We need a new Nolan to restore trust in government.

This was my article on The Article

For most of his working life, Boris Johnson has behaved as though rules and social norms were meant for others, not him. So it was no surprise to learn that his boast that he ‘shook hands with everybody’ was made on the same day that SAGE’s behavioural science subcommittee had recommended hand-shaking should stop.

Next week marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the Nolan report on standards in public life. For most of this last quarter‐century, the Nolan Report has provided the underlying ethical basis for public life in the United Kingdom.

Since Brexit, that has changed. Prior to the Brexit vote, ministerial transgressions would have been accompanied by a public outcry which would have shortened the ministerial lives of those involved. Post‐2016 they are being routinely ignored.

In this new era, ministers can perform badly but not be sacked. They can mislead Parliament but escape punishment. Ministers can undermine civil servants without consequence to themselves. Ex‐Ministers could ignore Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) rules and a year later become prime minister.

When the public inquiry into COVID-19 arrives, as long as it is held on a statutory basis and statements have to be given under oath, the current governmental consensus will break down. Already, in hearings of the Health and Science and Technology Select Committees, we have seen scientists and medical advisers having to admit that resource constraints affected early decisions on testing and PPE. The future inquiry will hear from representatives of the Welsh and Scottish governments who have already made it clear how Prime Ministerial announcements are being briefed without their involvement in the messaging. Advisers and officials are getting ready to break ranks, with the Cygnus pandemic flu exercise analysis now put into the public domain.

The question has yet to be put, but in due course we will see how advice on ‘the vulnerable’ was changed after the 16 March statement by the English Chief Medical Adviser that the vulnerable – which he defined as those advised to have a flu jab – would be asked to shield themselves. That amounted to a potential twenty million-plus people, so within a couple of weeks an algorithm had been created to sort ‘the vulnerable’ from ‘the extremely vulnerable’ and reduce the number being asked to shield to around 1.5 million. Meanwhile older and disabled patients were moved out of hospitals expected to be needed for COVID-19 patients into care homes, a decision which might have seemed rational at the time but we know now was carried out without proper planning or ensuring the availability of the necessary equipment and testing.

When the inevitable inquiry takes place, one of the questions it will need to answer is whether in this new era, the Nolan principles still apply. The Prime Minister’s personal conduct suggests that it does not.

Nolan recommended that, like senior civil servants, ministers who leave office should seek permission from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) before accepting a business role.

In July 2018, within a week of resigning as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson signed a contract with the Daily Telegraph to write a weekly column. He did not apply to ACOBA for permission until two weeks after signing the contract. The Committee refused to grant retrospective advice, stating that Johnson’s actions were “a breach of the rules”.

In December 2018 Boris Johnson was also told by the Commons Standards Committee to apologise for his “over‐casual” failure to declare £52,000 worth of expenses. However, Johnson’s political career has clearly been unaffected by these transgressions.

Other apparent breaches of the Ministerial Code, including the duty to avoid confusing ministerial and political work, and to avoid using government facilities for party political purposes, or transparency over meetings with lobbying groups, appear to have been ignored. Boris Johnson hosted the launch of a political think-tank, the Institute for Free Trade (later re‐named the Initiative for Free Trade), at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Ministerial Code places a responsibility on all ministers “to uphold the impartiality of the Civil Service”. They should be professional in their dealings with the Civil Service and give due weight and respect to the advice that they are given. In 2019, we saw the resignation of the UK Ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, after his confidential comments on the US President were leaked to British newspapers. Darroch resigned after the refusal of Boris Johnson, to endorse him during one of the Conservative leadership debates. The former US ambassador to the European Union, Anthony Gardner, tweeted, ‘We are truly living during a religious war. Decency goes out the window and there is no sense of outrage’. Meanwhile, reports have multiplied about Civil Service departures and a decline in morale.

It’s doubtful how many now remember John Major’s hope that the Nolan Committee would be an ‘ethical workshop’.The Nolan Report depended on a shared political consensus about the norms which underpin standards in public life.

That consensus rested on peer endorsement within Westminster. It required peer pressure to uphold agreed standards. It demanded a media that endorsed those standards and ways of operating, and refused to downplay breaches of norms simply because the politician affected shared their views on a particular issue.

