We need a government of national unity if we are to emerge from this combination of crises- (i) Covid (ii) Brexit and (iii) the Threat of world war. We need to do it now! We need a proper Home Secretary and a coherent Foreign Secretary and we need a healthy Arts industry to give us hope in difficult times, just as the Arts led us so adroitly through the last two world Conflicts. We need people of vision rather than bullies and puppets who cannot read a script or seize the initiative. Raab, Patel, Truss, Gove & Dorries must follow Williamson and Hancock and leave the Government. They are deeply damaged and they are doing further damage to the UK and to others who seek our help. This is not the time for slogans and lip-service. This is a time for action and vision.
A few days’ ago, in the wake of the wedding to Carrie Symmonds in Westminster Cathedral, someone asked me whether Boris was the first Catholic in number 10.
It is an interesting question and there is not a simple answer as, indeed, is the canon law that does not recognise his earlier marriages as sacramental because they did not take place in a catholic church and, so, permits a twice married and twice divorced man to marry a third time in a church while other catholics are denied.
Boris is not alone, however, in being a world leader to marry in a catholic church after a speedy divorce but the optics are not great. The Emperor Napoleon, after all, did this when he married Princess Marie-Louise and dumped Josephine. More recently, Newt Gingrich -not quite a world leader but- married his third wife Callista (Greek= most beautiful or best) who was later appointed as US ambassador to the Vatican.
Firstly, Boris’s religious background is complex. His maternal Great grandfather, Elias Avery Lowe, was Jewish and, to his credit, this has led him to give short-shrift to anti-semitism in any form. In 2007, Boris said this, “I feel Jewish when I feel the Jewish people are threatened or under attack, that’s when it sort of comes out,” Johnson said. “When I suddenly get a whiff of anti-Semitism, it’s then that you feel angry and protective.”
Secondly, however, if on the one hand, his maternal line is jewish, his paternal line, on the other hand, is muslim. His father’s grandfather, Ali Kemal, was a minister in the Ottoman empire and was murdered by a mob during the Turkish war of independence in 1922. As a result of the assassination, Osman Ali Wilfred (Stanley Johnson’s father) was educated and raised in the UK by his english grandmother Margaret and took her maiden-name. I wonder at what point, if ever, he abandoned Islam?
Boris’s mother, however, is catholic as is his wife and his godmother is Lady Rachel Billington, the daughter of Lord Longford, a formidable catholic matriarch.
He will, therefore, be able to greet Pope Francis who is attending the Glasgow UN Climate change summit as the nation’s first baptised catholic leader since the reformation.
Of course, Michael Gove claimed that Theresa May was actually the first catholic to inhabit number 10: he was wrong, of course- she was an anglo- catholic and the daughter of Hubert Brasier, a vicar. Gove might as well have pointed out – with more justification- that Tony Blair was a communicant in Westminster cathedral (a catholic, in other words in all but name) before, on quitting office, he was formally recieved into the Catholic church in 2007. Blair’s casual inter-communion caused some trouble and, despite receiving communion directly from Pope John Paul II in the pontiff’s private chapel, the then Cardinal Hume was obliged to (publicly) tell Blair to stop. Communion is a sign of belonging which is why inter-communion is seen to be such an issue in the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Indeed, the pope’s private secretray, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, said, at the time, that the Pope understood Blair was a Catholic in his heart.
The Catholic Relief Act of 1829 allowed catholics (but not priests- until the law was ammended in 2001) to sit in the commons and Rees Mogg is a good example of this as was Norman St John Stevas, both entertaining leaders of the house and the latter responsible for introducing the committee system. But Section 18 of the same act made it impossible for a Catholic or, indeed, a Jew (like Disraeli who was baptised into the Anglican church at the age of 12) to advise the monarch on appointments to the established church. In principle, this prohibition about advising the Queen on new bishops – a matter on which she is formally responsible but since the 18th Century, has seen her powers to appoint bishops transferred to the Prime minister, has not been repealed and is, therefore, still in force so Boris should take care. The current practice, a custom and not a law, allows the Crown Nominations Commission to nominate a bishop who is then nodded through by the PM and recommended to the Queen, but there is nothing, in principle, and in law to stop Mr Johnson interferring in the process of episcopal appointment should he wish to do so. It could cause a constitutional crisis!
