Read the article here.
Alan Simpson opens: “The nation is at war. Peacetime production has slumped, foreign travel collapsed, casualties rise. In every part of the country, people anxiously worry about how to avoid the enemy. This time, however, it is germs, not Germans, that we fear!”
What Britain needed was wartime mobilisation for peacetime survival. Instead handwashing and a mêlée of ‘unofficial’ messages have been offered that simply add to public confusion and anxiety.
He sees Boris Johnson’s preference for encouraging individual behaviour change (rather than more interventionist ‘test-and-trace’ and ‘social distancing’ policies) as likely to deliver a slower drift into a much deeper problem.
Most offensive of all is his claim that ‘herd immunity’ is what will save us is offensive, because “throughout history, herd immunity comes only after widespread infection and substantial death rates. Even the benefits are often short lived; with immunity not comprehensively passed on to succeeding generations of the herd”.
Johnson’s policy of turning his back on more interventionist measures, may result in ‘A Very British Cull’; ironically, one getting shut of large numbers of the voters who put him into power.
Simpson’s article predicts – according to the pattern revealed in Italy – that in less than three weeks – assuming the rate of increase remains constant – the total number of cases in Britain will have exceeded 16,000.
The World Health Organisation now says that China’s most effective strategy was the extensive testing, pro-active detection and immediate isolation of patients. This is what rapidly reduced infection rates. By choosing not to adopt vigorous ‘test-and-trace’ policies, Britain has opted not to know precise numbers. Simpson anticipates that by the end of three weeks, the capacity of the NHS to deal with the Coronavirus epidemic will be close to breaking point.
Due to the scale of NHS cuts since 2010 the UK has only 6.6 ‘critical care’ beds/100,000, whereas Italy has 12.5 ‘critical care’ beds/100,000 people. 14,000 EU nationals left the NHS during Britain’s Brexit debacle and there has been an 87% fall in NHS job applications that followed this.
His generation (the older generation) mustn’t miss the chance to face painful home truths. Coronavirus is to the elderly what climate is to the young. If population growth is a problem, it isn’t the kids. It’s those of us living longer. Coronavirus has grasped this in a way that prejudice doesn’t.
Far too often climate campaigners come across indifferent (older) voices saying “It’s population, not climate, you should worry about. So let’s look at the actual numbers. According to the UN, out of today’s global population of 7.6 billion there are about 2 billion children (under 15). By 2100, when the population may rise to 12 billion, the number of children is projected to be … 2 billion.
An economic implosion in 2020 is unavoidable
No amount of Central Bank interest-rate reductions will avert this. Societies that are afraid to go outside, or share the air they breathe, and have lost faith in the safety nets they once took for granted, are only ever semi-functional. But it is around the silver linings of such a collapse that tomorrow’s New Jerusalem will have to be built.
The silver lining to a dire situation
In the absence of government leadership, whole communities have been quietly stepping up to the plate; providing the leadership the nation lacks. In Wuhan, an impromptu army of young volunteers, transporting food around on empty buses, has delivered the food and medicines that has kept others alive. It is what happens in a war. Dad’s Army, Mum’s Army and (increasingly) Kid’s Armies have stepped in, providing the emergency safety nets their society needs. One way or another, we are all following China’s lead. In the UK, the most visible sign of this came from those volunteering as emergency responders; providing non-medical support services to the NHS.
As self-isolation increases, it appears too in local support networks. We’re part of a neighbourhood ‘internet Group’ that offers shopping and support to anyone self-isolating. Go onto Twitter, WhatsApp or Facebook and you will find these in their thousands, all across the country.
Some reports suggest that up to 3 million UK volunteers are stepping in this space. Increasingly, as older/more vulnerable members self-isolate, it is younger people who underpin these safety nets. Slowly, we are rediscovering what previous generations did in wartime. They called it ‘social solidarity’.