It probably also depended on a public which had not yet reached the state of cynicism about parliamentarians that the 2009 expenses scandal produced. In the UK today, attitudes to Brexit determine attitudes to political norms. Sadly, as Alastair Campbell has written, we live in a ‘post‐shame’ world.

We can all feel human sympathy for a Prime Minister who has felt the brutal effects of COVID-19. But with the UK now recording the highest number of deaths in Europe, the current crisis cannot be reduced to a personal soap opera. And the Prime Minister will not get away with the usual flannel any longer.

It is not irrelevant to this crisis that we have a Prime Minister whose track record of breaking rules on business appointments or reporting of financial interests or scientific advice on disease transmission suggests they regard these as matters for people other than themselves. It is central to the inquiry that must come. We live in a post‐Nolan age, and Boris Johnson is its embodiment. If trust in government is to be restored, we need a new Nolan.

 

Johnson channels JFK

I knew I’d heard a version of ‘moment of maximum risk’ before. The reason I knew was that I remembered saying to senior officials in my department when I was Education Minister in about 2012  that this was ‘the moment of maximum danger’ for our school improvement policy: we had buy-in across the sector, but now we needed the resources on the ground to enable people to deliver, and if we failed in that we would lose momentum and support.

So last night I posted a request on Twitter for help in tracking down the original, and thanks to Daryl Leeworthy and Jon Coles we tracked it down. It’s from JFK’s inaugural speech, where he refers to the ‘hour of maximum danger’:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.

So there you have it. Johnson channels JFK. Not, I think something they would have said about that other Johnson – LBJ.

When the crisis is over

I published this on The Article on 16 April:

The Commission of Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks in the United States said when it reported that the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failures: in imagination, policy, capabilities, and management. There will be a Public Inquiry into the conduct of the COVID-19 crisis in the UK, and it will be harsh in all four areas.

In every area of social life what seemed unthinkable has now happened. So, first, imagination. This, said the 9/11 Commission, ‘is not a gift usually associated with bureaucracies.’ The exercise of imagination needed to become routine. We know that pandemics featured as a high priority in the National Risk Register and there had been a pandemic planning exercise in 2016. But lessons weren’t learned. And it is likely that the government’s imaginative and cognitive bandwidth had been stretched by its Brexit planning and election fighting by early 2020 and that crucial decisions were delayed, in part because the necessary processing of the unthinkable did not take place early enough.

Policy. Policy changed alarmingly quickly with an about-turn in mid-March, even though many experts have said that the signs were obvious by February. As Professor Colin Talbot has pointed out, early in March, mass gatherings were ok. Then, but only after the Cheltenham races and the Stereophonics concerts and the Liverpool/Athletico Madrid game, they weren’t. School closures weren’t necessary, then they were. PPE wasn’t essential, then it was. Mask-wearing wasn’t necessary, now maybe it is. In the last week, leaks suggested that the Home Office still believes that 80% of UK citizens will get the virus. On March 16, the chief medical officer said all those who  were vulnerable – those who were advised to have the annual flu vaccination – would be asked to shield themselves. Then, after it dawned that this meant 19 million people, a revised version of this for the ‘extremely vulnerable’ – 1.5 million people – became the emphasis. Except that care homes, already housing thousands of the extremely vulnerable, were forgotten.

Capabilities. One of the successes of the crisis has been military logistics – the building of the Nightingale hospital in London, the Dragon’s Heart hospital in Cardiff’s international rugby stadium, and many others. The transformation of operational focus in the health services in the four nations has debunked criticism of the dexterity of the NHS. The development of the furlough and business financial packages are successes of government adaptability. There has been one important communications success – the clarity of the core message of Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. But there are long-term issues which have demonstrated our over-reliance on global supply chains in respect of testing, PPE equipment and ventilator manufacture. Ventilator developments have been stop-start, with some schemes initially announced with great fanfares subsequently dropped.

Management. Implementation is always the forgotten end of policy. Unfortunately, over-promising and under-delivering has been the norm. Press conferences are full of mixed messages and uncertainty. Targets announced by ministers for testing and ventilator production have come and gone. There is silence about the work-streams the government is managing to deliver progress in different areas. The comprehensive financial package announced by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, one of those who actually sounds like a grown-up when he is holding a press conference, needs detailed clarification on its longevity and the money needs to be released sooner. Payment of Universal Credit was already taking too long and now there are millions more claimants. Some universities are on the brink of insolvency with no obvious rescue in sight.

