withdrawn and that as from now – its back to business as usual between a penitent UK and the EU.

It should also be observed that the great majority of the current crop of MPs understand only too well that Brexit was and is a huge national error but, as is the way with MPs, timidity, and looking after Number 1, take precedence over the national interest. In the Brexel 2 campaign, the Remainers should stop making obeisance to the sacred result of June 2016 and bellow out that the voters were conned by the insidious combination of the stupidity of David Cameron, the mendacity of Mr Farage and the astounding duplicity of BoJo.

Their campaign slogan should be “Goodbye Brexit: Hello, Bremain!”

The realistic possibilities continue to be as follows.

1. The likelihood of an attempt to dislodge Mrs May via a successful leadership is gathering support mainly because of the increasing exasperation among Tory MPs about her perceived hopeless political performance.

2. The other and rather more plausible possibility is that the resolute Tory Remainers – the dirty dozen according to Paul Dacre – would prefer to see Mrs May lose a vote of confidence, thus triggering a general election under her leadership.

Holdenforth is as confused as you are as to what the outcome will be.

What we do hope for and will use our limited resources to demand is the latter option, that of a general election.

Were that to happen a whole new game would come into play.

Why so?

An election called in these circumstances, clearly a second Brexit referendum in all but name, would see a significant re-alignment of the parties and crucially, the re-entry into the fray or rather into the political vacuum that is now so prominent a feature of the UK political scene, of former senior politicians: Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown, John Major, George Osborne and the Miliband brothers,

Holdenforth says – Bring it on!

In this election (let us refer to it as Brexel 2) the only issue would be: does Brexit go ahead or not.?

Failing this, we would hope that Theresa May will write to Donald Tusk requesting that we return to the status quo of the UK remaining within the EU, and apologizing profusely for any inconvenience cause over the past 2 years.

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Brexit: The Show Must Go On (and On, and On)

The latest episode of the Brexit saga which ended on June 20th, centred mainly on the Tory Parliamentary Party with Labour MPs in the roles of spectators, gazing at the confusing proceedings with a mixture of bewilderment and torpor.

The setting was the House of Commons and the Leavers in the Parliamentary Tory party had gathered in strength to seek to reverse the attempts of the House of Lords to put a series of spokes in the Brexit wheel.

The threat to Mrs May came from the dozen or so declared Tory Remainers in parliament, and, lest anyone might be any doubt as to their identity, the Daily Mail published a rogues gallery of the dissenters.  

In the event, the Lords’ amendments were reversed, although not without the deployment of a good deal of traditional carrot and stick tactics by the Tory whips. The stick was just that – follow the party else or else. The carrots consisted of a series of understandings arrived at between Mrs May and the dissidents. Sadly, as I write, there appears to be some misunderstanding as to the precise nature of the understandings.

A week or so ago there had been a not especially adept rebellion by Mr Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP in Westminster, and his colleagues. So transparently simulated was the Scottish indignation that the sympathy of most of the neutrals was with the speaker, Mr Bercow, not normally the most popular figure in and around the Commons.

The parliamentary members of the Labour party awoke from their collective slumbers to produce an internal row of their own, although its origins and substance were so obscure as to baffle the neutrals.

Anything else to report before Holdenforth gets down to looking at the “What happens next?” prospects for Brexit?

Well yes – one or two minor matters to report.

In no special order of importance:

* The G7 conference convened to discuss the various trade problems triggered by the unilateral imposition of massive tariffs by the USA on a range of products and the retaliatory tariffs imposed by the countries singled out for tariff treatment. This G7 conference, convened to repair broken fences, finished up as the G6 + 1 group, with the USA refusing to endorse the most modest of end of conference communiqués and the remaining 6 members issuing peevish denunciations of the disruptive Yanks. Holdenforth simply notes at this point that this development did little to advance the Brexit case to abandon the EU.

*The refusal of Mr Trump to sign the final G7 communiqué was swiftly followed by a dramatic meeting of those two giants of the global show business scene, Messrs Kim Jon Jung and Mr Trump. We, the great mystified British public, were advised that Mr Trump is happier in a one on one meeting where his well-honed deal making skills are easier to deploy than is the case where he is merely one of a larger group. The outcome of the Trump – Kim Jung Um summit was a communiqué every bit as devoid of content as the G7 / G6 gathering but with the significant difference that Mr T was writing the script.

* There was an unseemly disagreement between Italy and Malta about which of the 2 countries should accept a boat crammed with refugees from sub Saharan Africa. The matter was resolved when Spain agreed to accept the migrants, but clearly Europe will come under pressure to accept refugees as long as the conditions which trigger the exodus from their respective countries persist – a major headache for the EU

Back to Brexit  — What happens next?

Sadly the Brexit debate has tended to focus rather too much on the survival prospects of Mrs May in No 10 and rather less on what will be the situation when the various boisterous Brexit debates within the Tory party and between the various Westminster parties have ended and the dust has settled.

Crucially the key discussions – hereinafter referred to as negotiations – between the UK Brexit team and its counterparts from the EU are continuing and the reports emerging from these negotiations hint that the EU team sees the position of HMG growing steadily weaker.

An Iain Martin article in The Times on June 21 stated that, “The Commission’s bad faith behaviour has become so appalling that even some Remainers have now woken up woken up to the implications” and concluded, “A the fog of negotiations clears and it becomes obvious that the country is being stuffed, will feelings boil over into some sort of revolt”?

Holdenforth does not go along with this absurd view. Holdenforth has consistently argued that the deplorable state affairs triggered by the Brexit affair was and is the product of an appalling initial misjudgement by David Cameron to hold a referendum, the predictable jump by Boris Johnson onto what he saw as an opportunity to advance his political prospects and the consistent but wholly misguided efforts of Mr Farage to undo the commendable vision of the EU project to replace bellicose nationalism with civilised cooperation.

Holdenforth believes that:

*The stuffing of the UK – and, yes, there has been a lot of stuffing – has been largely the malign work of Mr Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

*The sooner that the UK wakes up to the true nature and purpose of Brexit, and puts the Brexit engine into reverse and politely requests of the EU authorities that HMG accepts that Brexit has been a huge mistake and that the UK begs to revert to a Business as Usual basis, the better.

For its part, the EU sees this ill-assorted trio as putting a wholly illusionary national interest ahead of all other considerations and sensibly refuses to do anything to assist the venture.

In his regular Times column published the day before the Martin piece Lord Finkelstein discussed with his customary clarity the formidable problems facing Mrs May and her cabinet as they attempt to steer the good ship HMG between the competing hazards posed by the Scylla of the Brexiteers and the Charybdis of the Remainers, each with their alluring sirens.

If this were simply a dilemma facing the Tory party then we, the great uncommitted, could sit back and enjoy the show.

But sadly that is not the case.

Lord Finkelstein seemed to me in his column to be so anxious to be scrupulously fair, to list all the competing forces and assess their relative strengths in various permutations and combinations, that he lost himself in the sheer exuberant variety of possible outcomes.

His final paragraph expressed his dismay perfectly:

 “To leave the EU without a clear idea of our future trading relationship would be lamentable, but to leave without a withdrawal agreement would be catastrophic.”

Holdenforth can do better than this. To leave the EU would be lamentable and catastrophic, and any other apocalyptic adjectives that come to mind – – no need for the accompanying qualifications.

How long can the great survivor stagger on?

Francis Elliot, the Political Editor of the Times, recently argued that “The PM has walked a fine line between equally unhappy Brexiteers and Remainers but can’t put off judgement day for ever. “

Mr Elliot lost no time in pointing the finger at those he saw as being responsible for the current shambles – Mr Cameron and Mrs May.

He wrote amusingly about what the public enquiry that will in due course be set up to review how we got into this fiasco. The enquiry will work along the lines of the Chilcot enquiry into Iraq, it will drag on for years and will decide that all those responsible were acting from the best of motives – expect a report around 2030 by which date I for one will have kept an appointment with the Grim Reaper.

Sadly Mr Elliot was woefully vague when he looked at short term issues and possible solutions.

HF will step in where Mr Elliot feared to tread – our readers rightly demand rather more snap and sharpness from our perusal of our crystal ball – so here goes.

Let us assess the prospects between now and the end of the party conference season in early October.

The realistic possibilities continue to be as follows.

* The likelihood of an attempt to dislodge Mrs May via a successful leadership is gathering support mainly because of the increasing exasperation among Tory MPs about her perceived hopeless political performance.

The logic from this quarter  is that if say Boris Johnson were to emerge as our new PM that he would be well positioned to take on and defeat Mr Corbyn in the subsequent general election.

On this latter point pundits of all political tendencies and of none were said to have been shaken by the reported 7 point lead by the Tories in the polls. If Jezza can’t lead Labour into a poll lead now – then when can he?

*The other and rather more plausible possibility is that the resolute Tory Remainers – the dirty dozen according to Paul Dacre – would prefer to see Mrs May lose a vote of confidence thus triggering a general election under her leadership.

Holdenforth is as baffled as you are as to what the outcome will be.

What we do hope for and will use our limited resources to demand is the latter option, that of a general election.

Were that to happen a whole new game would come into play.

Why so?

An election called in these circumstances, clearly a second Brexit referendum in all but name, would see a significant re-alignment of the parties and crucially, the entry into the fray of former heavyweights, people like Tony Blair, George Soros, Nick Clegg, Andrew Adonis, Gordon Brown, George Osborne, the Miliband brothers and so on and so on.

Holdenforth says – Bring it on!

In this election (let us refer to it as Brexel 2) – the only issue would be: does Brexit go ahead or not.?

A word on the current balance of parliamentary power

The government of Mrs May is balanced precariously on a base built on quicksand and another shaky material the name of which escapes me.

No-one is more aware of this than Mrs May – after all her poor judgement in the summer of last year triggered Brexel One the outcome of which added significantly to the problems of the Tory government.

As I write the Conservative party consists of:

*A substantial number – but still a minority – of diehard Brexiteers. Let us refer to them as the Bill Cash Group.

* A dozen or so diehard Remainers. Let us refer to them as the Anna Soubry group. This doughty dozen are said to be prepared to risk the consequences of voting against their own party in order to keep alive the aim of reversing the leave outcome of the June 2016 referendum

* The silent majority of Tory members of Parliament who simply hope that the Brexit issue will go away – it isn’t going to. This group, with no ideological preferences either way, will be watching the polls, studying the media, and chatting amongst themselves. Their motives as regards stay or go will be determined by one simple consideration – what outcome is the most favourable for my career, with my mortgage to pay and the kiddies to feed – all significant factors.

Meanwhile, within the Labour Party, there is a similar spread of opinion as that which exists in the Tort party but without the intensity.

But as Lord Finkelstein has pointed out “The objective of the Labour leadership is only this – to bring down the government and defeat it in an election”

This factor, a second order factor, will make life difficult for Mr Corbyn and his colleagues as the media hawks come in for the kill.

We also have the Lib Dems – Dr  Cable and his tiny band. This group is committed to putting the outcome of the referendum to a test but lack the numbers to exercise much influence.

Sinn Fein – their long standing refusal that they owe any allegiance to the UK parliament rules them out of consideration.

DUP – the jokers in the parliamentary pack.

How about an injection of a spot of transparency – a favourite word these days – into the confusion?

The key Holdenforth assertion is that most MPs would, if the choice were available to them, vote to reverse the outcome of the June 2016 referendum.

* The Brexit victory in the June 2016 referendum was NOT a clear demand by the British to leave the EU, but rather the outcome of an appalling error of judgement by Mr Cameron in agreeing to the referendum in the first place compounded by the squalid opportunism of Boris the bounder and Farage the cad. By the way: what exactly is the difference between a bounder and a cad?

* The Brexiteers, led – or rather misled – by that blond bloated bladder of wind – BoJo – are now all too clear that their day has come –  and gone.

* It was reported that Lyndon Johnson said of one of his tiresome colleagues that it was difficult to decide if it was better to have him inside the tent pissing out or outside the tent pissing in.  BoJo has established a third category – he is inside the tent and pissing inside it – a practice that has not endeared him to his colleagues in the tent. The long suffering UK voters will have noted his inept performance as Foreign Secretary in the past 2 years.

* Mrs May’s switch of allegiance following the referendum merely added to the catalogue of disreputable political actions perpetrated by the Brexiteers.

* On an oh by the way basis – if Mrs May, who ought to have known what was going on, can change her mind, why can’t the rest of us: we, who were bemused by the tsunami of mendacity, respectfully request a second opinion.

So what happens next?

More than two thousand words down the line and I still have no idea. Trying to make sense out of the Brexit chaos can be compared to trying to extract excrement from a rocking horse.

But rest assured: Holdenforth will stay on the case to the end, an end which we hope will be happy rather than bitter.

I hear you ask – what is the policy of Holdenforth as regards Brexit?

We hope that matters will proceed as I suggested in my recent blog, “Brexit, Boris & Snappy Electioneering”: namely, that Mrs May will write to Donald Tusk requesting that we return to the status quo of the UK remaining within the EU, and apologizing profusely for any inconvenience cause over the past 2 years.

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As I Please: Trains on Stop, Hutton in Hay and the Rees-Mogg Roubles

How not to run a railway

The Centre of Gravity of the discontented UK rail users has now moved from south to north. The discontent in the south was based on a number of failures on the part of the operators, ranging from an inability to operate signals and points, an inability to ensure that the required number of employees were on duty, an interminably protracted dispute with the Unions as to whether or not guards were essential to passenger security, and a ticket pricing structure that had only one clear feature – steadily rising prices.

For obvious reasons, the senior management of the various railway companies blamed the Unions for everything, thus neatly sidestepping the factors causing the lengthy catalogue of failures across the sector.

The outcome of said failures was a disagreeable combination of late trains, cancelled trains, crowded trains and expensive trains, all conspiring to add to the miseries of commuting.

Other problems have included the decisions by two major franchise holders to abandon ship –  sorry about the mixing of metaphors – thus leaving the hapless Mr Grayling no option other than to bring the two areas back into the public sector.

The most recent fiasco has been the introduction of new timetables which has triggered cocks up on a gargantuan scale. The most irritating feature here has been the gap between the information provided by the new time tables and what was actually happening – or not happening – on the tracks.

The late and great Mr Bradshaw must be turning in his grave at the inability of his successors to manage this simplest of tasks.

Just one other point before we move on. In the best traditions of this privatised monopoly there are no reports of any managers being required to walk the plank – another mixed metaphor – although the handing out of a few P45s to selected senior managers would undoubtedly help the situation.

In a recent (June 5) Daily Mail editorial, Paul Dacre (or one of his compliant team) fulminated about the situation:

“No end in sight to this appalling shambles… Could there be a more incompetent way to run a railroad… The list of excuses is endless. But we’ve heard them all before and they no longer wash…”

So far, so good.

Sadly, the denunciations are not followed by any suggestions about what should be done. Instead, the editorial lapses into a whining oh dear oh dear mode: “Mr Grayling needs to knock heads together and sort out this mess.”

How, exactly?

Holdenforth can and will do better than this. We will not leave matters in this melancholy setting.

You ask – what is our policy? What remedies do we advocate?

In no special order:

  1. Put all the plans to bring in HS2 (High Speed 2) on hold for, say 5, years to allow time for the all-pervasive LS1 (Low Speed One) problems throughout the UK rail sector to be solved. It beggars belief that the advocates of HS 2 can still be heard clamouring for the money required to bring in HS2 – at least £56 billion at the last reckoning – to be poured into the flaky, shaky foundations of  shit and quicksand that comprise the UK Rail Network in 2018.
  2. Carry out a ruthless cull of the band of senior managerial mediocrities now running the industry (who are, by the way, on far higher salaries, allowing for inflation, than their public sector predecessors) and replace them with competent people. Those replacements to be required to demonstrate their ability to manage signals and points and manning levels and the introduction of new time tables and  ticket pricing arrangements – I could go on but you get my drift.
  3. HMG to accept that the UK privatized railway companies have provided an oasis of peace for the managerial refugees that would be unable to secure employment in any organisation that required its bosses to be able to perform.

I have every confidence that a few improvement along these lines – an appropriate metaphor on this occasion – would deliver a service capable of meeting the expectations of the most discerning of passengers.

A view of Brexit from Hay on Wye

The great Brexit debate simply refuses to make way for other news. On Bank Holiday Monday I attended a session at The Hay on Wye festival. The session was billed as a dialogue of sorts between Lord Adonis and Will Hutton. I had been expecting an agreeable, civilised discussion in which the pros – there are no cons – of remaining in the EU would be outlined and explained.

For a couple of reasons, the session did not turn out quite as I had anticipated.

Let’s get the easy bit out of the way. Adonis was excellent: always lucid, always plausible and mostly persuasive.

I was, however, surprised and slightly disappointed by the contribution of Will Hutton. This consisted of an interminable catalogue of raucous slogans bellowed out incoherently after the style of John Prescott.

This might have been acceptable to the converted – and a show of hands showed that over 95% of those present were committed Remainers – but it was decidedly not a speech to persuade the undecided.

I suspect that David Davis, seated prominently in the front row of the audience, was not particularly bothered by the ranting.

I have to confess that prior to attending the Adonis-Hutton show I had no clear impressions about what exactly Hutton stood for and what he had done.  I vaguely recalled that he had been a journalist and that he was and is the Principal of Hertford College, Oxford.

Later I looked him up online and was surprised to read that he and his wife had built up a large property portfolio in London and the Home counties, and that he had blotted his copybook in some way in his capacity as the Director of the Work Foundation.

This belated shedding of light on Hutton put a slightly different slant on his high decibel denunciations of the super-rich.

Some of the bombast bawled in Hay by Will Hutton put me in mind of the comment of King Lear – “I will do such things – what they are I know not!”

To be fair to Hutton, he told us that he had personally visited some of the areas that had voted for Brexit and that he understood the concerns of the locals. His tone here put me in mind of the comment of Edward the Eighth when visiting the distressed areas of South Wales in the 1930s – “something must be done.”

Quite so – but what exactly?

In between the Hutton slogans, Lord Adonis spoke of his enthusiasm about the case to reduce the voting age to 16 and about the case for the House of Commons to be relocated in the North of England. All good stuff but, as Mrs May has told us, Brexit will be a fact of life by the end of March, 2019.

The Hutton manifesto is all well and good and there will be those who accept that, if implemented, all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

For its part, Holdenforth urges all Remainers, including Lord Adonis and Will Hutton, to park the froth in the long grass and concentrate on the one political task of campaigning to kick Brexit into the long grass.

An effective and simple campaign  to turn the Brexit engine round and get it running (on time, in the opposite direction) might just do the trick.

More Brexit News  —  the latest from the Soros camp

In a previous blog I warmly welcomed the emerging campaign led by George Soros to mobilise UK opinion to reverse Brexit.

Hear, hear, I wrote, well done George.

An article in The Times on May 30 quoted Soros as saying that the campaign for a second referendum would begin in the next few days, and that while “Ultimately it’s up to the British people to decide what they want to do… it would be better however if they came to a decision sooner rather than later.”

Later in the same piece reference was made to the age of George Soros – 87. Later still we were informed that “the Tory MP Jacob Rees -Mogg – aged 49 – said that he would be happy for there to be another EU referendum- just not for three decades.”

It may be that the disparity between the ages of the two men account for the preferred haste of Mr Soros and the preferred languid procrastination of the other.

As far as Holdenforth is concerned – on the need for speed we applaud the declared alacrity of Mr Soros.

There is, however, one aspect of the Soros campaign that troubles Holdenforth.

A Times article the following day, headlined ‘Soros campaign chief evokes Nazis in call for new EU vote’ noted that Lord Malloch Brown, the Soros campaign chief referred to, “said that Europe’s problems had a horrible habit of infecting us anyway.”

Holdenforth begs Soros and his team to keep things simple – we face enough problems without bringing the most turbulent and odious regime in my long lifetime into it.

And now for something completely different –  The murder and rapid resurrection  of  Mr  Arkady Babchenko 

I awoke on the morning of May 31 to be told that a 41 year old Russian journalist had been shot in the back and killed in Kiev.

Boris-“quick Draw” Johnson was predictably one of the first out of the blocks – he said that “Britain was appalled by the killing.”

Well – up to a point…

The appalled British had barely digested the news of the murder when who should turn up beaming at the cameras and bursting with good health but the very same Arkady Babchenko.

The official explanation by the Ukrainian authorities was that the murder had been staged to forestall a murder attempt by who else – the Russians. The official report explained that the idea behind the spoof execution came from the confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty, at Reichenbach – both men died at the scene, Moriarty on a permanent basis, Holmes for only as long as it took to dawn on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that the Holmes mine was by no means exhausted.

There followed a brisk debate in the media. On the one side there were those who thought that the Ukrainian version was sound and that the life of a brave man committed to the goodie cause had been saved by this shrewd spoof execution.

The other side took the view that the plot, absurd from the start, had misfired and that those responsible had taken careful aim and shot themselves in their collective feet.

Holdenforth inclines to the latter explanation although we were and remain happy to note that Boris Johnson retains his well-earned reputation as the fastest cock up politician in the west.

More notes on Jacob Rees-Mogg.

There is simply no keeping JRM out of the news these days.

The main news topic is his leadership of some Brexit campaign group or other. He leads with commendable elegance and displays impressive if antiquated scholarship: his themes are the past greatness of  Britain and the need for a return to the good old days when Britain led and the rest of the world followed and the right sort of chaps guided the fortunes of the nation and the world.

Holdenforth was pleased to note that JRM has just acquired a substantial residence in the Westminster area, a residence roughly equivalent to No 10 Downing street in its proximity to Parliament and in its imposing grandeur.

However, Holdenforth was slightly perplexed by the following item on May 27.

Under the headline, ‘Mogg’s Moscow Millions’ the Mail on Sunday subheader teased us with  “Revealed : How the Brexiteer’s firm has poured a fortune into a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlin, including two blacklisted by the US , but has invested next to nothing in – yes, you guessed it- Brexit Britain.” 

The article, written by Neil Craven in London and Will Stewart in Moscow, reports, more in sorrow than anger, that “[Rees-Mogg’s] investment firm has a stake in a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlin… that the hard-line Brexiteer owns almost a fifth of Somerset Capital Management… that on behalf of its clients SCM has bought shares in two Russian firms blacklisted by the US”.

There is lots more, but you get the picture. JRM, wearing his SCM hat is not averse to putting profits before principles.

I should imagine that the wealthy clients who have placed their hard-earned readies into the care of JRM and of SCM are concerned primarily with the returns on their investments and are quite relaxed about the methods employed to secure the best possible outcomes.

Whatever next for JRM as he grapples with the problem of balancing his political goals with his professional financial goals?

Will he continue in aristocratic mode, the aloof elitist? Or might he downsize to Jake Mogg, the populist and follow the example of Lord Stansgate – the toff who downsized to Anthony Wedgwood Benn and then to Tony Benn, the people’s friend.

Holdenforth will be keeping a watchful eye on the JRM phenomenon.

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As I Please – BBC, TSB & Abramovitch

Why not sell off the BBC?

In an earlier Holdenforth blog I looked at the case to privatise the BBC and I found the case to be compelling. It was and remains evident that the commendable standards laid down and operated by John Reith almost a century ago have long been abandoned. What we have now is overwhelmingly a part of the show business sector, but with none of the virtues of that sector and an unfortunate collection of weaknesses that are unique to the BBC.

I noted in my previous blog the catalogue of failures by the senior management of the BBC coupled with an unfortunate practice of recruiting its senior management from the Arthur Daley Business School.

These failures included the continued employment of Andrew Marr and Alan Yentob, despite the former having been flushed out for taking out an all-purpose injunction which forbade any reference to his not particularly interesting extra marital activities, and the latter for his questionable behaviour in and on behalf of the Kids Club Charity.

The initial handling by the BBC of the rumpus triggered when it dawned on some household names of the female persuasion that they were not receiving the same rewards as their male counterparts was unfortunate and inept as were the embarrassing attempts by the affluent male celebrities to accept pay cuts.

What has happened in recent weeks?

In no special order:

  1. The gender pay gap row at the top of the BBC rumbled on with the fiery furious female paupers masquerading as 21st century Tolpuddle Martyrs.

It was reported that that the Radio 4 presenter, Sarah Montague, was incandescent with rage when she became aware of the admittedly substantial earnings gap between herself and her male colleagues for doing what appeared to be the same job. It was this and similar examples that led Mrs May to put her weight behind the campaign to eradicate the gender pay gap.

The gap was undoubtedly there but I found myself unable to share the indignation of Mrs May in the context of the BBC.

Why so?

As the gender pay gap was hitting the headlines another and rather more serious and annoying pay gap was also in the news. It was reported that Sir Martin “Shortie” Sorrell, the boss of WPP, not content with his annual reward package of £50 million, had been using his initiative to charge a few items to his employer that ought to have paid for out of his own pocket. The resulting fuss was said to have been a contributory factor in his removal from office.

What’s my point? It is simply that the pay gap between Sir Martin at the top and the millions at the bottom on zero hours contracts is a problem that Mrs May ought to have considered before joining the more fashionable campaign for gender pay equality. After all there is no gender pay gap at the far more populous bottom of the pay league since both males and females are having to get by on next to nothing. The ones who are not Mrs May’s JAMs (the Just About Managing) but sadly the NoMans (The Not Managing) those whose descent into poverty proceeds remorselessly under Mrs May’s leadership.

Before I move on – what does it say about the perceptiveness of Sarah Montague that, on her own admission, she was unaware of what going in her own office. For me the most absurd episode occurred when Sarah Montague expressed her fury when she first grasped the size of the pay gap between herself and the super earners (all male) on the Today programme.

If she had been unaware of the gap – and I am happy to give her the benefit of the doubt on the matter – if she did not know what going on in the very office in which she worked – what does that tell us about her understanding of the wider world?

  1. Stars and their tax schemes

An article in the Daily Mail on April 20, 2018 informed us that “Some 200 BBC presenters are being investigated by HMRC after declaring themselves self-employed, meaning they were paid as contactors rather than staff… They worked through PSCs (personal service companies) which meant they enjoyed some tax relief while the BBC allegedly saved vast sums in national insurance contributions.”

The story has a sad ending: “In recent months scores of presenters have been told they owe thousands in unpaid historic tax despite staff saying they set up PSCs on the advice of their employers.”

To this outsider the story seems to be the familiar one of how those at the top collude to pay the minimum to HMRC and then arrange a sharing of the tax avoided / evaded between the two parties. A sound arrangement in the good undetected times but not much fun when the tax authorities get wise to the scam and set the hounds chasing the alleged miscreants.

  1. The BBC part in the police raid on the house of Sir Cliff Richard

The BBC is currently having a tricky time in court as it seeks to justify how it colluded with South Yorkshire police when the latter carried out a search of the home of Sir Cliff Richard following an accusation of sexual misconduct by – you tell me.

It is important to note that at no stage in the painfully protracted proceedings was Sir Cliff charged.

The South Yorkshire Police Authority has already acknowledged its serious errors in its handling of the allegations and compensated Sir Cliff accordingly. (By the way – who exactly foots the bill for the compensation that was paid by the police to Sir Cliff? And who will foot the bill if the court decides in favour of Sir Cliff in the current proceedings.)

As I write the prospects are not looking promising for the BBC.

I know what I hope the outcome will be – substantial damages for Sir Cliff plus a bollocking of the BBC by the bench.

Watch this space.

Let us now proceed from the particular to the general

Should the BBC be allowed to continue to strut around wearing the mantle of John Reith – a pampered Sui Generis in the media sector,

Or

Should it be sold off to the highest bidder and required to sink or swim in the private sector?

I believe that the case for the latter policy grows stronger by the day.

Is the BBC broadly true to its Reithian principles or is it committed to the mission statement that “there’s no business like show business”, as exemplified by the very title of “The Andrew Marr Show.?”

Holdenforth believes in providing proposals to cure the problems under discussion.

How to proceed? Here is how.

Solve the pay gap at the BBC – and most of the other ills that beset the BBC – by the simple expedient of privatising it, possibly via eBay.

Very soon after privatization, the celebrities passing themselves off as national treasures would grasp just what is meant by operating in a competitive environment. I suspect that a tiny minority might still be able to command high reward packages but that far more would learn from their agents that times are hard, that belts have to be tightened, that jobs are scarce, that the good old days are over, and what did you say your name is?

Mr Rupert Murdoch was understood to have been unimpressed by the performance of the editor of the Sunday Times during the fiasco of the purchase by Murdoch of the forged Hitler diaries. Accordingly, as Robert Harris told us in Selling Hitler, “In June1983, after discussions with Mr Rupert Murdoch it was announced that he (Frank Giles) was to retire prematurely as editor and assume the honorific title of editor emeritus… Giles asked what the title meant. ‘Its Latin, Frank,’  Murdoch is said to have replied. ‘The “e” means you’re out, and the “meritus” means you deserve it.’”

I imagine that Mr Murdoch – or someone – or anyone – of like mind would speedily bring realism to the running of the BBC.

One last point – God forbid that it be should be thought that I am a born again Thatcherite anxious to eradicate the entire public sector. To illustrate that this is not so: why not use the funds made available by the sale of the BBC to buy out the shareholders of the privatised rail sector?

The TSB Fiasco

A recent (May 21) article in the Mail noted that as a result of its recent online chaos, TSB “could face £16m in fines for its IT fiasco”.

Two points to note:

Firstly, who will pay the fines if and when they are imposed?

Secondly, the Mail reported that Mr Paul Pester, the insouciant boss man at TSB “is giving up a bonus of £2 million related to switching to the new computer system. But TSB could still pay him a separate annual bonus for 2018 of more than £1 million.” Surely the sentence should have read: “Mr Pester will be handed his P45 and told to clear his desk just as soon as the blank P45 can be filled in.

Only when I am reliably informed that this has been done to Pester and similar bunglers will I believe that the powers that be are serious about tackling the national problem of ineptitude at the highest levels of management.

Abramovitch and Windrush scandal – is there a connection?

It has been reported that the Russian Oligarch, Mr Roman Abramovitch, is experiencing problems in returning to the UK following his recent extensive business trips away from these shores. His entry visa had expired and the relevant authorities have been tardy for whatever reason(s) in supplying a new one.

The question is being whispered – might this delay be linked to the reported closeness between Mr Abramovitch and Mr Putin following the attempted murders in Salisbury and the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

My only minor point is that Mr Abramovitch now understands what it feels like when your anticipated arrival into the UK is stymied by Home office Byzantine procedures, a problem recently experienced by some of the Windrush generation.

Betts Off

Another recent Mail story (headlined ‘Unacceptable! MPs blast fat cat pay at disabled car scheme’) concerns the possibly excessive reward packages collected by Motability Operations Chief Executive Mike Betts and his senior colleagues. Mr Betts is paid £1.7 million per year and his fellow directors were pocketing salaries “totally out of whack with reality.”

It was not revealed if Mr. Betts or any of his colleagues were also benefiting from the heavily subsidised Motability arrangements.

A spokesperson for Motability said something to the effect that Motability had to pay market rate salaries in order to recruit and retain the necessary managerial talent.

Well he/she would say that wouldn’t he/she?

Holdenforth cannot leave matters in this delightfully vague setting. I suggest that the salaries collected by the acquisitive top team be cut by 90% (yes, 90%) and then see how quickly the Motability top talent were snapped in the fierce struggle for the best of the best of the best managerial talent.

The Irish Question

A gloomy final point for today.

Alex Massie, writing in The Times on May 21, highlighted the way in Brexiteers were treating Ireland with contempt. Kicking off in ironic mode, he said that “If it weren’t for the Irish life would be simpler. The Irish, after all, have for centuries been undermining or thoughtlessly complication life for British Governments. This, at any rate, seems to be the Brexiteer mantra.

The time – Easter 1916. The place – Dublin.

Lord Beaverbrook – then Max Aitkin- rang his friend Tim Healy in Dublin to ask about the reported rebellion.

“Is there a rebellion?”

Healy – “there is”

Aitkin – “When did it start?”

Healy – “When Strongbow invaded Ireland”

Aitken – “When will it finish?”

Healy – “When Cromwell gets out of Hell.”

To put the point another way – some Irishmen have long memories and not all of these memories take a kindly view of the actions of the UK authorities towards Ireland down the centuries.

 

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As I Please: Brexit, Boris & Snappy Electioneering

What next for Brexit?

A report in yesterday’s Daily Mail (headlined ‘Stop the insults and start talking, UK tells Europe’) kicked off by saying that “Downing Street struck back at Brussels after EU officials accused Theresa May of wanting a ‘fantasy Brexit.’”

The news emerging from the Brexit talks between the UK and the EU is both sparse and bleak. The Daily Mail is taking the view that the EU side is proving to be obdurate and offensive, and that the prevailing tone is rather more abrasive than the exchanges between Washington and Pyongyang.

To fill in the gaps, some tabloids are musing on the feasibility of a complex plot which would see Michael Gove replace Mrs May and, after a year or so, Mr Gove would gracefully make way for the up and coming leader of the Scottish Conservative party, Ruth Davidson.

Can’t quite see it myself.

For Holdenforth the most eye catching comment in recent days has been from Richard Littlejohn who noted that “regular readers” ( of his column) “will know that I’m no fan of Mother Theresa (yes, Richard, we had gathered that) and that he “thought Boris deserved the job when ‘call me Dave’ committed harakiri.” I have to confess that I missed his earlier endorsement of Boris and I also understand why he has not sought to remind us of this.

Littlejohn complained sourly that “leaving the EU is taking longer than defeating Hitler.” It is not easy to see how the two events can sensibly be compared but we live in strange times.

In line with the consistent policy of Holdenforth of providing a way out of the various problems examined in this blog, a suggested solution to the problems that are emerging as the Brexit process moves from the swapping of slogans to the nitty gritty details will be outlined.

Can Mrs May secure a good deal from the obdurate team batting for the EU, and, in so doing, secure the smoothest of transitions from where we are now to the sweet bye and bye of Brexitland?

Holdenforth will come back to this issue in a few paragraphs, but first a word about the emergence of the Soros campaign. According to the Mail (May 24), this will take the form of a “six-month blitz on MPs, unions and voters to thwart (the) PM’s Brussels deal”.

Well, the mission statement of the campaign is “to stop Brexit and begin to put Britain back together” so at least in this one cannot accuse the Mail of seeking to mislead its readers.

The Mail dutifully returned to the fray the following day, claiming that it had “new evidence of foreign billionaire Soros’s plot”; that it would “sabotage” Brexit; that “Europhiles” were now “ruthlessly” targeting MPs.

Well they would do that, wouldn’t they?

The Mail outlined the campaign strategy and tactics to be employed to achieve the commendable aims of the Soros team, and the Soros team will be doubtless be delighted to learn that Holdenforth is with them all the way.

But – how can Holdenforth translate its zeal for the aims of the Soros team into effective actions?

Shouting “Come on you Soros boys -and girls” from the rooftops (and this blog) is ok as far as it goes but that isn’t very far.

Holdenforth is noted for its lack of tangible assets or, as Mr Soros would say, cash.

Additionally, it lacks experience in the dark arts of political campaigning.

(A minor digression before we leave Mr Soros to get on with a spot of sabotaging. Mr Soros bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Michael Gove – just thought I’d mention it.)

The best that Holdenforth can do in these challenging circumstances is as follows. We have drafted a letter from the British Prime Minister (no names, no pack drill at this stage) to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. The letter looks at the prospects for Brexit and it is not pleased by what it sees:

Further to our recent discussions I now write to confirm the following points as agreed in our meeting on July 30, 2018:

1. It has become apparent to Her Majesty’s Government that there is now no prospect of reaching an agreement between us and the EU on the major contentious open points.

2. Accordingly HMG faces the prospect of leaving the EU with all its array of long established economic, political and social arrangements with – to use that most unfortunate term – no deal.

3. Equally it has become apparent to HMG that many of the assumptions made by the Brexiteers from the launch of the referendum campaign to date have been both hopelessly unrealistic and absurdly optimistic.

4.The combination of these factors, if allowed to continue, will result in the UK being stranded in no man’s land with a coldly uncooperative EU behind us and Heaven only knows what in front of us.

5. Accordingly and as per our agreement reached on July 30, I now confirm that HMG, on behalf of the UK, asks that the EU will accept the formal cancellation of our application to invoke Article 50 and that the UK be allowed to return immediately to the status quo ante that prevailed prior to the start of the Brexit fiasco.

6. I trust that you and your colleagues who will have been sorely tried by the antics of the Brexiteers -as indeed have I – will quickly draw a veil over the unfortunate events of recent years.

I would be grateful for your formal confirmation of the contents of this letter.

Yours etc,
UK Prime Minister on behalf of HMG

PS -Strictly between ourselves I am sure that you will understand that:

*I was always a Remainer but I had to bide my time until the time was ripe to see off the Brexiteers

*The Brexiteers, led – or rather misled – by that blond bloated bladder of wind Boris, are now all too clear that their day has come – and gone.

Then and now

Back in November 2014, The Times ran an article entitled “Boris brags about London’s exotic army of billionaires.” The article below the braggadocio headline went on to say that “As mayor, Boris Johnson has had time to think about makes London the greatest city on earth. His answer? Its mega rich inhabitants… Mr Johnson boasted that London had more billionaires than New York and Paris. ‘London is to the billionaire as the jungles of Sumatra are to the orangutan…’”

Later the report noted that “He acknowledged that high house prices in the capital were a phenomenon caused in part by his” (note the possessive pronoun) “millionaires… The success of London is making it very hard for Londoners to afford to live there.”

I think that the reader can reasonably draw the conclusion that Boris and the billionaires were on the best of terms at that time.

To quote the dour New York detective – who loves ya baby?

Several months earlier (in July 2014) another Times report said that “France [had] accused hypocritical Britain of cosying up to Russian oligarchs yesterday as European divisions thwarted hopes of immediate action over the shooting down of the Malaysia airlines passenger jet. A spokesman for President Hollande of France complained that his is a false debate led by hypocrites … when you see how many Russian oligarchs have sought refuge in London, David Cameron should start by cleaning up his own back yard.”

Well put, Mr Jean- Christophe Cambedelis.

That was then. Now, Boris Johnson has been leading the pack in denouncing the wealthy immigrant Bolshies following the alleged Russian complicity in the Salisbury attempted murders and the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Interestingly, the UK has now reversed its 2014 position and has added Russian complicity in the attack on the Malaysian airlines jet to its catalogue of accusations against Russia.

Holdenforth makes just one point, the rich London reds now under attack by Boris are the self-same rich London reds praised to the skies by Boris just a few years ago.

Holdenforth believes that the only lesson to be learned from this sorry sequence of events is that Boris has just one unvarying political principle – the advancement of the political career of Boris.

Reflections on effective electioneering

“We know what to expect when the Tories return to power – a party of great vested interests, banded together in a formidable confederation; corruption at home, aggression to cover it abroad; the trickery of tariff juggles; the tyranny of a wealth fed party machine; sentiment by the bucketful; patriotism and imperialism by the imperial pint; an open hand at the public exchequer; An open door at the public house; dear food for the million; cheap labour for the millionaire. That is the policy which the Tory party offers you.”

What you think of this for a snappy election message? I ask you: could Mr Corbyn put the points more effectively and more memorably?

It would be difficult to write a more devastating attack on the policies of today’s Tory Party as it prepares for the next election.

I would urge Jeremy Corbyn to contact the author and seek to enlist his services were it not for the facts that:

* the author has been dead since 1965.
* the author switched sides – from Liberal to Tory – in 1924
* the author was Winston Churchill.

Featured

All Quiet on the Brexit Front – a Lack of Progress Report

Few would disagree with the observation that there has been a lull of late in the battle for Brexit. Given the overriding importance of the outcome it is reasonable to ask why this should be so.

The lull may be due in part to the plethora of alternative major newsworthy issues currently on the go. The Salisbury poisonings, the war in Syria, the perceived need to ensure that the female of the species is paid the same as the male of the species for the same work, the pros and cons of the case for more bobbies on the beat to combat violent crime, the exuberant activities of Mr Trump at work and at leisure, the immigration issue neatly summarised by Private Eye as “Windrush to Bum‘s Rush,” the black spot handed to Sir Martin “Shortie” Sorrell by his disgruntled colleagues – these and many more compete with Brexit for the attention of Mrs May and her colleagues.

It is also worth noting that the lull may be more apparent than real in that the location of the debate between the EU and the UK has shifted from the glare of the cameras to rather more secluded venues to allow the principal negotiators to haggle over the small print.

It would seem that the pleasantries exchanged in recent weeks have now given way to what we old fashioned manager johnnies would call the nitty gritty where the devil will be in the detail.

The potential influence of the dissenters – from all sides of the house – – from the policies of their own parties is strengthened by the all pervasive sense of confusion and uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

“In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.” (Equally the one eyed woman is queen. Holdenforth does not do inequality.)

In this blog I will examine the possible contribution to the Brexit campaign of the dissenters in the House of Commons, those pains in the arse to party managers and docile colleagues alike, and I look at how the outcome of the Brexit drama may well be significantly influenced by the contribution of those traditional bit players and noises off – the awkward squad whose members are, for a wide variety of reasons, at odds with their respective parties.

Who are the key players – the main stakeholders – in the unfolding Brexit drama and where do they stand?

Firstly, the EU negotiating team. Their aim will be to drive the hardest possible bargain in order to make it clear, very clear, to any other would be leavers that leaving, far from being a soft option, will be the political equivalent of the actions of sharpshooters who take careful aim before shooting themselves in the foot.

The motto of the EU negotiating team and their backers towards the UK might be succinctly expressed as “If that is the way that they want it, then that is the way that they can have it and that is the way that they will have it”.

“So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”
Winston Churchill, From Hansard, November 12, 1936

Might there be parallels between the behaviour of Mr Baldwin and his government in 1936 and the behaviour of Mrs May and her government in 2018?

Let me allow Mr Alex Massie, occasional columnist for The Times, to have his say.

“Its time for May to stop marching in circles”
Alex Massie, The Times, April 23, 2018

I was preparing to catalogue the formidable array of problems facing Mrs May on the Brexit front when I read the excellent column by Mr Massie in the Times on April 23. He listed not only the problems that I had intended to mention but quite a few others that had escaped me.

None of the obstacles listed by Mr Massie are trivial and this makes any attempt to compress them tricky. However Holdenforth does not seek to avoid problems so herewith my selections from the Massie column together with my comments.

“Picture the scene deep inside the Downing Street bunker. There sits Mrs May .. Surrounded by her closet advisors as they ‘war game’ the latest developments in the Great Brexit War” (Holdenforth –  We are with you so far, Mr Massie.)

“’Give me options’ you imagine the prime minister demanding. But there are no good options, merely different kinds of difficulty.” (Nicely put, AM.)

“The Sunday Times reported yesterday that that the PM accepts, however reluctantly, that Britain may yet have to remain within the EU customs union if it is to achieve its objectives elsewhere.” (What objectives might these be other than that Mrs May clings onto the keys of Number 10?)

“Mrs May is trapped: in office but not in power.” (Spot on, AM.)

“At some point even this prime minister must make a decision. Are her opponents the EU 27 – ” (Yes) “or her own backbenchers” (Yes again)

“The spectre of Moggism hangs over the government.” (Let’s not carried away. Surely things have not got so bad that this modern Bertie Wooster, the lightest of lightweights, can be thought to exercise significant influence. )

“The gulf between rhetoric, action and reality widens by the day.” (Hear Hear.)

There is more, much more, in the same vein in the AM piece and none of it will have made comfortable reading for Mrs May.

Holdenforth cautiously suggests that the prospects for a successful outcome for the UK in the coming Brexit battle are bleak and the position of and prospects for the HMG team are far more shaky than those of the EU team.

Alex Massie has set out with crystal clarity the weaknesses of HMG and of the UK in the impending Brexit battle. He outlined the difficulties of trying to satisfy the mutually exclusive aims of the hard Brexiteers, the peace at any price Brexiteers and those for whom any departure from the EU will be over their, if not dead bodies, then badly battered bodies.

The task of the HMG team is made significantly more difficult – if that were possible – by the fact that the SNP is firmly in the Remain camp and the Labour Party is in the Micawber camp, waiting for something to turn up.

The policy of the Labour Party continues to puzzle Holdenforth. Insofar as one can make any sense of the material that is put out it appears to be a confused combination of playing Little Sir Echo to the Tories, and, as noted, waiting for something to turn up.

The latter policy cannot fail to succeed in that something WILL turn up. But what is that something?

When the questions are coming thick and fast from the 24/7 media pack – and sooner or later they will be coming thick and fast – Labour will need to get its Brexit act together – so why not get a plausible principled policy together now in the relative tranquillity of the Brexit phoney war?

What about the opinion formers in the media?

“Let me a little show it, even in this-
That I was constant Cimber should be banished,
And constant do remain to keep him so.”
Caesar spelling out his fixed position just prior to his death at the hands of Brutus and others in Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Paul Dacre, like Julius Caesar some two thousand years ago, has been and remains commendably consistent on Brexit.

He has been consistent in his raucous demand that Brexit should mean Brexit – and he continues to demand that Brexit will mean Brexit – full marks to PD for consistency- but he needs to remember what the outcome was for Julius Caesar.

How might this drama unfold in the next few months?

As noted I will confine the scope of this blog to the possible contribution of the awkward squad which lurks on the back benches of the House of Commons to the outcome of the Brexit battle.

Members of the awkward squad are not to be confused with those members who from time to time feature in the headlines to the fury of the party whips and the joy of the electorate. This latter misbehaving group provides ample evidence as to the diverse activities and antics to be encountered in the inner sanctum of our democracy. We will not- for the moment – be looking at abuses of the parliamentary expenses arrangements, nor will we raise the question of how the MP Stephen Milligan died “in unusual sexual circumstances” (How does one die in usual sexual circumstances?), and of why Mr Jonathan Aitken was detained in one of Her Majesty’s penal institutions following his conviction for perjury. We will not seek to raise the case of the internet advertisements placed by the MP for the Rhondda, Mr Chris Bryant, for same sex partners, and nor will we raise the difficulties faced by the Liberal Democrats in the leadership election brought about by the drink problem of its former leader, Charles Kennedy.

(With regard to the last-mentioned difficulties which we will not be raising: four candidates put themselves forward to succeed Mr Kennedy. The tabloids immediately and predictably got onto the job of looking into their past lives and the outcome for two of the four was less than welcome. It turned out that one of the four, Mr Simon Hughes, was sexually ambivalent – not a vote winner in those judgmental days- and another, Mr Mark Oaten, was reported as having engaged in sexual activities too revolting to be described in a family newspaper! A third, Mr Chris Huhne, later had to resign from the Cameron cabinet because of suspicions, later confirmed in court, that he had persuaded his then wife, and, latterly, his aloof critic, to accept penalty points on her driving licence for offences committed whilst he was at the wheel. So – Nick Clegg got the job – a poisoned chalice if ever there was one. I should like to end this stroll down memory lane with a brief word about the unseemly allegations concerning Lord Rennard. The portly Lib Dem peer was said to have adopted a very hands on approach in his dealings with female colleagues and a few of them broke cover to accuse him of excessive familiarity. I have no idea what went on any more than you have but some of the reports reminded me of Molly Bloom’s confession to the priest in “Ulysses” – “And where did the man touch you, my child?” “It was on the canal bank, Father” One could sense the frustration endured by the priest as his zeal for getting to the gist of the matter overlapped with his quest for fortuitous titillation came up against not a brick wall but a canal towpath.)

Time was when politicians were expected to have principles to which they would adhere and, when necessary, refer. These principles were presented to the electorate which would then make its choice from the range on offer. Not any more. The speed with which clearly proclaimed principles are jettisoned and wholly different ones adopted leaves the onlooker dazed with the sleight of hand. In the early sixties the Labour party was bitterly opposed to the Common Market. Under Blair, the New Labour Party sought by a series of complex manoeuvres to take us in. The Tory party under Heath in the seventies was firmly pro Europe. Now the party is all but committed to pulling out. As recently as the 1983 general election the Labour party was proud to call itself socialist and put to the electorate a set of policies to match its principles. I recall vividly the speech made by Michael Foot in Ebbw Vale on the eve of the 1983 election. He spoke with pride and passion about the values and principles of the party he was proud to lead. On the debit side it took him about an hour just to bring his story up to 1945 and there were some in his audience and doubtless in the country anxious for a more contemporary note. Nowadays the Labour party whilst condemning everything that Thatcher stood for, has been careful to retain and in some cases even to extend her policies. It’s all very confusing to the voters.

What happens next in Westminster ?

Holdenforth still sees only 3 possibilities.

1. The least likely – Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis to crisis for the next 4 or so years. In this event and whatever else happens – the UK will be out of Europe. The arguments presented by Alex Massie will have lengthened the odds in its favour to the most remote eventuality.

2. Around 50 or so Tory MPS would have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a leadership election. This is the second plausible possibility, especially given the shaky record of Mrs May in her brief but turbulent stay in Number 10.  It is much less likely than option 3 (see below) because Members of Parliament are noted rather more for their opportunism than for adherence to principle.

3. The most likely outcome is that Mrs May will sooner or later- and sooner rather than later – lose a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election. For this to happen just 10 Tories – 3% of the total – would be required to vote against in order to dislodge Mrs May.

A modest rebellion.

Might there be enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket to carry a no confidence vote?

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

We urge the required 3% to follow the example of Henry V before Harfleur as he urged his followers to “imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise nature with hard favoured rage“, and so on and so forth” by putting their heads above the parapet during and at the end of the confidence debate.

There would then be a repeat of the 2017 General Election – sorry about that, Brenda from Bristol – a single issue General Election which we will call Brexel 2 – a second referendum in all but name.

Our legislators – those in the Commons now plus a rather larger number anxious to replace them would then be required collectively to decide how to proceed and the voters would be entertained by the spectacle of the elastic consciences of the thousand plus candidates competing to be elected to the House of Commons being stretched to breaking point.

Possible factors to take into account

What about Mr Corbyn and his colleagues?

You tell me. I am far from clear as to what the Parliamentary Labour Party would do in the event that Mrs May and her Government lost a vote of confidence.

It might well be that her successor as Tory leader would note the fragility and uncertainty of the Labour Party, rally the Tory troops and succeed in winning the subsequent election.

What if for whatever reason or combination of reasons the DUP withdraws from the current support “arrangement” , something which could happen at any time given the volatility and unpredictability of politics throughout Ireland?

This leaves the only realistic option of lancing the boil – and putting Mrs May out of her self-inflicted misery – as being for a sufficient number of brave Tory MPs either to vote against or abstain on a vote of confidence to trigger a general election.

What should the policy of the Remainers be?

Holdenforth suggests that the scattered and disorganised remainers adopt an approach along the following lines:

“Sir William Harcourt was a genial accomplished parliamentarian , a party man, with an eye fixed earnestly but by no means unerringly upon the main chance”
From “The Earl Of Rosebery” -essay by Winston Churchill .

Thus Sir William Harcourt , thus significant numbers of current and would be members of the House of Commons.

The key policy elements of the Remain camp to be:

1. To persuade enough dissident Tory MPs to trigger the toppling of Mrs May.

2. An intent to reverse the 2016 referendum and to recommend that the UK get back to business as usual within the European Community.

3. The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would contain a readiness to acknowledge that the two main parties both made some appalling errors of judgement on this crucial political issue in the past few years.

Holdenforth remains firmly in the Remain camp and it remains confident that the Brexit battles, if fought to a finish, will be won by the EU and its negotiating team.

Should that outcome come to pass Holdenforth predicts that Mrs May will be left with two options, both unattractive.

A bad deal unlikely to be endorsed by her hard Brexiteer wing
or
No deal – an outcome difficult if not impossible to sell to the UK voters.

Throughout these turbulent proceedings the current membership of the Commons and those hoping to replace them will have just one aim in common – what outcome will be the best for me?

In this phase the electorate, advised and exhorted by the tireless media, will be trying to predict the outcome.

Straws in the wind.

Owen Smith, a member of the Labour Shadow Cabinet, suggested that Parliament be allowed the final say on the Brexit terms secured by HMG – and was promptly sacked by Mr Corbyn. Given the gravity of some of the political offences that JC had previously pardoned from members of his shadow team – not a good omen for the future.

A doughty cross party and no party group has been formed to campaign for a second referendum on Britain’s future in the EU. Its leading members include Carolyn Lucas, Chuka Umunna and the formidable Anna Soubry. Comedian Andy Parsons – who he? – and Sir Patrick Stewart – thespian space traveller – were also on the launch platform.

The House of Lords has tabled some tricky amendments to trip up the Brexiteers thus triggering some Bolshevist demands by The Daily Mail for the political gelding of the our revered upper house.

Tony Blair and John Major have both launched impressive broadsides against Brexit.