Simpson forecasts that today’s crisis will see carbon emissions tumble, pollution levels plummet, and a generation of younger people emerge as social saviours. Around them a very different Green New Deal must then be written. Tomorrow’s security will require a more circular, cleaner, inclusive economics. It will have to put back to the planet more than it takes out, and turn its back on beliefs that we can just shop our way from one crisis to another. This won’t be before time.
In 2018, the Times (paywall) reported the verdict of MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee: “The apprenticeship levy is not working. It was meant to incentivise large employers to invest more in apprenticeships by requiring them to pay into a central fund from which they can claim back some or all of their training costs.
Instead it has led employers to recoup the cost of existing in-house training schemes by relabelling them as apprenticeships.
She noted that more companies are setting themselves up as training providers and that Ofsted says that it will struggle to keep tabs on these. The following year her report pointed out that too many apprentices were still being trained by sub-standard providers.
Around a third of apprentices covered by Ofsted inspections in 2017/18 were being trained by providers rated as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’. The poor quality of some contributed to a situation where over 30% of apprentices fail to complete their apprenticeship successfully each year.
A letter to the Times editor added: “The Learndirect scandal serves as a stark case: an organisation was allowed to take on more and more learners (reaching 75,000) when warning signs of inadequate training and poor financial management were already being issued”.
The Financial Times reminded readers that Learndirect was privatised and sold to the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank in 2011 but is still reliant on government funding. When the Public Accounts Committee questioned Learndirect and Ofsted, Ofsted revealed the findings of Learndirect’s “inadequate” performance and the ‘legal shenanigans’ used to prevent earlier revelations. The findings included:
The National Audit office’s 2019 report focussed on the cost of apprenticeships and the low rate of uptake. In its first full year of operation, the apprenticeship levy raised £2.7 billion and this is expected to rise to £3.4 billion by 2023-24. However, there have been repeated warnings in recent months that the funding pot generated by the levy is about to run out
Earlier this month the Financial Times reported on an Education and Skills (EDSK) report, based on official data, which has investigated what is happening with the apprenticeship levy and the apprenticeship system in England more broadly.
It found that 50% of apprenticeships funded by the levy are ‘fake’, citing figures which relate closely to those reported by the Public Accounts Committee, recorded in the FT box above:
- Some £1.2bn of the £2.4bn money raised since the levy was introduced in April 2017 had been spent on “fake” apprenticeships, rebadged MBA courses and low-skilled jobs training,
- £550m of levy funding had been spent on management training courses for experienced employees, which previously would have been funded from professional development budgets.
- Highly qualified academics, many of whom already have PhDs, had been relabelled as apprentices in order to put them through levy-funded professional development courses.
- And £235m had been used to teach people in low-skilled jobs, including working at a shop checkout or serving in a bar, often requiring minimal training, which pay low wages and do not meet any established definition of an apprentice.
Last July Boris Johnson said that, while he will always “defend and extol the advantages of having a degree, there are far too many young people who leave university with huge debts, and no clear sense of how their academic qualification has helped their career.” He has pledged to “elevate practical and technical qualifications” to “recognise their immense value to society and to the individual” and to raise funding for apprenticeships.
As – regrettably – Learndirect has re-emerged in the apprenticeship sector under a new name: Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd., EDSK reflects that government pays private providers taxpayers’ money to deliver public services but can fail to monitor the results or truly penalise those that do not deliver. It recommends the Department for Education to tighten rules to stop financing of rebadged MBAs and low-skilled training and introduce a new definition of apprenticeship, benchmarked against the world’s best technical education systems.
Political strategist in the FT: Corbyn-Labour’s ideas are framing the decisions the new government is making
Johnson is ‘parking his tanks on Labour’s lawn’
Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that the Labour party “won the argument” in the UK general election has stunned some commentators, but John McTernan a widely experienced political strategist, argues that – to use Corbyn’s words – Labour has “rewritten the terms of political debate”.
