Windrush

In 2018, there was a Labour motion about righting the wrongs of Windrush. Priti Patel, the present home secretary, was among 306 Conservative MPs voting against the bill and effectively silencing much of the information in the Windrush story.

Of course, it is true that the motion was linked to other issues that were party-sensitive and, therefore, unlikely to be endorsed by any Government ministers. However, an alternative bill was not put forward by the Government. One would have thought that Mrs May would have wanted to correct her own mistakes but I think that is not really a priority. It is fairly shameful.

So, alot of wriggling today, therefore, from Priti Patel who cannot really hide her own voting record, nor indeed hthe fact that she was once sacked for dishonesty: this is the lady who is running our police force and leading “by example”.

She has invited a good deal of criticism, not least from a swathe of Labour MPs who sent her a letter earlier this month in the wake of the george Floyd riots. To her credit, Ms Patel published the letter on twitter.

naz shah

The problem here is that this is not a party-political problem and no one in power today is quite blameless, so no one side can take a “holier-than-thou” position. The “Hostile environment” was actually set up, I think, in defiance of the Equal Opportunities act, by the Blair/Brown government but made all the more aggressive by Theresa May’s championing of the concept in 2012 and with two nasty immigration bills in 2014 and 2016. Her statment “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants” actually reinforced a series of policies put in place by Jack Straw. If you need to check the details, note the opening of Yarl’s Wood in 2001 and the belief in the “deterrance of detainment”, something that never worked here nor elsewhere in Europe. But also look for terms like “deterrent dogma” and “deportation targets”. This latter is a term that continues to be used and in 2000, under Blair, was set at the deportation of “30,000 people over the next year”.

Oddly, Amber Rudd, who was in charge when the Windrush scandal broke and who took the fall for what her predecessor and now her boss, PM May had set up, was one of the more reasonable Home Secretaries to have held the job in the last 20 years. It does not say alot of course. It fell to Sajid Javid, perhaps even better, to criticise the policy more directly, “I don’t like the phrase hostile. So the terminology I think is incorrect and I think it is a phrase that is unhelpful and it doesn’t represent our values as a country.” But he did not hold the job long enough to change the way things were done and the problem anyway was not about nomenclature.

I am aware of much of the horrible atmosphere in the Home office because I have found myself for nearly 20 years dealing with failed or botched student visas and I have been innumerable times to the detestable visa centres to try to sort out problems. In some cases, I saw promising students deported half-way through A levels and certainly more than one Oxbridge hopeful having their chances completely ripped away by these policies. This is a form of savagery, but it is also deeply scurrious. We have taken money from these students and then, at the crucial moment, deported them on a technicality. Even when it has worked effectively, we have often given students an education and thrown them out the moment they graduate.

It seemed to me that targetting students, which of course continues, is a cheap trick to suggest that the Home Office is keeping its eye on immigration. Students are very well documented so they are always going to be an easy target.

I went to see a number of ministers as well as my own MP at the time, Andrea Leadsom. ms Leadsom saw me at her constituency surgery, hectored me for about 10 minutes and then let me go, almost without giving me a chance to say anything to her myself. She was surrounded by advisors and gatekeepers. It was one of those rare occasions when I was frankly speechless. In response, I sent her a letter explaining that, had I been given the oppportunity to say something, these would have been the things I would have said. This led to further correspondence with the Home Office, then under Mrs May and to further meetings with other departmental ministers and MPs. I am afraid, though, that nothing much changed.

Part of the problem was a sense that this had public approval. Part of the problem is that Theresa May loves bureaucracy.

mrs May looking like a postage stamp

The Windrush scandal broke both the assumption about public approval and its trust in paperwork: the home office threw the paperwork away. We cannot ride roughshod over people who have worked so hard to integrate with and build up our society and then blame them for our own stupidity.

Our hospitality to countless waves of immigrants has benefitted us greatly.

