Day 71 – is this helping ?

At the moment social media and the newspapers are seized by the great Cummings affair. Should he have gone out or shouldn’t he? And yet all through this coronavirus crisis Sainsburys have pushed out their regular emails about their weekly offers. No caveats about not going out, or social distancing if you must. Nor any recognition that many of us could not take advantage of these offers if we wanted to because there is not a branch of Sainsburys near enough to get to, or which does deliveries. If someone were to succumb to one of these offers and go out when strictly speaking they shouldn’t, who would be to blame – the individual for giving in to temptation, or Sainsbury’s for putting temptation in people’s way ?

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Day 70 – The Descent into Chaos

John Crace’s article from”The Guardian” of Monday, 25th May 2020 . . .

Dominic Cummings
No dignity, no future: Boris forsakes leadership to protect Cummings

John Crace
PM didn’t throw a protective ring around care homes, but he sure as hell threw one around Classic Dom

@JohnJCrace
Sun 24 May 2020 20.11 BSTLast modified on Sun 24 May 2020 21.51 BST
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Boris Johnson

Look on the bright side: at least we’ve had it confirmed who is actually running the country these days. And it isn’t the prime minister. Boris Johnson is no more than Dominic Cummings’s sock-puppet. A fairly shabby one at that. The reality is that without Classic Dom, there could be no Boris. All that Boris really amounts to is a parasitical ball of compromised ambition fuelled by a viral overload of neediness and cowardice. There is no substance or dignity left within the prime minister. His only instinct is his own survival.

The equation was quite simple. If Dom was to be fired, then Boris would have to fire himself, because it is inconceivable that the ersatz prime minister didn’t know the de facto prime minister had broken the lockdown rules by doing a runner to Durham. But just in case Boris had been in any doubt, Dom had arrived at Downing Street four hours before the daily coronavirus press conference to remind him who was boss. There were to be no sackings and no resignations. Not yet anyway. There may be in the days to come.

Not that Boris had actually wanted to front up the No 10 briefing. It was just that every other cabinet minister had phoned in to say they were self-isolating in their second homes. Or in Robert Jenrick’s case, his third home.

Right from the off, Boris had looked rattled. The self-styled great communicator has lost the power of language and can now only talk in staccato bursts of incomprehensible Morse code. Even more disastrously, he is the populist politician who has lost track of the mood of the people. His survival skills have deserted him. The country is spitting blood at the arrogance of one rule for the elite and another for the rest, and Boris is totally oblivious.

Breathless and pasty-faced, his eyes still bloodshot after his talking-to by Dom, Boris leapt to his boss’s defence. He hadn’t been able to throw a protective ring around care homes, but he sure as hell was going to throw one round Cummings. Classic Dom had done nothing wrong at all. In fact, he had done what any father would do and drive to his second home. Mostly because he was so short of friends that he had no one within a 260-mile radius who could leave food parcels for his child. Oddly, that was one of the few statements that sounded vaguely convincing.

The rest of his opening remarks were incoherent drivel. Dom had driven the length of the country to escape the virus. Even though he was taking it with him in the car and almost certainly contracted it during the enclosed proximity to his wife. It was as though Boris thought the virus could only travel at 50 mph, so if Dom drove at 70mph up the M1, then he could outrun it.

Dom had had no alternative. Indeed, if the de facto prime minister had a fault, it was that he loved his family too much. All those single mothers and workshy parents without second homes were basically heartless and uncaring for staying put and obeying the government advice on self-isolation. Dom: the man who loved too much.

Boris then wittered on a bit about schools – mysteriously, he seemed to forget the dualling of the A66 that Grant Shapps had been so desperate to talk about during the morning media round – but all the questions concentrated on how and how often Dom had chosen to arbitrarily break the rules. Here Boris started to get sweaty and petulant. He was standing by Dom and that was that. He didn’t have to give a credible reason because he was the World King who wrote all the rules.

Bizarrely, he even described Dom as responsible. Cummings won’t be at all happy about that. His whole self-image is based upon him being the great anti-establishment disruptor; the person to whom rules don’t apply. Not some establishment posh boy who toed the line at all times. God save the Queen! Her fascist regime.

Then Boris was unwittingly making sure that both he and Dom had no future. The press conference he had hoped would draw a line under Dom’s midnight – no toilet or snack breaks – flits to his hideout merely served to ensure they would dominate the news agenda for weeks. Boris had had a chance to show genuine leadership and completely flunked it.

He refused to answer any questions about whether he knew Dom had done a runner – just imagine Boris working from Downing Street imagining his host body was holed up in north London – or when he discovered that Dom was in Durham. Not because he didn’t know, but because he genuinely thought it didn’t matter. Boris is a true believer in his own exceptionalism, a trait that he graciously extends to those who are close to him. He genuinely doesn’t see a problem with not obeying a rule himself that he has asked the rest of the country to follow. So what if Dom and his family might have risked infecting a few dozen inconsequential little people? Sacrifice is what other, lesser people do. Nor was there even an attempt to answer the allegations about Dom’s other alleged extracurricular outings to Barnard Castle or the bluebell woods.

