Saturday 6 November

During the week our prime minister continued to downplay the likely effectiveness of COP26, admitting that the preceding G20 summit of world leaders in Rome had failed to ‘step up to the plate’ regarding action on climate change. Despite the efforts of some politicians to marginalise Greta Thunberg, it will have a marked impact that she’s just declared COP26 ‘a failure’ and what has been the price tag for this conference, we have to wonder. One interesting issue to emerge this week, generally overlooked, I suspect, is the amount of waste generated by the wedding industry. It begs the question as to how those in the fairly new career of wedding planning are taking this into account.

Whatever the conundrums and vagaries of this conference, though, it seems an extraordinary example of shooting himself and the UK in the foot for Boris Johnson to allow what amounts to a significant undermining of Parliament and democracy to be witnessed all over the world. Not to mention his decision to take a private jet to attend a dinner with Lord Charles Moore on Tuesday at the men-only Garrick Club, actions of this kind being a contradiction of what COP is surely all about. Unless he considered himself let off the hook given that there was no fewer than 52 private jets at COP. Not surprisingly, the PM is seen as ‘a clown’ by foreign media, presiding over ‘chaotic organisation’ at the summit, according to France’s Liberation, Le Monde commenting on the ‘apparent nonchalance’ from the British side. ‘He (Johnson) seems a lot more interested in re-litigating Brexit with Brussels than with convincing global leaders to raise their CO2 reduction targets’.

This week saw the dramatic playing out of a series of events emanating from attempts by fellow Conservatives to rally around the disgraced MP, Owen Paterson, who had been found guilty of breaching lobbying rules, then facing a 30 day suspension from the Commons. It could be seen as a good example of karma: what Paterson might well have assumed was a letting off the hook enabled by Andrea Leadsom’s proposed amendment to reform the system of evaluating MPs’ conduct then becoming a worse nightmare following the government’s U-turn in the face of a public backlash, leading to his resignation. Thursday was described by the BBC as ‘a tumultuous day in politics’, putting it mildly when the shameless attempt to throw the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards under the bus and its aftermath amount to a serious attack on parliamentary government.

The Guardian usefully analyses what rules Paterson broke, his defence and the evidence, deconstructing his arguments about his allegedly altruistic motives in raising issues of food safety, about use of his parliamentary office for private work and failure to disclose interests. ‘The combination of factors led to the commissioner saying Paterson’s breaches “were so serious and so numerous that they risked damaging public trust” in the House of Commons and in MPs generally’. This led to Paterson playing the victim card, saying he had not received a fair hearing.

Boris Johnson leaving Jacob Rees-Mogg to make the U-turn announcement was not surprising, as we’ve seen how often he’s  managed to avoid challenging situations, this time leaving those successfully whipped to vote for the amendment looking pretty foolish besides unprincipled. It also wasn’t surprising to learn that Paterson himself knew nothing in advance about the U-turn and had been in the supermarket when he received a BBC reporter phone call about it. At least now serious questions have been raised about lobbying and MPs having second jobs. There will be an emergency Commons debate on Monday on these issues so it will be interesting to see what emerges from that.

The Leadsom amendment attracted a shocking number of signatories (nevertheless passing by only a narrow margin, 250 to 232), causing many at Twitter’s My MP hashtag to post photos of their MPs who had effectively voted to sanction corruption. It also wasn’t lost on commentators that 22 of the signatories had themselves been investigated or were currently being investigated by the Commissioner. Commentators are rightly noting the lack of accountability underpinning these events, for example Simon Jenkins: ‘At such moments, we must ask who guards the guardians. Downing Street has clearly treated parliament as a populist assembly, a lapdog to executive power. That 250 Tory MPs on Wednesday night, after damning dozens of ordinary MPs such as Keith Vaz and Ian Paisley for unethical behaviour, could obey Johnson’s orders to bail out his friend is, if anything, more awful than Johnson’s own decision…. After months of purges, there is no one left in the cabinet who is willing to hold the prime minister to account’.

There are just so many extraordinary and shaming elements of this pantomime, including Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s suggestion (before the U-turn, of course) that the Commissioner should ‘consider her position’ when she had simply done her job; MP Peter Bone’s disproportionate complaint about his constituency office being ‘vandalised’, scaring his staff, when it was just graffiti outside; Jacob Rees-Mogg’s attempt to justify the U-turn in terms of arguments first advanced by Labour; and Owen Paterson’s own self-pitying narrative, saying he would remain a ‘public servant’ outside the ‘cruel world of politics’. All of these smack of entitlement and lack of awareness besides seriously undermining the integrity of Parliament. Today a regular Uber user told me at least four drivers had recently asked her whether we’re living in a banana republic, that they were used to corruption in their own countries but they hadn’t expected to see it here. Meanwhile, not surprisingly though they have been naive in the extreme, we hear Johnson is facing a backlash from furious MPs. One senior backbencher disclosed: ‘You cannot overestimate the level of anger among colleagues who were told to vote for this rotten amendment’.

