Simple answers to complex matters

Politicians have always known how to play to our prejudices and to keep us thinking about supposedly simple answers to complex issues. Of course, little in our society and world can be solved by simple sound-bite political slogans but how many of us are sucked into simplistic/easy answers whilst we can’t really be bothered with all the complexities? I’d been thinking about this for a while and then an issue popped up again which could well be of great significance but which has mainly been brushed under the political carpet. See the link below:-

www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/jul/16/carole-cadwalladr-boris-johnson-lebedevs-prime-ministers-defining-scandal?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

Carole Cadwalladr is one of the foremost investigative journalists of our times or if you are into simplistic answers from the right of our politics, someone who should be silenced and ridiculed. Of course, the Government will dismiss her concerns as ‘nothing much at all, let’s move on’ but the murky world she’s been uncovering should really worry us all.

Leaving the EU was an example of a hugely complex matter, no matter what view you held, yet we had a simplistic debate and a ridiculous referendum that couldn’t possibly have delivered a considered result through which the electorate expressed a clear and most importantly an informed opinion. It was a ‘let’s play to the anti-EU prejudices of an ill-informed electorate’ built up over generations by our right-wing press. That vote also played into racism and Little Englanderism yet it was a massively complex matter where the implications of Leave were not understood by the majority of us. Even the lead Brexiteers seemed to have their own individual versions of what Leave meant. But all this is now very much apparent with recent opinion polls telling us that we know we made a pigs ear of a hugely important matter because many of us were voting for things which had little if anything to do with the EU.

But what else is being fed to us by our populist political classes and/or what do they sweep under their carpet which they very much don’t want us to know about? Presently, we are being promised tax cuts by the Tory Leadership candidates and cutting of EU red tape, despite the fact that leaving the EU has created huge amounts of er red tape! Obviously, simplistic answers to the complex mess the UK presently finds itself in just won’t cut it but, of course, those candidates are actually only speaking to the 100,000 to 200,000 Conservative Party members as no one else will get a vote. Just think, those members will predominately be of a mature age, mainly anti-EU, anti-foreigners, wealthy and consumers of the Daily Mail. On that basis, you can dismiss the candidate’s rhetoric as pretty much irrelevant to good governance as they’ll all mostly say anything to win a majority of this small electorate. Yet with all of us, except the Conservative voting well off, feeling the pinch at present someone offering you a tax cut and the cutting of red tape too may well get a hearing with the wider electorate.

Our public services are in a terrible mess across the board because of austerity, poor governance, Covid, Brexit and global economic conditions. More tax cuts will inevitably mean more cuts to public services no matter how you look at it. Yes, you’ll be told that ‘we’ll make the NHS, Councils, our railways etc.’ more efficient to counter the reduced money being given to them but shouldn’t the government be doing that all the time? In reality, the efficiencies will be negligible but the cuts will be deep. However, the very same politicians have also promised us ‘Levelling Up’, 40 new NHS hospitals (a medium-sized one costs in excess £500m*), many more GPs, nurses and dentists than you can shake a stick at (and all desperately required) so where will the money come from if another era of austerity/small state is the real agenda? None of this makes any sense. What we really need is a debate about how we can get the UK back on the rails not simplistic politician’s pledges which effectively tell us we can have everything for nothing yet again.

And back to Cadwalladr’s investigations, as without the likes of her, we’d know nothing of what our leaders get up to. The trouble is much of our press sees its job as backing a political party rather than holding all our leaders, no matter what their political colour, to account. My view of politics is never to trust anyone with power no matter who they are, just look what has become of us all because the electorate thought Johnson would be a bit of a laugh!

* Government has committed £3.7bn to the New Hospital Building Programme – £16.3bn short of what would be required to build 40 new hospitals – Source Dr Phil Hammond in Private Eye No.1577

Where did the ‘One Nation’ Tories go?

Because my politics is not tribally based I hope I can try to look at the politics of other parties with at least a degree of objectivity. On this occasion, I want to look at the modern-day Conservative Party and contrast it with its not too distant past.

I look upon the present-day Conservative Party as one which seems to present itself, almost proudly, as being the party of spivs and chancers. In my view, it’s a very different beast from the former ‘One Nation’ Conservative Party of say Ken Clarke or John Major and the significant shift is possibly one that started less than 25 years ago.

My Dad, George Robertson, was a Tory, sometimes a Party member and a one-time Director of Maghull Conservative Club. Through him and via my time as a local councillor I have met many Conservatives. In straightforward terms, I’d say the vast majority of them were reasonably comfortable middle-class folk who wanted low taxes, strong law and order, their wealth protected and they could not abide liers, spivs and chancers – not cricket, un-English and rotters are how I think they’d see them.