 

Edward Colston

Last night a statue in Bristol was pulled down in protest, and today the Cenotaph has been defaced. There have been protests in the past about statues, most notably about the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford, but I think this is the first time we have had a Stalinesque or Sadaam Hussein moment where we have toppled imagery.

edward

Like those dealing with 7th century Byzantine and Roundhead iconoclasm, the authorities of the day have not gone to the hub of the problem and it is essentially philosophical. Should we respect history- that is, record what is good and what is bad? Use the imagery as a source and draw a conclusion? The evidence is all around us and only by preserving it, can it ever make any sense. Pulling down statues, erasing pictures does not actually erase the history, though it might make it harder to access even if the statement itself may be of value. At its worst, therefore, we are in danger of obliterating, or hiding our past.

What is odd is that the iconic images of statues crashing down elsewhere is applauded while here Priti Patel wags her finger at the people who have defaced public property. Priti Patel has long been a figure of fun. This is not a cause that will win her much support or change her reputation particularly as she fails to identify the problem. As ever, with this makeshift secretary of state, she is out of touch and hides behind bluster and bullying. She actually expects to be taken seriously. She is the wrong person to deal with this problem.

The statue mess has not been a sudden decision. The BBC did a programme about Colston in February 2018

In Russia, the old communist statues have been gathered together and erected in parks. In ancient Rome, the heads of figures out of favour were generally lopped off and replaced, most famously with the colossal statue of nero. We instinctively know that public statues have a meaning. They are not simply decorations to our streets; they proclaim history in a three-dimensional way, both the good and the bad. In the case of Colston, his statue was put up to commemorate his huge effort to eradicate his 11-year association with slavery and the abominable trade of the RAC (its victims were branded with the acronym before they were transported and sold. This trading company had links up the highest chain of command in the country as its nominal boss eventually became king). He put money into charities, sat in parliament and endowed schools (particularly Colston’s girls’ school) in the area. And he was not the only one in 17th/18th century society who was clearly ashamed of his past and wanted to make good. Many people through these centuries had links with slavery- George Washington is a good example (cf Lucy Worsley’s “American History’s biggest fibs” – I will find a screen shot from one of the scenes I drew for that programme and post it here later! *TW).

WE have lots of questions to answer but pulling down a statue will not give us these answers. I think the biggest question must be about when the statue was erected. A man with a known history of association with slavery has a statue put up at the end of the 19th Century when only a few years’ earlier there had been a big effort to abolish slavery for good. What message were the businesspeople of Bristol sending? If there was an attempt to erase history, was it done then at the end of the 19th Century?

The problem is that nothing is ever quite so simple. Coulston was associated with the governing board of the RAC but there is no evidence that he was actually involved in slavery. Certainly, he might be said to have endorsed it. I think the arguments for pulling done the statue of Colston are less sound than the arguments about removing the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the facade of Oriel college in Oxford. Rhodes clearly had blood on his hands.

But images matter.

Otherwise, we would not be erecting statues in the first place.

This is what the museum in Bristol has to say about Coulston:

In March1680, he bought a share in the London-based Royal African Company. Only RAC members could trade with Africa, for gold, ivory and enslaved Africans. His father William also owned shares in the RAC, and supplied trade goods to its ships.

Edward Colston never, as far as we know, traded in enslaved Africans on his own account. We do not know how much profit he took from the RAC’s trade in enslaved Africans – he was paid dividends such as 50 guineas in July 1780, and 160 guineas in November 1685. He sold William, Prince of Orange, some of his RAC shares worth £1,000 in 1689, then bought more for himself. We do not know how much of his fortune was built up from his trade in wine and oil, or from investments or loans, or from money and property inherited from his father. What we do know is that he was an active member of the governing body of the RAC, which traded in enslaved Africans, for 11 years.

