The State of the UK

Two adjacent stories today

Carer convicted over benefit error worth 30p a week fights to clear his name | Benefits | The Guardian

A carer who says he was “dragged through the courts” and had to sell his home to pay back almost £20,000 in benefit overpayments is fighting to clear his name after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) acknowledged he made an innocent mistake.

George Henderson, 64, said he made a gain of just 30p a week while claiming carer’s allowance for his son John, who has learning difficulties and is addicted to heroin. He now costs the Treasury £1,000 a month more in benefits, having become homeless and too unwell to work.

Henderson said he was left suicidal after being prosecuted by the DWP, which accused him of fraudulently claiming the benefit for six years while he was caring for John, who is now 42.

And the DWP said“We are committed to fairly supporting all those who need the welfare system, while fulfilling our duty to treating taxpayers’ money responsibly.

And now the other:

Michelle Donelan used £34,000 of taxpayer funds to cover libel costs | Michelle Donelan | The Guardian

UK taxpayers have paid out more than £34,000 to cover the cost of the science secretary Michelle Donelan’s libel case, the Guardian can reveal, more than double the sum the government had previously admitted.

The legal fees racked up by the cabinet minister after wrongly accusing an academic of supporting or sympathising with Hamas cost the public an additional £19,000, on top of the £15,000 libel settlement.

She faced calls to resign from opposition parties and criticism from Tory backbenchers as she was urged to cover the cost of settling the libel action herself after apologising and publicly retracting her remarks.

Departure time 2023, arrival 1943

Timothy Garton Ash in the NYRB

When I started writing my book Homelands: A Personal History of Europe five years ago, I thought that in order to bring home to young Europeans the horrors against which postwar Europe has defined itself, I must hurry to track down some of the last surviving elderly Europeans with personal memories of the hell that was Europe during World War II. So I did, in Germany, France, and Poland. But today all you need do to experience such horrors firsthand is take a train into Ukraine from the southeastern Polish town of Przemyśl. Departure time 2023, arrival 1943.

All is power and all is politics

Daniel Trilling · Not Much like Consent: Crisis at the Met · LRB 30 March 2023

In the​ 1980s, the Met was a key part of the coalition of interests that underpinned the Thatcher government. Together, the Conservative Party, the police and the right-wing press successfully undermined the power of the unions, by legislating against them, physically attacking their members (as officers from the Met and other forces did at Orgreave and elsewhere during the miners’ strike) and persuading just enough people that this was necessary to maintain law and order. Not every officer approved of the role the police played: Dick wrote an essay during her training arguing that the Thatcher years created ‘the impression that the police had been reduced to the status of political tools’. But the Tories bought goodwill among the rank and file – and boosted recruitment – by implementing a 45 per cent pay rise soon after taking office in 1979. ‘Most of us in the police thought [Thatcher] was simply magnificent,’ Ron Evans, a former Met protection officer, told Harper.

Not enough saints to go around

British politics needs more money | The Economist

Plumbers are paid well because they wade through effluent. In their own way, so do those in politics (indeed, one parliamentary candidate recalled being sent a photo of her election leaflet covered in a large human turd). Relying on public spiritedness alone to guide people into politics is as foolish as hoping goodwill will be enough to persuade someone to spend a life unblocking toilets.

In a previous paragraph

A lack of money also dilutes the quality of the politicians tasked with putting those ideas into practice. When salaries were first introduced for MPs in 1911, they amounted to £400 per year or roughly six times the average wage of the time. Now an mp earns around £84,000, just over double the average full-time wage. (The days of being able to boost pay via dodgy expense claims are long gone, too.) Meanwhile, incomes for high-flyers in professional services have exploded in the past few decades. Lawyers, bankers and even accountants now command large salaries, pulling well ahead of former fiscal peers such as doctors and politicians. The opportunity cost of a career in politics is huge for the most able.

Ends with

A lack of money leaves much of politics the preserve of those who are rich, mad, thick or saintly. Sadly for Britain’s body politic, the saints are outnumbered by the rest.

Parallels between Argentina and Britain’s inept political class

The parallels between Argentina and Britain’s inept political class – New Statesman

John Gray in the New Statesman.

The catastrophic meltdown in public finances that very nearly happened during Liz Truss’s short spell as prime minister was not the result of a one-off act of political folly. Her madcap dash for deficit-financed growth revealed Britain’s heavy dependency on global capital flows and acute vulnerability if they come to a sudden stop. Since then, UK government borrowing costs have risen. Quantitative easing after the financial crisis of 2007-08, the costs of lockdown, and energy subsidies have left colossal levels of public debt.

In effect, the British state is operating as a highly leveraged hedge fund.

It won’t end well.

