23 July 2020
View from the Cotswolds
Of oligarchs and nurses: too hot to handle?
By Paul Branch
Two events in Westminster this week are particularly revealing and unexpectedly linked. Reds under the bed (allegedly, but we’ll never know) on the one hand, and on the other we witnessed another unfortunate governmental lapse in not recognising the need to reward those who have gone above and beyond in our interests, namely Nurses caring for us in our hospital beds.
The delays leading up to the publication by the parliamentary Intelligence Select Committee of their report on possible Russian interference in our electoral processes are now even more incomprehensible than before. Why delay a report that confirms that absolutely nothing was done by anyone regarding any part of the committee’s investigatory questions? And that therefore nothing was uncovered outside the public domain which proves conclusively that Russia interfered with us? In view of this complete vindication, no wonder Nigel Farage is demanding an apology from all those pathetic Remainers who just can’t get over the Brexit referendum. And similarly Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s very own Rosa Klebb with daggers on the soles of her shoes, remains tight-lipped over the possibility of any Russian support in the Scottish referendum. More confusing still is why Boris made such a fuss about the election of the committee’s chairman – surely not even his pet candidate Chris Grayling could have delivered an even more innocuous set of non-findings.
But the conspiracy theorists still blather on, pointing to the number of oligarchs in London these days inflating our real estate economy and propping up the Conservative Party’s coffers. Despite their laudable hobnobbing with the great and the good of British society, they are clearly busy people and will have had neither time nor opportunity to establish any kind of intelligence network on behalf of their own government which gave them leave of absence from Moscow. These fine folk will have also been vetted for their UK residency visas so as to ensure that their wealth has been accumulated in a strictly ethical and legal manner, and that they pay any tax that might be owing, so what’s not to like?
And what of Boris himself? Apart from the obviously coincidental Bulgar derivation of his name (and Boris is only his second name after all), his Manhattan birthplace, his strikingly British upbringing and education at Eton, Oxford Balliol and Brussels, and his propensity for fatherhood all fly in the face of any unseemly Russian connection. If anything, he is less than admired in Moscow where by all accounts his own triumphal election was greeted with the scornful reference to “mini-Trump” … although there were also said to be some smug smiles of satisfaction in the corridors of the Kremlin …
I fear that the Cotswolds must take some responsibility for this Russian witch hunt, as it was our very own MP and PM Dave Cameron who instigated the drive to get closer to their money, as he did with China as we strove to overcome the aftermath of the financial crisis. I was reminded of Cameron only the other day when watching the second part of the BBC’s gripping documentary on Rupert Murdoch. That featured another close neighbour of ours, Rebekah Brooks nee Wade, Queen of the News of the World RIP and much more. Strange that young Dave should have been so attracted to arguably the biggest pair of “R”ses in the media world, but then so were many others in their quest for political power and personal fortune.
This of course brings me to the aforementioned unexpected link. The announcement this week that 900,000 public servants would benefit from a healthy pay rise is to be welcomed, no question. The fact that the amount on offer brings them back up to roughly where they were 10 years ago is lamentable. The omission of nurses and care workers beggars belief.
In explaining the omission of nurses the government states that they have their own salary structure and pay comparison process which kicks in later in the year. But Matt Hancock and Boris have previously refused to confirm that nurses are in line for a well-deserved substantial pay rise. So in looking at their pay it is suspected that the responsible body will simply ignore recent Covid events and focus on comparative pay scales for equivalent jobs and qualifications in a business-as-usual manner. No doubt the minimum wage will also figure somewhere. In that event, the government would deserve yet another good kicking but hopefully see sense in the end and perform another mystical U-turn. We know there are many demands on the government’s funds, but surely the nurses deserve to be taken care of first, as they have done for countless thousands of us, and as we fervently hope they will do again in the future.
The omission of care workers is explained by the fact that these are not usually employed directly by the government, which is factually correct but possibly slightly misleading. Typically care workers work for a care home which is paid under contract by the local authority. The amount of money councils have to spend on social care depends directly on the council tax they can levy and on the additional grant provided by central government. These grants have been reducing sharply since the age of austerity (hello again, Dave), and council tax increases are no more than 2% unless the government agrees to a higher rate and/or the council holds a local referendum. So in effect the government can intervene if it is minded to do so. Otherwise it can just look the other way, offer the hot potato to someone else and do nothing …. just like the Russian interference issue.
Overall Boris and his team give the impression that they are unable to take serious things seriously. The attitude seems to be along the lines of big pictures of aspirations and no road map for getting there (unless it’s in Durham), carry on looking after themselves and their mates and let the poor suckers who voted them in take on the burden of paying the bill at the end, and let Brexit go to hell in a fossil-fuelled handcart now that the hedge funds have moved to Dublin. But we must continue to hope – that he starts looking after the people that matter, and relies less on Russia and China to get us out of a hole.