Cummings and Goings

I kind of stopped posting for a while as most things I wanted to say were quickly overtaken by events. I didn’t expect Johnson to comply with the Benn Act even though he sent the letter, unsigned. I didn’t expect a Conservative and Unionist Party deal that put a Customs border down the Irish Sea. I didn’t expect Labour to go along with a General Election when sitting 16 points behind in some polls. I didn’t expect my local Independent MP to say he was going to stand again but then I definitely hadn’t expected him, as a former Labour Remainer, to be trooping through division after division with the Tories. Few of my thoughts on how things would pan out have been accurate and I suspect that I am far from alone in that. All this is the work of weasel Cummings, puppeteer. Even at this point I confess I have zero idea what his game plan might be. One thing is for sure though, he is still trying to pull all of our collective strings. Even if Labour storm to victory something in the back of my mind would tell me it was part of a Cummings strategy for World domination starting in 2024.

I will, at this point make a couple more predictions. I predict our own leader won’t be PM on December 13th. I predict Johnson will retain his own seat. I hope these predictions are as accurate as my previous ones. Beyond that I couldn’t even begin to guess what the weeks ahead will bring.

There are some politicians I will be sad to see go. Amber Rudd, for a Tory, was actually a pretty good Home Secretary, and although I did question her integrity when she joined the Johnson Cabinet, she eventually did the right thing. Ken Clarke, probably the only Tory who I would have voted for as PM. A man of principle and honour, and a bloody good Chancellor. Speaker Bercow. Hours of entertainment who stood up for Parliament against a dictatorial minority extremist Executive. Joe Johnson, the decent brother. Those were all Tories but the good ones (they do – or did – exist). Then there is Vince Cable, whose biggest mistake was, I think, not to stand for Leader when he was in his prime. He would have been a better Deputy PM than Clegg and maybe we would still be on 50+ seats. But he has brought us back from oblivion. On the Labour side I don’t recognise many of the names of retirees. But on both sides I do see an significant number of women MPs bowing out due to the vitriol and hate that is routinely dispensed to MPs in general and women MPs in particular. I hope they are replaced and some decide to return at a later date when times have changed.

And so to the Election and who to vote for. I reside in Bury South, with Ivan Lewis as my local MP. In 1997 I was involved in the Labour campaign. Indirectly I helped Lewis to his first victory. By 2010 Labour was a shambles led by probably the worst PM in my lifetime, Gordon Brown, and I had returned to the Lib Dem fold. I was none too impressed with Lewis’ expenses tally either. In 2017 I voted tactically and Lewis was once again elected. However, Lewis eventually fell foul of sexual harrassment allegations, was suspended and, eventually, resigned from Labour, mentioning anti-semitism as a cause. I think I might have given him the benefit of the doubt with unproven allegations and a desire not to vote Labour or Tory. Lib Dem voting here is a bit pointless, barely scraping into 4 figures in 2017. Lewis has been acknowledged by Tory councillors and Lib Dem candidates of my aquaintance as a very good consituency MP too. But then for quite a few weeks now he has completely dumped his previous positions and started trooping through the lobbies with Johnson and Co. Was he considering crossing the floor, getting the Tory nomination for Bury South? It certainly looked that way. Lewis does change political horses more frequently than some people change their underwear, so it wouldn’t have surprised me. Opportunist some might say. If I had wanted an MP to vote with the Tories I would have voted for a Tory. Anyway he is standing as an Independent and I now have to work out tactics to defeat both Tory and Independent. I don’t want to put a vote in Corbyn’s bag but it might have to end up that way.

So he doesn’t want to go, and right now I won’t be sad to see him go, but Ivan Lewis has done great work for Bury South in the past according to his political opponents. I wish him all the best but not as my MP. Bye Ivan.

Change The Tune

I normally wake to Radio 5 Live news each morning. The volume is set to maximum to ensure a response. Imagine my surprise earlier this week when I awoke to a rather good, very loud, rendition of the Russian National Anthem. All was explained a while later when it was clear that normal programming had been replaced by a Rugby World Cup match between Russia and Scotland. Thankfully Scotland won 61-0.

Russia may be crap at rugby, and drug-cheating baa-lambs at most other sports. But you can’t deny the brilliance of their National Anthem. Some versions give me goosebumps. I’m not keen on Scotland’s Anthem really but it is infinitely better than the official UK National Anthem.

