About Me

My photo
Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Monday, 27 March 2017

No Minister

It is a strange week to be a UK blogger with pretensions to comment on current affairs.  There has been a terrorist attack in London and this Wednesday the process for Brexit will actually start.  I send all love and sympathy to those affected by the attack last week.  Any lives lost is too many.  However, I suppose we should be very thankful that it is twelve years since a major attack succeeded and very grateful for the professionalism and sacrifice of those who dealt with the events of last week.

And in a way that links to my thoughts about the Brexit 'triggering'.  I did not vote for Brexit and I greatly resent that such a momentous, complex decision has been made on the basis of one vote.  However, since our government are determined to stand by that one (very close) vote and exit the EU, I believe we now have to fight for the details of that exit.  

The British civil service is one of the major factors which has kept our country from stumbling into extremism.  With a big enough mandate, the elected government can push through what it wants in Parliament - as long as it keeps its own MPs happy.  But the detail of how things are actually implemented and what they mean further down the 'food chain' is very much influenced by what ministers are told is possible or by how civil servants interpret the demands of ministers.

Yes Minister, the 1980s sitcom about the civil service, runs very close to the bone.  (Sort of how I might prefer my husband think it was his idea to book a holiday - but on a much grander scale!)

I do not doubt there are civil servants at all levels who supported Brexit.  I should imagine dealing with EU law and institutions is very frustrating for a start.  And I myself did not vote Remain because I think the EU is perfect.  Far from it.  But I would have preferred to be working for change from within the grouping.  The loss of so many protections and freedoms in order to be free of bureaucracy was, in my opinion, too high a price to pay.  Especially for future generations.

The close protection officers who whisked Theresa May out of Parliament last week would have done so whoever was Prime Minister.  Our security services continue to perform their functions whichever party is in power.  In the same way, other civil servants keep government ticking over through elections, reshuffles, etc.  A short while ago, one of the newspapers saw fit to publish outlines of the plans for when the Queen dies.  They are drawn up according to past history and long experience.  To be implemented by the occupants of ministerial offices, regardless of party loyalties.

And now we desperately need our civil service to step up for the Brexit negotiations.  It is their job to be politically neutral and to do the best for our country.  Ministers are too driven by the big pictures, by election results, by social media.  What we need for the next two years is people who will focus not on their own concerns but on what is best for our future.  They may not have long experience of this issue.  There was apparently very little contingency work done before the vote.  But they do know how to get things done despite the politicos.

Some commentators have said the gates through which the attacker arrived at Parliament last week were a security weak spot.  In part because ministers and members insisted on to being able to get through quickly by car. 

The government's majority in Parliament means that 'No Minister' needs to be heard far more often and more firmly as we enter these talks.  Or who knows what will be let through in the interests of government supporters.  

Image result for yes minister

Monday, 20 March 2017

Ninety Years of No Change

Chuck Berry

This weekend, Chuck Berry died at the age of ninety.  His music was not my era but of course we all generally know who he was and have danced to his music.  Without his emergence, popular music ever since would have been very different.  And no matter someone is very old when they die, their loss is deeply felt by their family and friends.

I must admit, I actually had no idea he was still alive.  The grand age of ninety is still quite rare even in these days of life-extending medicines and treatments.  But if you think about what has happened in the world since Chuck Berry was born in 1926, the mind truly does boggle.  (His own life was quite a rollercoaster too but that is another story.)

In 1926, it was less than ten years since the Great War (they didn't know it was the First World War, of course).  The Wall Street Crash and the Depression had not happened.  The Second World War was yet to come.  To say nothing of the Cold War, the end of the Cold War and everything in between and after those.  This is not the place for a massive timeline.  But if we think about technology - few phones, no television, primitive radio and don't even think about computers and all they have brought to the world - we can see just a tiny bit of what has changed so dramatically in less than a century.

And yet.  Once again in this last week, we are being told of catastrophic famine in African countries.  The Middle East is a battleground.  Russia is showing signs of aggression and empire building.  Resources are very definitely not shared equally.  Millions still live in relatively the same conditions as their 1926 ancestors and millions have little expectation of living anywhere near as long as Chuck Berry did.

For example, according to Oxfam:

Just 62 people, 53 of them men, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire world population - or 3.6 billion people - according to a report released by anti-poverty charity Oxfam. And the richest 1 percent own more than the other 99 percent put together.17 Jan 2016
This was the situation in 2015.  I can't imagine it has changed much.  Click here for the list, if you can face looking at it.  It is depressing reading.

Isn't it a terrible indictment of our world that actually so little of real importance has changed in ninety years?  Food, health, shelter and peace for all.  Fairly fundamental requirements for a race, wouldn't you say?  But precious little chance of any of them being achieved across the board in the near future.  We can only guess at the state of the world in another ninety years time but humans'  track record so far is appalling.

