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A Disunited Kingdom

What is the United Kingdom?  What is it for?

We know historically how it came about, but what now binds these nations together apart from its legal relationship?  The answer to that is more interesting than it seems.

Those who work together, including nation-states,  usually do so because they have common objectives and a cultural alliance.  To be British in large part was once defined by its empire.  British colonialism was English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish.  It gave the 'British people' a commonality.  We were not simply four nations occupying the British Isles.

The Monarchy was moulded in the image of this empire.  The monarchy was carefully crafted despite its German heritage.

But the Empire has long gone, and the United Kingdom looked to Europe with its membership of the European Union.  Now, most likely,  that visions will also be gone.

The more fragile our relationship with the world, the more fragile is the unity of the Kingdom.  The common purpose of the UK is as m…

The cry goes out "Stop Corbyn!"

The establishment is rattled, not so much that they believe Jeremy Corbyn will win the general election, but that the circumstances might arise where he leads a minority administration and gets the keys to Downing Street. The Tories have a substantial lead in the opinion polls, but Corbyn appears to be edging up. The establishment don't like it. It makes them nervous. The wealthiest are threatening to leave, just as Corbyn challenges their ascendancy.

The wealthiest are called 'wealth creators', the poorest are called...well we can leave that to the Tories, but remember the division they tried to create between 'strivers' and 'skivers'?

It is, of course, the Tories who are 'unfit' to govern because they don't govern for everyone. They are happy to keep in place a system where inequality and poverty benefit the wealthiest. That is now the establishment.

If Corbyn edges up in the polls, the more likely it is that demographic differences …

Tory manifesto in confusion.

So, already the Tory manifesto pledge for 50,000 more nurses is falling apart.

Nicky Morgan, The culture secretary, says that "misreading" of the Tory manifesto may have resulted in people thinking they are pledging 50,000 "new" nurses by 2024-5 if they win the general election.

Indeed so, what else were we to think?

It emerged 18,500 of the posts would be filled by encouraging qualified nurses to stay in the profession or return to work. NOT new nurses at all!

Only around 19,000 of the posts would be filled by new nurse trainees...Ah! Trainees.

Ms Morgan says: "I think there's been a confusion, people reading that as 50,000 new nurses."

We don't know whether to laugh or cry. But it seems that it is our fault, not theirs. She goes on:

"I think sometimes that's a deliberate confusion and sometimes that's just a genuine misreading of the manifesto.

So, just as Mrs May's manifesto launch in 2017 unravelled within hours, so too …

Boris is running on empty

After all the trailblazing, the Tory manifesto for the general election is devoid of substance. It contains little to indicate an end to the misery of nine years of needless austerity or to repair the damage done by endless cuts to critical services such as the NHS, social care and children's services.

So bland is the manifesto presented by Boris Johnson that one of the outstanding features is more funding to repair potholes!

The Tory manifesto offers no new vision of the future, Brexit or no Brexit. There is no real picture of the new horizon that Boris claims will come from leaving the European Union.

The manifesto he tells us is a "partial blueprint." Partial? Half a blueprint? A quarter? What, indeed, is an incomplete plan? Imagine building a house with only one-half of the architect's drawings.


Boris Johnson is playing it safe. It was at this time in the election of 2017 that things are thought to have unravelled for his predecessor, Mrs May. But…

Labour can win

The poll that matters in this general election is the one on the 12th December when voters go to the polling stations or vote by post.   The opinion polls are unlikely to be giving an accurate reflection of what that vote will be.

The country is more divided now than at any time in a generation.  Indeed, it is divided generationally.   Younger voters tend to be more radical and internationalist than the older generation.     How these voters vote, and whether they do vote, may determine the outcome.   Labour has a big lead amongst younger voters.  The Tories have a big lead amongst older people.

But the country is also divided geographically.  This is why taking samples across the country and weighting them is more tricky than ever.

What can be discerned is that the Tories are picking up Brexit party voters.  The drop of support for The Brexit Party is mirrored by the increase indicated for the Tories in polling.   But how that impacts in the key marginals is what will determine th…

The significance of being neutral

Being 'neutral' in any people's vote may be a game-changer.

