Below is a hotchpotch of issues which will help give an insight into my views on a range of subjects.
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Table of Contents
- Covid and Care Homes
- Climate change
- Community places to share news and views - pubs and libraries
- Litter and fly tipping
- Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the Big Lie, etc...
- Labour Party
- Brexit, EU, Scotland and Ireland, Sovereignty
- Fox hunting
- Health services
- Education and training
- My beliefs - The economy
Covid and Care Homes
As I write this, I am looking at statistics from Johns Hopkins University and see the UK is top of the league for Covid deaths per 100,000 for large countries. Speaks volumes for the Gove, Boris, Hancock (GBH) management of the Pandemic. I have heard it said that poor management of the Pandemic has caused 80,000 unnecessary deaths.
We got confusing contradictory slogans from Downing Street.
Police were asked to do impossible jobs enforcing Covid restrictions.
Government cannot control Covid by simple diktat - they should have focussed better on gaining the confidence of the people and leading by example (without any trips to Barnard Castle to test eyesight and awarding contracts to donors and other cronies).
The first rule a rule-maker needs to learn is to obey the rules himself.
We needed to build trust to help encourage us all to act responsibly.
Also, we need a test and trace system that works effectively - but that takes more than the abilities our incompetent cabinet could provide.
Lib Dems do not believe in a UK Government that centralises power and misuses the legal system and whips up hostility to force people to conform.
We firmly believe in devolving power as far as practicable and we encourage cooperation and creativity in solving issues.
At the time of writing, I read "They take the number of care resident deaths from Covid in the UK to more than 32,000 - about a third of all fatalities from the pandemic."
Causes of the spread of the virus in care homes need urgent proper investigation to help avoid mistakes such as
- being forced to accept patients from hospitals who had not been tested;
- lack of personal protective equipment;
- no real help given to testing staff and residents;
- health visitors passing the virus from home to home.
Now smaller care homes are struggling partly because of new regulations.
For those of you who have not seen it yet I recommend watching David Attenborough's Witness Statement in a Life on our Planet. It helps emphasise that the problems of Climate Change are current and must be tackled now if we are to protect our future generations from a terrible fate.
We need to get real about our response to Climate Change and set examples for others to follow.
Tree planting should be encouraged not just in the countryside but also in towns.
Pollution in Kent is forever increasing. Planes seem to be adding new routes over our skies (or were before Covid). The authorities would deny it I suspect, but up on Toys Hill we sometimes see a thin film of aviation fuel covering our patios.
I see from a report that where I often have an outdoor glorious sandwich and carrot cake lunch in Westerham that exhaust pollution levels are 25% higher than recommended.
We need to find solutions and become a greener society.
Community places to share news and views - pubs and libraries
To create a healthy community, we need places to meet and share news and views.
Particularly outside main towns there has been a huge decline of places where neighbours can easily meet.
Pubs were often the beating heart of the community but are now in sad decline. Successive Governments have introduced policies which have made their demise inevitable.
Coming from a legal/ financial background I am irritated by Government policies which created a framework which encouraged fund managers and similar to buy up say 2000 pubs and then reduce their exposure by taking on huge debt and in the meantime lowering the standard of publicans. This inevitably led to tenants being drained of cash by rent and the price they had to pay for supplies. Any creative improvement to encourage more trade just led to higher demand from landlords and of course there was little expenditure on maintenance or improvement to the premises. High rates and beer duty and the VAT man do not help.
When I first came to live in Toys Hill, we had a saint of a landlady loved by everyone and she would ensure we were all introduced to one another. Quality of licensee deteriorated and latterly we had one who went around in a scruffy vest and shorts. Now there is a battle going on to get planning permission as residential accommodation.
State policy towards pubs has to change to recognise properly their value to a community.
My wish is to encourage pubs to be family run and owned.
Austerity (since the crisis caused by over exuberant bankers) has cut budgets of our libraries.
Communities though still need libraries.
However, libraries must adapt to be in tune with the changing world. They are or ought to be hubs for education, health, entertainment and general information. They need to ensure they are making the transition to providing their resources online and through social media.
In particular as Covid changes employment practices libraries ought to figure out ways to assist those who are job hunting.
Also, libraries provide or ought to provide an opportunity for people to meet and thus provide a very necessary benefit to the mental wellbeing of our communities.
Litter and fly tipping
My beliefs include that we come into this world predisposed to do good and get on with one another. Ignorance is a curse, and many do not understand that littering or fly tipping causes so much harm to the environment and disgust to fellow citizens.
In our woods at Toys Hill, we have dog owners who pick up their dog's poo in plastic bags and then throw the bag beside the path. Poo can disappear quickly, but plastic bags take 10-20 years to decompose.
