So, Boris Johnson is finally getting round to the idea that allowing truck drivers from the EU might be helpful to solve the food, fuel, construction materials and other shortages of which he and his Brexit-mad ministers are the main drivers.
I’m sure that important group of our friends and partners, the EU truck drivers, will see through this and remain where they are. Why should they come and help out the very people who removed their freedom of movement in the first place? Why should they disrupt their own countries’ and companies’ supply chains to bail out a country where they know they are not welcome?
Why should they provide a short-term fix for a totally incompetent government which could not foresee the current situation even though plenty of us could, only to be forced to leave once they have been exploited here?
As Alastair Campbell states in his article examining the reluctance of the opposition parties to take the government to task by mentioning Brexit (“Dear Keir..” TNE #261 ), the country is experiencing “deeply abnormal times”, including a Labour Party that dare not mention Brexit because it is hindered by the fact it supported Johnson’s deal and is scared of offending Brexiteers in its once supposedly invincible heartlands. Also a media that largely colludes with the fiction that all of the problems that the country is facing are due to any circumstances other than Brexit.
Starmer and other opposition leaders should at the very least be pointing out the terrible consequences of this most disastrous policy decision.
It is shameful that such issues and consequences are barely raised in Westminster or in the print and broadcast media. I really do despair at the state of democratic accountability in the UK and have real fears for the future.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is right to condemn Johnson’s government for allowing the lorry driver shortages to escalate into a full blown national crisis despite repeated warnings.
In 2018 Theresa May’s government had commissioned an assessment of the likely consequences of Britain’s exit from the EU – the Yellowhammer Report – which predicted such disruptions to food, labour and fuel supplies. Though leaked to the public the following year Johnson ignored its warnings, leaving the country entirely exposed to the shortages now being seen.
Sadly, however, Starmer weakened his own opportunity for fully holding this government to account for the unfolding debacle by enabling the EU Withdrawal Agreement to get through parliament.
Perhaps now he can make amends for that error and rally renewed opposition to the dire consequences of Brexit as more and more of his own MPs are urging.
The government treats Brexit as an article of faith. We desperately need HGV drivers, but the last thing they would do is to allow British firms to recruit them from Europe.
Farmers and the hospitality sector need European workers, but with a few exceptions it is virtually impossible to get them from EU countries.
Wholesale gas prices are soaring, while European countries with access to the EU’s Internal Energy Market are able to keep gas prices lower.
Anything which threatens the true faith of the Brexiteers is anathema to the government, even as millions of poorer people across the UK suffer dreadfully from the dire consequences of Brexit.
We’ve all been missing a trick. Your weekly catch-up (“Sunlit Uplands” TNE #261) makes all the wrong assumptions. The present “chaos” is clearly a brilliantly conceived strategy aimed at putting Britain in a commanding position at COP26: Almost every aspect contributes to lowering our carbon footprint.
The HGV driver shortage decreases numbers of trucks, while the petrol shortage deters private car users. The CO2 shortage will hit future investment in animal farming, accompanied by the Australian trade ‘deal’ which will put methane-producing cow farms out of business. The empty supermarket shelves ensure less plastic waste, while the huge hike in electricity and gas bills will lead many to cut down on heating their homes.
Only a political genius could have conceived such a scheme. Brilliant, Mr Johnson!
Happiness not universal
University managers might be happy (“Universities have passed the challege..” TNE #261), but the cost has meant a massive increase on staff workload to get through the last few years, and increased use of casualised employment. Many teaching staff are juggling more than one part-time contract at different institutions. Because they are paid on contact hours, with little allowance for preparation, some are earning close to or below the minimum wage.
In his article on universities last week, Nick Hillman writes: “Demand from EU students is down by 56%, which will be terrible for campus diversity”. That statement is included in the article almost as a passing comment, having painted an otherwise rosy picture. Surely that is a tragic and wholly unnecessary loss which greatly diminishes our universities. Just because they have all, so far, financially survived Brexit, that is no reason to roll over and accept it.
In his warning about PR (“Case for democracy.com is compelling”, TNE #260) James Ball writes “Even Jacinda Ardern – New Zealand’s progressive pin-up PM – has shown the perils of PR. Until her recent reelection, her government was propped up by New Zealand’s answer to UKIP, with the profoundly right wing party’s leader serving as her deputy for the entire term of the last government.”
Since 2011 New Zealand has had four general elections, all under PR. The first two resulted in National (ie Conservative)-led coalitions. After the 2017 election Ardern’s Labour was able to replace the National government by forming a coalition with New Zealand First, undeniably a populist party.
