Don’t mention the B-word

July 23, 2021

It was never going to be freedom day, the slogan of choice for the Express. Even the PM has sounded increasing notes of caution as the proclaimed day of liberation approached…

As the media-claimed day of freedom approached, it was becoming increasing clear we are heading for seriously difficult waters in a ship that seemed to be holed somewhere below the waterline.

Just as liberation from Brexit day was to to leave unresolved legacy issues, so has freedom day. Even Brexit could not be completely banished by government edict (‘don’t mention the word Brexit’ Boris Johnson in Basil Faulty mode instructed his cabinet, shortly after the bongs for Brexit rang out). 

Now, even the invocation of the sacred vaccination figures is not enough to dispel fears that freedom remains a noble aspiration rather than lifetime change for the oppressed.

There may be other ways of dealing with Freedom day. I became aware of the way I have become possessed by an all-consuming project. It has become an unthinking way of life involving early morning scan of the newspapers, regular monitoring of news bulletins and political discussion programmes, dnd (since Covid 19 arrived) recording salient statistics of infection cases and mortality figures.

Once I realised what had happened to me, It took a split-second to break free.  I don’t need to do those things slavishly. I have a choice. I could end documentary evidence on the symbolically significant day. In that sense, it is my very own freedom day.

So what will I do next?


To be continued …


Cultural appetites: A new treatment of an old problem

July 7, 2021

In the run up to the England Germany Euros football clash,  a critical incident changed the way I had been thinking. It connected up a large number of problems of fake news, leadership behaviours, and what I had been seeing as dysfunctional social and political trends which have tended to be dismissed as naive popularism or maybe psychodrama.

Unusually, I can trace precisely how the idea of cultural appetites came about. In the tabloid media in the build-up to the match there had been outbursts of anti-German sentiments in the tabloids. The match itself started with vituperation against the German National anthem, and against the gesture of ‘taking the knee’ by both teams, as a gesture against racism in football, including against their own black team members. I witnessed a voluble minority of jeering fans acting as if impelled by events that happened before they or even their parents were born. Some form of inter-generational hatred was being transmitted. 

The Critical Incident

The critical incident for me came when I came across a tweet from an English ultra, immediately the match. He was exulting at the transmitted image of a 10 year old German fan in tears at her team’s defeat. He presumably expected he was echoing shared patriotic beliefs. The force of his expressed venom against a child’s anguish triggered an idea. I was watching a cultural appetite for cruelty against the innocent.  So there I had it. A new label for outbursts of irrational anger against perceived enemies. I could immediately see other examples I had come across . Recent examples were the so-called ‘woke’ wars, outcries against statues, and against the protests against statues. There were also the more complex sets of behaviours of entrenched advocates be it for or against Brexit, vaccination and individual freedoms such as the protests culminating the the tragic end to Trump’s presidency against what his supporters believed was ‘the big lie’ that was stealing the presidency.

In the first days since that football match, my initial reaction continued to survive scrutiny as one of those moments of creative insight I used to teach about. Sometimes, they lead to something valuable. In which case, as I was fond of quoting,  apparent inspiration needs to be accompanied by lots of perspiration for it to survive. 

[To be continued]


Dominic Cummings has his say

May 27, 2021

The much-trailed appearance before the ‘Lessons learned’ hearings at Westminster was as explosive and vindictive as was expected. But will it make a difference politically?

I report my notes without editing to capture the immediate impact of the seven hour marathon.

