26 November 2020
View from the Cotswolds
Well Done Boris! Three steps forward … and then back.
By Paul Branch
This week’s theme was looking like an easy if unusual one: a heartening slap on the thigh, a supportive clap on the back and three rousing cheers at last for Boris, with not one but three feathers to his cap. A decision finally to let go of Dominic Cummings (and the other chap whose name I’ve forgotten because I’d never heard of him before). Then a plan (of sorts) at last to help steer climate change in the right direction. And to round it all off – Glory Be!! – three vaccines arriving at a GP near you in the not-too-distant future, and all with a realistically optimistic chance of success.
The Cummings thing has probably been done to death, so all that remains is to congratulate Boris on taking the decision most of the country has been hoping for since May. After that, we wait eagerly to see how he manages to cope without his main man after all this time now that he’s shed the shackles, weighed anchor and cast himself off with Carrie to govern this sceptred isle in a proper manner. Very redolent of Richard II, or perhaps The Owl and the Pussy Cat depending on your literary persuasion. It could result in a resounding triumph for the happy couple, or else the Tory party grandees will soon be hailing them with a megaphone: “Come in Number Ten, time’s up.”
As both Brexit and the pandemic counter attack are both going so well, Boris has found the time (and the fag packet) to announce the amount of “new money” to be allocated to climate change. Now £4 billion may not sound like a lot, even though we don’t have it, but at least it’s a start to what hopefully will turn out to be a carefully crafted and comprehensive plan to play our part in saving the world from our own self-inflicted ravages. Setting a target of 2030 for the end of cars as we know them is a good way of accelerating the necessary technology development and changing the national mind set from apathy to action, as well as creating some of those green jobs we’ll need, although there are a few other areas apart from cars that need addressing. Some experts are predicting a figure of £30 billion, every year, for the next thirty years as a reasonable total budget for climate change, so we have a way to go yet, but at least we’re in the game now and trying to do something rather than procrastinating at every turn. So well done Boris, and let’s see you discussing the real plan soon with those capable of helping in industry and in finance, and in parliament too.
And lastly and to everyone’s immense relief it was heart-warming to see Boris announce that the government’s spread betting strategy on Covid vaccines is likely to pay off and fairly soon. 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 5 million Moderna, and 100 million doses of our very own AstraZeneca/Oxford home grown elixir should be enough to keep us going for a while. He was quite statesmanlike for the announcement – no fanfare, no balloons or other familiar hyperbole, just a calm and measured delivery with a reassuring amount of optimism balanced by sensible caution, as he was for the follow-up performance regarding the end of this month’s lockdown.
Quite why or how it takes over £40 billion to deliver the vaccine into 70 million willing arms is beyond me — that works out at about £500 for each of us, for a dose allegedly costing around £20 for the US brands (extra chlorinated presumably), but only £3 for the UK-lite variety (reaches 70% of all known Covid germs, or 90% on a good day) – but even so, nice one Boris! Shame there’s no room for the Russian vodka-laced Sputnik V vaccine but we’ll manage with what we have as long as everyone forms a nice queue behind the aged.
And that was going to be it for the week – all good positive stuff for a change, a few whinges obviously but then no one’s perfect. What happened next feels like a triple whammy, starting off with PPE middlemen and inappropriate suppliers up to their armpits in obscenely large contracts lubricated by politicians, plus jobs for the girls and boys in positions of some import, moving on to the other end of the financial scale with no commitment to pay rises for key workers (probably because we paid so much for the PPE), and finishing off with Miss Compassion 2020 keeping her job.
The contrast between PPE procurement fees and an imminent pay freeze for public service workers is stark and brings back memories of the bad old days of MPs’ expenses, the bankers’ crash and the dark age of austerity. It’s blatantly obvious that we were in dire need of the right quantity and quality of PPE, as someone forgot to make provision for a pandemic or similar emergency that was never going to happen. It’s blindingly obvious that we needed health and care workers to put their bodies on the line to help us all cope with the resulting shambles. They were underpaid and undervalued to start with, and midway through the first wave of the virus they were promised due reward on top of the now hollow-sounding Thursday evening applause. The emergency services also played their part in going above and beyond reasonable expectations, as did teachers who kept critical school facilities open during the first wave and are now providing the full range of education during the current lockdown at their own personal risk. And if refuse collectors hadn’t kept on working throughout the lockdown the country would have been an unsightly smelly mess. It appears disingenuous to argue that to increase key workers’ salaries is somehow unfair — their lot has been and continues to be unfair. Let’s hope that Rishi Sunak finds a financial solution that does not involve the less well-off footing most of the bill again, and also delivers on promises.
And so to Priti Patel. Once again Boris is asking his mates to defend the indefensible. The lady has headed up three major government departments, with a chequered history of being fired from one for inappropriate behaviour with a foreign power, and a bit of previous with aggressive management style at the first two as well as the Home Office. She has apologised of course, not for her behaviour but for having unintentionally upset people. The investigation report says there was abuse and bullying in the form of shouting and swearing, but Boris says there was none. The report also says that there were extenuating circumstances, in that no one told her she was shouting and swearing when of course she wasn’t, and the civil servants in her departments were not supportive. Cabinet colleagues and MPs have been encouraged to form a square around Priti (lovely military expression – but is she really in danger of physical violence?), and so we get all the mealy-mouthed nonsense reheated from the days of Durham Dom. Anyone in managerial authority who has to resort to such behaviour is clearly in the wrong job – that’s not how to get things done, nor is it the best way to get staff to understand what is expected of them. And maybe that’s why Priti has yet to deliver on her two priority issues: racism and immigration, despite her colleagues trying to persuade us what a great job she’s doing. In such situations the solution can be to put the manager out of their misery and move him/her to another, less demanding role.
Oh Boris, such a shame, and once again demonstrating that perhaps, just perhaps, taking difficult decisions isn’t a strong point. Compare that with Captain Hindsight, who does not see the need to resort to childish name calling but instead took his one difficult decision so far without blinking. I doubt that our resident Corbynista agrees with his action, but I also doubt that Keir Starmer saw any alternative but to release Jeremy Corbyn from the warm embrace of most Labour MPs, despite the undoubted excruciating fallout to come. Change is never easy, especially at the top.
As an aside, a passing thought for someone else with a tough decision to make. Back in November 2016 the Ayrshire Daily News ran the headline: “Local man wins election”. Last week that same vastly influential organ broke the official news the world has been waiting for: “South Ayrshire golf club owner loses 2020 presidential election”. Young Joe will be relieved, but the good people of Ayrshire heard it first.