This is the text of section 18:
It shall not be lawful for any person professing the Roman Catholic religion directly or indirectly to advise his Majesty, or any person or persons holding or exercising the office of guardians of the United Kingdom, or of regent of the United Kingdom, under whatever name, style, or title such office may be constituted, or the lord lieutenant of Ireland, touching or concerning the appointment to or disposal of any office or preferment in the Church of England, or in the Church of Scotland; and if any such person shall offend in the premises he shall, being thereof convicted by due course of law, be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and disabled for ever from holding any office, civil or military, under the Crown.
There is a getout option which would require legislation but the principle of that getout option is already on the statute books in the form of the Lord Chancellor (Tenure of Office and Discharge of Ecclesiastical Functions) Act of 1974 which allows “another Minister of the Crown” to carry out the Lord Chancellor’s ecclesiastical functions if the Lord Chancellor’s office is held by a Roman Catholic.
What makes it a bit more complex is that, while he was at Eton, Boris was confirmed into the Anglican church. So he is also, by virtue of the Anglican sacrament, a communicant member of the Anglican church unless he has been since chrismated in Westminster cathedral in preparation for his wedding.
Had Ed (Ted) Miliband won his election in 2015 , then he might have been caught by another comparable law drawn up in 1858 which, after a ten-year struggle, allowed Jewish MPs (and specifically Lionel de Rothschild) to take their seats in the commons but, as with the catholic emancipation laws, also banned Jewish Prime ministers from advising the crown on matters linked to the appointment of bishops:
Rights of Presentation to any Ecclesiastical Benefice possessed by Persons professing the Jewish Religion to devolve upon the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Time being.
Where any right of presentation to any ecclesiastical benefice shall belong to any office in the gift or appointment of Her Majesty, and such office shall be held by a person professing the Jewish religion, the right of presentation shall devolve upon and be exercised by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the time being; and] it shall not be lawful for any person professing the Jewish religion, directly or indirectly, to advise Her Majesty, or any person or persons holding or exercising the office of guardians of the United Kingdom, or of Regent of the United Kingdom, under whatever name, style, or title such office may be constituted, or the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland], touching or concerning the appointment to or disposal of any office or preferment in the Church of England or in the Church of Scotland; and if such person shall offend in the premises, he shall, being thereof convicted by due course of law, be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and disabled for ever from holding any office, civil or military, under the Crown.
Finally, while it is only Jews and Catholics who are specifically banned from advising about these appointments, the Appointments’ Secretary must, by law, be an Anglican.
While libertarian principles might be laudable, they come at a price and they come in a package. One is either fully committed to libertarian views or one is not- it cannot be a pick and mix deal. Woolworths is a thing of the past!
This is why the present government is in a mess. We cannot have an imposed lockdown and then go on and offer a vaccine as a choice. It makes no sense at all and it is inconsistent. Our liberties were compromised by the lockdown and when we need universal take-up of the vaccine to ensure that it is fully efficacious, we should not be pussy-footing around and thinking of our what others will say about us.
In this respect, though in probably no other, Dominic Cummings’ instinct towards dictatorship is right, albeit utterly repulsive. These half measures we have embraced as a nation, and indeed globally, are nonsensical. We went into lockdown late (and without a proper shut-down of our borders) and suffered as a result. Our economy has been hit badly by the double-whammy of brexit and covid, but also by the indicision and arrogance of those in power. We are now bizarrely over-zealous about the “rights of individuals” to refuse the vaccine and this pandering will also be calamitous. We will all suffer as a consequence. At its worst, a new variant may emerge, incubated by those taking a stand against vaccination, and any further boosters will prove useless against it. We need to wipe this disease out once and for all and we need to set upo a solid response about pandemics in the future. Much of our stupidity over the last 18 months can be put down to a lack of preparation. That must not happen again.
My instinct, however, is with Lord Sumption and libertarianism, but once the rubicon is crossed, it seems to me that we cannot mess around worrying about our reputation (as he alleges the Prime Minister does). Boris needs to wake up and take the responsibility he has been given.
We must be mindful of others. That is the purpose both of lockdown and of vaccination. Government must recognise its duty is not to itself or its own srvival but to the others it serves.
Should the vaccine be mandatory?
