Not dead yet . . .

Dear Internet,

We are not dead yet. There is a paucity of posts at the moment because there is very little to post about. I doubt you are very interested to know whether or not it is raining. You know that we have Government Ministers who tell lies and/or demonstrate their incompetency, and the fact that we are still isolating ourselves will hardly come as a surprise. The world however chugs along without us. Our local Hermes family deliver parcels speedily, efficiently and – if we see them – a cheery wave or three.

And just to show what I mean, here is a photo of the neighbour’s house and their new extension. Work has progressed beyond that which you see, but only inasmuch that the corners of the roof and the ridge are now largely completed. It seems bigger than we supposed from the plans, but no doubt we shall get used to it. It will be nice for the owners, who have a new baby (not so new now !) when it is all finished and habitable and when we see people coming and going, and lights on in there at night.

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War Stories . . .

Some time ago I wrote about reading “The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly”, a title which would no doubt, and quite unnecessarily put some people off. I found it to be well written, and very informative source of a wider understanding of the Second World War than many other war accounts I have read.

This time I am writing about another book which runs along similar lines (no pun intended – see the title above). Anita Leslie was another person born into a titled family who sought something to do in the Second World War where she might see some action. She had an aversion to the conventional women’s services as they were not allowed to be put in front line situations. There were many besides Anita Leslie who thought that nurses, for example, would do a great deal of good for wounded soldiers if they could staff forward posts, but the powers that were would not allow it. Initially she joined the Mechanised Transport Corps and got as far as the Middle East via South Africa. Alas, the corps, or her part of it, was disbanded and its members offered the chance of joining the ATS, but Anita Leslie was having none of that and struck out on her own, initially with the Red Cross, but eventually as an enlisted woman in the Fee French Army, where she was an ambulance driver. Despite her rather hit and miss education she spoke fluent French which probably helped her in her application. Then she really did see, not action directly, but the immediate results of it often watched or heard from a distance, and she saw sights that would have reduced less tough people to helplessness. This work took her through the Vosges Mountains and into Alsace where she saw all the fighting to recapture Colmar and the surrounding area. We our selves have visited Colmar but we did not pick up any suggestion that it had been fought over with such ferocity.

These two books give one a view of the war seldom or never covered by the media. For UK media the latter part of the war was all Normandy invasion, and still is, and it sometimes appears that once that was achieved the rest – the next 11 months were all a cakewalk, a tidying up operation. True, Arnhem did not go very well, and the Battle of the Bulge, was a bit of an unsporting attempt of the Germans to hold up progress, but really it was all a foregone conclusion. Italy doesn’t get mentioned much, and once VE Day had happened the war in the Far East was discovered, but was too far away to get the immediacy of coverage that the Eurpean war attracted.

A third book which complements those above is Endell Street, the story of two female Doctors before and after the First World War and the work that they and others did in tending the wounded and setting up a hospital in London (in the street named in the title). Apart from its intrinsic value on the medical front, it records very well the extraordinary views of some male authorities that women could no do this sort of work, even though they were actually doing it, were being visited by all sorts of notable people, medical and otherwise, and extensively reported in the papers. The refusal of some people to see what is in plain sight is mind blowing. At the end of the war the hospital in Endell Street was peremptorily ordered to close. The Doctors and Nurses were dispersed. Some never worked again in medicine, others found posts where they could and laboured on in anonymity.

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Another year begins . . .

Today is my birthday.
I shall get up late and drink coffee.
My quarantined birthday cards will get opened.
I shall have liver and bacon for lunch
with mustard.
Lots of mustard.
Hot stuff.
The world will go on unaware that I am here,
that I have been for eighty seven years.
I have learnt that “i” comes before “e” except after “c”
except when it doesn’t
the sum of a lifetime’s learning.
I shall have a mince pie
and eat a Twix.
I shall break rules that are there to be broken
and hate the Government.
My “Expectation of life” is tomorrow and
if I’m spared
I shall enjoy it.

