Government for the one percent? Turkeys voting for Christmas?

The British political system is a wonderful and mysterious thing. For most of my lifetime we have had Conservative governments. The received wisdom is that they are, and they certainly believe themselves to be “the natural party of government”.

Which is weird because the most cursory inspection shows that they govern in the interest of a very small minority of Brits. Any party which seriously proposes something euphemistically described as ‘trickle down economics” is sort of admitting that it is making policies which are designed for an elite.

And it has become increasingly obvious to anyone paying attention that it is normal for policy decisions to be ‘bought’ by vested interest. There are too many examples to mention, to the extent it’s surely not in doubt.

It is what Dye and Zeigler described as ‘the irony of democracy’ in one of my political science textbooks. The way, a bit like some competitive markets move inexorably towards monopoly or oligopoly, a democratic system veers uncontrollably towards rule by interest groups. They were talking about the USA in the 1980s but it is equally true today, or so it would appear.

So how is it that people vote for a government which basically screws them time after time? It can’t simply be that the comms machine is so smart it convinces them that black is white and good is bad, can it?

That’s what people said about Brexit, where Brits voted, like turkeys for Christmas directly against their own interests but that was surely also more complicated.

And why aren’t people more angry about the increasing inequality in Britain? Or the way ordinary folks are facing a cost-of-living-crisis while corporate profits are booming? Or as the Unite trade union calls it the profiteering crisis?

Well, I think I have found the answer.

As, so often, it was discovered by Douglas Adams:

“[Ford said] “.. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur. “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going in for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

― Douglas Adams, The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government

Monty Python famously demonstrated that Arthurian legend does not provide a sustainable model for electing a leader.

But the UK’s current system may actually be worse.

A few minutes ago, Liz Truss was announced as the winner of the race to become the UK’s new Prime Minister. She was elected by members of the Conservative Party. This process has been criticised as unrepresentative, undemocratic and unreliable. It is tempting to characterise these 160.000 odd people as the classic aged, wealthy, white, out of touch golf club types from Tory central casting. I suspect the true nature of things may be even grimmer. I should know. I’m one of them.

There’s little data on the profile of Tory members, even from the party themselves, and the electoral commission raised some serious doubts around the security of the party’s election mechanics. Just to spice it up a bit, Tortoise Media managed to register family pets, underage relatives and foreign nationals as members of the party. Should these people (and animals), they asked, be responsible for choosing the UK’s leader?

For me, this whole debacle has shown another wrinkle in our creaking political system too.

A little while ago, during the respective scandals enveloping the two main parties, ‘Partygate’ and ‘Beergate’, it looked as though both Labour and/or Conservatives might be electing a new leader very soon.  The natural thing to do therefore was, it seems to me, to join both parties ASAP to be eligible to vote in the likely forthcoming leadership polls.  I’m really not sure why more people haven’t done this.  It costs about twenty five quid and we’re forever hearing about how hopelessly unrepresentative it is.  It’s hardly an original idea.  Isn’t that what led to Jeremy Corbyn’s win and the near-death of the Labour Party which ensued?

So I went online, and joining the Tories was the definition of simplicity.  It took about ten minutes from start to finish, they took my money and within a day or so I was receiving invitations to events, updates on campaigns and explanations of policy.  Quite impressive, I thought, a little grudgingly.

My Labour Party application was more problematic.  I tried to join online but the site wouldn’t accept my card payment, so I sent an email explaining my situation.  About a fortnight later, I received a response telling me I could join online (as I had tried to do) or on the phone or by post.  I picked up the phone and spoke to someone at Labour HQ who explained that they couldn’t currently sign me up on the phone, but they would send me the forms by email to sign up by post.  Nothing arrived.  I left it another fortnight and called again.  same response.  I waited.  After another few weeks I called again but the whole team was in training and there isn’t even anyone to answer the phone (they claim to be available between 11 AM and 3 PM though this hasn’t been my experience.  I tried again a week later and got the same response – no-one here to answer the phone as we’re all in training. And on it goes. Eventually i received a postal form which i sent off about a month ago. No news since then.