In my younger years I was a roadie then a mountain biker so am eager to support cyclists, but I do despair of the litter some of them leave behind as they travel along.
I keep thinking that teaching children about the environment can over time cure the problem - partly by children educating their parents.
On fly tipping I think we have to be more subtle than just having tougher sentences. It needs a co-ordinated approach involving not only councillors and staff in waste departments but also police and the general public ensuring that whatever motivates fly tipping is reduced. House holders need to ensure they act responsibly when organising waste removal and be made accountable if they fail to do so.
Equally Councils must work with their communities to enable easy disposal of waste. Also, CCTV and enforcement officers make a difference.
Rumours abound that even if householders separate out rubbish the bags all go together in the dump. Probably fake news but to motivate households we must be transparent in the way we deal with waste and motivate people to be strict with themselves on dealing with separation.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the Big Lie, etc.
He is a likeable rogue who has charisma and wit and is good at destruction. However, realisation is dawning across the land that he is poor at building consensus and he is a poor administrator/ organiser/ leader. While this might not appear to be relevant to local County elections, it will have an impact.
Areas where I differ from Boris included:
- treatment of prisoners (I have a far more liberal approach based around my views on the real purpose of a prison system and I think banning prisoners from having access to books is an abomination);
- abolition of inheritance tax (my wife agrees with Boris but I think in a fair society we ought to continue with the tax);
- he wants tougher laws on drugs, but I see current policies having failed and we need a new approach which does not include keeping our troops in Afghanistan to die trying to destroy poppy crops.
The Big Lie - "we send the EU £350 million a week, let's fund our NHS instead"
Many people believe what they want to believe and have no need to bother themselves with inconvenient truths. If you tell a big lie and keep repeating it people will eventually come to believe it. The lie though can only be maintained so long as the political and economic consequences of the lie can be hidden. Truth behind some of the lies can no longer be hidden.
King Charles 1 suspended Parliament in 1628 which was a milestone towards the Civil war and his beheading in 1649. Boris tried to suspend (prorogue) Parliament for an extra-long session - it would have prevented debate on important Brexit issues. UK Supreme Court ruled he acted unlawfully. I guess eventually there will sorry end awaiting Boris for attempting to gag Parliament.
Rule of Law
It is said that the Government's intention to break the EU Withdrawal Agreement (which is an international agreement binding both parties as a matter of public international law) was being done in "limited and specific ways".
You cannot just be a little bit pregnant when it comes to breaking international law. If one side thinks they can break treaties on one point who will ever trust them not to break other agreements. For a civilised world to function you must build trust.
Keir Starmer has made an impressive start as leader of the Labour Party but who can trust a party that is still largely under the influence of Momentum and their friends such as Militant Tendency and Len McCluskey.
Brexit, EU, Scotland and Ireland, Sovereignty
We believe in democracy and we lost the battle over Brexit (although there was a questionable prospectus and those voting in favour of leave were 27% of population or 38% of people eligible to vote).
We saw those who now run our beloved country did not have a "oven-ready" deal.
Businesses have suffered badly because of the mismanagement of Brexit.
Think what possibly could have been achieved over last 4 and a half years if UK Government had spent their energies on improving the EU structures instead of focussing on the destruction and chaos caused by Brexit.
The Government threatened a no deal Brexit. Personally, I thought it political posturing as impact of no deal so overwhelming.
Boris argued that if there was a no deal, business could merrily keep going under WTO rules. These rules are more complicated than many imagine. Basic rules are covered in about 500 pages which are then supplemented by about 30,000 other pages. Tariffs on farmers exporting beef and lamb would be high and tariffs on cars at about 10%. The car industry employs 800,000 people and accounts for 14% of Britain's goods exports.
Many Sevenoaks West residents work in financial services. Before Brexit came to dominate everything, London was vying with New York as world's main financial centre. Now as a consequence of Brexit thousands of financial sector jobs have moved to Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Dublin, etc. Also, we now see there is still no deal with EU of financial services and in effect the deal that has been negotiated only deals with about 20% of our sales into EU.
It will be interesting to reflect after a few years on the benefits of the Brexit deal versus staying in the EU.
How to deal with the EU
My work used to involve me regularly meeting with EU officials and committees and even if the EU is far from perfect, I am certain that it is better to have agreements with the world's largest trading block, arguing for improvements, rather than being isolated outside.
At a Brussels meeting with a Director General, I started putting a case for the wording of the EU Prospective Directive. The DG slammed his fist on the table and said something like: "You English are all the same. You come and demand this and that, but you do not bother to consult and gain consensus among other member states." I also remember a high-ranking UK official telling me that Civil Servants were not encouraged to serve time in Brussels. Apparently to do so was treated as a career black mark. We did not really put our heart into making the EU work to our advantage. Instead we sent Nigel Farage to destroy our membership. Yes, EU needs to reform and change but in so many ways EU makes so much sense.
Did you notice the newspaper report of 09/01/21 that a pesticide that kills bees and is banned by EU was cleared for use in England (Cruiser SB Neonicotinoid)? Just shows direction of travel by the Tory party. What else will they do? Will they do whatever is asked of them by their bigger donors.
The proposed US trade deal seems conditional on us accepting that the UK import beef that has been puffed up with hormones, meat that has been washed with chemicals and crops that have been grown using vast quantities of pesticides. As a farmer's son, I find it ludicrous that the UK government can threaten our farmers' livelihoods and refuse to protect our high food standards.
Independence for Scotland and a United Ireland
Recently I had a letter from an old friend in Scotland saying, "Boris doing his best to boost the independence cause every time he opens his mouth!"
Reminds me of my youth in North of Scotland where we discussed devolution and as far as many of us were concerned it made little difference whether we were ruled from Edinburgh, London or Brussels. What we were interested in was good government where decision taking was delegated to lowest sensible level and not concentrated at the centre where people might be learned but lacked experience and judgement on local issues.
Brexiters had a lot of slogans concerning Sovereignty. The basic definition of Sovereignty is "Supreme Power". Lord Frost (the UK chief Brexit negotiator said, "We believe sovereignty is meaningful and what it enables us to do is to set our rules for our own benefit." However, as we see from the Brexit deal, we cannot even make our own rules for fishing rights and our trading arrangements with other countries around us are in a mess and there are yet no provisions in place for financial and other services which represents 80% of our economy. The reality is that the modern world is inter-connected, and no developed economic state is free to set its own rules.
There is one main exception to this. The UK has taken back greater control over the restrictions and freedoms held by UK residents. Sovereignty used to vest in the King or Queen but now it vests in the party in power in UK Parliament. The hard right of the Conservative party and the hard left of the Labour party have a number of things in common and one of these is a desire to control and centralise power. What all this means is the Conservative party has now the authority to curtail human rights, labour rights and other rights and freedoms of UK residents.
In contrast to the hard left and the hard right liberals care deeply about protecting freedoms and liberties of the individual. If you protect the individual, you protect us all. Without that protection you cannot protect yourself against being the next to be persecuted because you are a woman, or because of your race, religion, colour, mental illness, sexual orientation or whatever.
Personally, I would feel a lot safer if those deciding on my human rights and other freedoms were set by 27 or 28 member states of the EU rather than by Boris, Gove, Rees-Mogg and their donors and cronies.
Liberal beliefs are far more in tune with our Europeans brethren who believe that social and political issues should be dealt with at the most sensible local level while recognising that at a certain level pooled or shared or collaborative Sovereignty is required:
- What the family can sensibly handle should be left to the family;
- What local government can sensibly deal with should be left with local government;
- What local government cannot sensibly deal with deal with needs to be dealt with at the national level;
- What national governments cannot sensibly deal with should be dealt with by sharing Sovereignty with others such as NATO, World Trade Organisation, International Criminal Court, and yes the EU.
Before UK got mired in the Brexit mess, we were the 5th largest economy in the world. Now we are arguably 6th or 7th. Yes, we have Covid slowing the economy but GDP % change on a year ago is down considerably less in EEA than in UK.
I had my DNA tested. My distant cousins on mother's side seem mainly in Basque region of Spain and from there to France, Ireland and England. On father's side distant cousins seem to be mainly in Holland and to a lesser amount in Scandinavia before England. Reason for mentioning this is I guess most people who investigate their DNA would have a similar tale.
I do not agree with any sport that involves killing animals for fun.
I grew up on a farm and from a young age I used a .22 rifle and a shotgun - indeed for a while I earned pocket money killing hares and rabbits. One day I was in a wood and drew a bead on a Capercaillie (a big black woodland grouse) and I had a Paul's "Road to Damascus" conversion and did not pull the trigger and have not shot since.
I do think drag racing with horses and dogs looks wonderful, but I have seen with my own eyes how it can be a cover for fox hunting.
If it ain't broke don't fix it. But what do you do when you see Doctor after Doctor retiring early or heading abroad to work? Truth is our NHS is not the idyllic body we pretend it to be. Yes, we all love the nurses and doctors who care for us. Yet we sympathise with them when in private they moan about the poorly thought through bureaucracy that centralisation burdens them with, and it seems the more administrators multiply in the NHS the more burden they put on the medical staff.
It reminds me of Ronald Reagan who said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help." Every good idea at Westminster for health matters normally means Doctors and Nurses are burdened with more form filling on antiquated computer systems and have to spend less time caring for their patients.
The statistics for waiting times are horrendous. I had cancer 10 years ago and it recurs every few years. I am told it probably will not kill me if I attend regular check-ups. The overwhelming of the hospitals scares me.