The coalition didn’t do New Zealand First much good. In 2020 Labour won an outright majority of seats allowing it to form a government on its own, though it did give two ministerial posts to the Greens. New Zealand First lost every seat it held in parliament, including that of its leader, Winston Peters.
The record of the last few years surely suggests that the unrepresentative First Past the Post system has put the UK in much greater peril than PR has New Zealand.
I detest UKIP, but was appalled too read James Ball suggest that the fact UKIP might have had a minor share in government if a PR system had been in place was a reason to disenfranchise anybody who supported a minority party or, in safe seats, not so minority parties.
That amounts to making the vote of many millions of people worthless. No wonder people don’t feel listened to and become alienated from the political system. It is one of the main reason for the Leave vote winning.
It might be convenient for deny people representation if you don’t like them, but what if you do. I’m sure many would agree that having a stronger Green voice in parliament would be a good thing, especially now.
There is no perfect electoral system, but sticking with a system that disenfranchises millions of people because you don’t like their views or because you want to hang on to power isn’t the answer.
James Ball’s insightful comments on our current voting system didn’t address a far more insidious factor that has never been willingly tackled – that of an electorate deliberately (or at best indifferently) starved of meaningful political education in schools.
As an ex-teacher I used to shudder when thinking that some of those sitting in front of me were very soon to be expected to vote without any political savvy whatsoever. We expect young folk to be responsibly knowledgeable about the Highway code, the law, Covid etc but not politics.
Until we equip our electorate with the facility to analyse, discern and see-through party political spin it won’t matter whether we have a PR or a first-past-the-post system.
James Ball cautions against wishing for proportional representation. His arguments are familiar: That it requires major party support, that AV was rejected, that it could have put UKIP in government and creates instability.
Yet Labour is slowly shifting on this issue; UKIP in power locally, always collapsed, and its part in any government would have been very short; stable coalitions have brought stable government; and so the answer is to go for a system like Ireland’s STV or Germany’s requirement for a 5% threshold.
Millions of voters have either never seen the person they vote for elected to Westminster, or have voted for someone whose policies they despise (e.g., Brexit) in order to keep out someone else they fear even more. It is time to enact a system fit for today, and to end a system only fit for the 19th century, where, to quote Iolanthe, “every boy and every gal … is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative. Fal lal la!”
It was delightful to see Dag Hammarskjöld as your ‘Great Life’ (#260). In that overcast, hair-trigger decade, he represented a ‘bright period’ in the weather. He made the UN into something. During the election of one of his successors, somebody referred to “the election of the secular pope”, but nobody has ever since attained his positive stature in the role.
The bad in verse
Inspired by Mitch Benn’s weekly poems on the state of the nation, here is my own…
The Brexiters were right
To warn the British nation
There really was a Project Fear
Their fear of immigration
The Bs were right We’ll be a vassal state Of EU? no the USA We spotted it too late The Bs were right
From No 10 not Brussels
Go to Dover & you’ll see.
I like to read Mitch Benn each week,
He injects a satirical note.
He is very much like Ernie Wise
The verses what I wrote.
But he makes some pithy comments
Which really hit the spot.
He is always up to date and primed
To sock it to that lot.
I really liked ‘Priti’s Happy House’
She majors on compassion.
Her staff always sit up straight
And swearing is last year’s fashion.
Will musical chairs shout ‘Levelling Up’?
To the country on trend and brave
Or will it be just like those daft plays
Starring Gove and his one man rave.
Judith A. Daniels
Not quite Wight
As ever, I enjoyed Sophia Deboick’s music column (“Wight noise on devastation hill”, TNE #260), featuring an account of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. It was often referred to as the “British Woodstock” but she was wrong to write it was “staged just days after its American counterpart”. The Woodstock Music and Art Fair, pictured, (actually held 40 miles from Woodstock in New York state) took place in August 1969 and over a year before the 1970 IoW gathering.
Soul of a Soprano
I was moved by Richard Luck’s article on the death of James Gandolfini eight years ago and the release of a prequel to The Sopranos starring the actor’s son, Michael (“Death of a Soprano”, TNE #261). Gandolfini was a great actor, expressing so much while appearing to do so little. His Tony Soprano was a complex blend of watchfulness, cunning and animal menace. Each character in that excellent ensemble brought out a different element of his personality.
His death at just 51 was a huge loss to film and TV. He’ll be a hard act to follow, but I can only wish his son Michael a successful career and a long, happy life.
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