END DAYS – PART 2 – August 31st 2020
It is over 10 years since I wrote END DAYS – PART 1 in March 2009. I am still alive and still walking and photographing - fairly strenuous distances in my 83nd year in these interesting times of the Covid-19 pandemic and Boris Johnson’s Premiership.
I am writing this account trying to discover whether I am deluded, possibly suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s, or whether England surrounding me is deluded. Am I in need of psychological help or is it the ruling Conservative Government that is deluded?
Old Etonian and Oxford graduate, Mr Boris Johnson succeeded in his personal aim of becoming Prime Minister by his backing of BREXIT (whether or not he actually believed in it is unclear to me). Brexit was apparently for him the ideal way of achieving his ambition – to be another Churchill – or at least his illusion of Churchill.
Brexit seems to have arisen largely through two groupings:
a) Small group of Conservative Parliamentarians
· A small vocal group of Conservative Parliamentarians were discontented with being a Member Nation of The European Union. They apparently believed that EU membership stifled British trade opportunities. They wanted to leave believing that unrestricted international trade would enable them to find a national pot of gold (& perhaps their own personal pots?) under the rainbow.
· They also believed that by leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom would ‘regain control’ and not be tied by common - European Standards, Trade Agreements, Benefits etc decided by the European system of democracy. But as many other European Countries for instance have less litter & fly tipping etc, it would seem that some European Nations have more public awareness and more self-discipline than the UK. Will the UK in leaving the EU actually become even less aware of social obligations – perhaps there is indeed no such thing as ‘society’ as Mrs Thatcher once proclaimed?
· During the Conservative Parties campaign for the Brexit Referendum vote, Mr Johnson’s propaganda bus proclaimed that British contributions made to EU when stopped after leaving, would beneficially be diverted to the National Health Service effectively improving the UK’s economy. The implication was that we paid out more to the EU than we received from it. There are of course mutual benefits to all EU members which cannot be assessed only in money terms.
· Things like security in being a member of a large European Bloc, participation in defence, scientific endeavours, being partners in improving environmental conditions, scientific, building and construction standards and being partners with other European Nations & companies in commercial and manufacturing endeavours etc, did not seem to interest these Parliamentary Conservatives ‘leavers’.
· They seem to be prepared to forego very real advantages to their citizens such as larger employment opportunities within the EU’s bigger market, and basic benefits such as the European Health Insurance scheme available to UK citizens both travelling on holiday in Europe or working there permanently.
b) Citizens of the UK who did not want free movement of Labour from the other EU States into the United Kingdom.
· They apparently believed that jobs in the UK filled by European immigrants deprived native born British Citizens of jobs, drove wage rates down, and increased casual employment. Indeed, many UK citizens still resented earlier immigration from the British Empire / Commonwealth after the Second World War in a time of severe labour shortage. The Empire had been a source of wealth to the UK, but immigration from Member States of peoples of different races was not universally welcomed. Conservative MP Enoch Powell and his ‘Rivers of Blood Speech’ stated this (although his party apparently did not endorse his views). However, immigration rules changed later as colonies became independent and immigrants were no longer automatically accepted from previously colonial countries.
· Minimum income rules were introduced by Conservative Governments to ensure that immigrants from non-EU countries (including Commonwealth countries) were not permitted to settle permanently in the UK unless they surpassed these incomes. Strangely, Russian Oligarchs, often potential donors to the Conservative Party or purchasers of expensive properties in London, seemed to become more welcome in the UK than Commonwealth Citizens (many of whose parents had loyally served (and possibly died) with British forces in earlier World Wars).
· Some UK citizens were also unhappy about European immigrants receiving State Benefits (whether they were working or not) apparently believing that this both reduced Benefits available to British citizens and their own likelihood of receiving them.
· Some also considered that the UK was overpopulated and that its services (schools, hospitals, provision of housing) could not cope with population increases – which indeed could be a problem.
· But the Conservative government now apparently sees some immigration as still being necessary but thinks that immigrants should be selected on skills and an English language basis, but internationally rather than from the EU. Future immigration of ‘unskilled’ labour critical to farming, the care and nursing sectors and some other service jobs does not presently seem to have been fully considered or at least intended government rules controlling this are not yet clear? Will these rules be debated in Parliament - rather than ‘presidentially decreed’ by the Conservative Party’?