Our preparation for a pandemic was non-existent and the reported handing out of pandemic money to political donors and cronies makes us wonder about our democracy.
Also, the Conservatives with their austerity to pay for the banking crash starved the health service of cash.
Historically the NHS was set up to fix people; now with people living longer and longer the focus is on long term care and most people want to be nursed at home. This will necessitate huge changes to NHS, and I guess we will have to address greater involvement of private enterprise (which seems to be a political hot potato).
Education and training
I am a believer in the state giving maximum effort towards improving lifetime education and training. In particular two areas stand out:
- Science and technical training. We have far too many of our brightest heading towards becoming lawyers or investment bankers or otherwise involved in finance. We need to devote more resource towards encouraging students to become scientists, mathematicians, engineers and similar. We also need to review our whole approach towards technical training - it is so vital to our future economy.
- Comprehensive versus selective schooling. 20 Prime Ministers have attended Eton, seven Harrow, and six Westminster. Parents who can afford it tend to send their children to private education establishments. Why? Answer is that in private education they learn confidence, have smaller class sizes and therefore more teacher attention and private schools have greater freedom to select and cull students and teachers as they deem appropriate and of course they have more money. At the top private education establishments, they are taught public speaking and that their job is to lead. They also make a network of powerful lifetime allies. Sad fact is non-selective schools can never compete with such schools.
I have no quarrel with parents who send their children to private education. I remember a couple who sold their house and went into rented accommodation to be able to privately educate their children. While I was astonished, I sort of understood.
As regards grammar schools I am a product of the Scottish equivalent. In the year I took my 11+ exam and the two prior years out of 45 pupils I believe 5 passed the exam including my sister and myself. As a consequence, instead of going to the local junior secondary I went to the senior secondary to be taught Latin and such like so that I could eventually qualify as a solicitor. Given what the grammar school type system gave to me I cannot with integrity wish for its abolition.
One issue that needs addressing in Kent is that I am told 8% of pupils from paying primary schools take 48% of grammar school places because they are schooled in the actual exam. Kent CC does not encourage state primary schools to prepare their students for 11+ exam. There must be good arguments for such a policy but looked at from the child's point of view the policy looks suspect.
Trade and business must be enthusiastically supported.
Innovation and a strong work ethic must be encouraged.
The economy must be structured to assist people gain advancement by ability, hard work and experience rather than by sex, colour, cronyism or wealth.
Businesses in Kent
My career has mainly involved helping entrepreneurs develop their businesses. For many years I was a partner in London and New York law firms, but a touch of cancer then made long haul flights around the world problematic so with start-up help from my law partners I set up a business from an office in my garden which was successful. Long ago I lost count of the number of companies where I have been a director or company secretary, but it is about 100. I have therefore a lot of empathy with those setting up and running a business.
Also, in the last 10 years I have accumulated a lot of experience from running a business from a garden office which others are doing just now. Most of my work had to do with overseas businesses.
I am hugely mindful of the debt the Government has incurred in recent months. The debt will need to be reduced. That can only be done by ensuring we quickly re-establish trade in goods and services and that will require understanding and support from our elected representatives. In particular it will require fairness in finding ways to reduce the debt. The financial crisis caused by poor banking practices seems to have been paid by austerity affecting public services and the poorer sections of society while the bankers who caused the crisis seem not to have suffered. Such a result if it happens again can only lead to major societal problems in the future.
The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Ultimately this causes huge problems for us all. Taxes are a main cause of inequality.
I grew up on a farm with chickens, sheep, cows, potatoes, strawberries, blackcurrants, plums, pears etc. We had milk, butter, meat, vegetables and fruit in abundance. It was only when I grew up and started going to the pub that I understood cash was in short supply. At University I was poor, but I received a decent education and over time earnings increased although educating children and paying a mortgage takes its toll. Eventually I had spare cash to invest in shares.
The contrast between grafting long hours for income and being asleep while your portfolio increases is mind blowing.
I am not a supporter of high-income tax rax rates. It probably would not be so demotivating if the Government spent taxpayer's money wisely and did not award silly contracts to their donors and other cronies.
As regards CGT I do not understand why tax on my income from long hours grafting is so much more than tax on capital gains while I am sleeping. As a Lib Dem it jars with my beliefs on fairness and equality.
Also, many Tories advocate the abolition of inheritance tax. Again, my beliefs on fairness and equality makes me a believer in IHT. Why should someone who works long hours grafting away pay high tax bills while another who simply receives a gift of wealth might pay no taxes. Also, if kids are going to inherit large amounts there is little incentive for them to work hard. I remember my barber telling me there are a lot of children in Sevenoaks just waiting for their parents to die. It made me sad.