Britain: The Land of Chumocracy and Cronyism

Covid-19 has wrought terrible devastation across the globe, and perhaps nowhere has felt the most amount of damage and uncertainty than America and the U.K. With record numbers of deaths per capita, a flood of terrible decisions and a onslaught of misinformation, managing the virus has been extremely difficult. The U.K especially have zigzagged in and out of lockdown enough times to confound any journalist, social commentator and of course, the millions of citizens who don’t know where they stand from one day to the next.

Throughout the entire ordeal, No.10 have had their feet held to the fire as Boris Johnson kept the U.K “open for business” and that it has also unravelled that the government has consistently handed out more than a handful of contracts to private companies – without going through the usual channels of putting said contracts out to tender. The test and trace scheme was handed to Dido Harding and produced by Serco with astonishingly bad results. For instance, the bespoke contract was delivered using Excel instead of custom-made software and, despite businesses across the U.K taking in all the information they needed from customers, it was all for nothing when the test and trace system failed to conglomerate the data. What’s worse is that the government still claims, at every opportunity, that it is the NHS test and trace system.

Please, don’t let them get away with that one.

The choice to give out contracts and not put them out to tender is not just an example “chumocracy” among the Conservative elite, it is also evidence of cronyism. The Conservatives have closed their ranks and they bully out those who might try to put forward their ideas and expertise or ways in which to improve the country. Conservative donors and friends (in one instance, a pub landlord) have widely benefitted from this chummy approach and, whilst this kind of treatment would be baffling at the best of time, it feels more like a slap in the face during such a turbulent period in our lives.

There is, however, a more severe level of cronyism which was highlighted in today’s newspapers, and that is the one in which a contract was given to a Russian-owned firm to design a new briefing room for No.10. The company, Megahertz, has also worked on projects for Russia Television (RT), Channel One and Public Television of Russia,  which has raised concerns regarding the security of No.10’s new media suite. This might seem unconnected to what has transpired throughout the Covid-19 crisis but we need to go back a little to understand why this briefing room debacle raises so many questions.

Back in 2016 ex-MI6 agent, Christopher Steele, released a document stating (among other things) that Donald Trump was subject to Russian control after Moscow had managed to acquire compromising material (kompromat) on the then-to-be president of the United States. The kompromat – the infamous prostitute sex tape recorded in Moscow’s Hilton Hotel. When the information that Trump could be a Russian puppet was handed further up the chain toward Theresa May’s office, a blanket was thrown over the investigation and interest dwindled. But this wasn’t the first time that Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s government have ignored crucial information regarding Russia.

The Russia Report has long been an article of particular importance to the U.K media, and for good reason. The report claims that Russian money has flooded into London and upholds (and has fractured) the London property market. Property investment a tool of choice for money launderers and Bill Browder (known as Putin’s number one enemy and proponent against corruption) even goes so far as to say that London is “floating on a sea of Russian money.” The Russia Report thus raises the question as to whether or not Russian Roubles have made their way into the U.K’s political system. The report has been constantly sidestepped by Prime Minister Johnson and, before him, Theresa May.

Although heavily redacted in order to (one would guess) protect people within the government “the report notes that links between the Russian elite and the U.K allow access to business and politics that can be used for influence. “To a certain extent, this cannot be untangled and the priority now must be to mitigate the risk and ensure that, where hostile activity is uncovered, the tools exist to tackle it at source,””. So, do we have a party in power who might very well be at the beck and call of Russian financiers and Russian interests?

Well, it might seem like a tenuous connection between the Russia Report and the hiring of Megahertz to design and build No.10’s new media briefing room, but the more you peel back the layers, the stronger the case becomes. After all, it is not simply a link between Russia, it is the way that the government now responds when faced with issues.