Fast forward a few months and I got to vote for the next PM through the Tory Party.  But my Labour membership application is still not confirmed.  Labour HQ gives every impression of being staffed by a volunteer in his garage with an answering machine and no access to a computer.

And sadly, my friends, that is one more reason why we won’t be seeing a Labour government again in my lifetime.  Because if they can’t get this right, then what hope is there for them?  Or indeed for any of us?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to politics in Britain today

If you’ve been following Westminster politics over the last year, this may make sense of everything:

I’d love to say it was my own observation but I admit I found it in the Sunday Times, via Tortoise Media.

Douglas Adams once wrote of a planet on which humans are ruled by lizard overlords.

There’s a paradox: the planet is a democracy, the humans hate and outnumber the lizards and yet the lizards always get elected.

It turns out the humans vote for the lizards for a simple reason: “If they didn’t … the wrong lizard might get in.”


Is Scottish Independence just like Brexit?

This got me thinking.

It’s the latest poll suggesting that Scots are increasingly in favour of breaking away from the UK. It’s causing quite a stooshie. A stramash (see what I did there?).

Who can blame them? If I were a Scot, I suspect I would resent being governed, from Westminster, by an Old Etonian elite. Presumably that’s why the Scottish Nationalist Party has so dominated Scottish politics in recent years.

Even more so, in the light of Scotland’s clear vote to stay in the EU. With independence, they could rejoin.

There’s a deep irony about the way the British Government, comprising, almost exclusively Brexit supporters, argues against Scottish independence. The case for Scottish self-rule is, surely, virtually identical to the arguments for Brexit – as many people pointed out at the time. It all smells of hypocrisy and self-interest.

But, wait a minute.

I supported the case to remain in the EU with a passion. I believe Brexit is the worst UK government policy decision in my lifetime.

Yet I find myself sympathising with those arguing for Scottish independence.

Does that mean I’m as hypocritical as the people I’m criticising? I fear it might.

It certainly shows how the corrosive edifice of ‘identity politics’ can infect our judgement. My dislike for the Westminster government might just be the driving force behind my leaning towards the SNP’s case. That’s a really bad reason for holding an opinion. I should re-evaluate it. At a rational level, I know that. But maybe it’s not that kind of opinion. Not really a rational thing at all. It’s more guttural. That is, after all, how humans form opinions – we know that from everything we have learned about behavioural sciences.

This is profoundly disturbing when we consider some of the directions popular opinion is taking – towards bigotry and intolerance, away from liberalism and kindness. It’s all getting horribly ‘us and them’.

Some emphatic pioneers, of this new world, were those football managers who engineered a ‘siege mentality’ among their players. When Jose Mourinho managed Chelsea to a string of trophy successes, he famously created an atmosphere characterised as ‘us against the world’. It forged a kind of unity and mutual support among his team that was a significant part of their strength. Alex Ferguson did something similar in his successful years in charge of Manchester United.

COMMENT: Jose's on to a loser with his mind games as Mourinho slips back  into old routine | Football | Sport |

Going back further, the Wimbledon team of the 1980s, who over-achieved relative to their talent, perhaps more than any other in history were an even more extreme example. They were known as ‘The Crazy Gang’ and they took this adversarial approach onto the pitch, being also physically intimidating and combative. Their mantra, often cited by manager Joe Kinnear and players like Vinnie Jones and John Fashanu said it all:

“Everybody hates us; we don’t care”.

More evidence for what James O’ Brien has called the ‘footballification of everything’. We no longer care about the merits of an argument, we simply cheer if it’s espoused by our team and boo if it’s espoused by the enemy. Not a good way to write policy, but increasingly the case.

If we can spot this, through self-reflection or insight – like my Brexit / Scottish independence realisation above – there may be hope. Some commentators have started to investigate this. Steven Lacey’s research company, The Outsiders, specialises in seeking to understand the views of the dispossessed and excluded – the kinds of people who brought us Brexit. Author and strategist, Ian Leslie has written about the importance of understanding conflict and disagreement.

