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.

Blair – Progressive but authoritarian

Tony Blair is a man much disliked particularly within Labour Party circles but, without doubt, he has been the most progressive PM the UK has had in many generations. Yes, I know that’s not saying a great deal because all the other PM’s who have won General Elections, have been Conservatives.

The left and particularly those who are within Labour’s fold seem to hate Blair with about as much passion as they hate Thatcher. This has long intrigued me not least because all the other elected PM’s, as I said, in recent times have been Conservative and therefore regressive of political nature.

Why does the left despise Tony Blair so much?

Readers of this blog site will know that I’m no supporter of Blair or indeed Labour as both are generally too right-wing and authoritarian for me. As a Social Liberal, I certainly don’t see myself as a centrist or a moderate, more as someone who is of the left but not a socialist. Having said that, I am happy to acknowledge that Blair is the nearest thing we have had to a progressive winning elections and sitting in No.10 because for me it’s a statement of fact. Yes, he was too moderate, too centrist, too authoritarian and not progressive enough for my political taste and of course he fouled up hugely over Iraq but having said all that he is still the most progressive PM to win general elections in many a year.

Listening to Labour folk talk about Blair over the years I think the reason they dislike him is due to his perceived middle-classness. With Labour very much a class-based party being working class is very important to them. And how many times have I mentioned the Labour Group on Sefton Council launching into a chorus of ‘we are old Labour’ whenever Blair or New Labour came up in a council meeting whilst TB was PM; it must have meant a lot to them to need to be seen to distancing themselves from their own party in government. The odd part of all this is I’ve rarely if ever heard Labour members chuntering about Blair because of Iraq. You see to those of us lefties who are not within the Labour fold that was his greatest foul-up.

I’m also guessing that being anti-Blair is something those within the Labour Party have to be for them to have credibility, so there’s probably a fashion in Blair-slagging even from those Labour members who have a sneaking but unspoken liking for him and his governments.

Do I like Blair? No, not really, he often comes across to me as rather superior and irritating to listen to. Having said that he sometimes has well thought out progressive things to say and at times I’ll say Blair is right. Trouble is most Labour folks cover their eyes and put their figures in their ears whenever Blair appears on the TV.

Blair’s Government called it both right and wrong over Sefton’s Council Housing

One of his government’s unnecessarily authoritarian moves affected the Borough of Sefton and in particular its council housing stock and it shows how Blair could be good and bad at the same time. He was spot on when it came to realising that council/social housing across the UK was not up to standard so his government devised a policy called Decent Homes Standard. Sefton Council was in the frame for a big chunk of his government’s money to bring its council housing up to this new standard BUT, in a typically Labour move, they took the view that the council was not the appropriate body to get the work done. They demanded, as my friend and former Borough Councillor Geoff Howe recently pointed out, that the Council transfer its council housing stock over to a housing association or there’d be no money provided to bring Sefton’s council housing up to the new Decent Homes Standard. It sounded to me like blackmail then and it still does now. It led to Sefton having to ballot its council house tenants over such a transfer, which on the first ballot they refused but then agreed to via a 2nd ballot.

I never quite got why the council would not be an appropriate body to get the work done; did Blair’s government think Sefton would take the money and use it unwisely? It certainly showed a lack of trust in the council in my view yet there’d been no previous fall-outs with them before they took what I saw as an unnecessarily authoritarian position; a position which led directly to a new housing association having to be set up to deliver the Decent Homes Standard with both land and housing needing to be transferred to it. I still think the whole saga was a waste of time and resources because it also meant that Sefton Council no longer had control over its social housing stock. It was a ‘we in Westminster know what’s best for Sefton and if you don’t agree there’s no money to do up your council houses’ position and it was ridiculous authoritarian micro-management. I don’t have a problem with housing associations, I might add, it’s just that in Sefton’s case it was simply an unnecessary requirement to have to create one in my view.

So yes I have big issues with Blair both nationally and locally but whichever way you cut it he is still the most progressive politician to win the PM’s seat in General Elections for far too many years. On that basis can I suggest that hounding Blair for his failures whilst not being willing to acknowledge his generally progressive position on a number of important social issues is counter-productive as the alternative has always been a Tory one!