Lord Adonis – a beacon of sense in the Brexit battle – is said to be working tirelessly to organise the Remain forces and I wish him every success in his efforts.

Mr Barry Gardiner was said to have embarrassed the Labour Shadow Cabinet by suggesting that the party’s Brexit policy was bollocks – Holdenforth is not as prim as the Daily Mail which reported the word as b******s.  Whether direct or via asterisks the frustration of Mr Gardiner was plain to discern – his was a commendably direct comment which suggest that there is may well be some flexibility in the views of Mr Gardiner as the Brexit battle moves from phoney to turbulent.

Holdenforth both suspects and hopes that events are moving against the Leavers and in favour of the Remainers.

 

 

 

Featured

Whither Brexit?

 

All in all and taking one thing with another and looking at things in the round and pondering on the reports from the two camps – Brexit and Remain – and making all due allowance for possible contributing factors like the repercussions of the attempted murders in Salisbury and the war of words in the Labour Party about whether or not the party is rife with anti-Semitism and, if yes, why, and what did Kim and Xi discuss in their clandestine meeting and how clever of the Chinese President, Mr Xi Jinping, to arrange for his term of office to be converted into a lifetime appointment and what, if anything, happened between Mr Trump and Stormy Daniels, and, in the case of the last item, does anyone really care –  let us see where we have got to, and where we are headed for, Brexit wise. 

 

 “So  who would you trust – A manic burnt-out Blair preaching doom or a rejuvenated Theresa May in touch with the people and urging unity?”
Daily Mail headline on  March 30, 2018 

 

Well – since you ask, Mr Dacre – I would trust Mr Blair.

 

“Our Ruling Class is ashamed to be British – That was Orwell’s view of the appeasers in WW2. The same accusation applies to Remainers who still think they can stop Brexit.”
Headline in The Daily Mail on March 31, 2018 alongside photos of a beaming Tony Blair, a grim faced Nick Clegg and a determined David Cameron, our former rulers thought to be ashamed of being British by Leo McKinistry and doubtless by the indefatigable Paul Dacre.

 

For my part I hope that the doughty trio of Remainers are right and that Brexit will be stopped in its tracks.

 

Let us make a start by looking at Brexit developments, or, rather, at voids where developments might have been expected since my last Brexit blog  in mid-February. 

 

  • Are we in a Brexit phony war and, if yes, when and how will it explode into action?
  • Is a rejuvenated Theresa May on the crest of a wave that is about to carry her to a triumphant Brexit outcome?
  • The media are teeming with reports purporting to be based on reliable inside information as to what is going on. Which opinions are based on reliable inside information and which opinions are just chin music?

 

Before we address those questions, there was also a welcome breaking of ranks in the Labour Party when Owen Smith outlined the case for a second referendum – on the debit side Mr Smith was promptly sacked from the Shadow cabinet by Mr Corbyn – a case of one step forward, one step back.

 

From my remote position on the margin of the outskirts of the periphery – it seems to me that Mrs May has strengthened both her own position and the prospects for a smooth Brexit in recent weeks.

 

Brexiteers are claiming that significant progress has been made in the various discussions between HMG – for HMG read Mrs May and Mr Davis – on the one hand and the EU negotiating team – Mr Barnier and Mr Juncker – on the other hand. It has been reported that some obstacles to Brexit have been overcome, and that the way is now clear for some detailed negotiations on terms and conditions between the two parties.

 

EU leaders have been filmed embracing  Mrs May – not with notable warmth but a kiss is still a kiss -after some sessions, and the Brexiteers have a collective spring in their collective step.

 

Notes on possible problems ahead.

 

“One strand is evident amongst those who believe that leaving the single market and customs union can make us better off economically.
“It will not.
“Making trade with by far our biggest, richest and closest trading partner more expensive will not have net economic benefit.”

Paul Johnson, The Times. March 19, 2018.

 

Calm, clear, measured words from the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and an accomplished numbers man – a rarity in the Brexit turmoil.

 

There was an entertaining if uninformative spat between two Tories from the toff end of the party, namely Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Bertie Wooster of the Brexit camp, and Lord  Patten, a Tory big beast from yesteryear, and a passionate Remainer. Lord Patten wondered what Rees-Mogg would like to be when he grows up – many of us would like to know the answer to that question –  and Rees-Mogg opined that Lord Patten did not want democracy in the United Kingdom.

 

I suspect that Lord Patten is more than capable of looking after himself but I also suspect that some in the Brexit camp think that the Brexiteers should appoint Rees-Mogg a minder with the qualities of Jeeves to ensure that the imbecilities articulated so beautifully by this relic are not allowed to  damage the Brexit cause. 

 

 The same point applies to BoJo only more so. Scarcely a day goes by without Boris Johnson making waves – he is evidently resolved to make himself into a UK version of Donald Trump, with the added incentive that the alarming excursions of Mr Trump into the social media seem to strengthen rather than erode his position and his prospects.

 

Both Trump and BoJo personify the old truism that you can fool some of the people some of the time.

 

A word about the Salisbury Poisonings

 

To some extent Brexit has been squeezed out of the headlines by the events in Salisbury on Sunday, March 4, 2018 when the ex Russian spy Mr Sergei Skripal  and his daughter were poisoned by a deadly nerve chemical.

 

There was an immediate and widespread assumption that the Russians were responsible, to be more precise that the crime was planned in and by The Kremlin,  quite possibly on the personal authorisation of Mr Putin  or that Russia had lost control of  some nerve gas and that rogue elements had used it on Mr Skripal.

 

In both cases the Russian state would bear  a heavy responsibility.

 

I thought at the time and have continued to think since that one or other of these explanations might well prove to be correct but I also had and have some sympathy with the argument put forward by the Russian foreign office that  the UK should both complete its investigation and then allow the Russians the time specified in the relevant protocols to respond to the charges, if any.

 

Things did not work out along the lines requested by the Kremlin. The Russia guilty view quickly gathered momentum, and the outcome was a rapid and significant reduction in the numbers of officials employed by Russia in its UK embassy and the Russian embassies of its  many allies on the one hand and a roughly similar cut in the number of  officials employed by these many countries in their respective embassies in Russia.

 

The thought occurred to me that the sequence of events indicated a degree of over manning in the espionage sector but what of that.

 

One matter arising as the crisis escalated intrigued me. The various affluent Russian oligarchs who had moved to London following the break up of the Soviet Union were deemed to be undesirables and a clamour arose in the media for their malign influence to be curbed. These oligarchs had not come here empty handed – being Russians of the thrifty type they had brought their huge fortunes with them , and had used these fortunes to buy influence in the old fashioned way.

 

As I recall much of this influx would have taken place under the nose of Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London – I do not recall that he opposed the oligarchs when he was in a position to do something about it – but then – that’s BoJo!

 

Another and much more important consequence of the Salisbury crime was that Mrs May was able to persuade her NATO allies to support her as she successfully pointed the finger at the Kremlin. This resulted in the mutual scaling up of tensions and the mutual scaling down of diplomatic head counts and this in turn led to a significant increase in her popularity.

 

I suspect that this latter bubble will burst once the hard Brexit negotiations get under way. 

 

A word about Mr Corbyn – in theory and given the precarious position of Mrs May in the House of Commons – Mr Corbyn should be in a position to make a significant input into the Brexit debate in the next few months.

 

In practice two issues appear to be handicapping him.

 

  • Can he move on from his Wilkins Micawber stance  – that of waiting for something to turn up.  Mr Owen Smith has shown him the way but Mr Corbyn seems reluctant to deal with the absurd “ the people have spoken“ position. Why not allow the people to have second thoughts?
  • Mr Corbyn has also been perceived as struggling to cope with the charges of anti Semitism – is he guilty or not guilty?

 

It seems to me that the instances quoted as illustrating that Labour is an anti-semitic party range from the clearly guilty to reasonable points about the regrettable behaviour of Israel in the occupied territories.

 

Mr Corbyn has been in politics long enough to recognise the odious nature of the crime of denying that some 6 million Jews were murdered in the second world war, and long enough to grasp that suggesting that the Holocaust did not happen is rubbing salt into very painful wounds.

 

“ When British forces entered the so called convalescent camp at Belsen is 1945 they found a scene of indescribable horror.: the wasted bodies of 50,000 human beings who had died from starvation and disease… Only a century before all Ireland was a Belsen. Nearly two million Irish people died of starvation and fever within five year; another million fled bearing disease to Liverpool and the New World.”

Opening words of “Genocide” – an essay by Professor A.J.P. Taylor. 

 

As one who is partly of Irish descent I would not take kindly – even after an interval of 170 years – to reading that the Irish famine did not happen.

 

Those seeking explanations for continuing Irish obduracy down the years would do well to bear the actions of Sir Charles Trevelyan and his Whitehall colleagues in the 1840s in mind. 

 

Back to Brexit 

 

As the two protagonists edge gingerly forward into uncharted territory – who are the key players?

 

  • For HMG –  Mrs May, Mr Davis and, more unpredictably, Mr Johnson
  • UK opinion movers and shakers – Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch
  • The EU first team – Messrs Jean-Claude Juncker, Mr Barnier and Mr Tusk
  • The Remainers – Mr Blair, Mr Owen Smith , Anna Soubry, Mr George Soros and Sir Martin Sorrell. I include the Holdenforth in this latter group on the shaky grounds that the addition a few paupers to the remain group would work wonders for diversity.

 

What happens next in the negotiations?

 

“A successful Brexit will crucially depend on negotiating speedy bilateral agreements with big economies. The precedents are not good: success will take compromise.”
Times leader, April 3, 2018

 

The leading article is not exactly brimming with confidence that the outcome will be satisfactory, and it ends with the old standby that “the best may prove the enemy of the good“.

 

The Times explains its own concerns and reservations: here are the concerns and reservations of  Holdenforth in no particular order.

 

1. It is unfortunate that the next phase in what are bound to be difficult negotiations will coincide with the outbreak of an uncompromising trade war between the USA and China – not a good start.

 

2. The worsening row between “The West” and Russia over the attempted murders in Salisbury has further poisoned and polarised global politics – again the timing is unfortunate.

 

3. The 27 countries that, as things stand, plan to remain in the EU, have enough problems of their own without making matters worse by bowing to the collective tantrums of the UK, starting with the absurd Cameron decision to hold a referendum.  I suspect that the 27 will not wish to make any significant concessions and they will not wish to be seen to be making any significant concessions- after all the 27 as a group hold the stronger cards.

 

4. Accordingly, this blog predicts that the EU stance will be inflexible although couched in courteous language.  

 

If this does turn out to be the case, then Mrs May may well  have to opt for a “no deal” outcome rather than a “bad deal” outcome.

 

What happens then?

 

We could be heading for a degree of turbulence that will make the proceedings experienced to date seem positively tranquil.

 

What happens next in Westminster?

 

Holdenforth still sees only three possibilities:

 

1. Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis for the next 4 or so years. In this event and whatever else happens – the UK will be out of Europe. Not impossible but not very likely.

 

2. Mrs May loses a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election. For this to happen just 10 Tories would be required to vote against. Quite a strong possibility – but – as noted – Mr Corbyn and his party are not exactly clear as to their policy.  A slight variation on this option is that the DUP withdraws from the current support arrangement , something which could happen at any time given the volatility and unpredictability of politics throughout Ireland.  

 

3. Around 50 or so Tory MPS would have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a leadership election. This is the second plausible possibility, especially given the shaky record of Mrs May in her brief but turbulent stay in Number 10.

 

Which of our two plausible  two options would have the greatest appeal to disaffected Tory MPs?

 

Quite simply the leadership challenge, even if successful, would solve nothing because the successful challenger would face the same formidable catalogue of problems.

 

This leaves the only realistic option of  lancing the boil as being for a sufficient number of brave MPs either to vote against or abstain on a vote of confidence to trigger a general election.

 

So:

 

  • There are currently 314 Tory Mps in the Commons
  • 10 or so Tory votes to support the opposition would be enough to dislodge Mrs May.

 

To put the arithmetic slightly differently – just over 3% of the entire Tory membership in the Commons would be enough to do the trick. Might we have enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket?

 

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

 

We urge the required 3% to follow the example of Henry V before Harfleur as he urged his followers to imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise nature with hard favoured rage, and so on and so forth by putting their heads above the parapet during and at the end of the confidence debate.

 

There would then be a repeat of the 2017 General Election – sorry about that, Brenda from Bristol –  a single issue General Election which would be a second referendum in all but name.

 

Our legislators would then be required collectively to decide how to proceed and the voters would be entertained by the spectacle of the elastic consciences of the thousand or so candidates competing to be elected to the House of Commons  being stretched to breaking point.

 

Holdenforth suggests that the scattered and disorganised Remainers adopt an approach along the following lines.

 

The key policy elements of the Remain camp to be:

 

  • Persuade enough dissident Tory MPs to trigger the toppling of Mrs May .
  • An intent to reverse the events of recent years and to recommend that the UK get back to business as usual within the European Community.
  • The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would contain a readiness to acknowledge  that the two main parties have made some appalling errors of judgement in the past few years.

 

 Let us close on an eye watering issue from down under…

 

Senior Australian cricketers have been found guilty of ball tampering and have paid a heavy price for their sharp practices

 

Just a thought –  how would you like to have your balls sand papered?

 

I have to confess that the very thought of it made my eyes water.

 

 

 

Featured

As I Please – Second Edition

An aged blogger grumbles about “Great Continental Railway Journeys”

This programme, presented by Michael Portillo, was broadcast on BBC 2 on March 15.

I watched this programme and, as usual with the Portillo offerings, I rather enjoyed it.

On the debit side I was disappointed by one omission. The theme of the programme was the history and geography of the railway between Batuum and Baku and I think that mention could have been made of the brief British involvement in that line.

In his final volume of his history of the First World War, Winston Churchill wrote as follows:-

“The British landed at Batuum and rapidly occupied the Caucasian railway from the Black Sea to the Caspian at Baku. Here our troops found a friendly and on the whole welcoming, though agitated population… The British forces, about 20,000 strong, were by the end of January, 1919 in possession of one of the greatest strategic lines in the world…  What the British Government was going to do with it was never clearly thought out… It was with the greatest difficulty .. that this protecting line was maintained for about a year.”

Given that the centenary of this remote theatre of WW1 is almost upon us, and that yet again tensions between the UK and Russia are very much in the news today I ,feel that the programme makers missed an opportunity to shed some light upon this intriguing period in our history.

I have to declare an interest here. My father was one of the 20,000 troops mentioned by Churchill. He served in The Royal Engineers as a Plate Layer on the “great strategic line,” and returned to the UK in 1919 to spend the next 40 years working as a plate layer in the rather more tranquil surroundings of the line between Bolton and Lostock Junction.

One other item unearthed from a very long stroll down a very long memory lane. My mother – born in 1897- told me that my great grandmother – born in 1838 – used to sing my oldest brother – born 1921 – to sleep with songs about the Crimean war – yet another falling out with Russia.

Isn’t is about time that the UK and Russia resolved their differences in a rather more civilised fashion?

A  word about Sir John Chilcot

In a previous blog item  I begged those in authority in the UK to abandon the approach adopted by Sir John Chilcot in his inquiry into the war in Iraq. Quite simply, I argued that Sir John had been rather too anxious to re-visit every episode in great detail and, more importantly, at a very languid pace. He, Sir John, had decided at the outset of the enquiry that no stone should be left unturned – and no stone or even tiny pebble – was left unturned.

Let us now fast forward to today. The attempted murder of the former Russian spy and of his daughter was followed by the most rapid arrival of conclusions in British history.

Could it be – I wondered – that Mr Boris Johnson had read my Chilcot blog and had been fully persuaded of the need to get a move on?

However even I, with my zeal for alacrity, had not sought to argue that the time honoured need for a careful investigation prior to arriving at conclusions should be abandoned, but evidently BoJo was in no mood to be deemed to be guilty of Chilcotisation – and nor was he. Thus we went from the extremely cautious approach of Sir John Chilcot on the one hand to the rush to judgement adopted by BoJo at the other extreme with no pause for thought as the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other.

A couple of digressions here:

* The Boris effect:- 1:- Emma Duncan mentioned the Boris effect in her Notebook in the Times on March 19. She was initially persuaded that “All the evidence points towards Putin as the ultimate perpetrator of the attacks in Salisbury… So why has my conviction begun to waver? Because Boris Johnson said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Putin ordered the attacks, and he has shown himself to be so untrustworthy that I am inclined to disbelieve everything he says.

Good point, Emma.

* The Boris effect-2 – In the Andrew Marr show on March 18 we had the unedifying spectacle of Andrew Marr interviewing Boris Johnson about the Salisbury poisonings.

I noted above that I share the low opinion of Emma Duncan and many other others about the dubious nature of the character of BoJo.

The public should not forget that it is not that long ago that Andrew Marr took out a comprehensive injunction banning all mention of his not especially interesting extra marital exploits.

I think it likely that both HMG and the BBC could use more plausible employees to make the case against the role of Russia in the poisonings.

Notes on Bullying

“A deserved kick up the backside isn’t bullying”
Headline above the Matthew Parris column in The Times, March 17, 2018

Matthew Parris used his recent column to suggest that the public view of bullying has swung too far in the direction of being over sensitive and that there will always be a case to take people  who are failing to perform to the required standard to task.

So far – so good – but as is usually the case in these tricky areas – the devil is the detail.

I will limit my comments on the matter to the actions of a few media moguls and then leave it to readers to decide if the said moguls might be deemed to be guilty of bullying.

The case against Rupert Murdoch

The following extract from my book, A Cushy Number, sets out the case against Mr Murdoch

“In their splendidly entertaining book, L!ve TV – The uncut story of Tabloid Television, Chris Horrie and Adam Nathan wrote an account of the rise and fall of L!ve TV in which the dramatis personae included  the well known media figures, Kelvin McKenzie and David Montgomery, some time Editors of The Sun and News of the World respectively. Horrie and Nathan relate how even the legendarily thick skin of Kelvin McKenzie was starting to show signs of wear and tear after a decade of abuse from Rupert Murdoch, this despite the fact that it had been said of McKenzie that the only sensitive part of his person  was the tip of his organ of generation.

“Most of us would prefer not to have to endure the daily verbal assaults of Mr Murdoch even if the plus side of the job was that the Editor was free to pour cold water on the rest of us. (We  know that water is not le mot juste but our ingrained fastidiousness made us shrink from inserting the name of the more appropriate liquid.) In any event McKenzie fully exploited his freedom at all times. However the fact remains that KM was bollocked on a daily basis by RM –  Calculations show that McKenzie received about 4,000 in all, which must constitute some sort of unwelcome professional record. At one point the authors quote the luckless McKenzie as lamenting that ‘F’kin hell, the boss has been on the gorilla biscuits again’.”

The case against Paul Dacre

My source here is the book, Flat Earth News by Nick Davies and I will quote from the book.

“There is something else which Mail journalists talk about, which is Paul Dacre’s aggression. A woman who edited a section of the paper told me:- “ they call him the vagina Monologue because he calls so many people a cunt. He would stalk through the newsroom… and he’s shouting “What the fuck, is this you cunt, there’s not a fucking brain in this office.”

There is plenty more in this vein but you get the picture – a picture in which the boss is not averse to using the language of the gutter to emphasise his points.

Is Paul Dacre a work place bully? You tell me.

The case against Richard Desmond is broadly in line with the case against Paul Dacre – only more so.

So there you have it – just how objective might our proprietors be given their propensity to resort to strong and offensive – to those on the receiving end  – when dealing with perceived flaws in the quality of the work of their respective subordinates.

I rest my case that my trio of media moguls have been guilty of workplace bullying. I would be surprised if Mr Dacre has softened his approach, but it may be that advancing years may have diminished the aggression of Mr Murdoch, and I have no idea about the scope for bullying in the more remote media shores now occupied by Mr Desmond.

A case of tangible work place bullying

The late, incomparable Times Columnist Bernard Levin  wrote a piece called “How to know when you’re not wanted” on June 2nd, 1978.

His column arose from a dispute before an industrial tribunal between an employer and his employee over the alleged dismissal of the latter. The tribunal was told that “ the owner of a hair dressing salon punched one of his staff in the face and kneed him in the groin .. It was also reported that he, the employer, then attempted to drag the employee outside so that he could have a real go.”

The complexities of what does and what does not constitute dismissal do not concern us here.

I suspect that few of us would contest the charge that the employer had adopted a bullying approach towards his employee.

For the record “the tribunal accepted that such treatment was tantamount to unfair dismissal.“

A bullying story with a happy ending

“I have a long series of insults to avenge … have a care;  for if you do raise the devil in me, the consequences shall fall heavily on your own head.
“He had scarcely spoken when Squeers … spat upon him and struck him a blow across the face with his instrument of torture which raised up a bar of livid flesh as it was inflicted…
“Nicholas sprang upon him, wrested the weapon from his hand and, pinning him by the throat, beat the ruffian till he roared for mercy — he threw all his remaining strength into half a dozen finishing cuts and flung Squeers from him …. Squeers striking his head (against a form) lay at full length on the ground, stunned and motionless.
From “Nicholas Nickleby” by Charles Dickens

Then, as now, the public liked to see a bully bested and beaten, especially when the victor was an employee and the loser was an employer.

The fastidious might argue that Dickens seemed to relish the combat, but the outcome was a source of comfort to his readers.

A hypothetical case of bullying

Matthew Parris wrote light heartedly that a kick up the backside isn’t bullying.

Some years ago I rashly invested a substantial part of my hard earned savings in allegedly safe funds operated by Capita/ Arch CRU.

I  regretted my decision when a few weeks later the funds were mysteriously “suspended” and it appeared likely that I would lose the full amount.

I pondered on the sentence that would await me if I were to seek out the senior manager responsible for my  impoverishment and proceed to insert my size 14 boot up his anal orifice to the very last lace hole.

Wiser counsels prevailed with the intervention of the doughty Jeff Prestridge from The Mail on Sunday. The outcome was that I recovered the greater part of the money that I had assumed to be gone for good.

What view might the law have taken had I taken action along the lines hinted at above?

Would I been deemed to be guilty of assault, provoked or otherwise?  I suspect that that would have been the outcome – private citizens must not take the law into their own hands.

PS – writing the above tetchy notes reminded me that 10 years later I am still owed around £1k and that this money is languishing in some vague cells in The Channel Islands.

Holdenforth action – get after Capita / Arch CRU for this outstanding amount!

A plaintive aged blogger bleats

“Behold a sower went forth to sow, And when he sowed some seeds fell by the way side and the fowls came and devoured them up.
“And some fell among thorns and the thorns sprung up and choked them.
“Some fell upon stony places ….. And when the sun was up they were scorched and because they had no root they withered away.
“But other fell into good ground and brought forth fruit some an hundred fold , some sixty fold, some thirty fold.”
Matthew 13, verses 3 to 8

I mentioned in a previous blog piece that I had resorted to social media only because the previous recipient of my views, Tribune Magazine, had gone out of business or gave every impression of having done so. Prior to this I had had no contact with the arcane world of social media and I had no particular wish to do so.

My initial entry to this mysterious new world was a cautious dip into the shallow end of the social media pool. I wrote blogs that covered roughly the same ground as my Tribune articles, and my son who grasps the modus operandi of this brave new world did the rest.

So far so good.

I became aware of the much wider field that is/are Social Media, when I was advised to send my blogs to my Facebook contacts.

Facebook contacts?

What Facebook contacts?

In this brave new world it was not that there gaps in my knowledge but rather a void.

My initial velleity had been that my blog pieces would be speedily and electronically transmitted to my newly acquired Facebook contacts and that they in turn would transmit them to their Facebook friends and so on ad infinitum. In less time than it takes to tell my blogs would be distributed to a number at or around the circulation of the Sun newspaper and I would be transformed from obscure Tribune contributor to a columnist with the influence of – let us say – Mr Littlejohn, the doyen of contemporary columnists and now fulminating in the pages of The Daily Mail.

I was advised that the introduction and widespread availability of social media was a social and technical revolution as significant as the introduction of electronic communications in an earlier age.

It was explained to me that these  social media signified the end of the monopoly exercised by the conventional print and broadcast media – hence the collective distaste felt by this group for the new usurpers.

Finally and belatedly it was also explained to me that the modest downside of my new venture would be that I would be on the receiving end of a tsunami of  Facebook updates, Facebook status reports, Facebook photos, Facebook accounts of accounts of shopping expeditions, all contributing to the startling diversity and complexity of contemporary life on earth.

I was urged to accept all requests from strangers to be my friends on Facebook apart from those from unlikely sources such as say Boris Johnson or Michael Gove.

For reasons that remain unclear to me things did not work as per my velleity – hence the title of this piece.

The predicted downside turned out exactly as per the prediction – no complaints from me on that score.

The hoped for benefits are to still to be delivered, and I am unsure as to why this this should be so. Given the similarity of the Facebook multiplier process to a Ponzi scheme – my blogs in theory at least are routinely arriving into thousands of computers. I appreciate that most of the recipients will speedily for wholly understandable reasons. However,  I had anticipated that a few might read them and that a lively  exchange of views might follow would follow.

Sadly this has not yet happened, and so far as I can make and to use the sower parable from the Gospel of St Matthew – most of my well intentioned seed has fallen either by the way side, or upon stony ground or among thorns but as yet – none into good ground.

Where to from here?  Clearly – to seek advice to explain the functions of the myriad of icons that accompany and confuse every Facebook arrival into my social media world.

Stop Press

“£25bn is wiped off Facebook after fury over data harvesting”
Daily Mail headline – March 20, 2018

Good enough for the bastards!

Nice work if you can get it – the rich water boys and girls

 

Earnings of the Chief Executives of the English Water Boards – Details thoughtfully supplied by the Daily Mail on March 6, 2018:

Area CE Names CE Earnings – in £M
Liv Garfield Severn Trent 2.45
Steve Mogford United Utilities 2.3
Steve Robertson Thames Water Up to 2.1
Peter Simpson Anglian Water 1.5
Richard Flint Yorkshire Water 1.32
Chris Loughlin Pennon Group 1.3
Colin Skellet Wessex Water 0.91
Heidi Mottram Northumbrian Water 0.73
Paul Butler South East Water 0.42
Mel Karam Bristol Water 0.23
Ian McAulay Southern water 0.20

Just one comment. – nice money for those senior managers whose business conduct is based on the standard set by Mr Arthur Daley,   They live off  the fat of the land in their cushy numbers in the water supply cartel.

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As I Please

Further notes on Charity

A few weeks ago I published a piece on my blog about various problems afflicting the UK charity sector. The gist of the article was that there was one problem in particular afflicting the sector – the perceived significant gap between the funds donated to the charity sector and the funds actually handed out to the intended recipients.  Most donors to the many charities in the sector would like to think that the funds so generously donated were quickly used to benefit the various causes with the minimum of funds used to lubricate the administrative machinery and the minimum of time being spent to achieve this.

Excellent work by the tireless media sleuths uncovered a multiplicity of situations where these commendable goals were not achieved.

In no special order:

  • Far too many senior managers in the charity sector believed and acted on the belief that charity begins at home. It turned out that exorbitant salaries were commonplace, and that expenses incurred were on the lavish side.
  • The performance of the body charged with overseeing and regulating the charity sector was deemed to be woefully inadequate and ripe for a change of personnel at the top.
  • The ruthless methods employed by some charities to pester existing donors to shell out still more funds had more in common with the protection rackets favoured throughout the criminal world.

All the above weaknesses were equally prevalent – if not more so – in the overseas aid sector .

“Something must be done,” observed King Edward the Eighth when he was taken to see the appalling conditions in the South Wales coalfields in 1936. I noted that Holdenforth can and indeed must do better than the feeble monarch. I put forward the following suggestions on how to tackle the ailments of the charity sector.

  • Start at the top – put in place a Charity Commission capable of effectively policing the charity sector.
  • In the search for new members of reconstituted Charity Commission – look outside the pool of deadbeats and political lickspittles of those in power that are typically recruited.
  • Eliminate all links between charities and the HMRC – both groups have enough problems to sort out without bringing them together.
  • When malpractices are exposed – all investigations by the Charity Commission to be prompt – the languid Chilcot adopted by Sir John Chilcot to be avoided here as it should be avoided everywhere.
  • I have suggested elsewhere that the practice of allowing senior managers to design their own bonus arrangements should be banned. Instead the inadequate to be handed a P45 – the competent get to keep their jobs. This rule to be extended to the charity sector.
  • Stringent rules governing the management and control of charity finances to be put in place in place. The practices used by the late Arnold Weinstock would serve as a splendid model – very little ever escaped the eagle eye of Lord W.
  • Impose harsh penalties for the plethora of sharp practices that are a feature of the charity sector. Those at the top caught with their fingers in the till need to be made aware that their exposure will not simply result in their being banned from future work in the sector. The lesson will only be fully learned when the top guilty men – it always seems to be men – are also relieved of their ill-gotten gains.

I posted the blog and thought it contained a few sound ideas on how to improve performance in the charity sector. Little did I know that the various failures flushed out by the media were merely overtures and that the real charity scandal was about to burst.

‘A grotesque corruption of compassion’ announced a headline in the Daily Mail of February 18, 2018. It went on: ‘Bloated with cash. Drunk on power. The aid industry and gullible governments have abused our generosity for far too long, says this expert …’

There followed a tsunami of stories about the behaviour of people employed in the charity sector overseas. The word tsunami is quite appropriate in this context because those accused were ostensibly using charity funds donated to repair the appalling damage caused by a series of natural disasters. Sadly, it emerged that household name charities had employed people whose primary concern was to prey on the very vulnerable victims of these natural disasters, as the headlines delineated:.

  • ‘Charities in crisis over sex claims.’ ‘Oxfam misled everyone, confirms minister.’ Complaints about ex- Save the Children chief” (Times, February 21, 2018)
  • ‘Former Oxfam chief keeps Cambridge job – for now.’ ‘Cambridge academics are supporting Dame Barbara Stocking … despite the increasing pressure she is facing over her central role in the Oxfam scandal.’ (Times, February 22, 2018)
  • ‘Save the Children never told us our new chief pestered women.’ ‘WE want to know what really went on with female staff, say Unicef” (Mail, February 22, 2018)
  • ‘Unicef Boss quits but says it’s NOT over sleazy texts.’ (Mail, February 23, 2018)

I could go on and on and on and on – but you get the flavour. By the time the story died down there was a scarcely a major charity that was not tarnished and the responsibility for the failures went to the very top.

There is not much more to say. The media has performed its role admirably – squalid but all too ubiquitous practices have been exposed and those exposed will be engaged in the time-honoured practice of keeping their heads down and hoping that they can return at some not too distant time to a Business as Usual situation.

Holdenforth suggests that the energetic implementation of the actions listed earlier by a new regulator will significantly curb the antics of those employed in the charity who suffer from the Harvey Weinstein syndrome.

Before leaving this unseemly topic, I would like to mention the dilemma faced by Mr Jeff Fairburn, the CEO of Persimmon who managed to extract a bonus amounting to £130 million by a variety of sharp practices. The pressure on him after his sharp practices had been exposed, triggered an act of quasi penitence on his part – a resolve to donate some of his ill-gotten gains to charity.

What Charity might be sufficiently free of corruption to scoop up some unspecified portion of the money looted by Mr Fairburn out of Persimmon?

I would be graceful for opinions on a tricky moral decision. To start the ball rolling I suggest that HMG amend arrangements relating to mega bonus payments so as to ensure that the money looted in this fashion is gathered in by HMRC.

So – Farewell then, Tribune, the 81 year old periodical…..

I was disconcerted to read in a recent issue of Private Eye that Tribune Magazine was facing considerable problems in keeping its show on the road. The report which followed the standard Private Eye mock goodbye covered not only the decline of the once great magazine founded by Nye Bevan in late 1930s, later edited by Michael Foot, and with George Orwell as its literary editor.

The report also related how the magazine had been acquired by “convicted rapist Owen Oyston who quietly took sole control of Tribune’s parent company London Publications Ltd last autumn when (Tribune Editor), Chris Mclaughlin and his fellow hack Andrew Rosthorn stepped down as directors.” The report also noted that that “Oyston and his son Karl were last November found by the high court to have illegitimately stripped more than £26m (from Blackpool Football Club ) to the fury of loyal fans.” Blackpool FC was controlled by the Oyston family.

The Private Eye report about the bleak prospects for the magazine saddened me, but it also helped to explain the erratic performance of Tribune as regards my own minor involvement with the magazine in recent years.

From the autumn of 2015 to the middle of 2016 Tribune published every one of my submitted pieces – around 20 pieces, each of around 3000 words on topical matters. The draft pieces were edited and I was always given the planned final version to check ahead of publication.

At that point – so far – so very good.

Then – for reasons that I could only guess at – my submissions were accepted only rarely, and I noted that items written by the deputy editor, Ian Hernon, tended to dominate the magazine. These items seemed, to my possibly peevish mind, to consist of warmed up versions of issues well past their sell by date.

I took the view that there was no future for my pieces in a magazine run by Ian – Little Sir Echo -Hernon, and proceeded to use my Holdenforth blog to air my views.

The record of Mr Oyston puts him squarely in the class of dodgy proprietors – Robert Maxwell springs to mind.

If only I had known.

I hope that Holdenforth readers will not think me presumptuous if I borrow the phrase used by George Orwell (‘As I Please’) to head up his Tribune columns in the golden age of the magazine, to head up this blog. The phrase appeals to me because blogging affords me precisely that most appealing of opportunities – the freedom to say exactly what I want to say.

A very brief word on Brexit

During February, the two national newspapers in the Mail stable provided two rather different viewpoints on Brexit.

First, three headlines from the Mail on Sunday on February 11, 2018:

  • ‘Soros hits back over toxic attacks on pledge to stop Brexit’
  • ‘“I won’t butt out” by George Soros  ‘
  • ‘His name smeared. His motives denounced. But here one of the world’s top businessmen tells why his love for Britain means he’ll fight to oppose Brexit’

The MoS gave Mr Soros ample opportunity to justify his remain commitment.

Now for the Daily Mail, six days’ later:

  • ‘Mr Blair and the billionaire who cant stop interfering in other nations’ affairs’
  • ‘Accused of destabilising democracy in Britain, we revealed how George Soros is using his wealth to manipulate politics and impose his agenda in countries across the globe’

Commendable evidence here of the commitment of The Mail papers to freedom of speech and to freedom of the press. Brexiteers may have deplored, indeed did deplore, the fact that the MoS and the Daily Mail were not singing from the same hymn sheet but what of that – huzzah for diversity.

The Brexit situation is reported is reported as being calm and under control, according to Mrs May following her recent speech which (again, according to Mrs May) went a long way to resolving the various contentious matters said to be splitting the cabinet.

Who am I to say otherwise?

I would like to take advantage of this outbreak of tranquillity to raise one point which has been troubling me about the whole business – remember that I write from a committed remain point of view.

I noted in the previous outbreak of in-fighting that a disconcertingly large number of the UK mega rich – and significant numbers of the global mega rich – were firm in their advocacy of a remain outcome, possibly via the mechanism of a second referendum.

The affluent Remainers were said to include Mr. Martin Sorrell, who has form for the amount of money that he collects in his capacity as the most senior manager in WRP. Unkind critics of Mr Sorrell have suggested that the performance of WRP would improve if he, Mr Sorrell, were to devote rather more of his time and energy to the performance of WRP and rather less of his time and energy to ensuring that his reward package put him at the top of the UK league.

But malicious, envious critics would say that, wouldn’t they?

I brooded over this troubling point about the affluence of many Remain advocates as it was highlighted by the Daily Mail. I calmed my anxiety by deciding that the Remain cause could only be strengthened by the inclusion of a smattering of paupers including – sadly – your blogger.

Crime section – an attempted murder.

‘“Do you know, or do you not know, that the law of England supposes every man to be innocent, until he is proved- proved – to be guilty.”‘
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens: a fiery scene set in The Three Jolly Bargemen pub when Mr Jaggers berates the assembled topers for their lack of awareness of one of the basic tenets of English law

‘“Let the jury consider their verdict” the King said.
“No no” said the Queen. “Sentence first- verdict afterwards.”‘
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

‘“I think the markets are on a rise, says he, sliding his hand down his fork.
So begob the citizen claps his paw on his knee and he says: Foreign wars is the cause of it.
And says Joe, sticking his thumb in his pocket:  It’s the Russians wish to tyrannise.”’
Ulysses, James Joyce

The discussion in Barney Kiernan’s bar in Dublin bears a resemblance to the discussions in the UK media in terms of its rationality.

Firstly, a smattering of pertinent headlines:

  • “MI5 believes Russians tried to kill former spy”
  • “Double agent and daughter remain critically ill ….” – Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Julia,33, remained critically ill in hospital yesterday after being exposed to an unknown substance and collapsing at a shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday ( February 4).

This story has been the main story since bare details of the incident were reported on the following day. As I write the story is still very much in the headlines with the Kremlin a clear bookies’ favourite as the perpetrator.

And the headlines go on: the next selection all hail from March 7’s edition of the Daily Mail:

  • “Will Royals now snub World Cup?”
  • “Was he sprayed in street?”
  • “Detectives fear spy was targeted with poison liquid which also left 999 staff in hospital”

Now The Times on the same day:

  • “MI5 believes Russians tried to kill former spy.“
  • “Johnson threatens World Cup”

With regards to the last: well he would say that, wouldn’t he?

The assumption that the attempted murders of Mr Skripal and his daughter were planned in Russia was widespread in the UK media and the explanations ranged from a the crime being the work of former colleagues in the Russian intelligence community to assertions that Mr Putin had personally authorised the crime.

Holdenforth has no idea who authorised what and when and where especially why, but Holdenforth is aware that “the law of England supposes every man to be innocent, until he is proved- proved – to be guilty.”

Holdenforth was also slightly disconcerted by the rapidity with which the Red Queen‘s stance in Alice in Wonderland (sentence first- verdict afterwards) was adopted.

In fact many commentators went beyond the extreme position of the argument by going straight to the verdict without the tiresome constraint of reviewing the evidence.

“London: Cesspit of World’s dirty cash”
Today there are almost 450 Russian multi-millionaires in the country- in part because an investment of £1m will get you a residence permit…………….We have no idea of property owned by Russians because the government still allows anonymous companies from its overseas territories – tax havens – to buy property without revealing the beneficiary’s true identity”
Report by Misha Glenny, Daily Mail, March 7, 2018

It seems to me that Misha Glenny was on to something of significance in his Daily Mail article. He highlighted the extent to which huge sums of Russian money acquired in the main from the chaotic and criminal period following the collapse of the Russian communist party found its way by a variety of routes into the city of London. Can anyone in the UK doubt that powerful figures in the City of London were only too ready to welcome the wave of affluent crooks who proceeded to wreak havoc with house prices in the South East funded by the seemingly endless supply of freshly laundered cash.

We need to remind ourselves from time to time that the most obvious beneficiaries of globalisation are the criminal fraternity. We read frequently about the menace of organised crime and it would appear that crime is possible the most organised activity on our planet – pity really.

Nick – a whistleblower or what?

‘“Who is Sylvia? What is she
That all our swains commend her?”’

An updated version: who is Nicholas?

Some of us would like to know just exactly who the hell he is and how on earth has he managed to remain in the shadows whilst acting out his role as our national snitch.

 

The Dickens quote referred to above is equally apposite in the context of the favourable treatment of Nick and of the appalling treatment of those accused by him.

‘This sick fantasy is plumbing new depths:  as the accuser in VIP paedophile is charged many MPs, police and journalists should hang their heads in shame’
Headline above a column by Mathew Parris on the tragic farce that comprises the persecution of public figures, The Times, February 10, 2018

The first sentence in the Parris column puts the matter in a nutshell: “This week Nick, the single source for the lurid allegations about a top peoples’ paedophile ring that the  Operation Midland was until recently investigating, has been charged with paedophile offences.”

Mr Parris does an excellent job in his demolition of the shaky flaky foundations of the Nick story. Doubtless the various allegations against Nick will be investigated, and at some stage, a decision will be taken as to whether the various matters are aired in court.

Holdenforth is concerned with one point and one point only – what is so special about Nick that he is allowed to skulk in anonymity whilst the targets of his allegations endured months, even years, of anguish?

So – what does Holdenforth want?

  • Who exactly is Nick or Nicholas? Let’s be knowing.
  • When can the public expect the spotlight that he has so readily arranged to shine on others to be used to illuminate his elusive features?
  • What action is being taken to sack the senior police officers who were responsible for the fiasco and who had so little grasp of their professional responsibilities which exclude any presumption of guilt on the part of the accused and of innocence on the part of the accuser?
  • What action is being taken by Parliamentary authorities to hold Tom Watson to account for his squalid smears of the accused?

All of us would accept that the abuse of children is an odious crime. I can think of another equally odious crime – that of accusing people of child abuse under the protection of parliamentary privilege on the flimsiest of evidence.

‘“Nick” Officer promoted … While facing probe for misleading judge’,
Daily Mail, February 8, 2018

The article below the above headline focused mainly on the shaky performance of Diane Tudway as she investigated allegations by “Nick” about the sexual misconduct of some very public figures, including Leon Brittan, Harvey Proctor and Lord Bramall.

It emerged from the article that “the suspected fantasist who triggered the investigation  is facing paedophilia charges.”

You’ve guessed it – the suspected fantasist is none other than Nick.

One final point. Holdenforth hopes that the legal proceedings required to catch up with Nick will not be tarnished by the Chilcot factor and allowed to drag on until the public has forgotten who said what and who did what.

 

Featured

Turmoil in Academia

 

In a recent blog I touched on the acquisitive and unseemly behaviour of many University Vice Chancellors and their senior colleagues. This group, ostensibly managing the Higher Education sector, had been perceived as directing far too much of their collective energy  to looting the public purse and far too little of their collective energies to improving the various institutions in their care.

On the plus side, the tireless hacks were on the job and the hapless, albeit affluent, Vice Chancellors were being flushed out, excoriated and advised to mend their ways.

Since my blog appeared – it concluded with the VCs defiant but beleaguered – other contentious issues in the H.E. sector have emerged, giving rise for concern about the well being of the sector.

Sadly, there seemed to be no end to the media coverage about the sins of the Senior Management of our Universities. It was reported that some Vice Chancellors are members of the remuneration committees that determine their pay – a most agreeable arrangement for those on the receiving end. No figures were available but it has been whispered that very few VCs were in favour of an austerity era  in which their pay might be cut.

On February 26, 2018, the Channel 4 Dispatches Team broadcast a documentary:- “ Britain’s University Spending Scandal”. Given that various media investigators had spent much of the past few years exposing precisely these scandals I would award the members of the Dispatches Team a bare pass for zeal but zero marks for topicality. I now look forward to the next Dispatches report – “Is there an end in sight to the Boer War?”

The other Higher Education issues to emerge included:

 

  • The growing anger about the loan arrangements whereby today’s students incur huge debts to fund their tuition costs. This  resentment also extends to the arrangements for maintenance costs and especially maintenance costs for those from poorer backgrounds.
  • Resentment among the lower ranks of academia about plans to erode their retirement pensions.
  • A more muted debate about the steady rise in the number of first class and upper second class degrees awarded – clear evidence here of an H.E. sector in good shape.  
  • A lively debate about the stifling of free speech in our Universities.
  • The personal intervention of Mrs May – don’t we have enough trouble already?

 

Before we move on to the other issues – yet another word about our Vice Chancellors. As a group our VCs were notably silent on the various contentious issues. This reticence should surprise no one. Stealing money from the public purse is not as easy as it looks and careful thought and lots of tireless dedication are required to ensure that the Vice Chancellors and their senior colleagues end up with the absolute maximum that they can get away with- this leaves them with little or no time to spare for the traditional duties of our senior HE administrators.

 

Tuition fees.

 

In my day – I am speaking here about the late 1950s – all tuition fees were paid for out of public funds. The responsibly of the student was to meet the specified academic requirements for admission to the courses of their choice.

Maintenance support was based on parental income and the full amount was more than sufficient to live in comfort with some left over to enjoy the social opportunities available in public houses. 

My father’s income as a plate layer with British Rail  was an the low side – this was before the days of tough negotiators like the late Bob Crowe –  and the outcome was that I received the full amount of maintenance support. For the only time in my life I was more affluent than most of my peers because substantial numbers of middle class parents were reluctant to pay the amount stipulated.

My memory may be faulty but my recollection is that we Higher Education boys and girls – mostly boys in those days – lived off the fat of the land.

To return to the subject: the idea behind the introduction of variable tuition fees was there would be competition between the various colleges and the outcome would be that market forces would keep tuition fees down.

That was the theory. Things did not quite work out according to the theory. Our Vice Chancellors – mostly recruited from the Arthur Daley School of Business Studies – were quick to spot the opportunity to set up a cartel and set their fees at the top of the scale – and this is exactly what happened.

Who was responsible for the original absurd view that there would be competition and why is he/she still employed by the state?

Just to rub salt in the wounds of the next generation of graduates, the interest rates applied to student loans are in some cases above the rate that would be expected to apply given the interest rates set by the Bank of England.

So – to sum up the situation at this stage –  our students are collectively pissed because of:

  • The looting of funds by the senior managers of the H.E sector.
  • The further looting of public funds entailed in the cartel arrangements for the setting of tuition fees.
  • The piling of debt on debt triggered by unfavourable interest rates on the loans taken out.

 

Is that it?  No it isn’t. Not quite.

The planned erosion of the pension arrangements for academics

On February 27, 2018, The Times published a letter written by a Dr Rupert Reid from the Department of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. In his letter Dr Rupert Read sets out persuasively both the case to retain the existing pension arrangements for academics and the justification to retain these arrangements by whatever measures are available.

I have some – not much – sympathy for the predicament of the academics mainly because, as a British Steel pensioner, I have recently seen my pension arrangements reduced and I do not take kindly to the thought that part of the tax paid on this reduced retirement income will be used to maintain the life styles of aged academics.

So much for the appeal to the heart strings: what about the strike tactics?

Predictably the tactics employed by the leaders of the striking academics have been shrewdly, if controversially, deployed against those least able to defend themselves – the customers or as we ought to refer to them – the students. The strike leaders appear on camera,  after applying onions to eye lids, to lament that the students will suffer but sadly they have no alternative if right is to triumph.

The strike tactics have been carefully planned to inflict the maximum pain on the students – no details to be given out in advance as to which lectures will not be given, and rather more painful, which exams will not be held.

The bolshies  appear to have moved in – the transparently clear aim of the strike is to secure the retention of the existing arrangements using the simple but effective technique of causing as much disruption as possible.

Regular train travellers – the suffering public – will have seen similar scenes down the years as rail union leaders deplore that the innocent will suffer because of the sins of the management.   

 

‘Lecturers can’t expect us to pay their pensions’
Headline above the Daniel Finkelstein column in
The Times, February 28, 2018.

 

In his weekly column Lord Finkelstein looks at what is going on and ruefully, but with just a hint of malice, notes that “the younger lecturers are, therefore, literally striking against themselves.”

As usual Lord F is infuriatingly persuasive, rational and transparent. A most valuable asset for The Times but a massive challenge to his would be imitators.

The weakness of his case lies in the headline above his column – “Lecturers can’t expect us to pay for their pensions”.

But my dear Lord F – that is precisely what they do expect.

Finally, Holdenforth cannot leave the HE pensions issue without a word about Mr Bill Galvin.

‘University pension chief got pay rise despite £6bn deficit’
Headline in The Times, February 23, 2018

 

In the report which accompanied the above startling headline, Rosemary Bennett noted that “The Chief Executive of the vast university pension scheme at the centre of the nationwide strike was given an £82k pay rise this year despite claims that there is a £6bn hole in the Fund… however he is not the best paid member of the board. Two staff earn more than £1m …”

Note that this report appeared not in The Bolshevist Times, but in The Times.

As Mr Littlejohn might say – indeed he would say – you couldn’t make it up.

We aged manager johnnies might suspect that there is some scope for reduction in the administrative costs of managing the HE pension scheme – seemingly run by graduates of the Arthur Daley business school.

A word about free speech

It has long been a hallowed tradition within our institutions of higher education that there should be – indeed must be – no attempt to suppress the voicing of opinions, however controversial, on University premises.

This tradition has come under strain recently and University managers have been criticised  for allowing the Sons and Daughters of the Red Dawn to deny free speech to those with opinions at variance with  their own.

Predictably the Senior Managers had other things to worry about – principally how to hang onto their loot – and the raucous element prevailed.

A confession on this issue. Back in 1961 I recall attending a meeting in King’s College in Newcastle addressed by Mr George Brown, then deputy leader of the Labour Party.

There was a great deal of raucous heckling – in which I joined  – but Mr Brown pressed on and made his points.

Where does heckling end and the suppression of free speech begin?

You tell me.

Is the Higher Education sector in good shape?

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper

All would appear to be well if we consult the all important criterion of results. I gather that there has been a huge rise in the number of First Class Degrees  and Upper Second Class degrees awarded in recent years. – clear evidence of a massive improvement in standards.

Could it be that I – with my scraped pass degree – am in no position to cavil and that all is well in this best of all possible worlds?

It is just possible that standards may have fallen but that is an unworthy suspicion.

A stroll down memory lane

Back in 2002 I wrote a book in which I examined the cushiness or otherwise of a range of professional jobs. In a blog published a few weeks I updated what I had written in the book about lawyers.

In the following notes I will revisit what I wrote about academics and assess what has changed and why in the intervening years. Specifically I will look a few of my points from 2002 to be able to say that “I told you so” and “I saw it coming”.

All the quotes are taken from A Cushy Number.

“The aspect of job of job security is the one that has probably seen the most drastic change in recent years. Time was when the job of an academic was synonymous with security of tenure. It was the original job for life. This is no longer so and temporary contracts are very much in evidence. The startling rise in the phenomenon of temporary employment contracts, and, in particular, their spreading into previously sacred professional areas has already been noted.  We will, in line with our previous practice, exclude this class of untouchables from our analysis.

“Suffice it to say that temporary jobs and cushy numbers are mutually exclusive categories. A  key career priority therefore of all new entrants to the academic profession is to obtain a permanent position, and there can be no relaxing until this is secured. Once obtained, the degree of job security is total.”

(Update – My sources tell me that the use of temporary contracts to serve as system shock absorbers has continued unabated to the consternation of those desperately seeking a permanent job. This desperation would be unlikely to soften the hearts of the University Admin boys and girls.)

“At an early point in his tenure as Prime Minister – on a temporary contract – Mr Blair said: – ‘Let there be an increase in the number of students in higher education ‘nd there was an increase in the number of students in higher education.

“The reasons behind this doctrine were  not entirely clear. Some cynics (not me ) suspected  that this expansion was cheaper than two possible alternatives, the dole and, even worse, descent into crime. After all, the argument runs, they must be learning something, and whilst thus engaged, they are off the streets.”

( Update – the percentage of the population opting to enter the H.E. sector has increased steadily with predictable increases in the costs of the policy and an anxious search for funds to sustain the upward trend. As noted earlier the students found themselves in the unhappy position of funding themselves – not an agreeable prospect.) 

“One branch of the academic profession has grown at a bewildering rate, namely that of business schools. This growth has been in inverse proportion to the performance of British business. We do not argue for a cause and effect relationship between the two, although we certainly suspect it.”

(Update  –  As the size of the business – academia sector maintains its steady growth so the productivity performance of the UK economy declines! A Cushy Number got this spot on. )

“The job of an academic is said to offer extensive opportunities for sexual networking. We hope that most  academics and our readers  will indignantly reject this as a benefit, but the possibilities are there should you so wish. It may be that we have got this side of academia out of proportion, but it has to be said that it looms large in all fictional portrayals of academic life, both in print and on screen.

“It may well be the case that novel writing academics, usually from the humanities, write about affairs with students on the simple basis that they have no other subject matter available to them. Nevertheless, we must raise the matter, if only to dismiss it. The profession does tend to promote more opportunities in this area than most. It is up to the job holder to exploit or to ignore these opportunities according to personal preference.”

(Update – As an aged manufacturing manager I have no idea what the situation in this area is in 2018 and Holdenforth would appreciate feedback on the subject.)

“UK Politicians of all colours are  mindful of the fact that the economy is under-performing relative to our main global competitors and that one priority is to raise the skill level in the community. To this end a new Quango, The Education and Learning Initiative, was launched to ensure that the required skills were  made available via a comprehensive training program. The plan got off to a slightly inauspicious start when it emerged that the Quango had been defrauded on a large scale by various enterprising individuals and groups throughout the UK.  Accordingly the scheme was scrapped.”

(Update – the innovative spirit displayed by those who exploited the Quango has been a notable feature of many projects launched and then jettisoned at huge cost to the public purse.) 