In an ideal world, any vaccine should be a matter of choice (our “inalienable rights”), but this is about checking the spread of a potentially dangerous disease and one that oddly seems to become worse with each new variant. The vaccine may not be mandatory at the moment but maybe that was a bad call by the Government- if lockdown was mandatory, and if social distancing is mandatory, than the vaccine should be too- it makes no sense otherwise, and yes, I know about “informed choice” and our “inalienable rights” but we cannot pick and choose where we exercise those rights- these rights were suspended in lockdown and it seems absurd to worry now about allowing those rights to be exercised over vaccination. The rule has already been broken and pussy-footing about the vaccination is crying over spilt milk.
What about young people and children?
Lord Sumption points out as do others that the disease affects very few healthy children and that, because of that, there is no reason to close schools. This misses the point that schools are run by adults who are certainly susceptible to the disease and seem also to be able to catch it from children who act as unwitting carriers. Again, the language is at fault.
There are educational systems on offer that might work well in any future pandemic but to assume teachers trained in classroom technique can automatically adjust to teaching on line is to live in cloud cookoo-land. I have been working for the past 5 years, on a system where information can be generated on line and used as a resource in classrooms and for home-schooling. Essentially, lessons can be stored and used much as library books and text books are used. Versions of this are certainly being trialled in universities but the project, as we imagined it, was really planned for schools. As a result, we have seen many schools and children struggling with courses and with basic education while some teachers have found themselves teaching live lessons to a handful of children and being filmed for others stuck at home- once again, a half-way solution that fails absolutely for want of preparation. We have the resources and the ground-work/preparation has been done but a good deal of chaos in education, I believe, generated by the Secretary of state and his team, has left students of all ages -and their parents- without proper support.
Trials and legal issues
The various vaccines on offer are enswamped in chaos – some of it genuine and some fake news. The variety of vaccines on offer do not generate confidence. The Russian and Chinese vaccines seem to be of limited value while other vaccines seem more robust. I was disturbed by the side effects I experienced after the first vaccine, but, at this stage, it is the only route forward that I can see.
I have now had 2 vaccines: I hope this means that I shall be able to interact with others, even those who have spurned the vaccine. I do not intend to take the same draconian steps as Ryan Mark Parsons, but I think that, as a society, we need more commitment to this vaccine innovation – we can think of Napoleon’s efforts to vaccinate his troops against smallpox: there was initially a choice but it led to a limited rollout and vaccination became mandatory in all public spaces by 1812, guanteeing success and the elimination of a disease that killed 90% of all the children it infected. By 1958, the smallpox vaccine was routune across the world and by 1980 the disease was eradicated.
A third or fourth lockdown will be catastrophic to our economy. In contrast, a proper vaccination rollout is cheaper and its benefits longer-lasting. The lockdown is something out of the middle ages- venice was saved by quarantine but at a cost (think of the work of the wonderful Veronika Franco!). The vaccine is a modern and much more targeted solution. We would be silly to spurn the modern for the older solution, but be in no doubt, if the vaccine is not taken up or remains voluntary and is often rejected, our only other line of defence is a speedy and efficient lockdown. Every time lockdown is invoked, it gets more aggressive because we are learning how to best implement it and quickly enforce it. It can only get worse, and our hard-won liberties will be lost, if this is the solution we eventually favour and this is, as far as I can judge, the only solution available if we reject the vaccine.
We may still achieve the elusive “herd immunity” if most people take up the vaccine. But Kant’s categorical imperative lurks by the door- if I benefit from the selfless actions of others who have the vaccine, why should I decide that it is not right for me?
The problem with mandatory vaccination programmes, of course, to the Goivernment’s credit, is that they do not actually work. (and there are still people who defy the smoking bans indoors as well as the phoning and seatbelt laws currently in force in cars). There is, for instance, some evidence of past vaccination programmes particularly in the Baltics that have found as many people evaded the jab as would have done so had it been a voluntary affair. So there is some purpose to giving out information and presenting the vaccine as voluntary- just as we could have made the lockdown voluntary. Information and encouragement is reasonable but perhaps the illusion of freedom and choice sends out the wrong message.Living in a world where we are only ever guarenteed the ILLUSION of choice is rather like living in a world ruled by Virgin media. We can do better than that.
The Queen’s speech signalled a new bill that will make it much harder to gain realistic asylum in the UK while at the same time, because of inadequate international agreements, applicants could easily find that they cannot go back. They cannot go forward and cannot go back. Priti Patel has just revived the concept of Limbo that was itself jettisoned by the Catholic Church during Vatican II in 1962.
