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.

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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,

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“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.

 

Disturbing news

The last unpublished post of Caroline Flack makes for disturbing news but it raises an important point. Ms Flack’s career was defined by what she said on tv and that platform was taken away dramatically and suddenly. The loss of her voice, on top of everything else, therefore, must have been dreadful for her. She was already demonstrably vulnerable, had taken significant steps to sort things out and her boyfriend had said he did not want to press charges. An emotional breakdown has played out in public and we need to look at the way our society has allowed this to happen.

She writes with great clarity:

I am suddenly on a different kind of stage and everyone is watching it happen.

I have always taken responsibility for what happened that night. Even on the night. But the truth is …. It was an accident.

I’ve been having some sort of emotional breakdown for a very long time.

But I am NOT a domestic abuser. We had an argument and an accident happened. An accident.

The blood that someone SOLD to a newspaper was MY blood and that was something very sad and very personal.

The reason I am talking today is because my family can’t take anymore.

I’ve lost my job. My home. My ability to speak. And the truth has been taken out of my hands and used as entertainment.

I can’t spend every day hidden away being told not to say or speak to anyone.

I’m so sorry to my family for what I have brought upon them and for what my friends have had to go through.

I’m not thinking about ‘how I’m going to get my career back’. I’m thinking about how I’m going to get mine and my family’s life back.

I can’t say anymore than that.

There is now talk of “Caroline’s law” and, certainly, the death of Caroline Flack has been treated with great delicacy by the media. For the most part. One of the hosts of “This morning” may have made a slip of the tongue but it was an unfortunate one when she said on air, “The press are getting a lot of flack”.

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While the media may indeed need to do some self-searching, and while this may be  yet another reality tv tragedy, it is also another instance of the sort of mindless bureaucracy that we are allowing from public services set up to protect us, this time, from the CPS. We need to look better at people and ask what they are capable of, rather than follow a catalogue of events in -what should we call it? um- a “points’-based system”? (the punctuation alone to properly write that term should encourage us to avoid it in future).

We have the capacity to do better but we seem to be doing worse.

In terms of reality tv casualties, I can now think of 4 deaths directly linked to “Love Island”, a show that I managed to watch briefly- it is a very strange spectacle, more like a 1960’s beauty pageant. I can only speculate about the pressures the contestants must be put under every day! However, to that list – specifically, Sophie Gradon and her boyfriend Aaron Armstrong, Mike Thalassitis and now Caroline Flack, I should add Steve Dymond who was on Jeremy Kyle’s former show, but also instance the pressures that led to suicide attempts by Steve Wright, a former Big Brother winner in 2013. Aaron Allard Morgan has gone on record on “the Wright stuff” saying that 4 contestants he knew had attempted suicide following the show in 2011. This is what he said then,

They give you very little preparation for what’s likely to happen. From my year, with the 15 of us, I know that four of them have tried committing suicide after the show just because of the ramifications and impact that it has on your life.

You’re not prepared and you don’t get the aftercare that perhaps you should be getting afterwards. The people that are going in tomorrow, they’re not gonna hear this.

I just hope that if they need help afterwards, if they wanna speak to me, if they need any advice, I’m more than happy to give that.

There are, I understand, many other instances.

Despite having been on a Reality show myself, it is an area of TV that I know little about and the more I look into it, the more I realise there is an important story to be told. Reality TV has changed the dynamic of the medium and I think it will define the way tv moves forward. It has already dictated a number of checks and balances that I have seen in place, but we may need to be even more vigilant if these procedures are to have teeth and not be mere window-dressing, lipservice or a fashionable veneer over what has become a serious money-making machine.

Some years’ ago, I posted something about Robin Williams – It is a great sadness when those who are entertaining us are crushed by the very system that should be there to support them.

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Also in the news today is the statement that Prince Harry and Megan cannot use the term “Sussex Royal”. This is absurd- it is churlish, childish and cheap. It is a response, frankly, that is beneath the Royal family and those who offer them advice. At a time when senior members of that family have brought genuine shame on the Queen and are still held close, this kneejerk (do I need all that word?) reaction to the Queen’s grandson and his wife is astonishing and really should be reversed. Let’s wait for a gracious apology. If anyone can do that well, it is the Queen! She will lead the way out of this mess.

 

Philip Pullman is wrong

Today, the great Pullman has hit the news over the proposed new 50p piece. He comes in slightly late because Hughie Grant has already gone on record saying it should be boycotted. But Pullman points to the grammar and the absence of what is called “the Oxford comma”.

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The Guardian has run the story and it should know better.

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However, the “oxford comma” is now in the National curriculum. I cannot tell you how often I have fielded calls about this bit of grammar and how irritated it makes me.

Let’s be frank here: the oxford comma, even admitting examples cited in the King James’ Bible, is a modern invention. The KJV is obsessed with the comma, after all. Here is an example from the first edition with a comma that would never be tolerated today:

Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

Indeed, the only comma I would permit in that sentence would be AFTER the word “finger”, yet despite this omission, the KJV has two extra commas that, to me, seem unnecessary.

The KJV also, incidentally, has a tendency to use random italics (as instanced). I believe that any appeal to the use of the comma much before the mid-18th Century is an appeal to punctuation chaos. Much of the time, then, the comma was purely decorative, a typographic twirl.

We did not know about the “oxford comma” until 1978 when Peter Sutcliffe drew attention to it in a review of some of the idiosyncracies of the Oxford University Press (OUP). He suggested that its origins lay in the middle of the 1st World war and that it was introduced to suppress ambiguity when lists were being trotted off.

This seems unnecessary.

When we read aloud, I always assumed a comma denoted a potential breath. I always took a breath before I got to the end of a long list- it seemed appropriate and added drama. However, the older grammar-books all insist that there is never a comma before “and”. And with good reason. (Also, of course, they tell us never to begin a sentence with a conjunction- note TW!) Because the “and” simply signifies that the end of the list is coming. A comma before “and” is, therefore, superfluous because the breath before “and” is understood and assumed. The conjunction is signification enough of how the sentence should be read aloud.

I believe the oxford comma is actually the “Harvard comma” and is first promoted in the style guide for the New York Times. Many examples have been posted that are genuinely made less ambiguous by the insertion of the comma, but frankly a bit of re-phrasing would be better. Look at this example-

“By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”

It is argued here that the Oxford comma saves Nelson Mandela from the suggestion that he might have been a dildo-collector.  However, with the comma added, he might also yet remain an “800 year old god”, which I think he was not. The only way to salvage this text is, therefore, to re-write it. The text is wrong. It is sloppy writing. The oxford comma, in other words, is about inadequacy and a lame attempt to fix an error. It is a desperate attempt to justify bad english. The Oxford comma is not ours, it is not necessary and the Royal mint is quite right to ignore it.

As for the proposed 50p piece, I certainly never wanted it, but if it promotes debate about perverse and frankly foreign punctuation, then it is a coin I will henceforth treasure.

Bring it on!

 

 

After writing this, I sent a brief letter to the Daily telegraph which they printed. I am reproducing it here-

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Just a final point here:

The text on the 50p piece is a variation on the speech delivered by President Thomas Jefferson in 1801 at his inaugural address. Note that the “Harvard comma” is quite rightly in place as this is an American speech. The word “commerce” is replaced by the more alliterative “prosperity”, so it is a shame, given that the Royal mint was adapting the text fairly freely, that a third word beginning with “p” could not be found to complete a good tricolon (I can appreciate the problem, of course- partiality, predeliction – the greeks might have used “philotimo” – better to have started with another letter: accord, abundance and affection, for example). Tellingly, however, we have lost both the “comma” and the word “honest” in the process of developing and circulating the commemorative coin. No one seems to have remarked on the loss of that word, though. I would have thought that the loss of “honesty” was surely greater than the loss of a comma.

“I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none;…”

No time for a mistake

The destruction of Boeing 737-800

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On Friday, Mike Pompeo said “We do believe that it’s likely that the plane was shot down by an Iranian missile.” Now, it seems, he was absolutely right.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has demanded a public admission.

The President said he “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.”and records that a human error “led to a big catastrophe and innocent people were killed.” Indeed, we also have the name of the man who made that error, one of the Revolutionary guard, Amirali Hajizadeh who has reportedly said, “I wish I was dead”.

But admitting a mistake is only the first step. The rest, which can take some time, is about putting right the mess created. I fear that President Rouhani may not go very far towards fixing what he has done wrong, and already he is scattering blame in the direction of the US and the Ukraine. This is regrettable. 176 people died when the missile, apparently, hit the cockpit of the plane. It is impossible for Iran to remain haughty about this scale of “mistake”, yet the language used does not seem nearly apologetic enough. And it is not enough to hang some boffin out to take the blame. In the end, the way this news has seeped out, dribbled out, is testimony to a regime absolutely out of control. The level of disaster here cannot be excused as “a mistake”. This goes well beyond “a mistake”, even “an unforgiveable mistake”, though that single adjective is a sign that Iran recognises this may not be a story it can ever spin. Nor, of course, in this case, would it be a time to press the crowds out on to the street…

Here is what is reportedly said: “Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 had taken a sharp, unexpected turn that brought it near a sensitive military base”

and

“Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster.”

The regime is also preparing its excuse with expressions like: “human mistake and misfired”

Now, of course, would be the time to start releasing Western prisoners and to making overtures towards peace. Let’s watch this space and see what happens. My suspicion is that very little will happen soon.

Meanwhile, the new President of the Ukraine says that he will “insist on a full admission of guilt”

International pressure seems to have brought about the revelation some 72 hours after the “accident”. Indeed the official stance until today was expressed by the Iranian ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, who specifically ruled out a missile strike on the aircraft. Twitter has been full of indignation about Iran’s tardiness: “I don’t know what to do with my rage and grief. I’m thinking of all the ‘human errors’ in these years that were never revealed because there was no international pressure.”

The most striking and most discordant note, however, has been made by a spokesman, the head of the foreign relations committee in the Russian senate, a building I used to walk past every morning and evening: “The admission of error,” says Konstantin Kosachev, “although not immediately, and expression of condolences is sufficient to be accepted. With this, the incident should be closed.” I wonder what that suggests? That he is worried further probing will identify the missiles as made in Russia (maybe SA-15), or that further questions might then be asked about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by Russian backed Ukrainian separatists?

 

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There are now street protests in a number of universities calling on the supreme leader to resign, calling various officials “liars”. Maybe this is the beginning of the end? Let’s hope so.

 

Some recent pictures

I have been drawing pictures over the last few days. Here are some of them along with a link to my “Middle of the week” video. I shall try to keep up a mid-week vlog until Christmas.Agary Rhodes by TIM

There is a big debate about anti-semitism in the Labour party. It seems to me that this is really a debate about the quality of leadership that is offered by Jeremy Corbyn, and Miriam Margolyes, a committed Labour supported and of course a Jewish actor, yesterday on Channel 4 put it rather succinctly.

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The question remains whether the Chief rabbi is right to get involved in politics during an election. He talked about “a poison sanctioned from the very top – has taken root” but what he well knows is that this has been ongoing for a good few years. It is nothing new. So the newsworthy issue is the fact that the Chief rabbi has spoken out at a time that is judged to cause maximum damage to the Labour campaign. What is generally agreed is that Corbyn has not dealt with the underlying issue well enough and that there is a swelling and vocal group within labour that smudges the distinction between being Jewish and being Israeli. There is a distinction between the two and Miriam Margolyes makes it adroitly in her interview (she goes further in fact and says she is not a zionist and that there are many things about the current state of Israel that need to change. She emhasizes that she does not in any way question the existence of the state of Israel or its legitimacy. I would be more cautious than Margolyes and simply point to the impeachment of Netanyahu as a demonstration that the rot is now identified). It is about language and about the way anger can slip into prejudice, but it is also about mob mentality and Corbyn fails to understand this. When it comes to leadership, it is not enough to look at individual failings but to strike at the problem. The problem is a nasty use of language and a casual disregard for how it is perceived. In the end, it is about arrogance.

The Chief rabbi did not specifically tell people to vote against Labour. He urged them to vote with “conscience”. He also said that there were 130 cases of anti-semitism in the labour party that had not yet been processed. (There were 635 complaints at the beginning of the year)

To prove the point of his criticism, however, on 4 occasions today Corbyn has refused to apologise to the wider Jewish community for his failure to stamp out anti-semitism in the Labour party. He has admittedly, in the past, now apologised for calling Hamaz and Hezbollah “friends” back in 2009 and has eventually permitted labour’s definition of anti-semitism to be brought in line with that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Diane Abbott today, however, said she did not think Jewish people were “anxious and frightened”. I suppose she knows Jewish people better than the chief rabbi, or is this another instance of the “arrogance” of the labour leadership? To their credit, Labour MPs seeking re-election, Wes Streeting (for Ilford North) and Jess Phillips (Birmingham) have both apologised to the Chief Rabbi for the way this has been handled, saying they will do whatever they can to “win back trust” in the community. Again, their apology suggests the leader remains out of sync.

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Boris’ Gambit

Just got out of “the Circle” to find Boris in the middle of an extraordinary Saturday sitting of parliament! I worry that he has now decided to send a message to Brussels without signing it. What worries me most is that this supremely intelligent and confident man is potentially heading down the spineless path of his predecessor, Mrs May. I would urge him to avoid hiding like her behind bureaucratic nonsense and to do all he can to discourage his advisors and alies from embracing a Jesuitical approach to Brexit.

If something must be done, then it must be done clearly and not fudged. We must take proper responsibility for whatever we do. My own wish, of course, is that the Brexit referendum should never have happened at all and that, had it done so, the Remain team should have presented a better case and a more united front.

But having had the Referendum, and having seen the lacklustre efforts of Cameron and Corbyn to rally support for the status quo, I feel we should still have made more of an effort to press ahead against the Brussels’ bullies and show, firstly, that what was done to Greece by the Bureaucrats will not be done to Britain and secondly, that life beyond the EU was viable. Sadly, no one could have forseen the May premiership- all evasion and weeping, a sorry state and Boris must pick up the pieces.

The latest defeat is a noble first stab towards doing something.

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David Cameron

 

 

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Why Cameron is wrong

I was annoyed by Gove a few months’ ago and now it is Cameron who makes me mad! Astonishing! Conceited and determined in like manner but in this case just to sell books, Cameron dishes the dirt and in the process finally fesses up to his schoolboy demeanours, just about, that saw a serious number of older boys expelled from Eton, and the whistle blower blacklisted and forced to move out of his house and bunk up with one of the beaks because of the bullying presumably orchestrated to support Cameron who has always been able to wriggle out of a tight spot and has always been able to charm friends in high places. Till now. The problem with charm though is that it is a form of magic and in the end, it masks something hollow or just plain wrong and dirty. This is Morgan le Fey not Merlin we are talking about and for the record, for all his cleverness at the dispatch box, I think Cameron is hollow. He is also demonstrably a bad loser.
Now he says that the leave campaign “left the truth at home”. That may be so and we may also have got the wrong result but the reason is because Cameron and his cronies put forward a weak and uncharismatic campaign where greed and an arrogant image of what this toff thought we wanted eclipsed any talk of duty and responsibility.
Across the channel Europe is tearing itself to pieces and Cameron’s response was to invite us to do the same to ourselves! What madness! If the leave campaign was appalling, and so was the remain campaign and Cameron must shoulder that responsibility. He played the game by rules laid down by Farage. This is why people often said they could not make up their minds. More than that, he gambled twice with other people’s lives and twice risked “the uncertainty and division that followed” a referendum. What madness and what conceit. Now when a gentleman would keep mum he rakes up this mud again and dirties the pond with more excrement of his own making. and as for the cannabis’ admissions- about time and probably the thin end of the wedge but for now, time for Cameron, to hang his head in shame, hoard the cash from the gutter-press memoir, come out of the garden shed and join Gove in the list of smug hypocrites who had the experience and opportunity to do better. This is not a man who deserves any future office or honour. As Bercow once said, “he can take it from me that he is finished.” The exit door opens – time to make good on his promise to go.