The Conservative party won the election, but they are far from winning the battle of ideas. In the Financial Times today McTernan describes Johnson – elected on the promise of “getting Brexit done” – as being devoid of policies which would retain the new electorate the Conservatives now represent. He cites the worst Conservative attempt to devise an agenda aimed at working people shown in an infographic after a recent budget in which their boasts about cutting tax on beer and bingo., was widely burlesqued (below left).
McTernan points to the funding for NHS concession on nurses’ bursaries packaged with other policies as a significant reversal of direction and says that Mr Johnson’s promise to intervene, to buy British and to use state aid to protect UK industries is also being interpreted as “another example of parking his tanks on Labour’s lawn”. He comments: “When Tory plans for new council house building are announced or the remake of rail franchising begins, it will all be the hand of Mr Corbyn”.
But, he asks, “at what point does the mask actually become the face?”
Not in the immediate future, fear those concerned about the post election disability ruling by the government’s Department for Work & Pensions.
A historical perspective
- Labour would propose a policy.
- The Tory government would denounce it as extreme.
- The tabloid press would pile in.
- Then the government would adopt it after all.
It happened with energy price caps. And it happened with the living wage. But he ends:
“(S)omething deeper is going on. From corporate capitalism to housing, from climate change to transport, Labour’s ideas are framing the decisions the new government is making” – a movement that is not going to disappear.
A Hall Green reader has drawn attention to William Davies’ Guardian article (Dec. 13th), in which he points out that the election was not won by an ordinary political party, with policies, members and ideology. It was won by a single-issue, new-media startup. You might call it the Vote Boris campaign – fronted by a TV star and funded by hedge funds and wealthy British entrepreneurs who donated heavily to Vote Leave. Davies asks: “But who knows what they will get in return?”
“Get Brexit done”, like Donald Trump’s “build a wall”, was a mantra with which those who think the establishment is a stitch-up could identify.
For the desperate men and women living in the abandoned economic regions of the Midlands and north only a Trump figure would be enough to draw them to the polls and the chances of the 2016 referendum result offering anything transformative to the former Labour voters of Blyth Valley or Bolsover, beyond the occasional culture-war titbit, are minimal.
Johnson did just enough to convince former Brexit party voters that he was on their side and his dog whistles hit home for well-off elderly voters, seduced by Faragist visions of national identity.
By the end of the campaign, he was performing a kind of Jeremy Clarkson role – obliterating any democratic dialogue or interrogation by driving a forklift truck or dressing up as a milkman.
As milkman, Boris Johnson attracted some less than respectful comments – see the New European
The Johnson government had an unprecedented relationship with the media during the campaign:
- threatening public service broadcasters,
- excluding the Daily Mirror from its campaign bus,
- enjoying seamless coordination with the conservative press,
- using “Boris” to distract from every unwelcome news item,
If the new government maintains that relationship it will be virtually impossible for it to be held to account. Just like Trump, Johnson’s capacity to make headlines and change the subject means the damage he has done is forgotten and we are locked in a perpetual present, arguing over the details of what he’s doing right now.
Can we expect the rebranded “people’s government” – with its proven smoke and mirrors dexterity – to embrace normal democratic scrutiny? Challenging this juggernaut will be a large and complex project for Her Majesty’s opposition.
Read William Davies’ article here.
The Financial Times reported that during the TV leaders’ debate on November 19th, the Conservative party was accused of duping the public after rebranding one of its official Twitter accounts – @CCHQPress – into what appeared to be an independent fact checking service like those developed by independent organisations and media groups such as the BBC, the Guardian and Channel 4.
A Moseley reader draws attention to Peter Oborne’s perception of ‘a systemic dishonesty within Johnson’s campaigning machine‘
Oborne cites another attempt to dupe the public: “(Johnson’s) party deliberately doctored footage of the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, to make it look as if he was at a loss for words when asked about Labour’s Brexit position. In fact, Starmer had answered confidently and fluently. The video was a deliberate attempt to mislead voters. And when Piers Morgan tackled the Tory chairman, James Cleverly, on the issue, he refused to accept he’d done anything wrong, let alone apologise”.