Obviously, I did not share Dad’s politics but on one occasion, when he had the opportunity to vote for me (as I was standing in the ward he lived in), he told me that he had done so. It led to an amusing (for both of us) exchange where I pointed out that he should have voted Labour as I was too left-wing for him. However, whilst not supporting his politics I had the opportunity to try to understand them. Each day he would read his Daily Telegraph and he’d make remarks about Margaret Thatcher (I think he wondered if she was a bit too soft at times!), Tony Blair (he was far too much of a leftie for Dad), John Major (possibly too much of a leftie for the Tory Party) etc. etc. What became apparent to me was that Dad was worried about where the Tory Party was heading and indeed the Daily Telegraph too.

If I understood him correctly, he feared that standards were dropping, that spivs and chancers were coming to the fore in his party and I think his views were shared within his circle of Conservative supporting friends. To put this in context Dad died in January 2009, so I’m talking about things going on within and around the Tory Party in the years before then.

Obviously, all political parties evolve over time and they, in UK terms, drift around the political spectrum driven by political dogma or events beyond their control. However, what Dad saw happening to his Party in say the 10+ years prior to his death and then taking into account what has subsequently taken place, hasn’t the present-day Conservative Party fundamentally changed in ways that would have seemed inconceivable only 25 years ago? If Dad was concerned about the rise of spivs and chancers 15 years ago, what on earth would he think of the Tories as they present themselves now?!

So where have the Conservatives of the not so distant past gone to? Yes, many will have passed away, some will have all but been thrown out of the Tory Party and others will have left of their own accord. Yet, even taking that all into account, where have the ‘One Nation’ Tories gone to? Who are they supporting politically in the very much changed right-of-centre political spectrum?

Starmer’s Labour Party seems to be on a mission to recapture the white, working-class, right-wing voters who switched to the Tories in recent years. To do that Labour needs to look, at least to that section of the electorate, more than a little Tory and to have a policy stance right-of-centre. But, of course, these presently Tory backing electors are not middle-class, they don’t have the same values as ‘One Nation’ Tories did so is there any wonder that they’ve changed the Tory Party quite fundamentally. Indeed, Johnson and Starmer act as if the white, working-class, right-wingers are the only part of the electorate they have any interest in!

This situation leaves the majority of the electorate with a feeling of being unwanted unless, of course, they are tribal Tory or Labour voters who will continue to support their own clan no matter what it stands for. But look at it this way, who is fighting for the poor and disadvantaged in our society and who is now fighting for the middle classes? If Labour and Tories are only interested in white, working-class, right-wing voters (predominately those in work) then it means other sections of our society are being politically cut adrift but with the hope that tribal party loyalty will pull them in to vote for their usual party.

We are used to the Labour Party swinging from left to right as such has always been the case, but my view is that the Tory Party is now a very different animal from the one it was only a generation ago. Our politics, in general, is more right-wing as a right-drifting Tory Party has pulled Labour along with it too. As a Social Liberal of the left, I also worry that the Lib Dems have lost some of their radical, progressive edge which was more evident in the Charles Kennedy era.

So my case is that the Conservative Party has fundamentally changed, it has lost its previously dominant ‘One Nation’ Tories and to me, it looks like it has very much embraced spivs and chancers. A party where any form of common, mutual or state ownership is deemed to be another act of socialism that needs to be put back in the private sector. One Nation Tories could at least see a place for some public services being in public hands. And of course, the change here is that the Tory policy agenda these days seemingly has the ‘backing’ of the white, working-class, right-wingers, although in reality they are very much being played as the Conservative Party will always be about the comfortable and wealthy.

And oh yes, what about Partygate? Well, my old Dad being a Conservative with standards thought Boris Johnson was a wrongun donkey’s years ago. I think he’d have said about recent events that the man is no Conservative and should never have been elected as their leader. Indeed, I’m pretty sure Dad would have walked away from the Tories when Johnson became their leader, such was his dislike of the man.

Driving UK society to a new ‘wild west’?

If we can get away with it, it’s OK. Our leaders don’t follow the rules, so neither will we. It’s every man and woman for themselves. We are all Thatcher’s children. Grab what you can before anyone else does.

I put it that such is starting to characterise what is happening to our UK society which was once thought to be very stable and law-abiding.

A process that has probably been well in train and developing for many years seems to have accelerated since lockdown, indeed you could say it’s been driven with the foot very much down to the boards. The end result is one of us becoming a more self-centred and isolationist society. Wasn’t it Thatcher who said there’s no such thing as society? Well in 2021 that’s even more true than when she said it 40 years ago. We seem to have a significant section of present-day society that does not see itself as being a part of anything much at all and certainly not part of a neighbourhood or community, and very much not part of a wider world!