 

M4068, Braikenridge
Since writing this, I have had a very interesting exchange on line about the points I have raised here. I think I need to clarify a few things, therefore, and apologise if my writing might sometimes be a bit muddier than I intend.
My main gripe is with The Home Secretary whose response is quite out of step with the issue- this is not about defacing property or about meaningless actions. This is purposeful action.
I was making 3 points: 1) It was wrong to erect the state in the first place 2) Priti Patel’s finger wagging about damaging property gets it wrong and 3) such a literally iconoclastic approach cannot be a receipe for the future- there are many other statues and paintings that commemorate historical figures with detestable associations.
We cannot go round the country throwing all this vile statuary into the harbour. Some of it, indeed, forms part of great works of art. We need to fully contexturalise these pieces and the men and women (mostly men) depicted, so children and visitors know when they approach these monuments that this is not a celebration or a glorification of someone who was powerful at the expense of others. Or if these were, that we do not think that is right.
We need to change the balance of power and glorify the down-trodden.
Contexturalising something is not about adding a plaque or placing something in a museum. (A plaque is little more than a plaster on a serious wound). We need to have burst of cultural activity where many new pieces are commissioned to stand up to those monsters of history who litter our streets – statues that celebrate the human rights’ movements, and the people who have been overlooked in our history. We have to find a way to deal with this issue because it cuts across so many of our celebrated pieces of art history. In this case, the statue of Edward Colston is fairly awful as a piece of sculpture but the works of Eric Gill, on the other hand, are rightly celebrated as great art. Gill was a detestable man, yet we cannot destroy his art because of his personal life, however depraved and wrong.
Statues and paintings are not really about wording. They are a potent visual image and we must respond in kind. It is not about plaques that explain away the ghastliness in small-print. We need to do this more creatively and boldly. I would love to see, for example, a work commissioned now that celebrates in bronze the dumping of this statue in the harbour. That is iconic and should be commemorated.
But done once, we cannot do it again.
But we could certainly do it once, couldn’t we?
And make it count?

More on Gogglebox

I only watched Gogglebox to support Woody and his mother.

woody and zoe first pic gogglebox

I drew furiously while watching it. It was very interesting. This, incidentally, was a picture of Woody and his mother watching “the Favourite”, certainly not a film I would have liked to have watched with my mother. But Woody was there with a quick “Oy oy!” He knows how to place these one liners.

Today, the media has been whipped up about what happened to Eamonn Holmes and rightly so.

I feel deeply for Eamonn Holmes partly because I was also the victim of some nasty editing on TV. In my case, this took place in Russia and what I had said was dubbed over with words that I never used at any point in my interview. The solution when I complained was to remove the entire episode from the live feed. Of course, I expected a better response from Gogglebox and I am pleased it has now been sorted out.

The Daily Mirror adds a very interesting line:

When one fan begged him not to take any notice of the trolls, Eamonn hit back: “Thank you SL …. but a lie unchallenged becomes the truth.”

Believe me, I can understand how wounded and upset Mr Holmes must have been. At the bottom of this page is a link to my story as reported by the BBC.

This is what the Mail on line have written this evening:

Celebrity Gogglebox have issued an apology to Eamonn Holmes after he slammed them for their editing of him during Friday’s show.

Eamonn took to Twitter calling out the show’s ‘idiotic and cruel choice’ to air a clip of him joking after a harrowing moment from the BBC series Ambulance, instead of a filmed clip of him discussing his father’s death.

Producers issued a grovelling apology on Saturday to the This Morning host, 60, in which they promised to edit future repeats of the episode.

In a statement shared on Gogglebox’s Twitter, they wrote: ‘We have apologised to Eamonn over what happened in this week’s episode. We understand and respect Eamonn’s feelings on such a deeply personal story

‘We have taken the decision to edit the episode for future repeats and All4. We look forward to working with Eamonn and Ruth for the rest of the series.’

Eamonn took to his own Twitter to re-share the statement and added his own comment.