If we can get our heads around this – or perhaps, more importantly, our hearts or our guts – all may not be lost. But I’ll also understand if you disagree.

Nobody will ever ‘do as you say, not as you do’

As Britain goes into another coronavirus lockdown, it’s time to despair, once again, over the authorities’ inability to create single-minded communications.

Advertising 101 – the basic essentials of understanding how to communicate – states we need to create a single minded proposition in order to move people to action. It’s really that simple. As a professional communicator, if you do only one thing, then just get this right.

In the old days people would dress it up with analogies – imagine you are thrown a tennis ball; you catch it but if you are thrown six tennis balls, you won’t catch any. Yes, I know, it’s really rather obvious isn’t it?

Yet we don’t seem to be able to follow this simple rule when it comes to instructions about coronavirus and lockdown restrictions.

Partly it’s because communications is more than just what you say. It’s also how you say it, what you do, how you look and so on. If we say one thing and do another, it creates dissonance and people aren’t sure which message to believe. This is where our leaders have made it incredibly difficult for themselves. In the earliest days of lockdown, back in 2020, the authorities told us to stay at home but the PM’s top advisor, Dominic Cummings, famously travelled across the country, to stay with relatives, recklessly flouting the advice. Worse, when the story emerged, he was not rebuked, disowned or criticised by ministers but defended to the hilt.

At the time, the response was one of outrage – it was one rule for them, another rule for the rest of us. It was the unfairness and elitism that caused most offence. I’m not so worried about that (well, maybe I am, but that’s not my main worry today) but, more by the way this undermined all subsequent government instructions. Various reports and studies in the following months showed that large numbers of people simply stopped believing what they were being told, after ‘l’affiaire Cummings’. This is doubly problematic in a world where trust in our leaders has never been lower, but that’s a bigger question for another day.

After that experience – and the clear evidence of the damage done – it’s surely unthinkable that the government could get it so wrong again. Isn’t it?

Fast forward to January 2021. The state of the pandemic is significantly worse than it was in the Spring of 2020, when Dominic Cummings went rogue. So much so that PM Boris has had to go on National TV to announce a new lockdown.

Let’s evaluate the messages he’s communicating:

Serious tone of voice (no jokes, no latin, no tortured metaphors) – check

Sensible suit, trappings of office, serious backdrop – check.

A single consistent story being told (the new COVID variant has made the situation worse, so we have to impose a new lockdown, we are telling you to stay at home, except for a few essential exceptions) – check

But why does he appear to have spent the night sleeping on the lawn?

And why does he seem to have adopted the manner of a naughty schoolboy who has been compelled to apologise for something he has done, which he doesn’t really regret?

The precise instructions were as follows – “You must stay at home. You may only leave home for certain reasons permitted in law, such as to shop for essentials, to work if you absolutely cannot work from home, to exercise, to seek medical assistance or to escape domestic abuse…..If you do leave home for one of these reasons, you should stay local – unless it is necessary to go further, for example to go to work. 
Stay local means remaining in the village, town, or part of the city where you live.

So what are we to conclude when PM Boris was spotted by the London Evening Standard, a couple of days later, cycling in the Olympic Park, some seven and a half miles away from his home in Downing Street?

He would have had to cycle for at least three quarters of an hour and cross several London boroughs to get there – hardly staying in the same part of the city where he lives, one would think.

Official response has been that Boris didn’t break any rules – which suggests the announcement was at best, confusing, at worst, absolute nonsense. Or they’re lying.

Once again, we are likely to infer that either the PM doesn’t actually believe what he told us a few days earlier so the situation is not that serious after all – we can all ignore the rules – or that the rules only apply to us plebs, while the ruling classes can simply ignore the restrictions. This may become known as ‘doing a Dominic’.

Whichever interpretation you take, it leaves the government’s communications in tatters. On the same day as Boris’ misdemeanour was reported, the Metropolitan police chief was doing the rounds of media outlets telling us how enforcement would be stepped up to ensure compliance with the lockdown rules.