Looking ahead now instead of looking back, it is obvious that as other European countries start to unlock their lockdowns that comparisons will be drawn and questions will be asked here. In Denmark, the equivalent of primary schools are going back. In Spain some businesses are re-opening. This week President Macron gave some examples of a phased re-opening when extending the French lockdown to 11 May. But the UK strategy for relaxing the lockdown is opaque. It’s not clear that one exists. As Keir Starmer has said, public trust will depend on transparency and openness. No-one is asking for a detailed timetable, but the strategy should give some indication of the factors that will determine how a lockdown should be relaxed, such as mass testing and contact tracing, as well as an indication of what happens if, as expected, there are future waves of the virus. Greater effort needs to be made to integrate the thinking of the devolved administrations, who will make the decisions on school re-opening, for example, with that of the UK Government.

Underpinning this, of course, is the sense of a vacuum in political leadership. For very human reasons, the Prime Minister is beyond criticism at the present time. He is politically untouchable. But the proper sympathy extended to him for his recovery cannot be an excuse for dither at the centre of government. Key decisions will have to be made. Clarity will be needed in all statements about future strategy. A sense of hope for the coming reconstruction period is crucial.

 

Rabbits do better in headlights

Somewhere in the thousands of words he has written over the last few weeks, Alastair Campbell said he had been suffering from ‘Covinsomnia’. Maybe it was in a tweet, because I can’t find it now. Anyway, last night I seemed to be suffering from a bout of Campbell Covinsomnia myself. I’m not sure why. I went to bed early and I was relaxed and ready for sleep. I made bread yesterday – Adrian Chiles, you forgot to remind us to grease the tin. I went for a bike ride. I cleared my email backlog during the day. I listened to the new Strokes and Laura Marling albums (yes, I’m getting value now from my Spotify account.)

I’ve been back to sleep since, but whether it was caused by the UK government or not, when I woke in the middle of the night,  I was turning over in my mind the latest woeful UK Government press conference yesterday afternoon. And the latest abject performance by political journalists. Alastair has written on several occasions about the questions he thinks need to be asked. Here are some of mine, with follow-ups for when The Usual Flannel (TUF for short) is given in answers.

  1. Will Matt Hancock’s target of 100,000 tests a day be met by 30 April? Yes or no? (If Hancock is doing the briefing and offers TUF, then ask if he will resign if the target he announced is not met)
  2. How many tests were done yesterday? (If TUF, ask ‘last week?’)
  3. Is testing central to relaxing the lockdown? Yes or no? If so, how many tests per day will be needed before the lockdown can be relaxed? What’s the point of the app if you are not testing intensively?
  4. The chief scientific adviser said the plateau, not yet reached, might last for two weeks or more. How many deaths does the government expect by 30 April? (If TUF, ask 25,000? 30,000?)
  5. Why did the chief scientific adviser say that countries are reporting hospital deaths only when France is reporting combined deaths? If TUF, ask what estimates does the government have for deaths at home or in care home settings overall.
  6. How many additional ventilators have now been delivered since the promise of 30,000 extra was made in March?
  7. Emmanuel Macron yesterday set out a plan for lifting the lockdown in stages. What is the UK government’s strategy for relaxing the lockdown? Could we see a similar staged response? (If TUF, ask what are the detailed work streams which the government is examining to allow a lifting of the lockdown).
  8. President Macron announced that all French people would be able to procure a mask. Does that feature in UK government plans for ending the lockdown?
  9. Does the government agree with the Home Office deputy scientific adviser who told Passport Office workers a week ago that 80% of people in the UK will get COVID-19?(If TUF, ask what is your current planning assumption for percentage of UK citizens who will be infected in 2020)?
  10. Does the government accept that the current death rate indicates that the recent Washington study suggesting 66,000 deaths in the UK by August is right?

There are many more questions. These are just the ones I want asked, and answered, now. A lot less TUF, please. The press conferences so far tell me that rabbits do better in headlights. And I’m talking about the journalists as much as the government spokespeople – who have been TUF-ing it out for months.

So who is ‘extremely vulnerable’ and should be shielding?