In saving Dom – for the time being at least – Boris had tossed away the credibility of his own government. He has been stripped bare and exposed as not very bright, lacking in judgment and completely amoral. Within an hour, he had not only defended the indefensible, he had basically told the nation they were free to do as they please. If there is a second coronavirus peak, Boris will have even more blood on his hands. He’d even made Shapps’s TV appearances look vaguely statesmanlike. That bad. At a time of national crisis, we have a prime minister who makes Henry Kissinger look worthy of a Nobel peace prize. Satire is now dead.

© 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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That Withdrawal Agreement

I have copied and pasted the text of M. Barnier’s speech after the most recent round of negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement in Brussels, dated 15th May last. I do so because it gives me more information about what is and is not going on than anything I have read or seen elsewhere, and it seems to be a very fair assessment of the current state of play and non-play. It has been the paradox of this whole Brexit thing, that to find out what our own Government is up to, one needs to obtain the information from sources elsewhere in the world. The Irish Times, the Washington Post, European newspapers, and newspapers from further afield often inform us better than our own media whose main aim seems to gloss it all over as being either “too difficult”, or “they will never understand” and quite possibly “we cannot be bothered to digest all this, and it won’t sell any more copies – forget it”. The BBC whose one time remit to educate and inform has been long forgotten could be putting out programmes devoted to explaining all this but if it does so I haven’t seen them, and I admit that I wouldn’t watch anyway as being deaf I should miss most of it.

This text however seems to be as M. Barnier himself says at one point, lucid and informative, and on the one hand sets out the European objectives which are constructive, hopeful, encouraging and forward looking, and the UK’s aims which seem to be either bad tempered or positively harmful to the British people – see for example the section of Human Rights. It seems that our present Government is not keen on you and I having much in the way of rights.

The sections in italics are presented so in an endeavour to repeat the punctuation and lay out of the text on the web site. They do not represent emphasis, but a form of paragraphing which is perhaps intended to inform the speaker of the text as to how to present the next bit, rather than for the illumination of the reader.

David Frost at 10, Downing Street writes to M. Barnier . . . HERE

19 May 20. The infinitely patient M. Barnier has replied to the UK’s EU negotiator, David Frost, and it can be seen in a pdf document HERE

* * * * * * *

M. BARNIER – 15 MAY 2020. STATEMENT ON NEGOTIATIONS.

Speech on 15 May 2020 at Brussels.
Remarks by Michel Barnier following Round 3 of negotiations for a new partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to be with you again, even if still only virtually.

I hope that you and your friends and families are as well as can be, in these times that remain difficult and continue to require our individual and collective mobilisation.

Three weeks ago, at the end of our second negotiation round on our future partnership with the United Kingdom, I told you that the EU’s objective was to move forward – in parallel – on all topics of negotiation, including the most difficult ones.

This week, we continued to work with David Frost and the two negotiating teams that I wish to thank.

These discussions were underpinned by new text proposals sent by the UK that now cover nearly all of the topics covered by our own draft legal text published on 18 March.

We continue to hope that the UK will make its own texts public shortly so that we can share them with the Member States and the European Parliament.

Our discussions enabled us to clarify a number of issues in areas such as trade in goods, transport or the UK’s participation in future programmes of the Union.

We were also, at last, able to initiate the beginnings of a dialogue on fisheries, even if our positions remain very far apart.

That said, with the exception of some modest overtures, we failed to make any progress on any of the other more difficult topics.

Despite its claims, the United Kingdom did not engage in a real discussion on the question of the level playing field – those economic and commercial “fair play” rules that we agreed to, with Boris Johnson, in the Political Declaration.

On this topic, this was a round of divergence, with no progress.

With regard to the governance of our future relationship, the few useful discussions we had were limited to sectorial questions.


We were unable to make progress on the issue of the single governance framework that we believe is necessary to build a close and comprehensive partnership with this great neighbouring country, and thus guarantee its efficient and transparent implementation.

We were also disappointed by the UK’s lack of ambition in a number of areas that may not be central to the negotiation, but which are nonetheless important and symbolic.

I’m thinking, for instance of the fight against money laundering.

I’m also talking about its lack of ambition on the respective roles of the European Parliament, the British Parliament and civil society in the implementation of our future relationship.

Why does the UK refuse to include consultation mechanisms with our European and British parliaments and with civil society in our future agreement?
This is what we have foreseen in our modern association agreements to ensure the greatest democratic legitimacy and enable parliamentarians, NGOs and social partners to make their voices heard. I know that the European Economic and Social Committee is very attentive to this issue.
Finally, on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, although we have broad agreement on the objectives, we continue to face two fundamental obstacles that must be resolved before we can put in place any new tools for cooperation:


The UK refuses to commit, in an agreement with us, to guarantees protecting fundamental rights and individual freedoms resulting from the European Convention on Human Rights, as agreed in the Political Declaration.

