A Land Under Siege

To be absolutely clear, I am in favour of self-isolation or quarantine, if you prefer, where necessary.   I fully appreciate the efforts of the National Health Service in meeting the challenge of COVID-19.  I am desperately sad for all of those families who have lost loved ones, and I feel the pain of those thousands who are fighting for their own survival, either suffering the disease, or from annihilation by DEBT.

I think it is time to ask some questions.

In UK at the moment, there is no media coverage for anything apart from the virus, its effects, and ‘Our heroic National Health Service’ .  Presumably other things are happening in the world, but we do not hear about them.  The news media has a job.  It is to report the news.  It is not doing it.

Saturation-level propaganda is a bit of a speciality where the British Establishment is concerned, so whenever terminology like ‘The National Health Service’ is subtly adjusted to read ‘Our National Health Service’ we know we are being manipulated towards sympathetic patriotism.   ‘Our National Health Service’ is incomparable; it is the best in the world, and so on.

No, it isn’t.

It is better than some, it is worse than others.  It is streets behind the German equivalent, for example.  The heroes are the people on the ground who struggle with the limited tools they have been given, because ‘Our National Health Service’ only serves the poor bloody infantry.  Anyone who can afford it ‘goes private’, including those poverty-stricken doctors who quietly accumulate small fortunes from their private clientele.

Shutting a whole country has further, less publicised effects.  It all but eliminates small business, leaving the field clear for the better-padded moguls to move in.  And small businesses will fail to sustain an artificially low unemployment figure, because a lot of those people living on the margins will soon be forced to return to the ranks of the unemployed.

Debt and the inability to service it may be manifested in destroyed dreams, broken relationships and ruined lives.  Confinement to some is intolerable, especially to those who live alone, or those whose mental state is already disturbed.   A government’s task is clearly to walk a fine line between prudence in terms of the virus’s spread and preserving financial stability – or at least that is what it should be doing.  So when we are told a plateau in the number of those contracting the virus has been reached, only to have it dismissed as ‘the eye of the storm’ and be advised that quarantine will continue for a further three weeks, we are entitled to question.

Be a conspiracy theorist for a moment.  No-one doubts the authenticity of the virus, or the need for some response to it, but it is, in some ways, very convenient.  It serves, for example, those who would wish to further increase the funding and influence of the National Health Service.  Make no mistake, the British Medical Association holds our medical profession in an iron grip, and it advances the cause of doctors, their working conditions and their salaries, very well.   It serves the interests of those wishing to delay or reverse the process of Brexit, because nobody is talking about EU issues now; and it serves a Chancellor who prepared a huge giveaway budget that defied the basic rules of economics, and will now ‘have’ to be scrapped.

Hastened by COVID, in years to come High Streets will be rearranged, Malls closed, on-line marketing and working from home will become the norm.  If there is a future for small business in this country, and if we can continue to steer clear of the EU reef, and if property prices are forced to a realistic level, then it will have redressed some of its terrible cost.

If, however, it merely becomes a tool for the Establishment, a series of excuses for promises broken, the embryo of a police state and a vessel to sail back into the jaws of Federalist Europe many thousands of people will have suffered and died in vain.

I’m sure the conspiracy theories cannot be true.  No sovereign government or its organs would stoop so low as to use a profoundly dangerous virus to further its own ends…

Would it?

Take Care How Little You Care…

The malady that faces the First World today is not the Corona virus:  it is Society itself.

In a UK hospital a few days since a thirteen-year-old boy lay dying.  His parents were not permitted to be near him at the end.  He died alone.

A terrified child, almost certainly aware of what course events would take, died alone.

At the same time, on station platforms throughout the overcrowded South-East, commuters were packing into trains without a breath of space between them.   At the same time, planes from America and Europe (including Italy and Spain) were landing at UK airports, disgorging passengers to go where they wished without regard.  At the same time, workers on construction sites were doing their non-essential work as usual, in the name – as I understand it – of ‘keeping the economy going’.

The UK does not have anything like enough respirators to treat the anticipated surge in COVID-19 over the next few weeks, even though the National Health Service warned four years ago that if there was an outbreak of this kind they would be short of essential equipment.  The equipment was thought too expensive.  Like the jeeps the British Army was forced to use despite their vulnerability in Afghanistan, but were too expensive to replace.  Even now, in the throes of a pandemic, I am prepared to bet the reason UK has insufficient testing kits for the virus has something to do with price.  Somebody is skimping.

