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.
In 2018, there was a Labour motion about righting the wrongs of Windrush. Priti Patel, the present home secretary, was among 306 Conservative MPs voting against the bill and effectively silencing much of the information in the Windrush story.
Of course, it is true that the motion was linked to other issues that were party-sensitive and, therefore, unlikely to be endorsed by any Government ministers. However, an alternative bill was not put forward by the Government. One would have thought that Mrs May would have wanted to correct her own mistakes but I think that is not really a priority. It is fairly shameful.
So, alot of wriggling today, therefore, from Priti Patel who cannot really hide her own voting record, nor indeed hthe fact that she was once sacked for dishonesty: this is the lady who is running our police force and leading “by example”.
She has invited a good deal of criticism, not least from a swathe of Labour MPs who sent her a letter earlier this month in the wake of the george Floyd riots. To her credit, Ms Patel published the letter on twitter.
The problem here is that this is not a party-political problem and no one in power today is quite blameless, so no one side can take a “holier-than-thou” position. The “Hostile environment” was actually set up, I think, in defiance of the Equal Opportunities act, by the Blair/Brown government but made all the more aggressive by Theresa May’s championing of the concept in 2012 and with two nasty immigration bills in 2014 and 2016. Her statment “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants” actually reinforced a series of policies put in place by Jack Straw. If you need to check the details, note the opening of Yarl’s Wood in 2001 and the belief in the “deterrance of detainment”, something that never worked here nor elsewhere in Europe. But also look for terms like “deterrent dogma” and “deportation targets”. This latter is a term that continues to be used and in 2000, under Blair, was set at the deportation of “30,000 people over the next year”.
Oddly, Amber Rudd, who was in charge when the Windrush scandal broke and who took the fall for what her predecessor and now her boss, PM May had set up, was one of the more reasonable Home Secretaries to have held the job in the last 20 years. It does not say alot of course. It fell to Sajid Javid, perhaps even better, to criticise the policy more directly, “I don’t like the phrase hostile. So the terminology I think is incorrect and I think it is a phrase that is unhelpful and it doesn’t represent our values as a country.” But he did not hold the job long enough to change the way things were done and the problem anyway was not about nomenclature.
I am aware of much of the horrible atmosphere in the Home office because I have found myself for nearly 20 years dealing with failed or botched student visas and I have been innumerable times to the detestable visa centres to try to sort out problems. In some cases, I saw promising students deported half-way through A levels and certainly more than one Oxbridge hopeful having their chances completely ripped away by these policies. This is a form of savagery, but it is also deeply scurrious. We have taken money from these students and then, at the crucial moment, deported them on a technicality. Even when it has worked effectively, we have often given students an education and thrown them out the moment they graduate.
It seemed to me that targetting students, which of course continues, is a cheap trick to suggest that the Home Office is keeping its eye on immigration. Students are very well documented so they are always going to be an easy target.
I went to see a number of ministers as well as my own MP at the time, Andrea Leadsom. ms Leadsom saw me at her constituency surgery, hectored me for about 10 minutes and then let me go, almost without giving me a chance to say anything to her myself. She was surrounded by advisors and gatekeepers. It was one of those rare occasions when I was frankly speechless. In response, I sent her a letter explaining that, had I been given the oppportunity to say something, these would have been the things I would have said. This led to further correspondence with the Home Office, then under Mrs May and to further meetings with other departmental ministers and MPs. I am afraid, though, that nothing much changed.
Part of the problem was a sense that this had public approval. Part of the problem is that Theresa May loves bureaucracy.
The Windrush scandal broke both the assumption about public approval and its trust in paperwork: the home office threw the paperwork away. We cannot ride roughshod over people who have worked so hard to integrate with and build up our society and then blame them for our own stupidity.
Our hospitality to countless waves of immigrants has benefitted us greatly.
