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.
The New Prime Minister makes it very clear that she is efficient- she had appointed the key members of her cabinet within an hour of kissing hands in Buckingham palace. One of those appointments, Boris Johnson, has sent shockwaves around the world but I think I have already explained for a Turkish outlet precisely why Boris over-egged the “Leave” omelette and why that was such an important thing to do if he was to deny Farage his place at a future Cabinet table- to me, Boris will always be the man who took one for the team, and he did it with a panache no one could ever rival.
Boris is not just the thinking-man’s Farage, he is quite simply, “thinking man”. Farage, once thought necessary to anyone’s plan for Brexit, like any unwanted ingredient, like rancid butter, has been consigned to the bin of history.
Mrs May also makes a stab at a smile, but it all looks a bit forced. For that reason, I hope she will find room for Andrea Leadsom on her team. Andrea demonstrated last weekend that she is deeply human and the mistake she may or may not have made in no way disqualifies her for high office. I think she could show the humanity of the Cabinet. We need a few tears and we need someone to gleefully explain how to vote twice, or, indeed, to observe that getting a room to meet a Telegraph interviewer at the local hotel might perhaps be misinterpreted. I do not share many of Mrs Leadsom’s views but I have grown to like what she stands for more and more over the last week.
Yesterday, Dr Wollaston changed sides. I quite admire people who change their opinions especially in the middle of a race. It is rather noble, I think, to defy the school 400m, turn tail and run backwards to the starting point. It requires guts and self-judgement as well as a fair degree of élan to pull off this sort of manoeuvre successfully.
It is also something that, quite frankly, you can only do once. (I did it so that is the end of that)
In this case, I think Dr Wollaston has actually drawn attention to a disturbing trend in the Referendum campaign. She said that she was not comfortable with the claims being made about the potential money, potentially £350 million a week, available to spend on the NHS (and the simple fact is that she is right). This is what she has said,
“For someone like me who has long campaigned for open and honest data in public life I could not have set foot on a battle bus that has at the heart of its campaign a figure that I know to be untrue.
“If you’re in a position where you can’t hand out a Vote Leave leaflet, you can’t be campaigning for that organisation.”
This is all well and true, however, and I have been saying this for a while, but the problem here is that the claims made about the £350 million were being made quite a few weeks’ ago, so her sudden defection seems a bit tardy. Was it that she did not think the claim mattered as long as it was not plastered over her own bus? The timing of her move is just not quite right.
Dr Wollaston is quite good with warnings – she warned us before the General election about the need for a £15 billion spend on the NHS to avoid the whole system imploding during the present parliament. So prophetic and right again, but late, and she is doing the same here.
We also heard about fraud (£670 million lost last year with 9000,000 Euros lost to dishonest EU staff!) but the figures were drawn from Olaf, the EU fraud office, which presumably is in the process of catching the fraudsters and putting the money back where it belongs.
Boris has made the £350 million claim fairly often-“We send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund our NHS instead.” -that is 350 million a week going to Brussels (17.8 billion a year), but with the rebate (1984) the actual figure is closer to £240 million and the rebate takes place before any money is sent to the EU so the claims made about Britain sending £350 million a week to Europe are blatantly false.
More than that, the £240 million odd that is sent to Brussels does not include the money spent by the EU on UK projects. Scientific research (in 2013 was £1,4 billion a year), education and the arts all benefit from EU investment and bring the overall net fee to around £130 million a week- still arguably alot of money, but significantly less than the claims made by Boris.
The UK Statistics Authority wrote rather apologetically to explain to the leave campaign that their figure was wrong, but still the sum is peddled out…
But there are other more serious errors. The first is the simple fact that even if we save £350 million every week, there is no guarantee it will be used in the NHS or can be ring-fenced at all. If a “Leave” result causes the economy to tumble as some predict it will, then much of that savings will be lost anyway and the reality of the post-Brexit negotiations certainly does not guarantee any substantial savings if we follow Norway . So the simple fact remains- if I do not spend money as it is currently spent, that does not automatically mean I have saved it- It may mean I no longer have the money to spend at all.
The Philosophical problem
There are good reasons for voting “Leave”- supporting our declining fishing industry is one of them, and I contributed advertising to that end.