It insists on lowering current standards and deviating from agreed mechanisms of data protection – to the point that it is even asking the Union to ignore its own law and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice on passenger data (“PNR rules”).That is of course impossible.

The question of reciprocity of data exchanges between the British and Member State is also important. The European Parliament recalled this, the day before yesterday, in its plenary session, by calling for all exchanges of biometrical data – known as the Prüm programme – with the UK to be reciprocal and subject to very firm safeguards.

Ladies and gentlemen,

That was a lucid, sincere – and, as you may well have understood, disappointing – summary of this round.

But despite this, we remain determined to build a new and ambitious partnership with the United Kingdom, in the very short time that is available if the United Kingdom is to confirm its decision not to request an extension of this negotiation – as an extension of one or two years remains possible by joint agreement.

To achieve this, I would like to come back to three important points, which are central to the mandate that the Member States have given me, and on which I have the full support of the European Parliament and its President David Sassoli, as well as the personal support of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and of the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

1/ First, our ambition is still to achieve a free trade agreement, with no tariffs or quotas on any goods.

This would be a first in the history of EU FTAs.

Of course, our trade relationship will never be as fluid as within the Single Market or a Customs Union. So everyone must prepare for the changes that will happen in any case at the end of the transition.

But our proposal testifies to our level of ambition – and this, with a neighbouring country that is highly interconnected with our Union; a former member with which it would be totally artificial to copy-paste a “best-of” from our existing free trade agreements with Canada, South Korea or Japan.

In this negotiation, the Union is looking to the future, not to the precedents of the past.

2/ Secondly, looking to the future also means taking into account that trade policy has evolved.

We are no longer in the 1970s, when the main purpose of trade agreements was to take down tariff walls.

EU trade policy must and, under the impulse of our President but also of Commissioner Hogan, aims to serve sustainable development.

Our trade policy must be at the service of a new, modern and demanding vision, given the big changes underway – and climate change in particular.

It must protect social and environmental standards, and even help to raise them, in the general interest of citizens and consumers.

It must be underpinned by fair competition conditions, namely when it comes to state aid, social standards, or taxation.
It must also contribute to achieving common goals. The agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom must bring about positive change when it comes to protecting our environment and combatting climate change.
The UK has set itself an objective of carbon neutrality.

It tells us it wants to maintain high social and environmental standards – even higher than ours.

That should make it possible to engage in detailed discussions on these points, to give ourselves concrete, mutual and reciprocal guarantees, and to identify appropriate instruments.

Yet, the UK refuses this discussion.

I have even heard Michael Gove suggest that the UK might renounce to the objective of ‘zero tariffs, zero quotas’, in the hope of being freed from level playing field obligations.

This proposal would amount to reinstating tariffs and quotas between us – something that hasn’t been seen in decades. The Union does not want such an anachronism.

What’s more, this approach would entail a detailed – and highly sensitive – negotiation of each tariff line. We saw recently, with Japan and with Canada, that this takes years.

Such a negotiation would only be possible with extension of the transition period. Is this what we are to understand from Mr Gove’s statement?
But more than this, even if we were to eliminate on 98% or 99% of tariffs, the EU would still demand the same strong Level Playing Field guarantees.

Because it is a core part of our modern trade policy;
because it is part of our requirements to address the big challenges that lie ahead, to protect certain common goods and to protect consumers;
and because we refuse to compromise on our European values to benefit the British economy.
Economic and commercial fair play is not for sale!

Open and fair competition is not a “nice-to-have”. It is a “must-have”.

Our Member States have been very clear that, without a level playing field, and without an agreement on fisheries, there will be no economic and trade partnership agreement.

And of course, some areas of our future relationship will demand specific level playing field conditions.

For instance, reaching an agreement on road transport will require us to agree on drivers’ working conditions, including driving and rest times, as well as on guarantees relating to the businesses that employ them.

3/ Thirdly: we want a very broad partnership that goes well beyond trade in goods and services.

To achieve this, we must absolutely find joint solutions now, on all topics in parallel, and I insist on ‘in parallel’:

Why would we seek to give favourable market access conditions to certain British professionals when our European fishermen would be excluded from British waters and risk losing their livelihoods?
Why would we help British enterprises to provide their services in the EU without any guarantees of economic fair play?
And, beyond our economic partnership, why would be ambitious on questions of extradition or the exchange of personal data if we have no firm commitments from the UK on the protection of European citizens’ fundamental rights?
And lastly, how would we guarantee that our future partnership would be coherent on all of these important topics in the absence of a single institutional framework? We need this to enable the United Kingdom and the EU to jointly implement the full range of our commitments.
The United Kingdom frequently refers to precedents.

It tells us it would be content with a “Canada-style” deal.

But at the same time – and this is the real paradox of this negotiation – in many areas, it is demanding a lot more than Canada!

It is even looking to maintain the benefits of being a Member State, without the obligations.

