Big Steamers . . . or Container Ships

This poem sounds a bit dated now, which is not surprising as it was written about the time of the First World War. But, nevertheless, if you translate it mentally forward in time to container ships crewed by seamen from the third world it is a timely reminder, especially the last verse, that we live on an island – and if ships don’t get here we are in trouble.

Today’s “Big Steamer”

Rudyard Kipling

Big Steamers

“Oh, where are you going to, all you Big Steamers,
With England’s own coal, up and down the salt seas?”
“We are going to fetch you your bread and your butter,
Your beef, pork, and mutton, eggs, apples, and cheese.”

“And where will you fetch it from, all you Big Steamers,
And where shall I write you when you are away?
“We fetch it from Melbourne, Quebec, and Vancouver–
Address us at Hobart, Hong-Kong, and Bombay.”

“But if anything happened to all you Big Steamers,
And suppose you were wrecked up and down the salt sea?”
“Then you’d have no coffee or bacon for breakfast,
And you’d have no muffins or toast for your tea.”

“Then I’ll pray for fine weather for all you Big Steamers,
For little blue billows and breezes so soft.”
“Oh, billows and breezes don’t bother Big Steamers,
For we’re iron below and steel-rigging aloft.”

“Then I’ll build a new lighthouse for all you Big Steamers,
With plenty wise pilots to pilot you through.”
“Oh, the Channel’s as bright as a ball-room already,
And pilots are thicker than pilchards at Looe.”

“Then what can I do for you, all you Big Steamers,
Oh, what can I do for your comfort and good?”
“Send out your big warships to watch your big waters,
That no one may stop us from bringing you food.

“For the bread that you eat and the biscuits you nibble,
The sweets that you suck and the joints that you carve,
They are brought to you daily by all us Big Steamers–
And if one hinders our coming you’ll starve!”

The italics of the last verse are how it appears in the version I consulted. Evidently Kipling wanted to drive his point home – and he succeeds !

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Hedging . . .

Newly cut on the right, yet to be tackled further on . . .
The long thin stems are those of a Japanese Anenome which grew up through the hedge looking for the light.

One of the problems brought on us by Covid has been the avoidance of contact with other people. So our cleaning lady departed and we have not seen her for 17 Months (in fact she may well have moved away from the area) and nor have we had any gardening help. Over the last few days I have been consuming paracetamol and tackling the hedge between us and our neighbour (who was also our gardening help) as it has now had two seasons on unchecked growth. One is not supposed to do this until August to avoid disturbing nesting birds, but I knew that I would be so slow that I could not wait till August arrived and so began a week or so earlier. I have got one quite well, and my available work time before I have to rest is now about 1½ hours.

There is so much growth to put away that the shredder is in constant use, I have had to clear out a compost bin to take it all, and a lot of it I have put straight on to the garden as mulch. Hopefully by next spring this will have begun to rot and become incorporated into the soil. Meanwhile it helps to suppress weeds and keep the soil moist.

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The Good Law Project . . .

One of the great white hopes for this country is the Good Law Project run by Jolyon Maugham. I post below the text of one of their emails updating us on the progress of their attempts to nail the Government down on the award of various contracts which appear to be designed to transfer public money into private pockets.


Lord Bethell is the Health Minister responsible for overseeing the award of Covid contracts. His time as Health Minister has been mired in controversy: from failing to declare meetings with firms that won huge Government contracts to using his personal email address to conduct Government business. Good Law Project has a particular interest in the role he played in the controversial award of lucrative contracts to Abingdon Health. 

Last week in Court we argued against the Government’s attempts to apply blanket redactions to documents relating to the Abingdon Health contracts. We were successful: an important step towards transparency.

But the hearing uncovered something more alarming. In sworn evidence, Government admitted that some of Lord Bethell’s dealings with Abingdon had been conducted via WhatsApp or text message, and were held only on his private mobile phone. And if that was the case for Abingdon, why not other VIPs too?

What’s more, in December last year, Lord Bethell was told his mobile phone would be searched for documents relating to this case. Just weeks later, it seems, he ‘replaced’ his phone because, Government lawyers say, it was ‘broken’. They are not now sure it will be possible to retrieve WhatsApp and text messages.

Lord Bethell has overseen the award of billions of pounds of public contracts. Information revealing how these contracts came to be awarded may now be lost – or have been destroyed.

