Why the forced exit of Javid matters

Sajid JavidAll Cabinets as far back as I can remember have had personalities other than the Prime Minister who acted as a counterweight, someone who can argue against a bad policy that has suddenly become the PMs “brilliant idea”, even just to act as a devil’s advocate to make sure ideas get thoroughly interrogated before becoming Government policy.

Often this is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who first responsibility is to protect the country’s finances.  The Treasury will have different priorities to the Prime Minister and needs to have independent advisers who can question the Prime Minister’s ideas, who can point out the problems without having to worry about being sacked.

Yes, this can cause clashes, sometimes fatal clashes, in Government.  Bur without it, it is too easy for a Prime Minister to push through an idea that backfires both on the country and well as the Government of the day

This is why the events of today, the forcing out of Sajid Javid as Chancellor of the Exchequer because he objected to having to get rid of his advisers and have to rely on the PM’s advisers is so worrying.  Without that counterweight to ideas coming out of Johnson’s group of advisers, led by the unelected Dominic Cummings, without having people willing to critic ideas and point out their flaws without the fear of being sacked, without allowing a different point of view able to comment and suggest improvements, the chances are that we will see bad ideas forced through the Treasury and, because the Government has a large majority in the Commons, through Parliament without proper scrutiny.

I am no fan of Javid, some of his actions as Home Secretary were truly deplorable (read my post from last year Why Sajid Javid’s actions must be challenged) and as Chancellor he seemed determined to carry on with Austerity, 5 years after it was no longer needed but how he has been treated today bodes ill for how this Government intends to act (destroy any possible dissent or possible rivals) and for this country.

Can we save the High Street?

sainsburys from the past 2I can remember going shopping in Greenford, West London, with my mother nearly 60 years ago.  We would visit the baker’s for nice bread (& if we were lucky some cakes), then on to the butcher    and then the fishmonger.  Finally, we would go on to the local Sainsbury’s for groceries where we had to queue a number of different counters to get was needed (laid out as in the picture).  Supermarkets were just coming in and everyone was moaning at how they were ruining the High Street.

I can also remember all the little corner shops that were a feature of Worksop 30 years ago when we moved here, really handy if you had run out of milk or bread.  Now, nearly all now gone.  We also had a thriving market on three days a week, loads of stalls always busy, what we have now is a mere shadow.

I mention these trips down Memory Lane to remind everyone that the one constant in shopping is change.

What we accept as normal today, large edge of town shops where we can buy just about everything under one roof, is a relatively modern thing.  However, they in turn are now being threatened by internet shopping, getting the weekly shopping delivered to your door along with the latest gadgets from China or clothes from who knows where arriving days after ordering them online.

Between the rise of Internet shopping and large edge of town retail parks, across the country the poor High Street is taking a bashing with many shops left empty and even charity shops closing.  Indeed, some think there is little point in trying to save the High Street and we would be better off turning all the empty shops into homes.

However, as I said before, the one constant is change and High Streets need to change if they are to survive as the focal point for their towns.

The shops that will survive are those that attract people to them by showcasing & selling ranges that are unique, even if most of their sales are through the Internet.  Councils & landlords need to be more flexible in giving shops low rent, short term starter leases so they can see if an idea works without having to take out an expensive 12-month lease.  Councils also need to lay on attractions to bring people in.  Governments have to allow Councils to vary Business Rates or even defer them for new businesses on the High Street.

Most importantly, we all need to realise that shoppers will not be going every week to buy the basics as my mother did, if we want to make our High Streets vibrant, then the Government, Councils & landlords need to work hard to make them work in the 2020’s.

A Remainer no longer

Leafleting - 160423Tonight, at midnight CET (11 pm GMT) the United Kingdom ceases to be a member of the European Union.

The is a matter of great regret for me as a committed European and many others, probably a majority of British Citizens.

Personally, I am heartbroken that a small group of wealthy people has manipulate British Democracy to such an extent through lies and deceit that some think this is a good idea.  Even today, as we stand on the brink, no one has been able to truthfully say what the EU controlled in the UK that was so oppressive (and would be different after we have left) or what benefits we have from leaving the largest integrated economic market place in the world.