I’m thinking, for example, of the UK’s demands:

To maintain for UK service providers almost complete freedom of movement for short-term stays;
To obtain electricity interconnection mechanisms equivalent to the Single Market – “existing arrangements” as the UK says.
To continue to assimilate British auditors to European ones for the purpose of controls on audit firms;
To maintain a system for the recognition of professional qualifications that is as complete and broad as the one we have in the European Union;
To be able to co-decide with the Union on decisions relating to the withdrawal of equivalences for financial services – another British request that goes far beyond the “Canada model”.
We are negotiating a trade agreement with a third country here – one that chose to become a third country. This is not an opportunity for the United Kingdom to “pick and choose” the most attractive elements of the Single Market.

This makes me believe that there is still a real lack of understanding in the United Kingdom about the objective, and sometimes mechanical, consequences of the British choice to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union.

To make progress in this negotiation – if it is still the United Kingdom’s intention to strike a deal with the EU – the United Kingdom will have to be more realistic; it will have to overcome this incomprehension and, no doubt, it will have to change strategy.

You cannot have the best of both worlds!

Ladies and gentlemen,

In parallel to these negotiations, both the UK and the EU have a legal commitment to implement the Withdrawal Agreement.

Here, citizens’ rights are a priority for both sides.

The UK tells us it has some concerns about the treatment of British nationals in the EU. Yesterday, we received a letter from Michael Gove.
o The Commission is very attentive to this issue,

o and we have just published guidelines to support all 27 Member States to live up to their commitments of the Withdrawal Agreement.

But we will also be watching closely to make sure that EU citizens residing in the UK do not face unfair treatment or discrimination.


The European Parliament is particularly attentive to this.

Similarly, we have both committed to correctly implement the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The UK has not yet laid out its approach for fulfilling its obligations under the Protocol.

I would like to recall that the solution we agreed with the UK:


ensures continued peace and stability on the island of Ireland, and upholds the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions.

and it preserves the EU Single Market by ensuring all the necessary checks and controls for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain,

So all those who pursue these objectives must now also correctly implement the Protocol. The system needs to be fully operational as of 1 January 2021.
This is a stable and lasting solution, subject to a process of ensuring democratic consent from the majority of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland’s Legislative Assembly.

I explained all of this very clearly and very transparently during my last visit to Belfast in January.
So, together with Maroš Šefčovič, our Vice-President, who co-chairs the Joint Committee with Michael Gove for the UK, we are awaiting, with confidence, but also with vigilance, the approach that will be taken by the UK authorities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The agreement we are negotiating will structure our relationship for years to come – decades even.

The EU wants a modern, unprecedented, forward-looking agreement. Not a narrow one rooted in past precedents and sliced up sector by sector.

Our future partnership will be shaped by the choices we make this year, together.

The EU will not act in haste on such an important matter.

Our negotiation mandate was not written in haste. It is the reflection of three years of work, starting as early as April 2017 with the first guidelines adopted by the European Council.

The next round must bring new dynamism in order to avoid a stalemate between us.

Let us make a success of round 4, in the first week of June – by making the tangible progress we need across the board, at last.

Until the very end, the EU and I will remain calm, firm on our principles and respectful.

Thank you very much.

M. Barnier – European Commission web site.

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Day 58 – Mitchells does it again . . .

Another week, another deliver and Mitchells does it again. I was up at 7.00 am for reasons ito which we will not go, and I peeped out to see their box perched outside the front door.

Once the unloading begins there are great discussions on whether things need to be washed, whether things can be washed – are they in waterproof packaging or should we just leave them in the garage until the virus has expired of its own accord. Often, if we get tired, the latter becomes the option of choice.

A factor in all this is that because we are constantly stock piling for the week or fortnight ahead – no “just in time” shopping now, what we do with things is often decided by “where on earth are we going to put them ?” Big containers of milk are good in some ways, but are more difficult for old hands and wrists and need tall shelf spaces in the fridge. The idea of buying another fridge has already been mooted, but how wold we get that in the sink to wash it ?

Some things can be fitted in much more easily. The Skyr from Mitchells (actually from Grahams Dairy) is exceedingly good, and the yogurts are new too. They come from the Alston Dairy Alston Dairy is new to me, but the story of how they came about is interesting to read on their web site. The blue box hiding underneath everything else is Grahams spreadable butter. Not as good as Countrylife, we think, but very acceptable when we need to be grateful for anything that we can get.

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Day 53 – VE Day – Memories and Reflections

This came from Google Images. It might be a scene in Southend-on-Sea as it was linked with a present day news item about that town.

I have seen many news items and posts about VE Day, which is today – the 8th of May. I doubt we shall see very much about Europe Day which falls on the 9th of May, and is arguably far more important for this country and Europe generally than VE Day – of which Europe Day is the child. Hyping up VE Day seems to be very much the thing to do in this curiously jingoistic and backward looking time. I wonder how many of those pushing out the hype were actually alive at the time, or are even old enough to remember the years which followed it ? And has oft been pointed out, but little noted, the war didn’t end on VE Day – only the fighting in Europe – and even that dragged on a bit longer in places where the news was slow to arrive. The colossal struggle in the Pacific went on until August, and the survivors of the British 14th Army who did their bit in Burma – now Myanmar – have expressed their feelings about this in the name they have espoused, “the Forgotten Army”.