We suspect there is a nervousness creeping into the Tory party election HQ.   They have, it seems, a commanding lead in the opinion polls.  It should see them through.  Could Jeremy Corbyn's Labour pull it back?

If you set out to paint your opponent as 'unfit' to be prime minister, this creates a problem when the more voters see him, he comes across as eminently reasonable.   This is what happened with Jeremy Corbyn in 2017.  It could happen again, and the next week will indicate whether this is happening.

Since the election was called,  Labour has been closing the gap, slowly.   Their manifesto launch went well, and Jeremy Corbyn has performed well in both the head-to-head debate with Boris Johnson and on  BBCQT.   Boris bumbled his way through.  There wasn't exactly a knock-out blow, but focusing on Brexit is wearing thin when voters are beginning to express concern about other pressing issues.

Will Boris duck the climate debate?

The suggestion today that Boris Johnson may not take part in a Channel 4 debate on climate change is disappointing.   The climate crisis is by far the most pressing of issues.  It is right that it should feature prominently in the general election.

Voters need to know where party leaders stand, and what they propose to do about climate change and their strategies need to be scrutinised.   It is also possible that through debate the lines of agreement can be drawn where action can be taken in the event of a hung parliament.  

This August,  climate campaigner Greta Thunberg called on politicians to 'listen to the science.'  What she meant, of course, was that they should stop ignoring it and start acting on it.  She was addressing climate denial, particularly amongst Republicans in the United States.

Politicians have a tendency to want science that tells them what they want to hear.  But science cannot tell us how to live our lives. It can, of course, inform our decisions.

One …

A bold Labour manifesto

The Labour Party has produced a bold manifesto.  Already there is a queue of pundits telling the media it can't be afforded.   The reality though is different.  We cannot afford not to do this.  It is a significant investment to ensure we tackle poverty, fund the health and care services, building houses hard-working families can afford while ensuring we have the right kind of investment in critical infrastructure and the skills businesses need.

The IFS has already produced its own costings.  It is a balance sheet of how much the immediate costs are and where the revenue would come from.  It doesn't give the entire picture.

Over time investment in bringing people out of poverty and investment in health and green jobs will itself increase tax revenue.  It will begin to pay for itself over time.

I suppose voters might say, pull the other one, but history demonstrates that when governments made similar spending in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the national debt fell and governments …

Forensic survey of endangered species

DNA traces are being used to monitor endangered species.

What animals leave behind has long been used to track them, whether it is their poo or their foot markings.   Animals leave signs intentionally or otherwise.  They mark their territory, they leave deposits, they rub, scratch, dig, muzzle, lick, and almost everything they do will leave some kind of trace for a time.  Animal tracking is forensic craft.

Just as DNA traces can be left at crime scenes, so animals leave their trace too.  Forensic scientists are able to analyze smaller and smaller biological samples to develop a DNA profile - a person touched an object or weapon, skin cells may have been left behind or from their saliva.

Now, DNA traces left in water are being used to monitor endangered species that would otherwise be difficult to survey.

In a study just published, the authors have used DNA traces to monitor the presence of the endangered Gouldian finch, Erythrura gouldiae, a small bird endemic to northern Australia.

Corbyn might have edged it

So, did we learn much from the election debate between Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Tory Boris Johnson?  No, of course not.  We never really do.  The spin doctors scurry around in the aftermath, trying to convince the media and press that their man won.  We won't know what impact it has if any for a few days.  In the past, the quick spin has not reflected the real impact on voters.

We go through a charade of questions which are mostly of the 'when did you stop beating your wife' kind.  They specifically cannot be answered clearly.   I think that is why they are chosen.

Broadcasters have this notion that they will get more appealing questions from 'ordinary' members of the public.  They don't.    They get simplicities thrown up by the press.

Thus the question on Prince Andrew and the Monarchy had little to no relevance to the election.  It was simply topical.   No politician trying to be elected Prime Minister is going to attack the Head of State, although …

Ethical problems of gene modification in babies.