And Vatican II is an important link given that the whole Brexit enterprise might best be traced back to a coffee shop pact by the wondrous Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as the now derailed Mark Reckless and Daniel Hannan back in 1990 in Oxford. Dear Jacob! But he, at least, is a man with imagination and humour- he might even manage some maths. None of this is in evidence when we look at the present Home Secretary.
Priti Patel joins a list of British politicians, instead, who think it is clever to promote and rely on mindless bureaucracy: it is this reliance that has seen the endless rise of the Jon Stone tag “abolish the Home office”. But if that ever happened, it would simply replace one bunch of papers with another! Simply because something is on a bit of paper, Priti Patel supposes like Theresa May, before her, that it has meaning. Ideology and prejudice comes before reason, even history and personal history as well- Her parents, for instance fled Uganda a few years’ before Idi Amin stripped Asian citizens of their rights and expelled them. Her parents, Gujarati immigrants, had seen the writing on the wall and came here where they were welcomed into Britain. We have to ask what their chances would be if they were to be faced with the same threats today, particularly if their daughter passes the legislation she intends. Sadly, as we shall discover, if this legislation goes through, people with just as good a reason to start a new life here will be denied that opportunity and we shall be denied their new vision and courage. More than that, we shall be setting an example to other countries – maybe we are doing so already if Mr Barnier’s nonsensical bid to be the next French President is given a chance.
The preamble to Patel’s draft law talks about “faster and fairer” means to process migrants, and about “better support for the vulnerable”. It also decries the deaths at sea as migrants are abused at the hands of smugglers and piled into boats ill-equipped for the voyage and the numbers -so, she promises to deal swiftly and firmly with people smugglers- all well and good. Then, it takes a sharp right turn, because it blames the migrants or refugees or asylum seekers- the nomenclature is fairly nebulous at this stage- for choosing to come to Britain by the wrong route.
This language probably calls to mind the Robert Frost poem, a much maligned piece of writing that many people believe they know and that has been bandied about by advertising execs – even to pitch Ford cars in New Zealand- as a statement of self-assertion. It is, however a deceptive piece of writing, as indeed, is this draft law by Priti Patel. “I took the one less traveled by” may be what the poet eventually says he did but if you look more closely, both roads “equally lay / In leaves”, the way was unclear and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” In other words, it was not choice but chance that led the poet to take the road “less traveled by”. And that chance is tinged with some regret.
This distinction between choice and chance lies at the heart of what is wrong with Priti Patel’s legislation. A migrant fleeing a rogue state is often in no place to note where help comes and who is offering passage to a better life. We should not blame people who have already suffered for the people and route they trusted as they escaped although I concede there may still be a small number of people who have been trying to play the system.
Priti Patel, however, is turning us back into Victorian prudes who look down on the dispossesed and brand them “deserving or undeserving”. The criterion she offers for this distinction is simply the road they travelled to get here. Patel’s bill is a law drawn up in an ivory tower that ignores circumstances- that does not care whether someone was coerced into taking one route rather than another or did not have the knowledge or the paperwork to detect the difference. It also plans to penalise people with a criminal record- but one wonders which criminal record will be recognised- will someone be further punished by Britain for being wrongly accused and convicted of a potentially spurious offence in a rogue state? The language would need to be very carefully thrashed out. At the moment, I fear Rhetoric and posturing are more important in this bill than common-sense and I worry that it will descend into a box-ticking piece of bureaucracy that will simply fail to help those we should be supporting. And those who know how to handle the system- not necessarily those we should be supporting- will have the means to steer through the hurdles miss Patel has erected. This is not compassion for the victim.
What is most worrying is that we look set to turn our back on legislation we helped to define- the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 talks about giving refuge to the needy and talks specifically of helping those with a “good cause”. This is quite a different matter to asking for migrants to be penalised for the route they took and I worry that it will get overlooked in the enthusasm for trimming back migration. This, in any case, is a paper tiger as we already take far fewer refugees than France and Germany.