Over the last couple of days the U.K has been the subject of a new law which prohibits that thing we claim to love so much: free speech. Cancel culture is used by the right and left to claim that the other side is silencing their right to free speech. The truth is that both parties are involved in cancel culture but what we perhaps did not expect was that Home Secretary, Priti Patel, would push through a new law which prohibits peaceful protests, marches and public demonstrations illegal if they cause “serious annoyance”. The law also means that the Home Secretary can decide on what protests are legal and which are illegal. This could technically mean that the Priti Patel could allow protesters to walk the streets if they are marching for a Conservative party initiative, but block those who are standing against the government.

Barrister and author Chris Daw told the Big Issue:

“The bill hands over the power of deciding whether a protest is justified or should be allowed — decisions we as citizens have had for generations — directly to the Home Secretary. That’s an extremely chilling development. It’s completely contradictory to everything the liberty of the free citizen is about in Britain.”

“A politician could use that power to prevent protests in favour of causes they disagree with. This law gives power to whatever government is in charge to decide what causes can take to the streets.”

So what the hell are we looking at here? Why is it that a Conservative government, under a man who calls himself a libertarian, should act so willingly against the people whilst hiding secrets about financial backing from Russian interests? And we should never forget that this is all being done in a liberal democracy where we supposedly champion the people’s voices.

All the evidence points to Conservative links with Russia (though it might spread to parties beyond the Conservatives – time is yet to tell) but the truth is that we may never really know what is going on with money sieved through the London property market. What we do know, however, is that the British government have showed themselves capable of acting like Vladimir Putin’s own thuggish kleptocracy and we are happy to have RT’s own design company into an area where sensitive information is shared. Using a Russian company does not mean that the government is puppets to Putin’s regime, but why was the contract to design the room not put out to tender? Isn’t that something they do when their chums are involved? 

Spectating The Spectator: Trading places

Image source: Pindex

The Spectator’s 10th August, 2019 edition of The Spectator opened up with a piece called Trading places.

The article considers the argument that the UK should look positively on a trade deal with America in place of the trade deal which we already have with the EU.

“The reality is that free trade is almost always on balance a good thing, regardless of which country is it conducted with. That said, there will always be compromises to be made. Vested interests to be tackled. Product standards have to be reviewed…Good trade deals can even destroy native industries – but the overall effect of global trade is to boost the creation of wealth…The important thing is to make the right concessions.”

The U.K already has these concessions with the European Union but with the extra added benefit that, as a democracy, the United Kingdom also has a vote and therefore a voice in the passing of European law. The author of this piece is essentially trying to argue for a position that would make the UK worse off.

“Free trade with the US is opposed by some Remainers for no better reason than because it is advocated by Leavers.”

The author is clearly a hypocrite. What kind of bias does it take to argue that getting away from our closest allies (culturally and by locality) and toward the US would be preferential over the kind of deal we already have? To say that Remainers oppose a deal with America for no other reason than Leavers want it seems exactly what this piece is arguing…only the other way.

‘…the NHS has always outsourced some of its services – which last year accounted for 7 per cent of its budget. There is no reason why US providers should not be allowed to compete for this work on equal terms with British companies.”

That was not the line towed by Leave supporting parties and groups throughout the 2016 referendum and there is also solid reasoning why the US should not be competing on the same terms with British companies: American health care standards are lower than the UK’s. Not only are American health care standards lower, the introduction of more private interests within the NHS goes against public polling which shows that people want private companies kept the at the biggest possible distance from health care system.

The NHS is not the author’s only area of attack. On GM foods:
‘No one can point to ill-effects, and for good reason: GM foods are subject to far more scrutiny than non-GM foods.’

The reason for the GM foods being held to higher scrutiny is because…well…they are genetically modified. A crop created as opposed to one grown is no doubt going to undergo far more scrutiny because it has to pass myriad tests that would decide whether said food was safe for consumption.

The simple truth is that America uses GM crops as it helps mass production which ultimately makes the crop cheaper to make. European food standards are among the highest in the world whilst America have been time and again castigated for packing out their foods with copious amounts of highly addictive and highly fattening corn-syrup.