I’ll be upfront about it: I haven’t listened to every country’s National Anthem and objectively ranked them. But if they’ve won a gold medal at an Olympics I’ve probably heard their song. And I’ve taken some hints from sad people who have listened to the lot. With the possible exception of Liechtenstein, I’ve come to the conclusion our God Save The Queen is the worst of the lot. It’s not even about the UK; it’s a toast to an undemocratic birthright leader that once contained a line about an Irishman crushing rebellious Scots. The music is a tedious dirge better suited to a funeral. I would hazard a guess that half the population could not recite the first verse correctly, and 99% could not tell you the content of any other verse, assuming they knew there were other verses. I’d struggle myself on the first verse and have instantly forgotten any hint of those other verses even though I researched them for this post 5 minutes ago. It is the most forgettable anthem as well as the worst. I know no-one that is proud of and loves either words or tune. I don’t recall once in over 50 years when I’ve had the least desire to stand and sing it but am very envious of foreigners with a song to get passionate about. It has to go, relegated to Royal Anthem as it has been elsewhere in the world. At least Liechtenstein’s anthem is about the country.

My Top 10:

  1. Russia. Stirring. Goosebumps, suits huge youth choirs.
  2. France. Don’t know the translation but the music tells me a story.
  3. New Zealand. Simple and sweet with some odd lyrics that don’t always fit the music. Sing it around a campfire accompanied by a guitar.
  4. Australia. An optimistic young and free modern anthem that grows on you.
  5. South Africa. Symbolic of the demise of apartheid.
  6. Wales. Beautiful. The best version was the old HTV Wales closedown music.
  7. Italy. Bonkers intro but worthy of the home of great opera. Fantastic finale.
  8. Chile. A cross between a circus parade and beer hall drinking song.
  9. Ireland (Ireland’s Call). Symbolic foot tapper played when the united Irish rugby team take to the field. Quite like the Irish Republic’s tune too
  10. Senegal. Reminiscent of a 1950’s film score. No idea how you sing to it.

So what do we replace the dirge with? Jerusalem is for the English only, and we should have our own for when we compete in sports events as England. For the UK it has to be Land of Hope and Glory. I can see a time when we’re all proudly belting that one out in a way we can never do with the royal toast song. But let’s not do a Referendum and split the country 48%-52% between Land of Hope and Glory and the Birdie McBirdface Song.

Trump’s Kurdish Betrayal

During his Presidency, Donald Trump has said the most deplorable things, behaved in an unforgivable way, on so many occasions it has become commonplace, normalised. When you see a medical definition of psychopath, Trump meets every symptom. But everything to date pales into insignificance compared to his betrayal of brave Kurdish fighters who have been critical to the containment and near defeat of Islamic State in Syria.

By withdrawing US troops along the Turkey-Syria border, thereby giving the green light to the autocratic Erdogan to launch a direct attack in US, British, and French allies, Trump has shown exactly how treacherous and untrustworthy he really is. Turkey, as a NATO member, is also guilty of acting against the interests of its allies.

Trump has made it clear in his campaign and Presidency that he opposes US military intervention in foreign lands. However the civil war in Syria, had IS managed to consolidate their positions, was not a local issue but one of intense danger for the entire democratic World. Defeating IS, mainly using Kurdish fighters, is a matter of self-defence, not intervention. Having done their job we should all be eternally grateful to the Kurds. Trump, of course, has business interests in Istanbul, and Erdogan has threatened those interests before and caused Trump to dance to his tune. Who knows what was said in their recent phone call but let’s hope someone manages to subpoena the transcript.

We must make it clear to Turkey that they must stop their assault against our Kurdish allies. If they don’t then their membership of NATO should be suspended and trade sanctions applied. Tourists should be advised against travel to Turkey. I would go further and provide practical military support to help defend the Kurds. As to Trump, there’s nothing we can say or do that would have any impact on him. He is certifiable. We must rely on his countrymen to deal with him and this time he seems to have horrified many of his own supporters. Can he get any worse? Probably.

Time to Stop Playing Games

No.10 has let it be known today that a Brexit deal is “essentially impossible” after a call between Johnson and Merkel. We did know that Johnson’s strategy is to make a feeble attempt to look like he is trying to get a deal whilst sabotaging it at the same time. It looks like that game peaked a little early. Frankly, giving the DUP a veto over arrangements every 4 years was never going to fly. This disgrace of a Government and clown of a Prime Minister must stop pretending, stop lying to the electorate.

