We’re NOT Electing a President

The televised head-to-head “debate” between the UK’s incumbent PM, Rishi Sunak (Conservative) and Keir Starmer (leader of the Labour party) had plenty of sound and fury but little illumination and it gave this elector, who had already cast a vote by post, no reason to regret his choice.

The UK is a parliamentary democracy and the UK Election is NOT a Presidential Election. While leaders of our political parties are the face of any government they lead, they lead a cabinet team – for the time being – because our Prime Minister does not have the wide executive power of a president. I say “for the time being” because, in recent years, there have been mulitple changes of Prime Minister, during the period of a Conservative Government, leaders who nobody but a privileged few actually voted into office.

The debate, if you can call it that, appeared to give us the electoral choice between a decent blancmange and a bullying wide-boy. However, it is what, and who, is behind these two figureheads that really matters. Sadly, for this voter, there is apparently little to choose between the Conservatives and Labour ‘offers’, as the parties have fought for the same middle ground votes. But what is in the DNA of each party, and their MPs that, if elected, will define their respective approaches to issues of domestic and international politics?

The UK has had 14 years of Conservative government, and (I would argue) ever since Theresa May was shafted by her own party it has been a party increasingly driven by opportunism, by the desire to promote individual advantage and wealth accumulation at the expense of public services – which is, after all, what Conservatism is about. In the same period the Labour party, as distinct from the Labour movement, has tried to reposition itself as Tory-light after a brief flirtation with socialism (under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn) proved electorally disastrous.

What I think the Conservatives appear to not grasp is that, no matter the rights or wrongs of their respective propositions, after 14 years of them people just want a change: there is a natural lifespan to governments and we are at the end of this one.

Nevertheless I am depressed that there has been little discussion about, or review of, the policies being pursued and their failures, over that 14 year period. Extraordinarily, except amongst the minor parties, there has been no mention of the massive act of national self-harm known as Brexit. Quite apart from the claimed economic benefits, which have not (yet) materialised, a major (and I would argue the main) reason why the 52% of pro-Brexit votes were cast was on the single issue of immigration – “getting our country back”. This has signally failed to happen and is still an electoral issue, now being exploited by the right wing Reform Party.

The national finances are in debt and, ignoring the shambolic Liz Truss mini-budget that crashed the already weakend economy, Sunak points to the unanticipated financial burden of the war in Ukraine and, especially, the Covid pandemic. (You can read more about my experience of, and thoughts about, Covid here http://www.harrygoldjazz.com/category/covid-19/ ) The present PM was, at the time of the Covid outbreak, Chancellor of the Exchequer and provided support through the so-called furlough scheme. Credit where it is due, it was essential. It stopped the country being bankrupted, and saved millions of jobs. The development of a vaccine and its (continuing) roll-out was also major achievement, but the debt burden of this multi-billion support is now being carried by us all (except those who have made a packet out of PPE contracts!) and what nobody in mainstream politics is saying is that it was made worse than it needed to be by 3 things, which were, and are, under government control:

  1. a lack of preparedness for a pandemic, despite a warning to that effect in 2016 which said amongst other things that stocks of PPE were inadequate.
  2. being slow to respond to the developing threat, at a time when a week or two’s delayed action was critical, and then late adoption (and enforcement) of simple infection control measures like face masks and social distancing. Partygate and Barnard Castle anyone…?
  3. an unbalanced economy.

In the UK we are economically dependent on services: ever since the Thatcher era the UK has been increasingly dependent on selling, and not making, ‘stuff’. Our taxation ‘take’, and therefore ability to deliver public spending programmes, is overly dependent on us ‘consuming’. The furlough scheme was in large part directed to supporting service industry of various kinds, and by directly encouraging us to spend what little money we had e.g. the “eat out to help out” scheme. Repeated attempts to relax ‘lock downs’ and social distancing measures to stimulate the economy, predictably promoted resurgence of the virus and damaging consequences. You can see my commentary on this here http://www.harrygoldjazz.com/2020/06/19/shop-til-you-drop/

I would argue that rebalancing the economy should be a lesson from Covid, a priority for any incoming government. In a planet facing the existential threat of climate change I would also claim that reining in consumerism would be good for the planet too!

A (Hopefully) Final Post

My last post in this category was in 2017, 7 years ago, but I am moved to draw it to a close with an interesting, and I hope illuminating, footnote.

In 2017 I was still ruminating on the nature of residual symptoms, on the possibility that they might be long-term effects of Lyme disease, or might even be persistent infection. I was ‘negotiating’ with my GPs and hospital consultants about it, and struggling against their reluctance to admit that Lyme could persist after treatment and, in my case, massive and prolonged antibiotic therapy.

In 2018 I suffered a fall which resulted in a bad leg injury. The consequence of an emergency operation, and inadequate treatment, was a serious infection and emergency admission to hospital for another operation. After 4 days of intravenous antibiotics my residual symptoms suddenly disappeared and have not returned. Clearly, in spite of medical reluctance about ongoing Lyme, something was going on and I shall always believe it was Lyme disease.