Friday, 28 February 2020

Time for Lockdown

The signs have been apparent since the beginning of the year, now the writing is on the wall. The COVID 19 virus is not simply going to vanish with wishful thinking. It’s here and it is out of control. A virus like this has a life of its’ own; like a stealth weapon it can infect an individual without them realising, for 24 hours or more.

Victoria is great friends with former BMJ Doctor of the Year Dr Jon Cardy. He was called upon to devise a management strategy should a global pandemic assail the beleaguered NHS. He created a masterplan. No one else can nor has it. 

Look how the virus accelerated in China around Day 21. Why would the virus NOT spread out of China in a globalised world ? It was only a matter of time before Europe suffered the same fate.

The NHS, buckling under the regular as clockwork domestic winter flu crisis has no room in the inn, already resources are at full stretch. We are playing catch up - hand washing and masks will make no difference. The incubation period is silent and without detection.

We pick up news notifications from Italy, France and America. The reporting is dramatically different to ours. The French Minister of Health updates daily, the Italians imposed a lockdown very quickly, including halting transnational trains. Italy on lockdown here.

What is going to happen ? Supply chains for a host of products are going to be affected. £152 billion wiped off markets in a matter of days. Schools and businesses are closing. Parliament will cease; the courts will close, sporting venues closed, cinemas, theatres, music venues. What the French refer to as les lieux publiques. The way it was in Wuhan will be how it is about to be in Winchester, Wolverhampton and Westminster.

We think we are going to see a global reboot - economic, cultural and societal; a correction to the markets greater than the 2008 financial crisis. Everything must come to a juddering halt. Staying at home will be the new going out.

We will find ourselves back to the essentials. Food, water, energy. The Government needs to work very quickly to assist farmers and fishermen, logistics and supermarkets. Every business will need to prepare as best they can for people to work remotely from home.

This is an opportunity- to read, relax, write, correspond and do a lot of home cooking. Store cupboard style, as if on a war footing. Something we have never seen before.

Recipe numero uno, with thanks to Nigel Slater, here.

Take good care. In Victoria’s Luddite view this one of the few times tech has any redeeming value. Stay in touch.

Friday, 13 December 2019

The Problem of Partisan Propaganda Peddled by the British Media

What has the nation needed since the 2016 referendum was announced ?

Indeed, what is the media there for ? To serve narrow interests? To act as an outlet to a vocal, elite few ? To persuade a quiet majority to a particular view that results in a particular parliamentary make up ?

Surely the media is ultimately a public service. The media should serve the public. What we needed was a broad, well informed and balanced debate with views expressed from all sides. Like a Roman forum, a place where all opinions are heard.

There were so many questions that we needed to address and consider. What could we expect over the next five years if we remained in the EU ?

What could we expect over the next five years if we left the EU ?

If the EU is like a train on a track, where is it headed ?

What opportunities might we find if we left the EU against if we stayed ? What level of corruption is there in the EU ? How well do they steward the resources that we contribute from the public purse ?

The Daily Mirror front page yesterday read : VOTE LABOUR. If that is not unequivocal propaganda, what is ? The BBC made plain its’ opposition over the period to Leavers in general and to Boris in particular. Interviews ranged from the sympathetic and appreciative of Remainers to the openly hostile and combative of Leavers. There was one minor BBC report investigating the question of how porous is the border between Sweden and Norway: Norwegians in their hundreds drive across the border to the EU to buy cheaper food and drinks; the authorities turn a blind eye. What about the thousands of miles of border to the East of the EU ? Not a squeak. No one was despatched to Latvia  to enquire on the on the porosity of the border with Russia. The latter report was the exception. The rule was to focus on the immediate and latest updates on the machinations and plots by Remainers to thwart the 2016 referendum result. The focus was only part of the picture. The emphasis gave voice to a select few in the forum.