Merkel and the EU know very well by now that the one thing that will not pass the House of Commons is a Northern Ireland backstop. Tried and failed too many times. The EU and the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (who, incidentally, governs with about a third of the seats in the Dáil Éireann and has little in the way of a mandate himself) must finally accept that Deal or No Deal, Northern Ireland will not stay forever, on its own, in a Customs Union with the EU, and there will need to be Customs formalities, however light touch and away from the border. The EU must realise by now that the Tories have no electoral interest in Northern Ireland other than to keep the DUP on side. If the EU and Irish accept a deal without a backstop then we start talking about the future relationship, which can include a Customs Union. If there is a No Deal then that opportunity disappears. The EU, and especially the Irish, are themselves playing silly games.

It is absolute nonsense to suggest that terrorism will return to Northern Ireland because you set up a lorry park 5 miles from the border and require some trucks to lodge paperwork there whilst others continue to their destination and submit paperwork from their office online. Norway and Switzerland have land boundaries with the EU and are not in a Customs Union with the EU. It works. End of.

I have no real idea what Labour’s game actually is. I don’t think they know. The only thing I really know about Labour is that they need to replace Corbyn, and only a major electoral defeat is likely to shift him. Which is really bad news for those of us desperately keen to see the end of Johnson and his far right rump of a Tory party in power.

And finally, our own dear Leader, still insisting she can’t support a Unity Government led by Corbyn. What, even if she is in the Cabinet in a senior role, and he only has the confidence of the House to do two things: extend Article 50 and call an Election? She would sacrifice the future of the UK over a matter of personality? That too is a disgraceful petty game to play that could backfire very badly. The fact is, that tolerate him or loathe him, Corbyn is the Leader of the Opposition, has 245 seats (226 more than we do), and cannot do anything even vaguely leftish in the 3 to 4 weeks he would temporarily be PM for. So we need to stop with the silly games too.

I’m beginning to wish the SNP would put up candidates in every English and Welsh constituency. They appear to be the only realistic, practical and principled party and leadership at this moment in time. They may be playing games with Scottish Independence but not with Brexit issues.

Bottom line – with only a few weeks to go, Johnson should make his true position clear – he wants a No Deal to scupper the Brexit Party. The Opposition parties need to rally behind Corbyn, holding their noses if they have to, oust Johnson and authorise Corbyn to extend Article 50 and call an Election – no more. The Irish and EU need to understand that they can have a Deal with no Backstop or they can have No Deal with no Backstop. Either way, no Backstop. With a Deal they have another bite of the cherry with the future relationship and a transition period allows more time for practicalities to be ironed out.

There is a real danger for the EU, for Varadkar, for the anti-No Deal forces in the UK including our own Ms Swinson. That is that all the farting around and game playing does not stop Johnson and the No Dealers, we exit and. bar a short period of adaptation, nothing really bad actually happens. Like the Y2K Apocalypse that never was. Many careers will never recover though oddly Corbyn, a known true Eurosceptic, might just survive and prosper.

The Johnson “Plan”

Today Johnson presented a brief outline of his fantastic plan for a withdrawal agreement. It doesn’t appear to have gone down very well with anyone on the Opposition benches and our European friends don’t seem very enthusiastic either. I can’t say I’m impressed. I’ll be honest about my own position: I would like to be in the EEA / Single Market, outside the Customs Union. Norway. Second best, Remain though stop the silly Project Fear fibs and exaggerations. No point in a Turkey-style Customs Union as a Free Trade agreement is a lot more flexible. No Deal / WTO is not an idea I’d like to contemplate.

I’d make a couple of points though.

Firstly This “deal” isn’t actually a deal. Never has been. It is a divorce settlement designed to allow both parties to talk about a real deal whilst maintaining the status quo in a transition period. The transition period could go on for as long as it take to negotiate a free trade agreement. I never really saw anything really wrong with May’s Withdrawal Agreement. My only real objection was that May did not consult or collaborate, and that is wrong and undemocratic. If Johnson’s proposal is genuine (and that is a big “if”) then again I don’t really see much wrong with it. We can still then negotiate the softest of Brexits after a General Election results in his disposal.

Secondly, Norway is outside the Customs Union, Switzerland is outside the Customs Union. Both have free trade agreements but both must employ Customs formalities. It isn’t a problem in real life. You don’t see civil unrest breaking out on the Norway – Sweden border because there are some light touch border controls. You don’t see food rotting in trucks. Remain Project Fear is off and running again and undermining legitimate reasons to stay close to the EU. And the EU are playing that hand too. The Good Friday Agreement is a red herring – read it, look at Johnson’s proposal, find something specific in the documents that indicates they are incompatible. I haven’t found anything myself. People making the noises either haven’t read the GFA and are believing others. And the others have read the GFA and are making things up that aren’t there. With the Common Travel Area in force on the island of Ireland, so only commercial traffic is actually inconvenienced, there is no reason why the UK – EU borders can’t work like our friends in Norway and Switzerland make it work.

