What kind of Tory Government have we actually got?

With some of the highest rates of taxation in living memory, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

I’m sure I heard one Tory describe the present Conservative Government, a while back, as a benign Ted Heath type. Yes, I found that hard to accept too.

Interestingly, I’ve also heard folks speculate on Johnson not actually being a Tory at all because of his spend, spend, spend approach to the economy and yes, some of that speculation has come from Tory supporters.

Then of course you see the more traditional Tory approach in the recent taking of £20 per week back from those receiving Universal Credit. Now that seems more like the Conservative Party we’re used to. Yes, I know they gave it out in the first place, on a temporary basis due to Covid, but with significantly rising inflation removing it instead of confirming its permanence has quite simply made the poor poorer.

Acting appallingly towards refugees crossing the Channel; that’s plumbing new depths which traditional Conservatives of my Dad’s generation would never have contemplated no matter how bad their right-wing rhetoric against such unfortunate people may have sounded.

The endless dithering over Covid measures on the other hand seems so not Tory in nature, as traditionally they have liked to be seen as stable and decisive.

But what about ‘levelling-up’? It’s an odd thing for Tories to promote particularly if they actually meant it to be anything more than the political slogan which sadly it is. Surely Conservatism is all about protecting the middle and particularly upper/ruling classes from the working class? I guess it’s the recent re-emergence of working-class Tories who have deserted the Labour Party which is driving this pretend ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

From my perspective, all these contradictions are the result of the Tories getting lost in their own self-made fog and fantasy of Brexit, their pandering to populist right-wing wish lists, them lacking (in common with other UK political parties) strong leaders and finding themselves very poorly equipped to deal with the pandemic.

At the very time the UK needed a strong government it got ditherers. What my dear old Dad would have made of this I don’t know. He was from working-class Tory-supporting roots, although if you reminded him that his family used to live in a council house he always looked uncomfortable having made it to become middle-class. But my point is though that he had standards that were generally those of a decent person (I’m putting to one side here his utterly appalling anti-semitism!) and he’d seen through Johnson many years ago. Dad died in 2009 and he was bemoaning the decline in standards in public life and in the Conservative Party for maybe 10 years prior to that.

To my mind, the present Conservative government is all over the place politically but with a populist entertainer as their leader should we be surprised? It makes John Major look quite the statesman with hindsight does it not?

So who’d you have as aides if you were US President?

I was having a conversation with my old political buddy Andrew Blackburn the other day and we talked of who we would have in our team if we were the US President. It was re-watching the 1st season of The West Wing which inspired this conversation. It must be one of the best series that I’ve seen on the TV. So anyway here goes with my personal list of West Wing characters and some personal additional aides.

Those in brackets are the actors playing the parts in Season 1:-

The President (Martin Sheen) – Me of course! – Delusions of grandeur of it seems:-)

Vice President (Tim Matheson) – Phil Holden – needed to pull in the right of centre vote. All but a Republican he’s never the less far from being a right-wing nut-job. Has a fine analytical mind with which I often don’t agree but is useful in balancing my Social Liberal ‘leftie’ outlook.

Chief of Staff – Leo McGarry (John Spencer) – Andrew Blackburn – Always sees the wider picture, is very loyal and will tell me what I don’t want to hear.

Deputy Chief of Staff – Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) – David Rimmer – the most polite and successful political hit-man I ever knew – ‘Leave it to me boss, you won’t hear of it again’ and I didn’t.

Communications Director – Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) – David Tattersall – Turns government-speak into straightforward language voters can easily grasp.

Deputy Communications Director – Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) – Steph Prewett – The best at seeing required end results and making sure they’re achieved. As with David Rimmer, the buried bodies are never seen again.

Press Secretary – (CJ Cregg (Allison Jamney) – Layla Moran – Progressive, Liberal, naturally outgoing and likeable, has the common touch which few in politics have. She’s a natural to talk for my White House on any matter of public importance. Good to have someone of Palestinian descent in high office too.

Personal Aide to the President – Charlie Young (Dule Hill) – A young Charles Walker – Cheeky, full of fun, loyal and generous. A lifetime of wide experiences to fall back on make him an essential team member.

Secretary – Mrs Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) – Christine Polanski – 100% reliable gets rid of time wasters, knows when I need support and can make me laugh when stress levels are high.