“It would be appropriate here to put in a word about the management methods employed by University and College administrators. This group saw what was going on in the privatised utilities sector and they saw that it was good. They followed suit by pushing up staff productivity by the simple expedient of pushing up student numbers whilst holding staff numbers constant. They directed significant fractions of the cost per head savings into their own reward packages, and who shall blame them? The academic admin boys have hit the jackpot. Their jobs are much less demanding than those of the staff they employ, and their reward packages much better.

“Well done, Vice Chancellors.”

(Update – Excellent foresight shown by A Cushy Number. Spot on.) 

Drafting revisions to A Cushy Number in 2015, I added that:

“A letter appeared in todays Times ( February 2, 2015) written collectively by the English members of the Universities UK Board. The anxious admin boys were worried that any proposals to reduce university tuition fees would ‘affect the quality of students education’. This commendable altruism did not appear to have been a consideration back in 2014 when a number of reports appeared in The Times deploring the acquisitiveness of this group. Headlines at the time included ‘Stop university fat cats lining their pockets’ (March 12, 2014), and ‘Salaries still soaring for university chiefs’ (April 4, 2014). The reports took on a woebegone aspect a little later, including ‘University heads roll in drive to justify salaries’ . Behind the headlines it turned out that a few heads, deeply concerned at their portrayal as greedy parasites – a fair description – opted for the safety and tranquillity of early retirement on their enhanced pensions. Small wonder that a sense of  disillusion may have been discerned in the lower ranks.”

(Update – don’t say that you didn’t know what was going – it was all in the papers.)

A gloomy conclusion to A Cushy Number

“Are you a little nervous about the longer term prospects in this sector?   Can we go on like this with the numbers expanding remorselessly and the academic standards going who knows where and the top brass getting richer, much richer, between the sporadic episodes of exposure in the media.  Difficult questions to answer.

“Are standards in tertiary education rising inexorably like those in secondary education? Or are they in decline? Who knows?

“Sadly we suspect that the latter is the case and, in gloomy mode, we see the prospect at some not-too-distant time of a decision being taken at the highest level – say the European Court of Human Rights – to award every UK citizen a starred first from Oxbridge in the subject of his choice from the college of his choice. At the end of the exercise  all our Universities and Colleges of Further Education could then be shut down, and, at a later date, a modest percentage of them re-opened, possibly after fumigation, under more time honoured disciplines and arrangements.”

(Update – my modest proposal at the time may in retrospect have verged on the extreme and yet – why not? Radical solutions are said to be all the rage.)

Holdenforth readers will expect a few suggestions to improve the creaking crumbling shaky flaky H.E. sector – so here goes.

  • The greed and dishonesty of the top management beggars belief – nothing will be achieved without large scale dismissals and huge salary cuts. Accordingly – a ruthless cull of the worst of the offending and offensive Vice Chancellors – there can be improvement until they have been handed their P 45s and given – let’s be generous – 30 minutes to clear their desks.
  • For those allowed to remain in post – given that Vice Chancellors favour cartels – set an upper annual salary limit of £99k until a sense of purpose and respect for old fashioned University values has been restored. While on the subject – abolish all bonuses – the bonus here is that you get to keep your job if your performance is good enough.
  • The enthusiasm of senior managers for global travel to be discouraged. I understand that modern technology is now available via SKYPE and Video conferencing to facilitate face to face discussions and thus avoid the high costs incurred by unnecessary travel jaunts. The recent Dispatches documentary highlighted the propensity of senior managers to opt for jetting off to warmer climes whilst neglecting the more prosaic but time honoured tasks normally associated with the job.

In short – Senior managers  to manage and to be seen to manage – those who can’t or won’t to walk the plank.

My last point concerns the Vice Chancellor  of my alma mater – The University Of Bolton. Many years ago I was a student at what was then Bolton Technical College – said by those in the know to be a fine example of the excellent institutions set up after the Industrial Revolution to maintain and develop the local demonstrable technical excellence.

The current VC of Bolton University George Holmes figured prominently in the list of Academic Fat Cats. The fuss over his ludicrous justification of his reward package had barely died down when it emerged that he had attended the unseemly Presidents’ Dinner held at the Dorchester Hotel ostensibly to raise cash for good causes – nice timing George.

A symbolic act by an all too representative Vice Chancellor.

Image courtesy of BBC

 

 

 

 

 

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The Brexit Gospel According to St Matthew Parris

“Tories are lying to the voters and themselves”
Headline above the Matthew Parris epistle to the readers of
The Times, February 3, 2018

This Parris epistle is the text for the following Holdenforth blog.

The gist of the Parris column

Matthew Parris was in fiery, combative mood from start to finish. He began by wading into the mild polyphiloprogenitive Jacob Rees-Mogg, and proceeded to excoriate the Tory Brexiteers:

“With a complicit Prime Minister and a supine cabinet trailing in its wake Europhobia – this mutant gene in the conservative body politic now spreading its cancer through the whole government – is moving from idiocy to dishonesty…. Isn’t it now clear that the government doesn’t believe in what its doing, can’t even decide how to do it, hasn’t the guts to say so, and is trying to creep forward under cover of fog, wretchedly hoping something will turn up?”

Parris rounds off his tirade by comparing the morality of Mrs May as regards Brexit with that of Mr Eden over Suez and to that of Mr Blair over Iraq – in each case to the disadvantage of Mrs May – on the reasonable grounds that Eden and Blair believed in their respective policies.

His final two sentences sum up his position – “ A special kind of guilt attaches to the sane majority of the Conservative Party. It is written across their faces.”

In his epistle the normally urbane, rational Parris displayed the notorious bad temper of Dickens’ Dr Slammer  – “he would have added more but his indignation choked him.”

What then has happened to trigger his outburst against Jake Mogg, the Bertie Wooster of our time? Mr Mogg is portrayed as a cad  and/or a bounder – I am not sure where the one ends and the other begins. Such insults, such invective! The voters have grown accustomed to hear GOBO, the notorious pair of Gove and Johnson being so described – and deservedly so -in these terms, but not Mr Mogg.

Mr Michael Winner, had he still been with us, would have suggested that the blessed Matthew calm down. What has Holdenforth to say?

Notes on the Brexit war front as perceived from the fringe of the edge of the margin

In no special order:-

  • The outbursts of Anna SoubryA modern Tory – albeit a left wing Tory – version of La Passionara (the fiery anti fascist fighter in the Spanish civil war) had evidently had more than enough of the GOBO and Jacob Rees-Mogg when she urged the Tory Party to sling out the hard line Brexiteers. More turmoil in the ranks.
  • The Chief EU negotiator, Michel (Aggro) Barnier is getting warmed up. As the Daily Mail noted on February 12, he “warned that the EU  could reject Theresa May‘s request for a transition period if substantial disagreements over its terms remain” and “has been accused of trying to take advantage of the UK by imposing a so called punishment clause that would allow the EU to sanction Britain at will until 2020”. Those on the EU side of the negotiating table are evidently running out of patience – and who could blame them? I suspect that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better – if indeed they ever do get better.
  • Mr Soros  and his generous gesture in supplying that most useful of lubricants – cash – to the remain cause. The support of George Soros for the remain cause triggered an irate response from Paul Dacre ( I take it that the Mail editorial in question was him:  “obscenely wealthy ….. Made a fortune destabilising sterling ….. Using his hedge fund wealth – undermining elected government … unelected elite incarnate trying to impose their views on the majority of British voters”. You can‘t accuse the Mail of opacity – that is, telling it like it is.
  • The verdict of the House of Lords. A clear victory here for the remain cause. Their Lordships and Ladyships turned out in force to attack the Brexiteers and support the remain cause. The atmosphere was civilised but the broad collective thrust was clear – they want to stay in the EU. There were a few discordant voices but that’s Lord Tebbit for you.
  • Cabinet Unity on its approach to Brexit. Mrs May was adamant that the cabinet was united but it did not seem so from my remote observation point. At times it seemed as if Cabinet Meetings might as well have been  recorded given the rapidity with which the various disputants sought out and secured platforms to express views that were not easy to reconcile with the party line put out by various apologetic and confused spokespersons.
  • Professor Anthony Grayling. Who he I hear you ask? Well, he is an academic philosopher and also a hirsute, crazed latter day John the Baptist bellowing in the wilderness to any one that will listen that Brexit is a gigantic fraud and that the UK should simply stay put in the EU.

Current Concerns of a Committed Remainer

It must be admitted that Holdenforth has been and remains uneasy about some of the support that has made its way into the ranks of the Remainers.

Holdenforth readers – I am confident that the number is more than one – will recall that in recent blogs I have argued passionately in favour of the Remain cause, but for those of you new to the blog, the gist of the Holdenforth case to remain in the EU can be summed up in a few bullet points:

  • In recent decades the EU as an organisation had been doing a reasonable job.
  • There had been steady progress in improving the effectiveness of the various branches of the EU, but there was and is much to be done to curb corruption and to improve the accountability.
  • The political movement in the UK to withdraw from the EU had been led by politicians whose dislike of the EU and all that it represented was of long standing and commendably consistent – let us cite William Cash and Nigel Farage as examples from this group.
  • All the main political parties with the exception of UKIP  were broadly supportive of staying within the UK. Brexit was and remains the raison d’etre of UKIP – as ex and current members will ruefully confirm.  

Prior to general election held in June, 2015 Mr Cameron, apprehensive about the possible future threat that might be posed by the would be leavers foolishly and unnecessarily committed the Tories to holding an in/out referendum should the Tories win the  election. Prior to making this foolish and unnecessary commitment Cameron would  have carefully assessed the views of those big hitters across the political spectrum , who would campaign for and who would campaign against. Bill Cash and the unelected Paul Dacre would campaign for Brexit and Ken Clarke would campaign against.

What Cameron did not expect was that Boris Johnson would not only campaign for Brexit, but that he would be the most effective of the Brexit campaigners. He would have based the former opinion on the fact that Johnson had never been known for his Brexit views, but he should also have remembered that the views and actions of Johnson were guided by just one fiercely held principle, namely that he, Johnson, would always act in the best interests of Johnson. 

In short – two fatal errors of judgement by Cameron.

  • To commit to a referendum – no need – there was no need to do so.
  • To rely on the most dishonest politician of our time to support the remain cause.

Following Cameron’s resignation in the wake of the Brexiteers’ victory in June 2016, there followed a confused interval in which Mr. Gove put the knife into Johnson, triggering the departure of Johnson from the battlefield.

A short time later Gove was given the bum’s rush by the Tories eligible to vote – oh joy – and finally Mrs May made her way through the confusing melee into No 10.

 A year later, and after much further confusion and an abysmal political performance by Mrs May, the outcome of the snap election was the loss of the Tory majority and the emergence of the DUP to prop up the shambles that now constitutes the Tory Party

At this point -and to borrow a phrase from Churchill – “ You ask – what is the policy of Holdenforth as regards Brexit?”

1. The policy of Holdenforth remains clear – to stay in the European Union.

2. How exactly does  Holdenforth think that this admirable aim might be achieved? 

This is where it all gets a bit tricky – just ask Mrs May.

Let us see if we can suggest how the situation might develop?

We will return to our text as supplied by the Blessed Matthew Parris on February 3 for inspiration.

  • “They (the Government) know (most of them) that the referendum placed voters in an impossible position”  – but who placed them in that impossible position?
  • “They know that narrowly the voters made a mistake” – you betcha
  • “They know that our party is now acting against the interests of our country” – agreed  
  • “ And nobody has the spine to say so” – not quite true – one or two heads have appeared above the parapet

One more quote from the Blessed Parris, this time above his column published a few days earlier, on January 27, 2018:

“ One well – aimed speech could topple Mrs  May”

A most promising suggestion – the Remainers from across the political spectrum should get in some vocal target practice to trigger the toppling of  Mrs May.

Where do we go from here?

“Depend on it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Dr Johnson to Mr Boswell, 19 September, 1777.

Holdenforth sees only 3 possibilities.

1. Mrs May and her government stagger from crisis for the next 4 or so years. Not impossible but not very likely.

2. Mrs May loses a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election. For this to happen just 10 Tories would be required to vote against. Quite a strong possibility. A slight variation on this option is that the DUP withdraws from the current support “arrangement” , something which could happen at any time given the volatility and unpredictability of politics in Northern Ireland. 

3. Around 50 or so Tory MPS would have to write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to request a leadership election. This is the second plausible possibility, especially given the shaky record of Mrs May in her brief but turbulent stay in Number 10.

A word on the mechanics of this last option.

To trigger a leadership election disaffected Tory MPS are required to write to Mr Graham Brady, the discrete Chairman of the 1922 Committee. It has been reported that Mr Brady never gives the slightest indication to anyone of the number of requests – if any – that lie in his potential explosive in-tray.

Doubtless actual and potential conspirators have some idea of who might join their movement but – a muttered word in the corridor is one thing – a signed letter delivered to Graham Brady is something altogether more positive and more traceable.

Which of our two plausible two options would have the greatest appeal to disaffected Tory MPS.

Quite simply the leadership challenge, even if successful, would solve nothing because the successful challenger would face the same formidable catalogue of problems.

This leaves the only realistic option of  lancing the boil as being for a sufficient number of brave MPs either to vote against or abstain on a vote of confidence to trigger a general election.

So:

  • There are currently 314 Tory MPs in the Commons.
  • 10 or so Tory votes to support the opposition would be enough to dislodge Mrs May.

To put the arithmetic slightly differently – just over 3% of the entire Tory membership in the Commons would be enough to do the trick.

Might we have enough Tory MPs with the required amount of intestinal fortitude and/or a private income and / or a job offer in their pocket?

Holdenforth asserts with confidence – Yes!

We urge the required 3% to follow the example of Henry V before Harfleur as he urged his followers to “imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise nature with hard favoured rage, and so on and so forth” by putting their heads above the parapet during and at the end of the confidence debate.

There would then be a repeat of the 2017 General Election – sorry about that, Brenda from Bristol – a single issue General Election which would be a second referendum in all but name.

Our legislators would then be required collectively to decide how to proceed and the voters would be entertained by the spectacle of the elastic consciences of the thousand or so candidates competing to be elected to the House of Commons being stretched to breaking point.

Mr Corbyn and the Labour Party

“In those days – the 1960’s or thereabouts – The Young Trotskyites in  Liverpool hated capitalism, they hated imperialism, but most of all they hated each other.”
Alexei Sayle

Will Mr Corbyn wake up, grasp what is happening, and ask the adherents of the late Leon Trotsky to butt out and allow him to develop a Brexit strategy that will attract rather than alienate the voters?

Holdenforth fears the worst if Mr Corbyn were merely to follow the advice of Mr Micawber and wait for something to turn up.

This passive policy lacks both vision and energy- it just won’t do. 

 “Either poverty must use democracy to destroy the power of property, or property in fear of poverty will destroy democracy”
Thomas Rainsborough, Putney Debate, August 1647, quoted by Aneurin Bevan in “
Why not trust the Tories”

Mr Corbyn has argued that “The Labour party should serve the many, not the few.” I hope that when the time comes – and it will come quite soon – he and his colleagues will realise that the case to serve the interests of the many against the interests of the few is much more powerful in the wider context of the EU than in the parochial context of the UK.

Go for it – JC!

For now – Holdenforth suggests an approach along the following lines.

The key policy elements of the remain camp to be:

  • Persuade enough dissident Tory MPs to trigger the toppling of Mrs May.
  • A intent to reverse the events of recent years and a wholehearted wish to get back to business as usual within the European Community.
  • The subsequent general election / second referendum to be fought in a spirit that would combine a readiness to acknowledge  that the two main parties have made some appalling errors of judgement in the past few years – a point made powerfully by Matthew Parris – and a readiness to debate the issues rather than to swap slogans.

One last point.  Sadly the irate response from  Brenda from Bristol back in the spring of 2017 struck a chord across the country.  I sadly suspect that the perception of many voters about ALL politicians – from committed remainers through the apathetic middle to the committed leavers  – is that since politicians don’t worry about the voters why should the people worry about political matters – even when the key political issue is the future of the UK.

Many voters resemble apathetic observers of a mega spectacular acrimonious divorce.

 Image Courtesy of The Times

 

 

Featured

Notes on Charity

A few years ago I began to collect newspaper cuttings which featured various problems concerning the operation of UK charities.

It appeared at the time and has seemed so since that charity, the greatest of the virtues, was being abused by some of the managers heading up the charities. The Daily Mail was raucous in its condemnation of these hypocrites. The Times was similarly critical, but as usual, was rather more subdued and cautious in its approach.

Other topics subsequently caught my imagination, notably Brexit, and I allowed the subject of charity to be transferred to my back burner.

All the President’s Men

My interest was re-kindled by events in the Dorchester Hotel on the evening of January 21, 2018. The gist of the story was that an expensive men-only event had been held at an expensive venue with the avowed purpose of raising money for charity. So far – so good.

Sadly, it was belatedly discovered that the proceedings had been enlivened or marred, according to taste, by the presence of many young ladies of the nubile variety, ostensibly as waitresses, and that the behaviour of some of the male guests towards these young ladies had been “inappropriate.”

I was intrigued to note the rapidity with which some of the guests sought to distance themselves from what had transpired. Indeed, so many guests claimed to have left early that it appeared that the young nubile ladies were left to molest each other.

One of the guests who was appalled by the proceedings was the Vice Chancellor of Bolton University, George Holmes. Readers of this blog may recall that George Holmes figured prominently in the list of greedy vice chancellors seeking unsuccessfully to justify their absurdly inflated salaries. It may be that I owe George Holmes an apology – I had not understood the tireless energy with which he worked long hours in his own time to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.

To return to my central theme – what is about the management of charitable activities that so often seems to fall far below the standard required?

In the following notes I will try to shed some light on the charity sector and to ask if there have been improvements since the very public scandals that have hit the headlines in recent years.

It seems to me that all is not well and that, despite determined efforts by the authorities to ensure that cash collected by charities ends up in the pockets of its intended recipients, that this is by no means always the outcome.

Ongoing concerns about the sector include:

  • Allegations that some senior managers in the sector have diverted rather more of the funds entrusted to their care to their own bank accounts than to the relevant charities.
  • Some of us have been startled to read about the extent to which charity finances are entangled with taxation issues with the result that the beneficiaries are usually tax experts who move with cat like tread in the complex thickets of taxation rules.
  • Most donors to charity would expect that most if not all of their contributions went to the intended recipients. Sadly, the investigations by media flushed out far too many instances where this was not the case.

Put bluntly much of the criticism heaped on the charity sector centred on the perception that far too much of the funds collected ended up in the pockets of the managers, and by a simple process of arithmetic, far too little to the worthy causes.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing…..
Charity suffered long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly… is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil……
And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
1 Corinthians Chapter 13 – St Paul.

St Paul let the Corinthians have both barrels in his well-known epistle. Might it have been the case that at that time there were those in Corinth who needed to be taught a sharp lesson on the supreme virtue of charity?

“Every genuinely benevolent person loathes almsgiving and medicity
Charity is the most mischievous sort of pruriency”
‘Maxims for Revolutionaries’,  Man and Superman – Bernard Shaw

Two millennia later Shaw took a very different view of charity from that taken by St Paul, indeed he took a very dim view of charity.

Which of them was right and why?

A recap – Back in 2015 I sent the following (unpublished) letter to The Times

Sir,
Two elderly gentlemen of benevolent appearance had cornered a morose Mr Scrooge before Christmas.
“A few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the poor some meat and drink and means of warmth…. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.”
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone” said Scrooge
A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens.
It is likely that Dickens intended his readers to suppose that the two gentlemen fund raisers who begged the support of Mr Scrooge were acting in an unpaid capacity and would not dream of claiming any expenses incurred in carrying out their charitable work.
A comparison can be made between their commendable efforts and the work of contemporary fund raisers. The front page report in today’s Times paints a slightly worrying picture about what happens to the funds raised in the highly competitive market that constitutes charitable work in 2015. For instance – of the money raised – how much ends up helping up the poor and how much ends up in the pockets of the fund raisers?
It would appear that a significant number of managers in the UK charity sector are working tirelessly to ensure that those responsible for allocating funds are firmly committed to the principle that charity begins at home.
Until this sector is subject to the sort of (unwelcome) publicity supplied by your report I suspect that the public may well be tempted to give the same reply as that of Mr Scrooge.”
John Holden

The Times was unable to find space to accommodate my cynical suspicions but on the plus side the Times has been commendably supportive of attempts to clean up the charity sector.

What exactly is a good cause? Is your idea of a worthy cause the same as mine?

The formal dinner arranged by the Presidents Club referred to earlier was attended by two gentlemen who shared the name Philip Green.

  • The first PG was Sir Philip Green of BHS notoriety.
  • The second PG was plain Mr, but his notoriety was of the Carillion brand.

Clearly both PGs were only too ready to support a high-profile charity event, although neither was anxious to be seen to endorsing the cavortings alleged to have taken place.
I have no views on the cavorting – I was not there at the kick off and so was unable to leave when the proceedings got out of hand. The episode brought to my mind the phrase always used by News of the World reporters in bygone days – “At this point I made my excuses and left”

I do have views on causes that are worthy and causes that are rather less than worthy. I suspect the two PGs would define a worthy cause as one which enabled them to rob the poor – not a universal accepted definition and significantly at variance with hallowed tradition.

Who is right – the pair of Greens or the Dickensian traditionalists?

Is your good cause my good cause?

What sort of flaws and abuses in the charity sector were made public?

Let us start at the start at the top by looking at the performance of the Charity Commission. Why not allow Mrs Margaret Hodge, the doughty acerbic Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, to do the job for us.

“The Public Accounts Committee had issued innumerable reports criticising the Charity Commission. By 2015 the commission was responsible for monitoring 165,000 registered charities that between them boasted an annual income of £69 billion. Yet Committee Reports in 1988, 1991, 1998, 2001 and then our report in2013 all found severe shortcomings in the work of this regulator……
“In the previous 4 years it has removed only one trustee from their role and it had frozen the accounts of only two charities. It was the guardian of the public interest for the charitable sector and I found its performance pretty dismal …..the chairman , William Shawcross, was another old Etonian … in my view he was appointed because of his politics , not his experience.”
From “Called to Account” by Margaret Hodge

I recall watching one session when Mr Shawcross was attempting to explain what was going on within the Charity Commission or rather what was not going on. He cut a lamentable figure as he tried and failed to answer the simplest of queries from PAC members.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn – and which was drawn – was that if the performance of the hopeless helpless Mr Shawcross in his role as Regulator in Chief was par for the course in the Charity Commission – then the vultures and / or sharks – choose your own metaphor be it nautical or aeronautical – on the lookout for easy pickings – had nothing to fear from that source.

Sadly Mr Shawcross added a whole dimension to the word pathetic.

What other flaws and weaknesses were flushed out?

In no special order:-

  • The salary packages of some senior managers were felt to verge on the excessive.
  • In the case of some charities it was not easy to ascertain just what percentages of the funds collected had found their way into the pockets of the intended recipients.
  • The expenses incurred by some charities were perceived as being – well not exactly in keeping with austerity of the times.
  • The link between HMG and the charity sector and HMG/HMRC emerged as an issue. I very much doubt if I would support the objectives of the every single one of the 165,000 charities – and yet all of them benefit from tax concessions.
  • The spread of the curse of bonus elements in the reward packages.

A selection of case studies – to get the show on the road.

1. Kids Company

“Such a very profligate luvvie – Charity scandal raises troubling questions about BBC boss who loves spending your money”
Daily Mail, August 7, 2015

“Mystery of charity’s unpaid £700,000 tax bill”
Daily Mail, August 7, 2015

“BBC boss rages at reporter investigating Kids Company”
Daily Mail, August 7, 2015

“Underfire charity was given clean bill of health”
The Times. July 8, 2015

The gist of this story was that Kids Company, a charity run by the exotic Camila Batmanghelidjh, was thought to be spending rather too much of its uncertain income on funding an expensive lifestyle for CB and for her close colleagues.

This particular story was spiced up by the revelation that one of her close colleagues was Mr Alan Yentob of BBC fame or notoriety – according to which newspaper you read. One piece in The Daily Mail reported that Mr Yentob had been quite tetchy with a BBC reporter, Lucy Manning, when questioned about various problems said to have arisen in the management of Kids Company. Mr Yentob said that “this is about the kids”, a perfectly reasonable point to make had it been the case that Kids Company had scrupulously ensured that the donations received by the charity had been spent on their intended recipients.

“Children recover with unrelenting love.”
One of Kids Company’s mottos.

Who could possibly argue with this proposition?

What is less clear is this – to what extent did the lavish lifestyle of CB that was funded by Kids Company help children to recover from whatever it was that they were suffering from?

2. Which?

“Which” chief paid £819k for year.
The Times, February 24, 2016

“The British charity set up to save money for consumers will give its chief executive (Peter Vicary-Smith) £819k for the year representing a 135% increase on the previous year.”
Ibid.

Nice work if you can get it.

“Which” does not receive direct funding from HMG, but does benefit from tax breaks because of its charitable status.

It was interesting to note that PV-S had worked for McKinsey in a previous life and he was well placed to recognise a managerial cushy number when he saw one.

Another interesting point to emerge from the PV-S piece was that “Last year The Times revealed that more than 1000 charity chiefs were paid six figure salaries by voluntary organisations.”

This item was quite coy when you think that six figure salaries range from £100k at the bottom to £999k at the top – that is what I call a big spread.

Charities and tax

“Fat cat charities rely too much on taxpayers. For all the good they do, it’s time voluntary organisations accepted there are strings attached to taking public cash.”
Headlines above a piece in The Times by Libby Purves – February 8, 2017.

This was a splendid column by Ms Purves. She highlighted the extent to which “ a great many charities have in effect become quangos:…. They are sustained by grants and lucrative central or local government contracts…….. The bigger the charity is the more likely it is to be heavily funded by taxpayers . The 139,000 smallest charities get only 3% of this state support”

Ineffective control of both income and expenditure

“RHS boss stole £700k to fund party lifestyle”
Daily Mail, July 23, 2016

According to the article, “A senior manager at the Royal Horticultural Society lived the high life using money he stole from the charity. Stuart Medhurst persuaded friends to submit fake invoices to help him carry out his fake £700k ten-year scam… the case has shocked the RHS.”

Well it would, wouldn’t it?

“A former financial controller has admitted stealing £440k from a hospital charity”
The Times August 14, 2017

Let us name and shame him: Ronald Chigunwe of Basingstoke pleaded guilty to four charges related to his job at Wessex Heartbeat which supports the Wessex cardiac centre.

(Just a thought – how effective were the procedures which allowed Mr Chigunwe to help himself to almost half a million pounds?)

“Charity run by Cherie’s sister mislaid £90k.
Lauren Booth, Cherie Blair’s sister, has been stripped of her status as a charity trustee after £90,000 raised by her Islamic appeal went missing.”
The Times January 29, 2018

How exactly can £90,000 just go missing?

Stop press – The Times later published an amendment to the original report which noted that the penalty imposed on Lauren Booth was rather less severe than that reported.

I would guess that the £90k is still unaccounted for.

Should charity begin at home? Notes on the overseas aid scandal

Holdenforth does not have enough space to describe in detail the reports of the flaws in the arrangements for ensuring that funds provided by the British Taxpayer to support worthy causes abroad reached their planned targets. Suffice it to say that the malpractices flushed out by the press sleuths amounted to a repeat of what had been exposed on the home front – only more so.

The overseas aid budget was splashed around with jaunty abandon, with those “responsible” believing – rightly – that the lack of scrutiny of their activities amounted to an invitation to help themselves – an invitation which they gratefully accepted.

A few examples will have to suffice.

“Too much aid money, not enough sense”
Daily Mail , December 20, 2016

This referred to the Mail‘s staggering revelation that Britain lavished £9.2 million of our foreign aid budget on promoting the careers of the Ethiopian Spice Girls …

“Aid minister promises a profiteering crackdown”
A Times investigation revealed that Department for International Development spending on consultancy services had doubled to almost £1 billion a year and found one think tank quoting Dfid more than £10,000 to write a single blog post.
The aid minister in question was Priti Patel, recently moved to other duties following her rash foray into matters outside the scope of her departmental responsibilities.
The Times, December 20, 2016

“Stunning victory for MoS foreign aid campaign as FOUR fat cats have to quit”
Mail on Sunday headline – March 5, 2017

The Mail on Sunday had a field day as it named and shamed four senior executives as Adam Smith International who had employed questionable methods to secure lucrative contracts for ASI and, obviously, to help themselves big time to the aid budget.

Let us follow the example of the MoS – the bad guys were:-

  • Peter Young – Strategy Chief – we now know what his strategy was.
  • Andrew Kuhn – director
  • Amitabh Shrivastavata – director

I was confused by what the report had to say about William Morrison, Executive Chairman – he was to quit “after restructuring the firm.” I would have thought that a prompt P45 and 5 minutes to clear his desk would have been more appropriate.

Just one more.

“Consultants take billions from foreign aid budget”
The Times, December 8, 2016

The article observed that “The bank JP Morgan shared £1m in aid money with a law firm to advise on Nigeria’s sovereign wealth fund.”

These snippets do suggest that the Dfid was incompetent at best and corrupt at worst in its management and control of the distribution of the funds provided by the UK tax payers

The charity enforcers

“Stop the bullying, Charities told”
“Big four are savaged over phone tactics and asked: where are your morals?”
Daily Mail headlines July 8, 2015

Let the Daily Mail tell the story:

“Charities were ordered to clean up their act after the Mail revealed the aggressive cold calling tactics they use to raise cash.
The British Red Cross, Oxfam, the NSPCC and Macmillan were savaged over their use of “boiler room” call centres to secure donations.
The four charity giants were revealed to be hounding people on the Governments official “no call” list, the telephone preference service.”

The report added that fundraisers were ordered to be brutal with potential donors. In a separate report on the same day the Mail named and shamed four “£100k -a-year bosses driving cold-call menace”.

One employee of the enforcing four, Mr Mark Astarita, deserves special mention. One target of aggressive fund raising by charities, 92 year old Olive Cooke, committed suicide, and her tragic death was said to be in part to have been caused by the relentless pressure to which she had been subjected.

Mr Astarita cautioned against over-reaction claiming recommendations to tighten regulation could cost the British Red Cross £2million per year.

How sensitive can you get?

Further details of these possibly well intentioned sharp practices appeared in the Daily Mail two days later.

“Leading charities were in crisis after ministers threatened new laws to crack down on their grotesque fund raising practices”
Daily Mail, July 10, 2015

The above admonition was issued by Chris Grayling, the then Leader of the House, but I suspect that not all the reported abuses will have been discontinued. Mr Grayling is noted rather more for his words than his deeds, and, in any event, the tiresome issue of Brexit has occupied and pre -occupied political minds in recent years. Not much time left to tackle a real and present and widespread and odious social malpractice.

The Mail printed a sample of the many calls they had received on this aspect of managerial malpractice in the charity sector:

“After a TV appeal for blankets for Syrian Children I donated £3 by text. After that I was inundated by mobile phone calls at all times of the day.”

Addressing the Issues

I have outlined some of the problems that disfigure the charity sector. What about some solutions?

“Something must be done.”
Comment made by Edward the Eighth when he was taken to see the appalling conditions in the South Wales coalfields in 1936.

Quite so, Your Majesty – but what exactly did you have in mind?

This blog has to do better than that. How about the following suggestions on how to tackle the ailments of the charity sector?

1. Start at the top – put in place a Charity Commission capable of effectively policing the charity sector.
2. In the search for new members of reconstituted Charity Commission – look outside the pool of deadbeats and political lickspittles of those in power that are typically recruited.
3. Eliminate all links between charities and the HMRC – both groups have enough problems to sort out without bringing them together.
4. When malpractices are exposed – all investigations by the Charity Commission to be prompt – the languid Chilcot adopted by Sir John Chilcot to be avoided here as it should be avoided everywhere.
5. I have suggested elsewhere that the practice of allowing senior managers to design their own bonus arrangements should be banned. Instead the inadequate to be handed a P45 — the competent get to keep their jobs. This rule to be extended to the charity sector.
6. Stringent rules governing the management and control of charity finances to be put in place in place. The practices used by the late Arnold Weinstock would serve as a splendid model – very little ever escaped the eagle eye of Lord W.
7. Impose harsh penalties for the plethora of sharp practices that are a feature of the charity sector. Those at the top caught with their fingers in the till need to be made aware that their exposure will not simply result in their being banned from future work in the sector. The lesson will only be fully learned when the top guilty men – it always seems to be men – are also relieved of their ill-gotten gains.

There are plenty more where these came from but they will do to get the project to cleanse the UK Augean Charity stables up and running.

“As an example of charity Live Aid couldn’t be worse… The performers donate their time which is wholly worthless. Big Corporations donate their services which are worth little enough. Then the poor audience pledges all the contributions and buys all the trash with money it can ill afford. The worst nineteenth century robber barons wouldn’t have had the cheek to put forward such a bunco scheme.”
PJ O’Rourke, Give War A Chance

It is doubtful if Sir Bob Geldof would endorse these abrasive comments by an abrasive columnist, but that is the beauty of the charity sector – so much scope for lively disagreement.

To return to my opening paragraph: Great Ormond Street Hospital is reported as having returned all the money raised by The Presidents Club.

What happens next?

A closing suggestion – Why not send the money raised at the unseemly dinner to an alternative worthy cause – the group of impoverished BBC celebrities and especially those of the male persuasion – the new untouchables.

Those in favour might care to contact Mr Alan Yentob at either the BBC or Kids Company or wherever.

A last word

Sir Stephen Bubb is the CE of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations – a most impressive job title.

He may have regretted having the spotlight shone on his activities when it emerged that in August 2013 it was reported that “his 60th birthday bash in Westminster had been partly financed by his own charity, ACEVO. Despite the charity paying him a salary in excess of £100,000, he still felt it was fine for the charity to cover some of the costs and opined that it “seemed just right to celebrate my 60th with a tea party in the House of Lords on Monday!”

Given the scale of the reported excesses in the charity sector at home and abroad it verged on the niggardly to upbraid Sir Stephen for charging the cost of a handful of wafer thin cucumber sandwiches to his own charity.

What do you think?

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Notes on Carillion and Related Matters

“I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift , nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise , nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happened to them all”
There is no new thing under the sun.”
Ecclesiastes 9,11

George Orwell used this verse from Ecclesiastes in his essay, “Politics and the English Language “ as an example of the English language at its best. Accordingly I am reluctant to suggest that it needs to be updated to reflect today’s all too prevalent social and political chicanery – but your blogger feels that he must say what he believes – so here goes.

The reference of Ecclesiastes to riches not being acquired by men of understanding is simply wrong. Understanding is a sine qua non in the acquisition of riches – a necessary but not sufficient quality. The other sine qua non is greed.

In the following notes I hope to demonstrate the validity of this point.

I have called this blog “Notes on Carillion and Related Matters”. Well, what related matters?

In the past few weeks there has been a spate of angry reporting and comment in the media about perceived excessive payments to a variety of fortunate recipients together with one notable case of perceived underpayments to a raucous group of senior female BBC employees. The groups in question are the senior managers of some of our major construction companies, including Persimmon, the senior managers of Carillion, the multi tasking company, senior employees of the BBC and, the story that simply won’t go away – the bosses of our Universities referred to by known by the reverential title of Vice Chancellors.

We are barely 3 weeks into 2018 and here we go again – more examples of how in the UK those at the top have yet again succeeded in enriching themselves at the expense of those unfortunate enough to dwell on the lower slopes of our national economic terrain.

The media treatment of the stories involving Persimmon and Carillion have been filling the headlines in recent days – a case of the hogs hogging the news.

Holdenforth will now look at what happened and why and, where appropriate, suggest solutions.

The pay debate at the BBC

I considered this conflict zone in my previous blog. To recap:-

Some senior female BBC employees discovered to their surprise and chagrin that that their male colleagues were paid considerably more for doing what appeared to many outsiders – including your blogger – the same job. This practice was in breach of the law which specified that the same rate be paid for doing the same job.

Two solutions were suggested:

  • Bring the pay for the women up to the level paid to men.
  • Bring the pay rate of the men down to the level paid to the women.

A third factor surfaced as the debate warmed up, namely that many licence payers thought that pay rates for the senior women for not especially demanding work was already far too high and that the rates paid to men for the same work was disgracefully high.

Holdenforth suggested that the BBC be privatised and this bold move would allow the free competitive market to decide who was worth what.

I trust that the Parliamentary Media Committee is now actively examining this option. Holdenforth will not remain silent if a Chilcottian dilatory approach is adopted.

Both categories – the ladies and the gentlemen – need to be reminded that not all licence payers share the view prevalent across the BBC that the BBC is a national treasure to be funded up to and beyond the readiness of the aforesaid licence payers to foot the bill.

An Avarice of University Vice – Chancellors

The gist of the problem here was that it belatedly appeared that our Vice Chancellors had been busy helping themselves to funds originally intended to improve the financial health of their various institutions.

I suggest the word “ Avarice“ as a working collective noun for our acquisitive VCs.
I had thought that the Avarice had managed to defuse the public anger but more and more instances emerged about the commendable and tireless energy displayed by the Avarice in their search for wealth.

The latest to surface – On January 18 – noted that “University Chief complained about cuts… then saw her pay rise by £45k”. The chief in question, Dame Julia Goodfellow, had received a £25k performance bonus paid presumably in recognition of her tireless efforts to maximise her reward package.

Now for the first of the two new big issues – Persimmon.

Events at Persimmon made the headlines primarily because of the perceived large payments made to senior managers.

“Why the housing boss being paid an obscene £131 million must be forced to give his ill -gotten gains away-”
Headline above a report by Alex Brummer, Daily Mail January 11, 2018

Let us allow Mr Brummer to have his say.

“Persimmon’s Chief Executive, Jeff Fairburn, is due a pay and bonus package of £131 million… Other bosses at the firm – which has seen its stock market value soar as it has ruthlessly cashed in on the Government’s controversial Help to Buy scheme – will be given shares worth a staggering £800 million.”

Mr Brummer went on to point the finger at former chairman Nicholas Wrigley who absent-mindedly forgot to impose a cap on bonuses and left Persimmon “in recognition of this omission.” He also left Persimmon with his £131 million.

In his fiery piece, Mr Brummer neatly analyses the flaws in the Help to Buy scheme, flaws which Mr Fairburn spotted and exploited, with the unintended assistance of the sleepy Mr Wrigley, to the significant benefit of his bank balance.

Clearly Mr Fairburn was and is man of understanding.

No problem in identifying the winners here- the top brass.

Equally clearly, the losers were those who will be unable to access the scheme because of the depletion of the allocated funds.

I estimate that around 1,000 would-be home owners have lost out.

Now for the really big issue of today’s Holdenforth Blog – What went wrong at Carillion and why?

“Don’t ever work for McAlpine or Wimpey or John Laing”
Memorably sung by the late Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners as he exhorted his listeners not to work for the named well known construction companies because of the combination of appalling working conditions and lack of job security.

The message of “McAlpine’s Fusiliers” had already been overtaken by events because many large building companies – including that known as Sir Robert McAlpine – had been absorbed by Carillion.

Hopefully a successor to Ronnie Drew will emerge and produce a protest song to be used in the inevitable demonstrations that will be held to draw attention to the misdeeds of those at the top.

Who are the villains?

Well, Alex (Bolshie) Brummer is still in splendid form, in articles entitled “Chairmen in the doghouse” and “Carillion fat cats WON’T get payments” which appeared in the Daily Mail on January 18.

According to Brummer, (Carillion) Bosses including former CE Richard Howson were due to continue receiving payments despite the construction and outsourcing firm going into liquidation on January 15 owing around £3 billion. Other senior managers said to be still enjoying enviable reward packages were Mr Zafar Khan and Mr Keith Cochrane.

The report noted that senior Carillion managers had been careful to arrange for their own financial well being whilst Carillion was heading for the liquidators – possibly their business role model was the captain of the Cruise Liner Costa Concordia who steered his cruise liner onto the rocks and subsequently took care to ensure that he was one of the first into the lifeboat. His conduct in terms of self preservation was prudent but not in keeping with the noblest traditions of the maritime service.

In an article published in the Mail the previous day (“Easy ride for miscreants”), Mr Brummer was dismissive of the announcement from Greg Clarke, an employee of HMG, of a fast track Insolvency Service probe into the collapse of Carillion and its current and former directors.

‘Bolshie’ Brummer was dismissive mainly because of the abysmal record of HMG and its associated quangos in getting to the bottom of even simple corporate financial failures, and even less so with failures as labyrinthine as the current spate.

He sighs sadly that “Carillion Chairman Philip Green – no relation to BHS Phil Green – can resume his search for honours , former CE Richard Howson can retreat to his Swiss chalet and serial non executive director and former Tony Blair acolyte Dame Sally Morgan can look for the next job.”

Having got that off his chest, Brummer suggests that “a judge led probe with directors required to give evidence under oath would be ideal. One thinks back to the late Bingham enquiry into the collapse of BCCI in 1992 which was completed and published within a year.”

I fully support the Brummer suggestion and his insistence on the need to avoid a languid Chilcot approach and its associated Maxwellisation constraints.

I would go further – given the required urgency – and urgency and lawyers do not go together – the central issues could be flushed out and the report published within the next 3 months.

An innovation of this kind – making it clear that retribution would be swift and the consequences drastic for those found to be responsible – would be a splendid foretaste of a new resolve to ensure that senior managers did the job properly – or else.

For the record, the Captain of the Costa Concordia was sent to prison for 16 years for his double offence – that of taking an irresponsible short cut and then of leading the rush to the life boat. The lawyer leading the urgent enquiry might well bear the outcome of this nautical malfeasance in mind.

“Carillion in the dock”
Daily Mail leader, January 17, 2018

The leader writer played little Sir Echo to the Brummer piece – he/she demanded “Nothing less (than an urgent judicial enquiry) to investigate the greed and management failures that brought down Carillion – leaving millions of taxpayers and pension holders to pick up the pieces.”

I second the views of the irate Mr Brummer and of the Mail leader writer – and confirm that it is a pleasant experience to pay fulsome tribute to the doughty views of Mr Paul Dacre and his team in their thirst for justice.

“Hung out to dry by the Carillion fat cats”
“Up to 30k small firms could get just 1p in the pound owed to them by failed contraction giant that paid its bosses millions”
Daily Mail headlines, January 17, 2018

The mail reporters Daniel Martin, Rachel Millard and Tom Kelly spelled out the serious consequences to the thousands of companies and the ten of thousands of employees of the downstream companies. Consequences including reduced pensions and for many the loss of jobs in what were rightly assumed to be key national priority activities – the construction of hospitals, schools, roads and additional rail capacity.

On a personal note I have recently been required to choose between two options for my own modest retirement British Steel pension and I have every sympathy with those now at risk from the Carillion scandal.

It needs to be highlighted that robbing pensioners of income that they have rightly counted on to be a protection against an impoverished old age effectively robs them for the rest of their lives.

I have observed at close quarters the fears and anxieties triggered by the problems with the old British Steel pension scheme.

I would also like to mention the problems posed by the predatory activities of the vultures – alias financial advisors – circling round the British Steel pensioners as they sought advice about how to invest their pension funds.

Robert Maxwell was a prominent founder member of the pension robber club – and the term ‘Maxwellisation’ was coined to enable the guilty to defend themselves thus prolonging the already interminable proceedings.

How did Mrs May respond to queries about Carillion at PMQ on January 17

“Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye”
Matthew 7, 3

More prosaically – “People in glass houses should not throw stones.”

Her robust rejoinder that the situation was just as bad in Wales and in Leeds – both Labour controlled – was true but it was unlikely to be of comfort to the many thousands whose lives and plans have been so savagely disrupted.

One of her weakest rejoinders- and most of her rejoinders were pretty feeble – was that HMG was not responsible for the management of Carillion.

Quite true – but HMG was by far the biggest customer of Carillion, and, as such, HMG was and still is in a very strong position to take prompt effective action if and when it is so minded.

As details of the fiasco emerged, one servant of HMG was reported as requesting that the employees affected should be supplied with the address of their local job centre – a response on a par with suggesting that members of the public injured in a terror attack be given the location of their nearest A and E department.

Thoughts on the root causes of the Carillion debacle. In no special order:-

  • A leadership team whose top priority was to ensure that they emerged from what they dimly perceived as the approaching collapse of Carillion with the maximum of money for themselves. They – the Carillion leaders – were working tirelessly to loot the system but sadly this allowed little or no time to manage the business.
  • A government riddled with ineptitude as it sought in vain to distance itself from the consequences of its own failure to act.
  • A government so obsessed with and pre-occupied by Brexit that all other issues are relegated to the pending file.
  • Decades of government policy – going back to the Blair years – which allowed the private sector to exploit the public sector.The effect of the revolving doors practice

In the various reports about Carillion much has been made of the dubious nature of Private Finance Initiatives – including the extent to which they contributed to the collapse of Carillion.

There may be some truth in this view and the doubtless the High Speed Enquiry will have the item on its agenda.

I would like to consider just one aspect of the controversial relationship that exists between the public sector and the private sector and the perceived no mans land in the middle.

There has been a great deal of media discussion in recent years about the so-called revolving doors syndrome. The gist of this practice is that senior mangers leave the public sector and move speedily and seamlessly across into the private sector.

We should ask ourselves – just what do these transferees have to offer the private sector – certainly not the languid approach to management that prevails in the public sector.
The appealing feature of those making the move is overwhelmingly their familiarity with the managerial weaknesses that prevail together with the experience that would allow their new employer to exploit the public sector.

Attempts have been made to limit the speed with which these transfers are made but these are more observed in the breach rather than in the observance. Thus, knowledge of the naivety of those employed in the framing of major public contracts is of considerable help to those on the other side of the table – the civil service lambs are on the one side and the private sector wolves are on the other.

The best of them – those civil servants that are wide awake – will be recruited by the wolves and the outcome will be all too predictable.

Beware the temptation to blame it all on Capitalism

“Yes, capitalism has flaws – as the Carillion catastrophe shows. But the alternative is too chilling to think about”
Peter Oborne, Daily Mail January 20, 2018

The situation is getting out of hand – I agree with some of the points made by Mr Oborne.
Sadly – and as is usually the case with him – he gets carried away by his own indignation and fails to make clear the improvements required to allow PFI arrangements to operate effectively.

Holdenforth will not make this elementary error.

For now I will just mention – for the umpteenth time – the tried and trusted aphorism:_

Q-“Why does a dog lick its balls”
A – “Because it can”

We reformers will suggest how it can be improved – by removing the balls.

I hasten to add that Holdenforth will not suggest this wholly disproportionate step for the human offenders – that would be verging on the over zealous – but effective and simple remedies are available.

A digression about Mr Corbyn

Mr JC proclaims that he is in business to govern for the many and not for the few. I take it that the few are the haves and the many are the have nots.

Given the likelihood of a General Election in the next few months we need to hear from Mr C and his colleagues as to how exactly they plan to put their admirable campaign slogans into effect. We need some policy flesh on the bare bones of the slogans.

I doubt if there if there is much hope from Mrs May – Holdenforth sees her sole political aim as being to preserve just one job – her own. Understandable but lacking in mass appeal.

Accordingly I will suggest a few policies for JC and his colleagues to consider.

(I note that Mrs May is reported as being ready to put in place effective measures to bring the situation under control. Sadly The Times cartoonist is not persuaded that she is serious.

In his first drawing on January 22, 2018, Mrs May’s “to do” list is headed — * “Tackle Corporate Greed”; in his second drawing, “To do” is replaced by “To say.”)

Holdenforth wants more stick and no carrot.

  • Tax rates at or close to 100% to be set for the corporate thieves – these rates to stay in place until senior managers grasp that they had been appointed to the job to work for the prosperity of the organisation rather than exploiting the various loop holes in the tax and reward package arrangements.
  • Outlaw the practice of setting complex bonus arrangements for senior managers. The reward for effective performance to be that the effective managers get to keep their jobs.
    For the ineffective – prompt P45s with no generous farewell packages.
  • Any enquiries into what has gone wrong to eschew the Chilcot approach. The guilty men were quick enough to deploy their sharp practices.
  • Any enquiries to eschew the Maxwellisation approach – the very name ought to have ruled it out.
  • Do not use any enquiry into corporate abuse as an excuse to put capitalism on trial – otherwise we will get nowhere very slowly.
  • Similarly do not use any decision to take the railways back into the public sector as an excuse to put socialism on trial – otherwise again we will get nowhere very slowly.

Let us be very clear – as Mrs May would say — the collective group that needs to be on trial is that of the Senior Managers in the private and public sectors who have abused their positions of trust to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us. So – get rid of the Arthur Daleys that prosper at the top and replace them with senior managers who can combine competence with integrity.

Senior Managers in all sectors of the national economy are subject to temptation and sadly some will succumb.

Like the dog and his propensity to lick his balls -they abuse the system because they can.

Let us try to put in place effective measures to discourage them – those spivs looking for quick easy risk free bucks would soon get the message.

To end on an optimistic note.

It is still the case that those senior managers who have converted their organisations into modern versions of the Augean Stables are very much a minority group.

So – Bring in managerial replacements who can and will do the jobs to the required standard.

 

Featured

What the Papers Say

For many years the broadcasters on radio and later on television have allocated broadcasting space to reviews of the contents of the newspapers.

Holdenforth has thus far distanced itself from this activity but on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, January 9 and 10, the Times and The Daily Mail gave many column inches to accounts of and opinions on three separate but not wholly unrelated stories.

These stories were:

  • The gender pay gap at the BBC.
  • The performance of Mrs May as she sought to refresh her administration.
  • The decline and fall of Mr Toby Young.

The opportunity to comment was too good to miss – so – here goes.

There are, as the saying goes, lessons to be learned from all three stories, although not everyone will have learned the same lessons. As a bonus and given that Holdenforth is both a campaigning blog and a fertile source of suggested remedies for the various problems under discussion – solutions will be put forward  where appropriate.

The gender pay gap at the BBC

“Lawyers advise women on BBC pay row”
“The BBC’s failure to treat women fairly beggars belief” – Giles Whittell
Headlines in The Times – January 9, 2018

“Male BBC stars face salary cuts as equality row flares”
Headline in The Times, January 10, 2018

“The BBC does not exist”
Headline above a piece by Matthew Parris, The Times, January 10, 2018

Well – up to a point, young Matthew.

I suspect that Lord Hall would second this puzzling assertion on the grounds that it might afford temporary relief to his very real and sadly beleaguered organisation.

 “BBC begs Huw to cut £600k pay cut.”
“Radio 4’s Flagship Show imploded in a soggy morass of smuggery”
Daily Mail Headlines on January 9, 2018   

(The last quotation is included not for its topicality but for its relevance.)

This particular spat was triggered by the resignation of Carrie Gracie from her BBC job as its China Editor. The gist of her complaint against the BBC was that it was and is acting in breach of the law which states that equal jobs should receive equal pay.

The problem was by no means a new one and resentment by the fair sex against the other sex had been simmering since the BBC had been required to publish pay bands for its highest paid employees. This information was sufficiently informative to trigger resentment amongst significant numbers of female household names.

This observer was startled only because these household names had been all too ready to pretend to exercise their investigative and forensic skills to expose inequalities around the world but also that they were seemingly unaware of what the man sitting next to her was being paid – considerably more as it turned out.

Options open to the BBC were said to be just two:

  1. Bring the rewards paid to the men down to the rewards paid to the women.
  2. Bring the rewards paid to the women up to the level paid to the men.
  • For obvious reasons the top boys in the BBS were less than enthusiastic about option 1.
  • For equally obvious reasons the ladies were prepared to settle for nothing less than the going rate for the men?

At first glance the solution is obvious – obey the law and pay the same rate for the same work.

Listeners to Radio 4’s flagship Today programme had a field day as the various problems were debated between John Humphrys and a most unhelpful Ms Frostrup who was said to be fuglewoman for the cause of the downtrodden females.

During their lively altercation Carrie Gracie was sitting at the next desk but taking no part in the proceedings.

“Women fume as Humphrys jokes about BBC pay”
Times headline, January 12, 2018

The widespread ineptitude at the BBC has evidently been passed to John Humphrys – during the Today programme in question the following exchange between Mr Humphrys in London and Jon Sopel in America was recorded.

Remember – recorded – not broadcast. Remember also that the feisty Carrie Gracie was sitting next to John Humphrys at the time:

“JH – Oh dear God she’s actually suggested that you should lose money. You know that don’t you?
JS – Yeah I have Yeah.
JH – The idea is I’m not allowed to talk to her about it throughout the whole course of the programme. Not a word.
JS Can we have this conversation somewhere else?”

The last comment by the cautious Mr Sopel was a good example of securing the stable door after the horse had bolted.

