It is important to celebrate small wins. Last Friday a horse drawing a hearse clip-clopped its way down the road past our front window. I only caught a glimpse of it as it went past, however when we went out later there was evidence – horse droppings in the road. When we were children, and my mother was establishing her garden, on what had been virgin veld in Swaziland, collecting cow pats was a regular weekend pursuit. We would pile into the car and drive along the dirt roads around Mbabane. When cow pat was spotted we would hustle out of the car and scoop it into a sack. I channelled my childhood, collected a bucket, went out, and now we have nutrition for at least a few of the roses!
And that leads me neatly into the next topic for this month, politicians and the UK government, which continues to amaze and dismay me. For the past week the news has been dominated by the leaking of WhatsApp messages, emanating from Matthew Hancock, and published in the Telegraph, a right-wing newspaper. In trying to make sense of this I will begin with the cast list. Before doing that, I need to be clear that these events are not important in the grand scheme, it is simply watching, with embarrassed horror, a political car crash in slow motion. We are fascinated and unable to look away. If the events convince undecided voters that the Tories are morally bankrupt and incapable of governing, that will be a good outcome. Let me list the dramatis personae.
Matthew Hancock1 MP is the Member of Parliament for West Suffolk. In July 2018 he was appointed as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Hancock endorsed Boris Johnson’s successful bid for leadership and was Health Secretary through Covid-19. In June 2021 he was caught on camera in his office kissing his mistress, Gina Coladangelo, thus breaching Covid regulations. He resigned as Health Secretary. In 2022, Hancock had the whip suspended for appearing in ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here’! He says he will stand down at the next election.
Isabel Oakeshott2 is a right-wing journalist who was political editor of The Sunday Times. She co-authored an unauthorised biography of former British prime minister David Cameron, Call Me Dave, and other non-fiction titles. It is the authorised book Pandemic Diaries, The Inside Story of Britain’s Battle Against Covid (2022) co-written with Hancock which is causing the stir. This is about Hancock’s role during the Covid-19. It is an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation.
Boris Johnson3 MP was Prime Minister (PM) and Leader of the Conservative Party from 2019 to 2022. I would describe him as a renaissance man, with Machiavellian tendencies, and an ability to adapt or obfuscate the truth. He supported withdrawal from the EU and was at the helm when the UK left. A few of the scandals that embroiled him were spending on Downing Street refurbishment; support of Owen Patterson; and lying about what he knew of MP Chris Pincher. This last led to mass resignations from government and his departure as PM. His moral bankruptcy enabled the scandals.
What is the issue? Hancock made at least 100,000 WhatsApp messages available to Oakeshott for their book. She then passed them to The Daily Telegraph, who have been publishing them in ‘The Lockdown Files’. She claimed this was in the public interest. Hancock regards this as breaking confidentiality and a betrayal. Oakeshott says Hancock sent a “threatening” message saying she had made a “big mistake”. However we learn, for example, Hancock proposed blocking funding for local projects in the constituencies of MPs who opposed the government on lockdown, this is alarming.
This story is still unfolding, it confirms some journalists can’t be trusted, no surprise there. At best, Hancock is naïve, at worst, he is completely lacking in judgement. It is further eroding the already miniscule confidence in politicians, who are seen to have contempt for the public. It shows the Conservative Government is past its ‘sell-by date’. Their policies are bankrupt, their politicians are self-serving and many people believe they are not to be trusted. The danger is that there is some time before the next election must be called, and ‘a week is a long time in politics.’ What remains to be seen is if the Tories can rehabilitate the party and the opposition keep up the pressure.
I am, as readers of this blog know, a Liberal Democrat. Ailsa is a Green. We are members of small parties with little chance of taking power. However, if these parties cannot be the Kings (or Queens) they could be the King makers and influence policies. Of the 650 seats in the House of Commons the Tories have 355, Labour, the opposition, has 197, the Liberal Democrats 14 and the Greens just one. What needs to happen is an alliance among opposition parties on a seat-by-seat basis. There has, though, been much progress at the local government level: county and district councils.
Enough of this! The weather is sometimes a filler in these blogs. I find it fascinating but know this is a niche interest. January and February were incredibly dry and cool, but not cold. I have both a rain gauge and a minimum/maximum thermometer so I can keep a record of these indicators. The rain gauge had nothing to report. The thermometer recorded day after day of miserable temperatures with little variation. The reason for this stasis was high pressure sitting over the UK, keeping the Atlantic frontal systems at bay. Finally in March we had rain and, indeed, even snow showers. There was about two inches of very welcome rain in the last few days.
Inevitably with the budget just having been tabled in parliament in South Africa, and about to be presented in the UK, money and incomes are an issue. This is made all the more imperative by the cost of living crisis and inflation. In the UK in January 2023 inflation was 8.8%, in South Africa it was 6.9%. Which?, the British consumer magazine, produced figures showing what level of income is needed in retirement for various lifestyles and I reproduce these below, with the South Africa equivalents calculated on 10th March 2023.4 It should be remembered that in the UK the National Health Service reduces out-of-pocket payments for health care, so I think South Africans need more.
|Single person household||12,000||266,000||19,000||420,000||31,000||685,000|
Although I find the weather and money endlessly fascinating, I recognise it is not everyone’s passion! I have also enjoyed some of the recent television. The series Happy Valley was excellent but bleak. It was a ‘police procedural’ set in the gritty north of England. The film, The Banshees of Inisherin, was released in 2022. This film had a lot of good publicity and sounded most intriguing. It is a set on an island (perhaps one of the Aran islands) off the west coast of Ireland. The story is about a relationship between two men when one decides that the friendship is over, and the other neither understands nor accepts it. It is a bleak story of mental health problems and the difficulty of living in a small and isolated community. There is a nod to the unhelpful role of the church and existence of child abuse. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are the stars, and Martin McDonagh is the director and producer. They, together, made the film In Bruges (2008). Both films are worth watching and are thought provoking.
The other entertainment has been Pokerface. This is a murder mystery series centred around Charlie Cale who has the ability to detect lies which is interesting, but an inability to keep quiet when she does, which is hazardous for her. She travels from job to job across the United States and solves the homicides she comes across. The question of causation and correlation is not addressed! Each episode is a standalone story. The back story, introduced in the first episode, is that she is on the run from a casino owner, as she triggered his son’s suicide!
Let me end off the March Blog, and say I hope spring comes quickly.