During the hearing, the Judge expressed alarm about Government’s failure to preserve evidence and insisted the ‘Order’ he made at the conclusion of the hearing refer to Government’s obligation to preserve relevant documents.

Our lawyers have written to Government to demand answers. When did Bethell learn his phone would be searched? When did he report it as broken? What attempts were made to save crucial information from his old phone? If not, why not?

This Government seems allergic to scrutiny: redacting some documents, hiding others from public scrutiny via ‘confidentiality rings’, permitting Ministers to award billions in public money via private as well as official channels, and failing to protect evidence from destruction.

We are taking action to close this accountability gap. 

Thank you,

Jo Maugham – Good Law Project

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Lifeboats . . .

For readers elsewhere than UK, there are currently some troublemakers trying to denigrate the RNLI because it rescues people who need rescuing, regardless of who they are. The inference being that refugees are only in trouble because they have inadequate vessels and life saving gear, ergo, they got them selves into this mess, they are not genuine mariners in trouble so they should be left to their own devices.

Brian Bilston our unrecognised Poet Laureate has penned some verses about this . . .


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The politics of lies: Boris Johnson and the erosion of the rule of law . . .

This is a long read, but a worthwhile and important analysis of Boris Johnson and his Governance and his aims. It is taken – copy and paste – from the New Statesman and is one of the man present day examples of how the people of the UK have to find out what is happening in their own country by reading foreign sources.

15 July 2021
The politics of lies: Boris Johnson and the erosion of the rule of law

The London bureau chief for Germany’s public broadcaster reflects on Britain’s government.

By Annette Dittert

It is truly dizzying to live in the UK these days, if you have a good memory. Life under Boris Johnson’s government means that whatever they tell you today, it will all have changed by tomorrow. Whatever you remember, it never happened like that. What Johnson did was not as it seemed, or it was someone else’s fault. Johnson came to power thanks to lies, half-truths and sleights of hand. Back in 2019, his friends in the Conservative Party and his critics who cared about the future of the United Kingdom all hoped that he would not be able to continue in that vein as Prime Minister.

Eighteen months after his election victory, the opposite is the case. Johnson has remained true to himself and is now more popular than ever before. In the wake of the pandemic and the UK’s successful vaccination campaign, nothing seems to stick: not his catastrophic mismanagement at the beginning of the pandemic, nor his fractured relationship with the truth, not even the frequent cases of corruption within his cabinet. Furthermore, the growing damage done by Brexit to the British economy is rarely discussed in the country. Even his government’s increasingly authoritarian assaults on citizens seem to go unnoticed by the public. Johnson has shifted his party so far to the right that attacks on the justice system and the media are part of everyday life, with potentially fatal consequences for parliamentary democracy in the UK.

Will this situation change once the country escapes the shadow of the pandemic, which is currently obscuring the wider picture? There is good reason to believe that will not happen.

In any case, the actual lies are only part of the problem; the bigger issue is the blurring of the truth behind the bullshit, as the American philosopher Harry Frankfurt deduced back in the 1980s. If you lie, you must know the truth, and keep an eye on the facts as your reference system. That way, truth ultimately retains its validity. The bullshitter, on the other hand – and Frankfurt believed this to be key – is indifferent to the truth; he simply takes liberties with truth and facts. He is not interested in “reality”. He is only interested in making his claims stick. He manipulates everything to suit his cause, in order to hide that he is up to no good. He obscures the facts as points of reference and by so doing undermines the political culture of a democracy that depends on the distinction between what is true and what is false.

Here is an example. Since the success of the British vaccination programme, Johnson has not tired of extolling that success at every opportunity as the first big Brexit benefit. Yet the decision to go it alone was arrived at and implemented during the transition period – a modus operandi which all EU member states were free to choose if they wished. One could, of course, say that had the UK still been a full member of the EU, it would have signed up to joint programmes with the other European nations, and that vaccination would have been slower, but that would be pure speculation. The distortion of the facts, however, created a false picture that has taken hold in the public consciousness.

This blurring of the truth functions in a similar manner with the post-Brexit trade deals. These are, so far, mostly carbon copies of the existing EU deals, but have been sold to the nation as new ones that are better for the country, and trumpeted on social media using spurious facts. The mood music to all this can then be heard in the big tabloid newspapers, which were the driving force behind Brexit. Trade deals have so far not really been judged in terms of their real benefit to the country; they are simply rhetorical props in the great Brexit spectacle. The reality behind them is fading
from view.