To get back to the main issue – how might the BBC get out of this fine mess that it has created for itself?

In my capacity as a company manager I had long supposed that the rate for the job was the same regardless of sex.

I vividly recall the question arising around 30 years ago when I queried the situation. The fiery female HR Officer told me – “Don’t even think about it – just pay it.”

Some male chauvinists might argue that for Carrie Gracie to claim pay parity with her male colleagues is rather like Mr XYZ who plays centre-forward for Solihull Motors claiming pay parity with Harry Kane who plays in the same position for Tottenham Hotspur.

One point to note here is that if both players were to be placed on the transfer list then the asking price for Mr Kane would be significantly more than that asked for Mr XYZ.

The same point would apply to the requested salaries for the two players.

There is a clue here as to how the BBC problem might be resolved.

The point to highlight is the anomalous position occupied by BBC in the world of UK, European and Global media businesses. Its highest paid employees – the senior managers and the celebrity stars – are quick to use the need to pay competitive salaries when he argument to do so is convenient.

So far – so good.

These same advocates also stress the admiration in which the BBC is held across the civilised world and the need to preserve the commendable Reithian standards.

It is time that this self-serving balloon was punctured. The BBC is an organisation responsible to no one, and, at the top, full to the brim with the arrogant, the complacent, the elite, and the mediocre.

Matthew Parris in the piece referred to earlier noted that in the BBC “there are endless meetings and a lurking fear of what other meetings might think”. Mr Parris – there is unanimity across the top echelons of the BBC on one key issue – their the readiness to loot the system to their own financial advantage.

The remedy for this confusion could not be simpler – sell the BBC to the highest bidder.

It would then be interesting to see how the pampered mediocrities get on the real world. Its senior managers and its celebrity stars would soon find out just what value the real world placed on their services.

I suspect that a few of them might be able, via their agents, to negotiate reward packages at or close to the present levels.

A closing, clinching argument – The revenue brought in from the sale of the BBC could help provide the funds for the renationalisation of the privatised utilities.

 The May Reshuffle

The big event in No 10 on the first two days of this week – January 9 and 10 – was the eagerly awaited cabinet reshuffle. There had been numerous press briefings telling the hacks that there was to be an infusion of new blood, new energy, new ideas. Out with the old and in with the new.

How it was done in the good old days:

“I particularly remember when (Lord) Derby was asked by Bonar Law to come and see him. After I had shown him in I went back to my room, The bell rang; I went into Bonar’s room and Bonar said – “David, where did you send Derby?“…. I said to Bonar – “Oh Sir –  you thought of offering him the War Office.”
“Oh yes” said Bonar; “Derby -what about the War Office?
Formation of the cabinet of Mr Bonar Law following the Tory win in the 1922 general election. Memoirs of a Conservative by Lord Davidson

Given that nearly a century has elapsed since the above exchanges one might think that the management of the processes of cabinet selection and of cabinet reshuffles would have become rather more efficient.

It would appear from the accounts of what happened earlier this week that if anything things have got worse.

“What happened, what happened – I’m coming to that” – as WH Auden might have said – indeed as WH Auden did say.

The following selection of headlines from The Times and The Daily Mail indicate the disappointment felt in the media at the gap between the glowing prospects held out during the briefings and the understandable reluctance of some of those marked out for the P45 treatment to go quietly.

It should be noted that the quoted comments are from newspapers not noted for their Bolshevik tendencies.

“Greening quits in shambolic reshuffle”
“Defiance and derision greet May’s day of mixed messages”
“Shambolic day for a powerless prime minister” -Rachel Sylvester
Headlines in The Times, January 9, 2018

“Backroom reshuffles can’t save the Tories”
Lord Finkelstein in The Times, January 10, 2018

The last quote would have caused most concern in Tory HQ because Lord F gave cogent reasons why backroom reshuffles “can’t save the Tories.”

“No Prime Minister!”
“On day of reshuffle chaos, Health Secretary turns down new job and May is forced to sack Education Secretary after she refuses to move”
“May sacks Greening after 2-hour stand off”
“Education Secretary snubbed new cabinet job in clash at No 10”
“But “Unsackable” Hunt defies PM to stay in charge at Health”
Daily Mail headlines, January 9, 2018

The Daily Mail headlines do not suggest that the planned changes had proceeded smoothly and the accompanying reports simply  bruised the flesh on the already bruised bones of the May administration.

The obvious point was made that if Mrs May is unable to manage her own cabinet – and clearly she can’t –  then how she can be trusted to grapple with rather more urgent and serious matters – like Brexit.

“How Theresa’s showdown with Justine turned ugly”
Andrew Pierce, January 10, 2018

The master plan ahead of the meeting between Mrs May and Ms Greening had been to move Ms Greening from Education to Welfare. According to well-informed sources the meeting was ill tempered but the key outcome was that Ms Greening opted to leave the cabinet rather than be moved.

She was said (by the well informed sources) to be furious at being fingered by the No 10 briefers as a contributory factor in the abysmal Tory performance in 2017 election. She did not take kindly to being described as “dead wood” – and who shall blame her.  After saying something along the lines of – you can stick welfare up your  **** – but I wasn’t there and can only conjecture as to her actual words  – out she flounced, looking suitably aggrieved.

Deborah Ross in her Times column on January 10 wrote about the case to raise funds for “the middle aged white men that are the victims of something that didn’t actually happen nonetheless and may be crouched under a table at the Garrick, hoping that this this will all go away, even though it never came.” Trust the acerbic Ms Ross to kick a man when he is down even though he is not actually down.

Reflections on this latest shambles:

  1. Yet further evidence of a Government on its last legs. In my previous blog I opined that Mrs May will not be in No 10 come the end of March.
  2. Meanwhile I suggest that Mrs May seeks the advice of Lord Sugar about the most efficient way of dispensing with the services of those deemed surplus to requirements. I gather that Lord Sugar is commendably crisp in handing out P45s. Get him in, get his advice, and next time – if there is next time – follow it.

 The decline and fall of Toby Young

As with the previous two stories I will get the show on the road via a few headlines:

“Knives out for disgraced Young over role at free schools charity”
The Times, January 10, 2018

One of the knives was inserted by Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the national Education Union, who said that “now his repugnant views were in the open, Mr Young’s role as director of the New Schools Network must be in doubt.”

“Fury as hypocritical Labour MPs force Toby Young to resign”
Daily Mail, January 10, 2018

Mr Young resigned from the board of the Office for Students (OfS) following a furore over inappropriate remarks he made several years ago.

Sadly the main cause of the peevish comments in The Mail was that his critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party had not been equally critical of colleagues in the Labour Party who had been exposed for carrying out similar unseemly activities.

For me the only point to be made here is that politicians from all parties have a long record of selective indignation – evidently it goes with the job.

“Why chumps like my friend Toby should get a second chance”
Headline above a piece in the
Daily Mail by Sarah Vine, by chance the wife of Michael Gove, a close friend and stout defender of Mr Young, January 10, 2018

The gist of the story

  1. Toby Young was recently appointed to a nice little earner on the board of the OfS.
  2. It belatedly appeared that Mr Young had been in the habit of sending out Twitter messages that some might consider as verging on the indelicate.

The Times published a small sample of his tweets, one of which read as follows.

“Referring to a publicity shot of himself with Padma lakshmi, fellow judge on US TV show Top Chef who he appeared to be touching, he said:-

-Actually, mate, I had my d**k up her a**e -”

We can all decide for ourselves if we consider the writer of pithy little tales like this and hundreds more is just a chump and that he should be given a second chance.

What do you think?

  1. My Young was initially inclined to tough it out – but it soon appeared that he was fighting a losing battle.
  2. He fell on his sword in the full glare of the media lights.

The publication date of the most recent edition of Private Eye magazine was too late to include the news about Mr Young’s resignation. It did, however, publish a piece about Toby Young which dwelt at some length on other aspects of his career. Friends of Young (including Messrs Gove and Johnson) had emphasized his passion to improve education standards in schools, a passion which he had pursued tirelessly in recent years.

Private Eye drew attention to the fact that Toby Young had done very nicely from his activities with New Schools Network, a charity that promotes academies and free schools and relies heavily on government funding.

Now – we are getting warm.

Last year I wrote a blog about the pros – not many – and cons – no shortage – of academies. At one point I wrote the following:

“Let me speculate about the probable consequences of a mass transfer of schools from Local Authority control to management by super heads. I predict that  the teaching profession will be invaded by a Tsunami of Arthur Daleys masquerading as pedagogues, but  in reality in hot pursuit of a quick buck, the sort of quick buck easily acquired by those familiar with the no mans land of the public – private sector, a world where the public funds the business and the private operators  scoop up the profits, if any. We are looking at an educational version of the City of London populated and run by spivs for spivs, all avid for frenetic activity in the business of mergers and acquisitions.

“More prosaically my concerns about this switch to academies centre on the following points.

1.Arrangements have been in place for many years whereby the control of schools rests with democratically elected local authorities.

“My contention is that to the extent that these bodies are failing to discharge their responsibilities then the public has the means to take effective actions.

  1. My main concern is that this transition to academies will divert the attention of Head Teachers away from the core task of providing the best possible education for all pupils to one of casting about for ways of maximising their own  reward packages.

“In short I see a replay of the squalid farce that has been enacted in Higher Education with the shameless looting by Vice Chancellors of the unguarded public funds.

“I see a significant number of Academy CEOs plunging into wholly unnecessary restructuring in order to line their pockets at the expense of pupils and of the public.

  1. I would go further and predict that if the dash to academies wins out, in a few years time the standard of education will suffer a further decline, a decline that is wholly avoidable.”

Unlike Toby Young with his unseemly tweets, I would not retract or redact of what I wrote about academy schools.

It is wholly apposite that the two most prominent defenders of Toby Young are the GOBO (GOveBOris), the Guilty Men of the Brexit farce.

Featured

The Prospects for Brexit in 2018

 

“The idea that Brexit can be stopped is a dangerous delusion that ignores the continuing revolt against political elites.”

Daniel Finkelstein, The Times, 3 January 2018

 

My text for today is the excellent article by Lord Finkelstein published on January 3. As always with Lord F his piece is infuriatingly plausible and irritatingly reasonable. I doubt if the case for accepting the result of the referendum could be put more persuasively. And yet I still take the view that the out decision should be reversed although I am far from clear as to how this might be achieved.

 

The key point of his article is not that there is no possibility that the ‘out’ decision is irreversible and he concedes that a way might be found to achieve precisely this objective. The thrust of his article is that that if this were to happen- “ the damage done to trust in democracy would be huge. Unless the second referendum arose from a huge public clamour (which is incredibly unlikely) millions will conclude that their vote and the promise made to them were worthless when they challenged the interests and attitudes of the political establishment.”

 

Well – only up to a point, Lord F.

 

Lord Finkelstein compares and contrasts the stance of Lord Adonis with regard to reversing the ‘out’ outcome with his own stance. He readily concedes that on the merits of the case he and Lord A are as one.

 

“Where we part company, rather sharply, is the idea that there is no self mutilation  involved in parliament overwhelmingly voting in favour of a referendum, telling voters it would implement the decision and then deciding not to.”

 

On the following day Tony Blair was asked by John Humphreys about how the various forces that were said to be gathering momentum (sorry about using that bad word) to reverse the ‘out’ outcome. The old maestro was in splendid form as Aggro Humphreys tried and failed to pin him down. Was this outcome an indication of the waning powers of Mr Humphreys, a confirmation of what we all knew and still know, namely that TB remains a very bright star in the political firmament, or, quite possibly, evidence that the electorate is becoming increasingly mindful that it got it wrong back in June 2016?

 

Most likely – a combination of all three factors.

 

A brief reminder of how we got ourselves in this fine mess or to be precise, how we were landed in this fine mess and who got us into it. 

 

The gist of how we got to where we are can be succinctly stated.

 

1. David Cameron, faced with the prospect of being outflanked by UKIP, foolishly decided to resolve the long festering in/out sore, by making an in-out referendum a key element of the Conservative party manifesto prior to the  2015 general election.

 

2. He added significantly to the rashness of his decision by banking on the previously declared support of Boris Johnson that the UK should remain in the EU.  What can one say about the judgement of a prime minister capable of such a gross error of judgement?

 

3. Cameron realised soon enough that he had miscalculated as the in-out campaign got under way, and Boris, sensing his opportunity, threw all his considerable talent for mendacity to campaign for an ‘out’ outcome.

 

4. Cameron put his party before his country in agreeing to the referendum.

 

4. Cameron paid in full for his errors, the outs had it, and he promptly resigned.

 

5. In the ensuing campaign to succeed him as Tory leader and, more importantly, as our PM, Boris was mortified – to his chagrin and to the huge delight of many opponents and neutrals – by the predictable treachery of Mr Gove. Well, it takes one to know one. It is worth noting that Boris put the interests of Boris ahead of the interests of the Tory Party and of the Country and no one should have been surprised by this flexibility.

 

6. The Tory faithful then gave the bum’s rush to Mr Gove and Mrs May strode through the gap that had opened up to become our PM. The trivial fact that she had previously been a cautious advocate of remaining in Europe was obviously not going to prevent her from seizing this fortuitous main chance.

 

7. Mrs May proceeded to make a hash of everything she attempted in her new role as Prime Minister, culminating in her decision to call a general election in June, 2017. The flighty electorate seized its chance to issue a comeuppance to her and duly did so. (Note – a sure sign of a desperate Brexiteer is one who asserts that Mrs May won the June 2017 election.)

 

And so, what might be termed the gist of the gist of the above:

 

1. David Cameron made two foolish errors and paid the price for his folly in full.

 

2. The dynamic duo – Gove and Johnson – let us refer to them as GOBO – failed to win the approval of the Tory faithful in the ensuing beauty contest.

 

3. Mrs May emerged initially as the winner, but since her “victory” has continued to dig herself deeper and deeper into trouble

 

Lord Finkelstein argues, under the flimsiest of democratic pleas, that the rest of us should accept the consequences of this lamentable catalogue of deplorable opportunism, errors and failures executed by a tiny group of shady, shabby, wholly discredited Tory chancers.

 

I have been a consistent supporter of the European Union for many years. For the reasons noted earlier I opposed the whole idea of resolving the issue via a referendum. I don’t believe in keeping a dog and doing your own barking.  I was dismayed by the outcome but not surprised by the slippery behaviour of GOBO.

 

If the situation changes – so should you

 

“In the course of time as circumstances change and the issues are altered we may find it necessary to change some part of the programme; that will not be because we thought the programme was wrong but just because it might be readjusted to changing conditions. You know, comrades, to change programmes is not an admission or error, other all history would be a series of confessionals.”

Aneurin Bevan, speech to the Labour Party Conference in 1959.

 

“Fuck Dacre”

A shrewd comment taken from the collected sayings of Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch was talking about a different Dacre – to be precise he was referring to Hugh Trevor Roper – but what of it – his pithy dismissal  applies even more so to Dacre of The Daily Mail 

 

 Is it being undemocratic to seek to reverse the ‘out’ outcome?

 

Not at all and here is why.

 

I see what is happening via Brexit as a national disaster and it would absurd to proceed given the basis on which on which the referendum was conceived and how the largely uncertain pros and cons were presented to a bemused electorate, irresponsibly deceived and stampeded by GOBO. 

 

The old military maxim – do not reinforce failure – is of relevance here. 

 

“Why a second referendum is a lost cause”

Headline above a column by Philip Collins, The Times January 5, 2018 

 

Mr Collins simply plays Little Sir Echo to the points made previously in The Times by Lord Finkelstein. At one point Mr Collins notes that “back in the day (when Mr Blair was PM) the brains who powered the Labour party made up the most formidable electoral team in modern political history”. Collins is quite right to make this point – Blair was the most accomplished harvester of voters in modern times. Collins was also uncharacteristically shy when he omitted his own key role in this formidably electoral team.

 

In the long years since the departure of Tony Blair from No 10, Collins has contented himself with writing columns of quite startling blandness for The Times. Might he be persuaded to resume his former career as a mouthpiece for Blair? Once a pen for sale – always a pen for sale.

 

“Humphrys mauls Blair over call for new EU poll”

James Groves, Daily Mail, January 5, 2018

 

Well – James Groves would say that, wouldn’t he?

 

“Lies, damned lies and Blair on Brexit”

Headline above Daily Mail editorial, January 5, 2018 

 

Well – the Daily Mail leader writer would write that, wouldn’t he/she?

 

No surprises there.

 

Whither Brexit — Key points to consider. 

 

1. Brexit is the only political show in town – all other political issues are being relegated to the sidelines. Please note that a major reshuffle at the top of HMG  is rumoured to be in prospect. P 45s for some cabinet ministers are said to have been made out and are ready to the aforesaid cabinet ministers – – so be it. (See the stop press for an update here. )

 

Meanwhile…

NHS said to be in chaos – for now – just give Mr Hunt a good kicking.

.

Sanity of Mr Trump is questioned – nothing new there. Actually there is something new here – see later notes.

 

Rail transport in the home counties remains in chaos – for now – give Mr Grayling a good kicking. 

 

And so it goes on, with all issues other than Brexit being relegated to back burner status. 

 

 2. All the self proclaimed insiders are united on one point – HMG is in chaos as it tries to pick its way through the tangle that is Brexit

 

As one blogger wrote – 

 

“To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG can best be summed as the ongoing effing fiasco. In no special order the collective performance of Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues can be described as faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, festering, furious and fractious.

 

Another eff word suggested itself but this is a family blog and the decencies must be observed.”

 

 3.  Parliamentary arithmetic

 

“Eleven Conservative MPs led by Dominic Grieve QC collaborated with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and other opposition parties to demand that they rather than Theresa May should approve or block our withdrawal from the EU.”

Quentin Letts. Daily Mail, December 15, 2017 

 

The eleven rebels were duly Dacred – or, if you prefer, vilified, by Dacre and his underlings, an outcome which cannot have surprised them.

 

“This country has long grown used to Lord Heseltine’s love affair with the EU. But when the 84 year old grandee suggests Brexit would do more damage than a Corbyn led government, it is surely time to summon the men in white coats.”

Daily Mail micro editorial, December 27, 2017 

 

Lord Heseltine would have known that he was setting himself up to be Dacred and he was right and he was duly Dacred.

 

However this particular gem raised the same issue as that currently being raised about Mr Trump – is he losing the plot.? (Note in the case of Mr Trump – the answer is -yes!)

 

“May rift with Davis as he admits Brexit might not happen”

Mail on Sunday headline, December 31, 2017 

 

This headline from the Daily Mail’s stable mate paper gave further evidence that all is not well at the top of HMG.

 

Mr Davis has been showing signs of strain as he attempts a task comparable to all the labours of Hercules. It would not be surprising if in an unguarded moment he let slip his view that Brexit was by no means the foregone conclusion demanded and predicted by Mrs May.

 

And so it goes on a daily basis as we, the public, anxiously scan the print media and listen to the broadcasters for developments on  the Brexit – who has gone over to the Remain cause? Who is rumoured to be about to switch sides? It is all enthralling entertaining stuff.

 

 A few prosaic Brexit points

 

* The May government is sustained only with the support of the DUP – a shaky flaky foundation.

 

* There are growing signs of restiveness within the Tory ranks as the unfortunate combination of ineptitude and friction at the top of HMG becomes more evident by the day.

 

* What about Mr Corbyn – said by many to be shrewdly keeping his powder dry and relying on Mrs May to dig not only her own political grave but also that of the lame Tory government? The critics of Mr Corbyn – he has his share, including, of course, Paul Dacre – have suggested that he has taken this approach too far and that his impersonation of Mr Micawber waiting for something to turn up has been rather overdone and needs to be replaced by something rather more positive. (Shadow Cabinet – please note.)

 

 A slight digression – a word about the delicate situation within the Parliamentary Labour Party

 

Conventional wisdom back in the summer of 2015 had it that the plausible three candidates -Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – were all thought to be capable of giving David Cameron a run for his money, a run that did not exclude their arrival in No 10.

 

How did it come about that a candidate widely perceived as a no hoper BEFORE the leadership election was elected by a huge majority over the plausible three?

 

I can only guess at the reason(s)  for the unexpected outcome but I suspect that by far the most crucial reason in the minds of the 2015 electorate was that the election of any one of the plausible three would simply represent more of the same and that the electors in their collective wisdom comprehensively rejected that option. 

 

This raises the question – how does a party deal with a situation in which a huge gap opens up between the views and aspirations of the leaders and the led. Just as the great majority of Labour MPS had no  confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, so, or so it would appear,  the great majority of Labour Party members  had lost confidence in their elected representatives in the House of Commons.

 

It would not be easy to find high calibre replacements for the vast majority of the current crop of Labour Party MPs. Equally it would not be easy to discard the current crop of around half a million seemingly truculent party members and replace them  with the same number of pliable tranquil equable members.

 

Over to you Mr Corbyn.

 

What next? 

 

I am mindful that the UK political pundits collectively have a dismal track record in terms of their ability to make accurate forecasts of the outcomes of recent appeals to the electorate. Additionally and significantly the judgements of Mr Cameron and Mrs May have been notably way off the mark.

 

If the professionals can and do get it so badly wrong – what chance have I got?

 

In any event – here goes.

 

Possible outcomes include:-

 

Mrs May stays in No 10 until 2022 – her preferred outcome. The bookies are currently quoting roughly evens as the odds of Mrs May still being in office by the end of 2018.

 

Mrs May opts for another election – this is the least likely outcome given how badly she got it wrong last time.

 

Mrs May loses a vote of confidence triggering a general electionThis is by far the likeliest outcome given the continuing  of loss of support for Mrs May from within her own party, together with the jumping ship of key current Brexiteers as they realise that the game is up.

 

So – where does Holdenforth stand?

 

I predict that:-

 

* The lack of any alternative candidates perceived as being able to implement Brexit is the ONLY factor that is now sustaining  Mrs May in office.

 

* Mrs May will lose a vote of confidence.

 

* This will happen no later than the middle of 2018 and probably within the next 2 or 3 months given the steady draining away of support for her. 

 

* This event  will trigger her departure from No 10.

 

* The resulting leadership contest will end with – you tell me – in No 10. 

 

* The ensuing general election will be fought solely on the Brexit issue.

 

*  A  new political group will emerge Phoenix like from the ashes of Brexit to despatch Brexit into the dustbin of history where it belongs.

 

 Stop Press items from your oracular blogger –  January 7

 

 May set to axe “pale and stale” Ministers

Mail on Sunday headline. January 7, 2018

 

A senior government source said ”Theresa understands that, when voters look at her government, they see a lot of stale, male and pale Ministers who are on the wrong side of 50. She will be promoting more women and those from non-white backgrounds and there will be more of an emphasis on youth.

From the same Mail on Sunday report

 

So – the pale stale male aged Ministers are being lined up as fall guys – and why not?

 

Mr Marr grills Mrs May on “The Andrew Marr Show” – January 7.

 

I gave this one a miss on the grounds that Mrs May might have taken a leaf out of Marr’s book and taken out an injunction banning the raising by him of awkward questions.  

 

You never know these days.

 

 A gem from the Mail on Sunday on which to finish.

 

“ Wilson’s spin doctor: One of us must be a liar. You’ll have to judge who.”

Headline above a piece by Joe Haines in the Mail on Sunday,  January 7, 2018 

 

The issue in question refers to disputed authorship of the notorious Lavender List which surfaced after the resignation of Harold Wilson in 1976.

 

Joe Haines, one time press secretary for Harold Wilson, points the finger at Marcia Williams. Those of us with long memories will recall that Joe Haines wrote a hagiography of the portly pilferer, Robert Maxwell after leaving Number 10.

 

Like Andrew Marr – Joe Haines has form.

 

As Mr Richard Littlejohn might put it – you couldn’t make it up.

 

Image courtesy of BBC

 

Featured

The Prospects for Brexel 2: A Second Brexit Election

Brexel 1 – My term for the general election called by Mrs May in June 2017. Her sole reason for calling Brexel 1 was to strengthen her negotiating position with the other 27 EU countries – an objective which she failed by a wide margin to achieve.

Brexel 2 – My term for the forthcoming General Election which will be fought mainly on the painfully protracted pros and cons of Brexit.

Those arguing for the latter will be seeking to reverse the outcome of the in/out referendum held in June 2016.

Let me declare an interest at the outset – I remain a committed Remainer. My devotion to the Remainer cause grows stronger with every development and revelation.

Two other definitions:

Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.

Mexit – My term for the likely departure of Mrs May from No 10 before the end of January, 2018

“Not another one” – A lament from Brenda – from Bristol – on hearing that Mrs May, bolstered by her walk in the Welsh Hills, had called for a general election on June 8th.

My dear Brenda from Bristol – I’m afraid that the events which triggered your exasperation back in June, 2017 are about to be repeated and that another general election will be called in the very near future.

“They (the Labour Party) can be the party for overturning the referendum altogether… Or they can let the government have its way. There are no other options.”
Lord Finkelstein, The Times, December 6, 2017

I am not sure that Lord Finkelstein is right in his clear short list of options for the Labour party. However I hope that the Labour Party DOES opt to reverse the June 23, 2016 referendum and that the Labour Party wins the Brexel 2 election.

A stroll down memory lane – Notes on the turbulent 2 years from the 2015 general election to the June, 2017 general election

General Election held in June 2015:- The Conservatives managed to shake off the shackles that had tied them to the Lib Dems and secure a narrow but perfectly workable overall majority over all the other parties combined.  A happy day for David Cameron.

The only cloud on the horizon – soon to become a typhoon – was his rash but firm promise to hold a referendum on the UK membership of the EU.

Two immediate casualties of the Tory win were the departures of Mr Miliband (E) and Mr Clegg from their jobs as the leaders of the Labour party and of the Liberal Democrats respectively.

September, 2015 – In the election held to determine the replacement for Mr Miliband (E) – Mr Corbyn won by a large margin, securing around 60% of the votes cast, with the remaining 40% shared between Mr Burnham, Ms Cooper and Ms Kendall. Given that Mr Corbyn only made it onto the list of candidates because of a capricious decision by some senior Labour figures – who ought to have known better – to make the contest more diverse and more interesting – this was a truly astonishing outcome.

June 23, 2016 — The date of the in-out referendum – another startling result – a narrow majority in favour of leaving the EU – consternation and recriminations all round.

The main casualty here was Mr Cameron himself – he resigned immediately, thus triggering an election for a new leader of the Tory party and, rather more importantly, a new prime minister.

There followed a few weeks of entertaining farce the highlight of which was the knifing of BOJO by Michael Gove – oh joy unbounded. Mr Gove came a poor third in the first ballot thus demonstrating the shrewd judgement of the Tory electorate. There was a further confused interval in which Mrs Leadsom fell by the wayside after suggesting that maternity should be an essential qualification for a woman Prime Minister.

The thought occurred to me that, according to this novel criterion in the election process, my mother, and the mother of my 8 siblings would have been admirably qualified for a leadership role – but I digress.

September, 2016 – Meanwhile Labour MPs were far too pre-occupied with their own problems to worry about the internal and national and international problems afflicting the Tory party.

Mr Corbyn had not managed to win the hearts and minds of the Parliamentary Labour Party and accordingly enough pressure built up to force a second leadership election on the grounds that there was a widespread lack of confidence in his performance. JC was judged to be a decent enough chap but sadly it was felt that under his leadership the Labour Party was unelectable.

It was unfortunate that the MP who stood against him, Owen Smith, had recently been rejected by the electorate as the Labour candidate in Blaenau Gwent – one of the safest labour seats in Westminster.

Obviously Mr Smith had relevant painful first hand experience about who is and who is not electable.

For whatever reason or combination of reasons Mr Corbyn scored a second overwhelming majority.

November, 2016 – yet another surprising outcome from the democratic process, this time with global implications and repercussions – Mr Trump was elected President USA – as if the world did not have enough problems. Mr Trump is currently arranging for the US embassy in Israel to relocate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a change that has not won universal approval in the Arab world, or indeed anywhere else on the globe.

April 17, 2017 – I recall that I went walking in the Welsh hills and that my feelings were limited to jubilation when I made it to the top of Waun Rhyd.

April 18, 2017 – Mrs May was and is made of sterner stuff. After her walk in the Welsh hills at around the same time she announced that there would be a General Election on June 8. She explained her decision to renege on her previous resolve not hold an election because it was important to demonstrate to our EU partners that we were as one in our collective resolve to make our own way in the political life to come.
Given the importance of the Brexit issue throughout the campaign I referred to the election as the Brexel election – there is much fun to be had by manipulating those 4 letters – BREX.

April 18 to June 8 – A protracted election campaign which to a considerable degree centred on the extent to which the Tories would increase the slender but adequate lead – to be precise 17 – secured by Mr Cameron just 12 months previously.

My own prediction of the result was based on what the bookmakers were predicting – after all what do I know? The bookies were predicting not the outcome that I hoped for but the outcome that I dreaded – a Tory majority of around 90 seats over all other parties combined.

It is worth repeating the gist of the various forecasts and of the possible consequences of each forecast.

Those with long memories will recall that the Tory Brexel strategy was excessively focused on the alleged strengths of Mrs May and the perceived fragility of Mr Corbyn.

Firstly, if the Tory majority was actually diminished, the consensus was that (a) Mrs May would resign immediately and that (b) Jeremy Corbyn would be very secure in his position as Labour leader.

If the Tories secured a majority of, say, 18-40, then a weakened Mrs May would solider on (Corbyn again secure); 41-75, and May’s decision to go to the polls is justified, while Corbyn might cling on; 76 and above (the outcome predicted by the bookmakers with 12 hours to go before the election) would have represented a ringing endorsement for May, and a P45 for Corbyn.

June 8, 2017 – The Brexel/ Brexit General Election – a very significant day in the political history of the UK.

“What happened, what happened, I’m coming to that”
The Witnesses – WH Auden

Mrs May lost her majority and her authority was significantly eroded.

Mr Corbyn was and remains understandably jubilant.

Some – not all – Tory party knives were out for Mrs May.

Many Labour MPs who were hoping to see the back of Corbyn were both wrong footed and crestfallen by actual outcome.

A BBC documentary – “Labour – the summer that changed everything”- recently reported on the confusion within the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party as the likely consequences of the actual outcome sank in. Cue for a mass switch by Labour Party MPs as they grasped the implications for themselves of the outcome.

The programme makes for highly entertaining and rewarding viewing and I can recommend it – via Youtube.

I was very pleased about the outcome but rattled about my inability to sense the change in the public mood – I had gloomily albeit confidently anticipated that the Bookies would get it right.

I suspect that Paddy Power and William Hill et al will in future stick with the outcomes of rather more rational and predictable matters – the Bookmaker business model allows zero scope for losses.

Notes on the even more turbulent 6 months from June 9 to date

In the immediate aftermath of Brexel 1 – a shaky understanding was arrived at with the DUP – not a coalition – in order to enable Mrs May to stay in No 10. This shaky understanding was adequately lubricated with a large bribe from a government that had been previously stressing the need for austerity and belt tightening.

To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG since the arrival in No 10 of Mrs May in June 2016 can best be summed as the ongoing effing fiasco. In no special order the collective performance of Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues can be described as faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, festering, furious and fractious.

Another eff word suggested itself but the decencies must be observed.

What about Mrs May?

“We have the weakest PM in living memory
The time has come to acknowledge that Theresa May is unsuited to leadership and must be replaced urgently
Headlines above a piece by Iain Martin, The Times, December 7, 2017

Mr Martin was less than well disposed towards Mrs May and he explained his views in a thousand well chosen words.

Sadly his piece descended into bathos in his last paragraph – “ whether the job falls to Michael Gove or Amber Rudd or Boris Johnson, the key figures need to meet immediately … to agree on a replacement.”

This somewhat implausible suggestion raises the question – did Mr Martin get this fairy tale from GOBO?

So – what happens next? – Possible outcomes to the Mexit dilemma

At some early date a sufficient number of Tory MPs – a dozen or so will do the trick – may decide that they can’t take any more, and trigger a confidence vote which would be lost thus precipitating a General Election.

Or, Mrs May – no one else – decides that attack is the best form of defence and calls a General Election. Her persuasive logic here would be that Brexel 2 would be rather more about issues – to be precise about Brexit – and rather less about strong and stable leadership as was the case with Brexel 1

What outcomes do I want :- In no special order –

A coalition to be formed comprising all those whose over-riding political objective is to reverse the outcome of the June 2016 referendum.

In terms of practical politics – I hope and suspect that this coalition will consist of a Labour Party that will have undergone a dramatic conversion similar to that experienced by St Paul en route from Jerusalem to Damascus – Jericho, together with all the Lib Dems, the SNP and a significant number of Tories weary of the Brexit fiasco.

A brief digression.

“Brexit tribes are tearing our country in two- The lazy labels of “Remainer” and “Leaver” are stifling debate and spreading hateful stereotypes”
Headline above a piece by Clare Foges The Times December 4

Ms Foges castigates those responsible for creating a tetchy climate of mutual antagonism rather than rational exchanges of views.

At one point she noted that “Remainers are cast as the metropolitan elite ( I live in the suburbs of Pontypool), the ones drinking stupidly expensive coffee – (I never drink coffee) – who are to be found campaigning for transgender toilets – not a topic when I was in my prime many years ago – and – so on and so on.

My failure to fit in to any of the various alleged attributes of the Remainer tribe caused me to worry – albeit briefly – if I am in the wrong tribe.

Back to a plausible manifesto for the Remainers in the forthcoming Brexel 2
A selection along the following lines should do the trick
1.1 – The UK to stay in Europe. After the Brexit election has been won – back to Business as Usual.  All other electoral issues pale into insignificance by comparison.
1.2. Nationalise the utilities. This proposal has nothing to do with the ideology of Karl Marx and everything to do with restraining the avarice of senior managers as they ruthlessly exploit their monopoly and near monopoly positions in the national economy.
1.3 – Tax rates for the rich to soar way above the modest 50% suggested by Mr McDonnell. The logic behind this proposal is to encourage those on the highest incomes to spend a little more time on the work that they are paid to do and a little less time on looting the system – Vice Chancellors – please note – we know where you live.
1.4. For senior managers in the financial sector – bring in other measures over and above increasing the top rate of tax. These other measures to end the payment of bonus elements designed by themselves and their cronies. The principal reward element to be that senior managers get to keep their jobs if it can be demonstrated that their performance is up to the required standard.
1.5. “The Winner’s Shout, the losers curse/Dance before dead England’s hearse.
William Blake -”Auguries of Innocence
It is bad enough being poor, bad enough not having a secure job, bad enough having no access to affordable housing without the exposure to the vultures looking to loot the most vulnerable in our society. There are plenty more opportunities to put some flesh on the bones of Mr Corbyn’s wish to govern for the many not the few but these will suffice for now.

Mr Corbyn – what has he been up to in the past six months.
* Wisely keeping his head down and his powder dry
* Ongoing abuse from Messrs Dacre and Murdoch – no surprise there
* Possibly relishing the discomfort of those in the party who had sought his departure.

A brief Corbyn digression

Conventional wisdom back in the summer of 2015 had it that the plausible three candidates -Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – were all thought to be capable of giving David Cameron a run for his money, a run that did not exclude arrival in No 10. How did it come about that a candidate widely perceived as a no hoper BEFORE the leadership election was elected by a huge majority over the plausible three?

I can only guess at the reason(s) for the unexpected outcome but I suspect that by far the most crucial reason in the minds of the 2015 electorate was that the election of any one of the plausible 3 would simply represent more of the same and that the electors in their collective wisdom comprehensively rejected that option.

This raises the question – how does a party deal with a situation in which a huge gap opens up between the views and aspirations of the leaders and the led.

Just as the great majority of Labour MPS had no confidence in JC, so, or so it would appear, the great majority of Labour Party members had lost confidence in their elected representatives in the House of Commons.

It would not be easy to find high calibre replacements for the vast majority of the current crop of Labour Party MPs. Equally it would not be easy to discard the current crop of around half a million seemingly truculent party members and replace them with the same number of pliable tranquil equable members.

A Situation Report as of December 2017

According to some reports
* Labour lead the Tories at the polls
* Remainers lead brexiteers in the polls, especially among the young
* Most MPs would reverse the outcome of the June 2016 if the opportunity to do so were to arise. Well I have news for them – that opportunity may well be imminent.
* The most accomplished harvester of votes in modern times is said to be preparing to re-enter the political arena to support our continued membership of the EU.  MY ACE TO BE TONY BLAIR.

Dec14, 2017

Stop press – The Roller Coaster effect
1. Mrs May returns triumphant from Brussels – a worthy successor to the Iron Lady

2. Whoops – we spoke too soon –
“Eleven egotists and act of sheer treachery
Headline above a Daily Mail editorial – December 14.
It seems a bit over the top to compare the eleven rebels to Mr Quisling and Lord Haw Haw but, as noted, we are living in turbulent times.

3. What about an election slogan for the remainers in the Brexel 2 contest that is just around the corner
How about – from the collected sayings of Rupert Murdoch – F*** Dacre

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Further Developments in Brexit and Towards Mexit

Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.
Mexit – My term for the possible departure of Mrs May from No 10 before the end of 2017.

In this piece I have combined my thoughts on the prospects for Brexit with my thoughts on the prospects for Mrs May based on recent developments in both areas.
At the end of the piece I ask myself – have these developments advanced or retarded the Brexit case, and, on a lighter note – what have they done for the prospects of Mrs May?

Let me declare an interest at the outset – I remain a committed Remainer. My devotion to the Remainer cause grows stronger with every development and revelation.

“At present, and until something turns up …… I have nothing to bestow but advice.” Thus – Mr Micawber to David Copperfield; thus – the various advisers to Mrs May.

“The best we can do on Brexit is play for time.”
Lord Finkelstein, The Times, October 18, 2017

Is this not also the strategy of the Remain camp? Both camps can’t be right – or can they?

What has happened in the past two months or so?

Development include – but are by no means not restricted to – the following items:

1. What have BOJO and Gove been up to?

“Brexit’s arch plotters care only for themselves… A British mother locked up in Iran is the victim of a divided government and the manoeuvrings of Boris and Gove.”
Headlines above a piece by Rachel Sylvester, The Times, November 14, 2017

“Merlot Memo to save Brexit — How they (Bojo and Gove) buried the hatchet to take on Hammond – Former rivals warned PM to ignore Cabinet Bremoaners like Hammond”
Headlines in the Daily Mail on November 13, 2017

The emergence of Bojo and Gove as the key Brexit political warriors – let us refer to them as BoVe given their recent peace accord – has been a notable development.
Those who follow these matters in the media – an ever increasing number – will recall that that it is barely 18 months ago that Gove buried his hatchet in the unprotected breast of Bojo, causing Bojo to retire from the leadership fray.  The recent love in between the two is a startling U- turn even by the more relaxed standards of the 21st century.

We live in turbulent times as allegiances are switched to secure perceived personal advantages.

2. The real Brexit Battlefield.

The synthetic Brexit battle is being played out within the Westminster village. The real battle is being contested in Brussels between the UK’s David Davis and his counterpart from the EU, Mr Barnier.

Mr Davis continues to soldier on forlornly in his capacity as the representative of HMG against the formidable odds posed by the massed ranks of the other 27 EU countries. This latter group are more or less united in their resolve that the departing UK will end up as a chastened saddened solitary political has been – and who shall blame them for adopting this censorious approach?

Brusque handshakes are exchanged at the end of each negotiating session but this observer gets the feeling that Mr Davis would prefer to have his hands around the throat of Mr Barnier rather than the limp handshake masquerading as a symbol of friendship.

3. Some encouraging developments – at least to this Remainer.

“We don’t have to leave the EU, says Article 50 author —- Lord Kerr of Kinlochard.
The public is being “misled” by politicians who claim that Britain’s decision cannot be reversed, the diplomat who helped draft Article 50 has said. “
The Times November 10, 2017.

The key sentence in the report underneath the headline noted that “Britain could unilaterally withdraw from the (Brexit) process at any time —— the Prime Ministers Article was only a notification of the Uks intention to withdraw from the EU. Intentions can and do change.” So far – so very good.

On the debit side, Lord Kerr is notably shy as to how this possible change of heart might be achieved politically.  It is also unfortunate that the contribution from Lord Kerr is from the House of Lords, possibly the most undemocratic political institution in Europe or anywhere else for that matter.

Well – this Remainer will accept help from any source – cf Churchill extending the hand of friendship, albeit just for the duration of the Second World War, to Marshall Stalin in 1941.

4. Support for the Remain cause from Goldman Sachs

“Anger as Goldman (Sachs) demands a second poll”
Daily Mail, November 17, 2017

The Daily Mail got predictably worked up about the anxiety voiced by Mr Lloyd Blankfein reference the outcome of the 2016 in/out referendum. Mr Blankfein also asked for a second Brexit referendum – “so much at stake – why not make sure consensus is still there?”

“In Goldman Sachs we trust” was an ironical chapter heading in “The Great Crash” by Professor JK Galbraith. Not everyone trusted Goldman Sachs in the 1930s and the company has never enjoyed anything approaching widespread confidence. Down the years Goldman Sachs has been mostly noted for its ability to secure wealth for its managers approaching that of King Croesus.

I will not exactly welcome the intervention of Mr Blankfein but I will go as far as saying that I support his comments.

5. “Anger as head of economic think-tank likens Brexit to Blitz.
A Think Tank funded by the British Taxpayers sparked fury yesterday by claiming Brexit would wreak similar damage to the Blitz. In an extraordinary intervention the OECD also suggested reversing would boost the economy”
Daily Mail, October 18, 2017

The intervention by the head of the OECD, Secretary General Angel Gurria, was sweet music to my ears, but not to the ears of Mr Paul Dacre and his raucous pack of journalists. Mr Gurria received the standard Mail treatment handed out to those daring to disagree with Mr Dacre. I suspect that Mr Gurria would be quite relaxed about the predictable abuse heaped upon him.

Notes on some of the fringe developments regarding Brexit and Mexit

1. The emergence of Mrs May as The Hammer of the Reds

Mrs May decided that enough was enough and came out swinging against the Bolshies. All splendid stuff but also a little confusing in that Mr Trump, not normally noted as a model of calm diplomacy, was at the same time displaying commendable charm towards Mr Putin.

A key feature of Mrs May’s criticism of Russia was that it was attempting to erode the Unity of The West. I can’t recall the building from which Mrs May delivered her denunciation, but the Crystal Palace would have been appropriate.

2. The Release of the Paradise Papers.

The press had a field day poring over this gold mine – a suitable term – of damaging material released concerning the largely successful efforts of wealthy people and organisations to locate the most competitive tax rates applicable around the world.
These disclosures were of great value to the Remain cause because it would be far easier to find the weak link in the chain of 27 EU countries than to induce the EU as an institution to reward the global frauds.

3. The plight of the anxious businessmen

“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”
Dr Pangloss in “Candide” by Voltaire

Given the unfortunate events in the lives of Pangloss and Candide the reader must have wondered what misfortunes might persuade Dr Pangloss to change his mind.
At one point Mrs May met with a group of businessmen understandably anxious about the extent of the uncertainty looming as Brexit staggers from crisis to farce to crisis. Mrs May was said to have assured the businessmen that all would turn out for the best but they, the businessmen, were not fully persuaded that this would be the outcome.

4. The alleged unseemly sexual misdemeanours in and around Westminster.

How would I know – and – for that matter – how would you know – who did what to who and when?

“You did this to me!” “O no I didn’t!” “Oh yes you did!”

Suffice it to say in the context of Brexit and Mexit – the reported alleged activities are a diversion that Mrs May could do without, and this point applies especially to accusations against cabinet ministers, two of whom – Sir Michael Fallon and, yesterday, Damian Green, have now left their posts as a result. Where will it all end?

5. The Priti – mysterious – Patel affair – the word affair not used here in the sense of unofficial away fixtures in the context of marital commitments.

For me the main point to emerge from this diverting development was that if Mrs May is unaware of which of her cabinet colleagues have been up to what or even where they have been – how on earth can she be so sure about what Mr Putin and his associates have been up to?

The lesson to be learned here is that Mrs May can get herself into all sorts of tangles without the help of Mr. Putin.

So – what next? Possible outcomes to the Mexit dilemma

The outcome for Mrs May lies in the hands of her fellow Tory MPs – at what point will enough of them decide that enough is enough and put in place the arrangements required to hand Mrs May the black spot.

If I were one of these MPs- and thank the Lord I’m not sir – I would ask myself in the time honoured way – what is the best outcome in terms of enabling me to hang on to my hard won coveted political Cushy Number.

And back comes the answer – my chances are better under another leader, even another leader whose sole attraction is that he/she is not Mrs May.

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Do Lawyers Have a Cushy Number?

The cushy number has a long and honoured place in the history of mankind. Genesis 2 described the very first cushy numbers arranged by the Lord God for Adam and Eve. They were not required to work, and the only limitation placed upon them in terms of consumption was to give a miss to the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Sadly Eve was unable to resist the wiles of the serpent and she, and, a little later, Adam, sampled the forbidden fruit. The Lord God took a very dim view of their offence, and immediately put into effect the relevant disciplinary procedures. By the end of Genesis 3 their cushy number in the Garden of Eden had been cancelled, and our illustrious ancestors became reluctant founder members of the working class.

This article sets out to explore why some jobs are more desirable than others. This immediately raises the question – desirable in terms of what? Desirable in terms of this all important aspect of cushiness.

 Back in 2002 I wrote a book which I entitled A Cushy Number. I was unable to find a publisher – at that time and indeed since then publishers were understandably more concerned to secure the publishing rights for the works of eminent writers such as Mr X and Ms Y – what chance did I have against opposition of this talent?

I did not fail for lack of persistence.  I think that I may have established some sort of record in the number of times that I was told to f***off  and furthermore to stay f***** off. Publishers and Literary Agents are not afraid to come straight to the point.

I eventually placed the book onto the net where it continues to languish in the outer reaches of cyber space. From time to time I get requests from mysterious supplicants in far away places requesting me to furnish them with my bank details to enable them to transmit the huge amounts of cash being held for me as a result of internet sales. I have been advised by those in the know to treat these requests rather like my submissions to publishers were treated – and I have done so.

Back to business. In the book I looked at the features which made for a cushiness in a profession. After careful thought I defined A Cushy Number as a well rewarded sinecure. The word sinecure is defined as an office of profit with no duties. I was  looking for a lot more than an office of profit, although I was quite happy with the absence of duties. I was looking for, indeed I insisted upon, a job which combined the minimum of effort with the maximum of reward.

It must be stressed at the outset that cushy number seekers insist on having both criteria satisfied. They don’t want a demanding well rewarded job although they accept that this would be a step in the right direction. Equally they don’t just want a sinecure. They want a well rewarded sinecure.

In the introductory chapters to the book I examined in some detail the truths and myths surrounding job demand and likewise the truths and myths surrounding job rewards. I looked at the differences and at the (few) similarities between public sector jobs and private sector jobs, and then at the role of nepotism in assessing the cushiness of jobs.

I then subjected a series of professions to the Cushy Number model that I had developed including teachers, doctors, politicians and police men to assess where the truth ended and the myths began, and I came up with a league table of job cushiness.

I now plan – in my dotage – to update my original findings to see which of my conclusions have stood the test of time and which have had to be modified to reflect significant changes.

In this blog entry I present the updated version of the first of my selected professions namely the Legal Profession.

The timing is apposite because the word is that the legal profession is on the brink of a new surge in cushiness as the plethora of opportunities arising from Brexit become manifest.

Do Lawyers Have A Cushy Number?

 “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shall by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing”
Mathew, 5, Verses 25 and 26   

“It is likewise to be observed that this society (lawyers) hath a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong, so that it will take thirty years to decide whether the field left me by my ancestors for six generations belongs to me or to a stranger three hundred miles off”
Jonathan Swift,
Gulliver’s Travels

“The King ordered that the fine of four hundred ounces of gold to which he had been condemned, be returned to him. The clerk to the court, the ushers, the attorneys came to his house in grand apparel to bring him back his four hundred ounces; they retained only three hundred and ninety eight of them for the costs of justice; and their valets asked for honoraria”
Voltaire.
Zadig

 “And before I go, gentlemen,” said the excited Mr Pickwick, turning round on the landing, “permit me to say that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings -“
“Stay, Sir, stay” interposed Dodson with great politeness. “Mr Jackson, Mr Wicks!“
“Sir” said the two clerks appearing at the bottom of the stairs.
“I merely want you to hear what this gentleman says,“ replied Dodson. “Pray go on, sir: – disgraceful and rascally proceedings I think you said?”
“I did” said Mr Pickwick, thoroughly roused. “I said, sir, that of all the disgraceful and rascally proceedings that ever were attempted, this is the most so. I repeat it, sir.”
“You hear that, Mr Wickes?” Said Dodson.  “You won’t forget these expressions, Mr Jackson?“ said Fogg.
“Perhaps you would like to call us swindlers, sir” said Dodson. “Pray do so, sir if you feel disposed: now pray do sir.”
“I do” said Mr Pickwick. “You are swindlers.”
“Very good” said Dodson. “You can hear down there, I hope, Mr Wicks?”
“Oh yes, sir” said Mr Wicks.
“You had better come up a step or two higher if you can’t,” added Mr Fogg. “Go on, sir, do go on. You had better call us thieves Sir: – or perhaps you would like to assault one of us. Pray do it, Sir.”
Charles Dickens,
The Pickwick Papers

English Literature, and, doubtless, the literature of other languages, abounds with dire warnings about the hazards in store for those citizens so rash as to get involved in legal proceedings, any legal proceedings. The extracts at the start of this chapter illustrate the views of four sharp observers of the legal scene down the centuries. In the first extract Jesus turns aside from his main themes of setting out the Christian message in his Sermon on the Mount to warn us of the consequences of failing to settle out of court. Over the last two millennia  the number of people who wish that they had paid more attention to these two key verses must run into millions.           

Swift notes the propensity of the legal profession to complicate all matters which come before them for resolution. This admirable trait, coupled with the facility to procrastinate, ensures that the final bill for services rendered will be satisfactorily substantial. Voltaire described a typical outcome for anyone unfortunate enough to have dealings with the legal profession of his time. Zadig was left with just 0.5% of the fine ostensibly returned to him by his gracious majesty, and even his meagre balance was being targeted by the lesser lights of the profession.                                

The extract from The Pickwick Papers  illustrates beautifully the combination  of provocation and of ensuring that the ill advised outburst of Mr Pickwick was comprehensively witnessed. The Pickwick Papers was Dickens’ first novel.  In his following novels his opinion of the legal process and of the lawyers who operated the legal system got steadily worse. It is abundantly clear that Dickens was not a lover of either the legal system or of its practitioners.   Reading Bleak House, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, The Old Curiosity Shop and the court proceedings of Bardell against Pickwick, one is struck by the strength of his feeling on and against the legal profession. In fact the list of his novels in which lawyers appear as villains is longer than the list in which they do not appear at all.               

In Bleak House Dickens deals with the legal proceedings associated with the disposal of the Jarndyce estate. Dickens took the view that the legal proceedings of his time were protracted and arcane, and above all, that they existed primarily for the financial benefit of the legal profession. The outcome of the interminable legal process was that the entire value of the estate was swallowed up in legal costs. Reading Bleak House today one is struck by how briskly the law moved in those days and how quickly legal issues were resolved – compared with today. The delays that have always been at the heart of the British legal system remain with us today. These procedures exist, of course, to enrich lawyers and any link between this primary objective and the availability of legal redress to litigants is purely fortuitous.

The relatively new feature which protracts the process still further is the addition of more and more layers of appeal. The procrastination for which the profession is justly celebrated achieved perfection with the availability of the appeals procedures of the European Courts. This might change if the Brexiteers have their way but then again it might not if the Remainers have their way. As a committed Remainer – I remain convinced that sanity will prevail and that the UK will remain in the European Union.

This multiple and complex arrangement of appeals is of considerable significance in our assessment of the legal profession as a cushy number. Quite simply, in many, if not in most, professions, the decision makers get just one opportunity. Their judgement has to be, to borrow a quote from the jargon of the world of Quality Management, right first time. The legal system has been beautifully constructed to avoid any such painful predicaments. Legal cases go slowly, painfully slowly, and expensively, prohibitively expensively, up through the myriad appeal procedures.                

All the lawyers employed (if that is not too strong a word) in this system enjoy a delightful combination of guaranteed income and an agreeable absence of stress. It puts one in mind of Tennyson’s  land of the Lotus Eaters.  The only occupational pressure experienced by the profession is that of worrying about the payment at the end of the proceedings. In really promising cases, that is in protracted cases, this worry extends to payment of fees into their estates, following their demise.                