You couldn’t make it up.

I’d love to know what Cressida Dick was saying in private, once her serious “do what the government tells you” face was dropped.

There’s an added irony here, for those of us who once worked in government communications. Until a few years ago, there was a government agency, known as the Central Office of Information (COI), which served as a centre for excellence, in exactly these kinds of questions. It masterminded government campaigns to achieve the policy goals of the day, using the best practices from advertising, PR, design and all the other related disciplines. Above all, it understood that communication is about understanding the response we are looking to evoke, rather than the messages we are trying to project. It’s about designing the totality of peoples’ experience with a message and the inferences they will draw. Saying one thing and doing the opposite will always be flawed.

COI would regularly sweep the board in the awards for communications effectiveness. Being accountable for spending public money, it was under constant scrutiny and hugely focused on producing campaigns which delivered results. The COI was disbanded by David Cameron’s government in 2011, largely because it was deemed to be too ‘political’ in an era when government interventions in peoples’ lives was seen to be best avoided. That was the political approach that brought us austerity in the face of recession; a policy which now looks ridiculous, bordering on the cruel.

How things have changed.

How desperately we need the COI today.

The bare necessities of life

Ahh yes.

I was just watching the modern version of Jungle Book the other day (yes, I know, but it’s been a tough few months, what with the pandemic and all). It raised a few questions.

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The UK’s COVID-19 regulations (January 2021 version) define a list of ‘businesses providing essential goods and services’ which can remain open during lockdown. That’s very sensible, but the selection of what constitutes an ‘essential’ service is interesting.

This list represents what our leaders reckon are the bare necessities of life.

It includes the obvious essentials – food shops, banks, post offices, pharmacies and the like.

Then there are the inevitable anomalies.

Place of worship are open, but gyms have to close. The body representing gyms has made a strong case that they are not a significant source of COVID transmission, to no avail. But then bosses of gyms don’t sit in the House of Lords.

Botanical gardens are open, but not golf courses. Despite the fact golf is surely the perfect COVID-friendly activity with minimal risk, as long as the catering side is restricted. Two people walk in the outdoors, naturally socially distanced, due to the fact one is typically in the fairway, the other in the deep rough or the trees (that’ll be me).

Bafflingly, the fancy sweet shop in my High street remains open. I know. Me neither.

Other venues deemed essential include garden centres (whose demographic are at most serious risk of hospitalisation and death) DIY supplies, animal groomers (don’t get me started) and, for some reason W. H. Smith, which doesn’t seem to fit in any of these categories. Digression – I’m developing a theory that W. H. Smith should somehow engineer the word ‘British’ into its brand name, because it represents part of the fabric of UK culture, like BP, BT or British Gas.

Of course, there’s a case to be made for any or all of these goods and services being a priority. Especially if that’s your business, probably under extreme financial pressure. But in the present climate, where it’s clear there’s been plenty of skulduggery and awarding of lucrative contracts to friends and family, it’s hard to have faith in the decisions, nor in the rationale behind them. It seems likely the organisations, with the lobbyists closest to the centre, got what they wanted, and others didn’t.

At a less conspiratorial level, I was reminded of studies of recession behaviour that became topical in the 1990s economic downturn. Previously, economists had had a pretty mundane definition of what were ‘luxuries’ and what were ‘necessities’. But empirical studies, around this time, began to show that some things previously considered luxuries had become ‘sanity’ costs – and therefore necessities. So, no matter how poor people felt, they would resist giving them up. For some, the gym or swimming pool was now very much a necessity – as much for mental health as for fitness. Ditto the hairdresser for some groups. A friend recently explained she couldn’t survive without the fancy stationer, Paperchase.

This is surely the thinking behind keeping elite sport going, despite continuous disruption to squads that will make the season’s final league placings a bit arbitrary. Several Premier League football fixtures, as well as high profile rugby and cricket matches, have been cancelled because one team literally ran out of players, due to the pandemic. But, for football fans, at a time of national crisis and economic meltdown, following your team may be the only thing that keeps you going.