Special advisors not a part of the West Wing –

Special Advisors Defence & Foreign Policy – Paddy Ashdown, Tom Tugendhat, Ming Campbell, Robin Cook

Special Advisor – Social Policies, housing & planning – Roy Connell

Special Advisor – Education and crime – Geoff Howe

Special Advisor – Environment and climate change – Caroline Lucas

Special Advisor – The arts, culture, broadcasting and media – Andrew Beattie

Special Advisor – Liberty, freedom, charities, poverty – Iain Brodie Browne

Special Advisors – without portfolios – Peter Gibson, Barry Smith, Dave Martin, Lord Peter Smith, Ken Clarke,

Special advisor – Transportation – Amtrak Joe

Re-socialising Herbert

Herbert, not their real name, is a friend of mine who has had a mixed lockdown. Whilst happy to be away from people so as not to get the Coivd virus the effect of the isolation has been to make them very wary of re-connecting with the outside world.

Getting jabbed twice has obviously been important but due to relatively young age, Herbert has only very recently had a 2nd jab, whilst working from home since March 2020.

Herbert does go out but only wearing a mask. They’ve even been in shops though with little confidence and possibly too much fear, but that’s easy for me to say.

My point in posting about this is often the pandemic is talked about with regard to the couldn’t care less brigade who have carried on regardless, probably/possibly unvaccinated and maybe even tried to promote anti-vaccine propaganda. But there’s another side to this pandemic and it’s the far greater number in our society who to some extent may have shut themselves away too much. Fear, health issues, already being lonely, aged, disability will all be pointers to this all but forgotten but significant minority. An angry anti-vaxer ranting about their freedom being curtailed will always make better news than this mostly silent, pretty much ignored, and probably far greater proportion of our society.

It’s not going to be at all easy for people like Herbert to re-socialise, they won’t want to go to indoor places/venues where large crowds gather for a long time to come, they will continue to be very careful about who they let through their front door and their mental health will have suffered and will continue to suffer especially as their confidence will be very low.

Employers, those companies who have a statutory right of entry to people’s homes, and indeed anyone wanting or offering to visit private homes needs to consider these issues seriously and probably for a long time to come.

Why is England’s Covid messaging so all over the place?

I was in a local shop a couple of days ago and the chap in front of me asked, when he got to the front of the queue, whether he should be wearing a mask (he did have one on) in that particular shop. The answer was that whilst the Government says you don’t have to we really do want all our customers to wear masks to help protect each other and the staff. The chap agreed but then went on to make a more general comment. He said that he could not get his head around government messaging on the subject as it seemed all over the place to him.

That comment made me think back to something I’d seen or heard, only a few days prior, on a media platform (can’t recall which) where a journalist had been tracking what differing Ministers had been saying about Covid and the ‘freedoms’ we were supposed to be getting. The conclusion was that the messaging was in fact all over the place and Ministers were in effect contradicting each other by giving out sometimes significantly different information/opinions. When you add into that the deliberate misinformation that can be circulated on social media, is there any wonder folks struggle to know what the powers that be are actually saying to us?

On many matters, the bad information, the misinformation, and even the deliberate lies don’t actually cost lives but with Covid they do! So why can’t our leaders at least sing from the same hymn sheet? To me, the answer is that Government Ministers don’t actually have an agreed message to give out; they really are just doing their own thing, giving personal opinions, or pieces of propaganda based on what their own political sect thinks. It’s like Brexit all over again but this time people’s lives are at stake! I really am beginning to wonder if the Conservative Party is slowly but surely turning itself into a political force akin to the US Republican Party where real facts mean nothing but opinion, no matter how ill-informed or off the wall, is treaded as fact.

I really can’t think of a previous UK Government, of any colour, that would have treated this Covid crisis as the present one has been doing. I would go so far as to suggest that incoherent chaos has been dominating Government thinking. Can you seriously imagine Tony Blair, John Major, Ted Heath, or Harold Wilson running a government so badly through such a massive national crisis? No, neither can I especially when you look at the more sober and considered messaging coming out of the Welsh and Scottish Governments. I might not personally agree with the Welsh or Scots leaders but I can credit them with being pretty consistent and clear in what they have been doing and saying during this crisis.