The same is happening on the international stage. What was formally agreed yesterday is no longer valid today. The new reality is simply superimposed on the old. The Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, for instance, warned the EU that Brussels must find a solution to the unrest in Northern Ireland, otherwise the whole Brexit deal was at risk. The background to this was that, thanks to Johnson’s Brexit deal, the EU external border now runs through the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This has led to frequent delays at customs in Northern Ireland, resulting in goods shortages. That was the price that Johnson – unlike his predecessor Theresa May – was willing to pay to get the troublesome issue off the table. For years, trade experts had repeatedly warned of the problems this would cause Northern Ireland, but they were consistently ignored.

As late as early March, the same Brandon Lewis had declared the difficulties in Northern Ireland were “teething problems” that could be soothed away. Johnson himself had – though he must have known better – repeatedly promised that there would be no border whatsoever and urged Northern Irish businessmen, live to camera, to simply bin any customs forms in future. However, because in international relationships there is no avoiding reality, the problems are now suddenly the fault of the EU. What a breathtaking, if predictable, 180-degree turn. As if Brexit had never taken place, the EU as scapegoat is suddenly resurrected and made responsible for the deadlock. What is even more surreal is the implied assertion that the deal the British government had signed and sealed itself had never been negotiated or agreed in that form. The list of the Johnson government’s distortions, half-truths and outright lies is endless. Truth is a currency that is being devalued almost on a daily basis and for that reason, very few Brits make the effort to keep up with it all.

Boris Johnson’s pathological relationship with the truth

One person who does observe the situation closely is Peter Oborne, the journalist and former friend of Johnson’s, who continues to claim loyalty to the Conservative camp. He is one of those many homeless Tories who have no place in Johnson’s new right-wing nationalist party. In his most recent book, The Assault on Truth, Oborne has impressively documented Johnson’s pathological relationship with the truth and simultaneously sent a long list of the Prime Minister’s lies and truth-twisting to the Speaker of the House of Commons. He has to date received no proper reply from him. And, of course, the country’s dominant Murdoch-owned press – one of the key forces behind Brexit and the country’s decoupling from the continent and its democratic values – has not even mentioned the book, let alone reviewed it.

Oborne makes an important point which illustrates what really drives Johnson and his co-Brexiteers: “While there is no doubt that Johnson is both deceitful and amoral, the Prime Minister’s war on the truth is part of a wider attack on the pillars of British democracy: parliament, the rule of law and the civil service. There is a reason for this. Truth and liberal democracy are intertwined.” If a nation wishes to call its government to account, it needs access to objective truth, to verifiable facts. When that access is destroyed by an unassailable executive, there is the danger of an authoritarian government in the guise of democracy. Poland and Hungary have shown the way. Oborne believes that the UK government has already crossed that line, and he is not alone in thinking this. The Johnson government has long wished to weaken the British justice system’s ability to monitor the executive.

In an open letter last October, more than 800 top-level lawyers and judges, including three former Supreme Court judges, called upon Johnson and his government to cease their attacks on the justice system and the rule of law immediately. The Home Secretary Priti Patel had previously branded all lawyers preventing illegal deportations sanctioned by her department as “lefty human rights activists”. Johnson backed her on the issue. What is even more important is that a few months earlier, he announced the establishment of a commission tasked with redefining the Supreme Court’s remit and the limits of judicial review of the executive’s actions in general. This was a barely concealed act of revenge for the Supreme Court’s ruling against Johnson’s hasty, illegal proroguing of parliament in the autumn of 2019 – if you will, his first transgression on the path towards an authoritarian style of government, but one which the Supreme Court was able to reverse.

The commission, which was supposed to overhaul the Supreme Court and to limit the influence of the justice system, has now presented its report. Its chairman, former Conservative justice minister Edward Faulks, concluded that the courts had by no means exceeded their powers, and had not intervened more frequently in political issues than in the past. He therefore proposed only minimal changes to the prevailing legal situation – clearly a disappointing result for the government. And so Justice Secretary Robert Buckland then cast a very different light on the report. Its findings made it clear, he told the House of Commons, that judges were increasingly willing to expand their remit in the direction of politics, and that this was worrying. Whereupon a surprised Faulks replied a little later on the BBC that Buckland’s conclusion was in no way consistent with his report.