The behaviour of Dodson and Fogg in the extract from The Pickwick Papers illustrates another unfortunate feature of the legal profession which is very widespread. Lawyers do not enjoy the trust of the wider public, and the profession is by no means averse to incurring the wrath of other professions for its own financial benefit.                

The reason for this widespread detestation is straightforward. Lawyers never lose.  Whatever the crisis, whatever the issue, the legal profession always wins. This may not seem so to a losing barrister but for our purposes we note that, win or lose, the lawyer gets paid.  This of course has always been so. It is easier to imagine the sun failing to rise tomorrow than it is to imagine the legal profession not having first charge on available funds. In the event that funds are not available and, for good measure, guaranteed, lawyers do not start the job.              

Before any lawyer raises the practice of no win no fee litigation which is slowly creeping in, the point needs to be made that this development is a symptom of the opportunism of the profession rather than its wholly illusory altruism and wholly imaginary thirst for justice. In all these cases the lawyers have a look at the gist of the matter at the outset and quickly divide them into those with a high probability of payment, and the others. Those with a payout probability below around 98% will be promptly consigned to the dust bin. There will obviously be a spread here depending upon the attitude to risk of the lawyer in question. Conservative lawyers will look for a success probability of 99%. Dashing adventurous lawyers may go as low as 97%. This latter group will take the view that they can add any losses to the bills of their other clients.                

Public antagonism towards the legal profession is especially marked among the medical profession which rightly sees them as parasites feeding off the errors of their own profession. Doctors and especially surgeons are attractive targets for lawyers, with no credit allowed for all the operations which were successful.  One mistake and litigation follows as surely night follows day. The response of the Surgeons to this assault on their purse and their professional pride is to limit their activities to safe surgery, that is to operations with a safe margin of error. The long term victims will be those patients suffering from ailments which might be cured by high risk surgery: – for what surgeon today will carry out a risky operation?              

Contrast the risks faced by the two professions. With surgeons one slip of the knife and the patient may finish up in the morgue, thus triggering much dreaded litigation. Lawyers have established a huge safety net of appeal procedures to protect them and us from their errors and omissions. This may be just as well when you consider the frequency with which previous judgements are reversed and prisoners are released as the result of one of the multitude of appeals. Sadly far too many decisions are corrected only when the unfortunate prisoner has served a long sentence.                

Lawyers are perceived by the rest of us as, to quote Matthew again but in a different context, “ravening wolves” waiting for us to slip up, thus enabling them to move in, exploit our difficulties to the full and slip away leaving us much poorer, but none the wiser.  They are ever present in times of distress, in times of conflict, and in times of confusion. They wax fat on our collective misfortunes.                

We are or we feel we are bullied in work- we need a lawyer. We fail to leave clear instructions as to who gets what when we shuffle off the mortal coil- lawyers are sent for. Our marriages are falling apart – a job for the lawyers. A dispute with our neighbours over the height of the Leylandi – bring on the lawyers.               

Some years ago a sympathetic New Labour minister took pity on the plight of miners whose health had been damaged by the conditions under which they worked. A government  scheme was set up to compensate those so affected. To all outward appearances the scheme was set up to compensate miners because of their wholly justifiable grievances.  Those in Government responsible for launching the scheme duly launched it and moved on to other matters. So far so good.

The affected miners and the wider public are indebted to the tireless work of Mr Andrew Norfolk of The Times as he investigated and then revealed precisely who got what out the available funds. And who did get what? You are ahead of me. Yes:- the lawyers acting for the claiming miners got the lions share and a few lucky miners got what was left after the lawyers had gorged themselves. The respective portions obtained by the two parties, lawyers and sick miners was roughly the same as the portions noted by Voltaire at the start of this article.                  

Let us now look at the cushiness of the profession. We will begin by looking at the demands of the job. We can immediately dismiss the idea of a lawyer under stress. This is a contradiction in terms, like a truthful politician.  Some TV dramas portray lawyers as sharing the distress of their clients in criminal cases. This recalls  the comments of Mr Jim Wicks who was the manager of the boxer Henry Cooper in the 1950s. Whenever Cooper lost a bout Mr Wicks would appear in front of the cameras and report sadly that “we did our best, but we took a lot of punishment and we were not good enough.”  The thought used to strike me that the distribution of the punishment had been decidedly lop sided as between fighter and manager. Thus Mr Wicks, thus lawyers who have acted for convicted criminals. Any despondency expressed by lawyers following a court defeat is wholly synthetic, all part of the play acting which goes with the job.               

What about performance measurement. Efforts have been made for thousands of years to measure the performance of lawyers, all to no avail.  If you doubt this, try suing one and see where it gets you. What about job security? Are lawyers, like many people employed in the commercial world, worried about redundancy, falling markets, cancelled orders and bleak prospects?  Not in the slightest. Their only concern is that their ingrained professional indolence might keep them from the cornucopia generated by the ever growing mountain of laws, rules, regulations and red tape generated in the main by the legal profession.               

What about the amount of time required to do the job? We  believe that the meagre time commitment is best illustrated by noting that the fairly small barrister branch of the profession has always provided and continues to provide an astonishingly high number of politicians at both local and national level. We have noted already that the facility to carry out other, often time consuming  activities is a classical hallmark of an under worked and under stretched profession. Note that time consuming does not mean demanding. The most obvious time consuming activity is that of clock watching.                

Barristers and moonlighting go together like politics and mendacity. This most attractive feature of  ample opportunity to pursue other lucrative activities will become more and more significant as we complete our review of a range of jobs. Demanding jobs provide just about zero opportunity for extra curricular activities and we must accordingly mark down as low demand those which provide this opportunity.               

Taking all these points together it is clear that we looking here at a very low level of job demand.  The level of demand varies slightly from branch to branch within the profession, but we are looking in all cases at a low level of stress, an absence of performance measurement and complete job security as long as criminal conduct by the lawyer is avoided. Sadly, this last feature is by no means unknown and the percentage of legally qualified criminals is disproportionately high. The level of temptation in the profession is high and occasionally lawyers succumb to this temptation.                

What about the reward side? The picture here is slightly complex.  Members of the legal profession are employed in jobs ranging from the public sector at one end of the spectrum to small, possibly one or 2 man practices at the other with a swathe of corporate lawyers somewhere in the middle. Let us pick our way through this variety of legal jobs and arrive at a job reward index for the profession. We know that there is no such being as a poor lawyer. But some lawyers are richer than others. Lawyers in private practice will receive a premium as compensation for the additional risks and hazards of the private sector.               

Lawyers, other than the top QCs, tend not to be fabulously rich but all will be solidly well heeled. Sadly nothing in this life is perfect and lawyers in small private practices will normally have to forego the automatic prize of a FISIL ( Final Salary Index Linked pension).  This unfortunate feature can usually but not always be compensated for by fee adjustment but this is not always so.                 

We now apply the formula arrived at earlier to establish the profession cushy number index. The job demand is low and the job rewards are high.  This is a most promising start to our search for A Cushy Number. Accordingly any child which shows a talent for dissembling, procrastination and the theatre could be steered towards this profession. Lawyers still have some way to go to achieve the ultimate goal of the perfect cushy number but we can be sure that, between slumbers, they are working  on two key problems. How to do even less work in return for even more money.               

The legal profession is noted for endemic nepotism. This nepotism may be direct or indirect. In direct nepotism the children will first of all receive legal training and will then inherit the parental legal practice. Indirect nepotism will result in lawyers steering their children towards the richer pastures in this Garden of Eden. We can be confident that the job is a cushy number when such a cynical, calculating, grasping, breed ensure that their offspring follow their choice of career.               

There are two strong contenders for the title of cushiest numbers within the legal profession. The jobs of lawyers employed in the public sector will be considered in a future blog article.  

Let me whisper a word or two about left wing lawyers.  Here we have a most agreeable combination of a cushy number with a social conscience. You have really hit the jackpot when you have a low demand job which is very well paid AND a reputation as a defender of the poor and an ardent warrior in the class struggle. Mr X, QC and Lord Y, QC spring to mind as well known members of this group. Please note – no names, no litigation. We fully endorse the comments of Christ as set out in Mathew, 5, verses 25 and 26.            

Finally a  word on the cushiness of the legal profession across the pond. Suffice it say that all the points noted in this blog apply in the USA – only more so. This can be explained by noting that the early settlers from Europe to America comprised the most energetic and enterprising elements of their countries of origin. Obviously the legal eagles within the wider group of settlers were similarly energetic and enterprising. We can assert with confidence  that American lawyers share all the characteristics of their European fellow professionals but with added vigour, an arguably regrettable combination.                

One example of these qualities in action in the USA is the treatment of those convicted of crimes which may be punishable by the death penalty. American lawyers grasp that the income to be obtained from dead criminals diminish sharply with their demise. Accordingly in the USA the practice has developed of keeping convicted criminals on death row for two decades or more, all the time under sentence of death – and from time to time the death sentence is carried out. This splendid tactic combines maximising the revenue potential of the criminal  for both defence and prosecution lawyers, with an outcome pleasing to those in favour of the death penalty, a not insignificant group of voters.      

I would like to end on a conciliatory emollient note and stress that none of the above strictures apply to my friends in the legal profession – all of whom embrace and embody the noble qualities of Portia, the admirable advocate in “The Merchant of Venice.”

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Oh Lordy – A Modest Proposal

 “Peers may lose right to sit in trimmed down Lords………. The House of Lords should be slashed from its current size of more than 800 peers to meet a cap of 600 within 10 years under the blueprint published by a cross party committee of Peers led by Lord Burns.”
T
he Times. November 1, 2017

 “The case for a cap on numbers is overwhelming.”
Lord Fowler, Lord Speaker, House of Lords

 “Proposals to reduce the size of the House of Lords are  unnecessary and counterproductive”
Letter to
The Times on October 28, 2017 from Robert (Diehard) Fraser

 “Two in three voters want the Lords to be elected”
Daily Mail headline – October 30, 2017    

“ Political parties are set to be awarded a quota of peerage appointments based on their latest general election performance,  The Times has learnt.”
The Times October 27, 2017

 “Another scandal has just whacked the House of Lords. We have become wearily accustomed to tales of naked greed. From Westminster’s Upper House ….. Sixteen peers were found to have pocketed almost £0400,000 of taxpayers cash between them , even though they had not done one stroke of recognisable work”
Quentin Letts, 
Daily Mail, October 25, 2017 

The readiness of these aristocratic old timers to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us is a disgrace and an affront to democracy and so on and so forth. Typical sentiments in the columns of our sprightly left wing press.

In this connection the alleged practice of some peers of clocking in, collecting £300 and then making off elsewhere has not pleased those now in charge of The Labour Party. 

Another feature currently annoying those of the Brexit persuasion is that the House of Lords is opposing Brexit in the name of democracy – you work that one out.

For a variety of reasons, not all of them clear,  the role of the House of Lords has emerged as an issue and, as is customary, the debate has been muted and respectable. On this occasion the debate has centred on three issues.

Two central issues are the ideal size of the Upper House, and the ideal composition of the upper house. The third issue for some is the very existence of the House of Lords , and here the preference of the Bolshie tendency would be to consign the upper house to the dustbin of history – their phrase.

“’Thats your glorious British Navy’, says the Citizen, ‘that bosses the earth. The fellows that never will be slaves, with the only hereditary chamber on the face of Gods earth, and their land in the hands of a dozen gamehogs and cottonball barons. Thats the great empire they boast about of drudges and whipped serfs.’
Ulysses by James Joyce

The fiery Citizen from Joyces novel was clearly no lover of the British House of Lords, but he was speaking, amid a copious supply of free drinks, in 1904. It is possible that Joyce himself would have been startled to learn that it has taken another 100 years to prise the tenacious grip of at least some of the hereditary peers from the ultimate quango, the House Of Lords. 

The problems facing those who seek reform of the House of Lords are formidable because of the inability of the various bodies charged with the job to come up with a solution which combines plausibility with acceptability to the House of Commons. The modest proposal which follows has been prepared both to solve this seemingly intractable problem and to bring much needed relief to the hard pressed finances of the United Kingdom.

The following notes set out the basis of a convincing plan to solve the problem for the next two decades or so – let us say when the current problems posed by Brexit have been resolved.

My suggested approach combines transparency, simplicity, and, crucially, cost effectiveness.

Let us look briefly at the history of the problem, and at the arguments against the solutions put forward down the years. It has to be acknowledged that the House of Lords has fought a magnificent rearguard action for centuries against those who sought to question its lack of democratic legitimacy. It took a combination of  that astonishing political phenomenon, New Labour, and the perplexing collapse of the Conservative Party to make the decline of the hereditary peers inevitable. The great majority of this group were cast out leaving only a rump of blue bloods massively outnumbered by the appointed peers.

This last group take us at once to the heart of the argument about who shall replace the hereditary peers and on what basis. Many column inches have been devoted to the iniquities of any revising chamber based on selection, because, as we all know, for selection read patronage. As of today – but possibly not of tomorrow – for patronage, read the patronage of Mrs May.

The alternative, that of election, has been deemed to be equally abhorrent, partly on the grounds that election would give it the very attribute so feared by the lower house, namely that of legitimacy. The other objection to an elected membership is that those elected would be mostly party political people, and the only thing that all of us, apart, that is, from the professional political classes, are united upon is the need for a revising chamber to consist to the fullest possible extent of people who are independent and outside the world of the professional politician.

My solution to this long-standing thorny problem would require no changes to the responsibilities and functions of the House of Lords. In particular the essential function of the Lords, namely that of keeping an eye on the rascals in the other place and blowing the whistle on them as required would remain as now.

The key issue to be resolved is this. On what basis should we determine who shall sit in the Lords? The answer in this modest proposal is that membership would be sold to those who can afford it. Members of the upper house would be required to pay both a substantial down payment (or, in modern parlance, up front money), and a substantial annual membership thereafter. What could be simpler?

 To get the debate under way I suggest that the membership of the House of Lords be set at 500 to give a rough parity with the Commons. Members of the new upper house would pay an initial membership fee of £10 million, and an annual fee of £2 million thereafter. This plan would bring in £5 billion to get the show under way, and an annual contribution to the coffers of the nation of £1 billion. That is a lot of schools and hospitals.

 The arguments in support of this novel mercenary approach are formidable. In no special order they are as follows:

1. The arrangement would be very economical. Our revising legislators and watchdogs would pay us, indeed would pay us handsomely,  instead of the other way round.

2. At a stroke we solve the difficulties both of an appointed house and of an elected house by simply discarding both approaches, and adopting a clear cut market approach.

3. We solve the vexed problem of party influence. Those with the funds to apply for membership tend to be outside the party system because they have been too busy piling up riches.

4. The independence of our new body from party strife would in itself ensure high public esteem. The new upper house would also benefit from the fact that the House of Commons combines over manning and  with excessive remuneration, both classic hallmarks of the time honoured practice of looting the public purse. The definition of politics by Ambrose Pierce as the conduct of public affairs for private advantage is arguably more true in our time than in any earlier era. We hasten to point out that Pierce was using the word affairs in its older and more seemly sense, although some of our current crop of politicians might wish that their affairs in the more recent sense of the word had been rather more private.

5. Successful applicants would in the main have track records of high achievement in that most important of activities within a liberal market economy, namely the acquiring of wealth.

6. The new body would be a shining example of a Public/Private Partnership. It would in fact be a PPP in excelsis, the highest attainable pinnacle of the dream of New Labour.

7. A much-needed gusto would be injected into the body politic. Moneyed men tend to be sharp and vigorous. This vigour would get round one telling criticism of the current upper house is that on a busy day it resembles an old folks’ home and, on a quiet day, a morgue.

8. The new house could serve to curb the excessive political influence of the Celtic members of the Lower House. This group, surplus to the domestic requirements of Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland, has sought and continues to seek to reduce the conduct of political affairs of England to the same level of torpor and ineptitude as those generated by their respective devolved institutions.

9. Any failure to pay membership fees by the due date would send out an early warning about impending corporate difficulties.

10. Lastly and possibly crucially it would, to a considerable degree, confer legitimacy upon what happens now in the case of substantial numbers of appointed life peers. The ranks of the Lords, if not the benches of the Upper House are littered with the names of the affluent whose appointments swiftly followed the bestowing of substantial sums of money on the party of their choice, ie the party best placed to reward their generosity. Our modest proposal would confer transparency upon a process currently shrouded in uncharitable hearsay.     

What about the arguments against? These are few and easily refuted. There would be an inbuilt small ‘c’ conservative tendency in the new house. This is urgently required as a counterbalance to restrain the Corbynite tendency.

Change for the sake of change, and, above all, frenetic activity masquerading as progress, needs to be kept in check.

A more telling criticism that the arrangement might mean that the new upper house would be reluctant to approve measures to increase the tax burden on the rich, a measure thought to be long overdue in Bolshevik circles. We solve this difficultly by simply maintaining the current position which limits their  power to that of delay rather than outright rejection on financial measures.

On a personal note I find the plans of the Corbyn-led Labour Party to tackle the problem of growing inequality between the haves and have-nots surprisingly timid but that is another topic for another day.

It might be argued that this proposal is a tawdry opaque attempt to sell political influence (not to be confused with party influence). This is, of course, perfectly true, but the proposed arrangement merely legitimises and formalises and makes much more profitable what happens now. It makes the whole system very transparent, in fact more transparent than the Tammany Hall proceedings which precede and underpin membership of the House of Commons. Those in doubt on this point should consult Boris Johnsons book Friends, Voters, Countrymen in which he describes the machinations he employed to become the Hon Member for Henley.

 Much thought has been given to the fine details of the new scheme. The competitive bidding approach was considered and discarded on the grounds that could result in sharp practice. Plutocrats did not get to where they are today by being honourable. A few phone calls between aspiring members would quickly drive down the entry fee,

 We have opted instead for the exclusive club model. As noted earlier membership of the upper house would be offered on the basis of the specified entry and annual fees. Membership would be for a fixed period of five years but members would be free to offer themselves for re-selection. The Modified House would have precisely the same powers and responsibilities as the existing house, but there would be no remuneration.  The perquisites of the members would comprise membership of an exclusive club with the additional much sought after right to style themselves Lord or Lady whatever.

As with all such organisations a civilised code of conduct would apply. We suggest that absenteeism be treated leniently, but drunkenness (at least within the confines of the palace of Westminster), criminal convictions and attempts to bribe members of the lower and relatively impoverished house would result in the termination of membership. Members wishing to leave the new upper house prematurely would request that they be allowed to so upon payment of the Chiltern Millions. Needless to say the most serious offence of all would be failure to pay membership fees on time, and this could lead to the formal stripping of the adopted title within a hollow square of fellow members.

In the event of the membership being over-subscribed (and in all probability it would be) the names of all applicants would go into a hat and the first 500 names to be drawn shall constitute the new upper house. The draw could be timed to coincide with that for the national lottery to give the event maximum publicity.

Sceptics may ask: What if the plutocrats don’t go for it? Oh, but they will, they will. They queued up to buy earldoms from Lloyd George on the black market, and they have been doing so ever since. Under our proposals everything is above board, all is transparent (a fine word, transparent).

Is the asking price about right?  It may well be that it has been pitched on the low side, but in this matter, as in all other crucial matters in today’s Britain, in the longer term we will let the market decide. At this early stage we would simply note that £10 million is small beer to many of our fellow citizens as avid readers of various published rich lists will confirm. In our revised House of Lords our plutocrat can purchase the one thing he or she has coveted and has hitherto been denied, that which rounds off his collection of worldly goods and assures his social success.

What about the existing members? No need for any concern here. Some current members could and doubtless would seek to join the new house because they, more than most, grasp the attractions and benefits of membership. To those who could not afford to go into the hat we say: Thank you for your disinterested and somnolent services rendered over the years, but, sadly, farewell. Their removal from their rest home would add a poignant note to the launch of the new house, and could form the basis of a profitable series of fly on the wall television documentaries. 

The author of this modest proposal cannot be accused of having a vested interest in its adoption as he does not possess the financial resources necessary to purchase membership of even the most lowly layer of the democratic pyramid. He writes from a pro bono publico viewpoint, motivated only by a fervent desire to see this seemingly intractable problem solved and by an equally fervent desire to improve the state of the national finances.

 How should supporters of this proposal campaign for its adoption? It would be a waste of time to write to your MP because he/she has a vested interest in the continuation of the existing arrangements. Write instead to the reactionary press to express your support and urge that the proposal be adopted. The many interested aspiring plutocrats could take out full page ads to advocate the scheme.

Just think about it! The new house might contain Lord Ecclestone (of Brands Hatch),  Lord Lewis Hamilton,  Lord Murdoch (although as a wild colonial boy he might spurn the opportunity), Lord Desmond to spice things up, Lord McCartney to give us a song, Lord Lennox Lewis to keep order, Lord Beckham of Old Trafford to strengthen the squad, Lord Burns himself to ensure that the accounts are in order, Lord Sorrell to look after the PR side and – why not – Lord (Philip) Green to keep an eye on any pension matters.

Readers will doubtless have their own views on which of our affluent fellow citizens would add to the lustre of our new upper house.

 Like the Romans of old we want bread and circuses. This proposal supplies both in abundance. I commend it to the British people, and to British politicians, although I suspect that it will appeal much more strongly to the former than to the latter.

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Of Brexit & Mexit: Part 2

The prophet Ecclesiastes once said (in 1,9, to be precise), that there is no new thing under the sun. Was his aphorism right as regards the history of the Tory party?

Well, then. Bernard Levin, while making clear his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, opined that: “There is one, and only one, political position that, through all the years, and all my changing views and feelings, has never altered, never come into question, never seemed too simple for a complex world. It is my profound and unwavering contempt for the Conservative Party.”

Levin had many reasons for his contempt – and delineated them within his peerless columns on a number of occasions – but one among the many was the squalid jockeying for position amongst political nonentities whenever blood was scented. It could be argued that the attitude of the modern Tory minister closely apes that of (here’s the irony) the nineteenth century Liberal politician Sir William Harcourt, described by Churchill as being “ambitious in a calculating style…. With an eye fixed earnestly, but by no means unerringly, upon the main chance.” (It should also be observed that here the resemblance between him and the shy contenders anxious to succeed Mrs May begins and ends, in that – to quote Churchill again – Harcourt was a “genial, accomplished Parliamentarian”, while the lack of accomplishments amongst his Tory successors is something to deplore.)

 Their Tory forebears had form, of course. Beaverbrook wrote that:

“Between October 15 and October 19 (1922) the struggle became less like a battle than a series of single duels. Every mans’ political  soul was required of him. Promises and promotions and honours were sprinkled from Downing Street on the green benches with a hose.”

Beaverbrook was writing about the meeting of Conservative MPs in the Carlton Club, a meeting which was to end the Tory – Lloyd George Liberal Coalition. This was just one of many internal struggles within the Tory party down the years, struggles that have enraged some and delighted others.

We find a more recent example (well, many of them, if truth be told) relayed gloriously in the diaries of the late Alan Clark. Encountering Edwina Currie in the Houses of Commons during the last, febrile days of Thatcher’s government, Clark congratulated her “on the combination of loyalty and restraint that [she showed] in going on television to announce [her] intention to vote against the Prime Minister in the leadership election.” Unsurprisingly, when Currie – whose devotion to self-promotion in the media was impressive even by modern Tory standards – suggested that they “argue this through”, Clark succinctly told her “to piss off”

Moving forwards a further two and a half decades or so, and we encounter Boris Johnson, of whom it could be said that he represents an embodiment of the sentiments that Wodehouse’s Ambrose Wiffen felt about the two small boys with whom he had been saddled:  

“On his first introduction to these little fellows it had seemed to Ambrose that they had touched the lowest possible level to which Humanity can descend. It now became apparent that there were hitherto unimagined depths which it was in their power to plumb”.

I suspect that many observers of the UK political scene would readily apply similar views about BOJO as he moved effortlessly from pulling the rug from under his leader to denouncing those of his colleagues engaged in identical activities.

As May prevaricates and flounders in a mess of Cameron’s making (and compounded by her decision to call an election), we are now in a situation where, like Micawber, her advisors have nothing to offer but advice; As Daniel Finkelstein has recently observed, “The best we can do on Brexit is play for time”

The above quotes have been selected in an attempt to escape from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the tedious squabbles about Brexit, and about its unplanned offspring, Mexit. 

Two preliminary definitions

  • Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.
  • Mexit – author’s term for the possible departure of Mrs May from No 10 before the end of 2017

The state of play is confused even chaotic on both the issue of Brexit and on the issue of Mexit

To this outsider, the proceedings at the heart of HMG can best be summed as the ongoing effing fiasco. In no special order the collective performance of Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues can be described as faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, festering, furious and fractious.

Another eff word suggested itself but this is a family blog and the decencies must be observed.  

To simplify matters I shall employ the device of bullet points – a device much loved by manager johnnies.

 1. A Brexit update  from the edge of the margin of the periphery of the action

  • The situation here is not promising from the UK point of view.
  •  The 27 remainer counties appear to be hardening their resolve to make no concessions until the specified preliminary issues are resolved to their satisfaction.
  • As I write, the top level dialogue is running along the following lines: Mrs May – “The ball is in in your court” The 27 remainers – “Oh no it isn’t”  Mrs May – “Oh yes it is” And so on and so on.
  • The drama takes me back many years to the pantomimes of my childhood when the hero/heroine engaged in a brisk boisterous exchange with the audience as to whether or not the baddie was or was not behind him or her. All good stuff but not the ideal way to make progress.

 2. Thoughts on Mexit, again from the edge of the margin of the periphery

  • An impressive show of unity within the Tory Party following its party conference
  • On the debit side –  If a party can’t organise a conference – what can it do?
  • Peering through the fog of mendacity and delusion oozing out of No 10 – there is no obvious successor to Mrs M.
  • The first malcontent to show his head above the parapet – Grant Shapps – was judged by the media pack and by most of his colleagues in the house – to be a lightweight, and he quickly retreated to the obscurity from which he had emerged.
  • Collectively – those who rushed to support the PM were not exactly heavyweights – but what of that?
  • Whatever the wishes of politicians and media moguls – Brexit will continue to dominate the national political agenda until either The Brexiteers prevail and out we go or, by some most welcome development – not easy to discern at the moment – we come to our senses, ditch the Brexiteers and resume  Business as Usual within the EU.
  • The problem facing the Tories and, of rather greater importance, the country, is NOT the choice between Mrs May and AN Other, delightful though the prospect of AN Other ousting Mrs May might be to some us – to let us say – the reassuring self effacing Mr Hammond.
  • The problem facing HMG is NOT to decide between the a hard Brexit and a soft Brexit – both options evaporated when subjected to analysis.
  • The problem faced by the Tory party is quite simple: – Does it maintain its present Brexit policy to its only logical outcome – out we go  OR does it procrastinate and defer and set up enquiries and working groups and independent enquiries – all with the objective of playing for time to allow the nation to come to its senses.
  •  A few Tory MPS – not enough at this stage  – have been heard to whisper that maybe that the nice old timer, Dr Cable, had a good point when he suggested that there ought to be a FIRST referendum to decide if Brexit should proceed on the basis of the terms secured by HMG. This referendum might put the question, “Given the deal arrived at between the EU 27 and HMG – Should the UK stay in the EU or leave?” As with the June 2016 referendum – a simple majority to decide the answer. Alternatively, a  far more sensible way forward would be to put the same question to the House of Commons with the vote to decide if we stay or leave on the basis of the deal. 

 3. A few points for the voters and their elected representatives to consider

  • The word is that most MPs, being mostly of sound mind, would vote to remain within the EU if that option was available to them. This applies to Labour MPs as well as Tory MPs.
  • Opinion polls indicate steadily diminishing support for Brexit as the disagreeable consequences become more apparent.
  • One or other – or maybe both – of these options may in due course become available to the voters as more and more of them belatedly grasp the futility of Brexit, the scale of the deceit of BOJO and the baleful influence of the Murdoch/Dacre propaganda organs.
  • The emerging pattern of voting intentions is that the young are increasingly aware of the strong case to stay in the European Community – and is their future that is at stake.
  • I write these notes in my capacity as an old timer who sees BOJO as the most accomplished political fraud in my long life time – and there is a lot of competition for this dubious award.

 4. A look at the possible outcomes to the Mexit problem 

  •  At the optimistic end of the spectrum – Mrs May to be out by Christmas
  •  At the pessimistic end of the spectrum – Mrs May will still be PM up to the next election

  5. Of David and Boris

  • Those who follow these matters will recall that David Cameron committed the Tory party to hold an in-out referendum on our EU membership should the Tories win the 2015 election.
  • Obviously Cameron had considered this commitment carefully and his conclusion was that he could win the argument and the referendum.
  • He knew – or thought he knew – who were remainers and who were for leavers. Thus Mr Farage was clearly a leaver; Mr Ken Clarke was equally clearly a remainer; Messrs Dacre and Murdoch could be counted on to campaign to leave. And so and so forth as heads were counted.
  • What about BOJO? Aye – there’s the rub. Cameron was obviously counting on the support of BOJO to campaign to remain given that that had been his previous position. However, it has been reported in The Mail on Sunday that Boris only voted for Brexit to spite DC”. What does this little gem tell us about the judgement of Mr Cameron about the fickleness of his colleague of many years? More revealingly – what does it tell us about the judgement of BOJO, a man then as now devoid of any political principle save that of the advancement of BOJO.  

6. The view from Brussels

  •  They, the other 27 countries, believe that they hold all the winning cards. I believe that they are right to hold this view.
  •  I would go further. Their views about what the response of the 27 remainers to the pitiful performance of the representatives of HMG across the table is likely to be broadly as per the riposte of Alan Clarke to Mrs Currie as per the exchange quoted earlier, namely, “Piss off”.

 7. Of Brexit and the Blitz

  • The Daily Mail has reported that “A Think Tank funded by the British Taxpayers sparked fury yesterday by claiming Brexit would wreak similar damage to the Blitz. In an extraordinary intervention the OECD also suggested reversing would boost the economy.”
  • The intervention by the head of the OECD, Secretary General Angel Gurria, was sweet music to my ears,  but not to the ears of Mr Paul Dacre and his raucous well trained pack of journalists. Mr Gurria received the standard Mail treatment handed out to those daring to disagree with Mr Dacre.
  • I suspect that Mr Gurria would be quite relaxed about the predictable abuse heaped upon him.
  • That is apart from the menacing threat  by Tory MP to review (for review, read cancel) the £10 million a year that HMG gives to the OECD.

8. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce” – Karl Marx

  • In the present circumstances the tragedy and the farce are being enacted simultaneously
  • The farce is Mexit
  • The tragedy is Brexit

 9. A closing thought. Help the aged.

  • Give your support to Dr Cable as he struggles to rescue the UK from its self inflicted wounds.
  • Now, more than ever, the UK needs its Cable Guy.

 

Image courtesy of Daily Express

 

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Is there a case to promote a salutary level of unemployment in the incompetent managerial sector?

“The British Disease is now rank ineptitude”
“Whatever the trade or profession it seems to be considered bad form to root out the stupid and the incompetent”
Headlines above a column by Matthew Parris,
The Times, December 3, 2016

Peevish sacked minister to the then Prime Minister, Mr Attlee.
“Why have I been dismissed?”
Mr Attlee, the laconic PM replied – “Because you are not up to the job.”

“The owner of a hair dressing salon who punched one of his staff in the face, dragged him across the salon floor, and kneed him in the groin, said at an industrial tribunal in Birmingham that he had not dismissed him. But the tribunal accepted a claim that such treatment was tantamount to unfair dismissal.”
Extract from a Bernard Levin piece in The Times headed ”How to know when you’re not wanted”

The Parris article was triggered by an earlier Times piece in which  his colleague Melanie Phillips had taken a forensic look at seemingly gross incompetence by the Metropolitan Police. Parris wanted to go further. “From top to bottom in Britain we appear to tolerate major blunders and minor incompetence with a tut tut….”

What followed was a wide ranging review of cock ups in our time covering IT projects, procurement failures by the MOD, and the failure by the BBC over its Digital Media initiative.

Parris went on to “identify three different forces, combining to encourage our fatal tolerance of incompetence. Class hierarchy and educational privilege; trade unionism and employment protection; and the English law of libel.”

He ended his spirited piece by asserting that “Sheer ineptitude is the most important yet the most anonymous, the most damaging yet the least noticed, the most insidious yet the least confronted pf our besetting national sins.”

Sadly Parris allow his anger to cloud his judgement. I will return later to his main points but for now I will content myself with suggesting that he takes time out from producing his own prolific output of written and spoken journalism and read what his own paper, The Times, has to say on ineptitude, and also what The Daily Mail has to say about ineptitude in the public sector and what the Guardian has to say about ineptitude in the private sector.

The papers meet in the middle to excoriate ineptitude in Quangoland.

Let us take the Times to begin with. On December 5, 2016, four letters appeared under the headline: “ Gross incompetency in the British System.” In one of the four letters Mr Werren from Cornwall, a retired civil servant, put his jaundiced view about his former colleagues.

“I came to the conclusion, shared by many colleagues, that the top 20 per cent is on a par with the best in the private sector, 50 per cent  are adequate and the remaining 30 per cent are incompetents.”  

The question arose in my mind: on the basis of what evidence was Mr Werren able to form his views about the private sector?

Another readers’ letter, published on the same day, was from a Mr Richard Duncan, a peevish critic of “banks and utility companies, none of which appears to be able to do anything without making a mess of it”.

As it happens I share his view of these businesses but he rather spoils his case by expressing his disappointment about the way that his complaint to the bank had been dealt with.

“I asked him whether the bank tracked right first time performance as manufacturing companies do (using Six Sigma techniques) and he replied that he had never heard of such a measure. It is hardly surprising that our productivity is so low.”

Might the manufacturing companies that he refers to include the global car makers now engaged in colossal global damage limitation exercise over dodgy performance figures?

 Four more letters, this time under the headline: “Rank ineptitude and the loss of common sense” were published the following day.

Sadly the poor quality of argument expressed in the Monday letters declined still further on the Tuesday.

A Mr Gilmour took Parris to task for describing incompetence as British characteristics and cites examples of cocks ups in Europe. Cock ups in  Europe and indeed across the world doubtless occur but that does not invalidate the central Parris arguments.  

In another letter a Mr Bean – appropriately named – noted that “ Given that 50 per cent of the population have less than average IQ and presumably need gainful employment, I would be interested to hear his opinion as what the nations should do with “thick” people. Matthew Parris can of course speak for himself but I doubt if he would argue that the unfortunately, if accurately, described thick people should be given top jobs in any sector. That would be taking the attempt at levelling the playing field of life  too far.”

So: has anything changed in the intervening 10 months?

In a word – no. The  bunglers are still bungling and being left in their  jobs  to keep up the bad work.  

 I take it that no one – apart, obviously, from the bunglers, believes that bunglers should be left in post.

The media are replete with stories of ineptitude – hence the pieces by Mel Phillips and Matthew Parris.

This raises the point – what SHOULD be done to tackle the perceived widespread problem of managerial ineptitude?

What about a few basic principles to get our improvement plan on the road.

Firstly, the problems are caused by the employment of the managerially challenged in senior positions.  Solve that problem by replacing them with people who are up to the job and one welcome consequence would be that this would not so much trickle down as gush down throughout the organisation.

So – start the purge at or near the top because competent managers will deal as a matter of course with problems posed by the poor performers lower down the organisational pyramid.

A typical exhortation to be – shape up or ship out – clear and crisp.

I do not suggest as robust an approach as that adopted by the hair dresser in the quote from the Bernard Levin article. Good progress can be made without resorting to violence.

I do suggest that those seeking to solve these problems should avoid the approach adopted by Sir John Chilcot in his inquiry into matters arising  from the invasion of Iraq in 2003. No one could accuse Sir John Chilcot of being superficial but any concerted campaign to fire the top tier failures would need a rather more brisk approach.

It is important to stress that we are not talking here of shady managerial practices which verge on the criminal. We are talking about how to tackle woefully inadequate managerial performance.

Nor are we talking about the managerial jobs that are grossly overpaid. It is thought in some quarters that the £40 million or so paid annually to Sir Martin Sorrell verges on the generous but I have not seen anywhere comment that Sir Martin  is not up to the job – merely that he is overpaid.

I am NOT talking about politicians, even though bungling politicians are possibly the most accomplished bunglers of all. This group has to answer to the voters and the voters are often the most unforgiving of all – just ask Mrs May.

A fictitious but not entirely far fetched case study

  • Wayne Rooney obtains possession of the ball in the middle of the pitch during an important match – and to the crowd that has paid good money to be present, all matches are important.
  • He quickly assesses the possibilities of the situation.
  • He then speeds off down the field with the ball under control.
  • Unfortunately he has sped off in the wrong direction towards his own goal.
  • His colleagues are too bemused and aghast to grasp what is going on and do not move to tackle him.
  • At exactly the right spot he steadies himself and fires a perfect shot into the corner of the net.
  • A goal, possibly a nice goal, but sadly against his own side.

Might this incident be sufficient to justify and to trigger the instant awarding of a P45 to  Mr Rooney?

I think so but doubtless there are those who argue for a period of reflection to allow Wayne to rehabilitate himself.

What do you think?

In what follows we are looking at not dissimilar situations in which senior managers display startling ineptitude that ought to be followed by the award of a P45.

The bunglers should be sacked – not in Chilcotian painfully protracted fashion but as soon as possible within the terms of the appropriate disciplinary procedures.

Why the haste? In no special order of importance:-

  • To stop the widespread practice in some sectors of a stitch up in which the bungler leaves with the full retirement package including redundancy and pension  benefits
  • To stop the equally pervasive practice of moving the bungler sideways – and free to cock things up all over again.
  • This approach would benefit the employing organisation in that the other senior managers would – hopefully – get the message that the sack is just that and not an agreeable alternative.

I suggest that there is case to appoint a National P45 Czar tasked with calling in those selected for the treatment. Not a languid Czar after the fashion of Mr -now Sir Eric – Pickles who was notably inactive in his role as anti- corruption Czar – but an experienced and suitably insensitive candidate – why not Lord Sugar who would, I am sure, relish the role?

 A word on procedure

The bungler is called in and informed that his/her gross misconduct and / or gross incompetence  and / or gross negligence has triggered his/her departure.

Keep the session brief in the manner of Clem Attlee to his subordinate after the latter was found wanting.

Proceedings to be as per the relevant sections from the disciplinary  handbook. We have had cases where the sacking drama was not carried out as per script thus adding farce to fiasco.

I recall that Mr Ed Balls mishandled the dismissal of the official in charge of social services in the area where Baby P was killed and his failure allowed the official to avoid what should have been the full consequences of her failure.

The minimum amount of time of time to be allowed for the relevant appeals to be presented.

It is important that the dismissed bunglers are required to contest the outcome in their own time.

The relevant P45, correctly made out, to be handed over to the reluctant recipient.

The sacked bungler is given a few minutes to collect his personal belongings and to be then escorted from the premises.

Here is my starter list of 5 candidates who in my view were all suitable candidates to be shown the door. There is no shortage of suitable candidates and I have no doubt that readers could come up with equally well qualified names.

Readers especially interested in these matters should be sure to read Private Eye – the magazine is a splendid source of information and those selected for treatment by Lord Gnome are frequently rewarded with a P45.

 1. Mr Andrew Marr  – BBC Journalist.

“And a rogue is talking to a bore”
Amended version of the line from Rudyard Kipling – to cover the recent interview between Andrew Marr and Theresa May. 

A few years ago, it emerged that Mr Marr had taken out a comprehensive injunction to prohibit any mention of his not especially interesting extra marital activities. His media colleagues, who were of course, well acquainted with the root cause of the injunction, acquiesced in and obeyed the injunction presumably for a variety of reasons – there but for the grace of God go I, respect for the law, apprehensive about the consequences of violating the law, and so on.

It was left to the dogged persistence of Mr Ian Hislop, Private Eye Editor, to flush out what was common knowledge in social media.

Andrew Marr ought to have been sacked for this squalid breach of the practices of the trade of journalism, but here, as so often elsewhere in the BBC, his lapse was forgiven and he remained in the BBC to interrogate on the Andrew Marr show.

A good example of the  British capacity for selective indignation.

 2. The Vice Chancellor of Bolton University, Mr George Holmes.

Readers will recall that University Vice Chancellors came under fire recently for their propensity to improve their reward packages, this at a time when the higher education sector was pleading for increased funding.

Mr Holmes came out fighting when questioned about his reward package.

“Pity all us poor university chiefs. We are not paid enough” says Bentley driving boss on £220,000″
Daily Mail, August 2, 2017

“I’m worth every penny, says £220k university chief”
The Times, August 2, 2017

Mr Holmes went well beyond the simple asseveration made by Dame Breakwell that she was worth her salary. Holmes said that “we – The Vice Chancellors – are not paid enough,” and a little later “they (Vice Chancellors) should be paid more or they could leave the country”.

His view is that he is worth his huge pay because he is a success.

Private Eye mischievously delved into the claim of the Bolton boy to be a success, and came up with the following.

“Eye readers will recall his failed Doncaster Education City scheme which left Doncaster College with a £1.8m deficit in 2005.”
“An Ofsted report in April found Bolton UTC inadequate in all areas, including governance, and placed it into special measures.”

One has to concede that Mr Holmes is clearly a very successful confidence trickster, the Arthur Daley of the Daubhill and Deane Road areas of Bolton.

Mr Holmes is also a strong candidate to be handed a prompt P45 for misconduct and deceit guaranteed to bring his profession into disrepute and Bolton University into ridicule. 

I suspect that Lord Sugar would relish this particular leave taking.

3. The Senior Police Officer who authorised the search of the home of  Sir Cliff Richard.

 “But now I’ll ask you a question. Do you know, or do you not know, that the law of England supposes every man to be innocent, until he is proved – proved – to be guilty?”
Mr Jaggers to a deferential group of topers in the Three Jolly Bargemen,
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

To summarise: in August 2014, after a complaint to the Met’s Operation Yewtree, Sir Cliff Richard’s house was searched. The search was shown live on the BBC news, the BBC clearly having been tipped off that something was afoot. In the event, there were no arrests (Richards had voluntarily met and was interviewed by members of the constabulary) and subsequently an independent report into the sorry business concluded that South Yorkshire Police had “interfered with [Richard’s] privacy” by the tip off.

 

My contention here is that the conduct of the Senior Policeman who authorised the dramatic search and was responsible for tipping off the BBC amounted to gross misconduct and should have been followed, after appropriate but brisk investigation by the responsible authorities by the award of a P45.

4. Lin Homer — HMRC and Immigration Service Mandarin.

“Colonel Cargill was so awful a marketing executive that his services were much sought after by firms eager to establish losses for tax purposes. Throughout the civilised world …. he was known as a dependable man  for a fast tax write off.”
Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Lin Homer was the civil service equivalent of Colonel Cargill in Catch 22 but whereas the Colonel was always employed with the specific remit to cock things up, Ms Homer was employed – why? You tell me. Just how inept does a manager have to be to receive the black spot?

This particular Homer’s odyssey was a narrative laced with incompetence, as she sailed joyously from a post as Chief Executive of Birmingham Council (where she was criticised for her role of returning officer in a vote-rigging scandal) to Director-General/Chief Executive of the Immigration Agency (criticised for “catastrophic leadership failure”) to Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport (alleged to have ignored concerns around West Count franchise, resulting in a bill of £100 million) to CEO at HMRC (forgot to collect taxes from big business, “unambitious and woefully inadequate” response to concerns over public service, etc etc).

The action required is clear cut – convene the firing squad – follow the procedure and out she goes.

What could be simpler?

5. The Senior Management of the UK Rail Sector

A bit of background here.

In September 2016, Nick Brown was appointed as the COO of Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs, inter alia, the Southern Rail franchise.

Commenting on Brown’s appointment, Charles Horton, Chief Executive of GTR, said:

“We’re delighted that Nick is joining GTR. He has a first class pedigree in the transport industry, a wealth of experience and a strong track record of leading businesses in the rail and bus sectors. Nick’s broad experience and intimate knowledge of the sector makes him ideally placed to help us achieve our business goals and deliver a better railway and EXCELLENT SERVICE – [my capitals]- for our customers going forward. I’m looking forward to him coming on board and I know he’ll add real value to the business.”

I suspect that many frequent travellers by rail will be dubious about excellent service and would gladly settle for a service that provided trains that run to time untroubled by faulty points and faulty signals and inadequate numbers of staff.

I suspect also that many people will be dubious about making huge funds available for HS2 to managers incapable of maintaining points and signals and adequate staff levels.

The managers campaigning for the funding for HS2 will of course be relaxed about the challenge given the extent to which they are insulated from the normal pressures of their profession.

Suffice it say that the rapid departure of a few senior managers heads would do more to convince those remaining of the need to get it right than would any amount of self calculated performance based bonuses.

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Academies: Progress or Regress?

Academy Chiefs in “fat cat” pay and perks row.
Sunday Times headline – August 27, 2017

A report in the Sunday Times by its Education Editor, Sian Griffiths, got this story off to a lively start by noting that “ministers face calls today to curb the ‘fat cat’ salaries of academy school chiefs” after it emerged that more than 100 people in this group earn more than the Prime Minister – with some enjoying lucrative perks such a company BMWs.

The story did not spell out precisely how the news about the reward packages collected by this latest addition to the league of fat cats emerged. It is unlikely that the 100+ bosses in question sent off a round robin to the Sunday Times Editor to put him in the picture. I rather suspect that this particular group, like their equally well rewarded colleagues in our starved of funds higher education system – the University Vice Chancellors – would prefer to do good by stealth and blush to find it fame.

Sian Griffiths unkindly pointed out that “last year the Academies Enterprise Trust which runs 63 schools was identified as one of seven poorly performing trusts …..Its chief executive Ian Comfort was reported to be on a salary of £200k last year”

Academy chiefs should be taught a lesson about greed
Sunday Times main editorial, August 27, 2017

The Sunday Times got nicely warmed up as it outlined its concerns. In its editorial it initially adopted a softer tone taking care to adopt the time-honoured approach of stressing that “the expansion of academies has been one of the successes of recent education policy” and it went on to note specific areas where the introduction of academies has been followed by significant improvements in performance. However it then observes, more in sorrow than in anger, that “ the primary purpose of academies must be promotion of excellence, not the inflation of salaries and the granting of perks.”

In the final paragraph of the editorial the rhetoric sank into bathos: “ Academy chains cannot jeopardise the public’s trust by wasting the public money they are given. Otherwise the greedy behaviour of their senior administrators will discredit the whole policy of replacing L.E.A comprehensives with independent academies.”

100 academy school bosses earn more than the Prime Minister
Daily Mail headline – August 28, 2017

The article under this headline covered the same ground as the items in the Sunday Times on the previous day. The Mail article contained a delightfully bland quote from Sir Michael Wilshaw: “Salary levels for the chief executives of some of these multi academy trusts do not appear to be commensurate with the level of performance of their trusts or constituent academies.”

A masterpiece of understatement.

This story struck a chord with me because some 18 months ago I wrote an article on the topic and sent it to Tribune magazine. Sadly – from my point of view – Tribune was unable to find space for the piece and it languished in my rejected file. The re-emergence of the topic as a newsworthy item persuaded me to revisit my rejected piece and to add it to my blog.

My motive for doing so is to be able to claim that I saw coming what has in fact come to pass.

I leave it to Holden Forth readers – please God let there be more than one – to judge if am right.

Here goes.

Academies – The Way Forward
Article sent to Tribune on April 29, 2016

The Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has created something of a storm by announcing that she plans to convert all state schools into academies by the end of the current parliament.

Ought this clear statement of intent trigger huzzahs all round as being a giant leap forward or ought we to be wary? What does the plan signify and what are its implications?

I have to confess to being a little out of touch with regard to education. It is now getting on for sixty years since I walked out of school for the last time and those in the know tell me that there have been a few changes in the intervening years.
Have these changes yielded the only outcome that really matters, namely a better educated population? Opinion here is divided with some pointing to the steadily improving year on year results in measurable terms such as school leaving qualifications and the ever increasing number of college graduates. However others of a cynical turn of mind point to the simple expedient of achieving better results by lowering the bar. Which group is right?

“Education Education Education”
Tony Blair’s election exhortation in 1997 that sets the scene nicely

“The vilest abortionist is he who attempts to mould a child’s character”
George Bernard Shaw, Maxim for Revolutions: appendix to Man and Superman, 1903

Don’t teachers have enough problems without being equated with abortionists, and not just bog standard abortionists but the vilest!

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet:”
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

To put the point more prosaically – how exactly does reclassifying a typical secondary school as an academy change anything? The teachers are the same teachers, the buildings and locations are the same, and the curriculum is the same.

“At Mr Wackford Squeers’s Academy, Dotheboys Hall …….Youth are …. instructed in all languages living and dead, mathematics, orthography, geometry, astronomy, trigonometry” …… and so on and so on and much more besides – a curriculum wide enough to assuage the concerns of the most discerning parent.
Advert for Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

“B-o-t, bot, t-i-n, tin, n-e-y , ney, bottinney, noun substantive, a knowledge of plants.”
Nickolas Nickleby, Charles Dickens

An early example of a possible mismatch between the theory and practice of academies.

A stroll down memory lane

“On October 5, 2005 we published a new schools White Paper…. We made it clear that, in time, all schools could and should become self governing trusts, either foundation schools or academies, with far greater flexibility in staffing and pay …the end is quality services irrespective of wealth .. The end is utterly progressive in its values. But the only progressive means are those that deliver the progressive ends.”
Tony Blair, A Journey, 2010

It would seem from the above and from much more in similar vein from the same book that the father of the academies plan is Tony Blair, ably assisted by Andew Adonis and, sadly, impeded in this, as in other areas, by Gordon Brown and his associates. Not surprisingly, confusion reigned.

In 2010 the Labour Years gave way to the Coalition Years. In the main, these were five years of frustration as Tory attempts to usher in a new golden age were thwarted by their Lib Dem coalition partners as soon as any perceived lurches to the right were detected.

In these years one firm voice made itself heard above the raucous clamour, namely that of Michael “Aggro” Gove, as he amended the words of Mrs Thatcher taken from the prayer of St Francis of Assisi – “where there is harmony let there be confrontation” – and there was confrontation.

One issue which caught my eye at the time was the Gove advocacy of Performance Related Pay. Under this system the better the performance of the teacher, the higher the PRP element: this was to be one of the main drivers of the policy to improve standards.

This idea, unlike some of his ideas, is not even sound in theory and a recipe for disaster in practice. It causes far more problems than it solves, and these problems include the obvious one of performance measurement.

Many teachers will tell you that the task of measuring the performance of teachers is far from being a straightforward task, that a whole host of variables such as catchment area, the performance of other teachers, and, a key point, the performance of the head teacher and his senior colleagues, have a crucial impact on pupil performance.

It is alleged that the very act of trying to measure teacher performance is fraught with difficulty, and that arbitrary and inept attempts to do so trigger far more problems than they solve.

The second practical objection to a PRP system for teachers is that it tends to create antagonism and frustration rather than harmony, and that the outcome is not better quality teaching leading in turn to improved pupil performance. Instead, teachers spend too much time and energy focusing on those elements of the job likely to maximise their PRP rather than focusing on the job of getting the best out of their pupils.

Any attempt to keep the PRP element of remuneration confidential will be doomed to failure and its publication inevitably creates bad feeling among the have nots and a furtive sense of embarrassment among the recipients. However, and once again apocryphally, it is alleged that opposition to PRP has come from a dubious alliance between incompetent and/or indolent teachers and those thinkers who argue that performance measurement is intrinsically unsound, because it highlights failure.

The anti-PRP lobby found itself opposed by a formidable alliance of parents wanting to know which schools are getting the best results and of politicians wanting to get the most votes. There are many more parents than teachers, we live in a democratic society and so PRP became a sought after remedy for the academic shortcomings of the young.

I have a better alternative approach – let us call it Plan B.

  • Apply basic systems of performance appraisal on all teachers on say an annual basis and then act on the outcomes so as to weed out those who either can’t or won’t do the job for which they are paid. Any poor report to result in the issue of a formal warning to the pedagogical back sliders to get their act together or else.
  • Inadequate teachers turning in consistently poor performances to be shipped out to pastures where they can safely graze in jobs where the damage created will be greatly reduced.

On the plus side and for the good performers – the reward element is that you get to keep your job  (Aggro Gove was eventually winkled out of his education brief and replaced by the supposedly emollient Nicky Morgan.)

Let us return to Mr Blair and his journey.

Mr Blair clearly favoured the phasing out of comprehensives and their replacement by academies. His pages on this topic (as on all the other pages) were peppered with his favourite political words – modernise, progressive, radical and reform. Sadly he was long on slogans and short on detail.