Instead of thinking of ways to tie up applicants in endless red tape and leave them to the mercy of the authorities for years on end, we should be thinking of the contribution and committment that generations of refugees have already made to our country not least the the NHS and public transport, both still crying out for applicants- and not all of these former refugees are on the socialist left. We have a tradition of hospitality and a tradition of welcoming and embracing the needy traveller. This is not about discouraging greedy migrants, or those who come here to batten on our services. This is about our response to the genuinely desperate who will transform our society with their enthusiasm, passion and appreciation. Instead, we are potentially setting up a 5th column of trapped and failed asylum seekers who cannot be sent back to Europe because we quit the Dublin regulation when we effected Brexit. We will be in a stalemate with hundreds or more people trapped- because they cannot go back and take another route- what they did in the past, for whatever reason will have defined their present predicament.
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”
These sorry people will eat up our resources- they themselves will be unable to work, but they will need to be constantly monitored and fed, they will need to draw on legal and social support which might otherwise be better servicing others. We will, in one stroke of Priti Patel’s poisoned pen, be creating a community of the dispossessed, despised and rejected whose numbers can only increase and who cannot go anywhere else. And, even if we can finally be rid of a handful of them, we will be sending back those few individuals who have learnt to hate us and to hate our unfair, selfish and egregiously dishonest system.
We can already see the fruits of this proposal in M Barnier’s comments today. We have dared to suggest the unspeakable and rip out the ethical bedrock that supports our society and literally repairs the world in Chasidic thought (תיקון עולם), the principle of hesed (חֶסֶד) or “loving kindness”, the principle that allows a person to speak and plead their case, however they came to be here. Suddenly, our unprincipled proposals make it reasonable for Euope to revise the very rule book that caused such a delay in Brexit, and to be done by the man responsible for that delay. I am flabberghasted, therefore, perhaps more by Barnier’s Chutzpah than by Priti Patel’s contempt for the history and for the traditions of hospitality that we have nursed as a civilized country for centuries.
Barnier started with the reasonable proposition that “There are links between immigration flows and terrorist networks which try to infiltrate them,” but he went on to parallel Patel and identify immigration as a “threat to French society”. His solution is not so different to Patel’s- his pause of 3-5 years simply makes the stranded and dispossessed wait on the french border. Patel at least locks them down in middle england. But it is essentially the same message and it is horrifying: whole communities in stagnation -waiting for help that may never come.
Barnier says, “We need to introduce a moratorium on immigration. We need to take time to evaluate, check and if necessary, change our immigration policies.” The language might to be one of caution while Patel’s is one of contempt but it is the same message.
The FT rightly judges Barnier’s rhetoric to be the sort of stuff that came too late- had he been saying this only a few years’ ago, Brexit may never have happened. It makes Britain’s decision to leave Europe look prescient at best.
But it is on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of civilization. We need to change the home office culture of mistrust or even distrust, of open hostility and of quotas. People are not figures in a spreadsheet. People are our potential and our hope for a better tomorrow. They must tell their own story and we must recognise that most stories do not have a neat beginning, middle and end. Most stories, bluntly, are not written for the Home office bureaucrats.
Cruel and Time-wasting
Both the positions adopted by Patel and by Barner are insensitive and possibly hypocritcal but most importantly, they are are cruel and timewasting-and I think the message of Patel’s law in the Queen’s speech is the harder of the two to swallow- for it has already set an example. Patel is the parent to Barnier’s child- her law is both timewasting and dishonest because she proposes something that can never work in practice; it is dishonest, moreover, because it ignores rules we helped to write and cruel because it ignores the circumstances of the individual and shows contempt for human dignity. Both will inevitably create a backlog of misery that future generations will have to sort out. We should not be leaving our children an asylum mess.
Last year I won the public vote on Channel 4’s social-media-inspired reality series The Circle. It was new to me and I had a blast. I was awed by the way editors jigsawed together the unrehearsed activities of the performers, myself included, to create coherent and compelling drama.
My experience has inspired me to look more closely at the phenomenon of reality TV. I’ve binge-watched numerous shows and spoken to dozens of contestants, particularly from the longer shows where the cast members are isolated together for a period and attract prime-time audiences such as Love Island or The Circle. This is TV that allows us to “see ourselves as others see us”.
Reality TV is about character. Prize money might seem important but when it comes to making a watchable series only two things really matter – that the cast is vibrant and that the editors know what they are doing. When I was in The Circle, I felt at home. I trusted production completely and it did me proud.
But the psychological effect can also be harsh. I know of many participants who have struggled and reached for proffered help that is simply not there. Sometimes, they can feel betrayed or manipulated, or that they lost control, both during the show and afterwards. The readjustment is hard.