But Johnson, it seems, never intended to accept an outcome that would contradict his aim of curtailing judicial powers. And so the Ministry of Justice is currently preparing another way to escape interference by the legislature. In future, laws are to contain “ouster clauses”, which simply place them outside of the legal system. Buckland justified this in an ITV interview: “I don’t want to see our judges, particularly those of the Supreme Court, being drawn in to a political arena, in a way frankly they wouldn’t want to be and [which] would be bad for the balance of the constitution.” In this year’s Queen’s Speech presented at Westminster in May, this went as follows: “The government intends to restore the balance of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.”

Lawyers across the country reacted with alarm. Mark Elliott, one of the UK’s leading constitutional lawyers, said such a law was an attempt to completely exclude the judiciary from oversight of the executive branch, while at the same time claiming to strengthen the rule of law. “Even in a post-truth age, such constitutional gaslighting cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.”

The crucial question now is who should publicly address these attacks and repel them. But British democracy is poorly equipped against attacks of this kind. Unlike in the US, where the Trump era has (for the time being) ended, there is no formal system of checks and balances in the UK, no coherently written, codified constitution that can be applied in times of crisis. Instead, the British constitution is a fragile fabric of conventions, age-old rules and precedents, with no clear framework to determine what applies when, and by whom it is decided. So far, it has worked according to the “good chaps principle”, that is, the assumption that politicians with moral integrity would interpret the essence of this muddle correctly. The British are ultimately dependent on the goodwill of the government they have elected. A prime minister who deliberately chooses not to adhere to the rules and spirit of this unwritten constitution, or who even seeks to actively undermine its principles, is an unforeseen circumstance with no effective remedy.

Vulnerable democracy

In November 2019, two renowned historians, Andrew Blick and Peter Hennessy, published a report for the Constitution Society entitled “Good chaps no more?”, which looks back over the period since the Brexit referendum and comes to the following conclusion: “The executive has for more than three years exhibited patterns of behaviour that are troubling and ominous regarding the sustainability of constitutional norms and standards of behaviour in the UK.” The urbane English understatement can barely conceal real concerns about the rule of law, and the report’s verdict is explosive. According to the authors, the unwritten British constitution is a dangerously unreliable foundation in the age of populism. David Neuberger, the former president of the Supreme Court, even sees Great Britain potentially lurching towards dictatorship under Johnson.

Of course, things aren’t that bad yet. Britain is still a long way from the situation in Hungary or Poland, but there is nevertheless much that is reminiscent of the beginnings of Viktor Orbán or Jarosław Kaczynski. A systematic effort to disable the oversight of the executive branch is inherently authoritarian, and in its early stages hits both the judiciary and, especially, the media. This is now happening in the UK too.

Future generations are going to wonder how a shameless prime minister with only a passing acquaintance with the truth could have got away with it so easily in one of the oldest Western democracies. The answer to that question is complicated, but the British media have played a significant role, having increasingly failed in their duty to hold the government to account. Even before the Brexit referendum, by far the greater part of the British press exercised little or no corrective function. Since the 1990s, the key aim of media entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch in particular had been to ensure Britain’s isolation and alienation from the EU. Tabloids such as the Sun and the Express, but also quality newspapers such as the Times and the Telegraph, openly supported Johnson from the start, despite knowing him to be a liar: after all, the Times had fired him in the late 1980s over a fabricated quote. But that didn’t bother the owners and publishers of the great British print empires: Murdoch, the Barclay brothers, and men such as Paul Dacre. On the contrary, that is precisely why they recognised Johnson as the perfect vehicle for an ideological project that could hardly have been won with real, truthful arguments. To this day, the numerous lies of the Johnson administration have seldom made headlines in swathes of the British press.

At the beginning of the Brexit campaign it was different with the BBC, which at the time was largely serious about its role as a critical counterpart in the political sphere. But that was soon to change. The BBC showed less and less willingness to expose the lies of the Brexiteers, instead giving them and their opponents exactly the same amount of airtime – a method likely to go down in media history as a false balance, and which enabled Johnson and his colleagues to spread their misleading claims essentially without being corrected.

If the BBC leadership had hoped that this strategy was a way to escape the increasing pressure they came under from the Tories in the heated atmosphere of the referendum and its aftermath, they were wrong.

Just two days after Johnson won the general election in December 2019, his government came out all guns blazing against the broadcaster. The chief secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak, said that the compulsory nature of the BBC licence fee should be re-examined. Johnson himself had already asked during the election campaign whether the BBC should be privatised, and now the culture minister Nicky Morgan followed suit. This marked the beginning of a campaign against the broadcaster, which was soon more strident than many previous campaigns. And so the public threats were followed very quickly by concrete action. In the summer of 2020 Downing Street leaked its intention to appoint Charles Moore as the new chairman of the BBC – a Tory who had regularly professed to be the chief opponent of the public service system and had even been convicted for refusing to pay the licence fee.