The election was divisive. The media was partly responsible for accentuating that divisiveness. The media was effectively anti-democratic; it did not respect the demos sufficiently to give us the full breadth of the debate. Many of the Remainers did not respect the majority of the demos. As Johnny Mercer MP pointed out during the night on Sky News, the result was not shocking if you had spoken to people on doorsteps; it was only shocking if you had followed the British media.

Of note, the French.and American press are reporting, on the whole, with support, encouragement and a view to the future.

The need to address the appalling anti Semitism looked at another day. Democracy has won. A beautiful  thing.

This is the beginning of a new chapter. Let there be less bigotry and more open debate in the Forum. 

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Patents in Parliament

Today’s newspapers are full of references to the leaked report, now in Jeremy Corbyn’s hands, running to some 450 pages. The reporting suggests that the NHS is ‘on the table’ in ongoing trade talks between the UK and the US for a post Brexit deal.

This raises many questions. How could the National Health Service BE sold ? If it were for sale, to whom would it be for sale ? This begs the question, who owns the NHS ?

The structure of the NHS is Byzantine, it has evolved over the last 70 years to become a behemoth all its’ own, the fifth largest employer in the world. Still honouring the three foundation principles.

~ To meet the needs of everyone in the UK
~ To be free at the point of delivery.
~ To be based on clinical needs not the ability to pay

The Blairite McKinsey spend nomenclature of ever shifting acronyms - PCTs, CCGs, cluster trusts, simply serve to befuddle further.

One cannot sell what is not clearly defined in terms of ownership. To this end the Attorney General must now enter the fray and clarify the situation for the Nation.

The teeth of this debate is the colossal buying power of the NHS. With day to day running costs of somewhere in the region of £115 billion per annum, the NHS is the largest customer in Europe for those pitching their wares, for example the giant pharmaceutical companies.

Consider this; if you are selling lightbulbs to 150 hospitals or loo paper pour  se laver les fesses of 1.7 million employees and you negotiate an exclusive supply contract, you are made for life. 

A brown paper envelope to the relevant Minister a triviality in terms of potential revenue. 

The NHS is not for sale but it has is the biggest cheque book in the EU. 

Inherent in all this are the glaring flaws in the UK parliamentary system. MPs have no guarantee of tenure, there is no fixed term.  The cabinet is musical chairs. When they are out they are toast. George Osborne, once a cabinet minister and Chancellor despatched, sacked and redundant. 

They are not accountable, whilst in office or otherwise, except at the ballot box. We have to on occasion rely on leaks to the media. Neither is there transparency. 

In the 1990s there was the cash for questions scandal. More recently the MPs expenses scandal. 

How can these flaws be addressed? Surely at a time of political turbulence there is great measure for address and reform. 

For example a structure that brings in accountability and encourages integrity. Secondly a reporting mechanism to and for the public that is direct, explicit and apposite. 

Thirdly that the intentions of these elected representatives are overt, cogent and free to scrutiny. 

This comes to you from the original coffee house location, exchange of free thought and speech, from Royal Society of Arts

We have had our Victoria Sponge cake and eaten it. Here with respect to Gary Rhodes. RIP.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

The ( wooden ) Wall Comes Tumbling Down

The fall - or rather dismantling - of the Berlin Wall exactly thirty years ago ce soir was momentous. But who predicted it ? Nobody. Fred visited Berlin in the summer of 1998 as a Second Year Architecture student at Edinburgh. In hindsight, it was part of a programme to indoctrinate his class to the ways of Modernism and what followed on, Post Modernism.

They toured West Berlin to see examples of Bauhaus influence and the best examples of recent butch block housing by architects lauded in industry press. On one day they had the opportunity to pass through Check Point Charlie, across no man’s land, to East Berlin. Back then, all visitors had to change a certain amount of money to East German marks. They found another world - like dropping back thirty years to a monotone past: Trabants whisking past in the streets; a bleak built environment; and a general feeling of severity at large.