· At the inception of the NHS in1948, many doctors were recruited from India and later nurses from other countries. This ‘reverse’ economic aid has in effect reduced the pool of skilled workers in such countries and the effectiveness of their countries’ medical services. Some white Brits were reluctant / or resented being treated by persons of other races - hopefully this is changing?
Democratic systems in the UK and in Europe
· The democratic system of election of representatives to the many EU member States Parliaments generally seem to have voting systems which gives representation to a larger range of parties.
· Britain, unlike other European Member States, has no written constitution and although election reform is raised from time to time, it seems that both the Labour and Conservative Parties prefer the ‘First Past the Post’ system in UK elections. Both parties when elected seem to follow their parties preconceived / historic Capitalist or Socialist objectives without always considering what might now actually be best for all the people of the country.
· It would seem that electoral reform with a written constitution similar to that drafted for Germany after the Second World War would be better than the present system unrepresentative of many citizens who are neither Conservatives or Labour supporters. Indeed, government by agreement between groups seems an altogether better system and would hopefully halt government by right & left-wing extremes.
· There is, however, a contradictory system in the UK where Scotland, Wales, and Northern Island, have separate representative assemblies whereas England does not – the Westminster parliament fudges along as the overall UK Parliament but with a main role of looking after England. There seems to be a conflict of interests which should be rapidly sorted out. During the present Covid-19 period for instance decision making in Scotland on what action is required is faster and more clearly communicated than in England, which seems often to dither and U-turn before taking action and thus confuse citizens.
· Possibly England with financial and cultural differences between the North and South should be split into several more parts & parliaments – a Union of British States with separate administrative parliaments for some English regions (some of which would be greater in area and economic wealth than either Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland).
· One overall parliament, however, is still required for defence, international issues, taxation and distribution of national funds equitably.
· The role of the House of Lords also needs careful examination – the conferring of peerages by Prime Minister’s whim and their payment for purely attendance in the House of Lords seems an anachronism. Clearly whatever function the Lords perform can be done with far less persons - who should be elected – yet another reason for constitutional reform.
The European Parliament
· The European Parliament gives voice to elected representatives’ opinions expressed from their different members States, but European Parliament Representatives from member nations do not necessarily reflect the views of their own Nation’s Parliaments. Any country may have completely different Parties contesting National & European Elections. Special Parties like UKIP and BREXIT in the UK could be formed in other EU countries to contest European Elections without needing to have members of these parties in their own countries National Parliaments.
· In this Mr Nigel Farage’s role as leader of the single-issue United Kingdom Independence Party (and later of the Brexit Party) played a significant disruptive role in the European Parliament. It was his publicity platform for pushing for UK independence from Europe and the stopping of European immigration (despite UKIP’s minimal or no elected representatives in the UK National parliament). Further other party policies (besides Brexit) held by the UKIP / BREXIT Parties were not known (or publicised to the Public), but are suspected by many of being even further to the right than the Conservative Party.
· While a European Union Parliament is desirable as a meeting and discussion forum for representatives from diverse EU Nations, the election of populistic parties (such as UKIP / BREXIT) but from other EU States in the future could undermine the European Parliament and Union. Probably rules for new Political Parties participation in elections needs to be considered. Should they have a minimum representation in their National parliaments before being permitted to stand for election in the EU parliament?
Common policies held by both UK ‘brexit’ parties:
· Both the Conservatives & the Brexit parties would halt the automatic right of access of European Citizens to work in the United Kingdom (and reciprocally for UK citizens to work in the EU). Both these parties apparently thought that UK citizens had lost jobs to EU citizens. Actual ‘replacement of British labour’ in ‘unskilled jobs’ by EU citizens is unclear. EU citizens were probably recruited because British Labour did not want to relocate within the UK and did not actually want to do some unskilled jobs requiring relocation and housing possibly away from family. Not all UK citizens now wanted to ‘get on their bicycles’ to seek employment
· Newcomers (and their children) into any country often seem to want to succeed more than citizens of longstanding in a society (lulled by the comfort of family and State benefits if things go wrong). Newcomers often work harder in both skilled and unskilled jobs. Up to the time of the Covid-19 pandemic some jobs were called unskilled, but now after their critical need has been shown by the pandemic, these are recognised as being essential jobs to keep society running. In affluent cities like London many unskilled lower paid jobs prop up the wealth of others. Provision of affordable housing for lower paid workers becomes a problem as property prices keep escalating from the demand by the wealthier inhabitants.