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Advent Sunday

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Come, then, and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings from the King of kings!

Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
Make straight the way for God within;
Prepare we in our hearts a home,
Where such a mighty Guest may come.

NOW you can start on your Christmas decorations !

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Professor Chris Grey . . .

Below I have posted Professor Chris Grey’s blog for Friday, 20th November 2020 . . .

Professor Chris Grey
Emeritus Professor Chris Grey. Royal Holloway College.

The Brexit Blog

Friday, 20 November 2020
Crazy time
I am not sure which cliché to apply to the current Brexit situation. Nail biting? Like having teeth pulled? Like watching paint dry? Perhaps it is some grotesque combination of all three and is like watching someone having their fingernails pulled out. At all events it is still unclear what is going to happen as regards a deal.

Most reports are now giving the first half of next week as the absolute crunch point. It surely can’t be much later given there are already problems for how any deal would be ratified in time for the end of the transition period in terms of both the UK process and, even more, the EU process. That said, it was reported yesterday by RTE’s Tony Connelly (an invariably reliable source) that the EU is looking for workarounds on its process.

The now perennial ‘will there, won’t there be a deal’ question is actually one of those occasions where it would be quite legitimate to show ‘balance’ by reference to expert opinion on both sides of the debate. For it really is the case that highly well-informed people are split pretty much equally. For example, Mujtaba Rahman, Managing Director for Europe at the Eurasia Group cautiously envisages a deal whilst John Peet, Political and Brexit Editor of The Economist, is sceptical that it is in prospect.

There’s certainly little point in trying to decode the various leaks and speculations in the press since there’s no way of knowing to what extent these derive from the spin operations of politicians or political factions and, in some cases, they are reported by what are self-evidently client journalists. The wisest words, perhaps, about the growing speculation that a deal is about to be struck come from Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor: “all the rumours and whispers you hear are just smoke and mirrors” so such speculation should be “handled with care”.

Meanwhile, there are now just 41 days to go, which include the Christmas holiday, before ‘economic Brexit’, and the country is in a mixture of lockdown and other restrictions due to the coronavirus. And the talks have been temporarily suspended because one of the negotiators has been infected, and Michel Barnier is in self-isolation.

It is a crazy way to be trying to settle an issue of such complexity and importance, and which will have such consequences for years to come.

The roots of this last-minute crisis

Despite the familiar Brexiter claim, we are not in this situation because ‘EU talks always go to the wire’. That is to confuse the internal talks at various summits between member states with those between the EU and third countries, which is what Britain now is. Rather, it arises because of the spectacularly incompetent way in which British governments, the Brexiters, and the wider British polity have conducted themselves since 2016.

That is most obvious in what almost everyone can now see was the utter foolishness of the government not requesting a transition period extension when it was possible, and saying it would not accept such a request from the EU. That period was always going to be too short and with Covid-19 impossibly so. The decision was not taken thoughtlessly, but derived from two things. The first was the belief – naïve in my view, but I suppose it remains to be seen for sure – that ‘the EU always blinks at the last minute’. From this perspective extension was pointless as it would only delay that last minute.

The second reason goes deep into the entire Brexit process. It was that any extension would immediately have been denounced by Brexiters as backsliding and betrayal. Their power and their paranoia have been recurrent themes since 2016 and are the main reason for the UK persistently boxing itself into time constraints and deadlines of its own making. The most obvious early example was that it led Theresa May in her 2016 party conference speech to promise to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017. That was a totally arbitrary date – there had been nothing in the Referendum result that dictated a time frame – and sticking to it meant that Britain entered the time-constrained Article 50 period with no real plan for how to enact Brexit.

That was part of a wider story of how much of the last four years has consisted of rushed decisions (such as Cameron’s resignation and the truncated leadership contest that installed May) and self-imposed deadlines some of which, unlike that for the Article 50 trigger, were then broken (such as May’s repeated pledges not to seek Article 50 extension and Johnson’s ‘die in a ditch’ promise). This story is in turn nested within an even wider one, which is that so much of the last four years has been about internal UK politics rather than about a negotiation with the EU.