I remember VE Day quite well, not in graphic detail – it was quite a long while ago remember – but the feelings of the time remain with me quite vividly. We read in the papers, and listened to the BBC on the wireless, about the junketing s in London and elsewhere, the street parties and so forth, but where we lived, when the announcement was made, and on the day itself, things were very quiet. We appreciated what Mr. Churchill had to say, and also King George’s message. We had listened patiently to so many of the King’s broadcasts and willed him to keep going despite his impediment that I don’t think we noticed it much on this occasion. He couldn’t make great announcements like Churchill, not being a politician, but one could tell that he was trying to get something decent, honourable and worthwhile across and we listened, and appreciated his efforts.

Friendly Uncle Joe . . .

I think one thing that is seldom acknowledged about the VE time is just who the people were who were living through it. Any one of age (say) 45 or older had already lived through, and maybe fought through one World War to end all wars. From 11 November 1918 to 3 September 1939 was only just short of 21 years. Memories of the Retreat from Mons, the Somme and Passchendaele and of bombing by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers were still fresh in many minds – such as those of my parents. Indeed, in 1939, many said, “Here we go again” in resignation, despair and bafflement – “Where did we go wrong ?” When people today laugh at “Dad’s Army” they forget that many of the men who volunteered, although not young, had more war experience than those younger people all round them joining up, or being called up. What went through their minds at this time. Had it all been worth it ? Might it happen yet again ?

The main thing I recollect in my own memory, and in the attitudes of my parents, even probably in our neighbourhood generally was – relief. The last months of 1944, and the early part of 1945 were the time of – first, the V1s, then the V2s, which latter were far worse morale wise. It was the relief of somebody who has been holding up a heavy weight for a long time, doesn’t think he can manage it for much longer, but somehow grits his teeth, draws up some strength from somewhere, and lasts out until he can put it down. It was like a collective sigh. And it lasted for some time, by which I mean, several days. It was like a period of quiet and mourning for something or someone. A slightly stunned sort of quietness. No doubt we got rid of the black out, and stopped worrying about the sir raid siren going off, but other than that life went on very much unchanged, and in some respects got worse. In Europe of course things were much worse – unimaginably worse – and somehow the “victors” had to pull up their socks and redirect their wartime energies into relief, and bringing home prisoners of war, refugees by the million needed to be got home – if they had any home left, and it all took its toll. Shipping cannot be replaced overnight so food shortages continued, and I am quite sure that my mother commented that “its worse now than it was before”. And what we are now pleased to call “the infrastructure” was worn out. Buses, the whole railway system, the London Underground, gas, water, electricity generation had all been heavily used but only patched up where and when they went wrong. Everything had gone into the “War Effort”. Now, all at once, it all needed major repairs or replacement, or whole new construction. And the sunny uplands, which never quite arrived, became very gloomy as it rapidly became evident that jovial old Uncle Joe of the cartoons, with his big walrus moustache, to whom we had made such great efforts to send aid, was turning to to be Stalin, the Man of Steel, and a new sort of fear and tension was borne – for how long ?

I didn’t set out to write a post war history, but the Russian threat did not go away and dictated much of my lifetime for many years to follow. My own feelings therefore about VE Day, and VJ Day, are not of the street party variety. They are more sombre. More those of the person who looks at the burnt out remains of their house, sees a lot of work to be done, and wonders what he or she should be thinking about to prevent such a thing happening again. That is why I welcomed the gradual growth of European Union as the expression of a new and better Europe with the abilities not to repeat two terrible wars, one after another. And it is why I think a anyone in the present Government who tries to “big up” VE Day, having rubbished the EU so often, is a straight up and down hypocrite of the first water.

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Day 52 – Photos

Photo of red poppy against greenery.
Red Poppy and its seed heads half buried in a Buddlleia shrub.
The mysterious ability of the modern mobile phone to take photos when you are not looking . . .
Since we cannot get out to places here is our own blue bell wood.
Rhododendron
Azalea
The Azalea continues to bloom and brighten everything up.
Runner Beans doing their best in a mixture of warm days and cold nights.
“Scarlet Emperor”
Tulips
Tulips – going over a bit now, but still some buds waiting to come out.
Honesty plant.
Honesty plant helping to disguise the compost bins.
Rhododendron bud opening and showing pink . . .
Rhododendron bud opening turning white with pink still showing . . .
Rhododendron bud – fully open – “whiter than white”.
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Day 50 – Relief Convoy Arrives

Tesco Delivery Van – from Google Images – not the one that came to us.