Reply: Eamonn took to his own Twitter to re-share the statement and added his own comment

He wrote: ‘For those who judged me wrongly. I think it’s important you read this. It was a bad edit and we move on with what should be a fun experience on what is almost always a very entertaining programme. Thank you @C4Gogglebox.’

He then shared the statement to his Instagram, but this time wrote: ‘After last night’s clumsy edit which led to a huge amount of distress and outrage to viewers ,myself and my family…. Thank you, We move on and look forward to making fun TV.’

Viewers were quick to react to the show’s apology and editing plan, with some praising the plan, while some still felt disappointed by their actions.

‘This is my favourite show and I feel let down by this! I’m pleased you have corrected your mistake’ tweeted one follower.

While another remarked: ‘Hope the damage & hurt you caused to @EamonnHolmes can be undone with this. I fear not. I’m so disappointed in my favourite show.’

'Clumsy edit': He then shared the statement to his Instagram, but this time wrote: 'After last night's clumsy edit which led to a huge amount of distress and outrage to viewers ,myself and my family.... Thank you, We move on and look forward to making fun TV'

A third Twitter user simply put: ‘Very very decent of you.’

‘I’m sure Eamonn and Ruth are big enough people to accept your apology and move forward, though I, for one, would understand if they chose to take no further part in the series. Your actions to edit future transmissions of this episode are correct. Just my opinion’ wrote a fourth.

‘Thank you. I messaged you earlier to do this. It was totally unacceptable to show what you did but I hope Mr Holmes can accept your apology’ commented a fifth person.

With another agreeing: ‘This is good see! I thought is was appalling the way they edited the episode! Hopefully they are more careful in the future!!!’

It comes after Celebrity Gogglebox was removed from the catch up service All4 in light of Eamonn’s outburst.

In the scene that Eamonn criticised, the celebrities were moved by a touching story where a child phoned 999 to report that her father was having a heart attack

Bizarrely, Eamonn was shown telling a story about how he drove his wife to the hospital when his son Jack was born. It was a good story and he explained that even while his wife was having contractions, she had to give him directions. The problem was that it appeared insensitive to be telling such a story in response to the very touching scene where a child gave his father life-saving first aid.

The stream of twitter criticism was intense:

One wrote: ‘@EamonnHolmes comparing taking Ruth to hospital to have a baby – with a 10 year old lad doing chest compressions on his dad that’s just had a heart attack – is beyond belief!’

Another shared: ‘Did Eamonn Holmes just compare driving his wife to hospital to a 10 year old child giving chest compressions to his dying dad on #CelebrityGogglebox? Unreal…’

I am reminded of the story told about the Cure D’ars and the girl who spread gossip. It is impossible to fully repair the damage done. It does not even have to have been done deliberately. The fact that it was done is enough. In the story of the Cure d’Ars, the girl is asked to pluck a chicken as she walks along the road and when she gets to the church, the cure tells her to go back and pick up all the lost feathers. “That would be impossible”, she replies and he agrees. That is the problem with gossip. that is why it is so important to get things right. The Mail finishes its story by printing these two telling tweets from Eamonn Holmes.

However, the presenter did not ignore the trolls and instead hit back with: ‘Please read my posts. I’m then expecting an apology or an understanding from you ….. or are you not man enough ?’

In another tweet he penned: ‘I’m devastated that the Boy, the Ambulance Service and my whole family have been hurt by this …. sometimes I despair at decision making in TV.’

My story can be found here:

https://monitoring.bbc.co.uk/product/c200wjny

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 22.48.25

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 22.48.35

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 22.48.43

censorship and dubbing comic strip

masha and the bear

tim interviewed about MASHA and the BEAR

tim on dubbing in HTV Irada Zeynalova

 

I can think of only one successful example where dubbing completely different text over a tv dialogue was both efficacious and right.

magic roundabout facts by tim

 

Gogglebox

I had never watched this show before and it was an interesting experience. It was certainly lovely to see Woody and Zoe, and also Nigel Havers, Maureen Lipman, Gyles Brandeth and Millie Fox – I remember her from way-back in Oxford when she performed in a series of shows that I designed and I have vivid memoried of Maureen Lipman singing and dancing in “Wonderful Town” at what was then called the “Queens theatre”., and has now been renamed and houses the new version of Les Miserables.

