Thank you, and the anonymous GP, for “This is Britain’s health service” (TNE #325), which lays bare the strains its staff come under. I am not a conspiracist, but increasingly I feel like this government is systematically underfunding our NHS as a political choice, to hasten the moment when their private sector cronies are brought in to “save” the service and make themselves enormous profits while the principle of “free at the point of need” goes out of the window.
There was no better time to read your article than on a weekend when Sajid Javid called for accident victims to pay to be seen in A&E, and for the more fortunate of us to have to get the debit card out in order to see a doctor. From there it is only a short jump to private health insurance. After that comes part and then full privatisation.
The fact is that we all pay for the NHS already through National Insurance and tax; making those who can afford it pay more is the logical first step to helping turn this disaster around.
I can only echo the closing words of your GP: “I am angry and sad for our country. I’m ashamed about what we’ve become.”
‘Fix the mess’
Alastair Campbell is right (Diary, TNE #325) that Keir Starmer should ditch “make Brexit work” and instead say he will “fix the Brexit mess”.
However, Starmer chose to part-own Boris Johnson’s Brexit agreement by whipping his MPs to support it. He has had his hands tied ever since, and his recent speech in Belfast continued the unreality of following “the will of the people”.
It gives me little confidence that Labour can bring about any restorative change.
Perhaps Alastair can help to elucidate the Labour thinking behind this disastrous attitude.
Sir Keir Starmer seems as averse to mentioning Brexit as actors are to saying Macbeth before a performance. He should do as Alastair Campbell advocates and show “real confidence – and leadership – in calling out the Brexit mess” (Diary #325).
People need to be repeatedly told that without Brexit there would have been £40bn more money raised in taxes (Jonty Bloom, Agenda #325) to assist with the cost-of-living crisis. Shadow ministers should also link the “Brexit mess” into the mix when answering questions about how Labour would finance its spending plans.
They need to more forcibly argue that a better trade deal with the EU would, in boosting the economy, increase tax revenues to pay for improving services, which a change in government would facilitate – as it would not be in hock to hard right Tory Brextremists intent on scuppering such a deal. These Jonahs may not admit it, but an aim of their bonfire of regulations is no doubt to make improving trade with the EU more difficult – even if it means they again hole Britain below the waterline.
Mandrake’s assertion that Nadine Dorries dislikes Manchester because she is a Liverpudlian (TNE #325) confuses being born in Liverpool with being a Liverpudlian. Whilst being the former, Nadine Dorries shares none of the attributes that would make her the latter.
I’m embarrassed every time I hear Dorries and Liverpool used in the same sentence.
Will Self (Multicultural Man, TNE #326) is absolutely correct in decrying the ghastly trend towards chilling beers in pubs, irrespective of their type. Will could have mentioned as well that this insidious development extends to bottled beers in many shops and supermarkets, too.
Chilling kills flavour, which may be a good thing in the case of some modern “craft” beers, but certainly not as far as proper ale is concerned, which should always be served at room temperature.
To me this beer revolution has been like when we got a colour telly. I’ve been a beer drinker since the 1970s. Bitter was a bit like earwax sometimes, but it was supposed to be. Then someone flicked the switch and the flavour came on.
Most of it isn’t chilled, Will Self is exaggerating. And the chilled stuff is meant to be chilled and has enough flavour to withstand the cold. It’s not the fizzy wee yer man remembers from another century. I’d love to do guided tours of modern beer for the few older people stuck on bitter.
Peter Trudgill’s article (“Dictators who loved uniformity”, TNE #325) on the suppression of local languages by Franco, Mussolini, Metaksás and Hitler was interesting and alarming. But I felt disappointment that no mention was made of the “Welsh Not”, a tool of the suppression of the Welsh language in Welsh schools in the 19th century.
The first child heard speaking Welsh on a school day rather than English was made to carry or wear around the neck a piece of wood with “WN” carved on to it. He or she would wear this until they heard another child speaking Welsh, when the Not was then passed to that child. This continued throughout the school day. The child in possession of the Not at the end of the day was then beaten by one of the masters.
So not only was the language suppressed, but also the children themselves were forced into policing its suppression. One can only imagine the desperation of the wearer to pass on the Not to another child to avoid the end-of-day beating.