The relief convoy arrived this morning ” between 11.00 am and 3.00 pm”- bang on 11.00 o’clock. The door bell rang, but by the time I got to the door the delivery driver was already unloading. We exchanged the obligatory thumbs up through the windows and he signalled, “was this spot OK ?” to which I signalled back “better that best”, and he got on with the job. We noticed that he had a new and smart van with a “19” registration, a general compartment at the front and two insulated or refrigerated compartments at the back. We think now that when our first delivery went wrong it was probably because the driver on that day forgot one bag of stuff in one of those compartments because it tallies approximately with what was missing.

Anyone watching us take the stuff in would have thought that we were either feeding an army, or stockpiling like mad, and the Tesco bill says the same, but in reality it represents what we would have bought by personal visits at the big Tesco in Castle Douglas plus lesser shops in Kirkcudbright, and probably overall tots up to less than we would normally buy because some things just are not available, or the Tesco order form tops out at 80 items. Sometimes a pack, like 4 cartons of apple juice counts as one item, but at other times if you order three of something it gets totted up as three items. At all events we shall not starve for the next week or two and our “locked down” life jogs on as normal.

* * * * *

Some time ago, on 4th April, I blogged about a sharp attack of sciatica which I had. I was painfully laid up for some days although taking Cocodamol was a great help and enabled me to sleep well. But after some time the effects of the Cocodamol began to tell, I got dreadfully constipated (OK, you didn’t want to know that, but it is the sad effect of the morphine which is created from the Codeine). Life continued but I began over time to have a recurrence of whay was diagnosed as “Gastritis” some years ago and for which I dose myself with Omeprazole*. This continued for some days and got really miserable. Bicarbonate of Soda did not good, Rennies helped a bit, but nothing would sort it. One evening my OH said, ” There is some of that homemade coleslaw left in the fridge if you want it for your tea ?” Feeling a bit doubtful abut the effect so raw vegetables on my upset stomach, I ate it. And, Lo ! My discomfort eased almost immediately. Encouraged, I had some more to eat. And, dear reader, I have continued in this vein and my discomforts have ceased ! On reflection I think that because we are sitting around, or pottering about in the garden, most days I have tended not to eat, except at our one daily meal, and my problems were good old fashioned hunger – so now I know what “hunger pangs are”. The side effects of this coronavirus shut down are quite unexpected.

*Omeprazole : strictly according to the dosage prescribed by our respective GPs.

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Day 46 – May Day – knackeration sets in

I see on Social Media various people claiming that they are bored, or advocating snake oil solutions for boredom. Me, I’m knackered ! We have got off an order to the ever excellent Mitchells of Castle Douglas who supply us with our vegetable and dairy needs, and today we had another tussle with Tesco – who, to give them credit have upped their game considerably since this crisis began. We made big amendments to our next order the date for which when obtained seemed so far off into the future as to be unimaginable, and we were able to set up another order for later in the month. So, well done Tesco !

However, the technicalities of the Tesco operation are not apparent in our living room where yours truly taps and clicks and searches and pushes sliders up an down the side of the screen and my companion says “why not” and ” have you done that yet” and “what I want now”, as I look at slowly rotating symbols as my clicks and bangs pass through undersea cables and over mountain ranges to get to Tesco’s secret control room and the internet comes back from its morning break. Never were the words, “Look up ‘Fruit Loaf’ ” so capable of raising blood pressure and provoking TIA’s. But, somehow, with tears shed and carpets chewed the job gets done and we sign off – only to remember that we haven’t checked out – calamity ! – log back in and retrieve the damage – and when we look at the grand total in the accounts column “damage” is the right word ! But, actually, when you realise that you are trying to do what would, in normal times, be two or three shop visits all in one go for one home delivery, at some future point at which you are trying to guess what you will have eaten and what will have left over.

Yesterday, 30 April, marked ten weeks since we last had our hair cut. In the mirror I begin to look as my Father would have said, “Like a Violinist” – which was a bit hard on such skilled people. Here in this selfie it is not quite so apparent, but can nevertheless be seen creeping like ivy over the ears. Perhaps that is a fair analogy, as ivy creeps over old buildings, so hair creeps over old gents sitting in arm chairs.

“I can’t see Mr. Smith, Matron”.

“Neither can I Nurse – but that’s him over there entangled with the tobacco plant. Go and see if you can get him out, and ask him if he wants any tea ?”

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Day 43 – Human Voices, what are they . . . ?

Not our neighbour – A Screwfix advertising model !

Out in the garden today I could hear the intermittent noise of a something being switched on and off at regularly irregular intervals. Electric drill ? Strimmer ? Lawn Mower ? some type of builder’s apparatus as yet unknown to me ? Being only able to hear in one ear only, and that via a hearing aid, I have no idea when these noises break out, not only of what they are, but where they are, so as I move around, or move around in search of them, I can generally guess where to find them by their volume. Today’s interruption of the even tenor of my ways was, I found caused by our next door neighbour cutting his hedges with one of those long extensions that enable the cutter to reach up to a very considerable height. The last time I saw him he was up a ladder doing window cleaning the other side of the hedge and I unthinkingly and instinctively spoke to him. I am so afraid that if some one knows or senses that you are there but not saying anything they might get offended. However, at the moment we are supposed to be limiting our conversational efforts, but I comfort myself with the thought that any coronavirus bugs I fired at him will (hopefully) have got stuck in the hedge. I think he was actually more than the stipulated 6 feet away anyway.

Not long after this the noise level went up by many decibels and I could detect that what I was now hearing was human voices, so I went and peeped around the corner of the house and found the window cleaner deep in conversation with our neighbour. I hurriedly withdrew, but not before I had quickly ascertained that he wanted paying as usual, so I went in and got out his money from our fast dwindling supply, and prepared to take it outside. My OH immediately got very agitated about this, but having made what she deemed to be suitable isolation arrangements I was allowed to go out of the front door and place his money on an old chair which we have put there for such purposes.

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Day 42 – Professor Chris Grey tells it how it is . . .

Professor Chris Grey.
I am Professor of Organization Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London, and was previously a Professor at Cambridge University and Warwick University. I am a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS). I originally studied Economics and Politics at Manchester University, where I also gained a PhD on the regulation of financial services. I blog in a personal capacity and all views expressed are mine, not those of my employer. My Brexit Blog is accompanied by a twitter feed @chrisgreybrexit. For media enquiries, contact Samantha.daynes@rhul.ac.uk

I have posted Professor Christ Grey’s blog entries here before. Amid the incompetencies and lies from Government sources it is good, refreshing and encouraging to read analyses by people who actually see and understand what is going on. So, I copy and paste his latest offering here today . . .

https://chrisgreybrexitblog.blogspot.com/2020/04/coronavirus-and-brexit.html?m=1


Friday, 24 April 2020

Coronavirus and Brexit: the connections and their consequences.


It is now increasingly clear that there is a complex web of interconnections between Brexit and responses to the coronavirus crisis. I have been writing about that on this blog since the beginning of March (and especially here and here) which I mention not as a boast for any perspicacity on my part but just to avoid repeating too much of what was said in those posts.

There are two ways of thinking about those interconnections. One might be called ‘ideational’, meaning things arising from an overlapping mind-set (it would be to ascribe too much coherence to it to call it an ideology). The other might be called ‘institutional’, meaning those things arising from governmental or administrative overlaps. And, of course, there is an interplay between the two.

Ideational connections

Here, the main issue is the very clear overlap (£) between those who think that the coronavirus restrictions are overdone, should never have happened or should be lifted quickly, and that the whole thing is essentially a fuss about nothing – the self-styled ‘lockdown sceptics’ – and those who support Brexit, think it is easy and simple, and should have been done by now.

There is a small but very influential group of politicians and commentators who approach a nexus of issues in the same way be it Brexit, coronavirus, climate change, immigration, sexual harassment or any number of other things. It’s always the same people, and always the same blokey, angry, resentful, constantly triggered but can’t-you-take-a-joke-snowflake, sneeringly superior yet self-pitying victimhood schtick.

And it’s always the same argumentative tricks – cherry-picked statistics (£350M/ comparative death rates), semi-understood factoids (WTO rules/ herd immunity), bogus past comparisons (we managed fine before/ flu), overblown rhetoric (dictatorship/ house arrest), and drastic exaggerations of their opponents’ claims so as to erect absurd strawmen for demolition (so it means WW3/ we’re all going to die? Really?).

In a previous post I gave Tim Martin, the Wetherspoon’s boss, as an exemplar in discussing this overlap, at least as regards Brexit and coronavirus. Martin, of course, is a passionate advocate of Brexit and ferocious critic of social distancing measures. Since then, fascinating work has been done by Professor Ben Ansell, a political scientist at Oxford University, showing correlations between Brexit-voting areas and lower levels compliance with social distancing instructions.

The data are open to different interpretations – especially the possibility that those in leave voting areas might be more likely to have jobs that cannot be done from home – but a plausible one is that the correlation partly reflects the overlap in mind-set I alluded to (just as there is an overlap in the US between Trump’s core vote and those objecting to coronavirus restrictions).

Another set of interconnections was identified this week by Professor David Edgerton, a historian of science and technology at King’s College London. He argues that both Brexit and the government response to coronavirus reveal shared “fantasies about British scientific and inventive genius”. He also links this to pervasive myths about the Second World War which, of course, have been central to Brexit and are almost unavoidable in relation to the pandemic. As the historian Robert Saunders, of Queen Mary, University of London, remarked, it is as if British politicians only have one historical reference point and it’s one they don’t understand anyway.

Institutional connections

Edgerton’s analysis centres on the government’s attempts to boost ventilator production, the story of which was devastatingly laid bare by Peter Foster in the Financial Times this week (£), provoking an angry response from the government. And here the ideational and institutional connections begin to merge. For as Foster records, the link is not just idiotic comparisons with the Blitz or Spitfire production, but a constant boneheaded refusal of politicians to engage seriously with experts. In other words, governmental failures over coronavirus are inseparable from Brexit ‘simplism’ in general and the Second World War myths in particular.