· Social housing built in London and other cities after the second world war has now often been sold off (initially to occupants) making a property-owning democracy as pushed for by Mrs Thatcher, but this has, in effect, now reduced the pool of housing available to a growing population. Renting rather than buying property has becomes necessary. Speculators in ‘buying to let’ are now plentiful. But the quality of rented property does not always meet reasonable standards and in times of depression such as Covid-19 not all renters can pay – which has social consequences – homelessness etc.
· Mr Johnson apparently wants to increase the amount of housing - by both new building or the conversion of existing building (possibly unoccupied and built for other purposes). Some fear that this may well create new slums in the future if not sensibly planned and executed.
European and other foreign companies working within the UK
· The beneficial effect of manufacturing and trade by European and Foreign Companies working inside the UK and the unrestricted trade with the EU arising from UK membership of the EU, does not seem to have been fully considered by either the Conservatives or the Brexit Party. Employment and trade certainly will suffer if such trade becomes subject to tariffs if the UK crashes out of the EU without trade agreements. Will some of the Foreign Companies pull out and relocate to countries within the European Union diminishing the United Kingdom Economy?
· It can probably be shown that foreign companies working inside the UK in the motor car industry, for instance, have had less industrial / labour strife than many earlier British owned companies. Probably this was the result of incoming companies bringing in up to date manufacturing and assembly plants while British companies lagged behind with outdated production lines and systems. Almost all earlier large British owned vehicle companies have failed. The historic class divisions between Upper (managing) & Lower (working) classes has also probably not arisen with foreign companies – labour negotiations between foreign directed Management and Unions seems to have been more productive and less acrimonious?
· If the Conservative Party fails in its Trade Agreements with the EU which presently allows foreign made cars in the UK to be imported into the EU without incurring tariffs, or if the UK crashes out without a Trade Deal, this would make such cars uncompetitive. Foreign car makers will then probably leave the UK and re-establish factories within Europe increasing unemployment.
· Will the trend towards ‘services’ and ‘financial services’ actually increase the wealth of the UK if manufacturing declines further? Unlikely, but already some Financial Services have moved to Europe and more companies may well follow.
· Will the Pound devalue in relationship to the Euro through these causes (but now also compounded by the severe financial effects of Covid-19)? Will, yet another period of Conservative Party Austerity occur? Will society decline – more child poverty (which is apparently the highest in Europe?), more persons sleeping rough etc?
The UK referendum on membership of the European Union
· Prior to the Referendum on EU membership, the Old Etonian and Oxford Graduate, Mr David Cameron as Prime Minister did not succeed in proposing and agreeing a new agreement with the European Union restricting / changing the principle of labour movement into the UK. In the eyes of many, he then foolishly called for a referendum, apparently believing that people would vote to stay in the Union.
· Even, considering Mr Cameron’s confidence that the electorate would vote to stay in, it is bemusing that he set no criteria as to what would be a winning total vote. In most national polls or elections many voters do not exercise their right to vote. One must logically assume that those who do not vote are content with or indifferent to an existing political situation. A winning referendum vote ‘to leave’ (a changed situation) should thus be greater than the vote to ‘remain’ by at least the number of voters who abstain from voting. Alternately for all referenda a minimum percentage should be set beforehand to avoid change based on only a few discontented votes. In this particular referendum approximately 28% of eligible voters did not cast their votes. Some countries like Australia make it mandatory for citizens to vote in elections and fine them if they don’t. There would seem to be a case for introducing this in the UK.