On the one hand, there have been two general elections and two Tory leadership contests. On the other hand, there have been intense efforts to construct versions of Brexit that might get domestic political support (e.g. the first Brexit white paper, the Chequers proposal, the Malthouse compromise) without any consideration for the fact that they had no chance at all of being agreed with the EU. Then, when the outlines of future terms were agreed in the Political Declaration, Johnson, again for domestic reasons, repudiated it so that the negotiations during the transition period had effectively to go back to a blank sheet. And now, at this final moment of those negotiations, and amidst all the coronavirus disruption, the inner circle of the government – I don’t mean the cabinet, which hardly matters these days, but the unelected advisors formerly known as Vote Leave who have been running the country for the last year – has fallen into infighting and disarray.

I don’t think that Brexit could ever have had a good outcome, but for it even to have had a chance of avoiding total disaster what was needed was first to carefully build a domestic political consensus around something that could realistically be agreed with the EU, and only then to trigger Article 50, negotiate with the EU and, finally, to deliver something that might have at least been a stable end-state. In the meantime, the organizational preparations needed to implement this plan would have been made. But Brexiters were too impatient, too suspicious of betrayal, and simply insufficiently interested in the practicalities of Brexit for such a process to have been followed.

So the situation we now find ourselves in did not arise by accident and it isn’t just something to do with the current phase of Brexit. It is the latest stage and the latest consequence of years of incompetence, if not worse. For, of course, the incompetence is inextricably linked to the dishonesty of the claims and promises made. To give just one example – but a major one – the years of lying about how the UK could leave the single market and customs union but still have ‘frictionless trade’ or something very close to it explains both why no realistic plan for the future was developed and why preparations for border controls were not begun until far too late.

Paying the price

The price for all this is being, and will continue to be, paid by British businesses and their customers, and by the general public, in costs, inconvenience, job losses, and numerous other ways. There are now almost daily reports of the lack of readiness for the end of transition, irrespective of whether there is a deal, unless as part of a deal there is an agreed ‘adjustment’ or ‘implementation’ period as many business groups are now vociferously calling for.

A small round up of recent examples includes: shortage of warehouse space, lack of information for road hauliers (final guidelines are apparently due on 7 December!) alongside lack of awareness amongst truck drivers (£), no regulatory equivalence for financial services in place (this is a separate issue to the negotiations), several trade agreements not yet rolled over, Felixstowe container port in chaos (partly because of pre-Brexit stockpiling), projected labour shortages across numerous sectors (including social care and – yes – fishing), and the dire lack of preparations for the border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland with attendant risks of a “bonanza for organized crime”.

Whilst much of this is indeed in prospect even if there is a deal, things will be even worse without one. Yet in an extraordinary interview last weekend, DEFRA Secretary George Eustice spoke of such a scenario in terms which suggested he has not the tiniest understanding of how business works, or of the impact of import tariffs on prices and consumer choice, and of export tariffs on costs and jobs. Blithely saying that he “didn’t accept” what a dairy industry leader warned the effect of tariffs to be, he went on to opine that Arla, the Danish manufacture of Lurpak butter, would re-locate to the UK in order to sell to the British market.

This provoked immediate incredulity but, in an interesting micro-example of how the Brexit narrative operates, that incredulity brought forth a torrent of (orchestrated?) social media comments that Lurpak was already produced in Leeds in the UK. In other words, that those deriding Eustice for his lack of realism were actually indulging in another bout of Project Fear, that everything would continue as usual and so on. Such claims get circulated so quickly and in such volume that they quickly lodge as established truth. But, in fact, as Lurpak subsequently clarified (no pun intended) it is not true – it is, and can only be, produced in Denmark. As with Eustice’s casual dismissal of industry expertise, it’s a minor, but revealing, illustration of how we got into this mess.