On 16 March, ITV reported the Chief Medical Officer for England saying that advice would shortly be sent out to ‘vulnerable’ people who should be taking extra steps to protect themselves against COVID-19, namely by shielding themselves for twelve weeks. He specifically stated that this would broadly speaking be those advised to have the annual flu vaccine:

IMG_4629

The Times the next day published this handy chart on what you should do if you were in a specific group:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 12.54.14

The Times table, obviously based on Government briefing, introduced the concept of ‘serious underlying health conditions’ which was clearly intended to be different from ‘underlying health condition’.

Those adults advised to have the flu vaccine include:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 12.24.31

Ok, now bear with me. I’ve been looking for up-to-date figures on the numbers getting the flu vaccination annually. Public Health England said 25 million were eligible for free flu vaccinations in 2019. In the previous year about 70% of over 65s took up the vaccination; and 48% of those in an at-risk group and 45% of pregnant women in England. This meant about 7.5 million over-65s had the vaccination; 6.8 million of those in at risk groups. In Wales, a total estimated 868,668 people were vaccinated.

So if the 16 March definition given by Professor Whitty had been used, then many millions of people would have been asked to shield themselves. Shielding, remember means this ‘You are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact‘. Any face-to-face contact. In more detail:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.26.31

The extract above is from the Guidance issued by the UK Government on 21 March on shielding people defined as ‘extremely vulnerable’.

Those defined as ‘extremely vulnerable’ are clearly a much smaller group than the vulnerable groups mentioned by Professor Whitty on 16 March. They are defined as:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.33.24

As an asthmatic, I looked for definitions of ‘severe asthma’. Last Monday, 23 March, I found guidance issued by Asthma UK following advice from the Department of Health and Social Care in the UK. This suggested severe asthma consisted in the following:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.39.52

The original guidance posted by Asthma UK suggested ‘a high daily steroid dose’ meant – for example – two puffs a day of the Seretide inhaler, which is my own prescription. (for those definitions, see for example this). I would not have defined my asthma as ‘severe’ before reading that – I cycle regularly and feel my asthma is under good control.

The NHS Digital Clinical algorithm used to identify ‘Shielded patients’ however defines severe asthma as follows: ‘Severe asthmatics are those who are frequently prescribed high dose steroid tablets.’ (in the small print, this includes for example prednisolone.I haven’t been prescribed that for over 40 years, after I had been hospitalised for my asthma). This is of course different from the Asthma UK guidance on what is meant by severe asthma, a term which Asthma UK accepts is open to interpretation.

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.48.41

In the detailed explanation of the NHS Clinical Algorithm, you will find the following:

Screenshot 2020-03-30 at 13.52.40

So 19 Million people would have been captured by Professor Whitty’s original suggestion of the vulnerable who should be shielded: these are now classified as ‘at risk’. Now there is a group of ‘at high risk’ people amounting to 1.5 million. These ‘at risk’ and ‘at high risk’ groups roughly correspond to the ‘vulnerable’ and ‘extremely vulnerable’ categories. It is the ‘at high risk’ or ‘extremely vulnerable’ group that have been getting letters and in some cases texts from the NHS as announced last Monday. Letters should have been received by today if you are ‘extremely vulnerable’.

If you think you should be in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ or ‘at high risk’ group but have not been categorised as such, then if you live in England you can log in here to say so. The option to challenge your categorisation may exist in Wales but if it does I can’t find it in this.

19 million at risk or vulnerable. 1.5 million ‘at high risk’ or ‘extremely vulnerable’. To my mind, this just reinforces the lack of clarity in government messaging over the last fortnight.

 

 

Johnson, Churchill and Crisis Communications

My article on Johnson, Churchill and crisis communications was published in the New European yesterday. It was written and published before we knew the Prime Minister had contracted COVID-19, and I genuinely wish him a swift recovery. But that doesn’t invalidate what I wrote:

The UK Government’s coronavirus communications have been poor. Partly because of the apparent change of strategy – from the formation of ‘herd immunity’ at the risk of a large number of deaths to a stronger emphasis on social distancing and self-isolation. The initial strategy, heavily criticised and harder to explain, will unquestionably be the subject of Parliamentary and Public Inquiries in due course. Inquiries will also deal with the apparent delays in creating more ICU beds, ordering additional ventilators and protective equipment for front-line staff. For now, the priority is getting those problems sorted.