Johnson wants a No Deal for daft reasons I couldn’t even guess at. Call his bluff and accept this proposal. Have the General Election with no broken promises hanging over heads. Then negotiate a proven route to prosperity whilst trading (mostly) freely with the EU and doing trade deals of our own elsewhere, i.e. outside the Customs Union but inside the Single Market like Norway, Switzerland, Iceland.

What is the alternative? We all know Johnson has a cunning plan to use a loophole in the Benn Act. I’ve found one, there are probably others. We will be out on 31st October on his terms. Is that what Corbyn and our own leadership actually want? Teach Brexiteers a hard lesson maybe? I’m beginning to wonder.

Pension Age

Today a group of women lost their case in the High Court over whether the rise in the pension age to 67 by 2018 is unfair because they were not given enough time to make adjustments to cope with years without a state pension. The court found that the change corrects historic discrimination against men and isn’t unfair.

I have no sympathy whatsoever with the case being made. As a man I have always been astonished that men were expected to work 5 years more than women for their state pension. This situation is even more unfair when you take into account that women live longer to men, and therefore, on average, draw their pension not just for 5 years more, but more than 8 years at an additional cost of over £53,000 compared to men. The change means they will only get a bit over 3 years extra pension compared to me. That’s fair.

I saw the claimants being interviewed on the news channels, saying they have been robbed. This is absolute nonsense. They claim they are being forced to work longer when they have paid in for 45 years. What, forced to work as long as men have had to work and pay in? What’s their point?

Pension ages were not always different. When introduced it was 70 for both men and women and only 25% lived long enough to collect. In 1925 the age reduced to 65. In 1940 the age for women to retire reduced to 60 so most couples could retire at the same time – presumably based on women being 5 years younger than their husbands. Society has changed so much in the last 80 years but the pension age gap lagged behind for far too long.

When I started work at 16, as a civil servant, retirement was mandatory at 60. I could expect to receive my pension for 10 years. My female colleagues would get 16 years. That was my expectation for most of my working life. Now I know I will have to work to 67. That’s life. We are all living much longer. Even retiring at 67 I will now get 12 years of pension, and my female counterparts will still get 16 years. What this group seems to want is 23 years of pension for women approaching 60. Who is going to pay for that? Largely younger people struggling to raise kids and pay mortgages. It’s not on.

Frankly the equalisation of the pension age was, in my opinion, staggered over far too long a period. It is a correction that should have been made decades ago. For all its faults we have a benefits system designed to be a safety net for those who have not yet reached retirement but who cannot work for health reasons. That is the right mechanism, not the prolonged continuation of a gross inequality. I’m happy to pay taxes to help out people genuinely in need who have fallen on hard times through not fault of their own, not so happy to subsidise people of my own generation who just want to put their feet up for 23 years.

I’m feeling a little less “liberal” today it seems. I’m not feeling tolerant of these frankly selfish children of the 50’s and 60’s. Sorry. As to our party’s commitment that these women are “properly compensated for the failure of government to properly notify them of changes to the state pension age”, I cannot support it under any circumstances. They were properly notified. Equalisation has been on the cards since 1995. This was correction of a long-standing inequality and we did the right thing in 2011 when speeding up the timetable.

Scam Calls – Call to Action

I’ve had two scam calls already today. One on the land line, one on my mobile. The first one said I had a problem with my Sky box and it was out of warranty. I haven’t had Sky for a number of years, at which point he very rudely hung up without saying thanks and goodbye. The second one told me I had been in a car accident. It must have given me, what’s it called, thingamy, ah yes I remember, amnesia, as I don’t remember that accident although I do have a bruise on my leg I can’t explain. I asked the woman if she was a robot and she immediately put me through to a foreign call centre agent (judging by the broken English) who hung up when I queried his authenticity. I might play the game a bit longer next time just to see what exactly they are trying to steal from me.

Make no mistake, attempting to defraud people is a serious criminal offence under Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006, which can carry up to an 8 year sentence under sentencing guidelines. It is a serious criminal offence I have been the victim of twice today. Scale that up and you get to over 5 billion offences in the UK per annum very quickly. Yet the official position is to look like they are taking it seriously but actually do virtually nothing to stop it. If you had 5 billion attempted burglaries or street robberies then heaven and earth would be moved to take out the offenders.