Shopping for money

What supermarkets reveal about Britain’s economy

Last year a boss in the social-care sector told a parliamentary committee that he dreads hearing that an Aldi is opening nearby, as “I know I will lose staff.”

Just like the buses

John Lanchester · Get a rabbit: Don’t trust the numbers · LRB 21 September 2023

One way of explaining how Britain got to this place is to say that we waited all this time for the worst prime minister in history, and then four came along at once.

On building for our children’s future

Arianne Shahvisi | Liable to Collapse · LRB 12 September 2023

The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, seemed both surprised and peeved that the prospect of concrete falling on children’s heads would cause so much bother. She observed that ‘schools can collapse for many reasons,’ mithered that no one had told her ‘you’ve done a fucking good job,’ and breezily tweeted: ‘most schools unaffected’. (Keir Starmer’s press team live for this kind of low hanging fruit, and were quick with the obvious riposte: ‘most beachgoers not eaten by big shark’.)

While in Susa, de Morgan oversaw the excavation of a seven-foot basalt stele inscribed with the Code of Hammurabi, the best-preserved copy of one of the world’s oldest legal texts, drawn up by the sixth Amorite king of the Old Babylonian Empire. It is now on display in the Louvre, five thousand miles (and a great many political barriers) away from the sight of modern Iranians. The code, which lists 282 provisions and their punishments, is the first recorded example of the lex talionis principle, predating the Torah’s ‘eye for an eye’. It also lays out the earliest written building regulations:

  1. If a builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.
  2. If it ruin goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.
  3. If a builder build a house for someone, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.


Rishi Sunak used helicopter for trip from London to Norwich | Rishi Sunak | The Guardian

Rishi Sunak has used a helicopter to travel to and from an engagement in Norwich, a trip of little more than 100 miles, Downing Street has confirmed, in another example of the prime minister’s fondness for flying brief distances.

UWE Bristol rugby player waited five hours for ambulance, inquest hears | Bristol | The Guardian

A 20-year-old university student who died after being injured in a rugby match and acquiring an infection in hospital lay in agony on the pitch for more than five hours while she waited for an ambulance, an inquest has heard.[she had a dislocated hip]

Patients in England will be first to access seven-minute cancer treatment jab | Cancer | The Guardian

Patients in England will become the first in the world to benefit from a jab that treats cancer in seven minutes.

It is expected that the majority of these people will now get the drug via a seven-minute injection instead of intravenously, which usually takes 30 minutes to an hour.

How many months they wait to be seen, scanned or started off on treatment is not mentioned.

Those sensible Dutch persons

Race to lead European Investment Bank heats up – POLITICO

DUTCH CAMPAIGN GEARING UP: From an EU perspective, Dutch elections used to be simple: about 20 parties fought a fierce campaign and in the end, Mark Rutte was back at the European Council table.

The defacement of public office

Braverman’s war on the ‘crooked lawyers’ – POLITICO

Or as Tory Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson put it: “If they don’t like barges then they should f*ck off back to France.”

Splendid. Which brings to mind Aneurin Bevan’s infamous description of the Tory party. My sympathy, as ever, is with the Welshman.

If you tolerate this, your children will be next.

Shit life syndrome

The Enlightened Economist | Economics and business books

The over-burdened welfare state is not quite coping with people suffering from what (I learned here) doctors describe as “Shit Life Syndrome” when they go to their GPs for help with depression or other mental ill-health conditions. And there will not be enough money to fix any of this unless growth picks up. But that would require a competent, effective government able to take clear decisions, build cross-party consensus, devolve money and powers, and stick with the plan without changing ministers and policies every 18 months.

As a med student I remember sitting in with an Irish senior registrar in psychiatry as he saw a young woman whose life seemed to consist of one random but state-induced tragedy after another. That she could still get out of bed and care for her numerous children seemed to me to attest both to her sanity and her moral character.

The psychiatrist’s assessment was blunt: the patient had no need of a physician, but needed to join the f***ing labour party and mobilise for office. Quite so.

More airline/pilot vs medicine/doctor metaphors

Cait Hewitt: ‘I hope the era of aviation exceptionalism is over’ | Financial Times

This year, the British government proudly unveiled an “ambitious” plan to make airports in England net zero by 2040. Only one problem: the target does not include the actual flights, which account for 95 per cent of airports’ emissions.

But Rishi Sunak’s government champions “guilt-free flying”: its so-called Jet Zero strategy is built on “ambitious” assumptions of future technology. Here Hewitt, mild-mannered, stretches to exasperation. “If you went to the doctor as a smoker, and said, ‘What shall I do?’ And the doctor said, ‘I think you should carry on with your 40-a-day habit, because I’m a very optimistic person, I believe in future there’s going to be some technology that will allow us to replace your lungs.’ Would you describe that person as ambitious or just completely reckless?”

Call my agent

Friday 7 July, 2023 – by John Naughton – Memex 1.1

(The following via John Naughton — link above. Original report in the Irish Times)

Fintan O’Toole on RTE’s slow-rolling crisis.

JN: RTE is Ireland’s national broadcaster and it’s now embroiled in an epic crisis because of revelations about its chaotic management, casual ethics and undercover payments to a leading broadcasting celebrity named Ryan Tubridy. The trigger point for the crisis was the discovery of undercover payments made to Tubridy during the Covid lockdown to compensate him for reductions in his non-broadcasting income caused by the pandemic.

JN: Since public money is involved, the Republic’s legislators opened hearings on the matter, which meant that from Day One my fellow-citizens have been enthralled (and increasingly enraged) by daily revelations about the managerial chaos, ineptitude and arrogance that prevailed in the country’s leading media organisation.

JN:From the outset, though, Tubridy maintained an air of high-minded detachment. All of those non-disclosed payments had been negotiated by his agent, Noel Kelly, disclosed to the revenue authorities, and the tax due on them had been duly paid. “Nothing to see here: any questions see my agent” was the general tenor of his responses.

JN: This pose has exasperated Fintan O’Toole, Ireland’s leading opinion columnist, and he penned a terrific column about it the other day. Like most of his stuff it is hidden behind the Irish Times’s paywall, but since I pay through the nose for a subscription I think it’s time some of his high-octane indignation got a wider airing. So here goes…

He starts with a story about Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s greatest poet since Yeats.

In 1981, Seamus Heaney wrote to his American agent, Selma Warner, about the fees she was demanding for readings by him on US campuses. He was angry because they were too high.

Heaney was not yet quite as famous as he would become, but his reputation was already very considerable and he was a mesmerising performer of his own work. Warner had started to ask for $1,000 for a reading – the equivalent of about $3,300 today.

Heaney’s complaint was that this was too much money:

I do not wish to be a $1,000 speaker. Apart from my moral scruples about whether any speaker or reader is worth anything like that, I do not wish to become a freak among my poet friends, or to press the budgets of departments of literature at a time when the money for education is drying up in the United States.”

Which later brings him (FO’T) to Tubridy:

Let’s not succumb to “my agent made me do it” stories. Agents, however colourful and assertive, are intermediaries: these deals were done between RTÉ and Tubridy.

It was Tubridy’s job to have the “moral scruples”. Kelly is not his Father Confessor – he’s his attack dog. It is always up to the conscience of the client as to whether the dog should be called off before he bites off any particular pound of flesh.

Remember Johnson’s line: no official told me having a piss-up was against the law.

Painting over humanity

Robert Jenrick has cartoon murals painted over at children’s asylum centre | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian

Murals of cartoon characters including Mickey Mouse and Baloo from The Jungle Book painted on the walls of an asylum seeker reception centre to welcome children have been removed on the orders of the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick.

The murals were painted over because he thought they were too welcoming and sent the wrong message — to children…

Boris Johnson exits as he entered, with deceit and contempt

Boris Johnson exits as he entered, with deceit and contempt | Financial Times

Truly, nothing in his public life exposed him like the leaving of it.

Robert Shrimsley

Shared something or other

Techno-Narcissism | No Mercy / No Malice

As Sacha Baron Cohen said: “Democracy is dependent on shared truths, and autocracy on shared lies.”

2001 as metaphor

New Bayer chief plans a radically different style to cut bureaucracy | Financial Times

Anderson wants managers to overcome the traditional top-down approach and allow a team to develop a life of its own.

He likes to compare the situation of senior managers with that of the astronaut in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 — A Space Odyssey”. In the science fiction movie, the scientists aboard a spaceship gradually find out that the computer had taken over the mission.

In one of his first meetings with Bayer managers, Anderson played a clip from the film. His message was that “the astronaut is us, and we are no longer in control” but at the same time, the system “often is fundamentally flawed”.

Which reminds me of the doctors and nurses stuck within the hull that is the NHS, directed in this case by the political masters who lack the guts to actually even set foot on the ship.

Boris Johnson exits as he entered, with deceit and contempt

Boris Johnson exits as he entered, with deceit and contempt | Financial Times

Truly, nothing in his public life exposed him like the leaving of it.

Robert Shrimsley

A home that no longer feels like it

Farewell to Dubravka Ugrešić, a fearless prophet | Financial Times

In 1993, Ugrešić went into voluntary exile, first to Berlin and then the US, finally settling in Amsterdam and taking Dutch citizenship. In a 1999 article, she repeated what she had often said: “I myself am neither an émigré nor a refugee nor an asylum seeker. I am a writer who at one point decided not to live in her own country anymore because her country was no longer hers.”

