Weekly News Review
Editors Weekly Poke: This week’s eye-rolling moment for the general public over this farcical government was the anticipated announcement of the vaccine. The usual suspects were spreading their lies like Matt Hancock, Alok Sharma and Jacob-Rees Mogg about how Britain managed to authorise the vaccine and that it was Brexit that allowed it. A Downing Street briefing ended up confirming authorisation of the vaccine depended on EU rules that are in force until the end of the year to stop embarrassing itself any further (source). Two other points these deceitful characters omitted was that Pfizer, a company that had been researching and manufacturing pharmaceuticals in the UK for over 50 years, closed its operations, including two major manufacturing units in 2016 and moved to Belgium (source). The other inconvenient fact is that the Brexit transition period has just 21 days (a dozen working days) left before cross-border medical supplies, could technically be held up in a no-deal scenario. The government has used this announcement to wrap itself in glory – when it is totally unjustified on so many levels.
Typical of government incompetence over any sizeable project is the news from the Public Accounts Committee that confirms ignorance, incompetence and weak oversight is to blame for Britain’s nuclear sites costing taxpayers ‘astronomical’ sums of cash. Nuclear News and various newspaper outlets report that the results of decades of weak government oversight, combined with a “sorry saga” of incompetence and failure, has left future generations of UK taxpayers with a bill of £132bn (and counting) to decommission civil nuclear sites. Unbelievably, the work is not expected to be completed for another 120 years (source).
From the Libre system for magistrates, the NHS national IT programme, Defence Information Infrastructure and on to HS2 – successive governments, have piled hundreds of billions of taxpayers cash into white elephants in exchange for sound-bites and propagandising their failed so-called reforming projects. Of course, the biggest by far is yet to come – Brexit. But there’s another failure of government that everyone should be shocked about. Britain now has more foodbanks than branches of McDonald’s and Burger King combined (source). The numbers are horrific. Food banks delivered 40 thousand emergency food parcels in 2010. Each successive year has seen a new record – with the year 2019/20 delivering almost two million emergency three-day food parcels (source). The effects of Covid and Brexit are set to ensure another record-breaker next year. There’s plenty of money for the failed efforts of privatisation to combat the pandemic, to shower cronies and crooks in billions – but very little to combat citizen hunger or rapidly rising poverty.
As it has turned out – and probably of little surprise, the UK has spent more money fighting coronavirus than almost all comparable countries but still languishes towards the bottom of league tables of economic performance in 2020 and deaths caused by the virus, according to Financial Times research (source). Once again, the numbers are shameful. Compared with the average of other G7 leading economies, the cost to the UK government is set to be over 80 per cent more, while the UK is also on course to suffer a 90 per cent deeper decline in economic output in 2020 and almost 60 per cent more deaths.
It’s a sad fact of life that when we needed a competent government more than ever, we got Boris Johnson and his faction of sycophants. They are directly responsible for many lost lives, lost businesses – leading to unpayable debt, lost homes and so much more. What a tragedy.
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The collapses of Philip Green’s Arcadia group is no also surprise and was not caused by Covid. It folded because it was built on the dodgy foundations of tax-dodging, scams, accounting tricks, hubris and most of all Green’s aggressive and extractive attitude to everything. He’s an asset stripper that drip-fed profits into tax havens and re-invested the least amount possible to update these businesses. The only surprise was how long the sham lasted. Debenham’s is much the same story. The 242-year-old business, that just 14 years ago was listed on the stock exchange for £1.6bn collapsed because it expanded too fast, was immersed in debt, didn’t keep up with trends, didn’t invest, paid dividends when it shouldn’t and was managed in an extractive and incompetent manner. The only thing I’m sure we all feel for are the 25,000 plus employees and the pension funds that no doubt will be propped up at some point by the taxpayer.
The only chance Britain really has now is the vaccine and as it gets rolled out, the anti-vaxxers are having their moment of glory. The consequence is that the government have set the British army (77th Brigade) on to them. The anti-vaxxers are simply refusing to engage with what the majority do – listen to the scientists and have a bit of faith. Their mentality is not best suited to any national crises. They attempt to stoke some sort of national machismo into a subject that suits them – and dupe people who are now so confused about the world that any explanation will do. They refuse to believe that the trade-off between lives lost and the lost economy is unacceptable. The truth and the reality is that they are far more likely to be killed driving to the GP to get a jab than be negatively affected by it, let alone die from it. However, it has to be said that this government and especially this Prime Minister lied thier way into office and so asking the entire country to believe them was always going to be a big ask.