9.30am
The proceedings start.
Long preamble, by Chair Gregg Clark, setting the context amounting to an invitation to DC to make opening remarks starting at the time of the first lockdown. Later, other members of the committee some via distance communication ask questions. Chairman changes. These were not captured, but if needed for study purposes, will be found in the official HoC records.
DC hesitant, nervous even at first. Admits serious shortcomings of Western institutions at time of lockdown. Earliest concerns dated and documented in his carefully recorded documentation as 25 January, 2020. Regrets and apologises for ‘not following through’ with his concerns.
Clark: Was it the most important issue [for the Cabinet] ?
DC: Not at the time. Until mid Feb when it was taking ‘.. over 90% of my time. By the end of February were we on war footing [Concentrates on his own shortcomings, but mentions how PM and others ‘went on holiday’].
Clark: Attendance at Cobra meetings? DC sent others to Cobra meeting in February. Can’t remember if he attended [curious?]. Didn’t advise PM to attend. DC was advised outside the meetings by Chris and Patrick [Whitty and Vallance].
Clark: Turns to SAGE meetings which began 22 January. Again DC chose technical advisors to attend.
Is asked about revising the record in his blog. Denies altering a single word, but extended a quote from scientific article about Wuhan lab.
Herd immunity. DC Invited to set out key meetings.
DC. Confusion about term. Assumed no vaccines, then a peak might emerge that would be disastrous. Suppressing peak would only postpone it. Herd immunity believed inevitable. No one wanted it. [Rather rambling reply]
Official view to mid March, was that no lockdown was needed. The logic was flawed. DC was hearing concerns from experts. Texts to PM et al on March 11 a warning against postponing action. Now differences of opinion were emerging. DC wanted action.
Jeremy Hunt: Lessons learned?
DC: Too much secrecy. By 11 March already too late. Assumptions wrong about British public’s willingness to follow kinds of lockdown steps imposed in China.
Process ‘derailed on 12 March, by Trump’s Middle East military action’ which started to dominate Cobra. PM distracted by ‘girlfriend going crackers over a trivial matter’. DC advisors insisted to him that a plan B was needed.
On 14 March, PM told ‘we have to lockdown, we were told we have a plan but there is no plan … it became like a movie with everything going wrong’.
[IMHO An authentic account. At times self contradictory. Dismissive of behavioural science but then uses one such popular behavioural theory group-think to explain what happened.] Wuhan experience was ignored … testing was stopped … more groupthink.
Secretary of State [Matt Hancock] should have been fired for lying on several dozen occasion. I said this to the PM, so did other people. [Questioner, Rosie Cooper, ‘Oh dear!’]
Asked to justify his assertion of lying by MH. Gives specific examples, claiming they were corroborated by the Cabinet Secretary.
11.00am
The hearing continues. The timeline has reached mid March. PM believed the big danger was the economy. DC insisted it was not the Chancellor.
‘There’s something seriously wrong with an election system which offers a choice between Jeremy Corbin and Boris Johnson’
DC describes the basic difficulty was lack of clear accountability. This taught as inevitable as soon as roles are differentiated, in all business courses. DC Seems unaware of that. [Too trusting in views of the cleverest people and dismissing others, IMHO].
12.00 midday
Meanwhile also in Westminster, PMQs. For once, a sideshow. First exchanges as expected. KS draws on the enquiry taking place in a committee room nearby. The PM stock insult to KS is that he voted to stay in the EU Medical Agency.

12.30pm
Back to the committee room…
Test, trace and trace needed and would have to be built from scratch.
JH. Why did it take Sage so long?
DC. Unexpected complications, illness of PM, but particularly interference during April from Matt Hancock who wanted to meet his totally unnecessary100,000 target and big it up on TV.
Proper discussion only took place in middle of May.
JH. Delays made infection late too high for effective test and trace?
DC agrees. Now says key was failure to fire Matt Hancock. Repeats lying allegations.
Graham Stringer. Why didn’t PM take the advice to fire MH?
DC. Can’t say. Only speculation.
GS. Patients returned to care homes without testing.
DC. PM returns from illness, angry. MH assured him they were pre-tested [MH repeatedly the prime target of DC’s anger. PM imply to be more guilty of poor judgement in difficult times].
The Barnard Castle affair. More revelations. DC regrets undermining public confidence by not being open enough. Press handling was disastrous. Lesson, coverups are bad. [Again taught on business courses, and in practice they present fierce dilemmas].