I did some drawings which I am adding here.

The show has sparked some controversy. Some of it is silly, about the perception of “social distancing” but there is a more worrying story. Hence, I suppose, it is currently off-line and evidently being re-edited. Certainly, it would explain a jarring/ uncomfortable moment in the episode.

eamonn holmes and ruthnigel havers gogglebox

Zoe and Woody goggleboxMillie Fox Gogglebox

For the record, this is how some of the press have reported the story:

This is from a site called “DIGITAL SPY”

The assortment of celebrities – which also included the likes of Joe Swash and Stacey Solomon, I’m a Celebrity winner Harry Redknapp and his wife Sandra, and Martin and Roman Kemp – were shown a devastating clip from the accident and emergency show, in which a 10-year-old boy had to resuscitate his dad after he suffered a heart attack.

Thankfully (and amazingly), the boy was able to bring his father back to life by performing CPR.

The moment had a huge impact on Eamonn, whose father died of a heart attack.

However, the This Morning presenter was furious to discover his emotional comments about his dad’s death had been edited out of the episode, replaced instead with a joke he made about driving wife Ruth Langsford to hospital when she went into labour.

“In reply to a number of complaints, I am hurt beyond belief that @C4Gogglebox chose not to use me talking about my father dying from a Heart Attack at the side of a road and replace it with a funny story following a young lad giving his father CPR. Idiotic and cruel edit,” Eamonn tweeted after the episode.

Eamonn Holmes

@EamonnHolmes

In reply to a number of complaints ….
I am hurt beyond belief that @C4Gogglebox chose not to use me talking about my Father dying from a Heart Attack at the side of a road and replace it with a funny story following a young lad giving his Father CPR . Idiotic and cruel edit.

Samuel Pepys

pepysThis man is clearly on people’s minds- and why not? This morning, I posted a picture (@professor_tim_wilson) that I drew in a noisy garden, reflecting on the fact that there has been some fake news arising mostly from someone who has been posting modern plague diaries. The most sensational quotation is here:

“On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had these rogues for the health of their elders!”

It is not genuine at all and belongs to someone going under the name @PepysDiaries. Would that it were real because it would suggest the great Pepys was prescient indeed. But he was not. He was not even very nice.

I cannot see why anyone would want to pretend to be Samuel Pepys! (unless they had plans for their own personal Mrs Bagwell, I suppose… she must have liked him, or maybe she was just grateful.) the whole diary is a bit distasteful, what about poor Mr Bagwell, who worked so hard to keep Samuel happy. and Samuel’s wife away in Woolwich.

What struck me most in rereading the original plague diaries is simply how patronising they are and what a distance they show between “them and us”. The plague, for all its nastiness, hit the poor far more than the rich, and Pepys wrings his hands about the people in the kent road and the unemployed seamen but I am afraid he does not do much. He is more distracted by Mrs Cooke. And so, Pepys observes at the end that “I have never lived so merrily . . . as I have done this plague-time.” Maybe, he was trying to put a Christmas gloss on a bad situation but it comes across as a bit heartless when so many died around him in London.

This, incidentally, is what the present day Pepys adds to clarify things,

“I hath been told by several fellows that my musings upon the pox in the year of our Lord 2020 are being mistook by some for my diaries of yore. I mean not to make a fool of any man, but hasten to mind my good friends that my quill here doth write of modern-day matters.”

I have found that a good friend, George (from Ireland) has identified the house of Pepys and he gives a very good account himself of the Pepys of plague-time London. It is well-worth a watch. Here is a link:

(You can also check up George’s account of the Edward Lear house.)