By the way, the President of the USA in 1926, Calvin Coolidge, seems to have been a tad more sensible than today's incumbent (not difficult but whatever).  He wrote:

The words of a President have an enormous weight and 
ought not to be used indiscriminately.

Imagine his horror at the tweetings of Trump....

Monday, 13 March 2017

Not Endangered Enough

This weekend, there was a furore over remarks made by John Allan, the chairman of Tesco - apparently the UK's biggest retailer.  At an event aimed at encouraging more women and ethnic minorities into the UK's boardrooms, he apparently said 

“For a thousand years, men have got most of these jobs, the pendulum has swung very significantly the other way now and will do for the foreseeable future. If you are a white male, tough – you are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard.”

The headlines which were drawn from this were 'Tesco Chairman says white men are an endangered species in the boardroom'.  Accompanying reports construed the remarks as complaints.  From a white man who is one of twelve Tesco board members - nine of whom are white men.  Mr Allan's reposte to the criticism was that in the context of his speech - to an audience he was trying to encourage to aim for board level - he was actually supporting women and ethnic minorities.

What puzzles me, though, is how in 2017, we are only just finding white men in board rooms to be an endangered species.  It is almost a century since women got the vote.  It is over forty years since feminism really began to ramp up the pressure.  And yet at the UK's biggest retailer, there are still only three women board members - despite what must be a huge female clientele.

Why are we not angrier?  Why are white men only now endangered?  Why are they, well, not extinct but still appallingly dominant?  And as for ethnic minority representation...  

It is over twenty years since I started a job at the House of Commons.  I worked for one of just sixty female MPs.  It was a rampantly male environment, despite the departure of Thatcher only four years before I arrived.  It is nearly twenty years since I worked for a very well known investment bank.  Which still has not had a female leader, to my knowledge.  We currently have only our second female Prime Minister.  Not exactly vocal about women's place in the world though, is she?

I have written before of the need to stay united.  The Women's March must not be a moment.  It must be the start of something new.  We should be furious about wages and job prospects as well as about our right to abortion, contraception, personal safety.  Until women have more political and financial power, campaigns for other rights will revolve around trying to convince white men to do what we want, behave how we want.

Our ancestors, near and far, would be horrified at the lack of progress.  

Mr Allan was, it seems to me, trying to make a poor joke about how men should be worried for their positions in the coming years.  Actually, the issue is how this this 'joke' is still even relevant when it comes to numbers and representation.  Thanks to his own high profile, he has (unwittingly) called attention to the disgrace of the last hundred years.  How did it come to 2017 and men are only just endangered in the boardroom...

Monday, 6 March 2017

Ageism and the Age of Racism

I am coming to the end of a fortnight with my mother in law.  I will not bore you with the details - believe me, we would be here a while - but it has certainly focussed my mind on the many issues with how we are dealing with our ageing population.

Last week, we were told that the average life expectancy in the developed world will soon be ninety.  Whilst this is amazing, it brings with it a whole new raft of problems.  When I was sixteen and studying A Level Economics, I remember being told that in thirty years time, we would have all sorts of issues with not enough revenue or working-age people, pension deficits, etc.  And here we are in the midst of what was clearly so predictable that our education system was teaching it as fact.

Why are we not putting more energy and resources into dealing with this problem?  Besides it, immigration pales into insignificance as a 'problem'.  By the time my kids are their dotage (unless Trump has blown us all to kingdom come by then), life expectancy may well be nearing a hundred for the lucky majority.  Who will look after them?  Robots?

We have a responsibility to those who have worked and put into the system so far.  And we have a responsibility to future generations.  Our care system is broken.  Our precious National Health Service is at breaking point.  Despite the best efforts of very devoted staff.  Despite quite frankly a huge number of hard working immigrants who keep it from grinding to a halt altogether.

None of the people who voted for Brexit in order to get rid of immigrants seem to have thought about the many people who undoubtedly keep their lives running at the moment.  They certainly have not joined the dots to think about the future.  This is not just happening in the UK either.  The part of the world which has been clever enough to develop medicines and technology with its disproportionate wealth is now trying to pull up the drawbridge to those who provide the nuts and bolts of its privileged existence.  It's not just health. As another example, on a recent UK hotel break I worked out that if only the British-origin staff were available, there would be just one waiter, a maintenance man and a deputy manager from what I could see and hear of the staff and their accents.  Of course, if Trump, Le Pen and others have their way, we will not be able to welcome people from other countries to help us plug these gaps.  

Mind you, if you look at Nazi history, it was a relatively short step from restricting the Jews and others to 'solving the Problem' with killings.  Maybe we should also be worrying about the threat of ageism as well as the rampant racism and sexism from these people.