Starmer shown red card and has early Bath

It seems as though Keir Starmer can add unlucky to his present list of troubles following his unfortunate encounter in Bath with a Brexiteer.

Your first thought is how on earth did his minders get him into such an encounter; the very kind of publicity he’d not have wanted.

But then on further reflection, what on earth was he doing campaigning in Bath which is already represented by a radical and progressive MP. You’d have thought his efforts would have been better aimed at a Tory seat rather than helping the Tories to unseat an MP of the centre-left who is far more radical and progressive than the vast majority of Labour MP’s. Having said that maybe it’s as simple as he’s on the same track as Jez Corbyn i.e. get rid of all other radical left of centre MP’s who are not Labour; the Tories can wait until we’ve achieved that. Trouble is that the tribal approach simply does not work and it lets the Tories have a free run.

Whilst Starmer is clearly more electable than Corbyn he’s no progressive leader at all and he seems to spend much of his time making progressives both inside and outside of the Labour Party cringe. He also seems to be on a very different course to Tony Blair who gathered progressives around him, made friends with the then Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown and made himself look like a progressive who could and would win. Starmer’s approach seems to be one of hiding behind his party political sofa saying as little as possible and certainly not reaching out to other progressives in the Greens, Lib Dems etc. So the ‘one more heave’ policy of Labour under Corbyn is still thought to be alive despite it being pronounced very much dead in the December 2019 General Election.

The trouble with Labour is that they are a wide collection of political sects from the right, through social democrats and off into the many sects of socialism. This means working-class right-wingers, who have bought into Johnson, are in the same overall tent as Momentum! No wonder Labour spends so much of its time fighting itself and trying to heal internal divisions. They call it a ‘broad church’ but it’s so broad that its internal sects often hate each other more than they do the Tories.

So no one on the progressive left really has any idea where Starmer is heading as he clearly didn’t in Bath.

Having read this far you may think I want Starmer to fail but actually, the opposite is true. We desperately need a centre-left, progressive and yes radical alternative to our UKIP-type Tory Party. A Progressive Alliance of Labour, Lib Dems & Greens is required but for that to happen Labour has to stop attacking fellow progressives and Starmer has to start to look like a real leader of women and men. Sadly, the way things are going there’s not much room for hope and the Tories march on without a credible opposition.

Brexit Deal – ‘celebrating’ abject political failure

Welcome to the UK at the end of a terrible 2020. Like everywhere else on earth we’re battling against Covid 19, but we’re also very troubled with our own self-destructive need to shoot ourselves in both feet. For years our politicians and our press have found ways to blame foreigners, the EU, the French indeed pretty much anyone outside of the UK for our own self-made troubles. The whole sorry mess has culminated in what looks to be a wretched Brexit Deal which is bound to be one of the greatest acts of self-harm this country has imposed on itself in living memory. Just look at the deal; it’s terrible:-

We often look to the right of politics to blame for our Brexit debacle but in reality the supposedly progressive parties have sadly had a big hand in this process as they’ve found themselves unable to effectively rise up and oppose it; an abject failure of leadership across the board.

The Tories found themselves being infiltrated by UKIP and latterly the Brexit Party in a far more successful way than Militant ever infiltrated Labour in the 1980’s. Many senior Tories acted like appeasers and they were rolled over and left politically dead. But not content with allowing narrow nationalism to take over their party they then elected as their leader the most unsuitable person just about ever to lead them and be Prime Minister. There can’t have been anyone within the Tory Party who was not aware of his flaws, indeed he’d changed his views over the EU from being a staunch backer of it to exactly the opposite and that can only have been for political power which could not have been gained otherwise. He’s proved to be the disaster that pretty much everyone thought he would be, but that’s of course no surprise at all.

