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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

External Cladding? Yes, we offer a range ...

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Should Politicians Try to Share People's Grief?

At the moment, here in the UK, we are looking for people to blame. I blame the voters. First, because they still vote Conservative which means putting into power those who only think of themselves and the interests of their sponsors. Second, and perhaps more important, because voters want so many irrelevant things from politicians that the politicians end up with little time for running the country.

A non-executive head of state is supposed to respond to national moods, whether of joy or grief. You expect the head of state to turn up at major sporting events and major disasters. Queen Elizabeth the Second has learnt the lesson of her mistakes in not turning up in Aberfan and not lowering the flag for Diana and, aged ninety, has turned up in Manchester and at Grenfell Tower. Unfortunately, partly because of her age and her strange clothing, it is all a bit awkward. But she has tried. Good for her.

The Queen’s awkwardness may be one reason why voters want their Prime Ministers and party leaders to act like symbolic heads of state too. They are also expected to turn out when the mood is joyful or grieving. Theresa May is no good at it and that’s enough to have sealed her fate. Jeremy Corbyn is much better and it’s improving his popularity no end.

But what is the threshold of joy or grief which requires a leader’s appearance on the scene? True, sometimes they may learn something which won’t be in the reports landing on their desk. Those at the top are often isolated by the butt-covering bureaucrats around them. So they have no choice but to go out and meet and greet and hopefully learn something. But most of the time, it would probably be a better use of their time if they stayed at their desk, reading the reports and working the phones. It’s not clear that their job is to make an appearance for no other reason than to show that they care. If we had more confidence in them, we would accept that caring would often mean that they remained hidden from our view as they got on with their job on our behalf. Our leaders are now as visible as that chap in North Korea, who is photographed everywhere, day in and day out, but who doesn’t care a fig for anyone.

Likewise, we have developed this idea that a politician must appear daily on the steps of Downing Street or on a TV chat show. What are we hoping for? Why can’t we leave them alone for five minutes to get on with running the country? Stalin got through World War Two with just one radio broadcast. He was a very hard worker. Curiously, when he wanted to show that something – the death of Roosevelt – mattered, he walked across Red Square to the US Embassy to sign the book of condolences.  I don't think anyone had seen Stalin walk anywhere before.

Politics has become so ridiculously short term (a day in politics is a long time) that we don’t see that this is one reason why our country has no long term future. We are like goldfish and simply cannot grasp that serious executive leaders will need to be left alone to get on with things and that those things include long-term strategic planning and long-term oversight of major policies. They are not cheer-leaders or professional mourners.

Things are unlikely to change because now we are in a competitive situation where each leader has to prove that they have more empathy than the others at times of tragedy. They are unlikely to sit down together and agree a threshold for scrapping their regular work and turning out on the street. Nor are they going to delegate and let a deputy go, or someone with relevant expertise. That would be passing up a photo opportunity to a potential rival.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Guardian and the multiplication of identities

The more you multiply identities, the more difficult it is to satisfy everybody. The Guardian now exists because of the dissatisfaction it creates by needlessly multiplying identities.

Last week, when the UKs General Election results were in, The Guardian produced a photo gallery of selected new MPs, selected because they visibly represented identities which are (or are supposed to be) under-represented in the House of Commons. Forget about political values, what matters to The Guardian is identities. What I found exasperating were two things.

First, that The Guardian is interested in photogenic identities. Being a Sikh male is terribly helpful in this context. But does The Guardian really suppose that identities are always visible to the camera? 

Atheists, agnostics, humanists and many other identities do not yield to the camera and so they do not appear worthy of representation. I suppose that the camera is one reason why The Guardian comes across as a religious newspaper, defender of the faiths.

Second, it made it appear that all those new MPs who don’t take the right picture somehow don’t count. The Guardian clearly has a tick box list of identities which are cool and identities which aren’t. But maybe lurking among those unseen, boring new MPs there are interesting identities yet to be discovered and, perhaps more importantly, people committed to political values worth having represented in the House of Commons. 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Beware over-confidence, Mr Corbyn

Rasputin (Nick Timothy) is dead, killed off by the aristocracy of the National Conservatives. Tsaritsa Theresa is, in the words of another Tory aristocrat, a dead woman walking. 

But the Bolsheviks should not get too cocky. True, they should seize their advantage and seek to ensure that Mrs May goes sooner rather than later. But the best – and really the only - way to do this is to bring on side as many MPs as possible and that could include Mensheviks, Social  Revolutionaries and even dissident Kadets. It only needs two or three Tories to break ranks over a deal with the reactionary Democratic Unionist Party and Mrs May is finished anyway.  Think Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston.

Mr Corbyn understands this. But there are almost certainly others who do not, imagining that one can seize power anyway, majority in Parliament or no majority. They understand correctly that there has to be a shove, a will to win, but probably underestimate how hard it is to come out on top in the British political system. Very few have ever managed it.

British voters are fickle (they have shown that repeatedly; who would want to be a politician?) though it is true that a completely dysfunctional electoral system amplifies that in a Tory-favouring way. One constant is a dislike of cockiness, over-confidence, hubris – call it what you will. And they have a perennial soft spot for underdogs and they don’t like to see a man (or woman) kicked when they are down. So Mr Corbyn has to navigate carefully. 

Not least, he needs to strengthen his team, and if that means putting Yvette Cooper in as Shadow Home Secretary then he should do it and sort things out later with the hapless Diane Abbott. And if it means putting out feelers in all directions, he should.

Nicola Sturgeon is currently paying the price for over-playing her own hand. By trying to turn the pro-EU vote in Scotland into a pro-Independence vote she has ended up reducing what was a genuine and enthusiastic popular base of support.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Can You Identify Who This Is?

Click On Image to Magnify

Star of Stage or Screen? Comedian or Dancer? Music Hall Entertainer? Best Man? Royal Ascot owner of a string of horses? 

Study carefully  ... note the top pocket handkerchief, the button hole, the cuffs, the watch, the pinky-ring ...

No, it's not Prince Charles. It's a different Prince of Wales, photographed ninety years ago:

Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, born 1894, a man close enough to National Socialism to be interned at the safe distance of  the Bahamas for the duration of World War Two.

The photograph is on a Tucks'picture postcard, designed for popular purchase.