I shall now examine what I see as just two of the weaknesses of the academy model, namely the confusion of core managerial responsibilities coupled with the propensity of some – not all – “academy” leaders to focus more on maximising their terms and conditions rather than on the core objective and task of ensuring that ALL the pupils are educated to the full extent of their capabilities.

The gist of the case for academy schools was and remains that the transition from a school controlled by its local authority to a school controlled by Head Teachers and a range of unspecified advisers, supporters and associates and hangers on arranged into a Trust WILL raise standards. The thrust is long on slogans and dubious statistics, but short on solid evidence.

I have argued elsewhere that the very word Trust should send out alarm bells and those anxious about Trusts should instead use the word dubieties so as to flush out the ambiguities at the heart of Trusts.

The academy advocates argue that the act of removing the dread dead hand of an alliance of political opportunists and their satellite and servile bureaucrats, and their replacement by a new breed of super heads will usher in a era of – of what?

Swift impressive demonstrable transition to the sunny uplands characterised by radical modern progressive improvements – that’s what.

I am not convinced by this vision.

Let me briefly digress with a few words about what has happened at the very pinnacle of education in the UK. I have commented elsewhere on the unseemly behaviour of the Vice Chancellors of our institutions of higher education in recent years.
Our Vice Chancellors are working tirelessly to loot the system, but one unfortunate consequence of their zeal for personal enrichment may well have been a decline in academic standards – there are only so many hours in the day, and looting can be tiring and time consuming.

Time was when such competition as existed between Universities was limited to purely academic matters such as which University was the most highly rated for electrical engineering, which for medicine and rather more muted, which for sociology.
Sadly that is not so today, and academic competition has been replaced by unseemly competition between Vice Chancellors as to who can secure the most agreeable arrangements in terms of pay and perks, with academic considerations out of the picture.

Again, sadly the absence of any effective constraints other than self regulation as to the size of the reward packages for vice chancellors resulted inevitably in packages that have grown fatter and fatter, whilst often coinciding with a simultaneous fall in performance.

The Daily Mail led the charge in its assaults on the acquisitive propensities of our Varsity Vice Chancellors but the predictable response of this grasping group has been to lie low until the Mail selects another greedy group to belabour.

So – beware of leaving any group with unfettered access to public funds because some of them will take full advantage of the fragility of the system and, confident in the knowledge that by the time the public latches on to the looting they will be over the hills and far away, with their riches judiciously located away from and outside any possible claw back.

Does this melancholy story of the decline and fall of our former centres of educational excellence have any lessons for us in terms of the Tory plan to convert all schools into academies.? Very much so.

“Parachuting a ‘super head’ into a school causes havoc in the long term and is only a quick fix for exam results, academics warn in a report seen by the Times…….. Millions are spent on super heads salaries and on consultants hired to repair the damage after the heads leave, researchers (at the Centre for High Performance at Oxford and Kingston Universities) said”.
The Times, March 29, 2016

“Academy head defends £360k pay”
The Times, January 27, 2015.

Sir Greg Martin earned £161,000 from managing a Sports Centre on the site of the school that he served as head teacher in addition to his head teacher’s salary of £201,000. MPs expressed anger at the scale of his earnings and accused him of failing to understand the concept of public service.

The MPs could not have been more wrong. Sir Greg understood only too well the concept as outlined by George Washington Plunkitt of Tammany Hall fame: “I seen my opportunities and I took em”.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s plan to turn all schools into academies continues to unravel as another multi academy trust falls foul of Ofsted. The Education Fellowship Trust runs – is “runs” the mot juste? – four secondary schools and eight primary schools … last month it received six pre termination notices from the Department of Education threatening to take two secondary and four primary schools away from it due to unacceptably low performance….. The Education Fellowship Trust responded by attacking Ofsted….”
Private Eye April 29, 2016

The above cautionary tales indicate that all is not going well in the drive to transform all our ugly duckling state schools into beautiful academy swans – but these may be just teething problems and in due course all will be well.

The declared aim of the academy propagandists is, as noted, to transfer control of schools from LEAs to a new breed of Super heads. These stars will be required to combine the existing onerous responsibilities of the job with additional heavy managerial responsibilities over staff pay, staff terms and conditions, and, crucially, powers to arrange school mergers and acquisitions which could benefit the various players in the new game.

It is that last feature that should trigger loud alarm bells. Imagine a modern version of Thomas Arnold of Rugby, a venerable head master of the old school and one dedicated to achieving the noblest aims of his profession. The ardent apostles of the academy solution would have us divert our latter day Arnold from his previous beloved objectives and priorities and, instead, to examine the scope to merge with Winchester, or to acquire Harrow or to take over Eton, or, if all else fails, to share some facilities with Neasden High School. His additional responsibilities hold in prospect an agreeable combination of riches beyond any attainable via the old honoured practices and, a key factor, escape from the disagreeable and tiresome features of being a head teacher.

Let me speculate about the probable consequences of a mass transfer of schools from Local Authority control to management by super heads. I predict that the teaching profession will be invaded by a Tsunami of Arthur Daleys masquerading as pedagogues, but in reality in hot pursuit of a quick buck, the sort of quick buck easily acquired by those familiar with the no man’s land of the public-private sector, a world where the public funds the business and the private operators scoop up the profits, if any. We are looking at an educational version of the City of London populated and run by spivs for spivs, all avid for frenetic activity in the business of mergers and acquisitions.

More prosaically, my concerns about this switch to academies centre on the following points.

  • Arrangements have been in place for many years whereby the control of schools rests with democratically elected local authorities. My contention is that to the extent that these bodies are failing to discharge their responsibilities then the public has the means to take effective actions.
  • My main concern is that this transition to academies will divert the attention of Head Teachers away from the core task of providing the best possible education for all pupils to one of casting about for ways of maximising their own reward packages. In short I see a replay of the squalid farce that has been enacted in Higher Education with the shameless looting by Vice Chancellors of the unguarded public funds.
    I see a significant number of Academy CEOs plunging into wholly unnecessary restructuring in order to line their pockets at the expense of pupils and of the public.
  • I would go further and predict that if the dash to academies wins out, in a few years time the standard of education will suffer a further decline, a decline that is wholly avoidable.

So: should primary and secondary education remain primarily in the public sector with management and control remaining with local authorities or should they be privatised via academies? As usual there is some confusion with regard to the location of battle lines with some Tory Councils anxious to repel the invaders from their territory whilst there are some Labour supporters ready to go along with academies where there is evidence of local support.

I am suspicious as to the motives of the latter group but that may be due to my innate scepticism.

As I see it the main questions and suggested answers as the debate moves on are:

If the preponderant feeling is to stay as we are – so be it. Let the teachers teach and let the head teachers focus on the time honoured priority of setting and maintaining high and improving performance standards. Let the democratically elected Local Education Authorities do the rest as per the existing arrangements.

If the outcome is an unstoppable momentum to academies – what then?

  • Who will foot the bill for all the changes? You, the public.
  • Who will call the shots? The academy CEOs who make it to the top.
  • Who will benefit? The academy CEOs with their massively enhanced reward packages.
  • Who will suffer – the school children as those responsible for their education concentrate on the agreeable activities of looting the system.

Conclusion

A concluding prediction (made back in April, 2016)

Let me suggest a plausible media item in the event of a victory for the academy cause:

A beaming CEO welcomed the arrival of the new era, an era in the course of which he managed to quadruple his reward package. On the debit side he regretted that unforeseen difficulties had resulted in many pupils leaving school unable to read and write, but he stressed that lessons will have been learned – by the senior management, if not by the pupils.

It was and remains a pity that the strong case against academies was unable to compete with the academy spivs masquerading as modernising progressive radical reformers.

Image: Thomas Arnold courtesy of Rugby School

Featured

Brexit and Mexit

Brexit – common term to denote the scheduled departure from European Institutions by the UK.
Mexit – author’s term for the possible departure of Mrs May from number 10 Downing Street within the next few months.

Mrs May is as adamant that the UK will leave Europe as she is that she will remain in No 10 until well into the 2020s. In the following notes I will discuss the current states of play of and the prospects for these two key prime ministerial objectives.

Parliament broke up for its summer holidays back in July, and since then, Brexit and Mexit  have occupied and pre-occupied the UK media.

There is clearly a degree of overlap between the two issues – the state of play in the Brexit talks between the UK and the EU, and  the survival prospects of Mrs May as Prime Minister.

“It’s no use to start talking unless you’ve made up your mind what you’ll do if the other fellow says no.”
Ernest Bevin

Those now leading the Brexit discussions for the UK should note the wise words of Ernie Bevin, one of the most accomplished UK negotiators of the last 100 years.

Mr Davis appear to labour under the misapprehension that a few crisp insults will be a more than adequate substitute for a closely reasoned case.

“Belay that talk, John Silver…This crew has tipped you the black spot in full council, as in dooty bound; just you turn it over as in dooty bound, and see what’s wrote there.” “Thanky, George,” replied the sea cook. “You always was brisk for business, and has the rules by heart, George. Well, what was it anyway?  Ah – Deposed- that’s it, is it?”
Dramatic scene from Stevenson‘s Treasure Island describing a coup – which failed – among the mutinous pirates.

A similar scenario cannot be ruled out as we enter that most worrying and unpredictable of seasons – the party conference season. Those Tory MPs who are worried about their prospects under the shaky flaky leadership of Mrs May – maybe the great majority of them bearing in mind the unforeseen cull of a significant number of former Tory MPs on June 8 – will have been busily conspiring in recent months about the timing of the handing of the black spot to Mrs May

Mrs May addressed the following remarks to the Tory Party conference back in October, 2002.

So the direction of policy will be clear. And our plans will be in place for next year’s elections. Yes we’ve made progress. But let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a way to go before we can return to government. There’s a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the nasty party.

“I know that’s unfair. You know that’s unfair but it’s the people out there we need to convince – and we can only do that by avoiding behaviour and attitudes that play into the hands of our opponents. No more glib moralising, no more hypocritical finger-wagging. We need to reach out to all areas of our society.”

I suspect that Mrs May is about to find out at first hand just how nasty the Conservative party can be when it sets its collective mind to the task.  

What are the odds on the black spot being passed to Mrs May before the end of October? My informants tell me that you can get 11/2 on that outcome – not a racing certainty by any means, but still a cause of concern for Mrs May. 

Before I get down to detail let me set out my own views – after all this is my blog.

I hope that even now it is not to late for the UK voters to grasp the enormity of the folly of their collective decision on June 23rd , 2016 – Black Thursday – and somehow or other get that decision reversed.

I have no qualms about supporting an all party grouping convened and organised solely to achieve this critical political outcome.

I remain an unrepentant Remainer.

 A snapshot of the state of play on Brexit

Just as Mrs May fears the presentation of the black spot by her Tory party colleagues – so Britain should fear receiving the black spot from and by Brussels.

What would you do if you were in power in Brussels?

I can only speak for myself, but my exasperated response would be to attach a large EU hand to the seat of our British trousers and an equally large EU hand to our British coat collar and apply the old heave ho – Get out and stay out.

Let the British try for once – just once – to see ourselves as the Europeans see us.

Might it not be the case that we are perceived as a collective pain in the backside – a combination of party poopers, disruptive pupils,  soccer hooligans, and (by some at least)as the running dogs of Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre?

My sympathies here are largely with the Brussels boys but I need to be careful to avoid being labelled as being of the Quisling tendency. I don’t need that sort of obloquy at my time of life.

Where are we on Mexit?

“Depend on it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Dr Sam Johnson

Well it would, wouldn’t it?

“If it were done when ‘tis done then ‘twere well it were done quickly.”
Macbeth reassuring himself that in murder speed is of the essence.

 Points to note on the Mexit issue include, firstly, that supporters of Mrs May – there are still a few about – are using their media influence to press the  case for TINA (There Is No Alternative). TINA was made popular by Mrs Thatcher at a time when the alternatives on offer were similarly bleak. However I suspect that the instinct for sheer political survival – always a powerful motive – will persuade significant numbers of Tory MPs to call time on Mrs May.   To put the matter into terms that would have been clear to our seafaring ancestors – a Black Spot faction will emerge to press the dreaded verdict into the sweaty palm of our Prime Minister. 

 Sceondly, will Mexit, if and when it happens, be a hard Mexit or a soft Mexit?

“Now, Grimes, you’ve got to behave like a gentleman…. Were going to leave you alone for half an hour. There’s your revolver. You know what to do.” Luckily they left a decanter of whisky in there with me..”
Decline and Fall. Evelyn Waugh

 I have opined elsewhere that a soft Mexit would entail supplying Mrs May with a loaded revolver and a bottle of Scotch, and relying on her to do the decent thing.  Under the terms of a hard Mexit the Scotch would be removed from the table.

“Subs – please check that I’m still here at the time of going to press.” Mrs T. May ( Headmistress)
Anxious request from Mrs May at the end of the spoof Private Eye column  — Sept 8- just before the start of the conference season. 

Brexit – what next ?

The news coming out of the Brexit talks grows more and more grim with each negotiating session. David Davis has mastered the art of presenting bad news with a smile, a smile that grows more and more forced as the discussions proceed.

His opponents across the table – for that is what they are – become more and more aware that they hold far stronger cards, and that they – his opponents – are quite relaxed about the excoriating comments about them in the Daily Mail with strong support from the Murdoch press. It is doubtful if  denunciation by Paul Dacre carries the same threat in Brussels as it does throughout the UK.

I am unsure about the significance of the latest Brexit policy statements coming from the Labour Party – and I am sure that my uncertainty is shared by Mr Corbyn – but what of that?

In terms of political strength, Mr Corbyn’s position ahead of and during the Labour Party conference is  much more powerful than that of Mrs May the following week in that all he has to do is to say nothing in a suitably vague key way and leave the making of mistakes to Mrs May.

The position of Mrs May ahead of and especially during the Tory party conference the following week is much more precarious and her very survival as Prime Minister is at risk because of her performance across a wide range of issues.

Theresa May actions sure to trigger a growl when mentioned in Tory circles include:

  • Her decision to call the June 8 election after stating that she would not do so.
  • Her abysmal management of the Tory election campaign.
  • Her belated recognition that there are a lot of old timers on the voting register and many of these were not impressed by her cavalier policy announcements about state support for dementia sufferers.
  • Her elevation to key election strategy roles for Nick (Rasputin) Timothy and Fiona Hill.
  • Her interminable reference to the strength and stability of her leadership.

Most telling of all was her miscalculation in calling the election.

Her predecessor, Mr Cameron, got it badly wrong when he agreed to hold the in/out referendum and he duly walked the plank.

Equality between the sexes is all the rage so why not a plank for Mrs May – low heels recommended for the trek down the plank.

 A word about the divorce settlement

It has become normal practice to describe the financial settlement that is expected to be a feature of Brexit as a divorce settlement with a disconcertingly wide range of possible amounts being bandied about.

BOJO was less than helpful here when he said that those in EU seeking amounts at the top end of the scale could go and whistle for the requested sums.

I have no idea how this matter might be progressed and under whose jurisdiction? Might the incumbent in No 10 at the time of the settlement be required to sign a cheque for say £50 billion or maybe the EU would allow us to settle the agreed amount on the basis of a Hire Purchase arrangement. 

Another word about the divorce discussions

I gather that some influential people are putting the case for the UK to remain in some key EU institutions – say within the Customs’ Union. In other words they argue that the EU could be persuaded to allow the UK to cherry pick which parts they would accept and which parts they would relinquish.

To develop  the divorce metaphor  – this is rather like a partner in divorce proceedings seeking agreement with the other half of the failed marriage if he/she could see his/her way clear to allowing a business as usual arrangement on bedroom activities to continue whilst other matters were being resolved.

In short to allow the terms of the contract covered by the  “with this body I thee wed” clause to carry on into the future.

Yet another wonderful prospect opening up for  the legal profession.

 Some Blue Sky thinking

Mr Blair was wont to talk about the need for blue sky thinking – new, out-of-the-box thinking. If ever there was a time for blue sky thinking that time is now.

The word is that an overwhelming majority of MPs would vote to reverse Brexit if that option was available to them.

How can those of us who wish to remain bring about a means of securing  that outcome?

On the subject of Blair – he and the other three living ex – Prime Ministers all argued strongly in support of remaining, and all have stuck firmly to that view. However there is no consensus about how that agreeable choice might be made available.

I gather that Dr Cable is attempting to develop a plan under which there would be a FIRST referendum to endorse or reject the terms that are finally arrived at. That seems to me to be a most promising approach, one to be supported and nourished. An approach which will grow in appeal as the reality of Brexit becomes clearer and gloomier.

So – let’s hear it for Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron – their country needs them.

A plausible political modus operandi – procrastinate and procrastinate and procrastinate again until we as a nation get the message and reluctantly accept that Brexit was a bad idea endorsed by a bewildered and battered electorate.

The happy ending might be that we get one more chance to redeem ourselves – can we please stay if we promise to be good?

One last point – The hostile exchanges between Mr Davis and his EU opponents can be compared in rancour with the robust exchanges of  views between Mr Trump and Mr Kim Jong-UN.

Is that really what we want?

Surely this great nation of ours can do better than that.

Image courtesy of Daily Star

Featured

Donald J Trump – A Presidential Progress Report

“We here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Gettysberg Address; Abraham Lincoln 1863

A total of 154 years – or, if you prefer, seven score years and fourteen – have elapsed since Lincoln delivered his memorable words.

In the following notes I shall look at the possibility that, under President Donald J. Trump, the Gettysburg soldiers may prove to have died in vain, and that the prospects for government of the American people by the American people for the American people might be looking shaky.

“Every nation gets the government it deserves”
AND 
“In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve “

Both quotes have been attributed to Joseph De Maistre, a political philosopher who advocated not dissimilar policies to those of Mr Trump, that is, autocratic and abrasive.

I take the view that the former quote is unfair – it can hardly be argued that the long suffering people of North Korea deserve the various members of the Kim Jong family that have elbowed their way to power.

It can and indeed is being argued that the people of the USA voted Mr Trump into office and that they should suffer the consequences of their democratic choice.

“I need not point out what happens invariably in democratic states when the national safety is menaced. All the great tribunes of democracy, on such occasions, convert themselves  into despots of an almost fabulous ferocity. Lincoln, Roosevelt (T) and Wilson come instantly to mind.”
HL Mencken – Notes on Democracy 

What might Mencken have had to say about the present incumbent of the White House? I suspect that Mr Trump would be thoroughly excoriated mainly on the grounds that some of the worrying problems and tensions inside the great republic and around the world are largely the creation of Donald “Quick Draw” Trump.

Not that any amount of excoriation is likely to puncture Mr Trump’s famously thick skin.  One of his detractors – no shortage of those – has averred  that the only sensitive part of DJT is the tip of his organ of generation.

“Trumpery” – showy and worthless stuff: rubbish: ritual foolery.
Chambers English Dictionary

Thus far Mr Trump appears to be living up to his name.

Some matters arising  during the first few months of the Trump regime

The administration of Donlald Trump has been nothing if not fascinating  thus far. I am sure I am one of many in the USA and in Europe who wake up every morning eager to pick up the latest Trump news story, and anxious to grasp its significance.

His presidency has one consistent feature: excitement.  What will the fellow say next?

Rather more worrying – what will the fellow do next?

Examples from the brief Trump reign include:

  • The tetchy Trump phone call to Mr Malcom Turnbull, the Prime Minister of Australia. It appears that Mr Trump wished to renege on a commitment made by Mr Obama to accept a small number of asylum seekers from Australia.  Not a promising start in the search for peace and stability in the Pacific region.
  • The ill thought out ban on travellers from a handful of mainly Muslim countries.
  • The declared intention to proceed with the building of a wall to keep out illegal migrants from Mexico. (Whatever happened to welcoming the huddled masses yearning to breathe free?)
  • The raucous assertion that the USA had been short changed in some key international trade deals and that allegedly poor agreements would be either renegotiated or cancelled.
  • The confusion in the White House over who said what to whom in the Kremlin. At least one aspect of the confusion has been clarified and Mr Mike  Flynn has walked the plank. It is doubtful if White House policy towards those who let down the regime has got to the point where Mike  Flynn faces the prospect of the same fate as that meted out to Mr Kim Jong-nam, the erring half brother of the mighty Kim Jong -un.  Mr Jong-nam was despatched from Kuala Lumpur onto a rather longer journey than he had originally planned.

The relationship between Mr Trump and Mr Putin is said to remain civilised and the two men did exchange a brusque handshake at the recent meeting of world leaders.  I for one rejoice that this is so. I cannot  think of any other duo on the planet that I would prefer to see on speaking terms than Messrs Trump and Putin, given what might, just might,  happen were Mr Trump to add Mr Putin to his ever lengthening black list.

What about the matters at the heart of the furore in the USA about which Americans said what and met whom from the Kremlin?  It is interesting to compare the Russian approach with the American approach. Senior Kremlin officials have long argued that discretion is all in espionage matters, whereas the American preference, or at least the Trump preference, appears to be for transparency. We did nothing wrong and if we did – so what!

The word is that various electronic cloak and dagger men from both sides have been making mischief with each others’ computers.  I had always understood that this was the raison d’etre of the espionage community. If not – just what do the Cheltenham boys and girls get up to?

Anyway, a couple more examples of interest:

  • Mr Trump and Mr Kim, he of the odd haircut from North Korea – a rum duo at work here. Their widely publicised exchanges of views rather resemble playground exchanges between small boys from yesteryear – “Just you cross that line and see what happens.” It is a sign of the precarious times that Mr Kim manages to project himself as the more irresponsible of the two raucous disputants.
  • The Virginia disturbances over the Robert E Lee statue in Charlottesville. On the one side – those who wish the statue to be removed because Lee had led the confederate army against the union army in a war fought by the south to retain slavery. On the other side – those on the far right who wish the Lee statue to remain in situ. DJT got himself into difficulties by allocating equal responsibility to each of the warring factions. A more reflective and prudent president would simply have said that if the retention or removal of statues were to be resolved by today’s standards, there would be very few statues left in place.  Where would it all end? Good for the global sculpting sector but disruptive across public squares around the world.

The qualifications of Mr Trump to become President

As a politician

“Whatever one may think about democratic government, it is  just as well to have practical experience of its rough and slatternly foundations. No part of the education of a politician is more indispensable than the fighting of elections….. Dignity may suffer, the superfine gloss is soon worn away.”
Winston Churchill, Great Contemporaries, 1937.

Winston Churchill writing about Lord Rosebery  who, like Mr Trump, had  no previous experience of democracy in action. However and in addition Lord Rosebery had no enthusiasm for democracy in action whereas Mr Trump is as combative and as confrontational when wearing his political hat as he was when wearing his CEO hat.

Donald Trump had had no experience of public office nor of the democratic process before he contested, first the primaries to decide who would be the Republican candidate, and then the greatest election of all for the presidency of the United States.

There may be some overlap and some similarities between the work of the President of the United States and the work of running one of the largest companies in the world. Sadly Mr Trump is learning, not very quickly, some of the differences.

Trump as a businessman

“Bankers who are owed millions of dollars by Donald Trump .. Agreed yesterday to keep him out of the bankruptcy courts … all but one bank signed an agreement .. to provide a $20Million bridging loan enabling Mr Trump to pay interest on the bonds ….over the next 30 days the banks will complete the paperwork for the balance of a $65 million rescue package …
Bernard Levin in The Times, 1990.

The thrust of the Levin article was to praise the only bank that could not see its way clear to help Mr Trump to surmount his liquidity problems.

Mr Trump had form even then.

No American voter could say that he/she had not been aware that Mr Trump was just the latest in the long line of American business leaders who had earned the doubtful collective soubriquet of The Robber Barons, a term used back in the 19th century for entrepreneurs  specialising in the robbing of the poor – the group included but was by no means confined to Messrs Carnegie, JP Morgan, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt.

Mr T has never been one to hide his light under a bushel – it would take an outsize bushel to hide the bright light permanently emanating from DT.

I recall suffering a strained neck when, on a visit to New York, I gazed up and up and up at the Trump tower building – the building bearing the Trump name had to be the biggest and brashest in town.

And yet Donald Trump – a complete outsider in political terms – has succeeded not only in business  but now to the highest position in the land, indeed in the world, by a combination of bluster, bullying and bribery.

Reactions to the human firecracker that is President Trump

These range across the political spectrum from horror and consternation on the liberal left to uneasy and uncertain support within the  Republican party.

I quoted HL Mencken earlier and repeat the quote now – “All the great tribunes of democracy, on such occasions , convert themselves …. Into despots of an almost fabulous ferocity.”

What obstacles might DJT encounter as he seeks to tighten his grip on the American people and on their long cherished institutions?

One encouraging development – at least from the Liberal Left standpoint – has been the readiness – indeed the eagerness – of some members of the American legal profession to confront Mr Trump. Lawyers have been noted since the human race began to make rudimentary social arrangements, so to arrange matters that one outcome of all legal proceedings will be their own enrichment.

“It is likewise to be observed that this society (lawyers) hath a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong, so that it will take thirty years to decide whether the field left me by my ancestors for six generations belongs to me or to a stranger three hundred miles off”
Jonathan Swift:- A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms

American lawyers have brought to the very pinnacle of perfection the time honoured practice of confounding the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong.

As noted there is well founded anxiety across the USA about what might happen and about what might not happen under Trump.

Across the USA, opinions are divided, but on one point all agree – the American legal profession will prosper as never before as the combination of Trump’s reckless and  ill thought out executive orders on the one hand and the rapacious lawyers on the other hand prepare for and engage in legal battles within the Byzantine complexity of the American legal systems.

Thank God for lawyers, upholders of, if not freedom, then of procrastination.

I predict that the four years of Trump presidency – please God the ONLY four years – will be over before some of the legal battles that he has spawned have got to the second legal base – and we then will be back to Business as Usual.

Is there a parallel between the Trump success and subsequent turmoil in the USA and the Brexit success and the subsequent turmoil in the UK?

Some commentators have argued that there are similarities and that in the main the similarities are based on the rejection of the established / familiar electoral options and the acceptance of alternative options that oppose the elite professional class.

In the UK this resulted in the Brexit vote. In the USA this resulted in the election of Mr Trump.

In both cases the electoral outcome has already triggered massive change and turmoil, with the prospect of much more of the same to come.

In The USA, Mr Trump shrewdly perceived the potential for change that had opened up as the result of the decline in the manufacturing sector, with the transfer of the work abroad, always to countries with a lower wage economy. Like the shrewd businessman he is, he spotted the electoral gap in the American rust belt and exploited it ruthlessly – it was possibly THE major factor in his narrow victory.

In the USA, enough voters disillusioned by and with their traditional parties opted for the candidate that promised to restore their jobs and living standards.

The issues in the EU referendum were rather more confused, and I for one got the result wrong.

I failed to spot that Mr Cameron had made a catastrophic error in calling the referendum and that some senior figures in the Tory Party would take advantage of the confusion to further their careers regardless of the economic and social consequences for the UK.

However, many of the same promises about restoring well-paid jobs and improving living standards were made to the British voters during the referendum campaign.  And these arguments may in part at least explain the Leave vote in parts of the UK that had the most to gain from staying in the EU.

Mr Trump and the social media

“The Trump world was more like – let’s say a lot of different things, they don’t even need to be coherent, and observe through the wonderful new platforms that allow you to observe how people respond and observe what works —” 

“That the  Republicans didn’t lose the can  be attributed in large measure  to their expert manipulation of social media– Donald Trump is our first Facebook president”

“What our Facebook president has discovered is that it actually pays only to please some of the people some of the time. The rest simply don’t count.”

The above quotes were taken from “How he used Facebook to win”  by Sue Halpern in the New York Review of Books, June 8, 2017 .

The addiction of Mr Trump to social media in general and to Twitter in particular had long been noted, and this aspect of his communications preferences became more and more pronounced as the USA presidential campaign proceeded.

Veteran pundits predicted that his addiction to the unusual – indeed unprecedented communications approach via social media would decline in the unlikely event that he were to win the election.

He did win but his preference for communication via Twitter has, if anything, increased. His terse pronouncements add daily to the delight of his followers and to the dismay of his opponents – numerically roughly equal.

A word about charisma

As I understand it many of the internal differences in the UK Labour Party centre on the alleged inadequacy of Mr Corbyn for the task in hand. It is said by some that he lacks charisma.

You can’t say that about Mr Trump or Mr Farage or Mr Blair or, to go back a few years, Mr Leon Trotsky.

Is charisma  really – is it really – what is required in these delicate and fractious times?

The Donald J Trump show

On February 16 of this year Trump convened a meeting in the White House, ostensibly to announce to the press the latest addition to his cabinet.

The meeting was conducted along unusual lines. In essence it was a  memorable confrontation between the media on the one side and Mr Trump on the other. Trump wanted to get his detestation of the press off his chest and he proceeded to do so.

Some president – some chest.

Having announced the name of the newcomer Mr Trump spent the next hour and a quarter engaged in a boisterous confrontation with his media opponents.

It was all good knock about stuff with Trump on the front foot throughout as he portrayed his critics as being a bunch of Un-American lying bastards – or words to that effect. To his chagrin the BBC’s Jon Sopel caught both barrels.

“Not truthful at all: liars every one of them to the very backbone of their souls”
Thus Don Juan to The Devil in Man and Superman by Bernard Shaw

The views of Don Juan about the friends of the Devil are along the same lines as those of Mr Trump about the media – verging on the critical.

I suspect that the  USA and elsewhere – right across the world-  is about  to experience a great deal more abuse from Trump as he gets into his stride.

For my part I will continue to hope for the best and prepare – but how? – for the worst.

Unorthodox human resources arrangements in the Trump inner circle

Trump has not yet grasped that political appointments need rather more careful thought than was the case for his business appointments. Poor judgements by Trump in the latter category could and were  resolved by the speedy issue of the American equivalent of a P45.

He has carried his sharp decisive approach into The White House to the consternation of his supporters and the huge delight of his adversaries.

In the space of a few months he has appointed a succession of  people to key roles within his administration with each appointment being accompanied by a warm endorsement of the commendable virtues and suitability of  each of the newcomers.

I am not sure as to the shortest time lapse between the announcement of the appointment and the more muted announcement of the departure – suffice it to say that some of the newcomers on arrival may have met themselves on the way out.

The revolving door metaphor hardly does justice to this series of White House comings and goings; a more appropriate analogy would be the scene in The Godfather when opponents of Michael Corleone were machine gunned in a revolving door.

Stop Press

I was thinking of a few suitable concluding words when DTJ did the job for me as he strode to a podium to announce a policy change by the USA about Afghanistan.

The gist of his announcement was as follows:

  • His manifesto pledge to pull the USA out of Afghanistan was to be replaced by an equally clear pledge to send additional forces with the crystal clear remit to kill terrorists.
  • The task of rebuilding Afghanistan would be the responsibility of the Afghan government.
  • The Government of Pakistan must stop harbouring terrorists – or else.

Er – that’s about it.

Short and not particularly sweet, but current and aspiring terrorists in the area would be well advised to take note.

Image courtesy of CNN

 

Featured

A Nice Little Earner – Living it up in Higher Education’s Arthur Daleyland

“It’s the same the ‘ole world over
Its the poor what gets the blame
It’s the rich what ‘as the pleasure
Ain’t it all a blooming shame”
Popular Victorian Song, especially amongst the poor. 

I wrote the following words about senior academics back in 2001

It would be appropriate here to put in a word about the management methods employed by University and College administrators. This group saw what was going on in the privatised utilities sector and they saw that it was good. They followed suit by pushing up staff productivity by the simple expedient of pushing up student numbers whilst holding staff numbers constant. They directed significant fractions of the cost per head savings into their own reward packages. The academic admin boys have hit the jackpot. Their jobs are much less demanding than those of the staff they employ, and their reward packages much better.

Well done, Vice Chancellors.

Are you, like me, a little nervous about the longer term prospects in this sector? Can we go on like this with the numbers expanding remorselessly and the academic standards going who knows where and the top brass getting richer, much richer, between the sporadic episodes of exposure in the media? A difficult question to answer. Are standards in tertiary education rising inexorably like those in secondary education? Or are they in decline?

Sadly I suspect that the latter is the case and, in gloomy mode, I see the prospect at some not-too-distant time of a decision being taken at the highest level – say the European Court of Human Rights – to award every UK citizen a starred first from Oxbridge in the subject of his or her choice from the college of his or her choice. The contest for most popular college and subject would make for splendid television and would give useful and gainful employment to the usual media personalities. At the end of the exercise all our Universities and Colleges of Further Education could then be shut down, and, at a later date, a modest percentage of them re-opened, possibly after fumigation, under more time honoured disciplines and arrangements.

I added the following words in 2015

A letter appeared in today’s Times (Feb 2, 2015) written collectively by the English members of the Universities UK Board. The admin boys were worried that any move to reduce university tuition fees would “affect the quality of students’ education”. This commendable altruism did not appear to have been a consideration back in March, 2014 when a number of reports appeared in The Times deploring the acquisitiveness of this group. Headlines at the time included “Stop university fat cats lining their pockets,” (March 12), and “Salaries still soaring for university chiefs “ (April 4).

There was a sad development a few months later – a few senior admin boys, deeply wounded by their portrayal as greedy parasites – opted for the safety and tranquillity of early retirement on their enhanced pensions.

Small wonder that a sense of disillusion may have been discerned in the lower ranks.

Have things changed since?

Let us see what The Daily Mail and The Times have had to say in the last week or so about the penury being endured by University Vice Chancellors.

“University Chiefs are riding the gravy train“, says Oxford Bursar
The Times – August 4

David Palfreyman, the bursar in question – from New College – was quoted as saying that the salaries at the university were now grossly excessive.

He went on to say – and I admire his courage in doing so – “Despite the Vice Chancellor now being paid far more than in the past and being assisted by a cadre of costly helpers, few in Oxford would be able to detect any improvement in our governance and management”

“University pressure cooker is about to blow”
A war against steep tuition fees and overpaid vice chancellors will break out this autumn unless ministers act now
Iain Martin – The Times – August 3.

Mr Martin – like Dr Slammer in The Pickwick Papers – is furious, but not wholly convincing. Vice Chancellors, being sharp cookies, will have grasped that new stories will sooner or later take over – indeed have already done so – and that all that they need to need to do is to lie low until the fuss dies down, and then they will be able to return to their normal opulent leisurely lives.

But note – as Mr Martin notes – “Despite a public sector pay freeze lower down the chain, at least 1254 vice-chancellors and senior staff earn more than £150,000, i.e. more than does the Prime Minister”.

Mrs May would be delighted to remain in post on her current reward package, but that is another topic for another day.

So how does highest paid Vice Chancellor defend her £451,000 salary? I’m worth it
Daily Mail July 15

A photo of a beaming Dame Glynis Breakwell is shown alongside a report about her life and opulent times in her capacity as the Vice Chancellor of Bath University. The report is replete with details certain to infuriate the poor and the envious – more or less the same people.

Dame Glynis – motto, “There is nothing like a Dame” – found time to claim £2 on biscuits presumably on the basis that every little helps.

The last three words in the headline set out the heart of the matter. The wealthy dame, in response to requests to justify her reward package, simply asserts that she is worth it.
I have no doubt that the Dame speaks from the heart as well as the wallet when she makes her position clear.

But – is she right? By what reasoning did she arrive at that conclusion.

We can’t leave the matter resembling a boisterous scene in a pantomime:
DAME GYNIS: ”I’m worth it.“
GREAT BRITISG PUBLIC: “Oh no, you’re not.”
DAME GLYNIS: “Oh yes I am.”

And so on and so on.

We shall – indeed we must – return – to this crucial point.

Vice Chancellor who says £227,000 isn’t enough – because he didn’t get a free house – My job involves a lot of entertaining
Daily Mail July 28

Craig Mahoney, the VC of the University of West Scotland, “complained that his lack of a grace and favour property means he has nowhere to entertain guests and hampers his work”.

I had not previously understood that entertaining guests played such a prominent part in the work of your typical Vice Chancellor. Evidently standards are much higher in West Scotland and it may be the case that even now Her Majesty The Queen is under pressure to vacate Balmoral in order to placate the picky clientele favoured by the University of West Scotland.

I could go on and on and on. There’s plenty more where the above quotes came from, but – you get the point .

Let me close with a few choice items concerning the Vice Chancellor of Bolton University, Mr George Holmes, who came out fighting when questioned about his reward package.

“Pity all us poor university chiefs. We are not paid enough” says Bentley driving boss on £220,000″
Daily Mail, August 2

“I’m worth every penny, says £220k university chief”
The Times — August 2

Mr Holmes went well beyond the simple asseveration made by Dame Breakwell that she was worth her salary. Holmes said that “we – The Vice Chancellors – are not paid enough,” and a little later “they (Vice Chancellors) should be paid more or they could leave the country”.

His view is that he is worth his huge pay because he is a success.

Private Eye mischievously delved into the claim of the Brilliant Bolton boy to be a success, and came up with the following.

“Eye readers will recall his failed Doncaster Education City scheme which left Doncaster College with a £1.8m deficit in 2005.”
“An Ofsted report in April found Bolton UTC inadequate in all areas, including governance, and placed it into special measures.”

One has to concede that Mr Holmes is clearly a very successful confidence trickster, the Arthur Daley of the Daubhill and Deane Road areas of Bolton.

A status report on the current situation

The affluent academics flushed out by Messrs Dacre and Murdoch will doubtless feel badly bruised  but, as I learned many years ago in the hard knocks school of Industrial Relations, cash has a wonderfully healing effect on even the most severe bruising.

What about the rest of us – those outside the magic circle of light fingered academics.
How do we feel?

I would guess that most of us – inured to a steady diet of corruption at the top in the UK, will shrug our shoulders and carry on as best we can.

Let us – you and I – attempt to explore the questions arising from the revelations about the vice-chancellors.

  • What is the market price of a Vice Chancellor? On no account put this question to a Vice – Chancellor.
  • How did you, the neutral outsider, arrive at your valuation?
  • Are the VCs overpaid and, if yes, by how much?
  • Or, are their rewards about right?
  • Or, are they being short changed, and, if yes, by how much?

We will return to this all important issue, but first – a brief digression.

Let us take a quick look at the problems faced by the BBC in recent weeks. In these weeks Messrs Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch have relished the publication by the BBC of the reward packages of its stars and senior managers – a mutually exclusive group.

“To discuss my salary and how I’m worth every penny -I’m joined by my mother
“And now my male colleague will read the autocue more expensively”

The above two gems were the words used to accompany two Matt cartoons in the Daily Telegraph during the BBC reward revelations period.

The furore which followed the revelations provided an enjoyable phase of schadenfreude as those at the top at the BBC – senior managers and (for want of a better word) stars – sought to evade the searchlight which was used to illuminate their affairs. Those cornered did their best to justify their reward packages.

Unfortunately confusion arose because the issue of the largesse being paid out from the public purse got mixed up with the gender issue – why were females overpaid by a much smaller amount than males, a moral question to tax the sharpest of brains of either sex.

But as per the BBC, so too University Vice Chancellors. Indeed, it provokes a further question: how pervasive is the problem of senior managers in the public sector and in the no mans’ land that straddles the public and private sectors – quangoland – overpaying themselves?

I suspect that:

  • The problem is widespread,  and,
  • There will be variations between and within the various organisations

Contrary to the time honoured traditions of UK law we should assume that all are guilty and that the presumption of innocence be reversed.

Cleansing the Stables

Augeus was the king of Elis in ancient Greece and he had a problem. His problem was that he owned 3000 oxen whose stalls had not been cleansed for 30 years. If you do the calculation you will see that Augeus had on his hands, metaphorically, and, arguably, literally, a lot of bullshit.  He, King Augeus, arranged with Hercules that if he could clean the said stalls in a single day, he would receive 300 oxen in return, ie a straight 10% cut. Hercules succeeded by resorting to a highly imaginative irrigation technique, and went on to claim the rewards from the contract.  King Augeus, like many of his fellow monarchs at the time and since, was not averse to a spot of sharp practice and queried the terms of the deal (were they in writing? – the text does not make this clear) and the upshot was that Hercules remained oxenless.

The term Augean has come to mean filthy, difficult and bereft of reward, the perfect contrast to the cushy number. Hercules had landed a job which combined high demand, zero reward and, another common feature, a lot of bullshit to clear away. None of the labours of Hercules was a cushy number, but his arrangement with Augeus was the one most apposite to my requirements.

British Augean stables ready to be cleansed include:-

  • The NHS
  • Local authorities
  • Quango land
  • Whitehall

Etc and so on and so on

Is the Private sector, by way of contrast, a model of sound governance, with an all pervasive sense of old fashioned probity throughout?

Err:  Not quite.

Back in 2004 I wrote about remuneration committees that operate in the private sector as follows:

“A word about the systems used to monitor or more realistically keep a sleepy eye on executive reward packages. Most big companies have remuneration committees which determine the reward packages of the bosses. Given the incestuous and overlapping membership of these committees it is scarcely surprising that their recommendations err on the generous side and the outcome is an avalanche of cash into executive pockets. This whole operation brings to mind the unseemly expression about “them” all using the same chamber pot or words to that effect.

Furthermore, the salaries (and expense accounts) of those appointed to quangos – non-departmental government bodies – are almost invariably eye-wateringly high, while at the same time rarely obliging the fortunate individuals appointed to them to perform any meaningful or worthwhile activities.

Nice work if you can get it, if ‘work’ is really the correct term.

Now for the tricky bit – What might be, could be, should be done to curb the acquisitive propensities of our senior managers?

Dear Reader(s?) – have you noticed that many of our top brass, when asked if they are motivated by money, respond with vehement denials.

They insist that they are – to a man /woman motivated by a desire to serve the public, and they are at the service of the public. They are all – to coin a phrase – pro bono publico.

If that is the case – we, the public, can remove the cause of their anxiety and sharply cut back their reward packages to allow them much more time to devote to their commendable devotion to serving the public.

If we, the public, proceed along these lines, some malcontents may vacate these shores and take up residence elsewhere where their talents will be appreciated.

If that were to happen then it would indeed be a welcome if unanticipated consequence.

Actions this day – I will imitate the practice of Winston Churchill when he wanted not a Chilcot solution to be completed in or around a decade or so but one to be completed this very day.

  • Bring in a modern day Savonarola tasked with replacing the existing generous arrangements with arrangements more suited to the all pervasive austerity stoically experienced and endured by the rest of us.
  • HMG to tackle the problem – we need to be clear that only HMG can put in hand the required measures. Fulminating press campaigns will help, but a sympathetic government is a sine qua non to overcome the inevitable resistance of and by the well heeled.
  • HMG to appoint an effective latter day Hercules to cleanse the UK Augean stables. The key point to make about the job of our new Tsar is that it is a fairly straightforward task to hand out P45s to those at the top deemed surplus to requirements and memos to those allowed to remain to be informed of the sharp cuts to their reward packages.  (Note to No 10 – NOT someone like Eric Pickles who appeared to be – indeed who was – altogether too lethargic in his tenure as anti-corruption Tsar.)

Other measures to include:-

  • A ruthless reduction in the reward packages currently collected – note – NOT earned – in the public sector and in quangos.
  • A steep increase in the taxes levied upon high pensions – previous generations of Arthur Daleys must not be allowed to make their way to their respective boot hills in golden coaches.
  • Making it clear that the people who constitute the theme of these notes, unlike judges, ARE the enemies of the people – they are helping themselves from the public purse on a daily basis.

    Image courtesy of University Business

 

Featured

A Parrisian Emotional Spasm

“The Conservatives are criminally incompetent”
“Even in the bad times I felt proud of my party but this scarcely believable Brexit shambles has left me deeply ashamed”
Heading and Sub Heading from The Times July 29 – Matthew Parris

“And you call that statesmanship. I call it an emotional spasm.”
Nye Bevan responding roughly to hecklers at the Labour Party conference in 1957.

My text for today is the Parris column which appeared under the dramatic headlines referred to above.

It is one thing for – let us say Mr John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, – to talk airily about the criminally incompetent Tories. It is rather more worrying for Mrs May and her cabinet colleagues to see themselves described as criminally incompetent by the thoughtful Mr Parris, a lifelong Tory and former MP, albeit one of the Tory left persuasion.

What has happened to trigger this Parrisian emotional spasm?

Parris makes it clear at the start of his column that the target of his ire is “not the government’s incompetence, Whitehall’s ill preparedness, the Prime Minister’s inadequacy, Labours disunity or even Europe’s aggressiveness ….. Do the voters even begin to understand how this mess is entirely of the Conservative Party’s creation – The fingerprints for this crime of mismanagement are Tory fingerprints- ”

Thus the Parris opening statement for the prosecution.

A couple of observations.

Polonius – My Lord I will use them according to their desert–
Hamlet – God’s bodykins, man, much better.
Use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping”

Hamlet shrewdly points out to Polonius the consequences of applying too rigorously the adage of each according to his deserts.  The whippers would need to operate a 24/7 system to ensure that the those performing below par got the treatment.

I have only the shakiest grasp of the criminal law but I would surprised if mismanagement is defined anywhere as being a crime. Let us be charitable and assume that Mr Parris got carried away at this point.

After a couple of paragraphs of fairly feeble criticism of Messrs Johnson, Fox, Davis and Tory MPs, Parris returns to splenetic mode.

“I call this criminal; irresponsible to the point of culpable recklessness towards their country’s future….. Do we yet understand, has it yet been born in on us, that it is we and we alone who have led the whole country into the predicament it now finds itself – I return to England ashamed to be a Conservative.”

Well – there you have it.

Let me go further than I did a couple of paragraphs ago.

  • There is no such crime as mismanagement – just as well as the already malfunctioning prisons would struggle to cope with the hundreds of thousands of new inmates from HMG, from Whitehall, from the Town Halls, from our Universities – but note that the behaviour of some Vice Chancellors may well be verging on the criminal as they loot the funds placed under their control placed there to fund higher education.
  • The hysteria that is such a prominent feature of this particular Parris column obscures rather than clarifies what went wrong and why, and, crucially, Mr Parris fails to spell out or even to suggest the possible steps that are available to retrieve the situation.  The former MP generates heat where light would be more appropriate. In all the matters discussed in his column Mr Parris shirks the challenge of fleshing out his generalisations – which are mostly sound; he uses a metaphorical shot gun to back up his assertions, when a precision rifle is called for.

“All animals are equal”: the 7th commandment in the first list issued by the animals following their takeover of Manor Farm in Orwell’s Animal Farm. As the revolution turned full circle the commandment was later amended to read- “All Animals are equal – But some Animals are more equal than others”.

I would like to borrow the amended version and further amend it to read – “All Conservatives are guilty – but some are more guilty than others.” Mr Parris clearly wishes it to be understood that he personally is not guilty as charged – by himself – but he is not quite as understanding of and as forgiving of the great majority of his fellow Tories.

Let me offer a version that combines a good deal more charity towards the silent majority of Tories with a rather more damning but also plausible indictment of the guilty Tory brexiteers.

The silent majority of Tories – caught up in a bitter conflict that was not of their own making – used the plausible excuse that the people had spoken and that the verdict arrived at by the people in the June 23, 2016 in out referendum must be not only respected but implemented.

The key point is that some Tories are more guilty than others.

A glance back at what happened before the May 2015 General Election

Prime Minister David Cameron, fearful that he and his party might be outmanoeuvred by UKIP on the delicate issue of EU membership, rashly committed his party to an In / Out referendum should he be in a position to do so after the election.

Cameron was obviously confident that he would win any referendum and his main concern was to secure a result that not only kept Labour out but would also enable him to shake off the encumbrance of his Lib Dem coalition partners.

To the surprise of many he succeeded in achieving a narrow but perfectly workable Tory majority over all the other parties in the May 2015 election – so – a prompt goodbye to the Lib Dem Mr Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister in the pre-election government, who was soon to be followed into the wilderness by the leader of the Labour opposition, Mr Ed Miliband.

More joy was to follow for Cameron – in September 2015 Ed Miliband was succeeded as Labour leader by Mr Jeremy Corbyn – widely and understandably regarded as a no-hoper by the commentariat.

May 2015 to June 2016

The main political feature of this period was the contest between the Ins and the Outs in the referendum campaign.

The various prominent figures on both sides on both sides of the argument were in the main clear as to their respective positions from the start.

Most MPs from the main parties were in favour of remaining in the EU. The prominent Outs were Mr Nigel Farage – the referendum was largely for his benefit – together with long time anti-Europeans such as Bill Cash.

Mr Paul Dacre of Daily Mail fame/notoriety could be relied on to support the out campaign and he duly did so. Mr Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of The Sun and The Times, could be relied upon to make mischief and he duly did so.

It was said that significant numbers of voters voted to leave because they were alarmed by reports of large scale uncontrolled immigration, but immigration was always likely to be an important issue in the referendum campaign and one must presume that Mr Cameron factored this into his calculations.

In the early stages the debate was not about the outcome but rather about the scale of the In majority. Mr Cameron knew or thought he knew which Tories would support the Remain cause and which would not. He failed to foresee that Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were men of deeply held principles and that they would stick to their principles by supporting whichever outcome would best further their own career prospects.

As the debate proceeded and the referendum date drew near a new issue emerged with the appearance of two hitherto unknown elements – the respective consciences of Messrs Johnson and Gove. Their damascene conversions followed by their admittedly effective campaigning were significant factors in swinging the balance away from Remain and towards Leave.

Cameron paid a heavy price for his inability to spot this pair of charlatans despite his supposed in-depth knowledge of their respective characters.

He resigned as PM on June 24 – the day after the referendum – as soon as it became clear that the in case had been defeated.

(A request to Mr Parris – please note that the behaviour of Johnson and Gove was despicable but NOT criminal. Please note also that Mr Cameron got the whole affair badly wrong, unfortunate for him – and for the UK – and for the EU – but not criminally so.)

The circumstances of Cameron’s resignation recalled to my mind a story that appeared in the autobiography of Bobby Windsor, the third and most boisterous member of the Pontypool Front Row. The other two members of this illustrious trio were Graham Price and Charlie Faulkner. Windsor wrote about payments made at the time to players at Cross Keys RFC. “Charlie was getting £3.50 and I was on £5. Before my first season as captain I was invited into the committee meeting to discuss plans. Charlie says to me, Tell them I want a fiver same as you. If they don’t agree to that, I’m f****** off. When I came out of the meeting, he said – What’s happening? I said – You’re f****** off.

What happened after DC resigned in June 2016

  • There was an intriguing and entertaing campaign as to who would become the one to replace DC as leader of the Tory party and, rather more importantly, as our new Prime Minister.
  • The two main Tory turncoats – from In men to Out men – excelled themselves, with Gove edging ahead in terms of sheer treachery.  BOJO withdrew from the race when Mr Gove announced his decision to stand.
  • The latter defection proved too much for Tory MPS and Mr Gove came a poor third to Mrs Andrea Leadsom – mother of 3 – and Mrs Theresa May – childless. Mr Gove then also withdrew from the race.
  • The contest then became a walkover after Mrs Leadsom made some ill considered comments about the advantages of having a mother as Prime Minister.
  • Mrs May entered Number 10 but not before making a speech from the front door, a speech carefully designed to be all things to all people. Her subsequent cabinet appointments were a source of qualified delight to BOJO, who had clearly not expected any favours. He did appear slightly uneasy, though, about having to job share at the Foreign Office with Messrs Liam Fox and David Davis, but beggars can’t be choosers
  • Mr Gove was awarded the consolation prize of becoming a messenger boy for Mr Murdoch.
  • Mrs May quickly decided to respect the verdict of the voters by arranging for the UK to leave the EU. She also stated that she would not call an election until 2020, ie 5 years after the 2015 election won by the DC government.

July 2016 to May 2017

The main points to note by way of explanation about what happened next are:-

  • In the referendum campaign Mrs May had been a clear but muted advocate for the In cause.  This track record did not prevent her from asserting that the will of the people would prevail, and that she would make all necessary arrangements for Brexit.
  • Progress towards the implementation of Brexit proceeded at a leisurely pace for the rest of 2016 and for the first few months of this year
  • Mrs May then announced in early May to a startled country that she would call an election to be held on June 8th in order to strengthen her position at the forthcoming discussions to finalise exactly how and under what conditions, the UK would sever its links with the EU.

Main features of the June 8 Campaign

  • The Tory campaign was all about Mrs May – said by Mrs May to be strong and stable – as opposed to Mr Corbyn who possessed neither of these attributes.
  • The commentariat debated the range of possible outcomes – given the widely perceived – by the commentariat – unelectability of Jeremy Corbyn – say from a Tory majority of 50 at the bottom end to 150 at the top end.
  • As the campaign proceeded Mrs May was seen to be making what we old manager johnnies would call a bollox of it – remember the fiasco of the dementia tax.
  • Finally and sadly the voters – showing all the reliability and consistency of BOJO and Gove – reduced her parliamentary majority to vanishing point. Effectively the outcome was a clear indication of the falling support for Brexit and the bum’s rush for Mrs May. As I write she is dependent for her very political existence on a shaky platform built on shit and quicksand – an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party.