But where has the official opposition been during this period of political turmoil? Labour under both Corbyn and Starmer have been fence sitting, hiding behind their Brexit sofa and trying not to be an opposition because too many Labour supporters on it’s right wing and even a few on its left wing are Brexiteers. Indeed, many of its white working class supporters helped to deliver Brexit by voting for Johnson’s Tories at the last election! Many of us progressives thought Starmer was having his wings clipped when he was Corbyn’s Brexit Spokesperson but sadly he’s hardly moved Labour from its ‘hide behind the Brexit sofa’ position at all as their new leader. He now even says Labour backs Johnson’s terrible deal!!!!!

And what of the pro-EU Lib Dems? Some false dawns prior to the last General Election came to nothing as they were unable to win the hearts and minds of voters even many who actually agreed with them! Suffering a lack of high profile leaders since the tragic loss of Charles Kennedy they’ve been unable to communicate with voters at all well of recent years. Like Labour they went for a safe pair of hands (Ed Davey*) after political trauma when their new leader desperately needed to be a Kennedy/Ashdown kind of communicator who voters would take notice of. Predictably, having gone for the safe pair of hands, the Libs have not been cutting through and frankly Starmer & Davey might as well be a firm of high street accountants for all the good they’ve done at Westminster. Both are worthy, both may well be steady Cabinet members but neither are leaders of women and men.

If you’ve got this far I’m guessing you’re not a Brexiteer and that you realise there’s nothing, literally nothing, to celebrate with our former ‘oven ready’ Brexit Deal. We’ve trashed our economy and our neighbour trading relationships because voters were convinced (in 2016) that most if not all of our ills were the fault of the EU which, despite its many faults, it rarely was/almost never had been. The power of our right wing press to get what it wants and implant its views in elector’s minds has indeed been proven.

And what next? I’m of the view that Scotland will probably leave the UK and re-join the EU at some point. I’m also of the view that what has gone on will have hastened a united Ireland. I’m supportive of both I might add. The thing which is bizarrely working in Brexiteers favour though is Covid 19 as the wrecking of our economy can at least be blamed on that with the Brexit effects being concealed. How bizarre is that? So be prepared for many more years of blame for our ills on ‘others’ as Brexiteers are not going to stop lying to you.

From my perspective as a Social Liberal of the left and a progressive politician by instinct we need credible leaders on the left who can communicate with voters. Blair was successful as he could communicate well. Yes I know, he went off the rails big style over Iraq etc. but I’m taking about a real communicator. Politicians like him and Ashdown and Kennedy and John Smith are few and far between these days but if Liberals, Social Democrats and the Socialists who aren’t Brexiteers want to rid UK politics of our nationalistic politicians they’ve got to find such leaders and when found they need to sitting on the sofa with electors not hiding behind it!

Click on the scans of the Brexit Deal graphics to enlarge them

* But I do give credit to him for saying he won’t support Johnson’s Brexit Deal

PM dislikes Scotland because it has power to defy him

Another ridiculous outburst from the PM (see link to BBC article below) but there is within this issue a lost opportunity which Blair found himself unable to resolve.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54965585

What should have happened alongside the Scottish and indeed Welsh devolution was and indeed still is the need to set up regional governance in England. By just devolving powers to Scotland and Wales an unbalanced process of governance was set in train. The Tories have in their own way tried to redress this imbalance via their Metro Mayors and City Regions but this has, at least in my view, been pretty much an abject failure, apart that is from it turning Bandwagon Burnham the Manchester Metro Mayor into a Scouse hero.

No, the problem is the utter mess of devolution in England Mr Johnson; you’re looking, as usual, through the wrong end of your telescope.

Power should always be exercised at the lowest practical level of governance commensurate with it being efficient and democratically appropriate. You start with England’s network of Parish/Town Councils working your way up via Borough/Unitary Councils then Regional governance in my case (North West England) and then UK Governance. The object should be to exercise as few powers as possible at UK level. Defence, international relations, national budgets and obviously UK-wide issues come to mind. Everything else gets pushed down as low as possible so that governance is at the most appropriate level. It’s not rocket science for goodness sake……..

Political inspiration desperately needed for the left of UK politics

You might say ‘God help us we are desperately in need of dynamic political leadership on the left’, although in my case it would be your God as I don’t actually have one but you get my drift. And indeed drift is what has got the left of UK politics into the mess that it is.