Oborne: “As someone who has voted Conservative pretty well all my life, this upsets me. As the philosopher Sissela Bok has explained, political lying is a form of theft. It means that voters make democratic judgments on the basis of falsehoods. Their rights are stripped away”.
He has also charged many of the British media with ‘letting Johnson get away unchallenged with lies, falsehoods and fabrication’. His examination of Boris Johnson’s claims, published on November 18th, includes these instances:
- Some of the lies are tiny. During a visit to a hospital he tells doctors that he’s given up drink, when only the previous day he’d been filmed sipping whisky on a visit to a distillery. And sips beer on film the day after in a pub.
- But many are big. Johnson repeatedly claims that Britain’s continued membership of the EU costs an extra £1bn a month. False.
- He claims he is building 40 new hospitals. Sounds good. But it’s a lie that has already been exposed by fact-checkers, including the website Full Fact.
- Another misleading statement: “20,000 more police are operating on our streets to fight crime and bring crime down”. Recruitment will take place over three years and do no more than replace the drop in officer numbers seen since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
- Jeremy Corbyn has “plans to wreck the economy with a £1.2 trillion spending plan”. Labour’s manifesto hasn’t been published, let alone fully costed. Johnson’s £1.2tn is a palpable fabrication.
- The Labour leader “thinks home ownership is a bad idea and is opposed to it”. I have been unable to find any evidence of Corbyn expressing this view.
- On his potential conflict of interest over his friend Jennifer Arcuri, who received £11,500 from an organisation he was responsible for as London mayor, Johnson said: “Everything was done with complete propriety and in the normal way.” We now know he failed to declare this friendship, and is being investigated by the Independent Office of Police Conduct.
- Johnson then told his TV audience that Corbyn “wouldn’t even stick up for this country when it came to the Salisbury poisonings” and that he sided with Russia. In the aftermath of the poisonings, Corbyn wrote in the Guardian: “Either this was a crime authored by the Russian state; or that state has allowed these deadly toxins to slip out of the control it has an obligation to exercise.” The Labour leader also stated that the Russian authorities must be held to account.
A friend said gloomily that he learnt nothing new from yesterday’s leaders’ debates. I agreed with that – apart from the production of the redacted NHS dossier, which has been overlooked in many media accounts.
Though I learnt nothing new the debate reinforced my view that one of the two participants is stable, honest, caring and visionary – and that the other is quite different.
NHS: Boris Johnson proposes to let Africa and India educate our medics, engineers, scientists and technicians – then poach them
Early this morning Radio 5 reported that Boris Johnson has promised to lure more medics educated in poorer countries by halving the cost of the ‘NHS visa’ and speeding up the application process. This followed an announcement of measures to attract specialists in science, engineering and technology.
Boris Johnson proposes to intensify the harmful practice of importing doctors, nurses, workers in agriculture, service industries and IT experts from poorer countries. Rather than bearing the costs of educating our own, he advocates depriving developing countries of the able young enterprising citizens they desperately need.
In March, the Telegraph quoted figures from the General Medical Council showing that last year Britain imported more doctors than it trains. New figures show a steep rise in the numbers recruited from overseas. 53% of those joining the medical register came from overseas to do so – a rise from 39% in 2015.
This is the first time since 2006 that overseas doctors have outnumbered UK medics joining the register
NHS Providers, representing hospital, mental health, ambulance and community services, has written to Boris Johnson to demand action (FT 5.11.19). It made ominous references to ‘a complicated pension problem’ and advises recycling some unused employer pension contributions as salary.
Rule changes introduced in 2016 meant that rising numbers of consultants and other senior staff were facing unexpected tax bills linked to the value of their pensions. The FT article alleges that some high earners are left some facing effective marginal tax rates of more than 100% and in June the Guardian reported that some staff have had to remortgage their homes to cover their tax bills, while others were faced with the choice of cutting their hours.