Features of the current situation

  • Most of the main movers and shakers are basking in the baking heat of Southern Europe. It may well be the case that the political tempers of the movers and shakers will be mirroring the ambient temperatures.
  • I suggested in a recent blog post that Mrs May will not be in No 10 by the end of Sept – the instinctive desire of her Tory-party colleagues for political self preservation will see to that.
  • A lot of professional politicians with faultless records of suitably docile service to their respective parties are said to be looking anxiously at the ease with which the new French President sacked a whole generation of party hacks and replaced them with… who? You tell me.

“Then – why the hell this defeatism?”
Nye Bevan deploring the feeble response to election defeat by the Labour Party in 1959.

A few closing points to convert Mr Parris from being a moaner-Remainer in a plaintive muted minor key to a fortissimo Remainer.

In recent months there have been some faint hopes stirring among we dogged Remainers that all may not be lost

In no special order:

  • The outcome of the June 8 General Election was a clear sign that electoral support for Brexit was and is waning.
  • Dr Vince Cable,  a passionate Remain advocate,  has secured the leadership of the Lib Dems.
  • There are encouraging signs that Mr Corbyn may decide to spend more of his time on matters of UK importance and rather less to the distressing but remote problems that are exciting people in Venezuela. We should recall that Mr Corbyn was a tireless advocate for the Remain cause on many platforms prior to the referendum.
  •  Mr Tony Blair has cautiously raised his head above the parapet to suggest that all is not lost and that ways can be found to build a new coalition to campaign for a second opinion.
  • Tory government ministers Davis, Fox and Hammond are on occasions taking time off from denigrating their colleagues and each other to hint that the task of securing brexit may well turn out to be rather more protracted than originally predicted.

So speaking only for myself but hoping that Matthew Parris may be listening:
What do we Remainers want?
A- A reversal of the decision arrived at by the In/Out referendum of June 23, 2016.
When do we want it?
A- Now.
What is our policy?
A- To initiate an energetic campaign to reverse the decision to leave the EU; to demand that the government put country before party; to apologise to the EU and get back to Business as Usual within the European Union.
What advice do we have for the whining Remainers as typified by Matthew Parris – he of the emotional spasms?
A- Shape up and follow the advice of that great Tory Winston Churchill and cut out the flinching, the wearying and the despairing.
What about the threat posed by Paul Dacre?
Follow the instruction of Rupert Murdoch back in 1983 – namely, F*** Dacre.
(On this last point honesty compels me to acknowledge that Murdoch was referring to a different Dacre but the instruction remains valid and free of ambiguity in the context of the Remain / Leave debate.)

 

 

Featured

How to Solve a Problem Like the BBC

“The British Broadcasting Corporation, as everyone must know, is a very great organisation. In the world of responsible television there are the BBC and some others. Its genius lies in the quality of the people it attracts…..”
The Age of Uncertainty,  John Kenneth Galbraith, 1977

“Up to a point, Lord Copper”
Scoop, Evelyn Waugh, 1936

The praise lavished by Galbraith on the BBC was, of course, wholly divorced from the fact that the BBC had asked him to “do a TV series on some unspecified aspect of the history of economic or social ideas” and that the lavish praise appeared in the forward to the book of the series. Like many before and after him, Galbraith was not one to bite the hand that fed him.

In the years that have elapsed since The Age of Uncertainty was first shown the BBC has demonstrated a remarkably consistent performance in one area, namely its ability to lavish praise upon itself. A National Treasure is just one of the terms widely deployed by the BBC to describe the BBC.

But – does today’s BBC really merit the self serving opinions of the BBC about the BBC?

Let me use the recent furore that followed the release of the rewards paid out to BBC stars and BBC senior managers as a test case.

I wrote the following letter to The Times on July 20 – it was not published despite my paying close attention to the publication rules of that august organ, the first rule being the need to lavish praise on The Times.

“Sir,
The Times is to be commended for its coverage of the revelations about the high earnings of substantial numbers of BBC employees – The Times July 20. The Times is also to be commended for widening the scope of its coverage to include the bloated bureaucracies that flourish within the BBC.
Mr John Humphreys is quoted as saying that we operate in a market economy and in my view this comment points the way towards an obvious solution to the various problems discussed in your columns.
The privatisation of the BBC would solve all the problems highlighted both by the revelations and by your catalogue of its institutional failings at a stroke – so why not do it?”

The gist of the revelations

“ To discuss my salary and how I’m worth every penny, I’m joined by my mother…”
“ And now my male colleague will read the autocue more expensively”
“ And could you please send the Brexit bill to Gary Lineker, c/o the BBC…”

The above 3 quotes were taken from Matt cartoons in The Daily Telegraph during revelation week and they sum up beautifully how the original story – a searchlight on which stars get what at the top of the BBC – altered rapidly to become yet another story of gender inequality.

“The female of the species is more deadly than the male”
Rudyard Kipling

By the end of the week the BBC was teeming with stars and celebrities of the male persuasion ruefully acknowledging the insight revealed in Kipling’s poem. Forty or so fiery, fuming, fairly well-paid feminists banded together to lodge a protest against the perceived – by them – injustice of the BBC system used to reward its top people.

In truth, there were no great surprises in the revelations despite the shock horror banner headlines. There may have been a few raised eyebrows at some of the more obscure names on the list and equally a few raised eyebrows at some of the reward packages – possibly the latter eyebrows may not have been identical to the former eyebrows.

Some of the names at the very top of the list chose to tough out the storm of adverse publicity – a response that they may live to regret. Mr Lineker was prominent in this micro list.

One not entirely predictable outcome was the peevish response of the fearless forty who used the revelations to voice their perennial gripe that once again women were seen to be on the wrong end of a raw deal. It did not occur to them that to those outside the gilded cage that is the BBC there would be many license payers – of both sexes – who thought that just about all the reward packages paid to all on the list were excessive.

Press and broadcast comment varied from a perception that this was yet another instance of the females of the species anxious to get their dainty little noses into the trough – greed masquerading as concern for the oppressed – to a perception that the time was up for all the excesses that are built into the very fabric of the BBC.

As noted earlier, The Times took the opportunity to wade into the senior management of the BBC across a wide front and not just on the reward packages of the stars, taking aim in an editorial at senior managers with mysterious job titles. “Identity architects,” analytics architects and service architects were listed in this category.

I have to confess that I would be nonplussed if asked to outline the tasks of these latter day Stakhanovites working tirelessly at the media equivalent of the coal face.

Did Mr Kelvin McKenzie, veteran media man and long-time errand boy for Mr Rupert Murdoch, have a point when, in a discussion with a colleague concerning the earnings of the design team at L!ve TV, he observed, ”F—in’ ’ell. Did you hear that, Nick? Forty f—in’ grand for farting about with a comma. We’re in the wrong game, mate”. An unseemly but incisive view on hot air doubling up as creative talent, and one which manages to steer clear of gender matters.

In the following notes I will focus on the managerial problems at the BBC and leave the delicate matter of gender inequality to other, hardier writers. The wife of my bosom these past 51 years supports the feminist cause and I am anxious not to trigger marital disharmony at my time of life.

A stroll down memory lane

“In the beginning the building was without staff and empty.
And Sir John Reith said let there be staff – and there was staff.”
John Holden, with thanks to Frank Dickens and his creation Bristow.

I don’t want to be drawn into comparing today’s BBC with the BBC’s golden age under the management of John Reith. In his day the BBC stuck firmly to its core objectives to inform, to educate and to entertain. The objectives of senior BBC people today might be described as to enrich themselves and their families and friends at the expense of the suckers who pay the licence fee.

Before I bring my story up to today, a brief word about Dr Charles Hill, later Lord Hill who was the Chairman of the BBC from 1967 to 1972. In an earlier era, Dr Hill served the nation in general and listeners to the old BBC Home Service in particular when he gave his weekly talk in his capacity as the Radio Doctor. I can still – just – recall his plummy tones as he exhorted his listeners to take care of their bowels and provided details of the various diets that would promote this commendable objective – an early example of public service broadcasting at its best.

It would be difficult to pinpoint the precise point at which Reithism degenerated into today’s BBC.

Was the takeover of the BBC by the latter day incarnations of Arthur Daley – the light fingered businessman who entertained the nation with his imaginative schemes to persuade the gullible to part with their money – a sudden coup or a slow but steady decline? I incline to the latter explanation.

Q- Why does a dog lick its balls?
A- Because it can!

This old adage about the opportunities available only to the male line of the canine species goes a long way to explain the acquisitive propensities of the senior managers in the BBC.

“I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em”
George Washington Plunkitt, a veteran politician of the Tammany Hall era, explaining the difference between honest graft and dishonest graft.

Thus Plunkitt, and thus the senior management of the BBC.

A few BBC case studies in no special order now follow.

The contribution of John Birt

Birt was the Director General of The BBC throughout most of the 1990s. His time at the top was perceived by some as bringing in the much-needed reform of an institution that has ossified in previous years.

Others took the view that he was responsible for the introduction of a tsunami of authentic managerial gibberish.

I suggest that the two views were not and indeed are not mutually exclusive in that there possibly did exist scope to bring the objectives and practices of the BBC up to date and the legacy of Mr Birt was not the way to do it. It was no accident that Birt was close to Tony Blair and that Mr Blair was fond of advocating radical progressive modernist reform but also that he was notably reticent about putting flesh onto the bones of his slogans.

Back to Birt. It was unfortunate that the time of Mr Birt at the BBC was marred when it emerged that his employment arrangements did not include his being employed by the BBC. This was done by an early ingenious agreement that the reward package paid to him was not via the conventional method familiar to you and to me but instead paid to a consultancy owned by Mr Birt.

Not exactly transparent and when made public the arrangement was changed to the one which applied to all the other BBC employees.

This shady innovation has been refined to keep the curious and HMRC at bay and it continues to be popular with the top brass at the BBC.

Speaking of being Marred

A few years ago there was speculation in the media as to the identity of the eminent person who had secured a super injunction to forbid any mention of his alleged playing away from the matrimonial home.

The injuncter was eventually revealed as being Mr Andrew Marr and it turned out that his sexual activities had not been particularly exciting by the exacting standards of today.

What startled some on the outside of the BBC was not the extra marital activities – no big deal there – but rather that the BBC continued to employ in a senior capacity a man who had secured the most despised of sanctions by journalists – a super injunction.

Marr continues to front a Sunday morning programme – The Andrew Marr Show – the very name underlines the descent of the BBC; there’s no business like show business.

A word about Mr Yentob

This gentleman deserves a special mention in the group under discussion. I suspect – and hope – that when normal service is resumed at No 10 Downing Street, that time and resources will be made available to look into the shady past of Alan Yentob. Never in the history of human sharp practice has one man got away with so much from the BBC.  There would be stiff competition to be awarded this coveted accolade but I can see no serious challenger to Yentob.

His chequered BBC career was covered in some media outlets and the following tips of the Yentob iceberg surfaced:

  • It emerged that that was considerable doubt as to what he had been doing, if anything, at the BBC. There had been a time when he had been busy, sufficiently so to build up a pension pot of £6.3 million, an amount that was a record for the public sector and no mean feat of planning to secure an old age that would be adequately cushioned from poverty.
  • Mr Yentob also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons on account of his shaky stewardship of the Kids’ Company charity where it was hinted that he had been less than competent in overseeing the financial affairs of the charity – a far cry from his unmatched competence in the management of his own financial affairs.

The Dimbleby dynasty

The founding father of the Dimbleby dynasty was Richard, a broadcaster whose approach to the job was rooted mostly, but not wholly, in the principles of John Reith. Dimbleby Senior was shrewd enough to recognise a cushy number when he saw one and he duly guided his sons, David and Jonathan, into the BBC using the time honoured methods of nepotism.

I was surprised to see that neither of the Dimbleby brothers featured in the list of revelations but then some alert observer noted that the financial relationship between them and the BBC was fashioned after the approach adopted by John Birt, that is some sort of arms-length relationship to make the task of HMRC that much more difficult.
Doubtless there will be developments here as tireless investigators, not especially in love with the Dimblebys, attempt to unravel the exact rewards of this group.

At one point in the recent general election campaign David Dimbleby looked straight at the camera and spoke of the BBC as being “Your BBC”. Would this assertion have applied before or after the sizeable convoluted payments to the Dimbebys and to those employing similar complex management of their employment terms and conditions?

You tell me.

Jenny Abramsky

I have included my next case study solely to bring comfort and joy to the oppressed forty fiery feminists whose poverty has been in the recent headlines.

On July 13, 2008, William Langley wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph in which he drew attention to the splendid reward package paid to Jenny Abramsky. He noted that JB had “secured a pension worth £4 million, believed to be the largest ever for a public employee in Britain.”

Girls – follow the example of JB and you won’t go far wrong.

A disconcerting point arising from the Langley piece is that little if anything has changed in the past 9 years at the BBC, and that far too much pay continues to be doled out to far too many for doing… what?

James Purnell – Politician turned BBC senior manager

Mr Purnell is an intriguing figure – his Oxford First Class degree and his employment by the BCG consulting group – a group of sharp cookies if ever there was one – mark him out as a man of considerable talent.

He resigned as an MP in 2010 and, after a few years of networking, joined the BBC as a senior manger in an ill-defined but well rewarded capacity.

It may be that Mr Purnell, having endured a rough time following the emergence of some alleged sharp practices at the time of the MP expense scandal, opted to pursue a career where there was still ample opportunity for modest nest-feathering and duly made his way to the BBC.

He will not be happy, not only having to explain his own enviable terms and conditions, but also at having to explain to a suspicious public the enviable terms and conditions paid out by the BBC to the stars and to the senior management.

The Future

So: what are the chances of a real change within the BBC under its present management – let us say a true reversion to the standards applied by John Reith?

The odds in favour are about the same that you and I have of being struck by lightning.

The case against the top management of the BBC is so pervasive and so compelling – it has become a refuge, a safe sanctuary for the Arthur Daleys of our time. Its managers combine the arrogance of a Goering with the hypocrisy of Mr Pecksniff.

A dubious collection of Narcissi continually assuring themselves and the public that they preside over an organisation that is the envy of the world.Actually, there may well some truth embedded in the assertion in the second half of the previous sentence – there may well be many media people across the world full of envy for the cushiness that goes with the job of being a senior BBC manager.

Suggested Remedies
“Why everyone’s pay should be made public”
Libby Purves, The Times, July 24, 2017 
Libby – shall we do one job at a time?

“They are so full of themselves that it is hard to imagine how such a corrupted institution could ever be brought sensibly back onto the rails.”
Christopher Booker, Sunday Telegraph, July 23, 2017 
A policy of despair from Booker. He should follow the splendid advice of Sir Winston Churchill: Never flinch, never weary, never despair. Be a man, CB – shape up.

“The answer to the BBC gender gap is simple: cut the wages of the men”
Dominic Lawson, Daily Mail, July 24, 2017 
His approach won’t even begin to tackle the perceived gender gap.

What approach is likely to bring about the cleansing of the Augean stables that are currently filling up the BBC and who might emerge as Hercules to carry out the job and when?

Q – What do we – the public – want?
A – We want the Augean stables located within the BBC to be thoroughly cleansed .
Q – When do we – the public – want it?
A – We want it now!
Q – Who should be given the job?
A – Well – as someone on the run from John Humphreys in a tricky interview might say – that is a very good question.

A few pointers:
The BBC is in the media business.
It demands a commercial framework when it suits it as a lever to push rewards ever upwards.
It pleads for a national treasure framework when it suits it – surely everyone loves the BBC?

Why not opt for the blindingly obvious solution which is to put it up for sale and then sell it to the highest bidder? Its new owners could then get on the job of managing a new entrant into a competitive global media market.

An eBay ad might read:-
For sale – slightly shop-soiled broadcasting organisation. Some strengths but desperately needs new owners who would have to start with a clear out of the current failing but affluent top brass.

The scope is there to build a sound honest company.

Possible purchasers – Who might be interested?

On the home front – Mr Desmond? Mr Branson?

A foreign buyer – Surely after decades of indoctrination about the benefits of globalisation – now is not the time to baulk at the BBC being sold to an overseas buyer?
USA media moguls? Their equivalents in China? Russia? India? The Middle East?

I beg HMG to start to think outside the box, to think the unthinkable, to undertake genuine blue sky thinking – or even just plain Sky thinking as undertaken by Mr Rupert Murdoch.

Image courtesy of telegraph.com

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The Theresa May Soap Opera

In the recent general election, held on June 8, there was a widespread assumption across the country immediately prior to the declaration of the result that the worst outcome – for Mrs May – would be a significant increase in the Tory majority of 17 to around 50, and the best outcome – for Mrs May – an increased majority well into 3 figures.

The outcome – among other things – caused the prophetic talents of most of the commentariat to be called into question.

I gather that there are now debates of sorts going on regarding the following linked but separate issues:

  • The administration of Mrs May is widely perceived as standing on the shakiest of foundations.
  • A leadership election would solve nothing.  Says who? Says Mrs M.

It would appear that a substantial slice of the Tory parliamentary pie would beg to differ. Malcontents are said to be murmuring sentiments along the lines of:  We are going nowhere fast – let’s get it over with – who knows  – with a different leader and with a spot of emollience here and there –  we might even win. 

  • Who therefore is likely to replace Mrs May as Tory leader and hence as our next Prime Minister when she leaves Number 10 sometime in the next few months? 
  • Which of the two main parties is most likely to emerge as the winner in the General Election which would be likely to follow?
  • What are the prospects of the Brexit vote in the June 2016 referendum being reversed and if yes, under what circumstances?

One tricky factor is the unreliably of the Tory – DUP coalition (a tiny pugnacious tail wagging a worn out dog). (I almost used the female of dog but feared that it might be politically incorrect and certainly ungentlemanly.)

 Please understand that I know no more than you do about the debates within debates that occupy the time of the main players: I read the newspapers and watch the TV news.

I have not had and do not expect to receive calls from BOJO and Mr Corbyn and other key players in the inner ring giving me the inside story.

Is Mrs May about to walk the plank?

In theory, Mrs May could cling on in No 10 right up to June 2022, showing the tenacity of Mr Assange holed up in the Uruguayan embassy. This is an unlikely but not impossible scenario.

Paddy Power will supply the odds for this outcome but is it really plausible? Not really. 

Who is the most likely replacement?

Again, Paddy Power will supply the odds but it is at this point that the matter becomes really interesting, because the drawing up of the short list is a matter for the (thinned out) Tory members of Parliament. Voting on the short-listed candidates is then extended to the membership of the Tory party, and this group is rather more concerned to secure the interests of the Tory party in the country.

So, the voting MPs in the drawing up of the short list will be concerned to ensure that their chosen candidate has the best chance of securing a Tory win in the highly probable ensuing election.

A few points to make by way of an interim report

  • Most of the main players have packed buckets and spades and headed for the seaside. They will not be around for the next six weeks or so.
  • Mr Dominic Grieve (who he?) will be minding the HMG shop in the absence of Mrs May. 
  • The main players will not be limiting their activities to shovelling sand into buckets. They will of course use the tranquility of the silly season to further their respective aims and policies via time-honoured plots and conspiracies.

The lessons of recent history – a look at which regime changes at / in Number 10 were civilised and which were not

Wilson replaced by Heath, 1970 – a regime change as per the text book, that is as per the verdict of the electorate.

Heath by Wilson, 1974 –  an own goal by Heath who absurdly asked the voters, Who governs Britain?  The gist of the response of the voters was that it was you, Mr Heath, but not any more.

Callaghan by Thatcher, 1979 – another text book democratic regime change.

Thatcher by Major, 1990 – Thatcher was given the old heave-ho by her parliamentary colleagues, mainly because she had opened fire on the Town Halls and with that move had increased the prospect of yet more confrontation. Tory MPs took the view that after a decade of Mrs T they were entitled to a  peaceful era,  and who, apart from Mrs T, could blame them? Anything for a quiet life.    

Major by Blair, 1997 – a landslide win by the most accomplished harvester of votes in the modern age.

Blair by Brown, 2007 – the years of plotting by Brown against Blair finally paid off. Blairites were ousted from key positions and replaced by Brownites, and Blair walked the plank, albeit with the plaudits of most of the House Of Commons ringing in his ears. 

Brown by Cameron, 2010 – a penalty shoot-out: the outcome was that Mr Clegg decided (how and on what basis?) that a deal with Mr Cameron was a slightly lesser evil than a deal with Mr Brown.

Cameron by Mrs May, 2016 – after Mr Cameron foolishly asked the British people, Yes or no to the EU? The response from the voters was to the effect that we don’t keep  a dog and then do our own barking. 

Mrs May by ?, 2017 – keep reading. 

As I write, Mrs May still resides in No 10, but the bailiffs are poised to hand out an eviction notice. She rashly asked the UK voters to strengthen her position vis a vis the EU in the forthcoming Brexit discussions and the skittish voters handed her the electoral equivalent of the black spot.

I suspect that she will be seeking – rather against her own wishes – new accommodation within the next few months and in the following notes I assume that this will happen.

The Tory party campaign during the recent general election (lost by Mrs May but not really won by Mr Corbyn) was all about Mrs May and sadly she wilted and withered under the relentless media scrutiny. 

As I write she is suffering from the effing syndrome – she is faltering, floundering, foundering, failing, flailing, frustrated, fulminating, furious & fractious. 

A few other adjectival candidates suggested themselves, all wholly appropriate, but this is a family blog and the decencies must be observed. 

A proposed timing plan to cover the next few months

  • Mid September  – The hour of the men in suits arrives and Mrs May is ousted via a leadership challenge.
  • End of September  – after a boisterous phase in which the usual mendacious pleasantries will be exchanged,  a short list comprising Messrs BOJO, Gove, Davis and Hammond will be chosen by Tory MPs and then presented to the electorate which is made up of members of the Tory party.  The four masochists will duly receive the most searching examination of their real and imagined qualities, and the cup of national schadenfreude will overflow as hitherto unsuspected frailties are flushed out and highlighted to the delight of the multitude. 
  • Mr Davis will be elected as leader of the Tory party, and, on the shaky assumption that the coalition with the DUP is still in place, will become our new prime minister.
  • This outcome will be determined on the basis that he is the least objectionable of the candidates on offer, not just to members of the Tory party, but much more importantly, to UK voters as a whole.

 The first decision of DD – to call an election or to soldier on?

I suspect that DD will go the country immediately given that he is on a hiding to nothing if he soldiers on.

If he secures a Tory majority – well done David Davis.

If Mr Corbyn secures a Labour majority, Davis remains as Tory leader and watches calmly from the sidelines as Corbyn grapples with problems of a somewhat greater order of magnitude than those that he had previously encountered.

Points to note regarding the next general election

  • Tory HQ should be able to organise an effective campaign based on Mr Davis, the Steady Eddie candidate, capable of steering the ship of state through the stormy waters (doncha just love these nautical metaphors) that lie ahead.
  • The Tory approach next time round will surely replace the bungling amateurism of Mr Nick (Rasputin) Timothy and Ms Fiona Hill – both quickly and rightly given the bum’s rush after the June 8 debacle – with a rather more competent and professional approach.
  • Messrs Murdoch and Dacre will carefully target the perceived weak links in the Labour Party chain. Both of these gentlemen will still be smarting from the June 8 outcome: next  time the Murdoch gloves and the Dacre gloves will be off; no more Mr Nice Guy from these champions of both the Tory cause and the Brexit cause. 

How might Mr Corbyn cope as he attempts to present himself not as the voice of one crying in the wilderness but rather as one fully capable of leading his country into the sunlit uplands?

On the last occasion, his campaign plan appeared from the point of view of this outsider to have been based on the time-honoured tactic of damage limitation and I understand that he was as startled as were most of the rest of us at the outcome – but also considerably more elated.

He will find it a little more difficult next time round, but equally I am sure that he learned a great deal and will arrange for his various spokespersons to distinguish between firm electoral commitments and commendable but longer-term dreams of a better world.

In the aftermath of the June 8 election, Mr Owen Smith was quoted as saying that if he and not Mr Corbyn had been elected as the leader of the Labour Party then the Labour Party might have been able to form a Government. Mr Corbyn might remind Mr Smith and a few others that a man who was rejected as the official Labour candidate by the voters in Blaenau Gwent was ill advised to raise the issue of who is and who is not electable.

(Coincidentally Owen Smith lost in Blaenau Gwent to a Mr David Davies, an independent local candidate.)

 With regard to the Liberal Democrats, I note and welcome the fact that Sir Vince Cable has succeeded Mr Farron as leader.

I warmly welcome his early comments as leader about the need to stay in the single market and in the customs union.

A promising start.

 A brief status report on Brexit

 Mr Davis and Mr Michel, the main EU negotiator, have appeared together at a joint press conference to talk about progress or lack of it in the first week of talks.  Watch this space.

The Blair factor.  Mr Blair has recently made some muted but well-publicised comments about the undesirability of proceeding with the Brexit plan, and as I share his views on the matter, I hope that his re-entry into the fray will strengthen the Remain cause.

Some of those cavilling at his comments refer with good cause to his espousal of the US-led invasion of Iraq, but it is worth reminding ourselves that in his time in Number 10 Blair got most things right most of the time both on the home front and abroad.

I take the view that he got two things badly wrong – he treated Gordon Brown with the deference that he should have reserved for Saddam Hussein and he treated Saddam Hussein with the hostility that he should have reserved for Gordon Brown.

BOJO & GoveThe attitudes of BOJO and Mr Gove with regard to Brexit are wholly predictable. Both will take whatever action is most likely to advance their respective careers – this is what is known in the politics’ business as shabby opportunism.

Closing notes

Those interested in these matters should not assume that there will now be a protracted interval to allow frayed nerves to settle and eventually to allow for a return to business as usual in early September.

The various permutations and combinations, the endless possibilities, each with their associated betrayals and denunciations, will be analysed, conspiratorial strategies will be devised, albeit in some agreeable preferably scrutiny free surroundings.

The show must go on.

 

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Social Media – An Aged Blogger Writes

 “It (Russia) is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”
Winston Churchill in 1939

 My views on social media closely resemble the views of Churchill on Russia. Indeed, I would go further and say that my inability to grasp even the basics of social media can be extended to most aspects of the Internet.

However – for the purposes of the following notes – I will limit myself to considering why I have decided to look at the possibility of securing a precarious foothold on the lower slopes of the social media.

For most of my 77 years, I have acquired my information about what is going on the world from traditional sources, the time honoured print and broadcast media.  I grew up on a diet of the Daily Express, the Bolton Evening News, and the Home Service with occasional input from British Pathe news.

For the greater part of the following half century my sources were The Times, the BBC – a mixture of TV and Radio 4 – together with magazines that broadly supported my thinking at the time.

My input to these sources was very limited – a few of my letters were published in The Times, but rather more failed to make the cut.  

I learned, possibly incorrectly, that the selection criteria employed by The Times to determine which letters made the cut were that the letter should contain a fulsome endorsement of some or other aspect of The Times, be very brief and should make just one point. There were no problems in satisfying the third criterion given the constraints imposed by the second criterion.

My luck changed in the summer of 2015  – a time when I had something to say and time to write it, but  no outlet for my views.

Tribune magazine published a piece that I had sent in more in hope of publication than in expectation. My luck held in that Tribune published every article that I submitted for the next 12 months or so.

Around the middle of 2016 my fortunes changed for the worse – Tribune published just three articles by me out of 20 or so submitted from the middle of 2016.  I had and still have no idea why Tribune decided to hand me the black spot, but then I was never clear as to the publication criteria employed by the magazine.

I did notice that my fall from grace coincided with the publication of a great deal of material under the name of Ian Hernon, the magazine’s deputy editor. I also noticed that most of the Hernon items were simply warmed up items from other sources but I got the message from Ian (little Sir Echo) Hernon and sought alternative outlets.

A couple of other Tribune points  before moving on.

In the two years of my association with the magazine I noted that the number of letters from readers that were included in the 50 or so editions that appeared  could have been counted on the fingers of one hand – not much evidence of engagement with the readers of the magazine – or was it that there were not many readers to engage with?

It has to be said in favour of Tribune, that it managed to find space for the contributions of former black sheep, including Dennis McShane, until recently confined in one of our penal institutions (some minor difficulties with regard to his parliamentary expenses)  and Joe Haines.

The latter remains an intriguing figure. There is a letter from Mr Haines in the latest New Statesman – July 7 –  in which he asserts that Mr Corbyn is not up to the job. We must respect the view of a man who worked tirelessly to advance the career of the portly pilferer, Mr Robert Maxwell.

The biography of Mr Maxwell by Mr Haines is a book which merits a prominent place is any collection of hagiography. Sadly his biography only takes us up to 1988 – the last three words are -“To be continued”.

Mr Maxwell walked the plank in November, 1991 leaving an unfortunate legacy of large scale sharp practice.

What to do to bring my views to the attention of a wider audience?

I suspected that the prospects of Mr Richard Littlejohn at the Mail or of Lord Finkelstein at The Times being given the old heave-ho to make way for me were remote. Paul Dacre was not likely to dispense with the services of Richard Littlejohn, or those of Sarah Vine, although I suspect that the services of Sarah Vine would be rather more dispensable than those of Richard Littlejohn. Similarly, Mr Murdoch was and is unlikely to dispose of the services of Lord Finkelstein or those of Philip Collins, although I suspect that the services of Mr Collins are rather more dispensable than those of Danny Finkelstein. I take it that we all agree that the contributions of Deborah Ross for The Times justifies breaking the golden rule – she is indispensable.

A word about columnists.  This sub group within the wider profession of journalism is one which has long fascinated me.

 My conclusion about this group, after many years of reflection, is that columnists can be divided into two categories, There are those who, once upon a time, had something worthwhile or interesting to say. Having said their bit, they continue to cling to their respective columns saying nothing much to anyone in particular. The other category consists of those who never had anything to say in the first place – this group largely owe their jobs to nepotism.

Over the years there have been a few admirable exceptions to this general bleak rule. Pride of place must go to the late great Bernard Levin, and, in more recent times, Matthew Parris, who fills his columns in The Times with an endless stream of pieces which combine a lively imagination with a tangible sense of engagement with the matters under discussion. We admire the work of Richard Littlejohn, but we sense his frustration as he confronts his sworn enemies, the Guardianistas. Like Dr Slammer, the fiery surgeon from The Pickwick Papers, at times his indignation chokes him.

 A brief digression on magazines aimed at the movers and shakers

I noted earlier the ebb and flow, and especially the decline and fall of my fortunes as a Tribune columnist.

I had no luck at all in my overtures to New Statesman, Spectator, and Prospect. As an occasional subscriber to these magazines I found myself from time to time receiving pleas that I renew my subscription and I noted the zeal with which each organ proclaimed its unique blend of inspiring content supplied by our most gifted writers. These qualities were not always readily discernible, but advertisers will be advertisers.

At one stage, I replied to these eloquent appeals to renew my subscription by offering to do so in return for an agreement by the magazine to publish one of my submissions. This imaginative approach on my part did not trigger anything by way of a response.

I was reminded of these ineffective attempts when I read a piece by Jason Crowley, the editor of New Statesman in this week’s edition of his organ.  The piece was headed “The guilty men of Brexit, Churchill, Boris Johnson and the bullseye of disaster” – it dealt with the subject of who might be deemed to be responsible for the Brexit fiasco.

Given that I had submitted a piece headed “The Guilty Brexiteers” to Tribune on July 2, 2016, that is, just a week after the referendum result had been announced, I was slightly disconcerted to discover one or two similarities between the content of the Cowley piece and the content of my own piece.

These similarities included references to the pamphlet “Guilty Men” written in just 4 days by Michael Foot and two other journalists about who should be made responsible for the defeat of the UK forces in France.

Obviously – purely a coincidence. 

The great game changer

At just after 10pm on Thursday, June 8, Mr David Dimbleby announced the results of a series of exit polls on the General Election called by Mrs May in order to improve her negotiating position ahead of the difficulty discussions to arrange the details of the Brexit process that lay ahead.

Sadly, the outcome was not quite what Mrs May had wished for and instead she got the thumbs down from the voters.

Mrs May was not the only major player in the game to be disappointed. In no special order, Mr Rupert Murdoch, Mr Paul Dacre and most professional pundits got the outcome wrong. So did I – but what did I know?

It was not a case of joy unbounded in many powerful circles both in the UK and globally, but it was said that Mr Jean-Claude Juncker and Mr Donald Tusk were not unduly distressed by the Brexit election outcome.

Questions were asked on June 9th and are still being asked by Mr Dacre and Mr Murdoch.

  • Who saw it coming?
  • Who are these bolshie voters? Who the hell do they think are?

We (that is, Mr Dacre and Mr Murdoch) went to a great deal of trouble of trouble and incurred considerable costs to inform the masses on how to vote and what do the ungrateful bastards go and do – vote the other way in sufficient numbers to pull the rug from under us.  

Did the unexpected outcome hint at a swing away from the influence from traditional print and broadcasting media, and, if yes, what communications systems had moved in to fill the void?

The social media

The timing of the great game changing election coincided purely fortuitously with the end of my gloomy search for an outlet for my opinions. This search had brought me to the last chance saloon – The Social Media.

I had made arrangements just prior to the general election to publish my views via a Blog – Holdenforth.

I was assured by those in the know – that is just about everyone apart from me – that social media were the future, that the days of Murdoch and his fellow conventional media moguls were numbered. I was also informed that even the BBC was not immune to these sea changes, that its influence was waning and that its days of dominance were over.

It was said that young voters, hitherto supine in the national political arena, had warmed to and opted for Mr Corbyn. And these striplings were said to comprise by far the greater part of the social media users.

So – on the basis that if you can’t beat them then join them – I got my show on the road.

I was not troubled by the arcane complexities of setting up a blog – that was all done for me by my son. The Holdenforth blog operates via a system whereby I send material by e mail for inclusion in the Blog and my son does the rest, including checking to remove errors and solecisms. (The editor would like to point out at this stage that this is done on a best efforts basis and apologises profusely for any errors and solecisms that slip through the net.)

For me, the great advantage of a blog as opposed to conventional publication is that I can say exactly what I like – a great relief who one who has been inhibited throughout his life by a succession of constraints imposed by those set in authority over me.

A wonderful feeling of liberation!

Mr Trump and the social media

The Trump world was more like – let’s say a lot of different things, they don’t even need to be coherent, and observe through the wonderful new platforms that allow you to observe how people respond and observe what works —”

“That the Republicans didn’t lose the can be attributed in large measure  to their expert manipulation of social media– Donald Trump is our first Face book president”

“What our Facebook president has discovered is that it actually pays only to please some of the people some of the time. The rest simply don’t count.”

The above quotes were taken from “How he used Facebook to win”  by Sue Halpern in the New York Review of Books, June 8, 2017. 

The addiction of Mr Trump to social media in general and to Twitter in particular had long been noted, and this aspect of his communications preferences became more and more pronounced as the USA presidential campaign proceeded.

Veteran pundits predicted that his addiction for the unusual – indeed unprecedented -communications approach via social media would decline in the unlikely event that he were to win the election.

He did win, but his preference for communication via Twitter has, if anything, increased. His terse pronouncements add daily to the delight of his followers and to the dismay of his opponents – numerically roughly equal.

For my part I took and take the view that if social media are good enough for Mr Trump then they are good enough for me.

I am still treading warily through the tangled complexities of the social media. I began by consulting the internet and was soon drowning in the tsunami of information available on the various branches of social media.

I toyed with the idea of abbreviating Social Media to the acronym SM but I vaguely recall that SM has a pre-existing and somewhat unseemly significance. I shall stay with Social Media.

Blogging is said to be relatively straightforward – you simply add your latest thoughts to your blog – or someone does so on your behalf and hey presto – it’s there for the world to read.

I was slightly disconcerted to read – on the internet, where else – that personal blogs are read overwhelmingly by relatives and friends of the blogger and by no one else. On reflection, I was consoled by the thought that in my case the readership might well match or even exceed the readership that I may have acquired at Tribune.

What about Facebook, the brain child of Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues?

I was pleased to note that “Facebook has more than 2 billion active users as of June, 2017.” This impressive figure indicates that the art of conversation is alive and well. For the moment I will put the task of joining these electronic chattering classes onto the back burner.

I gather that the YouTube branch of social media enables users to place videos onto the net and that these videos can be viewed free of charge. Again – one for the back burner for the time being.

Linked in – I have been aware of the existence of this service for some time because I have been advised via e mail that suitable career opportunities are available to me should I so wish. Thus far I have declined these invitations but I may well explore them in the near future. The adverse economic consequences of Brexit grow daily more ominous, my British Steel pension is thought to be at risk and I should hate to think that my meeting with the Grim Reaper would be followed by interment in a pauper’s grave.

Twitter – the branch of Social Media favoured by Mr Trump.

I have not yet sought to access Twitter – its very brevity daunts me – I am a prolix man and need rather more than 140 characters just to say hello.

Hash tags – the details of this facility might as well have been written in Chinese as far as I was concerned. Or maybe they were written in Chinese?

 Right now I find myself unable to access either Facebook or YouTube – I have no idea why, but I am confident that help is at hand and that the mysterious obstacles will be identified and removed.

Closing notes

This – to me – new technology is a splendid mental challenge for an old timer whose motto is – always look on the bright side of life.

The Social Media are a sure-fire recipe for warding off dementia and Alzheimer’s as we elders of the tribe toil tirelessly at the digital face in so doing keep our little grey cells at full stretch.

As far as I can see my central task going forward is to come up with a plan to boost the circulation of Holdenforth – suggestions on an e mail or via Holdenforth please.

Image courtesy of ITV.com

   

 

 

 

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JAMs today, Mexit tomorrow

For reasons that are not wholly clear, some Tory MPs have lately added their somewhat muted whispers to the rather more raucous calls from Labour ranks for an end to austerity.

These muted calls may be attributable for some to a Damascene conversion from support for belt-tightening to an endorsement of an approach that will yield land flowing with milk and honey.

Some of the muted calls may be triggered rather more by a prudent perception that the public mood has changed in favour of an approach based on the maxim of “enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think”

In recent years, political leaders across the spectrum in the UK have argued the case for improving the rewards earned by hard working people. Following her promotion to the coveted role of Prime Minister, Mrs May identified an additional economic category deemed to be worthy of support. This group was labelled as the JAMs, an unfortunate acronym for those deemed to be  Just About Managing.

As might be expected these statements of intent secured widespread support among the voters and understandably so since most of us regard ourselves as belonging clearly to both the categories delineated above. The difficulties arise as soon as we attempt to decide how to put some flesh onto the bones of the slogans.

  • Who  are the Hard Workers?  
  • Who  are the JAMs?

 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was takenGenesis 3, 23.

Genesis 3 described the very first cushy numbers arranged by the Lord God for Adam and Eve. They were not required to work, and the only limitation placed upon them in terms of consumption was to give a miss to the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Sadly, Eve was unable to resist the wiles of the serpent and she, and, a little later, Adam, sampled the forbidden fruit.

The Lord God took a very dim view of their offence, and immediately put into effect the relevant disciplinary procedures. By the end of Genesis 3, their cushy number in the Garden of Eden had been brought to an abrupt end, and our illustrious ancestors became reluctant founder members of the working class.

So who – in these confusing times – are the hard working?

We have only to pose the question to in order to grasp the formidable difficulties that we face in coming up with definitions. 

Let me make a tentative start with a couple of possibly controversial assertions.

Throughout my working life, which stretched from 1962 to 2014,  I was fully persuaded that the demands made upon me by my jobs down the years were such as to make the job of Alexei Stakhanov in the Siberian coal mines seem languid by comparison. Equally,  I was convinced that the jobs of those around me could be compared with those of  the Lilies of the Field in that “they toiled not neither did they spin as Jesus almost put it in his sermon on the Mount.

Those around me would doubtless have disagreed. 

How therefore are we to decide and on what basis who are the hard working and who, by contrast,  are the Lilies of the Field, the semi detached members of the working class,  the ones with the enviable capacity to simulate but not to carry out high intensity toil? I will return later to this tricky question.

Who are the JAMs?

To take just 3 examples which might be thought to verge on the extreme.

A year or so ago Tribune magazine published a piece by me in which I argued the case for the state to bring pressure to bear on Sir Phillip Green, Sir Martin Sorrell and Mr Bob Dudley in order to discourage their cupidity. 

It never occurred to me that Sir Phillip Green (the 2016 version of the portly pilferer Robert Maxwell), Sir Martin Sorrell (who has to scrape by on a measly £50 million per annum), and Bob Dudley (the CEO of BP – said to be sinking below the poverty line on no more than £14 million a year) might see themselves as JAMs and that all three would argue, indeed did argue, that they were just about managing.

If this acquisitive trio see themselves as JAMs – where does that leave you and me?

You see the problem?

The PMQ factor

It was unfortunate that much of the raucous public political activity surrounding the Hard Working and The JAMs took place during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ), an arena more notable for heat than light. It was doubly unfortunate that Mrs May proved adept at combining a combination of meaningless slogans with the interminable recitation of the gargantuan contributions, usually quoted in billions or, on a good day, trillions, to this or that socially popular cause. Mr Corbyn, faced with this formidable combination, wilted as he struggled to query the tsunami of figures.

For my part I rather suspect that the Prime Minister might be said to have added an extra term to the catalogue of lies, damned lies and statistics – namely the Maybe – a term to describe the implausibility of the figures shrilly quoted by Mrs May and which may and then again which may not be accurate, quite possibly a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

What can be asserted with confidence is that the theatrical arena that is PMQs did little to clarify who were/are the hard workers and who were/are the JAMs.

Back to the hard working JAMs. In my book A Cushy Number, I define a cushy number as a well rewarded sinecure. The word sinecure is defined as an office of profit with no duties. Cushy number seekers are looking for a lot more than an office of profit, although they are quite happy with the absence of duties. They demand a job which combines the minimum of effort with the maximum of reward. It must be stressed that cushy number seekers are a determined, clear-thinking group and they insist on having both criteria satisfied. They don’t want a demanding well rewarded job although they accept that this would be a step in the right direction. Equally they don’t just want a sinecure. They demand a well rewarded sinecure.

Got that?

A cushy number has been the dream of those who combine indolence and cupidity from the earliest days of social organisation. In our times and with the breakdown of social and class barriers, the desire is stronger and more widespread than ever before.  Most of us – let’s admit it – yearn for a job which combines the minimum of effort for the maximum of reward, and this aspiration is likely to intensify in the years to come. We want a cushy number, we fume whenever we hear that one of our friends has got what we believe to be one, but that’s about as far as the analysis goes.  Given this widespread demand for a cushy number, it is astonishing how little work or even thought has gone into this crucial issue. We need to think through what we mean in order to get what we want.  How on earth can we get a cushy number if we don’t know what we are looking for?  How exactly will we know one when we see one? What are the defining features of the cushy number, the features that separate it from your job and from all the jobs I ever had?

Pay rise for hard-working Britons is priority, says May
The Times. Aug 2, 2016

In the run up to the general election in May 2015, politicians from all parties proclaimed their love of and support for the hard working people in British society. This view is commendable as far as it goes – which is not very far at all.

To repeat: who are the hard workers, what jobs do they do and why might they deserve the favoured support of HMG in the austere times which are said to lie ahead? A little probing is called for.

As noted earlier I have given careful thought to the matter and a few years ago I published on the internet a book in which I explored the demands made on and rewards collected by a selection of professional jobs. Sales of the book soared quickly into double figures but then levelled off as the supply of relatives and friends ran out.

Those parts of the book which dealt with job demands are of relevance in the search for hard working people and I propose to re-examine them in the context of the present debate.

A few examples: Politicians, Doctors and the Police

No one would dispute that many – maybe most – of the senior executives that work in the square mile that constitutes the city of London work very hard, by just about any measure. So far so good. But does this group, dedicated as it is to working tirelessly to stealing from the rest of us, really merit the support of HMG, especially given the perceived reluctance of the group to pay taxes?

Politicians will assure us that whilst there are and will continue to be profound differences of opinion as the causes of and cures for the myriad of social and economic problems that plague our society, the factor which unites the profession of politicians is the hard work performed by politicians across the political spectrum.

And yet I recall a sting carried out not long ago which lured two ex-foreign secretaries, Jack Straw and Malcom Rifkind, to say on (hidden) cameras that, freed from the burdens of office, they had ample spare time at their disposal. For fees thought by some to verge on the exorbitant they would be happy to place their undoubted skills and experience at the service of whoever.

It was difficult to reconcile the languid life as outlined by two former leading politicians with the typical assertions of a hectic, high pressure working life.

What about our doctors, grafting away in the GP section of the beleaguered NHS? Time was when this group really was under pressure and not especially well paid, but things changed when a senior Labour politician, possibly doubling up as Santa Claus, awarded the GPs a most welcome combination of a huge pay rise and the removal of the requirement to provide a service outside normal office hours on Monday to Friday.

Since winning the professional equivalent of the National Lottery – indeed despite winning the professional equivalent of the National Lottery – the GPs have continued to plead that the appalling combination of poverty and overwork is persuading them to abandon the profession. It would be impolite to point out that this exodus arises at least in point because they can afford to do so.

What about our police? This is the group that is happiest trying to decide who committed criminal acts of a sexual nature years ago – even decades ago. In some cases the alleged offenders were in no position to defend themselves, having been called to the courtroom in the sky.

All good stuff but not quite as demanding as chasing current criminals.

I could on – and elsewhere I have gone on –  but you get the picture.

You and I and the editor of the Times Lit Supp, and the Nancy poets, and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comrade X, author of Marxism for Infants- all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles of steel
The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell

I have brought in the Orwell quote to illustrate the extent to which times have changed since The Road to Wigan Pier was published back in 1936. In those days, those in the economic comfort zones were relaxed that coal miners endured appalling working conditions on rock bottom wages in order to secure “the comparative decency of our lives.”

Subsequently, the mining communities experienced a few decades of  relative prosperity – a prosperity which was to end in the harsh confrontation of the miners’ strike and the closure of almost all the deep mines in the UK.

The chanting of Tory slogans about rewarding the hard working would not trigger favourable responses amongst the JAMs abandoned in what remains of the mining communities.

Stop press: The JAMs in Number 10

Any article which looks at the contribution of Mrs May to the national debate about the hard working JAMs must acknowledge that Mrs May herself is exceptionally hard working and, slightly more controversially, is barely managing. Indeed this latter quality has got to the point that the issue is not if but when she will receive her marching orders. I gather that William Hill do not rate her chances of still residing in No 10 by the end of the conference season very highly.

 “We’re going to leave you alone for half an hour. There’s your revolver. You know what to do ……………luckily they had left a decanter of whisky in there with me”
Captain Grimes describing his ordeal after getting into the soup in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall.

Mexit – the exit of Mrs May from Number 10 – can be described in terms of a soft Mexit or a hard Mexit.

Under the terms of a soft Mexit, Mrs May will be left in solitary confinement with a loaded revolver and a bottle of whisky

Under the terms of a hard Mexit, Mrs May will be left in solitary confinement with just a loaded revolver.

Image courtesy of @UKDemockery on Twitter

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Mrs Theresa May – a Mournful Tale of Decline and Impending Fall

We now know the outcome of the June 8 election.

What were the factors that determined the unexpected outcome, unexpected not only by Mrs May, by the experienced bookmaker Paddy Power, and by me?

I write what follows with some diffidence because my prediction of the result was an echo of that of Paddy Power – an overall Tory majority of around 80.

(Note –  I accept that, like Mrs May, I got the result badly wrong but that, unlike Mrs May, I was delighted by it.)

The factors quoted by the commentariat to explain the downfall of Mrs May included the following:

  •  The abysmal campaigning performance of Mrs May.
  • The unfortunate cock ups over the various arrangements to be made for the elderly infirm.
  • The alleged preference of young voters for the policies tabled by the Labour Party in its manifesto.
  • The evaporation of the UKIP vote coupled with the return of UKIP voters to Labour rather than to the Tories. 
  • The much better than expected campaigning performance of Mr Corbyn.

A notable campaign issue for Mrs May – the Dementia Tax

Grotesque “Dementia Tax label that led to U-Turn
Headline in The Daily Mail, May 23rd, 2017 

Mrs May was subjected to some fairly robust criticism for her handing of what came to be known as the “Dementia Tax affair. What made matters worse – for her – was that some of the criticism came from two of her warmest admirers in the Brexit General Election campaign, namely The Times and The Daily Mail.

The saga went through the following phases.

(i) The Tory manifesto was published. It contained a clear commitment by a future Tory Government to financial support for old timers as they make their way towards a rendezvous at some uncertain date with the Grim Reaper.

So far, so very good with enthusiastic endorsement by those likely to gain.

(ii) A brief interval as the small print of the manifesto was read carefully by the usual suspects.

(iii)  An outbreak of peevishness from those old timers who grasped with admirable clarity just what the manifesto policy might mean for them. 

(iv) The Tory leadership team – prop Mrs T May – sensed that they had goofed and beat a hasty retreat first into vagueness and then into vacuity.

(v)  Sadly for the Tory leadership, this about turn triggered significant opposition in the ranks. There was a raucous rejection from the usually reliable aged Tory voters as they did the sums, and assessed their prospects in their particular circumstances.

(vi) There followed recriminations all round, with hints, tinged with schadenfreude in some circles, that this volte face was the fall for which their leader had been heading. 

(vii) It has since been reported that the two cabinet ministers most closely involved in the policies covered by the dementia tax, Mr Hunt and Mr Javid, received only 24 hours’ notice about the commitments to be made in the Tory manifesto. The new policy was said to be the work of Mr Ben Gummer, son of John Selwyn Gummer. BG has evidently inherited the sure political touch for which his father, the burger king, was noted.

The departure of Ben Gummer from Westminster on June 8 would not have been universally mourned by his colleagues.  

 A Little Flesh on the Bones of the “Dementia Tax

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot,
And thereby hangs a tale.”
Shakespeare – “As You Like It.

 Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”
More gloom from “As You Like It

There, we found, sitting by a fire, a very old man in a flannel coat: clean, cheerful, comfortable, and well cared for, but intensely deaf.
Well, aged parent, said Wemick  shaking hands with him in a cordial and jocose way, how are you?
Charles Dickens- Great Expectations

Humans wear out with age, some more rapidly than others. This aging process has a wholly predictable consequence: maintenance costs rise with the passing years followed by a funeral, expensive or economical according to taste.

Inevitably these maintenance costs vary with minimal costs at the healthy end to the very expensive costs incurred by those requiring intensive care over protracted periods.

This poses the question which is of steadily rising significance as our average longevity steadily rises. Who should foot the bill for these steadily rising costs?

There has been a raucous thumbs-down from the usually reliable aged Tory voters as they did the sums, and assessed their prospects. 

Sadly, there was also a raucous raspberry from those senior citizens who want to pass on their estates to the next generation rather than to HMG. This group want HMG to foot the bill and, given that HMG has no money of its own, they want the tax payer to foot the bills.

On a personal note – at the age of 77 – the dementia tax issue was and remains of considerable interest to me, and I was frustrated by my inability to grasp the details of the policy as per the manifesto and as per the various subsequent clarifications to the policy.

The position is now much clearer: if Messrs Hunt and Javid were confused – what chance did I and do I have?

The May U-turn or rethink or retreat – delete according to taste – triggered a most useful debate on the key question of who pays for the care of the fragile old folk, and we owe Mrs M our thanks for raising this contentious issue.

The roots of the issue go back many years and the difficulty is to strike a socially fair balance between those who argue that they have striven all their lives in order to be able to give their heirs a start in the struggles to come, and those, at the other extreme who argue that each generation should fight its own battles and do its own striving with no haves and have nots lining up on the starting blocks in the great race of life.

Is there a sensible felt fair balance between the two extremes? The debate will doubtless continue.

On Leadership

In the thirties he ( Ernest Bevin) thought of Atlee as a second rate leader. But that was what he wanted. He had had enough of those who thought they were first rate with MacDonald
Roy Jenkins on Ernest Bevin

It would appear that not all UK voters were impressed by the Theresa May slogan of “strong and stable leadership repeated ad nauseam during the interminably protracted campaign. Effective leadership is not easy to define in good times and we are not living in good times. The appeal of strong leadership is not universal – not all of us wish to be ordered about.

Mrs May was convinced that Mrs May was a first-rate leader, but there are times when we should try to see ourselves as others see us. Had she done this Mrs May might have noticed that not everyone shared her opinion of Mrs May.

A shaky slogan and a shaky call, Mrs M.