You see this most obviously on our ‘wild west’ roads where pretty much anything goes these days. I never fail to be troubled, and this is pretty much every time I leave our house by cycle or car, at lunatic driving. Not just breaking the speed limit but doubling it and red-light running is something I now expect to see at every traffic-lighted junction and Pelican Crossing as opposed to a once in a blue moon thing it was say 20 years ago. Litter comes tumbling out of cars at junctions, even dirty nappies. Anyone who drives at or just below the speed limit is hounded by abusive drivers who feel entitled to do whatever speed they wish and who know the chances of being caught doing it by the powers that be are all but non-existent.

And then I look at our wretched government which seems to lead this wild west society by doing just as it pleases and beggar the consequences. Yes, of course, I’m no Tory so I do have an axe to grind against them but surely the modern Tory Party is a world away from what it once was? A party which has always had its spivs and wide boys but which kept them firmly in the background now seems to celebrate dodgy doings and those who do them!

My Dad’s family were working-class Tories living in a council house but with a few unfortunate exceptions, in terms of beliefs, they were decent and law-abiding. The exceptions being, anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism. Dad died in 2009 but even back then he was clearly troubled by the declining standards within the Tory Party; his views on Johnson are unprintable. He once told me that his concerns mirrored what he saw as the decline in his much loved Daily Telegraph newspaper. He could not be doing with dishonesty and could not understand the drift of the Tory Party he had been a member (off and on) and supporter of his whole adult life.

Yet will this drift towards a wild west-type society be tackled or have we gone too far for any politicians to have the guts to stand against selfishness, I know best and sod everyone else I’m doing what I want attitudes? I have my doubts as bit by bit Johnson has been taking us towards a Trumpian-type society and it is very difficult having in effect endorsed a ‘do as you please there’ll be no consequences’ approach to then haul that back. That horse has bolted and the opposition looks too weak and ineffective to address matters; best to not see what’s going on.

As a Social Liberal, my guiding principle is along the lines of we should be free to do as we wish so long as we are not harming others and the environment in exercising our freedoms. If we learn that what we doing is hurting others/the environment then we should try to restrain our freedoms accordingly, but I appreciate that many Conservatives and indeed Labour supporters would not support such a view of our world.

On the whole, I’m pessimistic about our direction of travel not least because it will inevitably lead to the poor becoming poorer and the powerful grabbing an even bigger share of our ever more unequal society.

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?

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.

Tony McCalmont-Woods RIP

Tony was a Conservative councillor in the Maghull area of Sefton Borough in the 1980’s and 1990’s. If memory serves he represented Park Ward for a number of years until the late 1980’s when a political power shift took place in the Maghull & Lydiate area and the Lib Dems came to the fore.

Tony was also a member of Maghull Town Council which is where I came to know him following my election to that Council in a by-election in 1985. Again, if memory serves, I think he continued to be a member of the Town Council until the late 1990’s.

My memories of him are of a chap who always wore a business suit and tie as was quite usual for gentlemen of his and my Dad’s generation. Indeed, my Dad (George Robertson) and Tony knew each other well as both were members of the former Conservative Club in Maghull – It became Kensington House Sports & Leisure Club.

In Town Council meetings Tony was always very business-like in his approach to matters and I, as a fresh faced young Liberal, looked upon him as a big beast in local politics. I was once told that Tony was expected to rise through the Conservative ranks on Sefton Council but this did not happen because of the change of political wind in Maghull & Lydiate towards the SDP/Liberal Alliance and then the Lib Dems.

I recall a conversation with him at some civic event when I asked him about his serious approach to pretty much all Council business and he laughed out loud taking me by surprise as a different side to his stern character surfaced. It wasn’t long after this that some new play equipment was being ordered by the Council and Tony was very keen that it should be galvanised to make it longer lasting. It then became a bit of regular political banter as some wag would add on to something Tony had said along the lines of ‘and get it galvanised’.

Tony also had his very own political opponent in the guise of Cllr. Audrey Beattie as every now and then they would have a reasonably ‘good natured’ set to over some matter or other much to the amusement of other members of the Town Council.

During my very last conversation with well known local journalist Jim Sharpe, a few weeks before he died a couple of months ago, he asked me whether I’d heard anything of Tony in recent times as he understood him to be quite unwell.

I did not serve on Sefton Council with Tony as he had left that Council before I was elected to it in 1999 I might add.

The last time I saw Tony was a few years back in Morrisons Maghull shop. We had a chat about the old days and he commented on how the political rug had been pulled from under his party’s feet by the Lib Dems and that Labour had now done the same to the Libs in Maghull. How true that comment was.

I was not close to Tony but I hope my recollections and memories of him, if only at the margins, illustrate the man, the politician and the local councillor.