Some while later he withdrew from the process. Instead, however, the post went to Richard Sharp, a board member of the right-wing think tank the Centre for Policy Studies, and also a close confidant of the government. Coincidentally, he had donated the equivalent of almost half a million euros to the Tories in recent years. This is clearly at odds with being an independent chair. And that is the real problem for the BBC in this day and age. When, after the war, the British set in place a federal-based public service broadcasting system for the Germans, they ensured that centralised access to a national broadcasting system by politicians would no longer be possible. Back home, however, they did not view such considerations to be necessary at the time. As a result – in a similar vein to the unwritten constitution – there are no binding rules that guarantee the independence of public service broadcasting in Great Britain or, more generally, the freedom of the press in times of crisis.

Power over the media

The Johnson administration now wants even the weak supervisory bodies, with their limited powers, to be “on message”. The latest gambit in this regard is the nomination of Paul Dacre as head of Ofcom, the media regulator.

That is because Dacre, the long-time editor of the Daily Mail, is a serial offender in breaking rules of decency and ethics in British journalism. When, in 2016, three High Court judges ruled that Brexit could not simply be implemented on the basis of the “the will of the people” without parliamentary involvement, the front page of the Mail featured photos of the three judges and the headline “Enemies of the people”. This could scarcely have gone to print without Dacre’s approval. He has hardly been more lenient with the BBC. For years the corporation has been his newspaper’s number one enemy: in a vociferous and unrelenting war of aggression, he lobbed absurd accusations at the broadcaster, such as suggesting it peddles a kind of “cultural Marxism”. Johnson now wants to put this man in charge of the media regulator Ofcom, despite considerable opposition. In fact, there is a selection committee for this position. After the committee arrived at the unanimous decision that Dacre was not a suitable candidate for the post, something happened that is typical of the Johnson administration: instead of looking for a new, more suitable candidate, the commission was simply dissolved. In the summer, after being re-constituted, the committee is to start work all over again. This represents a wholly unusual direct intervention by the government in standard procedures. The Financial Times reported that the ministers involved firmly believe that Dacre will apply again.

All of this, of course, has implications for the BBC and its reporting. And it is perfectly possible that threatening figures such as Dacre are brought into play mainly for the expected chilling effect they have on the corporation. In any event, the government’s relentless threats have already struck home. The BBC has grown noticeably more cautious and fearful when reporting on the Johnson administration. For example when, at the beginning of a broadcast in May 2020, the well-known presenter of Newsnight, Emily Maitlis, criticised Johnson’s then-chief adviser Dominic Cummings, who was caught breaking the lockdown rules he had introduced, she was admonished. The next morning, BBC management apologised in a public statement for Maitlis’s comments. Not that anybody had spoken to her or the editorial board.

There was a similar overreaction in May this year. When the BBC admitted that one of its reporters had gained access to interview Princess Diana under false pretences 25 years ago – an admittedly disturbing act, albeit one that goes back almost a generation – ministers were allowed to attack the BBC’s current management for days on end, on BBC programmes, threatening the broadcaster with far-reaching consequences. The BBC TV presenters, in what often amounted to downright masochistic subservience, practically seemed to be urging such action to be taken. The numerous failures, mistakes and lies of the Johnson administration, however, are addressed much more sparingly or not at all. What is particularly striking is the virtually non-existent reporting on the increasing cases of corruption within British ministries. When Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former press spokesman, pointed this out recently on the BBC News channel, the presenter Martine Croxall replied: “But do people care?!” That suggests an acceptance on her part of the government’s own spin and a blatant misunderstanding of her role. Indeed, should it be the case that people don’t care, the first task of the BBC should be to make sure that they do care, a lot. After all, this is about the potentially illegal shifting of billions in taxpayers’ money.

Corruption everywhere

Which brings us to the next clear indicator of the impending decline of democratic structures: corruption. Wherever control of the government by the judiciary and independent media is no longer guaranteed, the risk of systemic corruption grows. This now seems to be happening in the UK. At the beginning of the pandemic, almost unnoticed by the public, the government passed the Coronavirus Act, which allows it to introduce regulations without parliamentary scrutiny. It used these powers to establish new public structures in the health system under the direct control of the ministries, the largest of these being the Test and Trace system, which to date has devoured the unimaginable sum of £37bn. Essentially, it is a kind of shadow state within the healthcare system, operated by private entrepreneurs without public control.