 

Vanessa Sierra

I was dismayed to catch a youtube clip from Vanessa Sierra who was a contestant on the Australian version of Love Island.

Vanessa brought up a number of issues that are of concern. Though she is not very precise about it, she implies bullying on and off set as well as a failure by the company in their care of duty. It is horrifying to hear that she appealed repeatedly for help and got none. There is also a reference to “box ticking”. More worryingly, she talks of a suicide attempt and her approach to restoring mental health. The points she makes about routine and a support system are vital. What, I suspect, made it so difficult for Vanessa was that the people she had trusted on set were then scattered and remote as she moved back into everyday life, or rather as she moved into a new version of everyday life.

My heart goes out to Vanessa. I drew a picture of her last night – in fact, I attempted a number of pictures and in the end, drew a picture based on one of her publicity shots.

Vanessa Sierra by TIM

 

Cummings to grips with reality

The problem is that in Politics, there will always be someone ready to blow a rasperry. That is partly what is happening to Cummings, and it is amazing that he has lasted so long. He is evasive, superior and rude. He is also, I understand, brilliant. None of those qualities would endear him to the Westminster crowd or to the media. Even the Conservative press has its knives out for Cummings – “No 10 svengali who flouted the PM’s own strict lockdown rules” is how the Daily Mail reports his actions.

There is another quality Cummings has- he is indispensable. He masterminded the Leave vote, he has a plan for the exit and a plan to whip the civil service into line. None of this can be done without him.

Boris has gone out of his way to support him.

cummings

That tactic worked in the past. It is astonishing, really, that Priti Patel survived at all a few months’ ago but Boris supported her in the face of the odds, and she is still pottering about, misreading the auto-cue and muddling up basic maths. Of course, her comic highlight almost redeems her and at any other time than in a national crisis would make her a figure of fun-  that during lockdown, with the closure of stops, “shoplifting has gone down”. But otherwise, her performance at briefings has been likened to “a motorway pileup”. I suppose though that being thought a fool is better than being thought a bully.

Priti Patel is useful for the moment: her gaffes take the attention away from the real media headline- the huge number of deaths from COVID 19 in the UK.

The more we complain about her, the less we focus on the real issues. She is a distraction even if she might perhaps be a dunce, or she might be a bully.

There seems to be one thing worse than bullying though and that is deceit. While Boris was busy defending Cummings, the anonymous civil service tweeter wrote, “imagine having to work with these truth twisters”, then that message got speedily deleted. But it did its job.

In this case, it is deceit that is directly linked to COVID 19 and the lockdown. It is relevant deceit.

Cummings is not a maths’ dunce, or a clown.

Because he is so important to the Government project, his activities are not going to be bruished aside lightly. It was foolish, therefore, with hindsight, to ask Grant Sapps to fumble about the details. This is what Grants said to a question put by Sally Ridge and that he had been given in advance,

“I don’t want to disappoint you, I am transport secretary and I am expert in building our infrastructure, but I don’t know all the times and dates for you. I understand that he will have travelled there around the end of March, stayed there for 14 days and didn’t leave the property in isolation as per the rules in the guidance.”

The Government has moral and legal authority. It is entirely undermined by Cummings and, more than that, he has directly put our safety is at risk. Three issues scream for attention: (1) His disdain for the law is one thing and (2) his example that others may follow is another, but (3) he knowingly went out on a lengthy journey with the virus. On that trip, a minimum of 4 hours’ driving, 360 miles from London to Durham, did he never once pause for petrol, for a snack, or for a loo break?

The problem is that neither Cummings nor Boris understand the issue. It is very simple to demonstrate this with the headline over the weekend which claimed Boris thought his advisor had the right “intention”, that it was not as if “he was off to see a lover”. This would put him, of course in the same bracket as Professor Neil Ferguson. Ferguson resigned (such a dramatic fall indeed that the police decided he did not need fining).

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in this case, the policy is not Kantian but utilitarian in its essence. We do not even need to weigh up different “imperatives”. It is monumentally simple: one person who is infected and breaks the quarantine puts everyone else at risk. It is not about intent but action. Boris has misunderstood the philosophical base for the coronavirus lockdown. He has also misread the mood of the people.

As does Cummings. When asked by the press camped outside his house if he was “considering his position”, he said, “obviously not.”

OBVIOUSLY

Why “obviously”? I am always entertained by anyone who uses this word. I think Cummings has never attended my lectures- if he had, he would know that I believe this is an adverb that should never be used. If something is obvious, it does not need to be stated, and if something is not obvious, the word is misused. It is very simple. It is a word that can only ever be used to establish superiority. It is an arrogant word. It is a put-down. In the interests of developing a kinder English, this is one word that I think should be erased for ever from vocabulary (obviously).

BREXIT

He went on, “you are as right about that as you were about Brexit. Do you remember how right you were about that?.”

BABY

Grant Sapps defended Cummings’ trip with an appeal to his 4 year old baby. This is what Sapps said,

“This is somebody who followed the guidelines by going to lockdown in order to be in the best place to ensure that provision was made for a four-year-old, who would have not been able to look after himself, and as the guidance makes clear, you must do in this situation the thing which would look after children for their welfare in the best possible way.”.

As if to reinforce this image, today, Cummings took the self-same baby out to meet the press. It was not even a “no comment” moment. Cummings had lots to say before making a point about a boom microphone (which was actually quite touching- the man has more heart than I had expected).

PIERS MORGAN

Piers Morgan, the moral heart of tv-land, has therefore banned all Cabinet ministers from his show, unless they “didn’t publicly support Cummings breaching a lockdown that the Govt forced on the rest of us ‘to save lives’”.

The problem is that this appears to be cut and dried. It appears to be very simple.

BUT

Like Priti Patel, Cummings projects a far from favourable image. The rumour-mill is rife. Their big critics are the civil service who are targeted in new reforms. Whoever wrote about “twisted truth” may well be out of a job in a few weeks’ time if Cummings has his way. And it is no secret that Priti Patel had been squabbling with her own civil servants. So, the civil servant who leaked has respect from peers- “this brave heretic has already become something of a civil service legend”.

So far, we have judged Cummings without hearing his side of the story.

So far, he has yet to speak.

 

Priti please

It is a while since I wrote anything about Priti Patel, and I had thought I had drawn her once. I cannot find any record, so here goes.

priti patel home office 29 feb 2020.jpg

Hers is not currently an attractive story. Indeed, it has been brewing for a while with leaks about Ms Patel’s abrasive style coming out quite regularly since the new government took shape and certainly since the Boris’ re-shuffle. Of course, Boris likes her, but that may not be enough…

A week ago, the Metro lead with a story about “An atmosphere of fear”. Apparently, a senior Whitehall official collapsed in a meeting about the deportation of 25 people back to Jamaica (Whether we have got immigration right or wrong is quite another matter and I will return to this, I promise). the unnamed official was taken to hospital with a sodium deficiency. The metro article went a little further and quoted a source specifically saying,

 ‘The Home Office is dysfunctional and the current permanent secretary had presided over a sacking of a home secretary and accidental deportations. ‘If this were any other environment Philip Rutnam would not only be sacked he’d be denied a pension. The lack of accountability in the civil service is deeply troubling and the prime minister will not accept this in the long term.’

This is nasty. It may not even be Priti Patel’s doing, but her behaviour seems to have sparked off the spatt. Further problems were envisaged by the Metro about “the points-based system”

Leaders in agriculture, hospitality and the care system were among those who warned of serious staff shortages proposed by the new rules.

