Views

Kermit and the Tousle haired Eco-Warrior

When your Prime Minister begins to quote Kermit the Frog on climate change on the most important stage in the World, you know you are in trouble. 

Tom Peck writing in the Independent put it slightly differently “ With Trump gone , Britain is now the world’s leading international embarrassment “  From a Climate perspective you can see why. Big words and contrary actions, standard Johnson tactics, yet someone like Greta Thunberg might be able to read back to 2015 when he was still writing climate change denying articles. Do you remember the stare Greta gave to Trump? Can we forget it? “Greta meet Boris ,” stand back and enjoy. 

The worrying thing is that this lack of perception seems to be a feature of many things . Particularly planning for the impact of Brexit. You can forgive someone not being an outstanding economist but surely the fairly simple precept “ for every action there is a reaction” is not beyond the wit of Conservative politicians ? With the consequences of Brexit coming home to roost, Northern Ireland, shortage of drivers, fuel and  food shortages, you would have thought that this rather simple concept would be informative? 

Perhaps they might try some form of mitigation? But no, the Government is perpetually playing catch up and perpetually expounding the Brexit manta that they are taking back control when every evidence is that they are rapidly losing it 

The outcome is that they are applying a series of sticking plasters to a significant bleed out.

In writing this I promised myself that I would not just focus on one politician but with the so many exceptional examples of promise shedding by the Government, why deny myself? 

Grant Shapps, the gift that keeps on giving. 

I’ll leave the judgement on whether he is fit to govern anything at all,  to you . Google him it is eye opening . By his own admission he has a tendency to “ over-firmly deny “ minor things like having had a second job while still an MP. Here is an exercise for those of you with school age children  “ can we think of another word to describe “ over-firmly denying ?”  

But while Mr Shapps has give us full value for ridicule over the last few years it was really yesterday, Sunday that left me speech less. 

On the Marr show in excusing his own lack of action and capability as Transport Secretary  to predict this he actually said that the HGV Driver crisis was nothing new. It had been around for years!  Forgetting I assume that his own Party  has been in power since 2010 and you might have expected this to have been vectored in to the thinking around Brexit in 2016? But then prediction isn’t his strong point, he can’t even predict the impact of his next word. 

He went on to say that “ market adjustment” would deal with the driver crisis and it already is evidenced by a 4.2% increase in wages. 

There are three points he might have wanted to consider before throwing out that gem . 

Firstly, power companies are predicting increases of anywhere between 9 and 16% – one quoted 35% before spring. Because energy accounts for around 16% of the outgoings of poorer people compared to 1% of the rich will hit those who are less financially blessed. Then there is  the removal of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and the removal of the triple lock that will adversely affect those pensioners who are entirely dependant upon State pension . Finally he might also have wanted to look back at another Conservative politician Ian Macleod who created the word “Stagflation” when we had an underperforming economy and inflation . He referred to it as the worst of both worlds and “ grave.” Our economic situation is slightly different and could actually be worse. 

But I think the most compelling  faux pas ( not sure if the school Grant went to taught French but his Etonian chums will help him with that ) was denying that there was a fuel crisis or that it  was anything to do with the Government’s lack of forethought. He blamed  one of the road haulage associations for leaking information about driver shortages . Motorists ( its our fault too) needed to be “ sensible”  the crisis isn’t real it is “ manufactured .” 

About 12 hours later the Government was taking the drastic action of removing competition rules so that fuel companies could collaborate to deal with …the fuel crisis. Government U-turns have gone from months to weeks and now hours – this one even beat Marr’s own prediction that the next U-turn would probably be evidenced on Tuesday .

You get the sense that this Government might be slightly less hapless if it was Shapp-less. 

“ Market Adjustment “ was phrase he used, ministers are using it a lot. The notion as it relates to drivers is simple , pay that skill more and more will want to take it up. Shapps put it differently too, the notion that those coming off furlough may probably lose their jobs and thus would want to re- train . As if the hideous process of social disruption through the pandemic was in some way an economic boon . 

“ It’s the market you see? Clever eh ? “ ( My words, not his. Fore-fend that I put words in his mouth he does so well on his own) 

Well, no. Market adjustment is an outcome not a tool in economic theory. To achieve market adjustment you actually have to do something . 