I imagine, if you’re a vegan, then plenty of foodstuffs deemed luxuries by others, are absolutely essential. Or if your culture makes other peoples’ ‘exotic’ foods your daily staples.

So the bare necessities of life are very much a moveable feast.

In a sane world, we would have some analysis of what activities represent the greatest and least threat of COVID infection. The activities representing the least threat would stay open and those with greater threat would close, unless it was absolutely critical – like food shops or pharmacies. This isn’t happening. In fact, you could argue the opposite is happening, with large scale lobbying to keep hospitality venues open, even when it seems likely that these are relatively high risk. Schools and colleges are surely a top breeding ground for the virus – that’s based on my own anecdotal experiences, in the absence of any reliable data. But the authorities were at huge pains to keep education open even in the face of a body of opinion pointing out, months ago, it would put more people at risk.

So much for ‘following the science‘.

Unfortunately, the way Government now works, our definition of the bare necessities of life is more likely to be influenced by businesses, lobbying for their economic interests, than anything connected with the task at hand.

I am pleased to announce this announcement, which will be announced next Monday

When did it become the norm for Governments to trail their announcements a week in advance?

On the surface, it’s a pretty odd way to go about things. You formulate a policy, debate it, refine it and agree it internally, then you leak it to your friendly lobby journalists, who will write it up and broadcast it in all the fine detail, a week ahead of your ‘official’ announcement.

I saw a perfect example this morning. The Politico website (along with every other major national news outlet) writes on Tuesday that the Prime Minister will announce the next set of coronavirus post-lockdown measures the next Monday. Politico goes on to describe the measures in step by step detail. The story is attributed to ‘a No. 10 official’. They have a paragraph on what the PM will say, when he will say it (in the House of Commons at 3.30 on Monday) what will and won’t be included and how he will fend off questions. Then there is analysis with comment from other sources, on all sides of government and opposition. It is rigorous, considered and has clearly been laid out in detail, in a series of meetings and documented releases.

I’m sure there was a time when announcements were just announced, but that was long ago. These days it is part of a universal protocol, which has grown up over time.

I asked some former Government communications experts about this. I assumed that it was a tried and trusted ‘best practice’ adopted as official policy. It would feature in any standard training for young government comms people. I was somewhat surprised to learn that, on the contrary, this leaking of policy ‘in advance’ is highly illegal and is still ‘officially’ frowned upon…. despite being universal employed by every UK government department, including the Prime Minister’s office in 10 Downing Street.

Isn’t that just a classically British way of working? There’s an official rule book and there’s a working protocol and the two have no point of contact. It has all the twisted opaqueness we have come to expect from the workings of the British constitution.

So why does it happen?

Some observers describe it as ‘drawing the sting’ from the announcement. Since all the discussion has happened in advance, when the matter is officially launched, there is unlikely to be any great surprise or outrage. And any serious reservations can be headed off in advance, negotiated away or rehearsed. In extreme cases, the announcement could even incorporate new elements to see off objections raised.

So in many ways it’s a way of avoiding any nasty surprises.

It is also part of the daily currency of the lobby. Career politicians have this symbiotic relationship with lobbyists and journalists where each pre-warns the other of forthcoming events so they can get ahead. The back scratching is selective so journalists need to play nicely in order to keep getting briefed while politicians benefit from their patronage and the story may lean in their favour when it’s written up.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Like much of the British system, its opaqueness is troubling, but it works to the advantage of the government of the day – usually.

Some will object that it cuts parliament out of the process. If the House of Commons hears an announcement on Monday which has been shared with the whole country the previous week, it tells us something about their influence.

Occasionally it gets out of hand. The recent blood bath in the PM’s office (leading to multiple resignations / firings and bitterness all round) came to a head with government aides briefing and counter briefing to undermine each other, in a way that makes a seven year olds’ playground spat look dignified. The same principles of press patronage and lobby briefings were at play, but nobody was playing nicely.