Last night a statue in Bristol was pulled down in protest, and today the Cenotaph has been defaced. There have been protests in the past about statues, most notably about the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford, but I think this is the first time we have had a Stalinesque or Sadaam Hussein moment where we have toppled imagery.
Like those dealing with 7th century Byzantine and Roundhead iconoclasm, the authorities of the day have not gone to the hub of the problem and it is essentially philosophical. Should we respect history- that is, record what is good and what is bad? Use the imagery as a source and draw a conclusion? The evidence is all around us and only by preserving it, can it ever make any sense. Pulling down statues, erasing pictures does not actually erase the history, though it might make it harder to access even if the statement itself may be of value. At its worst, therefore, we are in danger of obliterating, or hiding our past.
What is odd is that the iconic images of statues crashing down elsewhere is applauded while here Priti Patel wags her finger at the people who have defaced public property. Priti Patel has long been a figure of fun. This is not a cause that will win her much support or change her reputation particularly as she fails to identify the problem. As ever, with this makeshift secretary of state, she is out of touch and hides behind bluster and bullying. She actually expects to be taken seriously. She is the wrong person to deal with this problem.
The statue mess has not been a sudden decision. The BBC did a programme about Colston in February 2018
In Russia, the old communist statues have been gathered together and erected in parks. In ancient Rome, the heads of figures out of favour were generally lopped off and replaced, most famously with the colossal statue of nero. We instinctively know that public statues have a meaning. They are not simply decorations to our streets; they proclaim history in a three-dimensional way, both the good and the bad. In the case of Colston, his statue was put up to commemorate his huge effort to eradicate his 11-year association with slavery and the abominable trade of the RAC (its victims were branded with the acronym before they were transported and sold. This trading company had links up the highest chain of command in the country as its nominal boss eventually became king). He put money into charities, sat in parliament and endowed schools (particularly Colston’s girls’ school) in the area. And he was not the only one in 17th/18th century society who was clearly ashamed of his past and wanted to make good. Many people through these centuries had links with slavery- George Washington is a good example (cf Lucy Worsley’s “American History’s biggest fibs” – I will find a screen shot from one of the scenes I drew for that programme and post it here later! *TW).
WE have lots of questions to answer but pulling down a statue will not give us these answers. I think the biggest question must be about when the statue was erected. A man with a known history of association with slavery has a statue put up at the end of the 19th Century when only a few years’ earlier there had been a big effort to abolish slavery for good. What message were the businesspeople of Bristol sending? If there was an attempt to erase history, was it done then at the end of the 19th Century?
The problem is that nothing is ever quite so simple. Coulston was associated with the governing board of the RAC but there is no evidence that he was actually involved in slavery. Certainly, he might be said to have endorsed it. I think the arguments for pulling done the statue of Colston are less sound than the arguments about removing the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the facade of Oriel college in Oxford. Rhodes clearly had blood on his hands.
But images matter.
Otherwise, we would not be erecting statues in the first place.
This is what the museum in Bristol has to say about Coulston:
In March1680, he bought a share in the London-based Royal African Company. Only RAC members could trade with Africa, for gold, ivory and enslaved Africans. His father William also owned shares in the RAC, and supplied trade goods to its ships.
Edward Colston never, as far as we know, traded in enslaved Africans on his own account. We do not know how much profit he took from the RAC’s trade in enslaved Africans – he was paid dividends such as 50 guineas in July 1780, and 160 guineas in November 1685. He sold William, Prince of Orange, some of his RAC shares worth £1,000 in 1689, then bought more for himself. We do not know how much of his fortune was built up from his trade in wine and oil, or from investments or loans, or from money and property inherited from his father. What we do know is that he was an active member of the governing body of the RAC, which traded in enslaved Africans, for 11 years.