No deal is still the worst outcome

Eustice is evidently not alone in ignoring business concerns. It’s reported that some in the cabinet think that the difference between deal and no deal is too small to matter as no deal “would only be 20% worse than the deal on the table”. This is a dangerous myth which has been put about in recent weeks by some Brexiters and, it has to be said, by some erstwhile remainers. It is true that both outcomes are bad, in the sense of being very substantially worse than being an EU member, and substantially worse than a soft Brexit would have been. It is also true, and should never be forgotten, that both are far worse than what Brexiters promised in the referendum and for years afterwards. In that sense, the recently launched Voices for a Better Deal campaign is well justified.

But even as things stand the difference between deal and no deal is a very significant one for goods trade, because it is this which will be affected to tariffs. To belittle this as a minor matter is deeply irresponsible on economic grounds alone but, also, it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is not just a trade negotiation. No deal would also have other malign consequences, for example for security cooperation.

In addition, a deal, however limited, would be a basis for something better in the future, and might at least presage more harmonious relations, and of course any possibility of an ‘adjustment period’ is dependent upon there being a deal. Conversely, whatever ‘no-dealers’ may think, ending transition without a deal would not be an end-state. As I’ve been arguing for months now (and for years in relation to the original no deal scenario) It would simply initiate a whole new set of negotiations in the context of zero good will.

At first, these would be on the urgent mitigations needed to deal with the immediate disruptions. So, yet again, Britain would have imposed time pressure on itself and, crucially, would be entirely dependent on the EU to create those mitigations (e.g. to enable continued air travel). Then, shortly after that immediate crisis, all the other issues of trade, security, data, fisheries and so on would still be in need of resolution. They would not have disappeared by virtue of ‘no deal’, they would just have been postponed.

Moreover, the political implications of no deal for Northern Ireland could be considerable. Although in principle the Northern Ireland Protocol exists to cover this eventuality, in practice there would still be much detail to be worked out. Presumably in these circumstances the UK would enact and implement the illegal clauses of the Internal Market Bill that have caused such consternation, and perhaps would also make other unilateral decisions about the operation of the Protocol. This in turn would sour relations with Biden’s America as well as with the EU. Indeed, more widely, no deal would inevitably see the Brexiters pushing much harder in their campaign for the government to renege on the Withdrawal Agreement in toto, with dire consequences for Britain’s international relations.

For all these reasons, no deal would be the final folly of the botched implementation of the terrible idea of Brexit. I understand that some believe that, thereby, the entirety of the Brexit project would be discredited in a cathartic moment of truth. However, the practical consequences would be so dire as to make that a pyrrhic victory, and it is by no means certain that the scales would fall from the eyes of the public in general or of leave voters in particular. I am sure that it would not result in the leading Brexiters recanting and, actually, that it would cause them to become ever more extreme in their demands and ever more convinced of their rectitude.

Deal or no deal, the Brexiters will call it betrayal

It seems so obviously rational and sensible that there should be a deal that anyone waking from a coma would wonder (amongst many other things) why there is even any question of it not being done. But, alas, those of us who have been awake for the last four and a half years are only too well aware that rationality and sense have nothing to do with it. Indeed, the capacity of Brexiters, within and outside government, to in any given situation make foolish and irrational choices based on ignorance, prejudice and lies is so great that if a deal is done it will come as a surprise to many.

What will not be a surprise – because it is a certainty – is that, if a deal is done, it will be denounced by many Brexiters as a betrayal of ‘true Brexit’ (even though some of those saying this will have been advocating a free trade deal as their desired outcome). In the same way, if there is not a deal, they will say that this is because of EU ‘punishment’ (even though some of those saying this will have been advocating no deal as their desired outcome) and so ‘proves’ that we were right all along to leave, but also that it is because of the failure of the government to negotiate effectively, due to betrayal by remainer politicians and civil servants. (Needless to say, any delay in ending the transition period or even implementing anything agreed will also infuriate them).