However, now is not the time to try to hold these people to account, that will come as the Brexit dreams crash down around us, as the reality of leaving becomes apparent (as it will after the end of the Transition Period on December 31st).

Who will stand by us when we are left alone, with no trade deals and stuck between a rampant Nationalist USA, a renewed & stronger EU, and a voracious China?  We have had a small glimpse of that this week with the row over Huawei’s involvement in the 5G infrastructure, unwilling to offend either China or the USA a middle way has to be found that might buy both off, the silence on the matter from Brussels was deafening.

For the last 4 year and more I have stood up for our place in Europe as a leading member of the EU, shaping the future of the Continent.  From building the Single Market to expanding the EU eastwards, it has been the UK driving the EU forward.

Ironically, it has been our exit that has stopped the anti-EU, Nationalist forces in Italy, France & elsewhere from even talking about leaving the EU, they have seen now what that means and realise it is a dead end politically.

Without the baleful presence of the UK (as it has been since 2015 as Cameron reacted to the perceived threat of the small anti-EU brigade in his the Tory party) the EU can now turn to dealing with the real problems that face Europe, dealing with the Climate Emergency, taming the Internet giants,  combating cross-border smuggling gangs trading in people & drugs, helping the less developed parts of the Continent catch up with the more developed areas.

These issues are cross border and can only addressed by Nations working together.  Yet the UK has decided to isolate itself from such cooperation.

The other EU Nations are sorry we have gone, as we had much to contribute in all these areas, but they will not waste time worrying about the UK now we have.

So tonight, we leave.   However as one door is slammed shut by those who do not wish their fellow countrymen well, another opens.

Tomorrow I start to campaign for the UK to re-join the EU.  We will not be able to rejoin on the special, favourable terms we have enjoyed up to now but re-join we will.  Maybe not this year or next year but by the end of the decade, we will be back where we belong, at the top table in Brussels.  It may take longer to regain our influence but that will come as well

I may no longer be a Remainer, but I am a committed Rejoiner.


Our new MP has questions to answer

Brendan Clarke-Smith may have only been our MP here in Bassetlaw for 4 weeks but already he has questions to answer over why he is supporting such an extreme version of Brexit. After seeing how he voted this week on the truncated consideration of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Commons.

I have sent Mr Clarke-Smith this letter about my concerns:

Dear Mr Clarke-Smith

I am writing to you to express deep disappointment that you voted for the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and against a number of amendments tabled this week.

Firstly, the government seems to be taking us towards a hard Brexit that nobody voted for. As a Remain supporter I feel totally let down as this withdrawal agreement does nothing to address the concerns of Remain voters. I would like to remind you that whilst your party got control of Parliament, in the General Election last month, over 50% of voters didn’t vote for Conservatives so there is no electoral mandate for this policy.

Secondly, I’m horrified to see that you voted against supporting vulnerable child refugees in the EU to be reunited with their families. This is not only a betrayal of promises by previous Conservative Governments but also an abdication of our International duty, and a needless attack on vulnerable children.

Thirdly, it’s sad that you voted against the continuation of the Erasmus scheme for university students in the UK & Europe. Can you tell me what plans the Government has for a replacement scheme to offer opportunities for our universities to collaborate with our European friends? The eradication of the Erasmus scheme seems counter intuitive to maintaining good relationships & starves our younger generation of opportunity to study abroad. It will leave our academic institutions isolated just at a time when we need to be collaborating more closely with our neighbours to deal with major worldwide problems.

Finally, but in some ways most importantly, you voted against giving automatic Settled Status to EU citizens in the UK and against allowing the right of appeal against any decisions. It would appear that this Government has learnt nothing from the Windrush scandal where mistakes by the Home Office & Immigration Service were not allowed to be challenged before deportations happened. Given that, as yet, there is no legislative basis for this immigration status, what reassurances can you give to EU citizens who have made their home here regarding their rights to stay in the UK following Brexit?

The only reason the Government voted against (and whipped you into voting against ) these amendments is out of spite against those who oppose the flawed plans for Brexit. This is not a way to bring healing & unity to our country, it will bring more division & anger.