[Immediate reaction. DC has provided an important personal account. Absences: Dido Harding. Michael Gove. Agenda: Apologise humbly, but forgets as he deals with his targets. Prime target: Hancock. Johnson is a secondary target: Tarnish not attempt to destroy him.]


Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose death has resulted in a critical moment for the Royal Family

April 10, 2021

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, died on 9th April, 2021, around midday. The news swept all other news aside. My day notes read as follows:

12.00 Midday

Global news. Prince Philip has died aged 99. An experienced BBC news broadcaster is almost breaking into tears. The oven-ready royal programme begins.

3.00pm

The overwhelming coverage of the life and death of Prince Philip has started across the media, but as might be expected led by the BBC. I mention to a receptionist at the sporting physio how tearful the BBC news reader had become. ‘Maybe it’s a female thing’ she says, misty eyes visible above her mask)

5.00pm

The Telegraph invites me to contribute to ‘Prince Philip Remembered (1921-2021)’ by joining ‘the tributes flooding in from across the world’ to be part of ‘our special commemorative supplement’ tomorrow’

9.00pm

Even CNN takes its news feed from Windsor, before eventually switching to the Chauvin trial.

10.30pm

BBC channels are now in blanket formation, sharing the official version of the news reports from Windsor, Buckingham Palace and beyond.  Parliament to be recalled ‘to pay their respects’. Not  clear if there is to be scope for other news. Overall, the treatment of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh by the BBC is likely to become regarded as a critical incident contributing to its future, for better or for worse. 


Saturday 10 April

6.00am

The papers. Easy to anticipate the who and the what. Interest mainly on the how. Answer, grief of the Queen, note of the duke’s logivity.

The Mail. ‘Farewell, my beloved. HISTORIC 144-PAGE ISSUE WITH MAGICAL SOUVENIR ISSUE’ (The Mail refuses to cede to any other paper in the fulsomeness of its declaration of empathy with the Queen’s loss) 

The Mirror. ‘Goodbye, my beloved. PRINCE PHILIP 1921-2021’ (the Queen’s grief, again)

The Sun. ‘we’re all weeping with you, Ma’am’ (The nation shares the Queen’s grief)

The Times. ‘Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, 1921-2021’ (Muted respect?)

The Guardian. ‘Prince Philip. 1921-2021’The i. 1921-2021: a life of duty’

The Telegraph. ‘HRH Prince Philip, the DUKE of EDINBURGH (1921-2021)

The Express. ‘After a lifetime of devotion to his wife, our Queen, and the nation…today we join Her Majesty in mourning the loss on an extraordinary man. DEEP SORROW’ (Only pedants would cavil over a few ambiguities in the paper’s expression of grief and loyalty to the Queen and her departed consort)

Canadian Broadcasting Centre, Toronto, Ontario.  ‘Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, dead at 99’ 
(The only international headline from over 30 scanned In which I find mention of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh). 


2.00pm

The internet has one topic of conversation. The treatment of the Prince’s death. The more vociferous tweeters are those considering the response of media, and particularly the BBC, has been overblown. This hardly competes with the overwhelming torrent of affection poring out from the MSM.
Numerous 41 gun salutes are discharged from land and sea. On twitter, someone asks churlishly if we still have 41 guns to fire. The BBC begins to disentangle itself from the stranglehold it has exerted on itself of all-channel coverage of the Duke (little news, much anecdotes of personal experiences from the highest in the land to humble recipients of his attention on one of his formal duties. There is the Grand National to cover, as well as the resumption of football, somehow having to be squeezed in but isolated from the death of Prince Philip. 
There seems every likelihood that we are witnessing a difficult time for the Monarchy. The most widely admired figure is The Queen. The unspoken thought is of the consequences to the nation’s psyche and mood if the unthinking were to happen, and the Queen were to die, while the events of the Duke’s death are still a focus of attention and discussion.