· Further some British citizens, who had been resident in the EU for more than 15 years, were apparently not permitted to vote. Other UK citizens living in the EU complained that too little time was given for them to submit their votes.
· Having a referendum, is itself an admission that the present parliamentary system is flawed and requires revision and a written constitution. A new Constitution should democratically give proportional representation to parliament rather than the present ‘first past the post system’ favouring the present polarised main two parties.
· Strangely the land border which would arise between Northern Island and The Republic of Ireland, and its effect on the control of trade at such borders was apparently not an issue raised during the referendum. Post referendum it became one of the major problems in negotiations between the UK & EU. No one wanted violence to re-erupt once again at this historically contentious ‘colonial’ border.
· The fact that devolved Scotland probably did not wish to leave the European Union also did not deter the largely English dominated UK parliament from holding a European Membership Referendum. Scotland, it was assumed, would ‘meekly’ fall in line? A probable future breakup of the UK itself with Scotland independent and now clearly wishing to remain a member of The European Union was ignored. Losing Scotland from the United Kingdom is abhorrent to many English and Welsh people, but it now seems very likely to occur and there seems no way Mr Johnson (or a successor could stop this)
· It seems probable that Mr Cameron’s and His Chancellor Mr George Osborne’s policy of Austerity pushed many discontented persons to vote for Brexit. It is always easier (and less disloyal?) for UK citizens to blame ‘foreigners’ than one’s own countrymen for poverty and lack of opportunity.
· Mr John Major, an earlier Conservative Prime minister, (without the benefit? or hindrance? of an Etonian and Oxford Education) had years earlier robustly, rejected a call for a Referendum to leave Europe during his premiership. Many considered that Mr Cameron should have taken a similar stance.
· I for my part am a Remainer – I had enjoyed working for European Companies (often abroad) and living in Europe for some of the time. Further being part of a large European entity was more appealing to me than the alternative of being tied to USA apron strings.
· UKs Common endeavours with the USA often appeared stupid. Abortive wars as allies of the USA in Iraq (when Iraq had not been involved in the 9 /11 attacks on the USA and where no threatening ‘weapons of mass destruction’ – a further excuse for war - were found in Iraq after occupation). The occupation of Afghanistan similarly seems to have achieved little except for the deaths and injuring of British servicemen and local people. All these started when Mr Blairs ‘New Labour’ Party was in power. Further later involvement in Libya by Mr Cameron has not been constructive or useful to anyone. What has been achieved except for fanning the flames of extremism and increasing the numbers of refugees?
· The EU stance on Iran presently also seems more constructive than that of the USA. But by leaving the EU will the UKs position change?
Post Cameron (Mrs Theresa May)
· After losing the referendum Mr Cameron resigned.
· Strangely, in my view, the United Kingdom’s unwritten constitution permits the Party, from which the Prime Minister (Mr Cameron) had resigned, to elect a new leader who automatically becomes Prime Minister. This seems illogical in my view – if a Prime Minister resigns for whatsoever reason, there should be a new General Election.
· Ironically Mrs Theresa May, a Remainer, was elected by her party to be Prime Minister with her first main aim to negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. The supposed harder-liner ‘Leaver’ Mr Boris Johnson, who had been thought to be a front runner, was rejected as leader by his colleagues at this time, some Conservative MPs apparently mistrusting his qualities?
· However, Mrs May’s support in parliament was not robust. To strengthen her majority, despite the fact that Northern Island in the referendum voted to remain in the EU, she entered an expensive agreement with The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Island who sit in the House of Commons. (Sinn Fein do not take up their seats in The Commons). But the majority she required for parliament to approve her negotiations with the EU did not arise. Many of her party’s Members of Parliament did not wish to leave the EU, or did not want a hard break - they wanted a negotiated break.
· Mrs May was then persuaded by her advisers that she would win an enhanced majority (to back her negotiations with the EU) if she called a General Election. Despite Mrs May electioneering recourse to yet another Conservative Bus painted to ‘persuade illegal immigrants’ to go home, this did not bear fruit. Indeed, this ploy reminded many of the ‘Nasty Party’ which Mrs May had at one time in the past deplored.