I have my own concerns about a “points’-based system” (my apostrophe). I do not believe, just to start the ball rolling, that there really are 8 million “economically inactive” people in the UK ready to take up the jobs currently being done by low-skilled immigrants, though I concede there may well be 8 million economically inactive individuals for one reason or another -um… students, the sick, unpaid carers.

Not only would we have to find and encourage these 8 million. We would also have to get them to move to the places where the jobs can be done. You cannot do most of the unskilled work from a laptop on a day away from the office at home. These people would need to be on-site, in the hospitals, police-stations, factories and so on. Logistics not mere head-count!

 

It is always a shame when people believe that the best way to look strong is to bully the help. Now, the actual consequences of Priti Patel’s actions seem to be emerging with the resignation on spectacularly nasty terms of her Permanent secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam, who resigns after 33 years as a civil servant, has gone public and writes,

sir phillip Rutnam resigination by TIM.jpg

“In the last 10 days I have been the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign. It has been alleged that I have briefed the media against the Home Secretary. This along with many other claims is completely false….The Home Secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet Office. I regret I do not believe her….The Home Secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet Office. I regret I do not believe her. She has not made the effort I would expect to dissociate herself from the comments.”

He pulls no punches and makes it quite clear that the buck stops with the Home Secretary herself. He will claim constructive dismissal.

But to put it into perspective: the Home Office has been a dodgy camp for a while now. I had a nasty run-in myself a few years’ ago about student visas, first with Andrea Leadsom and then with Mrs May, both abrasive encounters. The way the HO is led sets the tone for everyone else both in the Ministry and beyond. We should not be surprised, therefore, that telephone exchanges with almost any official, from the tax office to the bank, routinely field our calls by haughtily “explaining” their policies rather than answering a direct question. It is rude, condescending and it is officious (a tricolon and no oxford comma, Mr Pullman). It might even be called bullying, but this is a tone that has routinely been adopted by the Ministers running the HO. All bureaucrats look up to the mother of parliament to see how things are done and this, evidently, is the example they get. This is what they follow.  It is now in print for us all to monitor: but to her credit, and in her defence, Priti Patel seems no better and no worse than Mrs May.

On election night, I ran into Amber Rudd who also gave such a very charming and considered performance that I wrote her a brief note of congratulation. I cannot believe that she would have behaved as Priti Patel is alleged to behave, though she resigned because of the Windrush scandal. So, maybe the HO itself is not to blame.

The problem with Priti Patel’s alleged form of aggressive leadership is that no one is there to protect her back, as Mrs May also found out to her cost, and that cost may get bigger with publication of the investigation into Windrush. If all the staff are busy second-guessing what the Minister might say and how she might bark at them – as Priti is alleged to do at this Ministry, what abusive language she may have in store for them (as rumours have it), then nobody is going to be protecting her from error, nobody is watching out for her – in fact, her staff would probably celebrate her errors. Of course, there is a difference between being demanding and being a bully and Mr Patel has moments of humanity – she has observed, for instance, that under the new proposals her own “Ugandan Asian parents” would not have made it through UK immigration at all.

A good friend suggests one very interesting test- the most efficient leader chairs brief and effective meetings. I have a giggling recollection of the lengthy talks that went on in Chequers over some of Mrs May’s Brexit plans- the length of her meetings was reported as a mark of pride. Whoops! Monumental fail there!

The statements appearing in the press look damaging to Mr Patel, more so even than the allegations against Mr Bercow, though one whistle-blower like Rutnam could lead to a “Metoo” movement across Whitehall and beyond. After all, there is already a popular call to tear up NDAs.

I have seen bullying a few times, sadly. This sort of leader will always be exposed- but often long after the real damage is done, to other people as well as to herself. We need to work in a team to get the job done and for any system to work well; care of each other needs to be built into the work-place not tagged on to HR; we must find support wherever it should be. In the light of this story, I wonder whether Mr Cummins might be heading in the same direction – though his goal appears quite different even if his manner apparently also invites concern.