Treating workers as humans

We see so many working people being treated poorly these days that it’s come to be almost accepted that our fellow human beings, who happen to be employees, are simply expendable and worthy of little care. And I say that as an active trade unionist throughout my whole working life (1975 – 2017) where, in general, I saw working conditions getting worse rather than better.

The only thing that seems to matter these days is the production of whatever form of widgets you can imagine; greater and greater efficiency is the ever strived-for goal but at what cost? Mental health issues are at very significant levels and often the root cause can/will be working conditions, pressure at work, unreasonable production goals, and no time to consider that humans can only be pushed so far before they literally break down. Indeed, I fear that in times of raised unemployment some companies will push their employees past the brink as they don’t care and there’s always someone else who can fill the position of the person they’re in the process of breaking.

The gig economy is leading to huge and unacceptable exploitation of workers with governments and indeed trade unions across western economies struggling to bring this out of control sector to heel. But many mainstream companies, in trying to survive, are pushing their greatest assets to and past the brink. The NHS, poorly resourced as it is for mental health, has to try to pick up the pieces.

The latest mental (and of course physical) health crisis associated with employment is the pandemic we are presently living through. People working from home in inappropriate/inadequate conditions will take a toll on some workers, whilst yes some will find the situation liberating if they have the right conditions to be able to work at home. Generally, the poorer the worker is then the worse it will be trying to convert living space, which may well be scarce anyway, into a workspace. But what about when the pandemic is easing and workers are being pulled back to their traditional workspaces in offices often miles away and a public transport ride from their homes.

Isn’t bringing someone who has been working at home for say 15 or more months akin to bringing back an employee into a workplace who has been on long-term sick leave? Do employers realise that it’s probably not a good idea just to pull a lever and say ‘you’re back in the office next Monday’? Significant management skills are required to sensitively look after staff who are home-working and more again to identify those who will struggle to return to an office environment. The larger the company the more they should be able to ensure their managers, at all levels, are trained and able to help their staff members.

I’ve often felt that government should be leading the way as a massive employer of workers. It should be promoting the best practices and it should certainly not be contracting out work to companies unwilling to uphold similar high standards. Trouble is, at least in the civil service, that’s how things used to be and I started work at the tail end of such good practice. Sadly, I saw how government relinquished its moral responsibility with regard to best employment practices is it went through many years and counting of trying to get its work done at the lowest possible cost and bugger the consequences. And this process has run through governments of all colours I might add.

So, the reality is that government now, in effect, promotes very poor employment practices and even seems to be involved with dubious companies who may be working to undermine our tax system via National Insurance and tax dodging! With such leadership is there any wonder that looking after a company’s most important asset, the people who work for it, becomes a non-priority?

How long will it be before employers realise that treating employees poorly leads to poor outputs and treating them well has the opposite effect? It may take full employment before that lesson is learned by some companies (their staff will walk) but government can and should be leading the way rather than helping to create an explosion of workplace mental health issues!

Covid-Safe Workplaces?

I was a Branch Secretary for PCS trade union for 22 years and held other lay posts within that union and indeed its predecessor unions (IRSF & PTC) throughout my working life in the civil service. So it’s probably no surprise then that my now-retired eye was caught by the article below on the BBC website:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-56647149

I’ve been troubled throughout this wretched pandemic about how safe UK workplaces really are and the telling thing for me has been that I’m yet to hear of any employers being prosecuted for unsafe C19 conditions. Trade unions, of course, will always be (or at least should always be) on the front foot should their members have concerns about unsafe workplaces.

Here’s what the Health & Safety Executive say about how they get involved with workplace Covid 19 concerns:-

www.hse.gov.uk/coronavirus/regulating-health-and-safety/index.htm

I’d heard about the Swansea situation a while back and it seems like my former trade union and indeed its members in that agency of government have decided enough is enough. Clearly, even if all guidelines are being followed by DVLA (and I’ve no reason to think they are not) something is far from right with such large numbers of staff falling victim to C19.

But just think for a moment about all those non-unionised workplaces across the UK and how safe the staff feel who work in them, over C19 or indeed other matters, if there’s no union to take their employer to task.

We generally have safe working conditions in the UK because of the efforts of trade unionists over many generations. It’s best to join a union in my view; indeed when I first started work in the civil service it was and had been government policy for a long time to encourage all civil servants to join their appropriate trade union. That was good advice to me.