To date, the government has not provided detailed information about what these funds were spent on. In addition, further millions of taxpayers’ money went on masks and protective clothing – without any transparency and bypassing the legally prescribed tendering routes – from companies completely inexperienced in the production of such equipment, but which appeared to have a direct VIP line to Downing Street. For the past few years, this type of corruption within government has been documented by the “Good Law Project”, a crowd-funded project run by the lawyer Jolyon Maugham. Twenty cases are currently making their way to the courts. The government’s answer? It has lodged futile but expensive counter-challenges against Maugham at the taxpayer’s expense and then declared with unrivalled cynicism that Maugham’s lawsuits need to be abandoned because they were too expensive for
the taxpayer.

The increasing attacks on the judiciary and the media and the rampant corruption behind them are no secret in the UK. Anyone who wishes to can read all of this somewhere and then be rightly alarmed about the state of British democracy. And yet that hardly happens any more, as Cummings recently discovered to his cost. He was the leading spin doctor of the Brexit campaign, who was largely responsible for Leave’s win, using aggressive and dubious methods. After he stepped down from his post as Johnson’s chief aide amid controversy, he gave evidence to a joint inquiry into the handling of the pandemic, where he described in detail all the lies, the brazen behaviour and cynicism of the Johnson administration. But not even the opposition really had the strength to call on the ministers concerned to resign. A few years ago it would at least have gone through the motions. After all, even if one may rightly argue that this was just a posthumous attempt at revenge by just another spurned spin doctor: much of what Cummings described corresponds to facts that have long been known to the public.

Against the truth as the currency of democracy

But how could it all fizzle out so easily? Why did nothing of what Cummings put forward resonate in the public arena? The answer is relatively simple: because Cummings fell victim to his own strategy. It was he who, together with Johnson, first ushered in the post-truth era in Great Britain, thereby destroying the very basis on which a minister, or even Johnson, can still be held accountable. To be able to do that, you need truth as your currency, the distinction between right and wrong, as a valid criterion in the democratic dialogue. Instead, Cummings experienced first-hand what happens in such a misguided society if you try to pursue a government with fact-based allegations: nothing, any more.

With that, Cummings has no doubt served his purpose for Johnson. That is because from the outset, Brexit was for Johnson solely a route to power. He probably secretly hoped that the expulsion of his anarchic chief adviser meant he could now leave the dirty part of the business behind him and simply rule as normal from now on. That, however, is not going to happen, much as Johnson himself may have longed for it. First, because Johnson is not a normal politician himself: his entire life to date has consisted of breaking rules and crossing legal and ethical boundaries. He made it to Downing Street thanks to the Brexit campaign and the destructive power inherent in the project. As the Cummings hearing showed, the consequent blurring of empirical reality can’t be undone in the foreseeable future. And that Johnson has got away with it with such success will no doubt reinforce his belief that he is untouchable and encourage him to further advance his specific form of British populism.

The second reason why an early return to “normal” British conditions can hardly be expected is Brexit itself. As a deeply ideological project, it lacks any real perspective as to where and into what better world the people’s regained sovereignty should lead the country. Five full years after the referendum was won, for example, there is still no coherent trade strategy. Leading Brexiteers are now more or less openly admitting this. The only prospect of a new trade agreement so far is one with Australia, which is estimated to boost UK GDP by 0.02 per cent over 15 years, while the EU, one of the largest free trade areas, and one on Britain’s doorstep, continues to be depicted as an opponent.

The UK’s new sovereignty remains a show put on for the benefit of the governing party and its voters, in which the main character, Johnson, has turned his back on reality and has to entertain the confused audience with large and increasingly authoritarian gestures to distract them from the political vacuum that his Brexit offers. Politics becomes a hollow formula, a flurry upon flurry of headlines that blur in the public consciousness as quickly as yesterday’s news. The destruction of the foundations of democratic culture is accepted as lightly as the repercussions for the cohesion of the United Kingdom. In Scotland, for example, this essentially English nationalism is currently reigniting the independence movement. As recent polls show, a large proportion of English Tory voters are increasingly indifferent to Scotland as part of the Union.