· But this Election did not give her the strong majority she had hoped for – the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn did far better than expected.
The Windrush Generation
· Was this general election result affected by Mrs May’s ‘bus comments’?
· Some Windrush Immigrants from the West Indies, particularly children, had arrived on parents’ passports. Although they had grown up, been educated, worked in the UK, paid their National Insurance Contributions and Taxes, the Home Office directed ‘illegal immigrants’ to return to their homelands. Alternately the Government required those immigrants without ‘proof of citizenship’ to prove their UK citizenship at their own cost (not an easy task unless one obsessively keeps all documents) - or risk deportation.
· Why the United Kingdom has never had Personal Identity Documents for citizens or a Document Permitting Residence for a specified period of time for visiting workers, is unknown to me? But this seems a serious historic oversight. Not every UK citizen has a Passport or a Driver’s Licence (both with photographs) as a proof of identity. Further clearly many others non-citizens are without satisfactory documents.
Mrs May’s negotiations with The European Union
· Negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement continued with the European Union (with whom Mrs May wanted a civilised deal) but she effectively could not get sufficient support from her own parliamentarians some of whom wanted a decisive break without any deal.
· Many Conservative MPs (including Mr Johnson) did not support Mrs May in crucial votes for her various proposed agreements with the EU, and seemed to want to crash out irrespective of consequences. Other Conservative MPs strongly resisted both Brexit and a ‘crash out’ of the EU.
· The Scottish Nationalists within parliament rigorously opposed Brexit
· In the Labour Party, while most of their MPs supported ‘Remaining’, it was known that many Labour voters had actually supported ‘leaving’ in the UK referendum. A very few Labour MPs were also pro ‘leaving’.
· The Labour Party leadership also put forward their ‘future’ strategy on Brexit - if they won a General Election, which they hoped would satisfy all their members, whether ‘remainers’ or ‘leavers’. Effectively they would hold a new referendum on this issue.
· Indeed, during Mrs May’s negotiations, many Members of Parliament, from both Main Parties, began supporting some members views and motions not necessarily held officially by their own parties – democracy supported by The Speaker - rather than party dicta being enforced by Party Whips.
· The Speaker of The House of Commons, who is traditionally granted a Peerage sometime after his term of office or resignation – was later left off Mr Johnson’s list of Peers apparently for successfully supporting the concept of freedom for MP’s to set the parliamentary agenda (rather than a governing party ignoring the views of all members). Some of Mr Johnson’s friends and family received peerages but not the independent Speaker. – Mr Farage of The Brexit Party was also left off possibly to receive ‘honours’ at a later stage?
European Union Parliament Elections
· About 2 months before Mrs May’s resignation the UK participated in their last European Union Parliament election. This was in effect regarded by many of the UK electorate as a further opportunity to indicate their support for LEAVING or for REMAINING. The results are interesting in that the BREXIT party got the biggest share of the votes. But the combined vote of clearly REMAINER parties (Liberal Democrats / Greens / Scottish National Party) added to estimated REMAINER voters in both the Conservative and Labour Parties confirmed that the country was very closely split on this issue. There were, no doubt, also many ‘voters’ who did not vote in this election.
· However, eventually through lack of support Mrs May who was in office from 13th July 2016 to 14 July 2019, resigned. Once again, without a General Election, a new contest for Prime Minister took place restricted to Conservative Party M.Ps. The optimistic Mr Boris Johnson (who had earlier been rejected by his party as a replacement for Mr Cameron - some then considering him unfit for office*?) was elected as their Party Leader from a rather paltry selection of young inexperienced Conservative Party MP’s virtually all now Brexiteers.
*(Mr Johnson was a divorcee with children and now had a new pregnant partner. Does this reflect on changed moral and political standards within The United Kingdom and imply a more tolerant or a society indifferent to personal behaviour?)