I look forward to receiving your response to the issues I have raised I would also like to remind you that you are in Parliament to represent all of your constituents not just the ones who voted for you or support Brexit. I hope you will not follow the example of your predecessor and ignore those constituents you consider to oppose your views.

Yours sincerely

I await his response

I pledge to do what I can to protect the NHS (again)

I first published this article over 4 years when I was the Lib Dem PPC in Bassetlaw. I am republishing it here, with changes to bring it up to date and added some new thoughts. Some of these thoughts have been sparked by my over 20 years working with Health IT services, for a supplier, as a self employed contractor and, for the last few months as an IT manager for a large East Midlands Acute NHS Trust, poacher turned gamekeeper as it were.

Let me state this clearly so it cannot be misunderstood. I support the NHS, I am fully behind a universal, “free at the point of care” Health Service, paid for out of general taxation. Indeed, I have refused to take up the offer of private health insurance in a former job (ironically a large supplier to the NHS) as I felt it would be a betrayal of my personal principles. While I am involved in politics, I will do all I can to protect the principle of “free at the point of care”.

Where I differ from Labour, the Greens and others on the left, is that I put getting the best care possible and value for taxpayers’ money ahead of out of date ideology.

This doesn’t mean that the NHS should not change and that how it delivers on that principle cannot be improved. The one constant in the NHS is change in how it provides services to meet the changing needs placed on it.

We are all living much longer, and the conditions & diseases older people suffer from are presenting new challenges. Also, healthcare is developing, new treatments and procedures are being available, tests that were a few years ago only just becoming possible are now commonplace. However, many of these developments are not as cheap as the simpler, less complicated (but less effective) tests & treatments that were all that was available even in the recent past. In my area, IT has made the sharing of data between systems and between providers much better allowing for better informed care for patients.

In addition, the nation has to be careful how taxes are spent, we need to find new and better ways to face those challenges and make sure that we, the taxpayers, get best value for our money.

Because of this we need to be open to allowing ways apart from just the state-owned “in-house” NHS to provide these services. This is not privatisation of the NHS, it is extending something that has been part of the NHS since in inception. GPs have always been private partnerships working with the NHS to provide a service. Opticians, including big chains run by multinational companies, have provided eye checks & NHS funded glasses from the start of the NHS.

To make sure we the taxpayers get value for our money, there should be two tests for any private sector provider.

The care of patients must be as good as, if not better, than the in-house NHS equivalent can give. This must include data protection and the sharing of relevant data with other care providers (something the NHS is not particularly good at) so that continuity of care is maintained regardless of who provides any one service.

The cost to taxpayers is less than the in-house NHS equivalent and there are no hidden subsidies or “sweet-heart deals” such as the Labour Government made with some providers (and have now been made illegal by the Coalition). The calculation of cost should include the element of training & career development that the NHS provides but isn’t usually accounted for in the pricing of these services by those who commission them.

The NHS and whoever provide services in it must remain publicly funded and publicly accountable. While there may be some on the far right of the Conservative party (and the Brexit Party) who want to scrap the NHS, I along with most people in the UK want to keep it. I have no problem with any provider that passes these tests working with the NHS. Indeed, sometimes it is the new providers that can put into action better ways of working the NHS often finds hard to do and the “in-house” providers can learn from this.

The biggest threat to the NHS today is that since 2015 and the end of the Coalition, the NHS has been under attack by a right-wing Tory Government where many ministers seemed intent on replacing it with an American-style Insurance based health care system. It has been starved of funds and small scale, local healthcare partnerships have been squeezed out in favour of ever bigger Trusts or suppliers.

We definitely need a rethink. Perhaps a local cooperative of Therapists can provide a better, cheaper service than by the Trust employing those therapists with the added overhead of bureaucracy needed in any large organisation. While ever large Acute Trusts generate some saving in overheads, closing or moving services away from being provided locally have a cost that is harder to define in making it harder for less mobile people to access those services.

Most of all we need to increase the funding to all levels of the NHS and decrease the bureaucratic overload we are placing on Healthcare Professionals.

However, we must never allow the simplistic approach of Labour that reduces the arguments to slogans like ‘“Private” Bad – “Public” Good’ to go unchallenged. While the NHS must always remain in public control, how it delivers its services must always be a mixed economy of pubic & privately owned suppliers.