It is hard, also, if one is recruited as I was. The flattery in being called up out of the blue on a cold rainy day in Cambridge is the first step in a progressive surrender of self that can take a long time to recover.
To survive the next decade, reality TV needs to focus on what it does best, devising and producing original entertainment, and allow its participants to be professionally guided
In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, when Eliza Doolittle works hard and wins the bet for Professor Henry Higgins, she asks him, “What’s to become of me?” It is a question any reality TV participant could ask: how do we avoid or repair the damage? How, indeed, do we ensure that the game is remembered as a positive experience? That, surely, is in everyone’s interests.
Those who take part in reality series would perhaps suffer less and certainly be better protected if we had status within the union for the creative industry, Equity. I do not understand how a union founded in the closing days of Music Hall to cater for artistes of all types, could snub reality TV. Equity explained to me that they reasoned participants were “performing as themselves.”
But that is the point: reality TV players are still demonstrably performing; in the case of The Circle, are often also “catfishing”, sustaining a character over the course of many days – a demonstration, if ever there was one, of the Stanislavski Technique, routinely taught in drama schools around the world. Whether Equity likes it or not, we are actors in a television drama, entirely dependent on production because we are ignorant of script, plot and conclusion. We are also often ignorant of the audience response.
The current approach – backed up by contracts that often duck a performance fee – arguably mischaracterises our activity and prevents participants from unionising just as it discourages us from being represented by reputable agents. But the point remains. What are we doing if we are not performing?
Because there is no separate protection for participants, production is often forced into a pastoral role, leading to some of the work being subcontracted or performed directly by staff often unsuited or wearing too many hats. To survive the next decade, reality TV needs to focus on what it does best, devising and producing original entertainment, and allow its participants to be professionally guided.
Government efforts to make reality TV safe remain incomplete. In over a year of hearings, only four contestants ever offered any evidence before the Culture Committee. The inquiry was wound up hastily, and ultimately endorsed current practice and promised psychiatry as a cure-all.
We must make every effort to ensure the TV programming we put out nationally is safe, and that viewers can be comfortable watching it. They should not have to learn later of the catalogue of suicide and misery that dogs production. In the end, it is not just about the tiny group of reality TV performers, but about the millions of viewers who want to tune into a feel-good show.
We have to ensure that reality TV merits proper independent support for participants. Exposure on TV should be life-enhancing. If this is an industry worth saving – and I think it is – it is professionalism that is needed.
March 18th print edition
I hate it when someone lectures me and finishes by asking if I understand.there is a relationship implied in that question and I do not like it.
So, it was a very depressing experience listening to Radio 4 this evening. There was a tone of righteous condescension which I felt was misplaced. The main culprit was the Minister for Universities, Michelle Donelan. I find it disappointing that people who lack the honour to offer their resignation should be so quick to tell us that students are cheats, that exam predictions are inflated and so on. This is a form of politics that has no respect at all for the voter.
It is also worth noting that Dominic Cummings, yes he of the trip to Barnard castle, was working in the education department with Michael Gove and therefore partly responsible for the foul approach. It is worth listening to the general tone of condesension that pervades the rose garden defence.
I am shocked that Boris should trust this man so much. I wonder if he talks down to Boris as much as he clearly talks down to everyone else?
I think this approach of talking down, doing down, condescending- is something that is running across society.
I was defrauded recently. I was cut off and still am cut off from accessing my bank, and no emails save to the CEO seem to get through at all. It took me a week to get the bank to pick up the phone and answer me and it was another week before anyone from the fraud department contacted me.
I have asked to interview the leader of the HSBC bank in the UK. I fear this is an institution in turmoil that has not prepared well for a crisis like COVID, and I would like to help. The length of time it takes to answer the telephone speaks volumes- I have routinely waited over 2 hours and then had the call disconnected. This is not customer service- it is chaos. The man in overall charge is called Noel Quinn and the UK head is Iain Stuart. I will report back here when and if this happens.
Meanwhile, when I was telephoned yesterday by an agent from the fraud department, his manner was unbelieveably unhelpful (I have his name: always get the name and write it down). When I asked specific questions about the changes in legislation regarding fraud, he retreated into a sort of bluster and ended up quitting the call in a huff (and I thought I was the theatrical one).
So, let me explain about fraud in UK banks: I am not much the wiser, of course, but I think there is an organisation called the “APP Scams steering Group” and they, in turn, have come up with something called “CRM”. Essentially, this is there to investigate fraud. I am not sure how it differs from what existed before but it came into effect on 28th May 2019 and came under the admin of the LSB a couple of months’ later. In contrast to what I was told by the agent, some banks certainly interpret it as offering a full refund to victims and others do not. HSBC seems to be among hose who do not. The relevant line from the legislation seems to be here:
“Importantly, any customer of a Payment Service Provider which is signed up to the Code can expect to be reimbursed where they were not to blame for the success of a scam. A customer can be either a consumer, micro-enterprise or charity, as defined in the Code.”
It is very confusing- deliberately so?
The LSB appointed an advisory board which is chaired by Ruth Evans and consists of what are called industry officials and consumers- I am not sure whether the “consumers” are therefore bank customers or bank officials. Again, the information is deliberately vague but it all sounds grand and well-meaning. In the right hands, it probably is.
What this means in practice, though, is that the banks can sound very grand about what they are doing and, as in my case, when pressed for an answer, can fudge to the point of confusion because nobody really knows what was intended.
It is the same approach by the Government and Ofqual. Referring to Acronyms is a way to avoid explaining what you are talking about just as the double negative or the passive voice distances a rogue from any any direct access to the truth.
It is time to call out for some transparency – or should that be opacity? Surely we want something we can see: Solid facts anyway, something we can understand and something we can evaluate without an agent taking a grand-standing position above us and effectively saying, as Roger Taylor did the other day to the millions of students who felt aggrieved by the OFQUAL algorithm, that they “did not understand it”. Their problem, in other words (or rather in what his words must have meant- there is no other way to interpret them) was not the students were victims of an injustice, or a miscalculation but that they were stupid.
This seems to be the routine tone of people in authority at the end of the phone who have to take responsibility for a mess they have either created or inherited. Be it Virginmedia, HSBC, Sky, OfQUAL, or the Government – the line seems to be the same, that we are incapable of understanding them. That we are too stupid. We are after all, just the customer or just the public- in the case of the Government, we are just the voters.
Here is my point to Anita on the BBC 4 edition of ANY ANSWERS today:
There is so much to write about at the moment and yet the newspapers are focused on the most astonishing rubbish while the real issues are cast aside barely touched.
This morning, there was a debate about Boris on holiday and almost every channel in the UK managed to present the piece with a bias that was quite astonishing. While I am equally disappointed in Boris, he is not the story today and this nonsensical quipping takes the pressure off the real issue which must still be Gavin Williamson and his weasel determination to cling on.
Outside the UK, Alexei Navalny appears to have been poisoned. That would be news enough and scary for everyone else but it gets much worse: a medical plane to take him for superior and probably life-saving treatment in Germany is unable to do its job as police and armed guards keep Navalny away from his family and effectively imprisoned in an under-equipped hospital in Omsk in Siberia. It is the stuff of nightmares.
Meanwhile, I had a chat with Steve Brookstein who was the first to win X factor last night and later I checked him out on youtube. I was flabberghasted at the nastiness of Sharon Osbourne and will certainly look at her differently from now on. Steve’s story is painful as was Rich Hatch’s (Rich was the first winner of the American Reality show “Survivor” and I have spent the last 12 weeks watching that show episoed by episode and then podcasting about it.). I begin to fear that the whole Reality tv phenomenon, which is certainly likely to continue because it is cheap to make, is shot through with a sort of nastiness that I cannot ever and will not condone.
I think the sniping about Boris on holiday belongs to the same genre. We should really remember the advice in the Disney film, BAMBI- “If you’ve not got something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Dame Nemat Shafik
London School of Economics
14th August 2020
I am writing with some urgency in the wake of the disastrous A level results and the horrendous bias against students who come from non-selective schools that may have had a blip in recent academic performance and have, therefore, had their grades knocked back.
I hope, this year, that you will follow the example of Worcester College and take on those students who were predicted grades that would meet your requirements and whose teachers were confident they could be expected, in ordinary circumstances, to achieve them.
I look forward to hearing from you personally, in due course, and to celebrating the fact that the LSE, another great academic body with a bold history is ready to challenge a mighty injustice.
Now is not the time to wait and see what the Government will do. You will be judged by your actions and the lead you give in the next few days.
I would like to think that you are on the right side of history.
I am available to help in any way I can.
With best wishes and great respect,
Professor TIM WILSON