But the major problem has been the Prime Minister. The people taking key decisions at the centre of this unprecedented crisis are intelligent, hard-working and diligent, working under extreme pressure, at great pace and with facts and evidence that are being gathered in real-time. But the PM’s performance has not inspired confidence. Alastair Campbell, who knows a thing or two about crisis communications, published twenty recommendations for practical things the government should be doing. His key observation was the need for the Prime Minister to ‘narrate’ a strategy. Unlike his hero Churchill, Boris Johnson has failed in that. Even Monday’s address to the nation showed someone trying but failing to suppress his gung-ho bonhomie.

There are four key factors that can gleaned from the writings of Churchill’s contemporaries, people who served with him or watched him at close distance. They are

  • Clarity
  • Gravity
  • Preparation, and
  • Discipline

Clarity. Waffle won’t wash. Indeed, it confuses the message. Churchill could sometimes be prolix in his orations but he knew the importance of clarity and concision in the delivery of messages. Shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 1940, he wrote a minute to his War Cabinet headed ‘Brevity’.  It’s as relevant today as when it was written. ‘To do our work’, said Churchill, ‘we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.’ This was not a plea for recommendations without evidence – where needed, that should be given in an Appendix. The demand for brevity, to Churchill, wasn’t simply about the use of time. It was about getting clarity. This one-page memorandum ended ‘the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.’

Gravity. Churchill didn’t treat the British people as idiots, setting out the severest challenges with honesty. He also used humour wisely. Sir Ian Jacob, Military Assistant Secretary to the War Cabinet, and later BBC Director-General, recalled ‘humour in debate was not precluded, provided it did not degenerate into levity.’ Churchill wouldn’t have offered ‘Operation Last-Gasp’ in a meeting or conference call as Johnson is alleged to have done with industrialists in discussions on ventilator manufacture. Churchill had strong views on the naming of key war-time operations, stressing that they should not be frivolous or boastful. He understood the dignity of state office. It wasn’t a game.

Preparation. Churchill was a ‘girly swot’. Jacob said ‘his passion for detail is well known’. What most impressed people about Churchill, Jacob recalled, ‘was the fury of his concentration’. The diaries of his Assistant Private Secretary, Jock Colville, are littered with references to his preparations for speeches. A frequent opponent, Aneurin Bevan, recorded that Churchill ‘prepared his work with care and polished and re-polished it.’ The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke, who frequently clashed with Churchill, recalled in his diaries that he often had to help with Churchill’s speech preparations:

the whole Cabinet table had usually been littered with segments of the speech which had been returned by various people with remarks of criticisms. He worked at tremendous pressure on these occasions.

Discipline. Not all Churchill’s speeches worked. But in the midst of crisis, Churchill understood the importance of discipline for getting his message across. Bevan recalled that Churchill’s speeches ‘advanced along a broad sweeping front, making this point, then another, paragraph by paragraph, a majestic progress.’ Clement Attlee explained how Churchill provided the narrative for the war effort. ‘If somebody asked me what exactly Winston did to win the war, I would say “Talk about it”’.

Clarity, gravity, preparation, discipline. Not words yet associated with the current Prime Minister whose slap-dash extemporising has delivered mixed messages. Where Macron, Merkel, Sturgeon, Varadkar and even Rishi Sunak have been clear and controlled, Johnson has jabbered.

Churchill of course didn’t face 24-hour news or real-time social media. But he knew the importance of message discipline in a crisis. The Prime Minister should re-read his own book on Churchill, particularly this: ‘Churchill’s speeches were a triumph of effort, and preparation.’ From now on, he has to stay scripted.

 

 

Leighton Andrews is Professor of Public Leadership at Cardiff Business School, and a former Welsh Government Minister.

 

 

 

 

This is a time for honesty.

My Labour membership application has been rejected.

My application to rejoin the Labour Party has been rejected because I won’t be voting for the Corbyn continuity candidate.

I received a letter from Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) this week saying that the General Secretary, Jennie Formby, had taken action to reject my membership application. She had the power to do this ‘for any reason she sees fit.’

This is the same Jennie Formby who told me when I applied to renew my membership on 15 January that members like me were ‘the heart and soul of the party’. You can see her welcoming email above. I received a text thanking me for rejoining at the same time.

IMG_3810

The GLU letter, received at 00.44 on 24 March, meaning I missed it when it originally arrived, says I was being refused membership because of information ‘brought to the attention of national officers’, namely that ‘you publicly stated on Twitter on 23 May 2019 that you had cancelled your Labour membership and were voting for the Green Party’.