The problem is that in Politics, there will always be someone ready to blow a rasperry. That is partly what is happening to Cummings, and it is amazing that he has lasted so long. He is evasive, superior and rude. He is also, I understand, brilliant. None of those qualities would endear him to the Westminster crowd or to the media. Even the Conservative press has its knives out for Cummings – “No 10 svengali who flouted the PM’s own strict lockdown rules” is how the Daily Mail reports his actions.
There is another quality Cummings has- he is indispensable. He masterminded the Leave vote, he has a plan for the exit and a plan to whip the civil service into line. None of this can be done without him.
Boris has gone out of his way to support him.
That tactic worked in the past. It is astonishing, really, that Priti Patel survived at all a few months’ ago but Boris supported her in the face of the odds, and she is still pottering about, misreading the auto-cue and muddling up basic maths. Of course, her comic highlight almost redeems her and at any other time than in a national crisis would make her a figure of fun- that during lockdown, with the closure of stops, “shoplifting has gone down”. But otherwise, her performance at briefings has been likened to “a motorway pileup”. I suppose though that being thought a fool is better than being thought a bully.
Priti Patel is useful for the moment: her gaffes take the attention away from the real media headline- the huge number of deaths from COVID 19 in the UK.
The more we complain about her, the less we focus on the real issues. She is a distraction even if she might perhaps be a dunce, or she might be a bully.
There seems to be one thing worse than bullying though and that is deceit. While Boris was busy defending Cummings, the anonymous civil service tweeter wrote, “imagine having to work with these truth twisters”, then that message got speedily deleted. But it did its job.
In this case, it is deceit that is directly linked to COVID 19 and the lockdown. It is relevant deceit.
Cummings is not a maths’ dunce, or a clown.
Because he is so important to the Government project, his activities are not going to be bruished aside lightly. It was foolish, therefore, with hindsight, to ask Grant Sapps to fumble about the details. This is what Grants said to a question put by Sally Ridge and that he had been given in advance,
“I don’t want to disappoint you, I am transport secretary and I am expert in building our infrastructure, but I don’t know all the times and dates for you. I understand that he will have travelled there around the end of March, stayed there for 14 days and didn’t leave the property in isolation as per the rules in the guidance.”
The Government has moral and legal authority. It is entirely undermined by Cummings and, more than that, he has directly put our safety is at risk. Three issues scream for attention: (1) His disdain for the law is one thing and (2) his example that others may follow is another, but (3) he knowingly went out on a lengthy journey with the virus. On that trip, a minimum of 4 hours’ driving, 360 miles from London to Durham, did he never once pause for petrol, for a snack, or for a loo break?
The problem is that neither Cummings nor Boris understand the issue. It is very simple to demonstrate this with the headline over the weekend which claimed Boris thought his advisor had the right “intention”, that it was not as if “he was off to see a lover”. This would put him, of course in the same bracket as Professor Neil Ferguson. Ferguson resigned (such a dramatic fall indeed that the police decided he did not need fining).
But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in this case, the policy is not Kantian but utilitarian in its essence. We do not even need to weigh up different “imperatives”. It is monumentally simple: one person who is infected and breaks the quarantine puts everyone else at risk. It is not about intent but action. Boris has misunderstood the philosophical base for the coronavirus lockdown. He has also misread the mood of the people.
As does Cummings. When asked by the press camped outside his house if he was “considering his position”, he said, “obviously not.”
Why “obviously”? I am always entertained by anyone who uses this word. I think Cummings has never attended my lectures- if he had, he would know that I believe this is an adverb that should never be used. If something is obvious, it does not need to be stated, and if something is not obvious, the word is misused. It is very simple. It is a word that can only ever be used to establish superiority. It is an arrogant word. It is a put-down. In the interests of developing a kinder English, this is one word that I think should be erased for ever from vocabulary (obviously).
He went on, “you are as right about that as you were about Brexit. Do you remember how right you were about that?.”