The challenge was how to spend the money. The shops had little choice on the shelves of anything to buy. The canteen lunch was how he imagined prison food.

The Wall was built in 1961 by the Soviets desperate to fence in the Berliners after losing two million of them since 1952. It seemed that the whole political edifice would go on and on.

The reality was very different. East Germany was bankrupt. The leader of the Socialist Unity Party Egon Krenz borrowed M20,000,000. By November 1989 the Government was days from insolvency.

At a memorable press conference Gunther Schabowski announced a change in the law allowing citizens to cross the border. He was asked what was going to happen to the Wall ? Disgruntled and tired he gave no answer. Within hours people on both sides were taking the wall apart.

Would Herodotus suggest a visit to Delphi ? The wooden wall of the Eurozone looks very fragile to us and Macron’s current world tour and references to the currency trémblant seem to suggest La France will need her longtime sparring partner. See an excellent article by Philip Stephens in today’s FT.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Playing The Justice Game

An Aussie who came to London and stayed, much to our public benefit. Geoffrey Robertson's book The Justice Game is a candid and beautifully written journey through a number of key cases. He came over here from Sydney in 1970 initially as a diversion from his path to qualifying as a Sydney solicitor and the real work for tax haven candidates of corporates Down Under. 

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He studied at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship but was pulled into the underground publishing world of fin de sixties London and a trial that caught the attention of the international press- the Oz magazine trial. 

He rapidly learns that justice gets done when people are watching - especially when the press bench is tight with journalists. Barristers are people who dedicate themselves to another's case relentlessly, ardently, spending long hours in research. They are tasked with distilling the facts of a case with lucidity; they have to understand the relevant tests of wrongdoing; they have to refer to precedents or where precedents are absent, applying 'the first rule of creative lawyering' - if something has not been done before, 'that means that there is no precedent to stop you from trying to do it for the first time.' 

They have to navigate biased judges and juries influenced by press and prejudice; they have to sometimes negotiate poorly drafted legislation, or complacency in government or ministers who resort to white lies or abuses of power in the corridors of same; they sometimes have to expose plain old corruption among heads of government; in one case (Singapore) Geoffrey challenges a dominant incumbent who is applying the legacy of British colonial law to exert control over his subjects like a feudal despot from the medieval period of Europe. 

There is a fundamental difference between law and justice. Justice is a game and clearly he plays it outstandingly well.

Geoffrey is founder and head of

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Peace In The Imperfect

Logo logo a gogo. Brand consultancy. ABC demographic diagnostic analysis. Soft launch, stress test. Nope. Fred. Trained to within an inch of his pencil case in architectural design. Several good pens. A set square. A piece of paper. A conversation. A collaboration. THIS was born. Time, dedication, discipline. Brilliance.

Summer of 2019. This logo, designed by hand, arts and crafts style by Fred, was created in a hotel called The Angel. Lots of headings, lots of themes. Lots to write about. Lots to sort out.

Here's the thing. There is a lot of dross out there. A lot of phoney. We are both parents of teenagers / late teens / university age children. What sort of world are we sending them out into ?

With a large dose of luck a lovely, benevolent, happy one. Edmund Burke 'the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing' runs through our minds and much of our conversation.

There are plenty of things right, equally a few things wrong. Much much to celebrate. For example good mushrooms being grown at London's Victoria and Albert Museum - have a look here.

We have sport mentioned in the bio. A quick note here. I watched England vs New Zealand. I watched the final. I thought they were all astonishing. Japan for me the outright Victor. Thank you Japan for hosting us and for doing such an impeccable job.

I am going to close my opener with food. Sitting in a pizzeria. Recipes come to mind. We are soon to visit my former Italian professor, now Professor Emeritus at Balliol, Oxford. He is from Bologna, here is Nigella.

Time for Lockdown

The signs have been apparent since the beginning of the year, now the writing is on the wall. The COVID 19 virus is not simply going to van...