Mr Johnson as Prime Minister
· Mr Johnson had much the same problems in parliament as had Mrs May but eventually called for a General Election. After apparently bargaining with the Brexit Party, the Brexit Party did not to put up candidates opposing the Conservatives in previously Labour held constituencies where Labour Brexit voters were in the majority. Voters who had supported The Labour Party in previous elections switched allegiance and voted Conservative giving him an unassailable majority. Mr Johnson could now do almost anything he desired. He speedily concluded a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU (based on Mrs May’s negotiations) but moved the trade border between Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland into the Irish Sea hopefully stopping potential sectarian conflict on a land border - to which the EU agreed. How this will actually work in practise is not quite clear to me. Some think that the possibility of a United Ireland arising in time is now even more likely because of this.
· The Liberal Democrats who had done very well in the European Elections were deserted by Labour & Conservative ‘Remainers’ who apparently only lent them their votes during the earlier European Election. The system for winning seats is far different in the First Past the Post system and the European Elections where the effects of all votes for all parties are taken into account and seat allocated accordingly.
Covid 19 Pandemic
· However, the Covid – 19 Pandemic soon occurred which disrupted government and protracted Brexit negotiations. Mr Johnson contracted and recovered from the virus after a period in hospital and rest, and then returned to work.
· I cannot comment on the UK’s handling of Covid-19 (the National Health Service and other (non Covid) illnesses, Care Homes suffered a huge number of deaths, Protective equipment procurement was slow, School closures and pupils’ ‘exam’ results were disputed. Policy ‘U turns’ occurred frequently (U turns were not in the revered Margret Thatcher’s vocabulary). But future reports should be interesting. However, decision making and implementation of decisions seem to be generally confusing to the public. Some now consider that England should just follow the lead of Nicola Sturgeon Scotland’s Prime Minister who consistently appears to be one step ahead of Mr Johnson and his team.
· The Government has been criticized for tardy decision making and effectively the UK has one of the largest death rates related to its population size in the world & in Europe. Hopefully future reports will be accurate – or will reports be delayed for many years being kicked into the long-grass as often has happened in the past in the UK? Or will the concerned parties by that time have left the Political Stage?
· It would seem that some of the traditional Conservative Party (not in government) are concerned by the calibre and inexperience of ministers within the cabinet. No doubt they can be easily made to follow Mr Johnson’s policies (or those of his Guru Mr Cummings), but at the same time his Cabinet colleagues could be easy ‘fall guys’ should things go wrong. But does the buck stop with Mr Johnson? Or are Civil Servants now increasingly more convenient fall guys, with Cabinet Members protected even if seemingly incompetent?
· I and many others were irritated by an immature government announcing ‘world beating’ systems in Covid-19 testing for instance, then failing to perform!
· While the treatment and testing of Covid-19 has improved, treatment of other conditions by the NHS is now affected and the future effects are unknown.
· Covid 19 has affected all our lives, but fortunately I have continued with regular walks and photographing as documented on my webpage.
What is a good Brexit result Mr Johnson??
· This has not really been defined in terms of trade both with the European Union and with other countries
· Nor apparently are ‘conditions for qualifying as international skilled immigrants’ and their future status and rights within the United Kingdom
· Ironically in the standoff with China about Hong Kong, Mr Johnson, even with the UK economy in a precarious position, was apparently prepared to permit entry of millions of Hong Kong’s special British passport holders into the UK. How they would be absorbed in this period of financial insecurity and unemployment is hard to imagine?
· Short term visits of ‘unskilled visiting labour’ for seasonal working is also not clear. Further what happens if unskilled labour is required year-round in ‘Care’ and ‘dirty essential’ jobs?
· If Brexit results in Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, it would be considered generally as a failure for England, the Conservative Party and especially for the Prime Minister, Mr Johnson. The remnants of the United Kingdom might then well ask whether Brexit was worth it?
· While Mr Johnson apparently imagines that the differences between ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ can be healed, this may be unlikely or take several generations.
· With Black Lives Matter protests in the UK arising from black deaths and protests in the USA, and the increasing awareness of the UK’s slavery legacy, some rightly or wrongly, suspect Mr Johnson in his unqualified defence or his lack of criticism of some historic British events as being jingoistic. Defending past historic events and decisions is difficult when a societies values change. Historic events such as slavery and present-day racism need particular care. For instance, Cecil Rhodes is today not every ones’ hero although few criticisms were heard 20 years ago. Today some have the temerity to think that even Churchill had some ‘warts’!