Raise job satisfaction: as austerity continues, news of distressing delays and anecdotal accounts of neglect in NHS hospitals abound. A Labour government could:
- heed Simon Stevens, head of the NHS: “We need to train more health professionals in this country and that includes doctors. We’ve got five new medical schools coming online as we speak which will be a 25% increase in undergraduate medical places – arguably, that needs to be more”;
- reduce ratio of managers to medical staff;
- train nurses on the wards for the first three years before they undertake part-time university or technical education and
- as pledged by the Department of Health in 2007, bring back matrons who would once more be responsible for all the nursing and domestic staff, overseeing all patient care, and the efficient running of the hospital.
“We’re emptying Romania of doctors” a moral issue
Simon Stevens, speaking at the Spectator Health Summit in London, said the health service must stop “denuding low income countries of health professionals they need” amid warnings of a growing moral crisis. We need to do so in a way that is ethical so we are not, certainly, denuding low income countries of health professionals they clearly need,”
See https://thenewleam.com/2018/01/crisis-public-health-system-india/ There were many excellent photographs of long queues to see doctors in rural India but Alamy demanded a high price for them.
In March. the Telegraph reported that cancer surgeon Professor J Meirion Thomas told the conference: “We’re emptying Romania of doctors … they’re coming from eastern Europe, they’re coming from Pakistan, India, Egypt and they’re coming from Nigeria . . .
“I think there is a moral issue here. We are poaching doctors from abroad and have done for decades. They are coming from countries where they have been trained at public expense and where they are sorely needed.”
“Mr Corbyn comes to life on the stump”
Above: Corbyn in Trafford, May 2019
Mr Shrimsley estimates that a vote share above 30% may be enough to prevent a Tory majority adding that, given likely losses in Remain strongholds, Mr Johnson needs 40-50 gains.
Other points made include those summarised below.
Having alienated the Democratic Unionists, the Conservatives have no natural coalition partners and face the ‘potentially wrecking impact’ of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Several other parties might support Labour or at least tolerate an anti-Johnson administration. The early evidence is that Remainers may be reconciling themselves to voting Labour where necessary.
Labour has a coherent narrative. The last three years have been no advert for Tory efficiency and the last nine have not left most people feeling better off
It has a raft of policies with appeal to core groups. It has baubles for young and old, tenants and workers. It will not be outbid on public services.
Voters’ current experiences are of austerity and cuts. Labour can, for example, note that Mr Johnson’s promised 20,000 extra police will only restore numbers to their 2010 level.
Plans to nationalise water and rail companies will play well, as will promises to give workers more say and more pay.
Labour also has a radical agenda on the environment, perhaps the most salient issue for younger voters.
And the wild card? As Camilla Cavendish (former No10 adviser) points out: “Mr Corbyn comes to life on the stump; Mr Johnson doesn’t always seem to do his homework”
The Telegraph reports that MP James Cleverly, who is in charge of the Tory election campaign, says that he is aware of individuals, including entrepreneurs and other business figures, some Jewish, who plan to leave the country if Labour were to win the election.
Would that be noticed? Many – like the Telegraph’s owners – already spend much of their time away from Britain.
Surely they could survive relatively unscathed, despite paying taxes in full and ‘coming to an arrangement’ with the currently short-staffed inland revenue service, paying their workers a living wage and bearing the costs of any pollution emitted by their businesses?
Mr Cleveley shows compassion for those whom he says are planning to leave, but appears to lack sympathy for the less fortunate. The Independent reported that, according to Parliament’s register of interests, Cleverly was one of 72 Conservative MPs voting against the amendment who personally derived an income from renting out property. He opposed – and therefore delayed – legislation which would have required private landlords to make their homes “fit for human habitation”.
When working with mayor Boris Johnson as Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, he was responsible for the closure of ten fire stations in London, after which an elderly man jumped from a burning building in Camden, following delays in the arrival of fire crews. The Fire Brigades Union had repeatedly warned that a tragic death of this kind would occur after severe cuts to funding of the fire service in London.