The creation of genetically-modified babies is not only ethically justifiable but “highly desirable”, according to new academic research from a leading UK bioethicist.

Dr Kevin Smith from Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland, has published ethical analysis concluding that the risks of gene editing are now low enough to justify its use with human embryos, with a view to producing genetically-modified (GM) people.

In the paper, published in medical ethics journal Bioethics, Dr Smith argues that an ethically sound attempt could be less than two years away, and predicts such research could kick-start a revolution in human genetic modification.

It is difficult to see what the nature of this research would be.  The problem does not lie in the ethics of 'designer babies', but in the possible complications of such research.  This is the point I and my colleagues made in a paper we published a few years ago.  Genes are rarely specific for a given characteristic.   Most human diseas…

Boris' alternative speech to the CBI

Boris' alternative speech to the CBI:

Look, I know you will understand we have to bribe voters with more spending on all the essential services about which pollsters tell us they care. So, for now (wink, wink) until we get reelected (wink), we are going to shelve the cut in business tax.

Now, I know you will be disappointed, but trust me, we are the party that wants to distribute more wealth (wink) (pause) to the few. We have taken so much from the many and given it to...people like you who create wealth. Never have so few benefited from the misery of so many (lovely Churchillian ring about that, don't you think?).

You know our record is sound. More families using food banks, more families are living with slashed benefits. We have cut real funding for the NHS, social care, children's services, schools. We have driven down wages. There are now more pensioners in work than ever before.

Child poverty has increased. Pensioner poverty is rising once again (we are delivering jus…

Brexit's ghostly presence

It is still said by many that this UK general election is about Brexit.  In many ways it is, and no doubt Brexit, remain or leave, will influence voters.  But it hardly features in the debate at a national level.

So far, Boris Johnson is not attempting to make a case for his 'deal', or for a possible no-deal exit.  On the contrary, he has been busy trying to cover up the Tories appalling record in government: failure on the environment, failure on pensions, failure on social care, failing children's services, and a crisis in the NHS and in our schools.

Some might argue that such matters are of less concern if the economy was doing well after a decade of austerity, but it isn't.  The Tories have failed on the economy and, if anything, are now abandoning caution to the wind in an attempt to woo voters.

"Brexit haunts the election like a ghost"
One thing is missing is Brexit.  It haunts the election like a ghost, but few if any are discussing the details of it.  …

Tories failing our children

Schools in England are struggling. A decade of underfunding means that 83% of schools have financial difficulties.


In 2015, David Cameron promised that his Tory Government would continue to protect school funding. They didn't deliver.

During the 2017 election, Theresa May promised to spend £4bn more. She failed to deliver.


And now, Boris Johnson promises to level up school funding and ensure there are no more winners and losers. Why should we trust him after a decade of failure to live up to the promises?


These are the realities that Brexit hides. Our children's futures are being damaged by short-sighted cuts in funding.

Unless something is done, our schools will be reeling from a £1.3bn funding shortfall in 2022/23. Our schools will face the most significant funding crisis in a generation.

Let's put this another way.

Since 2015 the average amount spent on a pupil has fallen from £5,000 a year to just under £4,700.

In England’s primary school, children are taught …

The scandal of pensioner poverty

A significant achievement of the last Labour government was a reduction in pensioner poverty.

In 1996/97, 42% of single female pensioners were in poverty while the high point for single male pensioner poverty was 34% in 1997/98.  By 2009 these had fallen to 18% and 14% respectively.

Since 2010, single pensioner poverty has seen once again a systematic rise to 24% for females and 20% for males, and the rise looks set to continue.

Along with rising child poverty, it is a scandal of a decade of austerity.




According to analysis by the Rowntree Trust, a significant cause of rising pensioner poverty is housing costs.  For those in social housing, the poverty rate peaked at 54% in 1996/97, fell to 20% in 2012/13, and has risen back to 31% in 2016/17. For those renting from private landlords, the peak was 46% in 1997/98, and the low point was 27% in 2007/08, before rising back up to 36% in 2016/17.