· Many UK Citizens living & working in Europe have begun taking out the citizenship of their host countries – a vote of no confidence in ‘Brexit UK’? Others hope for a convenient Republic of Island link.
Politics now during Covid-19 time
· After the General Election the Labour Leader, Jeremey Corbin stayed on as Party Leader for some months until a new leader Sir Keir Starmer was elected. Mr Corbyn, however, now continues as an MP. Has the Labour Party now acquiesced to Brexit? Its present views as to trade agreements both with the EU and other countries do not now seem to be clearly known or voiced to the public.
· Much of Sir Keir Starmer’s endeavours (before parliaments summer recess 22nd July to end August 2020) was spent in Prime Minister’s questions querying the logic of many of the Conservative Parties, seemingly off the cuff and vacillating decisions on Covid-19 in an ever-changing situation. In this pre summer recess period parliament was not fully attended due to Covid 19 and many MP’s in all parties were only in ‘virtual’ contact which did not support meaningful debates.
· During the Parliament Summer Recess period, (Parliament not sitting), Mr Johnson can apparently do most things by emergency decree. None the less he faces increasing criticism from the media, and from within his own party for the dithering performance of himself and his team (who to paraphrase columnist Janet Street-Porter) said - they could not run a sausage factory. The period in September when Parliament sits again should be interesting.
· It would seem that with his handling of Covid-19, Mr Johnson’s popularity has waned somewhat. But probably nothing can now stop the UK crashing out of the EU without a Trade Deal. What effects this will have on critical future supplies to the UK is not clearly known. Food supplies to date during Covid 19 have been good but if disruption occurs later at Calais & Dover – start praying and tightening your belts. Some are probably now stockpiling supplies?
· It would seem a Trade Agreement with the EU is a critical issue and that crashing out of the EU without a Deal is increasingly likely. What the effects (including costs) will be, needs to clearly stated to the UK’s public now.
· Further the progress on replacement Trade Deals with other countries is also not clear. It seems for instance the public resistance to eating Chlorine washed chicken or Hormone treated beef from the USA continues. UK farmers also consider this as unfair competition with inferior food at cheaper prices.
· Whether parallel trade agreements with other countries will be completed before a deal or crash out from the EU is also not clear. The recent drafting in of an ex Australian Prime Minister to negotiate Trade Agreements with non- EU countries is seemingly not a popular decision.
Some past and ongoing Construction Events during the Conservative Parties tenure are considered here –
· These seem particularly relevant as Mr Johnson apparently now sees a boost in construction with a slacking of ‘red tape’ on land procurement, speedy letting of building and design contracts as a solution to the UK post Covid-19 economic woes. However, the UK recent construction record needs careful examination before starting a boom for investors and the possible construction of some tatty projects.
· The placement of an order during Mrs May’s premiership (but probably largely negotiated during Mr Cameron’s period as Prime Minister) for a new type of Nuclear Power Plant designed by the French but to be constructed by the Chinese.
· The Grenfell Tower disaster, and ensuring quality in construction
· High Speed Train – London to Edinburgh
· Crossrail through London
· The Carillion Construction Company scandal
New Nuclear Power Plant –
· This is of interest to me as I worked on several French designed Nuclear Power Plants abroad (one in China itself). This plant, is apparently a new type (although another similar plant is still under construction / still to be commissioned in Finland?) – I ponder how radio-active waste will be disposed of, and whether the full cost had been considered? At final decommissioning of the plant, how long will it take to remove radiation contamination and restore the site?
· I had no practical reservations as to China’s participation – they were in my view competent - particularly with French assistance.
· But political considerations are now occurring arising from issues between the USA and China on Trade, UK and China on Hong Kong’s Independent status from China, and the persecution of Uighur Muslims inside China, UK possible withdrawal from contracts with a Chinese telecom Giant on 5G rollout on security grounds. These issues could well affect this contract. Will it be completed? and become operational?