But where did the rot start? For the Lib Dems after Charles Kennedy bowed out as their leader, for Labour probably when the wrong Miliband was elected their leader. Yes we can argue about when the rot started but when will it stop?

I don’t know about you but I’m desperately unimpressed with the direction progressive politics has been and may still be heading in. It could not organise itself to oppose a Brexit that virtually every progressive opposed whether they be members of PC, SNP, Lib Dems, Greens or Labour. There’s been no credible opposition to the Conservatives since 2010 at least. Yes there’s been a lot of shouting from the left but when push came to shove the left went in 5 or more directions all at once due to factional sects being unwilling to work with each other even on agendas where they shared common goals! The nearest we got was the Remain Alliance at the 2019 GE when the Greens, PC and Lib Dems tried to put out a nearly unified team, which then utterly failed.

Failure for the left is a comfortable old coat that gets passed down from one generation of left leaning party leaders to the next to give the Tories an assurance that the left is rarely going to get its act together and of course it usually tries not to!

Under our warped electoral system which virtually all other democracies ditched long ago we are left in almost every constituency with a binary choice. In most it’s left V right but it can be left V left but rarely if ever right V right. The right of UK politics is good at reorganising as the Conservative party morphs itself into UKIP when it was a threat to its ground and the Brexit Party when it reared its head. But the left stays in its own political silos pretty much come what may, no matter that it means year upon year of Conservative governance.

But the lack of serious opposition has meant the Tories have also become careless because they pretty much know they can get away with anything & everything. May’s minority Government was weak; Johnson’s is all over the place and both when the UK has needed strong governance and a clear direction. But even with a weak right the left can’t or won’t get its act together! It treads water, it shouts from the side-lines, it settles for keeping it’s own minority of backers on side. It all but takes out advertisements saying that it’s a waste of space and incapable of offering alternative leadership which folk can feel in any way enthusiastic about. Ask us in 2024 when we are near the next election and we may have woken up by then but don’t expect anything other than us going through the motions, at best, until then.

Blair understood that he needed to build an alternative movement and so did Ashdown indeed they did some of their planning in joint consultation because they knew that fighting each other would only be to the Tories advantage. Has the left learned anything from that? Clearly not and that’s because everything that Blair stood for is now policy of the devil amongst many on the left. They look upon him as being wrong about everything because he fouled up badly over Iraq and is perceived to have been too moderate and centrist. Of course he was not wrong about everything and the understanding he had with Ashdown was very far from being wrong – although it was sadly not followed through. As usual the left chucks the baby out with the bath water because well it enjoys cutting off its own nose to spite its face, it’s what the left does and in some left leaning minds it’s what it always should do.

I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of this carry on not least because it keeps delivering Tory Governments. But what can we do? Well the prospects aren’t good let’s be honest. To start with both the Lib Dems and Labour have middle aged white leaders who would do well to win a dull as dishwater contest even if they were the only contestants. Not sure where the Greens are going but the SNP at least has a credible leader. Ah but the Lib Dems and Labour fight like cats and dogs with the SNP because they’re unionist parties whereas the SNP is by definition a party of independence. Never mind that, putting that Scots Indy issue to one side, there may well be areas of social policy for example where there’s some common ground they still have to be seen to politically hate each other over everything. Oh what’s the point you may well say, indeed I’ve said it myself, but with the present Conservative Party having a free run to do anything they want the left simply has to stop kicking itself in the goolies and face up to providing an alternative vision. Doing nothing just puts the UK on the road to ruination, which is of course why many Scots want out!

So the two dull as dishwater leaders have to start talking and they have to find to try to some accommodation with the SNP. If they do nothing else they need to look back at the Blair/Ashdown talks of not that many years ago and as Ashdown is sadly no longer around even consult Blair.

You know there are good people in the Labour Party, in the SNP and even in the Lib Dems who can find ways of not declaring war on each other at the drop of a hat. If they don’t do this, if they can’t summon up some left leaning political inspiration to capture the hearts and minds of the electorate but particularly of young people then we all on the left deserve to go to the Tories version of hell in their rickety hand cart.