For years, the system of privilege in UK has protected itself with ‘rules’ intended to stifle a public voice.  It can afford to ignore almost everybody, including the press it has not yet succeeded in buying.   The moment the heir to the throne coughs he is isolated, cossetted and respirated.  Being seventy-one seems to have been no obstacle for him, he was better in a few days, yet in the country half of those diagnosed in his age group are dying.

No-one can blame those people on the station platform.  If their bosses insist they go to work they must go because every spare penny has been bled from them by the system and they face homelessness or worse if they dissent.   What is missing is the man from the Treasury at the station entrance ready to hand out subsistence money to anyone who agrees to turn around and go home.  Everyone should blame the inhuman cypher who prevented those parents from comforting their child.   Everyone should blame the government that, in defiance of all good sense, does not close the airports.

It is time and past time for the financial plutocracy to pause, and show genuine sympathy for the common man.  It is time someone actually, really, genuinely cared.  Because, if you are reading, we built your castles, and one day, if you are not very careful, we will tear them down.

Who ARE these people?

Priti Patel is an elected politician.  More than that, she is the U.K. Home Secretary and a leading figure in the newly-elected Johnson government.   More even than that, she is charged with putting an immigration policy into action which will limit the migration of unskilled workers whose presence in UK is arguably a drain upon the economy – a responsible task requiring dedication and efficiency. 

So when her Permanent Secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam, tendered his resignation and levelled an accusation of ‘bullying’ against Mrs Patel, he trained the media spotlight on an aspect of governing that counts for its very existence upon maintaining the lowest of profiles.   And to me, at least, that raises a number of questions the answers to which are long overdue.

What is the most important component of Sir Philip’s job description – I mean, aside from being the head honcho in the Home Office?  The word ‘Permanent’, because permanent is what he is, or was, had he not decided to throw in the towel so publicly.  His job was to answer directly to Mrs Patel and to lead his department in facilitating her brief.  He, and those beneath him, are Civil Servants. 

Civil Servants are not elected.  They do not have to subject themselves to public vote every five years.  They are career beavers who should form the engine room of policy for whoever is elected.  Their employment structure is secure, with retirement and a healthy pension at the end.  At their best, they are the steadying influence behind a volatile electoral system.  They make sure there are plenty of logs in the store.  But beavers have another use for logs: they build dams.  At their worst, Civil Servants are a stultifying, reactionary crew whose principle career ambition is to keep Friday afternoon free for golf.

Is mere reluctance to accept change at the root of Sir Philip’s quarrel with Mrs Patel? The speedy implementation of new regulations promised by the Johnson government is demanding and certainly not conducive to short working weeks or comfortable evenings at the club.  Or is there something more sinister here?  Lately, the stolid, wooden efficiency of the old Civil Service seems to have been supplanted by an altogether more media-aware and loose-tongued institution.   For example, almost every move by Mrs May’s cabinet was ‘leaked’ from somewhere in the system before it was announced, or even fully ‘fleshed out’.   Under Mr Johnson’s stewardship, there has already been a purge at The Treasury, with one member of staff having been almost literally ‘frog-matched’ out of Downing Street.  Did Sir Philip act pre-emptively?  Was the Home Office about to be similarly scoured?

Speaking personally, I am not particularly a fan of Mrs Patel.  For me, her public speaking fails to inspire.  She is, perhaps, determined rather than passionate; but that does not mean she is a bully, or capable of ‘ranting and shouting’ as her accuser claims.  Those at the top of the Civil Service, known these days as ‘mandarins’, are all male. Since 1983, the 12 Principal Private Secretaries to the Prime Minister have all been men; while women form 53% of Civil Service staff, none have reached mandarin status.  It is a male preserve that several female ministers claim to have found obstructive and critical.  Priti Patel is a British citizen of Ugandan Asian parentage – it shouldn’t, but does her ethnicity also have a bearing on this situation?

I find it distressing that at the heart of one of the most gender- and racially- tolerant nations in the world, at the seat of government that ought also to be a paragon of intelligence and the paradigm for equality, there is this arterial sclerosis of sexism and racism.  I have experienced communism festering in the wormholes of the ex-industrial towns of the north (more of this in another blog) but xenophobia rampant about the tiller of power?  Surely we should expect better?