· Presumably the plant was deemed to be necessary to cover shortages of wind / solar generated power? But there could possibly have been other standby power options such as tidal power (raised by Wales) & possibly pumped storage schemes using sea rather than fresh water? Huge costs have already arisen on this Nuclear plant - what further costs will arise if the project stalls? Replacement power provision will also no doubt be huge. Keep your candles next to your bed?
· I wondered what other European Countries such as Germany (who are now turning away from Nuclear Power) intended doing for future supplies? When there is no wind would they continue to use polluting fossil fuels? Ideally a system which does not pollute or create nuclear waste is best as a ‘wind’ standby.
Grenfell Tower Disaster
· The Grenfell Tower Disaster is I think particularly significant.
· When I started working in the UK in 1959, generally projects for a Client were designed by qualified professional Architects & Civil / Structural / Mechanical / Electrical Engineers - who were responsible both for the Design and Specifying of Materials. The works were then tendered for, and Contract(s) were placed by the Client. The actual construction process and responsibility for doing it correctly was the responsibility of the contractor (s). But other contracts were placed by the Client with Consultants (usually the designers) to check construction including approval of materials during execution. This system generally seemed to work well.
· However, the system changed at one stage - largely on the supply and construction of very large projects such as Nuclear Power Plants. The concept of Quality Assurance was introduced which effectively made Plant supplying Contractors responsible for Design / Selection & procurement & testing of materials / execution / & checking before, during & after execution.
· Quality Assurance was effectively achieved by a Contractor (supplying a plant) also having a Quality Assurance Department (independent of the Contractor’s Project Management). This is to ensure that work was properly designed, executed, and tested. The actual quality control was usually done by the contractor himself using pre-drafted & approved check sheets / procedures and his own personnel. The independent QA department, however, was responsible to monitor and ensure that the contractor was performing and checking using procedures & check sheets which had been proposed and earlier approved.
· However, on all Projects any Client still has a responsibility to ensure that the Contractor has, staffs, and maintains an effective Quality Assurance organisation & system. The Client thus would either have his own in house Q.A. staff and system to ensure this or would have to formally appoint competent qualified agents to do this on his behalf.
· It is perhaps not clearly known what Quality Assurance Organisation(s) & staff there were at Grenfell for the Client / Designers / Contractors? Hopefully the enquiry will clarify this?
High Speed Train – in stages from London to Edinburgh
· This project was apparently considered to be more important than fixing many other problems in the British Railway Network (in the resurrected Northern Powerhouse for instance).
· There were several problems with the concept of a new track being laid on the ground – the foremost of them is / was the enormous cost of procuring land and properties on any route and also ecological effects. High speed trains on tracks on ground in larger countries like France, Spain & China have been successful. But does this model suit the UK? One also queries whether provincials will be able to afford the fares to visit London? Indeed, will fares have to be subsidized for bankers’ & business-men to fleetingly visit the northern English provinces, (and Scotland even if it is not part of the UK)?
· Would an elevated system be possible above roads and canals and less expensive in some places?
· Will consideration, now with Covid-19, be given to a system for the rapid cleaning and disinfecting of passenger coaches for High Speed trains, other trains and also improving ventilation of all trains and especially underground trains / tube trains etc)?
Crossrail through London
· The construction of this project seems to have been technically successful. However, when completion of part of it was expected, a delay of 2 years was suddenly announced. The inference is that somebody was hiding the true progress situation and the Client may have not known. A poor reflection on Contractor’s Project Management & on Client’s control?
· ‘Unforeseen’ delays are apparently still continuing.
The Carillion Construction Company scandal
· The Conservative Party has always been proud of its record of financial management. Huge contracts were placed by their governments with this company. These were mismanaged and this company collapsed costing the country billions of Pounds.
· Despite this the Managers of this company walked away with their pockets stuffed with gold.
Conclusion on new Construction Projects
· Can the Country trust you Mr Johnson and the Conservative Party to manage new construction to good standards, to schedule, and economic prices?
· How many British companies are now qualified to produce quality results on large projects to cost and time? Would European Foreign participation ironically be required?
PS – possibly Mr Johnson should leave the construction of a bridge road link over the sea from Scotland to Ireland to the Scots if / when they leave the United Kingdom?