How Trump left the White House

January 20, 2021

On 20 September, President Trump left the White House and travelled via Joint Andrews Base to his Florida home. His departure was synchronised with the arrival of President Elect Joe Biden for his inauguration as POTUS No 50. For many people it will become a historic day marked in memory

I pick up the story with the CNN coverage (times are GMT)

1.00pm
Waiting for DT’s departure from the White House. A dribble of red carpet. The helicopter, Marine One, is standing by. A near-deserted scene despite his extensive invitation list. Vice-President Pence is absent.
1.30pm
A brief sighting of Trump and the First Lady crossing the red carpet, and moving quickly into
the ‘copter which leaves, and makes a brief circle around Washington, a city locked down, and guarded with armed troops. The departure has been timed for his final leg of the journey during which he will still departing President, entitled to leave on Air Force One at Andrews Military Base.
The arrival at Andrews is being orchestrated like one of his rallies. Trump makes a speech lauding his efforts. Says that the incoming administration is poised to take off, thanks to his efforts. Noticable that he makes no reference to Joe Biden during his remarks, Nor in his brief video prepared for the day.
2.00pm Split screen shots one of the Biden entourage arriving at Mass, and the other of Air Force One shown climbing on its way to Florida.

3.30pm President and Vice President elect and dignitaries arrive at the Capitol. Outside on the Mall, no crowds of thousands to share the occasion, but a vast field of flags representing the number of jubilant spectators who would have been granted admission tickets. Former Presidents and First ladies arrive. Special warmth shown for the Obamas, even with the relatively small assembly. Vice President Pence continues to depute for the ceremonies abandoned by Trump.

4.30pm. Ceremonials start. I note the regular wiping down of the podium after each speaker. A short prayer. A flag bearing. Lady Gaga for the national anthem. The girl can sing. With a minimum of flourishes ‘by Lady Gaga standards’ adds a commentator. Pledge of Alliance by a firefighter. Induction of Kamala Harris by Sonia Sonnermair. Groundbreaking in so many ways. Then Jennifer Lopez for America the Beautiful. Permission granted for a grand performance. John Roberts to administer the oath. A child cries softly in the background. Biden solemnly swears. It is ten minutes before power changes at midday.

Biden speaks. Success requires unity. My whole soul is with this cause. To fight enemies, extremism, anger, poverty, we can overcome the deadly virus. We can make America great again (!) . At moments of crisis we have come together. Can treat each other with dignity. We must meet this moment as the United (emphasis) States of America. Hear me out. Disagreement must not lead to disunity. I will be President for all Americans. We have a duty to defeat the lies. We must end this uncivil war. We can do this. We will need each other. To face this epidemic as one nation. We will get through this together. America has been tested. We will lead not just by the example of our power but the power of our example. [Calls for a silent prayer]. Repeats his sacred oath ‘to write an American story’.

An impressive speech. A man who made a mockery of those who mocked his speech frailties.


Leader of the Month is Mark Drakeford, First Minister of the Welsh Assembly

November 2, 2020
Mark Drakeford MS
Mark Drakeford



I have searched for new leaders for LWD leader of the Month, for October, although earlier winners could have made strong cases again. The winner for October 2020 is Mark Drakeford, First Minister of the Welsh Assembly

Earlier winners

As the month ends, Dr Fauci continues to make courageous statements urging more attention to be paid to medical opinion for public safety during America’s increasing Coronavirus crisis. He continues to receive cystic dismissal for his remarks by President Trump.

Then there is Marcus Rashford who adds to his remarkable year influencing political change by scoring a hat trick coming on as a second half substitute in a Premier League game for Manchester United.

The winner

However, for his cool and courageous efforts leading Wales into its ‘firewall’ against the virus, the award for October 2020 goes to Mark Drakeford, Leader of the Welsh Assembly. His patient daily presentations have contrasted with the the hyperbolic efforts of the Prime Minister and his media spokespersons (or surrogates, to use the North American term). 