News management can often look a bit Machiavellian. I recently had a drink in one of those Westminster pubs where the dodgy deals are reputed to be done. It’s all dark cubby holes and quiet corners where hushed conversations can take without being overheard. It reeks of the covert worlds of Hogwarts or His Dark Materials. Which makes it, all at once, seedy as hell but strangely intoxicating.

Like so much in the, increasingly opaque, British system of government.

Alert Alert !!!

My eyes are peeled. I’m scanning the horizon.  I check behind.  And to the sides.   Everyone I see will be scrutinised from head to foot, until I am satisfied they offer no threat.  Every vehicle will be checked.  Every house I pass will be noted and its details recoded.  Nothing goes unnoticed.  I am a coiled spring.

I am alert. So alert.  I am positively tingling with alertness.  Alert is my new middle name.  Beyond alert.  I’m more alert than Alert Ali McAlert, winner of last year’s ‘Mr. Alert’ competition.

I must be safe from the COVID-19 virus right?

Stay alert

If you didn’t know (because either you’ve been living in a cave, or somewhere outside Britain) this is the British Government’s campaign to keep the public safe from corona virus.

Stay Alert (what?) Control the Virus (er, how?) Save lives (but, who, where, how, che?)

My main question is this:  Is this the worst piece of public policy communication in history?

Seems like a no-brainer to me.  It’s the biggest stinker ever.

Why do I say that? (I don’t hear you ask)

Well for a start it makes no sense.  Staying alert will make no difference whatsoever to anything relating to the virus.  Or anything else, except I’ll be exhausted rather quickly.  Is alertness somehow relevant?  Am I at more at risk while sleeping than I am when fully ‘on my guard’?  I think not.

Controlling the virus is not something I know how to do, nor something it’s in my power to do so instructing me to do it leaves me floundering.

And saving lives, while undoubtedly a good thing, is not really in my remit – I don’t think I’m being asked to find someone in danger and rescue them, so what exactly is it I’m being urged to do?

Alice Bennett, a senior lecturer in contemporary literature, put it better than me, on Twitter:

“It’s a fantasy that we can ‘control the virus’, but we can’t actually control our attention either. ‘Stay Alert’ is the ‘Never Forget’ of public safety messaging: actionless, objectless, infinitely expansive”

Inevitably the authors of the campaign have felt compelled to defend it:

“The truth is that people really understand the message, people understand what ‘Stay Alert’ means,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program .

In fact, polling by YouGov, on the Monday following its launch, suggested only 30 percent of people knew what “Stay Alert” means — and even Tory MPs privately expressed dismay at the botched messaging before the key document was finally published at lunchtime on Monday.

Apparently, the original intention was that the five letters making up ALERT would form an acronym for five actions people could take to prevent the spread of the disease.  But according to Politico, the graphics for the new campaign were leaked to the Sunday Telegraph, the weekend before, leading to what is known in the trade as a ‘botched launch’.  And no acronym was forthcoming.

No wonder the campaign has been met with a mixture of derision and confusion.

I couldn’t help take a quick peek at what some experts in Government communications thought about it.  A couple of senior staffers at the Central Office of Information (The Government’s centre of excellence for public communications, until it was broken up a few years ago) summarised their thoughts as follows (no names, no pack-drill):

“I wonder what was the thought process that went into the new slogan: BE ALERT, CONTROL THE VIRUS, SAVE LIVES.  This slogan is meaningless and confusing.”

“It’s a box-ticking exercise that clearly doesn’t give a shit about whether it actually changes behaviour or helps people.”

So far so utterly damning.  But there’s another side to this.  Because, if there’s one area where the current British Government is generally sure-footed, it’s mass communications made simple.  The Brexit campaign was a triumph of persuasion, where the case to be made was logically er flimsy at best.  And the last general election saw the Conservative Party wipe the floor with their opponents, despite a fairly iffy record in government.  All of this was achieved with a single-minded approach to communications based on a religious adherence to polling and feedback from focus groups.  It has been a thoroughly professional job.  They gave every impression of knowing what they were doing.  Until now.