My tweet is here:

Screenshot 2020-03-27 at 04.30.38

The GLU statement of course is inaccurate. My Labour Party membership had lapsed in March 2019. I was not a Labour member when I voted Green in May 2019. I explained in a blogpost here that I was loaning my vote to the Greens because of Labour’s failure to deal with anti-semitism and its hopeless dithering on Brexit. The BBC covered this at the time.

I’d been wondering for two months why my promised membership card hadn’t arrived. I explained in a New Statesman article on 9 March that I hadn’t had my membership card or ballot, and I would be voting for Lisa Nandy then Keir Starmer if I did. I said

I rejoined the Labour Party in January explicitly to vote in the leadership election for a candidate who can reclaim Labour from Corbynism, address the issue of anti-Semitism, and reconnect the party with the wider public.

I also explained that in the December 2019 General Election, I had  voted for my local Labour MP Kevin Brennan, who had a strong anti-Brexit position, having voted, like all other Cardiff Labour MPs, against the introduction of Article 50 in 2017. I had donated to a couple of local Labour campaigns in Wales too.

In the New Statesman article I speculated that perhaps my membership was being looked at:

My membership of the Labour Party lapsed in March 2019. I’d decided months before that I wasn’t going to be caught out by an automatic renewal and cancelled my direct debit. In the European elections. I decided not to vote for the pro-Brexit anti-Semitic shambles that the Labour leadership has allowed the party to become. After all, in the 2017 I had voted Labour, and my vote had been waved around with that of millions of others as an endorsement of the leadership’s plans for a better Brexit. Well, stuff that. Won’t get fooled again.

So, having left Labour, I loaned my vote to the Greens last May. My decision was explicitly prompted by the Labour NEC decision on Brexit. Perhaps that means that my membership application is being closely scrutinised. Who knows? Personally I would hope that my thirteen years as an elected Welsh Labour member of the National Assembly for Wales, along with eight years as a Welsh Labour minister, might just count in my favour. After all, a lot of people with long records of supporting other parties were allowed to join Labour in the summer of 2015.

Indeed, in 2015, people who had voted and advocating voting Green or Plaid Cymru in the 2015 General Election were allowed to join Labour just a few weeks later.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that I am being excluded for making it clear two weeks ago that I wouldn’t be voting for the Corbyn continuity candidate. The Labour hierarchy has been trawling round to find excuses to strip Labour membership of longstanding supporters like Alastair Campbell and Trevor Phillips, both of whom I count as friends, with far more urgency than they acted on anti-Semites.

Alastair explained why he decided in the end that he wouldn’t contest the decision to expel him , stating that

The culture you have helped to create has made the party one which I feel no longer truly represents my values, or the hopes I have for Britain. Secondly, as someone who has been obsessed all my life with Labour winning, because otherwise we risk the continuing, debilitating Conservative domination of our politics, I see no strategy in place or even in development that remotely meets the electoral or policy challenges ahead. On the contrary, in so far as I ascertain a strategy at all, it is one that looks more designed to lose.

December’s General Election proved him right.

Labour lost office at UK level almost ten years ago. In a podcast with the Western Mail‘s Martin Shipton in January , I outlined some of my criticism of UK Labour leadership since 2010, beginning with the failures to stop the Con-Lib coalition pinning the 2008 financial crash on Labour and to stand up for the 1997-2010 record.

My membership matters not a jot in the current crises the country faces. Labour’s inability to forge a broad, popular movement against a government destroying democratic norms matters enormously. Labour needs all the friends it can get – but as we know, some people are happier in a cult of the like-minded, not a broad popular movement.

The letter from Labour’s GLU is here:

 

Screenshot 2020-03-27 at 04.12.59

Coronavirus – Living well is the best revenge

As a 62 year-old asthmatic with ropey lungs I have been apprehensive about Coronavirus for some weeks, and the news from Italy over the last week or so intensified my worries.

Today, one conference at which I was to give a paper in April (Political Studies Association in Edinburgh) has been cancelled. Last week their expressed view was that they were going ahead. Cardiff University has now taken the decision on the other one where I was due to give a paper out of my hands – PUPOL in The Hague at Leiden University –, saying ‘all work-related travel outside the UK should be postponed until further notice unless it is essential.’ I suspect PUPOL would have been cancelled anyway.

We are waiting on the UK government’s decisions over closures and further social distancing. Obviously Ireland made its decision to close schools etc today. Yesterday, Denmark, where our son lives, took that decision.

My 90 year old mother has been in and out of hospital over the last four weeks, so that has been my main concern as I have been visiting her in hospital, and when she was out last week there were a series of medical and care calls to undertake, before she went back in on Sunday.

My mother’s care and the need to visit her in hospital means that I cannot do what Colin Talbot has done and self-isolate, or ‘cocoon’ as Colin prefers, but from what I know of Colin’s medical conditions they are much more serious than mine. But I have been giving active consideration to that, given the way COVID-19 targets the lungs. We haven’t been stockpiling toilet rolls but our cupboards and freezer have the necessary basics to avoid shopping if we had to. Today I noticed local shop-keepers wearing plastic gloves and using sanitiser after customers touched card machines and counters, and who can blame them.

We also have childcare responsibilities with our grand-children – days spent with them are a bonus to life.

I am currently due to give a lecture on Monday to 2-300 students as a guest lecturer on another course, but there is no reason why the materials couldn’t be delivered on-line, and that is the same case with a guest lecture the following week to a smaller number.

The charity I chair, the Cardiff City Community Foundation, has its annual Foundation year events over the weekend starting tomorrow, as we celebrate how Our Club Changes Lives. We have been reviewing all our activities – and our risks – over the last week in the context of the advice from Public Health Wales.

This is a year in which we were lucky enough to have a concentrated period of holidays in May and June – a wedding in Spain, an educational visit to Sicily, and then the Euros in Rome for which we are fortunate enough to have tickets. How many of these will now go ahead is anyone’s guess. UEFA is meeting to discuss whether the Euros are postponed for a year apparently.

Whatever happens, if I am here in the autumn, I will I know be teaching the social, political and economic consequences of coronavirus on at least two postgrad courses I lead.

If I am here in the autumn. I plan to be, but the truth is no-one knows what outcomes will be. I am sick of hearing about people who have died being described as elderly or having ‘underlying health conditions’. Every coronavirus death is a tragedy. No-one should be dehumanised and no death simply excused away as due to the individual being ‘elderly’ or having ‘underlying health conditions’. I have underlying health conditions. So do millions.

We are living with uncertainty, in a way that few of my generation and those younger have ever experienced. Indeed maybe only those with experience of living through the war have anything similar to compare it with.

I think the advice from the UK government will now change to a more intensified set of social distancing recommendations every few days. I have confidence in the scientists, but I am keeping an eye on what is being said in Italy in particular.

The declared number of cases is not the true number of cases, as the scientists said today. 500+ cases officially in the UK, but more like 5-10,000 in the population as a whole, and they are no longer going to be testing cases in the community, but keeping testing for those in hospital already.

They are, without saying it, planning for the worst, and unlike with swine flu and avian flu, where preparations were made for the worst case, we have practical evidence in Europe of what that worst case looks like.

Why I’ve rejoined Labour

IMG_3810I rejoined the Labour Party yesterday, explicitly to vote in the leadership election for a candidate who can take Labour away from the cult, address the issue of anti-semitism, and reconnect the party with the wider public.

As I explained in May, I left Labour over the two issues of anti-semitism and Brexit. My membership lapsed in March. My decision to vote Green in the European elections was explicitly prompted by the Labour NEC decision on Brexit.

As I explained in my podcast with Martin Shipton yesterday, in the December General Election, I voted for my local Labour MP Kevin Brennan, who had a strong anti-Brexit position, having voted, like all other Cardiff Labour MPs, against the introduction of Article 50 in 2017. I donated to a couple of local Labour campaigns too. The Western Mail article based on the podcast outlines some of my criticism of UK Labour leadership since 2010, beginning with the failures to stop the Con-Lib coalition pinning the 2008 financial crash on Labour and to stand up for the 1997-2010 record.

I am rejoining now because the leadership campaign so far suggests that there is a chance of returning the Labour Party to sensible but radical leadership.

This is not to say that whoever is elected, Labour doesn’t face significant challenges. And the challenges facing Wales and the UK as a whole are deep and will be accentuated by the lived reality of Brexit. Rebuilding won’t happen overnight. And the outcomes, in the face of the new Conservative activist unionism, are uncertain.