‘Then there is the practice of washing chicken in chlorine, which has been continuously cited as a reason why we shouldn’t do a trade deal with the US. Even the EU, when it banned chlorine-washed chicken in 1997, came to the conclusion that the practice was perfectly acceptable from a food-standard point of view – but banned it anyway on the flimsy pretext that it might provide farmers with a sense of false security. A better explanation is that it spied the opportunity to snuff out US competition for less efficient European producers.’

The pretext was far from “flimsy”. For instance, the European Commission decided that using chlorine to wash chicken dramatically lowered standards because it allowed farmers to get away with providing poor conditions. As highlighted by Ben Chapman writing for the Independent (Sunday 3 March, 2019) – “Advocates of this approach” (not washing chicken in chlorine) “say that it leads to higher standards of hygiene and animal welfare because farmers must take care at each stage of the process rather than relying on a chemical bath to kill any harmful pathogens after animals are slaughtered.”

The idea that European farms are supposedly “less efficient” is exactly because European standards are higher and do not lower themselves to mass-production quality levels, which results in questionable practices like washing chicken in chlorine. The author also argues that the EU was being protectionist in its endeavours, something which many conservative thinkers is one of the best outcomes of Donald Trump’s America. When the EU tries to put EU farmers and food safety levels first, it is chastised.

What it comes down to is facts. Is chlorine washed chicken okay to eat? Looking back on Ben Chapman’s piece for the Independent, the answer is quite clear.

Are we so loathing of the European Union that we would opt for subservience to the US and lower not only our standards but our global standing?

Private health

I was happy when told that I was going to have a spinal injection. Sciatica has been torturing me since October of last year. Walking has been reduced to a painful hobble. I wake multiple times every night with pains shooting down my leg. My fiancee and I are going travelling soon and I worry that we won’t be able to enjoy it if I can’t get around.

The NHS could not perform the operation. Instead I was referred to a private hospital on the Sussex/Surrey border. I was surprised by the hospital. And a little unnerved. The reception desk was busy with people who looked like they should be on the reception desk of upper class hotels. I was directed upstairs. The corridors were wide and empty save for a cleaner and a mother and daughter who were talking amongst themselves. When upstairs I was shown to my room and given spa-style flip flops and a dressing gown. I had the room to myself. I also had a TV but couldn’t be bothered to look for the remote and partly scared that I would hit another button by accident which would send the staff running.

A lady promptly came by and asked what sandwich I would like to have after my procedure. Coffee or tea? I gave my order and sat down to read while I waited. A nurse came in and took my vitals. She was chatty, which was nice, but it slowly dawned that where I was used to care, I was experiencing something like customer service.

Half an hour later I was shown to the surgery room. There were five or six nurses talking and checking equipment at a leisurely pace. The procedure started. I felt the pressure in my spine for a few minutes and then it was all done. I was rolled onto a wheelie-bed and taken back to my room.

I was in there for two minutes before my sandwich and coffee was bought in. Along with bourbon biscuits and a glass bottle of water with the hospital’s insignia on it. Twenty minutes later I was bored so I got up and changed back into my civvies. I walked to the ward desk and asked to be discharged. The lady obliged and five minutes later I was out.

I don’t understand private health care. It has done great things for people by giving them quick access to procedures and treatments which would otherwise have taken months or longer.

But what does that say about how we are treating our NHS? I say our NHS because we pay for it. It is a service of our financial outgoing and therefore we have a vested interest in its welfare.I would rather have doctors and nurses treat me as a patient with genuine care and compassion, than be treated like a customer using a service for the benefit of a survey – which arrived on my phone via text two days later.

Perhaps I am bringing bias to the entire experience. After all my time in the private hospital was pleasant. But care should not be costly. Care should be free to all (yes, through taxes) and it should never be abused through privatisation (which is statistically proven to provide worse service in terms of overall health.)

In an unchecked market, privatisation breeds competition at the cost of care levels as companies try to save money.

The NHS might be a money pit. But it is meant to have money poured into it for the betterment of treatment. Anything else would be negligent to our health. If someone wants to increase my tax to fully fund our public services; take my money.