These reactions are inevitable both because the promises made for Brexit were undeliverable, and because, as I wrote exactly four years ago today, some of its most enthusiastic adherents are so psychologically invested in victimhood that betrayal is not what they most fear but what they most crave.

That is the real tragedy of Brexit. Not just that it is being done against the wishes of so many of us – now, in fact, the majority – but that whatever now happens those who want it most will be the most unhappy with it. It is about as perfect a definition of a lose-lose situation as could be imagined.

Posted by Chris Grey at 08:12

Chris Grey
I am Emeritus 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 any institution or organization. My Brexit Blog is accompanied by a twitter feed @chrisgreybrexit

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A good sermon for Christmas . . .

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Chronology . . .

“Chronology is the science of arranging events in their order of occurrence in time. Consider, for example, the use of a timeline or sequence of events. It is also “the determination of the actual temporal sequence of past events”. Chronology is a part of periodization. It is also a part of the discipline of history including earth history, the earth sciences, and study of the geologic time scale.”

So, Wikipedia.

Yea, well . . .

In the Church Times of 6 Nov 2020 there is an interesting article by Sarah Perry, unknown to me, about the 16th C. martyr Rose Allin. In my browser it can be found here, but might not be readable if you cannot sign in, for which I apologise. The original version is from the pen of John Foxe. Never mind though because below you will be able to read two consecutive paragaphs of the article – which I will now let you do . . .

It seems churlish to pick holes in someone’s best effort, and I think the editorial staff of the paper must bow their heads too. Rose Allin was martyred on the 2nd of August in 1557. The King James Bible, Authorised Version as it was in my youth, was commissioned by the king in 1604 and published in 1611, so Rose would have had some difficulty in reading it. We are told that she was a girl when she died, so she might just have survived to read the AV as an old lady had she lived. I am surprised that no one picked this up before publication, but we will charitably put that down to the organisational upset of Sars-Cov-2.

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Well, you did ask . . .

The Guardian today asked readers for their experiences of the “lockdown” (not a word I like*) and their views about the present and future. Here is “wot I rote” . . .

It is written in the form set out by the questions and I sent it in via Whats App as I find that the form provided by the Guardian often simply doesn’t work.

Retired, 86 years old.

We are already in November and obeying the clear instructions given by the Scottish Government and which can be readily checked on the Scottish Government wed site. We get our groceries by home delivery from Tesco in Castle Douglas and Tesco have shown themselves to be masters of the situation all the way through the last seven months. We had never had home deliveries before self isolation began on 16 March, but we think we will keep on with it always now as it is so much better for Oldies like us. We were asking neighbours to collect prescriptions and so forth, but once shielding stopped here in Scotland (1 Aug) we felt that was unfair so we go out suitably masked for essential items and occasionally somewhat longer journeys for the purpose of keeping the car battery charged. We normally recycle by going to the Recycling Centre in Castle Douglas but have not done so since last March. At first we stored our recycling waste here at home, but eventually that became too much to cope with, so we now dispose of it via the weekly wheelie bin collection in the full knowledge that it will go into a landfill site. We have totally ceased to use local shops because we don’t go into town, but have managed quite well with mail order. I do not like Amazon, but I have to admit that often Amazon is the only, or the most convenient, source of supply and their service is very good – as are the local ladies and girls who drive for the Hermes parcel delivery service. The Posties are also good, and will take outgoing mail in addition to their regular deliveries. Abebooks and PostScript books are good sources of reading materials.

The March self isolation began for us on the 16th when we got clear instructions to commence. We had to lay off our cleaning lady, we have not seen her since and have now lost touch with her. In practice once you get old and less mobile (and very deaf too) life under self isolation is not so very different from ordinary life. One has few friends locally, and family are scattered all over the country and the world, and the few visits they used to make have of course ceased completely. We did quite a bit of gardening – vegetable growing – but we found it to be hard work for Oldies and do not have the ground to grow on any large scale. We are fortunate to have two cars, and despite trying to keep both going the battery of one of them packed up entirely so I took it out. The car remained like this until the garage phoned to say its MOT was due (we got the 6 month extension) and so they fitted a new battery and the car is now usable and run regularly round the local roads – no stopping, or visiting. My wife (88) suffers from Metoprolol induced asthma so we have perhaps been more “isolationist” than some people as I don’t think Sars-Cov-2 would do her a lot of good.