Writing in the Guardian, Welsh exile Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett describes the impact of his leadership: 


‘On Friday [October 23, 2020] Wales began a two-week national “firebreak” Covid lockdown in an attempt to give some breathing space to its health service, which risks being overwhelmed by the rise in cases. It has not been without controversy – a ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items was criticised over the weekend. In the English press, the first minister, Mark Drakeford, and the Welsh government have been labelled as “clowns” who are trying to turn Wales “into a wartime, command economy: East Germany, except not as efficient, and with more sheep” (note the tedious xenophobia).

‘The criticism over the essential items rule is less about lockdown and more about what individuals consider “essential” during times of crisis (the government has now indicated that supermarkets will be allowed flexibility – hardly the actions of a Soviet dictatorship)’

In concluding,  Coslett notes

‘Covid-19 has given Wales a glimpse of what self-determination and autonomy could look like, and it’s inspiring. In times of great fear and uncertainty, having politicians that you feel you can trust is no small thing, and is not easily forgotten’.

Llongyfarchiadau. Da iawn, Mark Drakeford. [Congratulations, Well done, Mark Drayford]


Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain

July 10, 2020

Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, Fintan O’Toole, Head of Zeus press, 2018
Reviewed by TR

O’Toole provides an Irish perspective of Brexit. He brings to it an ironic style and viewpoint comparable with that of The Guardian’s John Crace. His central theme is an explanation of Brexit as a heroic failure, shaped in the English collective consciousness as failure dramatised as heroic, and implicitly through post-imperial exceptionalism, as heroic triumph.

Another Dunkirk moment

Brexit, he points out, is seen as another Dunkirk moment. Failure elevated to success, often associated with the Dunkirk spirit. He might well have added, associated with the will of the people. He compares Boris Johnson with Enoch Powell. I found that a bit of a stretch. I do not consider Johnson a racist any more than I consider Jeremy Corbyn anti-Semitic. (Powell I considered a deeply anguished racist at the time, and still do.)

Ironic distancing

However, O’Toole deepens my understanding of Johnson’s distasteful vocabulary by his argument that Powell and Johnson both cultivate a public persona of ironic distancing themselves from an era whose vocabulary they espouse. Johnson wrote of ‘the Queen being greeted by ‘flag-waving piccaninnies’. Powell wrote of a mythical old lady followed to the shops by ‘charming wide-grinning piccaninnies’. The measured archaic style is ‘something knowingly impish or unexpectedly camp, in his presentation of self’ (pp 100-101).’
Johnson’s language, O’Toole suggests, can be deconstructed as conforming to [Susan] Sontag’s definition of camp as ‘the love of the exaggerated…’ Just as Enoch Powell’s ‘weirdly arch manner ..gave a strange knowing theatricality even to his inflammatory racism’.
It seems the vivid vocabulary still deployed at times in BJ’s speeches is a reworking of a theme and style which included the invention of ‘the Brussels war on prawn cocktail flavour crisp. When the story is revealed as false, the schoolboy Boris is able to survive and profit from its exposure. A convincing explanation of how the child as father of the man escapes punishment.

History as nostalgic psychology

The demographics of the referendum vote show that a high proportion of older men with fewer educational qualifications voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU. Successive chapters build up an explanation  in what has become known as the psychodramatic approach.
It is a view contested by another Irish commentator Brian Hughes. In The Psychology of Brexit, Hughes considers the psychodrama approach as over-claiming the significance of England’s Imperial past and risking a treatment of ‘history as nostalgic psychology.

Overview

The debate continues. Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain is an enjoyable and thought-provoking contribution to the Brexit debate. I read it with pleasure for its fiercely expressed argument as well as its enviable style, which is as smooth as a well-known dark Irish beverage.