And so it is not unthinkable that Johnson will end up being the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and will instead go down in history as the uncrowned king of a democratically dubious Little England. In retrospect, British democracy would then have been nothing more than what it already is for many of its critics, due to its vulnerable, unwritten constitution: a beautiful illusion that worked brilliantly as long as everyone wanted to hold on to it.

This essay first appeared in German in the July issue of the politics magazine Blätter.

Annette Dittert is the London bureau chief and senior correspondent of the German public broadcaster ARD. She was previously bureau chief for ARD in New York and Warsaw.

Translation: Janet Berridge, Berlin


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Talk about the weather, and things . . .

The weather yesterday underwent a big change. The scorching sun was been replaced by a moderate cloud cover – not overcast – and so it was been much cooler and much more pleasant for working outside. The overnight forecast showed the passage of a belt of rain so I watered in the greenhouse, but hoped that the rest of the garden would get a good soaking without my assistance.

Our Charlotte potatoes growing in bags have now shown signs of potato blight, so I have cut off all the tops and consigned them to the “non -recyclable” bin as I do not think they should go in the compost because that would just preserve the virus and spread it about at some future date when the compost gets used.

We have a Buddleia in the garden (and many other shrubs) which now badly need cutting back. Pre Covid we had our next door neighbour coming in regularly and giving us a tidy up, cutting the hedge and so forth. Covid has stopped all that and things are getting very overgrown. Over two days I have reduced myself to aches and pains and cut out a great deal of the buddleia and we will, hopefully do some more in the autumn. As always, this year, the Buddleia has flowered well and produced big spikes of dark blue flowers so it seem a terrible shame to cut it back, but it was making life difficult in getting round the garden at that point, and also resting on thr greenhouse roof. So it is now pruned, and the shreddings are on my rhubarb bed as mulch.

Evolution Reciprocating Saw – Screwfix Catalogue image.

However, this pruning showed that at my age something a bit more than sheer physical strength on the loppers is necessary to cut through the larger diameter stems which have died and become hard wood. So I have taken the plunge and bought by mail order, a powered reciprocating saw from Screwfix. No doubt I could have got one from Amazon but I read so much adverse comment about the wealth of Amazon’s founder, and the bad conditions experienced by Amazon employees that I avoid the firm as much as I possibly can.

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Rhubarb, Rhubarb . . .

Thompson and Morgan – Fulton’s Strawberry Surprise.

Some time last year – I forget when I ordered a rhubarb crown from Thompson and Morgan by mail order. From time to time they sent me updates on progress, or lack of it, as the delivery date slid further and further back. By that time of course we were deep into Covid and so many firms were telling their customers that orders and mailings were taking longer than usual. This far in (nearly 17 months now) “usual” ceases to mean very much. Hold ups are the new usual and we have learnt to live with them.

But – all in good time the rhubarb arrived and, not wasting any time I got it into my designated spot, watered it like mad and hoped for the best. I wasn’t too worried as it arrived in such good condition. Well, it didn’t waste much time. It soon started sending our shoots and I resolved not to pick anything this year and to let the crown get well and truly settled in its new home. But I reckoned without the rhubarb ! It has gone on producing new growth prolifically so today I decided to pick some to try, and also to relieve the clutter all over the plant. I tried a little at lunch time and it is beautiful stuff.. Stewed in Tesco lemon and lime lemonade and sweetened with golden granulated sugar. I usually use Sucralose for stewing fruit, but I do believe that sugar does something in the stewing which produces a better texture and flavour in the final result.

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Planned Obsolescence . . .

A long article in the current Computeractive magazine tells us of the forthcoming Windows 11 operating system and what we plebs might expect fro its arrival. It points out that Microsoft are warning that some computers might not be able to handle it because their processors or graphics cards or other bits of built in kit might not be sufficiently up to date. You can check your processor HERE.

I have checked mine, an Intel Core i3 4005U and it would appear that this is one of those which at the moment will be unsupported – although there is apparently a possibility that the list of supported processors will grow as time goes by.

For my purposes a computer like this runs Linux Mint perfectly well and so hopefully I will be able to go on using it for some time yet. But there are certain programmes which run best under Windows, so if I wish to continue to make use of those I may have to purchase a new computer just to be able to run Windows 11. Very annoying. Family Historian will run on Linux under Wine, but the last time I tried it was a bit of an apology and not nearly as good as the real thing.

Such is planned obsolescence.

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Our Prehistoric House of Commons . . .

I append below the text of an article published in The Guardian newspaper published yesterday . . .