The institutional interconnections were thrown into even sharper relief by a truly devastating report in The Sunday Times about the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis (which also provoked a furious reaction from the government or perhaps, as is widely rumoured, from Dominic Cummings). They were at least two-fold. One was, simply, political exhaustion from all the Brexit battles of the previous months. A second was the way that planning for a future pandemic had been entirely sidelined by planning for no-deal Brexit, not just in general but in relation to specific recommendations about pandemic planning.

The latter is just another way of saying that it’s impossible to deal simultaneously with coronavirus and the Brexit negotiations, a point I’ve made repeatedly on this blog. It’s also been made, with more authority, by Georgina Wright and by Joe Owen, both of the Institute for Government, and innumerable others.

Why does this matter?

Most obviously, it matters in terms of the concrete question of whether the transition period will be extended. Without repeating the arguments for that, an important development this week was the Scottish government calling for it. It’s also been called for in a punchy editorial, again in The Sunday Times, and by a group of senior ex-civil servants. And a new opinion poll shows that 64% of the public support extension with even 45% of Brexit Party voters doing so. What is also coming into focus in this debate is, as I wrote this week, not just the question of whether to extend but by how much given that only one extension is possible. Yet we still don’t know that it will happen, as Tony Connelly of RTE explains.

But I think there is a deeper importance to all this. What both Brexit and coronavirus reveal are some fundamental flaws in the way we are governed and the political discourse around it. The populist explosion of this decade, of which Brexit was a prime example, has bequeathed a way of governing which is impervious to reason, and incapable of engaging with complexity. It isn’t just chance that we have a woefully incompetent Prime Minister, a dud stand in, and a cabinet of mediocrities, propped up by a cadre of special advisors with few skills beyond contrarian posturing.

They are the legacy of Brexit. They were brought into power by Brexit. But all the things which secured the vote for Brexit – the clever-but-dumb messaging, the leadership-by-slogan, the appeal to nostalgic sentiment, the disdain for facts and evidence, the valorisation of anger and divisiveness, the bluff ‘commonsense’ and the ‘bluffers’ book’ knowledge – are without exception precisely the opposite of what is needed for effective governance in general, and crisis management in particular.

This can be seen in the increasingly bizarre and convoluted stories about (non-)participation in EU procurement schemes, and the Turkish PPE flight. Both bear the hallmarks of the Brexity ideology, dishonesty, bullying, spin and incompetence that are the stock-in-trade of these people.

The realities of delivering Brexit had already found them out, but in the face of the pandemic their entire approach has been comprehensively discredited. If we must use Second World War analogies then, as Peter Oborne writes, Johnson is a Chamberlain not a Churchill. Oborne also notes what is being increasingly widely recognized about Johnson, and which I wrote about when he was still Foreign Secretary, namely that he is always in campaign mode and has no facility for, or much interest in, governing. The same is true of Cummings and, for that matter, the entire Brexit high command which has always been characterised by protest and victimhood not competence and responsibility. That is a disaster in terms of Brexit, but it is – literally – fatal in terms of coronavirus.

But – and this is the worst part of the legacy – despite all this some opinion polls show public approval for their approach continues to grow (and though the picture on growth is mixed, still, it shows continuing majority approval). They have no incentive to change their ways – even if they were capable of doing so – when the rewards for not doing so are so ample. That may change, though, and quickly. I have just a sense that the narrative may be shifting at the moment and one index of that is, actually, the furious responses to adverse news stories, which smack of desperation. It shouldn’t be forgotten how easily public opinion can turn, as it did, for example, over the Iraq War.

A final thought

From those thoughts flows another. In this post, as in many others on this blog, I have referenced academics, journalists and think-tankers who do such extraordinary work in analysing and communicating what is going on. So much for having enough of experts. Indeed, as has been widely remarked upon, it is noteworthy how, in the coronavirus crisis, the UK government has turned not just to medical experts but to academic scientists and to businesses to cope with that crisis.

What is less widely pointed out is that, on the basis of the education profile of the vote to leave the EU, the majority of these are likely to have been against Brexit and are very much the kind of people who for the last four years have been reviled as the ‘liberal elite’. Equally, the heaviest burden in dealing with the sharp end of the crisis has fallen on NHS workers of all sorts, care workers, delivery drivers, supermarket staff and so on. Many of these, at all levels of skill, are immigrants, including many from the EU-27 who did not even have a vote in the Referendum.

Yet it is all these people, rather than the archetypical coastal town pensioner or home counties golf club bore, who are now expected to deal with the coronavirus crisis (just as civil servants are expected to deliver Brexit whilst being traduced as remainer traitors). In this sense, the deepest connection between the coronavirus and Brexit is the way that the former has comprehensively discredited some of the central myths and lies of the latter. It turns out that when the chips are down educated professionals, immigrants, and indeed educated professional immigrants are rather important after all. More so, at least, than contrarian newspaper columnists raging against restrictions on their inalienable right to go around infecting people.

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