Grant Sapps defended Cummings’ trip with an appeal to his 4 year old baby. This is what Sapps said,
“This is somebody who followed the guidelines by going to lockdown in order to be in the best place to ensure that provision was made for a four-year-old, who would have not been able to look after himself, and as the guidance makes clear, you must do in this situation the thing which would look after children for their welfare in the best possible way.”.
As if to reinforce this image, today, Cummings took the self-same baby out to meet the press. It was not even a “no comment” moment. Cummings had lots to say before making a point about a boom microphone (which was actually quite touching- the man has more heart than I had expected).
Piers Morgan, the moral heart of tv-land, has therefore banned all Cabinet ministers from his show, unless they “didn’t publicly support Cummings breaching a lockdown that the Govt forced on the rest of us ‘to save lives’”.
The problem is that this appears to be cut and dried. It appears to be very simple.
Like Priti Patel, Cummings projects a far from favourable image. The rumour-mill is rife. Their big critics are the civil service who are targeted in new reforms. Whoever wrote about “twisted truth” may well be out of a job in a few weeks’ time if Cummings has his way. And it is no secret that Priti Patel had been squabbling with her own civil servants. So, the civil servant who leaked has respect from peers- “this brave heretic has already become something of a civil service legend”.
So far, we have judged Cummings without hearing his side of the story.
So far, he has yet to speak.
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.
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,
“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.
Sometimes, even as an artist who admires Aubrey Beardsley and Erte, I have to bite the bullet and admit that substance is more important than appearance. The race for the London mayor is one of those times. It may seem like some sort of abstract Platonic argument- that we need to ignore the glitzy images and look at the reality behind the razamatazz, but that is how it is. The reality stinks and we have to identify it for what it really is: bad judgement, and demagogy.
Today, Sadiq Khan revealed who he really is and this is disappointing, even if I have been repeatedly warned. There has been alot of things said about a possible Khan win confirming the dreadful Corbyn in his place as leader of the opposition and that this win would confirm the position and the power of the man who presides over the destruction of the labour party- why would I care about that? I am a Tory! But I enjoy the challenge of a good debate and since Corbyn came to office, that has been missing in the House of commons. Instead, we are treated to a self-satisfied litany of what Betty said to Sally and what Bert thinks of Dave. What we want are some facts rather than a series of quasi-religious quotations. The commons, anyway, is not the time for semi-anonymous or barely-invented hearsay.
But it is the self-righteousness of Corbyn that dominates.
What I loved about Tony Benn and particularly about Michael Foot as orators was the element of conviction which was matched by the possibility of doubt in what they said. Another way to put that is to use the word “humility”. I am sure no one has ever accused Tony Benn of humility before, but he was a man who knew his place as did Foot. Yet I admired their skills in speaking even if I rejected what they said. There is nothing I can admire in Corbyn. I think Corbyn has yet to learn what his place should be. He has been thrust into the political spotlight too fast, and while on the Breakfast-time sofa on TV, he sounds reasonable, he has not yet found his place as a national orator or leader in the Commons. He might well be a nice man- who knows? That is not important- Corbyn’s job is not simply to represent his party -he does not incidentally- but he is also the voice of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. He represents a challenge across the political parties to the sitting Prime Minister- he demonstrably does not do that either. Instead, he represents a small vocal faction of the Labour party. So, Mr Corbyn fails absolutely to serve his country. He serves himself and his clamouring supporters.
But should Khan win in the Mayoral race, just like a second Oldham by-election, Corbyn’s position will be even more protected and we shall have to suffer even more litanies from his makeshift lectern of what John and Jenny, Mary and Jo have to say when all we really want to hear is the authentic voice of the Leader of the opposition. Any opposition! Without that voice, Mr Cameron must look to his own party to find a challenge: we have not elected a dictatorship.
If Mr Corbyn continues to demonstrate that he cannot do or does not want to do this job, then in the interests of Parliamentary democracy, someone else must surely do it for him. I do not want to hear any more about John and Jenny, Mary and Luke or whatever improbable names are chanted in the prayers Corbyn leads weekly (or weakly?) at the dispatch box. This is not the Bidding prayers in a local church. So, now might be the time for the SNP to step up, maybe and assume the office so abandoned or mutilated by Corbyn?