The Labour MP Dawn Butler has been ejected from the Commons after saying Boris Johnson had lied repeatedly to fellow parliamentarians and the country, and then refusing to withdraw the remark.

“The prime minister has lied to this house time and time again,” Butler told the deputy speaker, Judith Cummins. When asked to “reflect on her words”, Butler added: “It’s funny that we get in trouble in this place for calling out the lie, rather than the person lying.”

Under Commons rules about what is considered unparliamentary language, it is forbidden for MPs to accuse their fellows of deliberate deceit.

Speaking in a backbench business debate shortly before the end of the final day of Commons business before the summer recess, Butler condemned the government’s response to coronavirus.

“Poor people in this country have paid with their lives because the prime minister spent the last 18 months misleading this house and the country,” the Brent Central MP said.

Butler cited a much-shared social media video collating many of Johnson’s incorrect statements, highlighting in particular the prime minister’s comment to MPs earlier in the month that the Covid vaccination programme had “severed” the link between infections and serious illness or death.

While this appeared an error rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive – the official government line remains that the link has only been weakened, not severed – Johnson has never corrected himself, and fellow ministers have refused to accept he was wrong.

Butler told MPs: “Not only is this not true, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous to lie in the pandemic. And I’m disappointed the prime minister has not come to the house to correct the record, and to correct the fact that he has lied to this house and the country over and over again.”

At this point Cummins, a fellow Labour MP who is a stand-in deputy speaker after one of the office holders, Rosie Winterton, was forced to self-isolate, intervened to twice ask Butler to withdraw the charge of lying.

Butler said: “I’ve reflected on my words, and somebody needs to tell the truth in this house, that the prime minister has lied.” Cummins told the MP she was suspended for the rest of the day, and Butler left the Commons.

Johnson’s tendency towards dishonesty is much chronicled, with a series of people who have known him commenting on what Max Hastings, his editor at the Daily Telegraph, called “his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth”.

Under his tenure as prime minister, Downing Street has often declined to correct the record when he has said something false, even on issues that are not in doubt.

However, in a chamber where MPs must refer to each other as the “honourable member”, accusations of dishonesty are forbidden. An official glossary of other unparliamentary language not permitted by Speakers in recent years includes “blackguard”, “coward”, “git”, “guttersnipe”, “hooligan”, “rat” and “stool pigeon”.

* * * * *



I am not a great one for writing to MPs as my experience with those allegedly representing us in the past 30 years has been uniformly depressing. But this woman has done no more than to speak the truth as the newspaper article itself confirms. Johnson’s inability to tell the truth has been well documented (see eg : Wikipedia), and has resulted in his being sacked twice, and to get all hoity toity about it in the House of Commons is at best ridiculous and at its worst a deliberate concealment – which is not what the House of Commons is for.

Here is the text of my email to Miss Butler . . .

Dawn Butler MP

House of Commons

Houses of Parliament

London, UK.

I write to express my support for your remarks in the House of Commons yesterday. You did nothing worse than to tell the truth and the fact that you were ejected for so doing says more about the House of Commons than it does about you.

I think you should be reinstated and congratulated.

I am 87 years old and might therefore be expected to be dead from the neck up, but a lifetime of viewing from the sidelines has taught me that our electoral system and our Parliament are not fit for purpose and need some drastic improvements if this country’s political life is to be saved for the benefit our great grand children of whom we already have two.

All best wishes.

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Delivery Day . . .

Thursday is Tesco day. They have delivered to us with great regularity and reliability since march 2020 and continue to do so. Our booked slot is 12.00 to 1.00 pm, but they are often here at any time after 11.30 am. On one occasion they messaged us to say they would be late, but still got here by 12.15 pm – well inside their allotted time span. We put out large plastic storage boxes in the garage doorway and leave the door up, which keeps off any rain, and the drivers offload into those. In the main we get no plastic bags except for certain items which go into red bags for speedy identification. These bags make ideal liners for bedroom waste bins, so although they eventually go to non-recyclable waste, I think the Council even make use of that these days.

Yesterday, however, turned out to be a problem day for them. A text message informed us that our delivery was delayed and would now take place between 12.00 noon and 6.15 pm. So we had a long day of hanging about not daring to do very much in case we missed the van. Eventually it arrived at 5.15 pm and the driver seemingly quite cheery, one of the regulars, packed everything into our boxes very neatly (as we discovered after he had left) and all was well.

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