Campaigning Style

He (Lord Roseberry) knew what was wise and fair and true. He would not go through the laborious, vexatious and at times humiliating processes necessary under modern conditions to bring about these great ends.
Winston Churchill on Lord Roseberry

Mrs May incurred a lot of criticism on account of her reluctance to mingle with – how shall we put it – the great unwashed. By contrast Mr Corbyn displayed an unexpected talent in this area and his readiness to engage with the electorate at close quarters was by no means the least of his political gifts.

Mrs M also displayed an unfortunate lack of judgement when she boycotted a televised gathering of the other party leaders, a gathering where each leader had to respond to questions from the floor.

Mr Corbyn showed sound judgement in accepting the challenge and performed well under pressure.

Hostages to Fortune, and U-Turns:-

Problems encountered by Mrs May during the campaign because of her alleged propensity to duck and weave included:

  • Her perceived readiness not only to abandon her pro remain stance before June 23, 2016 but, even more damaging, her eagerness to lead the Brexit team.
  • Her decision to opt for an election despite her previous repeated assertions that this would not happen. The lure of the prospect of an easy victory proved too strong.
  • Her retreat first into confusion and then into chaos over the dementia issue.
  • Her lapses into the tedious repetition of slogans when under pressure rather than engaging with the issues under discussion.

A Word on Political Advisors

Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill – to me, very shadowy figures – were said to have acquired significant influence with and over Mrs M. Sadly in the fierce in fighting within Tory ranks that followed the announcement of the result this pair quickly acquired the notoriety that is associated with the names of Alastair Campbell, Grigori Rasputin and Harry Bennett.

(For those not familiar with the last name – Harry Bennett provided the same sort of support for Henry Ford that Campbell provided for Tony Blair – muscular, aggressive and intimidating.)

Both Timothy – the advisor who bore more than a passing resemblance to Rasputin – and Hill were speedily jettisoned once their role in the debacle became apparent. It is not clear whether the plank-walking was voluntary or was at the insistence of Tory managers – were they handed P45s or did they resign? It depends which newspaper you read.

What Might the Future Hold?

As I write behind the scenes discussions are taking place as to the scale of bribes required by the DUP in order to prop up Mrs May.

Sadly not much strength and zero stability are in prospect to those of us on the outside.

Mrs M argued that – given that she was fully responsible for the debacle (we can all agree on that) – she should be allowed to stay in post in order to solve the formidable catalogue of problems in the in-tray of HMG. I cannot understand her logic on this latter point.

BOJO remains as Foreign Secretary in this wounded administration. How much time and energy will he be devoting to tackling the problems of the UK and how much time and energy will he be devoting to the far more serious problem of securing pole position for himself in the coming struggle for power?

For Mr Gove – read the entry for BOJO.  Mr Gove has returned to the inner circle in order, so it has been reported, to shore up its credibility – a very dubious piece of logic.

Might Mrs May still be in post in 5 years’ time? I doubt it.

How soon will the men in suits – the Tory managers – utter the dreaded words – Come in Number 1 – Your time is up?

My guess is that she will be leaving No 10 in 2017 – probably sometime around the annual party conference – a favoured time to speed the journeys of Tory politicians deemed to have outstayed their welcomes.

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The Outcome of the June 8 Brexit Election – A Jeremy Corbyn Perspective

Is that tantamount, sir, to acceptance or rejection or consideration?”
Mr Guppy to Mr Jarndyce – Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Mr Guppy was anxious to clarify the answer to his proposal of marriage to Esther Summerson via her guardian, Mr Jarndyce. In a rather different context I am anxious to be very clear – in the style of Mrs May – about the outcome of the Brexit General Election on June 8.

I am writing these notes a few days after the outcome of the June 8 election was announced. It has not been easy to draw conclusions about the outcome given the raucous 24/7 babble masquerading as comment put out by the print, broadcast and Internet media.

A few tentative comments to get started:

  • The outcome of the election is being widely perceived as a major setback for Mrs May – those seeking a somewhat jaundiced view of her performance should consult Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail on June 10: his verdict was – nil points.
  • Some Tory apologists are still trying loyally but implausibly to portray the outcome as satisfactory for the Tory cause.
  • Most commentators are acknowledging that the outcome was a minor triumph for Mr Corbyn.
  • Substantial numbers of previously hostile Corbyn critics from within the Labour movement are shrewdly doing a 180 degree turn so as to re-position themselves for the rapidly changing political scene.

I thought that it might be instructive to comment on the factors that contributed to the improved fortunes of Mr Corbyn, and to those factors that prevented his triumph from being even more impressive, maybe even a move to No 10 with a working majority.

So: who were the friends of Corbyn and who were his opponents?

A brief stroll down memory lane

In September 2015, Jeremy Corbyn convincingly won the election held to decide who should replace Ed Miliband as the leader of the Labour Party. No one could dispute that his victory was overwhelming, although there were many in the Labour Party who rather regretted the outcome.

How did it come about that a candidate widely perceived as a no-hoper before the first leadership election was elected by a huge majority over the other three ostensibly more plausible candidates – Mr Burnham, Ms Cooper and Ms Kendall?

Like you, I can only guess at the reason or reasons for the unexpected outcome, but I suspect that by far the most significant reason in the minds of those voting in the contest was that the election of any one of the plausible trio would simply represent more of the same, and that the electors in their collective wisdom comprehensively rejected that option.

This raises the question: how does a party deal with a situation in which a huge gap opens up between the views and aspirations of the leaders and the led?

Just as the great majority of Labour MPs asserted their lack of confidence in JC, so, or so it would appear, the great majority of Labour Party members had lost confidence in their elected representatives in the House of Commons.

It would not have been easy to find high calibre replacements for the vast majority of the current crop of Labour Party MPs, but equally it would not have been easy to discard the current crop of around half a million seemingly truculent party members and replace them with the same number of pliable tranquil members.

After an all too brief apprenticeship in his new role, the great majority of Mr Corbyn’s parliamentary colleagues decided that he was simply not up to the job of leading the Party to electoral victory and that accordingly he must be replaced.

This phase came to a head in the confusion that followed the outcome of the in-out referendum, the resignation of Mr Cameron and his replacement by Mrs May.

There was a mass exodus from the Corbyn shadow cabinet and this was followed by an unseemly phase in which various contenders considered their respective prospects. The outcome here was the emergence of Owen Smith as the only challenger.

I noted that Owen Smith at one point in the leadership campaign was critical about the electability of Mr Corbyn. He accepted that Mr Corbyn was a decent enough chap in his way, but also that the job of leading the Labour Party requires qualities over and above mere decency. He may have had a point, but I m not sure that he was wise to raise to raise this issue given that his own record as a vote winner has verged on the shaky.

Let me explain. In the general election of 2005 the official Labour candidate in Blaenau Gwent was beaten into second place by an independent candidate, Peter Law. The loss of one the safest Labour seats in the UK parliament followed the possibly unwise decision by Labour Party HQ to impose a women-only short list on the local party. The women-only list may have made sense in London but it was not so seen in Blaenau Gwent, hence the loss of the seat.

Sadly, Mr Law died within a year or so of the General Election, thus triggering a by-election in 2006. It was confidently expected that there would be a speedy return to business as usual and that the newly selected Labour candidate, Owen Smith, would be duly elected. However, the obstinate Blaenau Gwent voters once again rejected the official party candidate and elected another local independent candidate, Mr Dai Davies.

I cite this example only to point out that the Owen Smith CV indicates substantial if unfortunate personal experience about who is and who is not electable.

It is not an easy political feat for a Labour candidate to fail to win Blaenau Gwent – the seat of Tribune stalwarts Michael Foot and Nye Bevan for Labour over many years.

As with the first leadership election, I am not sure about precisely what factors determined the outcome of the second leadership election. In the event Mr Corbyn secured a second substantial win to retain the leadership.

Despite his two substantial victories, there were still those in the Labour camp who continued to do whatever they could to undermine his position and he had to endure a steady stream of carping criticism – which he endured stoically – of his performance and this factor made his position very difficult in the weekly PMQ sessions as Mrs May repeated quoted hostile comments from his own colleagues to wrong-foot him.

Campaign notes on the June 8 General Election campaign

Corbyn allies
• Mr McDonnell – a most commendable performance – convincing and plausible throughout the gruelling 7 weeks.
• Mr Starmer – a reliable steady Eddie who provided no ammunition to the Tories, avoided getting involved in any internal party squabbling and generally proved himself competent when being interviewed by the relentless broadcast media.
• Mrs May – a reliable supplier of ammunition to the Labour cause from day 1. This was not in the Tory plan and supplied an unexpected massive boost to her opponents: she was as one forsaken by the Gods of Politics

The enemies from within – The Labour Party critics of Corbyn
There is no shortage of contenders clamouring for inclusion in this section – check the records and make your own selections.

Here are three of my contenders:

• Owen Smith – I mentioned earlier the contribution of comrade Smith to the Corbyn cause. It was gratifying to note that he was one of the first to talk to the media about his Damascene conversion to the Corbyn cause as soon as he grasped that the political wind had changed direction.
• Hilary Benn – The son of a rather more substantial parent – it was he who won plaudits in parliament for arguing the case for the UK to join in the bombing of Syria. I was not persuaded of the validity of his arguments then or since, given the undeniable contribution of the UK to the chaos and confusion of the situation in the Middle East since the misguided invasion of Iraq in 2003.
• Tom Watson – I was unable to discern any effective signs of support by Mr Watson. Rather the opposite – his contributions seemed designed throughout to maximise his chances of securing the top job when JC was ousted. Another reservation about Mr Watson – I was and remain unhappy about his behaviour in naming politicians from yesteryear as paedophile’s from the safe stance of parliamentary privilege. Child abuse, when proven in a court of law, is rightly deemed one of the most odious of crimes. What are we to make of the actions of Mr Watson in assuming and asserting the guilt of people whose alleged offences had never been tested in court?

Those whose silence would have strengthened the Corbyn position
• Len McCluskey – LM had established himself as the arbiter of whether or not Mr JC should be allowed to remain in post on the dubious basis that his union was and remains the largest provider of funds for the Labour Party. His stance rather resembled that of the Chairman of a major football club scanning the results of his club for evidence that the days of his manager were numbered.
• Ms Dianne Abbott – I will be charitable to Ms Abbott and note that her evident desire to assist had precisely the opposite effect. Her contribution could be described as similar to that of Mrs May but sadly it was also much more transparently inadequate. She has since cited medical problems as triggering her erratic performances, but some would argue – indeed have argued – that her erratic form goes back a long way.

The print media

The contributions of the newspapers to the election debates were wholly predictable. The Daily Mail and The Times stayed loyal to the May cause to the bitter end.

“F*** Dacre” replied Murdoch
The response of Rupert Murdoch after being informed that Lord Dacre – formerly Hugh Trevor Roper – had changed his mind as to the authenticity of the Hitler diaries back in 1983

Doubtless these stern if unseemly words were repeated over and over again during the 2017 general election campaign by some – not all – Labour supporters in response to their treatment at the hands of the combative editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre.

Political magazines

Being a pensioner I can – just about – afford to subscribe to the New Statesman and to Tribune.

Looking back, I recall that the New Statesman was lukewarm about the Corbyn campaign – a far cry from the aggressive views filling the Daily Mail.

Tribune was even more disappointing: muted and seemingly anxious to remain remote from the fray. It was not easy to discern quite what was going on at Tribune. In the 50 or so issues published between the summer of 2015 and the 2017 General Election, I estimate that the number of readers’ letters that were published was scarcely into double figures, a feature which does not suggest it was engaging with its readers.

The broadcast media – The BBC

If there was an anti-Tory stance from the BBC, I was unable to detect it.

The Daily Mail was very critical about the BBC, something which confirmed my judgement that the BBC maintained a broadly neutral stance throughout.

The social media

You tell me, because I have no idea if the social media influenced the election and if so how and in what direction.

The social media are to me what Russia was to Winston Churchill in 1939 – “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

A few words on the issues

I wrote the following letter to The Times on June 13, 2017 (sadly not published):

Sir,
“Labour’s Delusions- A jubilant party remains in thrall to discredited and dangerous ideas.”
In your second leader in today’s Times you chide the Labour leaders for their commitment “to discredited and dangerous ideas,” and you remind your readers of the admiration of some of them for Lenin and Trotsky.
Their discredited and dangerous ideas presumably include the policy to return privatised utilities to public ownership.
At the end of his autobiography – “A Life at the Centre” published in 1991 – Roy Jenkins wrote:- “ I think that the privatisation of near monopolies is about as irrelevant as (and sometimes worse than ) were the Labour Party’s proposals for further nationalisation in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Might Roy Jenkins have been a clandestine admirer of Lenin and Trotsky?

Yours – John Holden

Labour plans to increase tax rates for those at the top end of the earnings scale
Some critics complained about plans in this area on the grounds that any increase in the taxes paid by the rich would reduce their commitment to the cause of increasing the wealth of the nation and might even lead some of them to relocate to where their talents would be more appreciated.

The Labour proposals startled me only by their timidity. It has long been apparent that a significant number of senior business managers devote far too much of their time and energy maximising the take that they can squeeze from their companies, and far too little of their time and energy to ensuring that their businesses are effectively and efficiently managed.

Scarcely a day passes without The Times, in its business section, reporting on the greed of this or that senior manager and of the reluctance of the shareholders to acquiesce in the acquisitiveness of the said managers.

I would be more than happy to endorse the taxing of the reward packages of people like Sir Martin Sorrell close to or even at 100%. Sir Martin would doubtless dissent but, like Mandy Rice-Davies in a different context – he would say that, wouldn’t he?

But – my suggestion, if implemented, would free up more of the time of Sir Martin to further the interests of WPP rather than racking his brains about deciding on the largest possible figure that he could get away without triggering a shareholder revolt and a public excoriation. (A confession – in my first effort on this paragraph I wrote that Sir Martin was employed by WRP, the abhorrent Workers Revolutionary Party, rather than by the much more prosaic company WPP, originally Wire and Plastic Products.)

In my view one Labour Party failure – and it was a significant failure – was quite simply that it did not in some key areas explain just how moderate and reasonable and socially desirable its plans were, given the extent to which the Tories had allowed the top people to rip off the rest of us.

In praise of Mr Corbyn

Quite simply the period from the announcement by TM on April 18, that she was calling an election for June 8 to day of the election was a wonderful phase for JC.

He won well-deserved plaudits for his unfailing courtesy, for his consistent support of the claims of the JAMS and of the Hard Working majority as against the understandable but not widely shared wish of those at the top to be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their sharp practices into the future.

He clearly struck a chord in the hearts and minds of the young, a most encouraging feature of the outcome.

I am confident that if the more evident weaknesses in the performance of his party are put right, then the tensions and fragility that are now built into the Tory Government – a Government erected on shit and quicksand – then Labour is capable of forming a government that will work for the many as opposed to the few.

John Holden

PS – A slightly longer stroll down memory lane

I gather from some press reports that the thinking of Mr Corbyn is said to be close to the thinking of Mr Leon Trotsky, born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, and it is darkly alleged that some of the current difficulties within the Labour Party can be traced to the disruptive influence of Trotskyists. This may well be so – what do I know?

I do recall that back in October, 1963 I attended the Labour Party Conference as a Young Socialist delegate for Ebbw Vale. The conference was in Scarborough – it was the Harold Wilson white heat of technology conference.

Whilst there I vaguely recall being introduced to a Mr Gerry Healy. Labour Party members with very long memories may recall that Mr Healy was an influential member of the Socialist Labour League, a Trotskyist organisation and at the time a thorn in the flesh of Labour party managers because of what were described as disruptive tactics. I had gone to the conference with Ron Evans, one time parliamentary agent for Nye Bevan and later for Michael Foot and it was he who introduced me to Mr Healy. Ron had previously been a member of the Communist Party and had retained a measure of admiration for the strategy and tactics of Stalin. For reasons that will be evident to those interested in the obscure quarrels among far-left activists Ron was dismissive of Trotsky and his followers and managed just a surly greeting to Mr Healy.

I was startled to read many years later that Mr Healy had not confined his interests to the politics of permanent revolution. It was alleged by the gutter press that he taken a keen interest in the more attractive of the female recruits and that he had taken advantage of his position to pursue the time honoured exploitation of enjoying rather more than his fair share of the available talent. Some comrades from the Healy era were traced and expressed dissatisfaction at the state of affairs – affairs here used in both senses – exposed by the running dogs of the Fleet Street Press Lords…

Featured image courtesy of Business Insider

 

 

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Reasons to vote against the Tories

Back in August 2015 Tribune published an article by me in which I suggested a few policy options that might sensibly be included in any future Labour Party manifesto. I was pleased to see that most of my suggestions found their way into the latest iteration, including the case to renationalise the privatised monopolies, and the case to impose significantly higher income tax levels on high earners.

The most important issue to be resolved in the Brexit Election (BrexEl) to be held on June 8 is that announced with unusual clarity by Mrs May, namely her plea for an enhanced majority to strengthen her negotiating position in the discussions to establish the terms of our exit with the 27 remain countries.

For my part, I believe strongly that the case to reverse Brexit is as powerful today as it was on June 23rd, 2016 and I hope that the outcome to be announced at around 10pm on June 8 will be a significantly weakened Tory party.

Remember: for Mrs May this election is a rerun of June 23rd, 2016 with the expectation of an increased majority.

While we are here: how about a few good reasons to vote against the Tories on June 8, reasons over and above the core aim of eroding rather than strengthening the position of and prospects for Mrs May?

To save space and time, I accept that most of the content of the Labour Party manifesto is fine as written. My main reservation is that Mr McDonnell has been altogether too timid in his plans for taxing the looters masquerading as wealth creators that infest the square mile of the city.

  1. Return the privatised utilities to public ownership  

In 2002 I wrote a book which I called A Cushy Number. In the book, I examined the demands imposed on and the rewards collected by a selection of white collar professional workers including teachers, doctors and politicians.

I decided that the cushiest number of all was that of senior managers in the privatised utilities.

Why so?

The following is an extract from the book.

“The newly privatised industries continued to be managed by the same people who had managed them in their previous publicly owned life.  What happened next is crucial in any study of the cushy number. Quite simply one consequence of the sell offs was that the new managers (ie the old managers) became enormously rich merely by restyling themselves Chief Executives or whatever and applying the most favourable comparisons available to them from the private sector.

“It will rightly be argued that things did get better and performance did improve, and, most significantly, the requirement for huge annual subsidies from the taxpayer to bridge the gap between income and expenditure ended, at least in most cases. Every circus has its clowns and the Railways, then, as now, required special treatment. Things did get better by means of just one highly effective expedient. The biggest cost item for most of the privatised industries was the wage bill. The managers solved the massive over-manning problems which they themselves had created, and then, in gratitude to themselves, transferred significant amounts of the employment costs thus saved to their own reward packages.

“What a thing of beauty, what a joy, if not forever as ordained by Keats, then at least for many years. This is the stuff that we cushy number seekers can only dream of. This happy breed, managerial mediocrities all, cock things up on an Olympian scale, and then, given intestinal fortitude by the Iron Lady, partially correct their own failures by dint of a one-off productivity improvement, and become rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”

Predictably the privatised utilities operated as cartels with competition largely restricted to the billing arrangements. Given these enviable arrangements the managers – I use the term managers loosely and with reluctance – took every opportunity to push up prices knowing that the consumer had no effective choice.

Understandably those benefiting from the present arrangements, the Senior managers of the Big Six –  are the most vocal in seeking to maintain the status quo. For its part The Daily Mail talks of a return to the over-manning of the previous nationalised set ups and it needs to be said that a return to public ownership should not be seen as the creation of a series of vast new leisure centres. On this point, the arrangements for the appointment of new managers should ensure that those selected are equipped with strong backbones with matching intestines.

I note that the Labour manifesto includes a commitment to return water to public ownership, and rightly so.  In 2002 I wrote of  the water industry “that it is so cushy that it is the envy of the rest of the privatised utilities sector, and that is saying something. Does water deserve the title of an industry? It rains, and the rain is collected and distributed. What could be simpler?”

  1. Curb the rich via steeply regressive taxation on incomes and wealth 

The Labour manifesto is aggressive in tone, but feeble where it matters in this all important area of our national financial life.

The over-paid in our society and especially those that flourish in the square mile of the city are adept at proclaiming that they will forsake the UK should any attempt be made to curb their acquisitive propensities and that they would look with similarly jaundiced eyes on any attempt to increase the taxes that they pay, or don’t pay  (the choice seems to be theirs).

This group is also not slow to dwell on the hazards of their jobs and one of these hazards is said to be the agony of the AGM.

Another quote from A Cushy Number:

“One aspect of the job of senior executives as reported by the financial press never ceases to amaze me. This is the much recycled myth that shareholders can in some mysterious unexplained way bring pressure to bear upon failing and erring executives. The myth reaches its pinnacle in the theatre of the Annual General Meeting.  Conventional wisdom has it that Senior Executives dread the impending AGM if the Company is deemed to have under-performed. The expectation is that the Directors will be roughly handled by impoverished, and hence irate shareholders.

“This is nonsense. In the first place, shareholder revolts rarely happen because Annual General Meetings are so carefully stage-managed. Secondly, if the stage management arrangements did break down and the aforesaid irate shareholders had a big heckle, so what?  If you were a fat cat, would it worry you?  Would you not be prepared to face a howling mob of drunken Bernard Mannings – BM was very much alive at the time – and sober Jeremy Paxmans (or vice versa) in return for the typical tycoon reward packages?”

The Tory press – ie the greater part of our press – is urging those charged with the job of grilling our would be political leaders to focus on the consequences of increasing tax levels for high earners.

So: a tip for senior Labour Party figures facing this ordeal.

Get onto the front foot and ask the overpaid and pampered broadcasters from the BBC to justify the high pay levels doled out by the BBC from its protected position as a public service broadcaster. Ask: why are special arrangements in place to enable broadcasters to reduce their tax liabilities?

And, when things get really nasty – and they will – someone might query the deployment of a comprehensive injunction to suppress media comment on the wholly uninteresting extra marital activities by Mr Andrew Marr- not commendable conduct by a journalist.

By any standards, the case to impose significantly higher taxes on high earners is the low hanging fruit for Labour in the coming days and they should not baulk at the picking thereof.

  1. All pensioners are equal – but some are more equal than others

The hazards facing the aged have been much to the fore as the competing parties have sought to placate the old timers and to assuage their anxieties.

In many of the analyses of the problem that I have seen and read we old timers – I believe that at the age of 76 I just qualify – are portrayed as impoverished, peckish, and chilled out in the old fashioned and disagreeable sense.

There is of course a huge variation in the incomes of pensioners, ranging from the basic pension at the bottom end to those who have managed to secure retirement incomes vastly in excess of these levels at the other end.

Another extract from A Cushy Number:

“Pension arrangements are at least as important as salary. Readers must remember that we have defined – for we read me – the cushiness of a job as being assessed from job start date to job holder death.  Not from start date to retirement!  From start date to death! The significance of pension arrangements will grow, partly because of the combination of early retirements and increasing longevity, but also because the disadvantages of private as compared with public sector pensions are becoming more and more apparent.

“The fact is that the pension arrangements in the UK are now so favourable to one large group at the expense of another large group that the pension issue is possibly the most important single factor in the determination of what are and what are not cushy numbers. This disparity is so crucial that a brief word of explanation is essential. Readers who skip the following explanation will pay for their avoidable ignorance in their twilight years of senile poverty.

“Pension arrangements can be split into two main types, final salary schemes and annuities. With the first type pensioners receive a pension based upon two elements, their final salary and their years of service. These pensions are mostly index linked, and will rise in line with the annual rise in the cost of living. The key point to note is that the pension of this group is typically fixed for life at around 60% of final salary. Those on these schemes will never again experience financial worries, barring some senile attraction to fast young ladies or slow horses or both.”

The Labour Party should get after affluent pensioners with the same resolve as that which they plan to deploy against high earners using the same logic and broadly the same arithmetic.

They must avoid treating pensioners as one heterogeneous group: they should treat those at the bottom end with every care and consideration whilst turning a deaf ear to the poverty pleas of the plutocrat pensioners.

  1. The case for the return of the Czar 

In recent decades, it has been the fashion to appoint all powerful Czars to examine alleged abuses of this or that element of our national life.

One of the most recent examples was the appointment of Mr – now Sir – Eric Pickles to tackle corruption wherever he found it. It may be that Mr Pickles was unlucky or it may be that the corrupt, noting his slow pace about the field, had time to cover their tracks prior to his arrival.

Whatever the explanation, I did not pick up any stories claiming that the portly Mr Pickles had been successful in stemming the tidal wave of corruption that was and remains a prominent feature of our national life.

It has to be said that Mr Paul Dacre (with no Czar title to assist his activities), has been notably successful in flagging up and where appropriate verbally flogging some shady sectors of our society.

A suggestion for Mr Corbyn: appoint a senior figure (the Anti Corruption Czar, or ACC) to do the job with zeal and competence, features sadly lacking whilst Mr Pickles was in post.

While we are at it, how about these suggested additions to the duties and responsibilities of the ACC?

  • The ACC to arrange for the prompt removal from post of senior managers in the public sector and across quango land who are clearly making a balls of the job. ((This last point to be phrased with more delicacy in the actual job description but we old manager johnies know what we mean.) As Macbeth observed, “If it were done when ‘tis done, then  ‘twere well it were done quickly”. There is something to be said for the approach adopted by Mr Trump as he fired Mr Comey from the FBI. The traditional British approach (relocate the failures elsewhere in the system) is a recipe for more failure. So adopt the Trump practice and issue a P45 coupled with an instruction to security to escort the sackee from the building.
  • Give him/her the authority to specify tight completion dates for public enquiries as part of the enquiry remit. The languid Chilcot approach to be relegated to the dustbin of history along with the Maxwellisation factor.

 

  1. Police priorities

Labour must ensure that the police spend a lot less time reviewing the alleged crimes of years ago, in some cases the alleged crimes of the departed, and rather more time focusing on the crimes of today and those being planned for tomorrow.  Numbers do not come cushier than the investigation of yesterday’s crimes.

When there are grounds to investigate the alleged crimes of by gone years the investigators might take a closer look at those doing the alleging: check out their plausibility at the outset.

  1. Higher Education, Not Higher VC Salaries

The entire education system is said by some to be in a bad way, with lack of funding as always a key factor in the parlous state of affairs.

Labour might profitably suggest that University Vice Chancellors spend rather more of their time working to get better performances from the existing facilities and rather less time to working tirelessly to push up their reward packages at every opportunity.

This point applies equally if not more so to the Arthur Daley types that have mysteriously managed to acquire control of groups of schools.

Summing Up

I could go on and on and on, but the June 8 BrexEl is almost upon us, so:

  • The economic framework of the UK is sufficiently strong to allow for a significantly higher average standard of living.
  • Labour should adopt policies that will ensure that the aim of a better country for all rather than for the privileged few is achieved – by better management of our national affairs.
  • Please cast your vote against Mrs May on June 8

 

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Further notes on Brexel, the Brexit General Election

The Brexit General Election campaign is now under way and even at this early stage, a few observations are in order.

In no special order:

  • Most parties, including the Tories, were wrongfooted about the calling of the election, with manifestos being improvised rather than carefully crafted.
  • The spokespersons for the various parties became increasingly irritated as the media interrogators sought to flush out inconsistencies rather than allow the party thinkers to refine and polish the manifestos and policies to be put to the voters. 
  • Sadly the all too evident divisions within Labour prior to April 18 have been exacerbated as some of the comrades anxiously deliberated about how they might position themselves in the time remaining so as to optimise their personal prospects. A few have decided that their prospects are so bleak that they have abandoned ship.
  • There was a slight hiccup in the Lib Dem campaign as Mr Farron foolishly allowed theological and sexual matters briefly to surface and then  to impede the development of a plausible set of policies.
  • For the only other significant party in terms of seats in Westminster, Ms Sturgeon quickly established an effective plan based on business as usual: what is good enough for Mrs May at the UK level is good enough for Ms Sturgeon her at the level of Scotland. A sound and stable approach.
  • UKIP provided us with an abundant helping of farce as they struggled to decide how to defend their hard won victory of a year ago.  The faulty memory of Mr – or is it Dr?- Nuttall is proving something of a handicap.
  • It appears to this outsider that the Tory campaign is gathering momentum with every passing day. Firm evidence for this observation was provided by the outcomes of the local and mayoral elections across most of the UK.

So – Mrs May is striding away from the field and seems set to achieve her goal of moving from the hazards of a narrow majority in Westminster to a significantly stronger position. This stronger position will, in her view at least, enable her to deal with the far more difficult problems that await her in Europe, specifically the exacting and wearying negotiations with the exasperated leaders of the other 27 EU states that wish to remain within the EU.

The UK Brexit of 1940

The last significant Brexit from Europe ended on June 4, 1940, the last day of the miracle of Dunkirk.  I was born at the end of June 1940 and so have no personal recollections of that event, although one of my earliest recollections is of the street party held to celebrate VE day in May 1945.

The current version of Brexit will inevitably generate considerable rancour and mistrust on both sides of the channel as the UK and its former EU partners grapple with the plethora of issues to be resolved in the next few years. On the plus side it is most unlikely that these fraught negotiations will generate anything remotely approaching the impact of World War II and the circumstances surrounding the recovery of Britain from near defeat in 1940 to the unconditional surrender of Germany in 1945. 

A cordial start

 It often happens, however, that when a certain amount of conversation is going on between gentlemen, everyone present does not derive the same impression from it. Especially is this so when some are naturally preoccupied about their own positions.Winston Churchill writing about the very different impressions formed by Free Traders and by those in favour of protection during a Balfour Cabinet Meeting in 1903  

A mere 114 years later, Mrs May and Mr Jean-Claude Juncker arrived at very different views about the atmosphere that had prevailed during a Downing Street dinner on April 26th.   Mrs May thought all had gone swimmingly and constructively, whereas JCJ thought otherwise and, as soon as he was free to do so, he poured out his concerns to Mrs Merkel. In addition and by some mysterious process the JCJ version was quickly and prominently reported in the German media. It would seem that JCJ thought that Mrs May was living in a different galaxy, a slightly implausible suggestion even in these days of strained nerves and sensibilities.  

A terse phase – probably the first of many in the coming months and years

In a dramatic move the PM accused senior EU politicians and officials of issuing threats and leaks deliberately timed to affect the result of the June 8 pollJames Groves, Daily Mail, May 4, 2017

The confusion surrounding the Downing Street dinner was quickly clarified, and in quite brutal fashion. On May 3rd Mrs May convened a gathering of the media pack to have her say. She was in splendid combative form as she took careful aim at her opponents. Her view on this occasion was roughly to say that if that is the way they want then that is the way that they can have it – all good stuff at the level of playground altercations.

The Daily Mail predictably applauded her aggressive stance, but I was less than convinced as to its wisdom. It was wholly unrealistic on her part to call an election solely to strengthen her negotiating position vis a vis the rest of the EU and then to expect her EU opponents to remain aloof from Brexel. The unnamed EU officials and politicians (we know who you are) promptly got their act together and fired off a few preliminary salvos, precisely what you and I would have done were we in their shoes.

It can be confidently asserted that in recent days we have seen a snapshot of what the next few years will be like – a painfully protracted drama/farce in which mendacity, unofficial briefings and misrepresentations will be the order of the day.

In short a replay of the Brexit campaign itself but this time with the active involvement of our former EU partners, now transposed in Mrs May’s rhetoric, into our opponents.                                                                                                           

The view from Brussels

The UK is rightly perceived as the equivalent of a disruptive pupil in an otherwise orderly classroom or, to vary the metaphor, as a drunken raucous guest at an otherwise dignified wedding.

The 27 remainers have more than enough problems without being distracted by the tiresome fractious disruptive Brits.

I suspect that one outcome of the forthcoming Brexel will be that it will have become clear that Mrs M has badly miscalculated in her Vicar of Bray act both as regards abandoning her previous remain stance and as regards changing her previous no election stance. Neither of the above U- turns come across as evidence of strong and stable leadership but rather as clear evidence of shabby opportunism.

 Matters arising during the campaign

 I think the privatisation of near monopolies is about as irrelevant as – and sometimes worse than- were the Labour Partys  proposals for further nationalisation in the 1970s and early 1980s” Roy Jenkins in his autobiography – A Life at the Centre.

The Labour Party has come in for a great deal of criticism for its proposal to return some of the privatised near monopolies to public ownership. This proposal has been cited as evidence of a return to the run up to 1983 general election with its manifesto memorably dubbed as the longest suicide note in history under the shaky if benign leadership of Michael Foot. For my part I am unaware of any Trotskyite sympathies that Mr Roy Jenkins may have harboured and his point about the absurdity of privatising near monopolies is as valid today as it was then.

The Labour Party should go onto the attack in this area and highlight the farce of the cartels that masquerade as competitive businesses: they could add the endorsement of Adam Smith rather than of Karl Marx on this point.

In addition I suspect that there might be significant numbers of Southern Rail passengers who would be relaxed about the axing of the mediocrities who have successfully exploited their monopoly opportunities to cash in.

Campaign invective

Lord Rothermere in accusing Mr Baldwin of having lost a fortune, Mr Baldwin in in accusing Lord Rothermere of being a professing Liberal, had exhausted their armoury of abuse. Each had said the worst thing he knew about the other.” Malcom Muggeridge, The Thirties.

A few critics, notably Lord Finkelstein, have dwelt on the Trotskyite past of some of the senior supporters of Mr Corbyn, with dire warnings about what might happen were Mr Corbyn to emerge stronger from Brexel. Finkelsteins piece in The Times was the metaphorical equivalent of the ice pick used by one of Stalins henchmen to curtail the activities of Leon Trotsky in 1940. 

Might there be some scope for Labour partisans to point out that Lord Finkelstein was, in an earlier epoch, an ardent Social Democrat?

The emergence of  Mr Blair as a factor in Brexel

Mr Blair has cautiously argued the case for those voters unhappy with the whole idea of Brexit to combine in some as yet unspecified way in order to oppose Brexit. There are still several weeks to go to Brexel and it might well be the case that the most accomplished harvester of votes in modern times could make a significant contribution.

His detractors (no shortage of those across the UK political spectrum) argue that Mr Blair is well past his sell date but I am not so sure. When I am told that Mr Boris Johnson, the principle guilty Brexiteer, is expected to play a key role in the coming fractious discussions, then I am more than happy to contemplate the rehabilitation and return of Mr Blair.

Who are the rich?

One tricky issue that has arisen is the need to establish who are the rich in the context of a debate on the pros and cons of funding various Labour proposals by the agreeable process of soaking the rich.

Does an annual income of £70,000 put you into the McDonnell rich list? How about £700,000? How about £7 million? The answer becomes more clear cut as you add the noughts.

Mr McDonnell was understandably reluctant to be pinned down as he awaited a figure from those in his party busily compiling the party manifesto. Why not simply announce a steadily rising tax rate above the current 45% to a level of say 90% for those earning above £1 million per annum.

In the good old days when I was still a member of the hard working class a small amount of my income was taxed at the top rate. I was never persuaded of the fairness of an income tax system that applied the same arithmetic to my modest income as it did to the earnings of – let us say – Sir Martin Sorrell.

The imposition of a steeply-rising tax rate for soaring incomes would help to focus the minds of the super rich on serving the interests of the companies that employ them instead of working tirelessly to loot the system. This point applies with equal validity to those on high retirement pensions. (This latter category that cannot plausibly assert that they will take their talents elsewhere.)

Other Issues

Labour should develop a policy to deal with underperforming managers in the public sector and in the no mans’ land that comprises territory controlled neither by the public sector nor by the private sector but by the Quangoland –  managed in the main by the descendants of Mr Arthur Daley.

Replace the present policy of retaining and/or rewarding the failures by a system which entails the prompt clearing of desks, and being escorted off the premises.  (As Private Eye might put it: prompt P45s to replace trebles all round.)

Conclusion

There are many persuasive arguments other than the Brexit argument to vote Labour on June 8.

However let me end by appealing to readers to ascertain the views of all the candidates seeking election to the new parliament and then to cast their votes for the candidate most favourably inclined to abandon Brexit and seek to retain our membership of the EU.

Mrs May might well prevail on the on the home front, she might well increase her majority, and that outcome would improve the chances of the UK leaving the Europe: if that is what you want then vote accordingly.

However, if you wish to take advantage of this May-sent opportunity to put the Brexit process into reverse and remain in the EU – then you know what to do.

If the outcome on June 8 does not bring comfort to Mrs May, then our many friends in the EU, not to mention the 48% in the UK that voted to remain, will heave a collective sigh of relief and discuss how best to plan for a speedy return to the status quo ante.

Image courtesy of Daily Express

 

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BrexEl – The Theresa May Brexit Election

“ I have been very clear —– I have been very clear ——- I have been very clear —-” repeated ad nauseam  by Mrs May, and especially since her re-location to No 10

“ Oh FFS. Not this shitshow again”  – Deborah Ross-The Times – April 20, 2017. (An unseemly but understandable optional response to BrexEl. I can only guess at the detail of the FFS acronym.)

Just after 11 am on Tuesday April 18 Theresa May emerged from No 10 Downing Street to announce to the waiting and bemused media throng that she had decided to call a General Election on June the 8th.

She went on to outline her reasons for taking this decision, and, given that she was making a 180 degree turn from her previously stated position, it is worth noting these reasons.

She quickly stressed her ongoing commitment to implement the will of the people as embodied in the June 23, 2016 referendum, and then proceeded to outline her concerns going forward.

“The country is coming together but Westminster is not..   In recent weeks Labour has threatened  to vote against the deal we reach with the EU. The Lib Dems have said that they want to grind the business of government to a standstill.  The SNP say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the EU . Unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.

“Our opponents believe that because the government’s majority is so small , our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course. They are wrong.”

“The House of Lords is not the watch dog of the constitution – it is Mr Balfour‘s poodle  — Lloyd George 1908″

For some of us the resolve of the House of Lords to “fight us every inch of the way” marks a refreshing change from its position not so much that of a poodle but rather that of a bulldog in its fierce support of conservative administrations down the  centuries.

Now Mrs May will know how Mr Asquith and later Mr Attlee felt about the House of Lords.

The Welsh connection 

Like Mrs May I recently walked in the Welsh hills. Unlike Mrs May I did not use my foray to reflect on grave national and global matters. For my part as I struggled during the long ascent from Talybont to the top of Waun Rydd  I was preoccupied with the thought that I would be pleased when I got to the top.

I saw  a lot of sheep during my walk and I suspect that Mrs May also saw a lot of sheep during her walks. It might – just might – have crossed her mind to draw comparisons between the behaviour of the docile grazing sheep and the attitude of the great majority of MPs from across the political spectrum – anything for a quiet life.

So – why not shake them up now in order to acquire a greater degree of control post June 8 over the flock – show them who is the Shepherd  and who are the sheep.

The opening Theresa May speech deconstructed / translated according to taste. 

In The Times (April 19) Philip Collins translated her speech from Downing Street speech into language that you and I can understand.   Others have rushed into print and onto the airwaves and into social media to create a tsunami of interpretation.

You pays your money and you takes your choice – one of the many benefits of living in a free enterprise economy.

“Well, now they’ve got the second referendum they wanted – dressed up as General Election” Richard Littlejohn — Daily Mail April 19

In his article Littlejohn argued that we are facing not a General Election as rationally understood but simply a re-play of June 23rd 2016, and that  “they” are the remainers who have been individually and collectively hoping, like Mr Micawber, that something would turn up.

Well it has now.

In the last 18 months or so Tribune has published 2 pieces by me in which I argued the case for the UK to remain in the EU. My views have not changed and in the following notes  I suggest how the opposition parties and Tory remainers might react to and confront the shabby opportunism of Mrs May.

The one fact to emerge from her announcement – the point which fully justifies her claim to consistent clarity – is that she has called the election to allow herself to move into a political comfort zone, a zone which gives her much more scope to deal with dissenters.

The dissenters vary from those who want her to speed up the Brexit process to those who would like to reverse the Brexit process.

This election is a single issue election and that issue is how most effectively to implement our departure. I believe that the most effective response by her opponents will be to take her at her word – on this occasion – and to take the opportunity afforded during the next few weeks to restate the case to reverse the outcome of June 2016.

A  stroll down memory lane

Nothing has happened in the past 10 months to persuade me that the June 23 referendum was not a poor advertisement for the UK brand of democracy – an unseemly amalgam of mendacity and squalid opportunism, with both elements prominently on show with  BOJO and Michael Gove.  BOJO was duly rewarded for his treachery by acquiring some – not all – of the Foreign Office whilst Gove was awarded the consolation prize of honorary poodle for Mr Murdoch.

Mr Paul Dacre continues to hurl insults at those who refuse to accept that the outcome of the referendum was good for Britain.

So – how should the remainers approach the June 8 election?

More to the point – what should their objectives be, how should they campaign most effectively to achieve these objectives and how and on what basis should they cast their votes?

In practical terms –  I suggest that they  treat the June 2017 General Election in exactly the same way that Mrs M has been and is treating it, namely as an opportunity to replay the June 2016 referendum.

Mrs May is seeking to strengthen her position as she prepares to engage with the 27 countries wishing to remain.

In so doing she has put into the hands of the remainers a weapon of considerable potential strength – they should use it!

In short – as Mr Micawber would say  – Mrs May sees the June 8 General Election as a single issue election. She is asking the British people to facilitate her task in the coming months and years AND years.

I see June 8 in the same terms but with a diametrically opposing objective – to use this replay of the 2016 referendum as a golden opportunity to rip up article 50, to apologise to the other 27 and to return to business as usual with our EU friends.

What might this approach mean in voting terms?

This could not be more simple – it would require that every candidate in every constituency would be asked to state their position with regard to Brexit  with – to coin a phrase – great clarity.

Views expressed would range from:-

  • At the one extreme  –  The UK to leave the EU as quickly as possible – speed of departure to be a crucial aim, even at the expense of  waiting a little to secure better terms .
  • At the other extreme –  The June 2016 referendum result to be put into reverse and the UK to return to the status quo ante

The tricky bit – with the views of the candidates having been secured – voters to be urged to support the candidates most committed to the remain camp. This support to take precedence over all traditional party loyalties with the overriding aim of securing the future of the UK within the European Union.

In short  – all those seeking to reverse the June 2016  result  should treat the June 8, 2017  election as a second referendum on remain or leave and to vote accordingly.

United we stand – Divided we fall (Well – up to point, Lord Copper)

*  UK referendum about our EU membership in June, 2016- stay or leave

Stay – 48%

Leave – 52%

* USA Presidential election

% for Trump – 46

% for Clinton – 48

* Turkey – Erdogan referendum to retain the status quo or to cede extra powers to the President

% for no change – 49

% to accept the Erdogan plans – 51

Poll of outside experts questioned about the likely outcome of any referendum held in North Korea about the popularity of the leader Mr Kim Jong-Un

% who believe that he is the man for the job – 100

It would appear that Mrs May is uneasy about her membership of the very low 50s club and would like to edge up the league table towards the enviable position of Mr Kim Jong-Un.

A word about unintended consequences

A number of issues have surfaced since June 24, 2016, some more serious than others, but all to some degree falling into the category of unintended consequences.

They include :-

Difficulties over the out status of Ulster and the in status of The Republic of Ireland.

  • A perceived readiness by Spain to lay claim to Gibraltar. On this matter the readiness of those old sea dogs Michael Howard and Michael Fallon to growl at would be trespassers did little to foster international good will
  • The possibility – to put it no stronger- that key personnel required by various sectors of the UK economy would not be allowed to come here.
  • Another even more unfortunate possibility is that some key people already here and holding down important jobs might not be allowed to remain. The status of this group of unfortunates is that of hostages caught up in a conflict not of their choice.
  • Nicola Sturgeon, wholly predictably, is proving immune to appeals to “Be British” and is working tirelessly in pursuit of her goal of an independent Scotland – and who shall blame her for doing on a small stage exactly what Mrs May is doing on the larger stage.

Immigration

Some commentators argued before and after the June 2016 referendum that Immigration was the main issue that determined the outcome, and that the no vote was in large measure the outcome of decades of ignoring the concerns of those who were uneasy about large scale immigration  and saw the referendum as a one off opportunity to express their concerns in the only way open to them.

There is clearly some truth in this assertion and the remainers can and must do better than simply label this group as racists.

The fact is that there is scope to reach a compromise between the Free Movement of people of people within the EU on the one hand and closed borders on the other.

Some sections of the Labour Party and especially within the Trade Unions recognise that in practice the free movement policy has been used to erode employee terms and conditions in the UK,  and that the sort of generous relocation expenses available to those at the top are simply not there for those at the bottom.

The weaknesses of the EU – with or without UK membership

Remainers should recognise the valid concerns of many in the UK – and throughout the EU – about the democratic shortcomings of  aspects  of some EU institutions.

Sadly some critics tend to lump their concerns together under the general heading of “Bloated Bureaucracy – a valid but vague criticism. Why not take the extra step of spelling out what ought to change and why in order to bring about greater accountability and a leaner institution.

I suggest that remainers should examine the strong case for:-

  • A European Union where power is devolved to local level to the maximum possible extent.
  • This point to apply even to legal matters, indeed especially to legal matters.
  • Work to end the system of MEPS being elected on a party basis. Electors to vote for named individuals rather than for parties.
  • Remainers to ensure that the MEPS elected to EU parliament are constantly reminded of the need to tackle – not address!- the  corruption in EU institutions

Closing points

  • I urge the electorate to take the opportunity generously afforded them by Mrs May to reverse the June 2016 result.
  • I  urge them to grasp that the case to remain in the EU  is more important than the fortunes of any political party, however strong the traditional loyalties and ties.
  • If Mrs May can change her mind with such breath taking insouciance – why should the rest of us not follow her lead?
  • The UK would recover more quickly from a spell under Mr Corbyn and/or Mr Farron and/or Ms Sturgeon than it would in the post Brexit chaos under the collective thumbs of Mrs May and BOJO and Mr Murdoch and Mr Paul Dacre.
  • I hope that the British electorate will take this heaven sent opportunity to bring about a return to stability and relative domestic tranquillity.

An abbreviated version of this article first appeared in Tribune in May, 2017

 

 

 

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A tragedy on an industrial scale

The whole future of the British steel industry hangs in the balance. Belatedly, the flooding of global markets with Chinese steel has been recognised as a development that has been especially significant for Tata Steel in the United Kingdom.

The Conservative Government has struggled to keep up with the rapidly deteriorating situation. The phrase “ headless chickens “ comes to mind. And now chickens –headless and otherwise – are coming home to roost.

The global financial crisis of 2008 triggered enormous damage to the global economy in general and to the European steel sector in particular. The national steel outputs of most major European Union producers fell by around 40 per cent in the following 12 months and the damage to the stability of the sector was lasting and serious.

In October 2014, I was working as a consultant to the Steel Committee, a body made of full time officials of unions with members employed in the UK steel sector. I was uneasy to hear that Tata Steel wished to sell its UK Long Products business to Gary Klesch, an American billionaire with a dubious CV in these disreputable markets.

Discussions fell through but now Marc and Nathaniel Meyohas, two brothers behind Greybull, an investment firm with a similar approach to business matters as that of the Klesch Group, are to buy the Scunthorpe steelworks from Tata.  It is an indictment of Tata senior management that steel workers in Scunthorpe have so lost patience that they are prepared, if not to support, then at least to go along with this.

In my report to the Steel Committee in 2014, I noted that Long Products lost money in the five-month period April to August 2013. The Tata board had understandably expressed concern at the scale of the losses and insisted that Long Products must break even that year or there would be unpalatable consequences.  Tata outlined various initiatives to ensure that the business would be profitable. These were endorsed by the Steel Committee and local trade union officials, and some of the targets set were achieved.

But the Long Products business continued to be aversely affected by confusion over head count requirements – the exact number of employees required to produce the forecast order book.

In my report to the Steel Committee, based on extensive discussions with Scunthorpe managers and local officials I said that I had seen no evidence that the head count review was being conducted in a way that might put at risk the future operation of the business. There were opportunities for further reductions that would not put at risk the future operation of the business. If these were not taken, Long Products would be storing up problems that would sooner or later trigger another crisis.

For at least 10 years, first Corus and latterly Tata argued that the UK steel sector was treated unfairly by competitors in the European Union. Contributing to an uneven playing field were energy costs, arrangements for the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, alleged preferential treatment in Europe of local steel suppliers when placing steel orders for public sector projects in breach of EU rules and the significantly large levels of local taxation in the UK as compared with local taxes in Europe.

Now, if UK steel is to survive, all tenders for UK construction projects will be required to seek to source steel from UK plants.

Tata Steel appointed Kirby Adams as chief executive of its European operations in 2009. His performance was poor in some key areas, especially in his maladroit handling of the closure of the Redcar site. And his brief reign was marked by the precipitate departure of three highly regarded senior managers.

He was succeeded by Karl-Ulrich Köhler, who showed commendable energy, enthusiasm and unfailing courtesy as he struggled to get on top of a formidable catalogue of problems and put the business on a sound financial footing. Unfortunately, these qualities did not deliver the planned improvements and, as failure followed failure, he was increasingly perceived to be unsure as to the root causes of the problems and accordingly prone to adopt inappropriate solutions.

Adams and Kohler were appointed by the main board of Tata Steel and accordingly the board of Tata Steel has to acknowledge its collective responsibility for their respective shortcomings.

Tata should be commended for by investing heavily in Port Talbot and especially in iron-making facilities. So it is all the more regrettable that this commitment was accompanied by some dire outcomes in terms of the management of the investment project. Actual iron outputs were way below planned levels with significant adverse consequences for sales and profits.

Now Tata intends to pull out of the UK and will either sell or close all its British operations. It beggars belief that the commitment shown so recently in Port Talbot should be jettisoned so abruptly. Is Tata really saying that it had no contingency plans to deal with a switch by China to export markets? If yes, what does that say about Tata’s ability to cope with future major changes and shifts?

Ratan Tata recently described the UK steel industry as “overmanned and underinvested”. His comments may be unwise, given that he was chairman of the Tata Group from 1991-2012. It is the responsibility of management to establish the number of employees required to produce the planned order book. Ratan Tata spoke as if all these serious business problems are nothing to do with him. If the top man can make so detached a criticism of his own company, then it is small wonder that this attitude permeates down the management chain. Presumably, Tata Steel did not expect Roy Rickhuss, the chairman of the Steel Committee and general secretary of Community, the union which represents steel workers, to submit a list of job cuts to be implemented by the company.

Sanjeev Gupta has emerged as a possible saviour of UK steel. He has acquired and is now operating the old Alpha Steel Hot Strip Mill in Newport and has said that in the event that matters proceed further, he would see the Port Talbot mills being sourced from arc furnaces rather than via the blast furnace route.

However, the two Port Talbot blast furnaces have just been rebuilt at a very significant cost, and now rank among the most productive (and cleanest) in Europe.

Any issues arising over the Port Talbot head count could be resolved if it were to take the approach adopted in Llanwern whereby the head count is the minimum required to produce and sell the forecast order book.

The level of imports from China has clearly been a major factor in the declining fortunes of UK steel. However, all steel producers in the EU have been adversely affected but only the British sector appears to face the prospect of extinction.

Actions to consider include strong British Government for support EU-wide measures to curb dumping and unions backing a “Remain” vote in the forthcoming EU referendum. Better together than alone in any tariff discussions. to match those levied in Europe.

The closure of one of the best blast furnaces in Europe in Redcar and the very real threat of closure of two others, taken together, represent the most appalling example of irresponsible business vandalism in UK industrial history.

We need to plan on the basis that sooner rather than later the China dumping problem will be solved. Accordingly, everything possible should be done to rebuild a lean UK steel sector capable of competing in global markets. The Government must take action on energy costs, emissions trading costs, local business rates and ensure that UK steel used for UK construction projects. In some ways, restructuring is the trickiest area of all. Tata has, in recent years, used the term as a euphemism for job cutting rather than as an attempt to build business organisations geared to the needs of customers and markets.

Any attempt to repair the wreckage left by Tata should pay special attention to recapturing some of the good features of the previous structure operated by Corus and initially by Tata, such as arrangements for purchasing raw materials and sharing technical expertise.  Governments (of whatever persuasion) do not have a good track record in this area, and nor do regional and local authorities. They failed to detect what was about to happen and prepare effective measures to protect the industry. Efforts to secure the best possible terms for redundant steel workers and efforts to find a buyer for the Redcar plant are not mutually exclusive.

In 1936, King Edward VII visited South Wales and opined that “something must be done” to alleviate the distressed areas. Now is the time for effective, realistic and prompt measures to avoid the creation of a similar barren landscape.

This article was first published in Tribune on April 15, 2016