Geronimo

Matt Hancock goes

Thank God for Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk, Tatton MP Esther McVey and Sir Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch and East Dorset who had all broken ranks to call for their Conservative colleague, Matt Hancock to go, which he has now done. Other rumblings continue but also, the unattractive sight of hoards of photographers led by the Sun trying to get a glimpse of Hancock’s abandoned wife Martha. This is sadly shameless. The sun should be celebrating its modest role in getting their hands on the photograhs that brought down a scoundrel. Instead, once again, they do not know when enough is enough and they demonstrate that they belong in the gutter and have little to offer.

Here is my earlier video and a picture of Gina Coladangelo’s brother

The depth of hypocrisy here is staggering. I have not mentioned the episode just over a year ago in May 2020, when the health secretary, Hancock, claimed to have been left “speechless” by what he called Prof Ferguson’s “extraordinary” behaviour, or more specifically, Ferguson’s own attempt to break social distancing rules with a lover- and Ferguson, like Hamond was directly involved in setting up the rules.

At the time, Hancock said he would back the police if they decided to prosecute Ferguson. Surely, Hancock should now not only be resigning but handing himself over to the police to see if they want to prosecute him for the same overall offence?

As for the appointment of Gina Coladangelo to her executive position in the Department of Health, it now appears there is no record of that appointment or indeed of the procurement or appointment process that must have taken place. It casts a further shadow over other arrangements. Grant Shapps, another Cabinet minister is now on record, despite the apparenet and acknowledged absence of evidence, saying, “In terms of rules, anyone who has been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in government.” Either there is some serious loss of paperwork going on, or the department is in chaos.

I fear this will have a more serious effect on morale than anything Cummings did in the rosegarden or on his trip to test his eyesight.

Matt Hancock

Poor hopeless Hancock

I made this video this morning and within minutes of my posting it, we learn that Matt Hancock has the support of the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson accepted Mr Hancock’s apology and “considers the matter closed”) and, moreover, the support of other ministers.

Labour Chair Annaliese Dodds is on record saying “If Matt Hancock has been secretly having a relationship with an adviser in his office – whom he personally appointed to a taxpayer-funded role – it is a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest”.

There are many ifs and Buts (butts?) but I suppose Matt Hancock can now become the figure of fun he always aspired to be. Grant Shapps defended Matt Hancock this morning and Matt says “I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic-” cetainly, though some of his focus appears to have strayed towards Gina Coladangelo. Some ministers need to focus more than others I think.

We must thank Gina Coladangelo for all the hard work she is doing as an Executive director, and thank Matt Hancock for the example he is setting the nation and the entertainment he is generating across the world.

Religion and Boris

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.

Inconsistency

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.

The future

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.

Cost

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.

Asylum mess

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.