More Really Big News
At the time of writing (Thursday late PM) the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier will have briefed ambassadors in a meeting happening at 7.30 a.m. U.K. time. The FT reports Barnier is coming under pressure from EU capitals for apparently compromising too far in the talks already. There are “concerns in some capitals that the European Commission is poised to give away too much ground in the endgame of negotiations,” with French President Emmanuel Macron apparently the most unhappy. Barnier’s briefing “is intended to steady nerves and provide an update on talks that may conclude in the coming days.” This means an announcement is imminent. Unfortunately, it looks like EU members have had enough – reiterated their red lines – which reflects a “growing fear that a deal really won’t happen” (source). In another hint that Brexit talks have failed – the FT also reports: “Business leaders have been told to be ready for a conference call with Michael Gove, Cabinet Office minister, on Thursday, sparking speculation that the talks could reach a climax this week.” Part of the reason is that – “Britain is trying to avoid being left weaponless in a trade dispute with the U.S. after Brexit, as legal issues surround its ability to levy retaliatory tariffs on Washington.” That article goes on to explain that the U.K. has been caught up in the years-long battle between the U.S. and EU over the subsidies given to makers of civil aircraft, the European multinational Airbus, and the United States’ Boeing. Now, as it tries to pursue an independent trade policy from January 1, Britain could suffer the consequences of the dispute — without a means to hit back” (source). In other words – Britain is in a lose-lose battle and is trying to find somewhere without crash-landing.
18 Per Cent – Let that number sink in. In an article in The Grocer, food industry chiefs are fuming with the continued threat of a no-deal Brexit and warn – “In the event of a no-deal Brexit, shoppers will, literally, pay a heavy price. Imported food and drink from the EU will face eye-watering tariffs averaging 18%, kick-starting price rises. At the same time, border delays and disruption will bring further costs which will not be subsumed by industry. A no-deal outcome is bad for food and drink businesses, bad for food security, and bad for every household in Great Britain” (source). With an average UK household expenditure on food (not drink) alone of £280 per month, this equates to an inflationary effect of over £600 a year or 2.1 months of food shopping (source) which would force tens of thousands more families into poverty.
Right now, the UK is prepping up its announcement that will either herald an agreed deal or blame this catastrophic failure by the state on the EU. By all accounts we are a day or so from the type of news that changes the course of history.
Inside ‘Drowning’ Street
Small Print: Boris Johnson has been accused of trying to bury bad news after the government quietly ditched his pledge to give all homes superfast broadband by 2025. Johnson came under fire from business and telecoms chiefs as the small print of the chancellor’s spending review revealed that planned spending on the roll-out of the technology had also been slashed from £5bn to £1.2bn.
Power Grab: Boris Johnson’s aversion to democracy (after getting into power) continues. Silencing journalists, threatening judges and the Supreme Court, blacklisting media operations and curtailing public interest information simply isn’t enough. Now he’s going to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament’s Act. Most of the mainstream media are against it with The Times kicking off their article with the words – “Boris Johnson will start to claw back the power to call an election today with a warning to judges to keep out of decisions to bring parliaments to a close” (source). Johnson is using last years Brexit stalemate as the excuse to repeal the Act to call an election when it suits and of course, when most likely to win one. With four years to go, in the midst of a pandemic and Brexit banging on the front door – you would think that parliamentary time would be better spent focusing on the seriously big issues of the day. Makes you wonder, why this is so urgent, doesn’t it?
Poverty Timebomb: The government has another headache that at the moment is shrouded by the pandemic but will almost certainly rear its head in the not too distant future. According to a recent report, almost 700,000 people in the UK, including 120,000 children, have been plunged into poverty as a result of the Covid economic crisis. Worse still is the number teetering on the very edge. An additional 700,000 people had been prevented from falling below the breadline by the chancellor’s temporary £20-a-week boost to universal credit, introduced in April (due to end April 2021) to help claimants cope with the extra costs of the pandemic. This means that a quarter of the UK’s population is now living in poverty – and that’s without unknown numbers of newly unemployed in 2021 – expected to go up another million (source).
Research the Researchers: The influence of the hard-right Brexit headbangers within the ERG have left a legacy more than just Brexit. The Tory 2019 intake, have decided to create an ERG/CRG-style caucus to “formalise the group’s influence.” The election of a chair will take place December 16 (source – be careful this link goes to the hard-right Guido website). The ‘Red Wall’ also have their own NRG or Northern Research Group as does another group who laughingly call themselves the ‘One Nation Caucus Group’ which was formed in March last year (source). The ‘One Nation’ group demanded that a ‘no-deal pledge’ must not appear at the last election – hardly a unifying position for a one-nation pressure group where half the population disagree. To keep up, perhaps a taxpayer-funded (as all these groups are) ‘Researchers of Research Groups’ should be formed to find out what is actually going on in an increasingly faction driven Tory party.
Another Research Group: The ‘China Research Group’ launches its policy paper this week spelling out what measures it feels the government should take on Beijing. It will include recommendations of a stronger sanctions regime and tighter checks on goods from China (source), meaning sanctions by the Chinese over British goods. Excellent news for ‘Global Britain.’
Reality Check: This week is crunch week. If a deal is not announced in the next few days, then it’s no deal (or an extension to the transition period). Both sides know there is no time left. The British government have been reckless at best to have a game of brickmanship involving hundreds of thousands of businesses and millions of jobs as trade-offs. By all accounts, we’re down to fish – nothing more than the iconography of its own machismo given that 99.8 per cent of the economy has nothing to do with fish. As Richard Murphy from Tax Research UK says – “Let’s do some context setting for the Brexit negotiations. There are fewer jobs in UK fishing than there were in Arcadia and Debenhams. And less turnover. The government will let the retailers go but trash the economy for fish. Why, oh why, oh why?” (source).
Britain holds none of the cards. Some in Brussels think no-deal might focus minds in London. “When they gather the size of the disruption, they will start knocking on our door soon enough,” one EU official said. In retaliation to this comment – London has suggested that it won’t return to talks immediately after a no-deal exit. At that point – ‘project fear’ turns into ‘project – really scary stuff of reality nightmares.’
Technically, it is possible that talks could continue until December 31st – as if the country needs to hold its breath that long. Another theory is that the government are wearing the nation down on Brexit so that any deal will be an acceptable one – because whatever happens, Brexit has proven beyond any doubt there are nowhere near the upsides as promised.
As for fish – the reality here is quite simple. If the UK ends up with no deal, British fishermen might catch more fish but they won’t be able to sell them because of EU tariffs. The FT reports that 80 per cent of fish from fishing ports is sent straight over to the continent (source).
Failure of Statesmanship: “A no-deal Brexit is far more likely than anyone is prepared to admit,” so says former Tory leader William Hague who opines in the Telegraph, warning: “For national leaders not to assert themselves and force a solution later this week — if none is forthcoming from the talks — would be a failure of statesmanship.” For a man who once said – “I’m going to reduce the size of the Cabinet, cut the number of ministers, reduce the size of the House of Commons and halve the number of political advisers” none of which remotely happened, a failure of statesmanship appears to be the Tory norm these days (source).
Covid Dividend: Supermarkets received £1.36bn of business rates relief, without any conditions attached. Tesco, Sainsbury and Wm Morrison then went ahead and declared dividends of £1.35bn. This can only be seen as a cynical tactic of these companies to opportunistically fleece the taxpayer. Fun fact – £1 in every £6 of rates relief went to the Big Four supermarkets, which have recorded strong sales during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is, in essence, a huge wealth transfer from taxpayers to shareholders and executives, and is both unwarranted and immoral. Bill Grimsey, who previously held senior roles at Tesco and Iceland Foods, told a parliamentary committee recently that supermarkets “have had a great time” and that help going to food retailers through the business rates holiday “could have been spent on supporting the smaller businesses that need it.” Since then, Tesco is said it will return £545m – expect the others to follow suit as they will not want the negative consumer backlash for not doing so (source).
Border Catastrophe: As reported by TruePublica months ago – the government was accused just this week – with less than a month to go before the Brexit transition period ends, of presiding over a potential “catastrophe” as it emerged that not enough customs agents had been trained to handle a surge in demand caused by Brexit. Official figures suggest, that despite Michael Gove’s attempts to explain, this could result in up to 100 million consignments being sent across the border without the right paperwork and left waiting for the correct clearance. The government was warned that there was a “risk of serious disruption and delay” at Channel crossings at the end of this month even if a deal is struck with the EU (source).
Free Homes: A former Tory councillor who secured £276m in PPE contracts without tender has bought a £250k holiday home in Cornwall and a house for his parents – but only after buying a £1.5m Cotswolds home and paid himself £500k. Steve Dechan is the owner of Platform-14, which is a Gloucestershire firm that recorded a loss of almost £500,000 last year (source).
Government by pub snack: 13th October: Robert Jenrick says a Cornish Pasty is not a substantial meal unless served with chips and a side salad. 30th November: George Eustice says a Scotch Egg is a substantial meal, as it can be served as a starter. 1st December – 55 Tory MPs opposed Boris Johnson’s new coronavirus tiers despite him pleading with them as they cast their votes. From here, Johnson knows he’s all but lost control of managing the pandemic and can now only hope the spring months slow it and that the vaccine distribution isn’t a catastrophe as everything else has been so far.
Inside the Economy
BBC: Twenty-four leading economists have complained to the director-general of the BBC that it misled viewers about the scale of government borrowing. The group, mainly comprising academic economists, wrote to Tim Davie that the BBC’s commentary on last week’s spending review “misrepresents the financial constraints facing the government and reproduces a number of misconceptions surrounding macroeconomics and the public finances”. The letter comes after Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC political editor, said on Politics Live that the nation’s finances were “the credit card, the national mortgage, everything absolutely maxed out” and that there was “no money” left, which is wrong on every level (source).
Thatcherism Failed: Last week saw the 30th anniversary of Thatcher’s resignation. Looking back, the project failed. In 1979 we all owned our shared utilities, and 40% of us also held shares in British companies. By 2012, 12% of us owned shares and the rest owned nothing. And since then it has not improved. Brexit promises one thing – to do more of the same, concentrate wealth and raise inequality to levels not seen in Britain for a very long time (source).
Recipe for Disaster: A recent Whitehall survey that found 36 per cent of small and medium-sized firms expected the Brexit transition period to be extended. The committee said that this was despite the government spending £4.4 billion on preparing for EU withdrawal that thousands of businesses have ignored as they have been focusing on the pandemic and didn’t believe the government would, in fact, start 2021 with a no-deal Brexit given the gravity of the situation. “Pretending that things you don’t want to happen are not going to happen is not a recipe for government — it is a recipe for disaster,” Meg Hillier, the Public Accounts Committee chair said (source).
Quotes of the Week
“In 2016, the House of Commons voted to strip Sir Philip Green of his knighthood. Would Cameron, May or Johnson care to tell us why they have not acted?” – David Osland, political commentator on ‘Sir’ Philip Green’s business empire collapse (source).
“The cost of a first-class stamp to rise by 9p to 85p. All for worse service. I remember when we used to get 2 deliveries a day. Now they want to end Saturday deliveries. Soon they will say that the post volume has decreased & another price rise is needed”. Prem Sikka – Emeritus Professor of Accounting commenting on the Royal Mail stamp increase of 9p to 85p for a first-class stamp (source).
Freedom of Information: Under this government, censorship of information in the public interest held by government agencies is becoming a serious problem. One investigation found a cynical tactic for avoiding Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, that central government is becoming more secretive, response times and even responding at all to legally allowed information is either delayed or blocked completely, and errors in responses were rife (source).
Assange: The co-chair of the global Media Freedom Coalition called for guarantees for the safety of journalists in the context of the pandemic. The co-signatories of this guarantee were – Canada, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, USA and UK (source). Hypocrisy continues in the UK and USA as in the UK, Julian Assange is at high risk in Covid-ridden Belmarsh prison. Assange has spent the last 14 days locked in his cell in solitary confinement (source) unable to speak to anyone including family or his legal team.
Declassified: Media organisation Declassified UK was blacklisted by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence agency, internal emails from the organisation show. GCHQ staff said they would “not be engaging further” with Matt Kennard, Declassified’s head of investigations, and decided to “ignore” his requests for information on articles he was writing about a controversial GCHQ programme in British schools (source). This action is an addition to being blacklisted by the government including the military.
Recommended Weekend Reading
Covid USA: An interesting Twitter thread about the Covid crisis in the USA, which starts with the words – “For months, healthcare professionals have been hanging on to the guardrails of the top deck of the Titanic. We have been screaming at the top of our lungs that there is an iceberg dead ahead and begging the captain to turn the wheel.” This is a revealing exposé of healthcare reality in America, where deaths are now averaging ten times annual flu deaths and demonstrates the very worst that happens if Covid says your time is up (READ MORE).
Last Minute Fury: The Industry body Logistics UK has reacted with utter “incredulity” to the announcement last week by the government of the setting up of the ‘Brexit Business Task Force’ with less than 30 working days to go before January 1st (READ MORE).
Covid-19: politicisation, “corruption,” and suppression of science: Here’s a piece from the editors of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that starts off with the words – “When good science is suppressed by the medical-political complex, people die.” This is worth the read because as this piece says – Covid-19 has unleashed state corruption on a grand scale, and it is harmful to public health (READ MORE).
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