“ But we have!! Temporary visas! And the Army will train some drivers, it is a plan !” 

No it isn’t. Offering roughly 3% of the drivers the sector says it needs temporary visas , hoping they forget the fact we asked them to leave in the first place, isn’t a plan it is a temporary fix. It aims to keep Government out of the papers until Xmas. Meanwhile they hope to keep the core promise of kicking out nasty foreigners so the market can “adjust.” I have a friend who is an HGV driver and voted for Brexit because they felt wages were being pushed down by the availability of foreign drivers . I could tell you what they think about this temporary fix, except I can’t repeat all the words here . But betrayal was one of them . 

The simplistic devotion of our Government to “ the market” to solve our social and economic problems is as foolish as the simplistic arguments behind Brexit . The Government says our economy is “ robust .” It isn’t, business is robust  and the economy and business are not the same thing . They are related but Business does not make economic policy, Government does and at present there is a vacuum where there needs to be policy. Sure the pandemic is an excuse, but all it has done is to highlight the underlying failings of the market led economy that is at the core of Conservative thinking . The excuse is wearing thin. 

“Levelling up “ is as distant from being an economic policy as is “ market adjustment .” Levelling up is a slogan no more that that and should be seen as such . 

I wonder if the next few months will be disruptive enough to cause people to take a good hard look at our politics right now? I’d love to quote it but I can’t find the article that said that in Europe our population is one of the least interested in politics. I do recall Dominic  Cummings referring to this lack of interest as one of the core benefits that was taken into the Brexit process. The notion is people want simple solutions, then back to reality TV, forgetting that they are central to the most compelling reality drama there is. It doesn’t get much more real than Climate Change and the potential collapse of the NHS . 

It is why Government feels able to dissolve long standing commitments that have defined us, like our commitment to International Aid, and the social contract with pensioners around the triple lock. 

Do people know that in the UK we pay pensioners 29% of the average wage while in terrible Euro land they see it differently ? In Iceland it is 75.7% of average earnings, in Denmark 80.2% . Austria 91.8%    ….I could go on. Actually I will, and average earnings are  higher in those  countries than in ours.  

And then there are alleged political shibboleths that no-one wants to take on and challenge . 

“Ah but those countries pay higher taxes !!” Even Labour at their own conference this weekend shied away from that one. Denmark certainly does pay higher taxes, the gap between the rich and the poor is one of the lowest in the world, they have one of the best Health systems and social  care systems and they are reported as one of the most “ content” populations in  the world with a sense that their Governments work for them and the future is secure for their children . Can we say the same?

Rather than levelling up there is a real argument for levelling down. 

From what? From political vanity projects like nuclear weapons, from continuing to tolerate the underpayment of taxes by multi-nationals, from tax avoidance by the super rich. I heard Andrew Neil speak last week on Question Time about the super rich relocating if we sought to tax them more. If they aren’t paying enough tax right now why not test it?  Another unbreakable shibboleth it seems . None of these are easy fixes but why are they untouchable ? 

Our economy ( not our businesses our academic intellectual property or our sense of entrepreneurialism ) is failing our people  and here is the rub, there is no evidence right now that there is an approach that is more attractive to the core voters in the South of England than a Conservative party that seems  not just incompetent but out of touch with the lives of real people . The evidence is that if Johnson calls an early election, he will get in again . Scotland will be getting on for 70 years since it voted for a Conservative Government and the Labour Party will probably tear itself . 

A friend referred to this as a “ war on the poor.” Hard to deny this and the battle ground will be over what looks like a particularly unpleasant “winter of discontent.”

In these circumstances, for Scotland at least, the case for Independence seems compelling. 

To return for a moment to our  Kermit loving tousle haired eco warrior, surely we deserve better than this ?

In his recent tour, leaders of other countries were lining up to deny claims Johnson had made that included them . One, astonishingly  was Bolsanaro of Brazil who claimed that Johnson asked him for a special trade deal so Brazil could provide us with Turkeys for Xmas . No 10 had “ no recollection of that discussion.” Who would you like to believe , Boris or a currently climate crisis denying Corona virus denier ? 

Come back Kermit, you are as ever, the voice of reason. 

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