With so many people set to retire with inadequate pensions, we are likely to see a continuing…

A revolution in broadband?

The Labour Party have announced that a Labour government would take into public ownership the 'final mile' of broadband cable, currently controlled as a monopoly by BT Openreach and invest in the rollout of superfast connections for every home.

This bold move was greeted with the cry of "communism!" by Boris Johnson and the Tory media.

But what is happening in other countries?  Is Labour's proposal so off the rails? The answer is no.

The UK is not alone in having difficulty with the rollout of broadband connections to create what is now termed the Gigabyte society.

Germany's business community is concerned at the lack of progress in broadband connectivity.   Vodafone even called for the 'last mile' of cabling to be 'state-supported'.

Germany also has been slow to expand its fibre-optic network, and the business community warn it will lose competitiveness because slow internet speeds as it risks holding back advances in computer-based manufac…

Let's invest in our children not HS2.

A shameful 30% of children in the UK are living in poverty, and 70% of them are children of hard-working families.    That is over 4 million children.

Child poverty is increasing in the UK, and it is not difficult to see why.

Tory austerity and poverty wages have pushed families into poverty.

For almost the decade from 2010 to the present, child benefit – a vital lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet – has lost nearly a quarter of its value simply because it has not increased as prices have risen.

Investing in ending child poverty would bring high returns to the economy.

Child poverty matters - it matters a great deal because it represents a crucial link in the causes of poor health.   Childhood obesity, for example, is a significant consequence of poverty.

If we wanted to tackle childhood obesity, we would also want to combat childhood poverty.

But let's examine what that means.  It means ending poverty.  It means creating fairness in the distribution of wealth and o…

Labour's bold solution for super-fast broadband

The Telecommunications industry has only itself to blame for the appallingly slow roll-out of fast broadband to the nation.   The 'market' has failed to deliver.  That isn't merely the verdict of politicians or the Labour Party. That is the verdict of the telecommunications sector.

So what is the problem?

One of the problems was highlighted just three years ago in an Ofcom report, but it failed to take the bull by the horns and propose radical solutions.

Openreach is the division of BT that owns the fibre and copper wires that run from the local telephone exchange to homes and businesses.    The 76 million miles of cables underpins all our telecom and broadband services.  
Whether or not you change your service provider, it is the same cabling.   
One option is to split Openreach off from BT, and it has been an option called for by other providers such as Sky.   They say that BT has failed to invest significantly in the network and they have criticised BT for their failure t…

Why oh why Mr Johnson?

Mr Johnson:
If the NHS means so much to you, why has the Tory government starved if of the funds needed to meet demand?
If health matters then why have you cut funding for public health over the last decade?
If children's education matters, then why have you let schools crumble?
If social care matters, then why have you not funded it?
If children's services matter, then why have you cut them?
If local democracy matters, then why have you starved local authorities of the funds needed for their statutory duties?
If you want to close the gap of inequality, then why has child poverty increased?
Why is pensioner poverty increasing?
Why are so many families having to depend on food banks?
Why is growth sluggish after a decade of Tory management of the economy?
Why is the United Kingdom at risk of breaking apart?
Why oh why Mr Johnson?

Brexit General Election Farce

Austerity is shortening lives

Life expectancy has been one of those measures used often to indicate human progress.  On this measure, the UK doesn't do so well compared to other European countries.   
Life expectancy at birth in the UK  increased by 13.1 weeks per year on average since 1980–1982 for males and 9.5 weeks per year on average for females.

The reduction in the proportion of men smoking, along with the decline of heavy industry and the move away from physical labour and manufacturing industries towards the service sector are likely factors contributing to the changes, while female life-styles and childbirth have changed substantially.

The most common age at death in the UK for men is 85 and for women, it is 89. Progress indeed.

The health and wellbeing of our population are falling, and with it so too is life-expectancy.

Austerity is shortening our lives, or at least for some of us.   And there is the point.

Austerity has increased inequality and poverty, driven by the Tory cuts and approach to wel…

Will Farage's election deal with Johnson backfire?