This was a shameful episode in the history of this country, not only because of the suppression of Welsh itself, but in the use of the children to enforce it.
Since readers are still writing in (Letters, TNE #325) about Dominic Sandbrook’s thought-provoking critique of “wokeness” in TNE #321, and since they continue to insist that wokeness is just about “being kind”, it’s worth noting that, as usual, things are more complicated than that.
Whatever its worthy origins, “wokeness” now serves as useful shorthand for a mindset that combines self-righteousness, self-importance and self-pity. I’m old enough to remember when those were considered bad things.
The fact that we’ve imported it wholesale from the US ought to ring alarm bells, given that country’s very different history and culture, not to mention the very public nervous breakdown it’s been having for some years now.
Sophia Deboick (“The sounds of sadness”, TNE #325) contends that the term Blue Monday was coined in the 1970s. Fats Domino’s song of that title – a wry account of the life of a manual worker – was released in 1957. But for a real cry of despair, try Hard Times (Who Knows Better Than I?) by Ray Charles.
Though Blue Monday – in its current sense – is an invention of a travel company, as Sophia Deboick says, the phrase has been around since the early 1800s, when it referred to the pain of returning to work after a weekend’s carousing.
This then inspired a 1920s operetta by George Gershwin that was a precursor to Porgy and Bess.
Lack of Truss
If it’s not tradition to automatically bestow the Order of the Garter to a former prime minister, as Mandrake says (TNE #325) don’t do it for Liz Truss. She hasn’t done a thing to deserve this honour.
I’d almost forgotten all about Liz Truss when Mandrake brought her up. Where is she? What is she doing? And more to the point, having cost Britain billions with her vainglorious budget, why on earth is she still considered fit to be an MP?
Jonty Bloom’s column, with its detailed cataloguing of the real Brexit cost and effect on the UK economy, always holds me with grim fascination.
However, in “So long, and thanks for all the fish” (TNE #324) he omitted an interesting additional fact. Jonty made reference to the failed negotiated deal for fishing rights with Norway, which cut the UK’s quota of cod from 10,085 tonnes in 2019 to 500 tonnes in 2022. As I recall, the government minister responsible for negotiations heralded it as an example of the UK’s tough new post-Brexit negotiating stance by denying Norwegians easy access to British waters. That Norwegian fishermen did little fishing in those waters was overlooked. What was also overlooked was that meant the loss of access to the cod and haddock fishing grounds of Norway.
Who was this minister who was able to present a disastrous trade deal failure as such a success? None other than Liz Truss. Jonty Bloom should have made it clear who is to blame for the rocketing price of fish and chips.
Pickering, North Yorkshire
So the firm with no experience of producing car batteries on any sort of scale, no substantial financial backing given the size of the undertaking, and no customers – Britishvolt – has gone into administration after promising, alongside the Johnson government (which in turn promised £100m of support), to build a giga-factory in Northumberland. Why am I not surprised?
The deal was done and announced with a fanfare of trumpets under Johnson; it looks alarmingly similar although on a much bigger scale to the way that PPE contracts were awarded, and it was pie in the sky, given the company’s lack of track record. Also, the development depended on attracting substantial investment, into a country that looks incredibly high risk for that sort of money to any savvy investor. Why invest here when there are 25 battery factories going ahead backed by genuine expertise in the EU, not to mention other huge projects in the green technology sector?
The north-east desperately needs this sort of major industrial production. The area has lost the thousands of jobs promised at the plant and in the supply chain. The 300 Britishvolt employees were immediately made redundant. The apprentices who signed on recently have had their hopes destroyed.
The country badly needs at least five huge battery factories if our car industry is to survive. The only one going ahead – next to the Nissan plant in Sunderland, and not on the same scale – is Chinese-owned.
This inept government does not have an industrial strategy and does not believe in having one. It clearly does not believe in proper due diligence either. Promising the earth and crossing your fingers does not cut it with investors. Let’s hope it’s not terminal for the Northumberland site, but who in their right mind is going to invest in the UK at present when there are much more attractive prospects just across the North Sea?
Was I imagining things when Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t look that pleased to see shameless Boris “photo op” Johnson pitching up again in Ukraine over this past weekend? Could it be that someone has tipped off the president that in Boris’s eyes he is perhaps merely a friend with benefits?!