So what went wrong?

Stay alert for further bulletins…….

Where’s the bleeding Government gone?

While we watch the unfolding horror story we call Brexit, there’s one aspect of this nightmare which is shockingly – if understandably – underreported.  For nearly two years there has effectively been no government active in the UK.  Only bloody Brexit.  No real analysis or scrutiny.  Except on Brexit.  And no opposition for that matter, even on Brexit – the Labour Party should hang their heads in shame, but that’s another subject.  The point is large chunks of Government have been paralysed since Article 50 was triggered in March 2017. And it would seem nobody has really noticed.
Is this some devious Tory ploy? – they’ll suddenly announce that ‘Small Government’ was introduced and nobody complained. So a slimmed down State must be OK.  That’s perhaps another distraction.  Keep to the point please.
Because the news has principally followed the political story of the day – i.e. Brexit – there has been a void in the world of real news.  Meanwhile Universal Credit – the new combined benefits system which is uniformly slated by everyone who knows about these things – will be introduced with only a murmur of dissent.  And the tragic failure of the health system to  address the crisis in mental health evokes little more than a shrug of resignation.  Under different circumstances, these are things people would take to the streets to protest about.  But without journalistic flame-fanning, it’s all just a bit meh.
Meanwhile in the real world there is effectively no provision for young people with mental health problems.  Of more than 338,000 children and young people referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) last year, 31% were treated within a year. But 37% got no help at all and another 32% were still waiting for treatment to start at the end of the year.  And suicide is still the biggest cause of death in young and middle aged men in the UK.
Are we really ok with that?  Should we be? Should the Government be? Oh, I forgot, there isn’t any.

It’s really not a thing

J. Walter Thompson, Maureen Lipman and BT famously exclaimed “You’ve got an ‘ology; you’re a scientist”.

That’s got our ‘ologies sorted.  Now what about our ‘isms?

Racism is a bad thing, right? It means that black people (or whatever you choose to call people who aren’t white, this season) get a bad deal.  That often means they are under-represented in the most privileged places in society and their voice is not heard.  They don’t earn as much as white folks, their health outcomes are worse, they are more likely to be victims of crime, they stand the highest chance of dying in custody etc.etc.  You know the kind of thing.

Sexism is a bad thing right?  I could reel off a similar list of ways in which women are disadvantaged in society, by virtue only of the accident of birth that made them female.

There’s another dimension too – isms often overlap with ‘phobias‘ like the ‘hate’ issues – homophobia, islamophobia and so on.

Which brings me (by a questionable logical twist) to the issues facing the British Labour Party right now.  And anti-semitism.  According to The Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph, the prospect of a government led by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn would be “an existential threat to Jewish life in this country”. Various Labour figures are up in arms about Corbyn, and the British press has perpetuated a picture of his behaviour, his past and his associations as somehow anti-semitic.

Please can we be absolutely clear about one thing here:

Racism in the UK is a thing.  Sexism in the UK is a thing.  Homophobia is a thing.

Anti-semitism is not a thing.

Run down the earlier list of the ways in which non-white people are disadvantaged in the UK and try substituting the word Jewish for non-white (or black or whatever is your preference).

Under-represented in privileged positions in society?  Nope. Voice not heard?  Nope.  Earn less money?  Nope?  Worse health outcomes?  Nope?  Deaths in police custody?  Nope?  Is anti-semitism more like sexism then?  Are Jewish people subject to domestic abuse?  Nope.  Is there a kind of weird Jewish glass ceiling?  Nope.

It’s simply a cheap and spurious attack on this particular Labour leader.  I’m not a massive Corbyn fan either, but all this anti-semitism rhetoric is clearly nonsense.

Anti-semitism not a thing in the UK today.

Please stop talking as though it was.

Worse that that.  One of my favourite authors recently wrote that saying something is a thing’ is no longer a thing. So this post may look quite badly dated in the not-too-distant future.

Sorry about that.

And to my Jewish reader(s). No offence.