Lame Duck quacking in Commons
Let me be clear, as a Tory supporter, I do not see any advantage in having a lame duck Leader of the Opposition. Let the lame duck lay eggs on the backbench with the other quacks. If he wants to do TV shows with Michael Portillo, that too would be great news- anything indeed, save this travesty at the dispatch box week after wretched week.
And so to Khan himself. Whatever rosette is worn by any candidate for Mayor, we ought to presume competence, but today Khan demonstrates his utter INcompetence by trusting a man who has apparently a homophobic record and then sacking him. I am not sure which is the worst offence. If the homophobia was so much a thing of the past (some reports say this was recently on twitter, but some say this was stuff from 2012) then it no longer matters and the man should have kept his job, but if it demonstrates a continued prejudice, then clearly he should go and the question lingers about Khan’s own judgement- Khan sacked Shueb Salar after a letter from our own Priti Patel. He was badgered into action because he failed to act decisively in the first place, or he failed to check or worse still, he faild to notice or to care. And however it is spun, the fact remains, why could Khan not see that such prejudice undermines not only his campaign, and his credibility but the claims that Labour repeatedly make for the moral highground. This is what Ms Patel wrote,
“This man has a Parliamentary pass and thus privileged access. Do you not think it is incumbent upon you to check the background of those who are given such access in your name?
“Is Mr Salar therefore still on your payroll and is he still receiving taxpayers’ money while the investigation takes place?”
“Even if you didn’t run checks on him before appointing him, his comments could easily be viewed on Twitter as recently as a week ago, particularly as your account follows his. … You appear to hesitate and/or turn a blind eye when you come into contact with those whose views are deplorable. And you appear to regularly come into contact with such people.”
I think this event shows one of the biggest of Khan’s failings and it is a failing shared by Corbyn. Indeed, it sums them both up because they both want to say what they feel their own particular cronies, or their own particular audience want to hear from them. Khan says whatever will win him votes (he has no shame)- and Corbyn says what he thinks will please the people who voted him into power- John, Jane and Jenny who he talks about so often in the Commons and who clearly pull his strings. But in both cases, their intended job is bigger than this miniscule audience of alleged admirers. That is their common failing!
And that is why Boris was so much better. Because Boris managed to appeal beyond his core voters and across party lines.
While Corbyn has developed a joy in displeasing those MPs among whom he stands, in an effort to please his latent supporters penning letters in the labour heartlands, Khan has developed a slippery fish-like quality of pleasing whomsoever he happens to be talking to. But while Corbyn looks limp and lame, Khan looks false. How is this possible when essentially they are following the same brief? However, Khan, Like Blair, when he is caught in a fix, thinks a quick attack on an old trusted friend will do the job, but it simply exposes the lie- Mr Khan either knew his friend was a homophobe and did not care, or he sacrificed his friend because a Conservative minister inconveniently dug up dirt from the past. Mr Khan fails the loyalty test or he fails the far more important test of trusting the wrong people in the first place.
We need to believe that the future Mayor of London will have the right friends, will command loyalty and will make the right decisions for the right reason. we have to trust he will not be badgered into action by the media, or say something just because he is caught in the headlights of public attention.
For what it is worth, I would like to see London led by a Muslim Mayor. But not this one.
PS: This is what Boris said today (a few days after I posted the text above, sorry:)
The murder of Lee Rigby was an event that outraged and sickened Londoners, and the memories of that tragedy are still raw. I find it absolutely incredible that Sadiq Khan, a candidate for the office of Mayor of London, could hire as his speechwriter someone who has suggested that event was in any way fabricated.
To my mind that shows an appalling lack of judgement, and I do not see how Mr Khan could command the confidence – or the support – of Londoners.