 


A long night in Paris by Dov Alfon

June 20, 2020

IMG_0363

Book Review. Dov Alfon (trans Daniella Zamir), A long night in Paris, Maclehose Quercus: London, 2018

Reviewed by Tudor Rickards

We thriller addicts are easy to please. All we want is a puzzle to be solved by interesting characters, told in way which moves on rapidly with a modicum of the unfamiliar amid the obligations of the genre.
On most counts, A long night in Paris works adequately. The main characters, Colonel Zeev Abadi, and sidekick Oriana Talmore are engaging superspies in Israeli intelligence. The plot is more than puzzling enough with assorted villains, supervillains, hit men and hit women connected together through a flight from TelAviv which arrives in Paris with a whirlwind of abductions and killings for no immediately obvious reason.
The translation feels smooth (to this reviewer ignorant of its original language). The spycraft is convincing. Minor characters have a chance to shine if they do not reach a premature end; and the violence is of the non-gratuitous kind. The puzzles are eventually resolved in a satisfactory way.
One minor distraction is the presence of one or two sub-plots which could have been left out by a little more editorial bullying.

Overall, worth a browse.

Rating ****


Marcus Rashford is LWD leader of the month for June 2020

June 16, 2020

 

Marcus Radford is LWD leader of the month for June 2020. He was figurehead of a campaign to persuade the government to change its policy towards free meals for schoolchildren during the summer break when schools were not open

A range of leaders were considered as candidates for Leader of the Month in our recent post. Their actions were to be overshadowed by the achievement and leadership style shown by Rashford subsequently over a period of days.

My notes below, from June 16, summarise the story

1.00pm

Breaking news. A government U-turn on vouchers for school meals. A triumph for Marcus Rashford’s campaign. I stop searching for the LWD leader of the month. The rapid closure of the story makes it easier to trace its key features.

Rashford has become a high-profile figure almost overnight. He presents himself as an articulate, dignified young man, with a convincing story which is easy to understand, backed up by his own experiences.

The PR pressure left the government with a classical dilemma, resist or accept the emotional potency of the case. Whatever prospect of succeeding vanished after a tweet from Therese Coffey:
‘Hi @MarcusRashford, I welcome your passion for supporting children and the most vulnerable in society – a passion we share. We are working to the same aim. I & this Govt will continue to actively help and support families and businesses through this emergency and beyond’
A tweet storm followed. Three hours later, the U-turn in advance of a debate on school meals scheduled for later this afternoon.


Leadership thoughts

Rashford’s rocketing celebrity helps counter-balance the virtues of the charismatic leader which increase at times of crisis. No one previously singled out the soft-spoken Rashford as a potential leader, even for a football team.
Searching for explanations in the numerous theories of leadership , I can glimpse explanations in the Level five leadership of Jim Collins. The leader who is ‘modest but with fierce resolve’. This was discussed for football leaders in an earlier post
The other theory is of the authentic leader. While many politicians seek to claim their humble backgrounds, they too often seem inauthentic. Rashford exhumes a genuine belief for the cause he has so successfully espoused.

A refreshing discovery that we need not disregard leaders who do not fit the contentious stereotype of a charismatic personality.


Leader of the month award: BLM candidates dominate

June 14, 2020

One figure dominated headlines and transcends any monthly award. George Floyd, for the impact his death had on the anti-racist moment around the world.  It was to lead to its own heroic figures of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement

Candidates

Superintendent Andy Bennett, for his crowd-control decisions during the Edward Colston demonstration in Bristol.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, partly for his soft-touch in the demonstration and his earlier leadership initiatives

Tennis player Coco Gauff, who spoke out over the George Floyd killing.

General Mattis, for his outspoken condemnation of his Commander in chief reported in a Sky Atlantic article

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President of Croatia, for popular leadership without merging into its more frequent undesirable popularist Aspects.

Other candidates

The list is still open for additional candidates.

Update: June 16 2020

Two more names added to the LWD Leader of the Month award.
Marcus Rashford lobbying for retention of school meals over the summer break
Patrick Hutchingson for rescuing a racist under attack during the weekend protests.