Fellow writers relished her work — Susan Sontag called her “a writer to be cherished” — but unlike many of her contemporaries, Ugrešić predicted the future of publishing too. In 1997, she saw that literature had, fatally, acquired an “aura of glamour”, and that publishers wanted writers to be chiefly “content providers” (the term was new enough then to be carried in quotes). What would become, she asked, of the “outsiders, bookworms, romantics and losers” who used to make up the despised and neglected profession of writers?

Intellectuals as protectors of integrity

Via Adam Tooze

On the courage of Vladimir Kara-Murza (his words below are via Tooze)

At one point during my testimony, the presiding judge reminded me that one of the extenuating circumstances was “remorse for what [the accused] has done.” And although there is little that’s amusing about my present situation, I could not help smiling: The criminal, of course, must repent of his deeds. I’m in jail for my political views. For speaking out against the war in Ukraine. For many years of struggle against Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. For facilitating the adoption of personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against human rights violators.

Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it. I am proud that Boris Nemtsov brought me into politics. And I hope that he is not ashamed of me. I subscribe to every word that I have spoken and every word of which I have been accused by this court. I blame myself for only one thing: that over the years of my political activity I have not managed to convince enough of my compatriots and enough politicians in the democratic countries of the danger that the current regime in the Kremlin poses for Russia and for the world. Today this is obvious to everyone, but at a terrible price — the price of war.

In their last statements to the court, defendants usually ask for an acquittal. For a person who has not committed any crimes, acquittal would be the only fair verdict. But I do not ask this court for anything. I know the verdict. I knew it a year ago when I saw people in black uniforms and black masks running after my car in the rearview mirror. Such is the price for speaking up in Russia today.

But I also know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will dissipate. When black will be called black and white will be called white; when at the official level it will be recognized that two times two is still four; when a war will be called a war, and a usurper a usurper; and when those who kindled and unleashed this war, rather than those who tried to stop it, will be recognized as criminals.

“Honest” Boris

Johnson looks done for from TheEconomist

Boris johnson is an honest man. It is possible to tell this by the sheer number of times he declares his honesty.

In his written submission to the committee of mps investigating whether he intentionally misled Parliament over Partygate, the word “honest” popped up around 20 times in one form or another. In a three-hour hearing on March 22nd he offered yet more honesty, at one point even “hand on heart.” And little speaks more of honesty than declaring your honesty 20-odd times in two days.

Feels like it

The England that awaits the young Mundy is a rain-swept cemetery for the living dead powered by a forty-watt bulb.

Absolute friends, John le Carré

A deceit

A deceit at the heart of democracy.

No politician would fly in a plane built by politicians.

No more big letters

Just a suggestion after looking at newspaper headlines at a news stand. That feeling of despair at the world and those who pour dirt upon it.

Could we limit the font size of headlines to no more than size 14 on an A4 page. So, small, but readable. More whitespace can surround the letter above and below. This might make the context come into where it belongs: dead centre.

VIP capitalism

Banks are designed to fail — and they do | Financial Times

But few people are capitalists when threatened by losing money they regarded as safe and nobody is better than a capitalist at explaining how essential their wealth is to the health of the economy.

Rear view mirror only

Ikea boss says Brexit has caused ‘chaos’ | Financial Times

Shapps bemoaned the lack of homegrown technology giants and promised to ape Silicon Valley, saying he would organise a “scale-up summit” later this year to bring tech and finance expertise together.

Well, that’s alright then.

The head of a sovereign wealth fund, who declined to be identified, said the recent political history of the UK including Brexit was “an unmitigated disaster”, and the country had made a “catalogue of policy mistakes” that would take years to unwind, if ever.

Vampire squids

The Economist

Rolling Stone described Goldman[Sachs]as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.

We should forgive a cliché when it becomes true.

Salve Lucrum: The Existential Threat of Greed in US Health Care

Salve Lucrum: The Existential Threat of Greed in US Health Care | Health Care Economics, Insurance, Payment | JAMA | JAMA Network

In the mosaic floor of the opulent atrium of a house excavated at Pompeii is a slogan ironic for being buried under 16 feet of volcanic ash: Salve Lucrum, it reads, “Hail, Profit.” That mosaic would be a fitting decoration today in many of health care’s atria.

The grip of financial self-interest in US health care is becoming a stranglehold, with dangerous and pervasive consequences. No sector of US health care is immune from the immoderate pursuit of profit, neither drug companies, nor insurers, nor hospitals, nor investors, nor physician practices.

Avarice is manifest in mergers leading to market concentration, which, despite pleas of “economies of scale,” almost always raise costs.

Yep. Don Berwick on fine form.

Choose 2

After Dani Rodrik, quoted by Walter Münchau in The New Statesman(26 January 2023).

Only two of the following are compatible with one another: the nation-state, democracy and globalisation.