My main concern is the poor attitude of the Westminster Government and the media generally who seem unable to decide whether preventing deaths or keeping complainers quiet is the more important. My own reading about the so called Spanish Flu outbreak suggests that we are far from being finished with this Covid outbreak and remarks by the Prime Minister about everything being alright by “x” date are inaccurate and misleading (like most of what he says) and that really we should be planning and preparing (by briefing people accurately) for a long way ahead. If vaccines are developed and tested properly and not in the ham fisted Government way, that may change the situation, but again there are too many inaccurate and ill founded predictions from both Government and media which will come back and bite us.

The other “elephant in the room” is the unknown effect of the ending of the EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement. If the pandemic is still going strong in the early part of 2021 how will food shortages and malnourishment affect the death toll ? This too needs facing and some Government advice about food storing would be in order. We managed it during WW2 and we should be managing it now. I foresee the possibility of civil disturbance (riots if you prefer) when the supermarket shelves gradually become empty.

You may publish any or all of this under my name and I shall endeavour to add a photo of my splendid self. Prepare to be amazed !

*I do not like the use of the word “lockdown” because it implies people are being forcibly detained. There is enough of this in the world being done in deadly seriousness that to use it in this cheap way is tactless, inaccurate and generally unpleasant. However, its snappy clickbait implications are ideal for organisations devoted to fear, uncertainty and doubt. I do not think my objections matter for much in the greater scheme of things. But it is better to light a candle than to complain about the dark.

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A Slight Hiatus . . .

Yesterday we had a bit of a mini disaster with this blog. It became impossible to access the back office aka “admin” and it became apparent that this was because the WordPress file wp_admin had become corrupted.
As always I was terrified that it might have been because of something that I had done, however inadvertently.

The support team at Heart Internet were as helpful as usual and they have now restored the blog to a back up dated 27 October last.  Everything appears to be working. A couple of images inserted after 27 October disappeared but they were soon uploaded again.  And the same with the forum. So sighs of relief all round, and now I must examine the back up facility on the Heart Internet Hosting site.  We may be isolating, but bored we ain’t.

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Linux Mint, sugar free . . .

This computer had a Windows Update disaster some time ago so I gave up on Windows and used Linux Mint. After a time I thought I might go back to Windows and went through (as I thought) the drills to download Windows 10 and install it. All seemed to go OK until a load of Windows updates appeared (as they do) and – you guessed ! – back to square one. So I have once again returned to Linux Mint – this edition being known as “Ulyana”.

I am very pleased with it. It seems to have advanced quite a way even though I was keeping things up to date before. I find now that there are sufficient workable programmes available – not needing geeky install stuff with terminals and the like – that I haven’t as yet come across anything I used to do with Windows that I cannot now do with Linux. I append below Linux Mint’s own blurb from their “About” screen . . .

The purpose of Linux Mint is to produce a modern, elegant and comfortable operating system which is both powerful and easy to use.

Linux Mint is one of the most popular desktop Linux distributions and used by millions of people.

Some of the reasons for the success of Linux Mint are:

  • It works out of the box, with full multimedia support and is extremely easy to use.
  • It’s both free of cost and open source.
  • It’s community-driven. Users are encouraged to send feedback to the project so that their ideas can be used to improve Linux Mint.
  • Based on Debian and Ubuntu, it provides about 30,000 packages and one of the best software managers.
  • It’s safe and reliable. Thanks to a conservative approach to software updates, a unique Update Manager and the robustness of its Linux architecture, Linux Mint requires very little maintenance (no regressions, no antivirus, no anti-spyware…etc).

Linux Mint can be found HERE

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