Both calls used normal UK geographical numbers. One in Bodmin, one a London number. At one time I would have been angry at BT for allowing use of UK phone numbers for this purpose. You should need to be a legitimate business or resident to get a phone number. But unfortunately most of the time these are foreign calls using technology to spoof non-existent UK numbers. I am guessing they can also spoof bank and official numbers too, so you think it is a legitimate caller when it certainly isn’t. I am not the scammers’ target – they won’t get me all the while I have all my marbles, though one day I might lose them. They are trying to find elderly and/or vulnerable people to persuade to hand over bank and card details for financial frauds, or personal information to enable identity theft. When it happens the victims are quite often labelled as stupid or ignorant, at best naive. There is no sympathy, and usually no redress. Local police forces certainly won’t be interested.

Ofcom say they are trying to find solutions. I would say they are not trying hard enough. Calls originating abroad are entering the UK telephone network bearing UK caller IDs. Use technology to stop the calls before they get onto our telephone infrastructure. If the mobile companies are clever enough to tell me what number is calling, they are clever enough to know whether that number is a real number or not in service and stop it. If anyone is using legitimate UK numbers for fraud, then we should be enforcing the law by fining and jailing the directors, managers and call agents, and also fining the supplier of the number a hefty amount for facilitating fraud by failing to carry out due diligence on who they are providing services to.

I’ve no doubt that countering scam calls isn’t as easy as flicking a switch and 10 minutes later there are no more scam calls. It won’t be cheap, it won’t be easy, but it must be dealt with. You can use carrots – Government funding for technical solutions, specialist national policing units, paying overseas Governments the money to track down and prosecute and then incarcerate the call centre owners and agents. According to today’s Chancellor we are awash with spare cash at the moment so money shouldn’t be a problem. And you can use sticks – make the telephone companies pay for fraud that occurs because their systems did not block the call before it reached their customer. Sticks might encourage the very rapid development and implementation of technical solutions to solve the problem. Or maybe both carrots and sticks. We should also start handing out the top end of the sentencing range more often. For offences of trying to defraud less than £12,500 you can get a Community Order. Hardly a deterrent but that’s a post for another day.

Alan Paton’s definition of “Liberalism” encompassed a commitment to the rule of law. As Liberal Democrats it doesn’t mean we should be soft on criminals to the detriment of victims. Justice should deter, by ensuring that the odds of being caught and punished are raised much higher, and punish, as well as rehabilitate, the offender so they do not re-offend. Currently we don’t even bother trying to catch the perpetrators of 5 billion serious crimes annually, and even if they do get caught they often do 80 hours of unpaid work and that’s it. So a suggestion for the Liberal Democrats is to begin to throw off the perception that we are soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime and start to show we are on the side of victims rather than poor lost sheep that make 100 phone calls a day trying to steal pensions and life savings.

Tabloids and Royals

I am a republican but I do think that the Queen does a pretty good job as Head of State if she avoids dodgy advice from iffy PMs. So no great sympathy for the Royal Family in general. I do, however, have sympathy for the Duchess of Sussex when it comes to tabloid rags and their incessant negative reporting on her that, until now, she has had to just silently accept. Good for her she is fighting back now.

As an example of the purile and nonsensical attacks, this article in the Express caught my eye. They start with “In the past, the Royal Family have strictly forbidden heirs marrying divorcees. However, Meghan was welcomed into the Royal Family very quickly…” Sixty to eighty years ago maybe they disapproved of divorcees, even though the Church of England was founded to enable a divorcee to marry. This is well into the 21st Century.

Their royal “expert” said: “[Meghan and her former husband] weren’t married for very long, so there isn’t tremendous baggage… But also she didn’t have children… If she did have children with her first husband, then that really would make it quite awkward and difficult to work out.”

What the Express seem to have forgotten is that three of the Queen’s four children are divorced, after quite lengthy marriages, and all have children. Two have remarried. Indeed the heir to the throne was divorced, and is married to a divorcee with children, Camilla, who constitutionally will become Queen Camilla on the death of the current Queen. No-one cares. It isn’t awkward, and it isn’t difficult to work out. It is 2019 not 1936. The Express are just trying to make trouble for the Sussexes for no apparent legitimate reason. The Daily Express Righteous Right Readership, of course, are largely negative about Meghan in their comments, backing up the ridiculous story.

I hope the case against the Mail goes in Meghan’s favour and that the damages do enough damage to dissuade the other rags from pursuing their current vendetta and switch to fair reporting. They seem to be a nice couple, and they do good work for charity unlike many other Royal hangers-on I would happily see relegated to a council flat in Hull.