I still think this is an important cause, but on reflection, I am not sure it is enough to see us quit the EU. That alone is not enough- a big negative gesture will not bring about anything positive. Again, back to the Wollaston issue- saving £350 million does not mean we can or would automatically use that money on the NHS.
Here is the mistake of the BREXIT campaign in this instance and it is a serious one: not doing something bad does not mean we are automatically committed to doing something good.
And back to Statistics
But the Remain side has been equally plagued by dodgy statistics, so once again Dr Wollaston’s desire for honesty is compromised. The Osborne claim that families would be £4300 worse off after Leave is again fairly spurious and based on a misreading of Treasury data. Jacob Rees Mogg is someone I respect a great deal and this is his conclusion-
“I care nothing about the bus. I am not concerned about charabancs. That is not at the heart of the debate.
“I have always used the net figure. What is far more shocking is that the Chancellor has been using a figure he knew would be misleading.” Mr Rees-Mogg is in the Brexit camp.
Last week, I took a black cab from Baker street to Cornwall Terrace. We went round Regents park, wasting time and money while the actual place I needed was barely 3 minutes walk away. I did not know. I had left my A-Z at home and I had been hoodwinked.
So I have some sympathy for Boris Johnson’s outburst yesterday.
Boris claims that his irritation with a London cabbie was “a gentle attempt at a return service” or rather ”getting the ball back over the net.” Wimbledon metaphors at the start of the season.
If you check the footage that has leaked on to the internet, it is clear that the Mayor of London was having the last word as the cabbie drove away and quite frankly, was unlikely to have been heard. We also do not have the beginning of the exchange. The cabbie himself, so far unnamed, had leant out of the window to castigate Johnson for not standing up to the competing taxi firm UBER – He was making a hand-gesture, but it is too dark to be sure exactly what that gesture was. “You’re one of them, mate,” says the cabbie and then drives off as Johnson vents, “why don’t you fuck off and die (twice) and not in that order”. Johnson then appears to chuckle.
It is the final moments that are both disquieting and disarming in equal measure.
Quite apart from anything else, I wonder why someone was able to film the incident in the first place- or was this a set -up?
While a Boris rant is not an edifying spectacle, it is of a very different order to the angry exchange outside the gates of Number 10 by chief whip Andrew Mitchell, and far, far different to the David Mellor thing a year ago, which was just rank pomposity from a man well-past his prime! However, the inference of “Go and die” remains distasteful, whether meant as a humorous rebuke or not. The final words, “and in that order” make absolutely no sense and suggest that the mayor was fumbling to seize some superior wit, which, for once, escaped. It was after midnight and he was probably tired. This is not Oscar Wilde and not one of Johnson’s better days.
UBER taxi app, a car service accessible to the smart-phone generation, is criticized for not being properly regulated, whose drivers are often uninsured while it is competing directly with both the minicab and black cabbie trade. Boris is, therefore, coming under attack for his perceived support of UBER. Steve MacNamara of the Licenced Taxi Rankers Association said, “TfL recommended last week that UBER’s licence be revoked and it wasn’t and people are starting to ask questions why.”
UBER began 3 years ago, and according to the company, now runs 15000 cars with over 1000 new drivers starting in London every month. At the same time, there has been a 20% drop in applications for the black cabbie licence. That means that less taxis in London are today equipped with or tested in “the knowledge”, the city-wide recognition of streets and sites (which should ensure any cabbie would have known immediately where Cornwall Terrace was). At the same time, the dramatic increase in taxis threatens to add to London’s congestion problems.
The cabbies have mounted a legal challenge to UBER, claiming the use of smartphones to log journeys was dodgy, but they are more concerned, I think, that Boris has not followed the example of Madrid and Paris and banned the company from operating in London altogether. Maybe what is needed now, though, is a challenge to UBER on its own terms- maybe the London cabbie service needs to set up its own smart app, and while it’s at it, maybe it needs to lower its prices and become more competitive.
And as for the swearing? Well, not really the stuff of a Prime Minister in waiting, is it? But Nixon did it (and regularly on tape) and made it to President- But Boris will bounce back. I know him from of old and have every confidence in him.