The Blame Game has started, but it won’t work.

The game of blame the EU for a no deal Brexit is in full swing. Johnson, Gove Raab and the rest of the non-entities that make up the current Government are desperate to obscure the fat that they either got it totally wrong in 2016, or they lied through their teeth during the Referendum.

Let’s look at the facts:
1) It is the UK, by it own volition, that triggered Article 50. The EU did not force May to write the dread letter.

2) When it triggered Article 50, the UK had no plan for the negotiations, what it wanted and how to achieve it. In contrast the EU has been prepared, focused, consistent and united.

3) Once it was triggered, the EU Members and Institutions had a responsibility to the other remaining members, to secure the Single Market’s integrity and to try to minimise the damage being done to the EU by Brexit. It had no responsibility to bail the UK out of a mess of it’s own making.

4) From the moment May became Prime Minister until the day she left office, she made no attempt to work with the other nations in the UK or with the other Political Parties (or even dissenting voices in her own party) insisting on doing every thing her way and ramming an Agreement through Cabinet

5) When the UK reject the original EU proposal to put the Single Market / Customs Union border with the UK through the Irish Sea (that was to leave Northern Ireland inside the SM/CU), the EU accepted the UKs replacement solution of the “backstop” which would keep the whole of the UK inside the SM/CU until a workable alternative for the UKs land border with the EU could be found.

6) Inspite of the ineptitude of the May Government, a Withdrawal Agreement was concluded and signed. It is not the EU’s fault that May had lost the support of her own party so could not get it through Parliament.

7) At every stage, UK politicians who back Brexit, have underestimated to resolve of the EU, failed to understand the political imperative across Europe that makes the EU more than an Economic Club (inspire of complaing thatvthat was exactly why they wanted to leave the EU) and that Brexit was always going to damage the UK far more than the EU.

So we are where we are, if we do get dragged out of the EU at the end of October, it won’t be Brussels fault, the blame is squarely on the politicians in the UK who got it spectacularly wrong in 2016, failed to plan for Brexit and mismanaged (indeed are still mismanaging) the negotiations with the EU.

Hope is the way forward

Memorial CandleThis evening (Tuesday 7th May 2019, 4th of Iyar 5779), and again tomorrow morning, Israel will fall silent for two minutes to remember the more than 23,000 of its soldiers who died in the many (too many) wars it has fought to gain Independence in 1948 and to defend itself since.

In a country where most adults will have gone through compulsory service in the Israeli Defence Forces  and still do regular stints in the Reserves, Memorial Day is always a very solemn and deeply felt day of remembrance.

However, this year, I will be remembering not just the Israeli dead but also those who died fighting against Israel.  All those who have been killed in these wars, Israeli or Arab, Jew, Muslim or Christian, has left behind grieving friends and family, every death has left a gap in someone’s life.  On both sides, some were horrible people who gloried in killing and some were peaceful and caught up in a fight they would prefer to avoid.  Many will have not fought for an ideology but just done what was expected of them by their family & society and paid the price of other’s decisions.

All, first and foremost, were people, humans like all of us, and as such deserve to be remembered.

I believe that the only way to finding a just solution for both Palestinians and Israelis is when ordinary people on both sides stop thinking of the those on the other side as “the enemy” and realise that they too are ordinary people, who want to live in peace, to earn enough to live on, to bring up children away from the threat of violence.

That is why tonight, I will be commemorating Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day.  Too many have died, continue to die, in a fight for a small sliver of land between the Jordan River & the Mediterranean Sea.  Even one more death, be it Palestinian or Israeli, is one more too many.

As so often when I think about the tragedy in Palestine/Israel, my thoughts turn to a poem written by Yonatan Gefen over 40 years ago, put to music and sung by David Broza, “Yihye Tov” (All Will be Good).

One verse says:

We will yet learn to live together
between the groves of olive trees
children will live without fear
without borders, without bomb-shelters
on graves grass will grow,
for peace and love,
one hundred years of war
but we have not lost hope.

I hope it will not take 100 years, but sooner, when my friends in both Palestine & Israel can live in peace, side by side.

We can, we must, live in hope!