Under a government led by Jeremy Corbyn, as corporate tax evasion and avoidance on a large scale is addressed releasing funds for education, health and other important services, the 99% on lower incomes will welcome a living wage, a well-staffed fire and health service, homes fit for human habitation, appropriate care for the elderly and disabled and better employment opportunities as manufacturing and services are increasingly in-sourced.
And these millions have one asset: their vote.
On 14 September 2017 The Grenfell Tower Inquiry began to investigate the causes of the fire and other related issues. The chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, issued the phase one report on Wednesday 30 October 2019. In it, he concluded that the tower’s cladding failed to comply with building regulations; the principal reason the fire spread was the use of aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic on the building’s exterior.
In the dock?
- Past and present governments’ erosion of safety standards through programmes of deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing/subcontracting, localism and austerity: “Regulations were relaxed and eliminated, warnings were ignored and costs were cut, while profits and council reserves.
- David Cameron, as prime minister, promised and delivered a “bonfire of regulations” in the construction industry.
- Boris Johnson, as mayor of London, closed 10 London fire stations, took 30 fi re engines out of service and slashed over 500firefighter jobs to “save money” (charges made by Yvette Williams)
- The Conservative members of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) who covered the homes of working-class people with flammable tiles rather than fire-resistant tiles because they were cheap, prepared the way for the Grenfell Tower fire (Sasha Simic).
- “The true culprits of the fire are those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding, who gutted the UK’s fire safety regime, who ignored the warnings from previous fires, and who did not hear the pleas of a community worried for their safety”, Fire Brigades Union (FBU). Below left, see a brief video of firefighters during the fire
* In the 2012 Grenfell Tower Regeneration Project’s public consultation, which may be read here, residents were asked about the cladding’s colour and finish, but the issue of fire resistance was never raised.
The planning application’s engagement statement records that the choice of cladding – zinc or particle board was investigated and the final choice was Reynobond PE with a plastic filling – a cheaper option, saving nearly £300,000 – placed around flammable foam insulation.
The establishment – elite networks who close ranks to protect their own interests – spared the government & cladding company and scapegoated the Grenfell firefighters
Despite the Grenfell Inquiry’s finding that the principal reason the fire spread was the use of aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic on the building’s exterior, mainstream media chose to highlight criticism of the fire-fighters’.
The FT, though focussing closely on the performance of firefighters, did at least give details of the other companies involved, prudently noting that the report does not assign blame to any individual companies.
Hotpoint, a division of Whirlpool, made the fridge-freezer in which the fire began. Celotex, a division of the French multinational Saint Gobain, made the foam insulation used on the tower; Rydon, the design and build contractor on the refurbishment subcontracted the cladding installation; Harley Facade, and CEP Architectural Facades manufactured the cladding into “cassettes” for use on the tower.
The BBC (warned off after publishing this outspoken article about the cladding?), the Guardian and the Independent opted to focus on the fire service, the Metro achieving some balance by publishing a fiery article by Yvette Williams and one focussing on the fire service in the same issue.
Yvette summarised the feelings of many: “the real ‘villains of the piece’ should be in the media headlines, rather than the firefighters who risked their own lives to save people in a building that no-one should have been living in, with a fire that was unprecedented”.
Since the Grenfell disaster, Arconic has withdrawn Reynobond PE from the market for all building uses. The company is now being forced to disclose evidence to investigations by the police and the Grenfell Tower public inquiry and a second phase to investigate the broader causes will begin in 2020.
But, as the FBU concluded, “We cannot wait for years for the Inquiry to conclude. Change is needed now.” The Grenfell question: will Britain elect a government that puts people before profit?
* As with some other ‘sensitive’ documents, this link will not open. To read the report, the link has to be copied and pasted: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/idoxWAM/doc/Other-960662.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=960662&location=VOLUME2&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1