The drama gave rise to a volley of tweets, including at least one which questioned Paterson’s suggestion that the investigation had contributed to his wife’s suicide: ‘When Owen Paterson appeared on BBC Woman’s Hour a few months ago, he said he no real idea why his wife committed suicide…he’s giving this as a reason only since he was found to have broken Parliamentary standards’. What has also caused alarm is the BBC’s increasing control of the news agenda by ignoring this elephant in the room, leading on the racism in cricket debate and discussing anything under the sun to avoid the political debacle. An observer tweeted: ‘The BBC has lost the news again. Whilst everyone else is talking about Tory Sleaze, Radio 4 chooses to prioritise the cricket story. Transparent and shameful manufacturing of the agenda’. It’s good news that despite efforts to trash her reputation, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, is said to be undeterred and that she will continue in post until the end of her term in December 2022.

Meanwhile and astonishingly, Downing Street has declined to rule out the possibility Johnson could nominate Paterson for a peerage – a final nail in the coffin of our upper chamber’s credibility? Former PM John Major, now seen in some quarters as an eminence grise, was interviewed on Saturday’s Today 08.10 slot and it’s well worth a listen: Major didn’t hold back on what he sees as the corruption and undermining of parliamentary democracy exhibited by this government. ‘This is very unconservative: if I am concerned, you can bet most of the public are. They have broken the law, broken treaties, broken their word, whenever they run up with difficulties, they don’t placate, they become hostile. This is the PM we have’.

Refreshingly and unlike today’s PM and ministers, he didn’t deny sleaze during his own administration, agreeing it had taken place, eg the cash for questions  scandal, and what he had done about it, eg establishing the Nolan Committee. On the peerage possibility, Major said there had been ‘some extraordinary elevations to the peerage in recent years’ – you can say that again. It almost seems that some misdemeanour, underperformance or donating to the Conservative Party have become the qualifications for elevation rather than any notable achievement or track record.

COP and the political drama this week have taken some eyes off the pandemic but it hasn’t gone away and the deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan van Tam, has again made his concerns known. ‘Too many people believe the Covid-19 pandemic is over’. Worried that increasing numbers of deaths show ‘the infection is now starting to penetrate into older age groups’, the statistics bear out this concern: on Wednesday there were 41,299 further Covid cases, 888 additional hospital admissions and 217 deaths.  Over the past seven days there have been 1,141 Covid deaths in the UK, a rise of 13% on the week before. The government still persists in its line that everything is under control despite NHS staff being run off their feet.

Speaking of resignations, a senior member of the BMA has resigned over the government’s plan to name and shame GP practices regarding the provision of face-to-face appointments. The government is correct in principle about the importance of FTF appointments but Dr Richard Vautrey, who was chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, has opposed plans by the health secretary, Sajid Javid, and NHS England to record the number of in-person consultations between family doctors and patients. This is because there’s a much more systemic problem in the NHS and general practice in particular which the government is not addressing, namely GP shortages and higher demand.

Doctors are now considering strike action, which would be disastrous for patients when this situation could have been averted if the government had listened to doctors, made an effort to understand how general practice works and had invested appropriately in the NHS over the years.

The Week’s briefing feature focuses on the general practice crisis, addressing the causes of the frustration of both doctors and patients, to what degree the pandemic is responsible, what’s wrong with virtual appointments, the extent of the GP shortage, whether or not GPs are overworked and whether or not things will improve (concluding ‘probably not’.) Regarding the shortage, there are only 0.45 GPs for 1,000 patients in England, ‘well below that of comparable wealthy nations’, while the population is growing and ageing, with the accompanying risk of multimorbidity. The significant move to virtual consultations, often problematic because so often troubling diagnoses can be missed, had a number of coinciding catalysts.

The 2019 NHS Long Term Plan set out that within five years the NHS would offer ‘digital first primary care’ for every patient (how many knew this?), which some may argue was a cynical way of reducing demand. But despite slow progress at first the goal was given a big leg up by the pandemic, coupled with former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s enthusiastic embracing of ‘tech’. Besides hitching his wagon to the dubious Babylon virtual service, Hancock hailed the new era of ‘Zoom medicine’, inaccessible to some patients because of technical issues or plain reluctance to ‘see’ their GP this way. The BMA sounds pessimistic about change, accusing the government of being completely out of touch with the scale of the crisis on the ground ahead of what could be a very difficult winter. As we’ve seen, this is not the only area the government is ‘completely out of touch’ with.

Following on from last week’s news about legalisation of domestic use of cannabis in Luxembourg, it’s interesting to see speculation that now Angela Merkel has gone, Germany is considering going down a not dissimilar path. Apparently there are around 4m regular cannabis users in Germany and the new leadership is keen to address the waste of police and judiciary resources entailed in the status quo. If legislative change comes to pass, because of Germany’s prominence in the European bloc it could effect quite some sea change across the EU and the world. Philipp Luther of the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung said if other countries follow suit ‘we may see cannabis migrating from parks and basements to pavements and pubs’.