Farage's deal with Boris, standing down to give the Tories a clear run in those seats they won in 2016, looks like a winning edge for Johnson, but it may backfire. 

Looking across the polls there does appear to have been a shift in support for Labour. Whether it is significant and consistent remains to be seen. If campaigns do anything, then it is not surprising Labour has picked up.

 The Tories have had a bad week. Johnson, far from meeting ‘real’ people and being seen out and about, has been cocooned with infants in schools or walking around aimlessly in hospital corridors – which didn’t do too well for him when confronted with patients and doctors angry about what the Tories have done to the NHS. 

Corbyn, on the other hand, has had a good start. As in 2017, the more the Tory press portray him as a bogeyman, the more voters see the contrast with the man out on the stumps. He seems to have an edge with empathy, which for all his populism Boris Johnson appears to lack.

Little wonder t…

Mindless cuts in public health

There is an olde adage that prevention is better than cure.  This is why investment in public health is vital.   In the end, it pays for itself in a healthy workforce and productivity and reduces the burden on overstretched clinical services.   That much is obvious.  But not to the government.

Funding on public health has been a significant victim of mindless austerity. 
A report published this week  shows how the cuts have had a devastating effect, and this has been particularly acute in the most deprived areas of the country with swingeing cuts in, for example, sexual health services,  health protection and advice,  drug and alcohol services.

Almost £1 in every £7 cut from public health services has come from England’s ten most deprived communities - compared to just £1 in every £46 in the country’s ten least deprived places.

This is another reason why mindless austerity has been both economically blinkered and morally wrong.   It is ethically wrong because it penalised the poorest …

More than Brexit

As much about the NHS as Brexit.

It isn't difficult to see that the NHS is struggling because it has been starved of adequate funding. £22 bn of so-called 'efficiency savings' have ripped it apart.

The Tories claim that funding has increased over the last decade. Of course, that is strictly true. But in real terms per capita, this is not so.

The population has increased by 6%, and the proportion of older people has also increased.   In future years, the UK population is set to grow further still.

The projected population surpasses 70 million in 2029 and reaches 72.9 million by 2041 – increases of 6.1% and 10.4%, respectively, from 2017 (figures from ONS).

As the population increases, so will the demands on health and care services.  A negligent government misunderstands that remorseless relationship.

The last Labour government pushed up spending on the NHS as a percentage of GDP following the commitment to raise the level to the average of European countries.   This saw waiting lists and times fall dramat…

Cynical Tory pledge to increase number of GPs

After a decade of austerity, the Tories are now cynically throwing spending pledges around like confetti. Today they are pledging to increase the number of GPs.  They have made such pledges before and have failed to meet them.    Why believe them now?

Staff shortages in the NHS are a significant factor in missing targets and increasing waiting times and lists.  Too many people are waiting too long for an appointment to see their GP.  Too many practices are reliant on locum supply.

in 10 years the NHS will have a shortfall of 108,000 full-time equivalent nurses. 
A recent report concluded that "on current trends", in 10 years the NHS will have a shortfall of 108,000 full-time equivalent nurses.   Filling that gap would require a massive 5,000 additional nurses in training each year.  It will also need an equivalent number of foreign nurses to be recruited - and this at a time when the uncertainty of Brexit has led to a loss of staff.

There is no magic wand. 
The numbers of GPs a…

Boris the flop

So, here is a political party going to the country saying they will 'get Brexit done' after three years of failing to get anything done at all.

Just three years ago they said there wasn't a 'money tree'.  Now they have miraculously found one, and are in a bidding war with Labour on spending. "Anything you can do, we can do better!"

Boris doesn't understand his own Brexit deal and comes up trumps in saying that Northern Ireland has got a good one because they will remain in the single market and have free movement.  If it is so good, then why give it up for the rest of the UK?

This all took place with a rambling speech in Northern Ireland that made no sense either to those listening or to Boris Johnson, who looked like a stand-up whose jokes were falling flat.  It didn't help appearances to have a glass in his hand.  Perhaps it was water, or not.

 So far, the Tory campaign launch seems to have been a flop.  Rees-Mogg talked about what he would have…