Meanwhile, questions are rightly being asked as to why the illegal market is still thriving in California in spite of legalisation. How galling it must be for legislators and drugs experts for this to be the case having taken such a major step. ‘Five years after cannabis legalization, California is awash with signs of an apparently booming industry. Californians can toke on Justin Bieber-branded joints and ash their blunts in Seth Rogen’s $95 ceramics. They can sip on THC-infused seltzers, relax inside a cannabis cafe, and get edibles delivered to their doors. But behind the flashy facade, the legal weed industry remains far from the law-abiding, prosperous sector many had hoped for. In fact, it’s a mess’.

On closer inspection, though, it sounds as if a muddled approach over the years has contributed to the illegal market remaining top dog (accounting for 80-90% of cannabis trade), with legal operators saying they have to go illegal to stay afloat. Another contributory factor is perhaps the different policies adopted by different municipalities within the state. ‘In the places that do allow pot shops and grows, business owners say high taxes, the limited availability of licenses, and expensive regulatory costs have put the legal market out of reach. And many of the Black and brown entrepreneurs who were supposed to benefit from legalization have actually ended up losing money. Meanwhile, consumers remain confused about what’s legal and what’s not’.

Despite politicians’ avoidance it’s important this issue is fixed because of the social consequences for other areas of public policy. ‘Though botching weed legalization sounds like a trivial issue, it intersects with many of the issues that are fundamental to our lives, from criminal justice to public health, gang violence to economic inequality, the opioid crisis to the wellness craze. Cannabis is the second-most-valuable crop in the country, after corn and ahead of soybeans’. Let’s hope Luxembourg and Germany take note of the difficulties encountered by California and other US states in order to make their own policies more effective.

Staff shortages and supply chain problems continue to dog retail and hospitality and now the consequences are being experienced by customers. The Office of National Statistics reported 1.2 vacancies last month across all sectors. A letter to the Daily Telegraph asked why Amazon was able to deliver promptly and effectively when other retailers were struggling, clearly being unaware that Amazon is resorting to the unethical practice of poaching staff from other businesses by offering signing up bonuses of up to £3000. Recently, outings to two restaurants illustrated the problems, one giving very poor service and another having almost all beef products off the menu. Yes, you could say first world problems, but they could lead to businesses closing if these difficulties continue, customers going elsewhere or staying at home, not good for the economy.

This week the death was reported of the restaurateur Ado Campeol, regarded as responsible for the invention of that ubiquitous pudding tiramisu. The coffee-flavoured dessert was launched in 1972, its name meaning ‘lift me up’. It comes from the Treviso dialect’s “tireme su”, and was claimed to have aphrodisiac effects. The ingredients listed don’t include alcohol but I (and others) believe it should have liqueur within, something like Tia Maria. Here we have the answer: ‘Although the original recipe – certified by the Italian Academy of Cuisine in 2010 – was alcohol-free, variants include alcohol such as rum or marsala’. Unlike zealots who have strong opinions on how key dishes should be made, a chef at the inventing restaurant, Roberto Linguanotto, generously observed: ‘Every country has their own taste…As long as it lifts you up, it’s fine by me’.

Finally, an interesting and amusing situation has arisen between China and Hong Kong in contrast to the very worrying developments we usually hear about. China is desperate to halt the entry into the country of Australian rock lobsters, which are a delicacy there but which are now banned due to the currently difficult relationship between China and Australia. But Hong Kong has no such restrictions. Imports have apparently risen 20-fold and it’s thought most are destined to be smuggled into the mainland. Beijing’s response (that it’s a threat to national security) could be seen as disproportionate but how interesting after all this time that Hong Kong seems to be in the driving seat in this situation. It’s reported that 13 smugglers have already been arrested but we can nevertheless suppose that a good number of the crustacean Trojan horses have reached mainland kitchens!

Published by therapistinlockdown

I'm a psychodynamic therapist in private practice, also doing some voluntary work, and I'm interested in the whole field of mental health, especially how it's faring in this unprecedented crisis we're all going through. I wanted to explore some of the psychological aspects to this crisis which, it seems to me, aren't being dealt with sufficiently by the media or policymakers, for example the mental health burden already in evidence and likely to become more severe as time goes on.

One thought on “Saturday 6 November

  1. ‘Downing Street has clearly treated parliament as a populist assembly, a lapdog to executive power. That 250 Tory MPs on Wednesday night, after damning dozens of ordinary MPs such as Keith Vaz and Ian Paisley for unethical behaviour, could obey Johnson’s orders to bail out his friend is, if anything, more awful than Johnson’s own decision…. After months of purges, there is no one left in the cabinet who is willing to hold the prime minister to account.’ – As I keep saying it looks as if Pfeffel whatever or whoever he is seems to think he is in fact some sort of King – not simply her majesty’s prime minister. Please that this corrupt stinking and self serving bunch of chancers run out of steam sooner rather than later! And we get the kind of reform the country needs – in my opinion not the independence of the various countries that make up The United Kingdom (don’t leave us to them etc etc)!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: