Ukraine Chief of Intelligence drops the mask on forcible reoccupation of Crimea and partition of Russia

The 26th May is the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the shelling of Donetsk by Ukrainian forces in 2014. For the Donbass Ukrainians that opposed the new Maidan regime this event marked the point of no return. It followed the burning alive of the anti-maidan protestors in Odessa on May 2nd 2014 and Ukrainian forces trying to storm Mariupol that same week. The shelling has continued daily ever since, including today, killing several people. Yet, listen to the news here and there is silence about that. The casualties caused by a Russian missile strike in Dnipro were reported however, and President Zelensky’s comment that this showed the Russians to be “fighters against everything humane and honest” was not put in the context of what his own forces are doing. An enemy of the United States would be accused of “shelling his own people”.

Nevertheless, most people who support the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, or call for a Russian military withdrawal and restoration of the pre 2014 borders, sincerely assume that this would be a liberation for the people who live in the Donbass and Crimea; and that this is where the war would stop.

This interview with Kyrylo Budanov – the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence (the GRU) – by a journalist who has been making a film supporting the Ukrainian war effort released last week, shows that the Ukrainian high command (and journalists) have no such delusions.

Budanov says a number of interesting things in this interview, some of them revealing, some quite far fetched. He is, after all, an intelligence officer, so he has access to a lot of information; but, as an intelligence officer, a large part of his job is to spin false but instrumentally useful narratives. He is also a firm believer in the notion that if you will something hard enough, it will come to pass and that Ukraine will “win”, despite their succession of grinding defeats since the new year and the terrible cost in lives that is the price of carrying on.

At the same time, he is secure enough in the presumed support of his audience to describe what the sort of victory he wants would look like. In the same way that the Guardian is now so sure of the allegiance of its readers to Ukrainian nationalism that they can reveal that, when collaborating with the Nazis in WW2, they killed around 100,000 Poles, a massacre described as “genocide” by the Polish government as recently as 2016.

In the interview’s final section, about what would happen in Crimea if Ukraine’s war aims were achieved (starting 36:57 minutes in) he is quite blunt that “victory” in the sense of military reoccupation would only be the start of a “difficult” “multi year process” of “reintegrating” territories with a population that is actually hostile and does not want to be reoccupied. Three million people with, as he puts it “a completely different view of the world”*. The interviewer uses the euphemism “three million not very devoted people” and Budanov states that those people with an “altered psyche” who can be “re educated” should be – without specifying what should be done with those that can’t, though “physical elimination” is a phrase he uses elsewhere. This will have to be done with a carrot and a stick, as the two only work together; and with a “firm hand”. This will be “hard work” he says.

Many words can be used to describe this scenario. “Liberation” for those 3 million people is not one of them. If you believe in self determination, you can’t support this.

His comments at the end section about “a new security architecture in the world” are put in context by a section “About the Future of Russia” a little before this (at 32.45 minutes in). In this, the interviewer pulls across a map of the Russian Federation – “your famous map” with the partition borders – that Dick Cheney and Zbigniew Brzezinski originally proposed back in 1991 as a way to manage the “Post Soviet space” most amenably for the US – drawn in in thick blue felt tip lines; remarking that “its been shown a lot”. Not in the media here it hasn’t. It might make people wonder a bit.

This isn’t Budanov’s map, but is similar. If you google US aim to partition Russia and click on images, you get a number of variations.

Budanov uses a number of euphemisms about “unanimous transformation” of Russia and the prospective partition being “conceptual”, and speculates that the more defeats the RF suffers the more it will break up, starting with the Caucasus. His confirmation, when discussing the prospect that “new states” will be imposed on the wreck of the RF that, “Russians are well aware of this” gives a tacit recognition that the Russian security concerns raised in the run up to February 24th were real and existential.

His statement “we don’t need Russia in the form that it exists now”, underlines this and, given where the partition plan originated, cannot be defined as defensive.

*If you want an insight into why the people in Donbass might have a “completely different view of the world” – which Budanov suggests is a result of “propaganda” – consider these personal accounts from the day the Ukrainian army started shelling Donetsk city on May 26th 2014. These are from the Donetsk Anti Fascist site.

Marina Kharkova: “May 25 was the last day of peace in Donetsk, as the family celebrated the birthday of my father, a miner. The mood was anxious, restless and tense because of the general situation, but nothing yet seemed to portend tragedy. On the morning of 26, on my way to work, I heard the sounds of flying planes and distant explosions. Everyone had gathered in the largest office and was listening to an employee who lived near the railway station. She cried and told how Ukrainian planes and helicopters had bombed from the air, how their nine-storey building on Privokzalnoye had been shaking, how women killed by shells were lying directly on the pavement bleeding, how the minibus she was travelling in had hurtled away from the danger zone. She sat in silence, clutching her heads, trying to comprehend. Tanya was given water and sedatives – she was so sick. Then, by inertia, they tried to get on with their business. The rumble outside the window increased, though the office was far away from the airport. Ambulances and cars with militia were whizzing down the street. After three in the afternoon everyone decided to stop their pointless attempts to pretend to be busy and drove home. The understanding of what was happening came at once, although the consciousness was still trying to cling to yesterday’s peaceful day. The 26th of May was the point at which “it will never be the same again”.

EIena Hovhannisyan, a biology teacher: “At that time we kept up with the news from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. We already knew how people had been martyred in Odessa, Mariupol and Krasnoarmeisk. I had forebodings of near disaster. It was already hovering over us, but we did not think how tragic, long, brutal, hopeless the events would be. Sometimes it seemed that it was just a bad dream, that I would wake up and everything would be like before. But no. It is an illusion that the war will not touch you. It will touch everyone, sooner or later. We were simply the first to be in the epicentre. And May 26th I will always remember. The warm, sunny weather and the roar of planes in the sky. From the balcony on the side of the airport black smoke could be seen, you could hear explosions constantly. The first shelling, deaths, destruction, grief and pain. Since that day, there would be no peace in Donetsk for another nine years. But we didn’t know it then. And that day was endless, filled with horror and pain. The phones were literally ringing off the hook – everyone was trying to find out what happened to their loved ones, whether they were alive or not. In the evening my son arrived from work; his office was a couple of blocks from the station. He told about the horror in the city, about the dead woman vendor from the station market, about the very young guy who worked as a valet. He was killed by shrapnel from a missile fired by a Ukrainian helicopter. People were falling, screaming, crying, calling for help. Passers-by tried to save the wounded, car alarms howled. The railway station area in any city is the most crowded place. In Donetsk on Privokzalnoye there are markets, shops, banks, the area was teeming with life. They say helicopters flew so low that you could see the pilots in the cockpit. And these pilots also saw that they hit peaceful people. This was not done by some Hitlerites, but by Ukrainians, with whom we lived in the same country. May 26 was the day that turned everything upside down. There is no and will not be our forgiveness for Ukraine. And there will be no return.

From the diary of a Donetsk woman who wanted to remain anonymous: 26 May 2014, from the balcony, I saw planes firing missiles. My husband, coming home from work, told me about the dead in the station square. At the same time as the airport was being bombed, the fighting moved into the city, on Kievsky Avenue linking the city and the airport. People who had lost their jobs or shelter, relatives or loved ones, went to volunteer for the militia. And every day there were more and more of them, including my acquaintances, as the war gradually touched everyone.

It is difficult to describe the sensations of trying to sleep to the sound of shelling outside your windows. The deafening and resounding explosions are somewhere close by. Your heart sinks each time, because no one knows where the next shell will land. But when you see the dawn, you realize that another night is behind you, all your loved ones are alive today.

In addition to the fighting at the airport and the aerial bombardment with unguided shells, Ukrainian snipers shelled the Putilovsky Bridge. This road was then called the “road of death”: civilian cars with people were burnt and shot, and in the Putilovsky Grove there lay the bodies of both civilians unluckily caught up in the active fighting and the militiamen trying to save people. For several days, the bodies were decomposing in the terrible heat: there was no opportunity to pick them up and bury them.

An ambulance was also shot up on the road to Donetsk airport. Its crew, Artem Kovalevsky, the ambulance driver, paramedic Sergei Kozhukharov and doctor Vladimir Vasilievich, miraculously survived and managed to get out of hell.

They told reporters from the local branch of Komsomolka in Donetsk how they managed to survive when Ukrainian snipers shot even those who had managed to run into the wooded area.

Victoria Sergeyevna, neurologist: I was on duty that day, the hospital was far away from the airport, but we all knew what was going on. In the evening, many people of different ages with strokes or suspected strokes were brought to our department. People’s chronic illnesses were exacerbated by the stress. The statistics of deaths from heart attacks and strokes during the war has increased dramatically compared to the peacetime. And these are also our victims of the war, just as innocent as the victims who died under shelling”.

Postcards from Amsterdam: ask not for whom the tram tolls?

Holland is flat. Everyone knows that Holland is flat. But you have to go there to appreciate just how flat it is.

All the way between Antwerp and Amsterdam via Rotterdam, its as though someone has ironed the landscape. You could play billiards on it, if it wasn’t so wet. Many of the fields are covered in greenhouses; completely solidly; acre sized greenhouses that add to the impression that you are not in a landscape but a simplified two dimensional version of one. It must make a lot of planning much simpler to not have to consider inclines.

The only bumpy bits of ground are dykes and dams. Even the houses are low. Single storey with dormer roofs, so they look like they are squatting on the ground and ducking to avoid being blown away.

Alongside the fields are irrigation and drainage canals. These are also on a level. No need for locks; there are no waterfalls or any sense that anything is not under control. As 25% of the Netherlands is below the current sea level, this is just as well. It makes the country acutely aware of the rapid increase in the sea level rise that is now baked in by climate change.

Like Bangladesh, Holland is one of the most threatened mainland countries. The urgency of the situation is partly counterbalanced by the technological and engineering self confidence that comes from having been reclaiming land from the sea for over 2,000 years. All the same, the level of rainfall gives the impression that the sea is trying to take it back by aerial assault and the scale of the rise now coming is well beyond anything experienced in that period.

Holland is also extraordinarily neat, a tolerance of urban graffiti tags notwithstanding. The contrast with Belgium – which, outside Brussels, looks like a part of France frozen in about 1953 and neglected ever since, presenting itself as the Benelux down at heel twin, at least alongside the Eurostar route – hits you in the face as soon as you cross the frontier in either direction.

Photo: PA

This is the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. Unlike the buildings around it, which have a handsome, distinctive elegance, this is a neo classical imperial brute, with such heavy black bars on the windows that S and I thought it might be a prison. No accident that Donald Trump, when President, decreed that all new official government buildings should be constructed in this kind of neo classical imperial style. Rome casts a long shadow in the imagination of insecure powers seeking the timeless legitimacy conferred by Doric columns. In the middle of the roof at the apex of the pediment is a statue of a muscular Atlas holding up the world; flanked by a pair of lesser figures embodying law and force. In this way, those with wealth and power, whose existence is held up and sustained by the genuinely Atlas like labours of millions, present themselves to the world as if it is them that’s doing the supporting. Its long past time we shrugged them off.

Pushing off from the lights. Photo: SLAW

Bikes are everywhere. People often ride them with a distinctive and very dignified posture; leaning to the rear with very straight backs. And all sorts of people. Tall, grey haired elderly men cycling alongside each other holding a conversation, couples giving each other rides with extension seats on the back, families with the children in a cargo bike style bucket at the front – holds up to three – sometimes with a cover as you can see above, or perched on a crossbar seat or baby seat behind. Mums with kids alongside.

Bike stands at every station. Photo: SLAW

There are bike stands everywhere, bristling along the pavements outside apartment blocks like iron hedges, and bike lanes, clearly demarcated on every road; which are organised as follows: pavement, bike lane, pavement, car lane, trams, car lane, pavement, bike lane, pavement. Standardised. Rational.

Heavy wheeled black electric bikes – known as “fat bikes” – whizz along in the bike lanes too, but the push bikes don’t hang about either. They come not single spies but in battalions. And fast. A critical mass that eclipses the car. What we need everywhere.

No one feels the need to wear lycra (or helmets). There is strength, and normality, in numbers. No one is intimidated by the rain. They just put on sou’westers and ponchos – sometimes not even that – and keep cycling. Bike on through the storm. Bike on through the rain. And you’ll never bike alone.

People prioritise practicality over aesthetics; there were more old fashioned chain guards than I have seen for years and lots of people attach plastic crates – of the sort that you might store beer or milk bottles in – between the handlebars on a frame over the front wheel to carry things in.

No one bats an eyelid if a cyclist rides their bike into a metro station. Railway stations have bike grooves running down stairs for cyclists to have an easier ascent or descent as you can see below.

Young lad gets his bike down the steps without bumps at Zaanse Schans station. Photo: SLAW

The trams are wonderful. Regular, frequent, reliably knitting the city together. The entrance doors are in the middle, exits at the front and back. Immediately inside the entrance doors are enclosed information booths with helpful tourist and transport guides sitting in them to help anyone who might need it.

There are still cars, but motorists are generally outnumbered by cyclists and people using the trams. The deep almost atavistic clang of the tram bell is like a tocsin for car based cities.

The number 12 tram coming into the stop at Concertgebouw in the rain. Photo: SLAW

Names for bands inspired by Amsterdam or that sound better in Dutch: Electric Bendybus. Soul Patch. Schnitzelhaus. Toeslag. Stroopwaffel. Sloterdijk.

Yorkshire tea? Photo PA

The Dutch for full fat milk is Volle Melk and for half fat milk its Half Volle Melk: so literally half full milk. No matter how much you’ve drunk, its always half full.

The Dutch for public urination is Wildplassen, which has a slightly adventurous tone to it; as well as being a bit onomatopoeic. It is, of course, Verboden (and there are street signs saying so). Certainly more so than in London on a Saturday night. Stag dos please take note.

Near the tram stop by Concertgebouw is a little evangelical kiosk, with bibles and tracts, emblazoned with the legend God Zoekt jou; which seems to imply that He/She zeukt you whether you liked it or not. I’m not sure I do.

Photo: PA. Trees at Keukenhof with a decidedly Middle Earth sort of feel

Tulips in Amsterdam. There will be a generational watershed at this point between people who will now have Max Bygraves in their head for the rest of the day, and those that don’t.

Keukenhof (literal translation, kitchen court) is a vast Park about twenty minutes south west of the city that has a spectacular flower display every Spring; mostly tulips. Most flower displays – or greenery in general – are reviving, and induce states of contemplation and reflection that give us a break from everyday pressures, reducing stress as we walk through a Park. When I used to develop migraines at school I would walk home through Hampstead Heath; and the immersion in greenness would usually soothe the worst of it by the time I’d got to Golders Green. A point all urban planners should keep in mind, given the pressure from developers to squeeze in just one more lucrative unit.

The display at Keukenhof is contemplative to an almost hallucinogenic degree. I’d expected to spend an hour or so looking around before getting restless, but we spent the whole day and felt a bit regretful at having to leave. The sheer scale of the planted beds, and the artful juxtaposition of colours and shapes – and the more subtle assault of the aromas – overwhelms the senses into a different sort of consciousness. Who needs drugs when you have a sea of tulips?

When you look long into the floral display…

A small parade of stilt walkers wafting silky wings, floaty trousers and drifty music steps, smiling beneficently down from giraffe height as they pass. A toddler with her eyes wide and mouth agape totters after them with entranced steps, completely awestruck. Pied Piper moment.

The floral display also looks into you. Photos: SLAW

The attached tulip museums inform that tulips originated in central Asia, were named after the turbans worn in the region and the Ottoman Empire, were the subject of one of the first stock exchange bubbles (tulip mania) in the 1630s with, at one point, a single bulb being priced at the equivalent of 67,000 Euros; and that Holland now produces 75% of global bulb supply (but not at 67,000 Euros a pop).

Raskolnikov in the butty shop. There are lots of shops doing sandwiches of an adventurous sort right across the city. Sitting waiting for our order, I glance across at the other customer. A small young man sitting under a personal black cloud, with closed off eyes and a pale complexion, faded sandy mustache, dressed in a black hoody, with the hood pulled up across a black beanie hat, over a black t shirt with a machine pistol logo which, as poses go, is rather menacing, and trousers made for a giant, but cut down to “fit”, jagged and flappy at the bottoms, rent around the pockets, cigarette pack in one, bottle of water peeping out of the other, and exuding an air of misery and menace; until his sandwich is delivered, at which point he smiles and his existential gloom seems to lift into the heavens.

The historic windmills at Zaanse Schans stretch along the east bank of the river Zaans. Only two of them are on their original site. All the others were moved here, along with a number of traditional wooden houses, to make a tourist theme park that would also preserve them. As such it is a reconstruction of the past by concentrating it in one area, rather than an authentic preservation of the area itself.

Inside the windmills of your mind…Photo: SLAW

The windmills are a very impressive piece of early modern technology. The sails, wooden frames with canvas stretched over, rotate at a rapid rate, turning a big wooden gear cog inside that, in turn, concentrates a massive force to rotate millstones or vertical crushers to pound pigment, grind corn, split logs. There is nothing smooth about this, though the synchronisation of the gear wheels is brilliantly thought out, and the forces involved are overt, heavy, dusty; and the whole mill shakes as a crusher hammers down. The rapidity with which timber could be turned into planks gave Holland an advantage in shipbuilding that underpinned its early seventeenth century naval prowess. As this was at the same time as the eighty years war of independence against the Spanish Empire; perhaps Cervantes was making a geopolitical comment about the relative modernity of the embattled powers when he wrote about Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Built of wood and/or with thatched upper structures, they were very vulnerable to fire and at least two of them had to be rebuilt after burning down in the nineteenth century.

Water logged logs with windmills on the Zaans. Photo: SLAW

In the wooden structures alongside are a set of museums with large shops attached, which are best seen in between coach parties. There are a lot of these and, as the museums are small, tend to jam solid when they are in. The clog museum shows a range of clogs that vary from elegant “Sunday Clogs” – with carefully painted scenes on them – through to betrothal clogs, that an aspiring suitor would hand carve and decorate for his intended – on to industrial clogs, which had a 3cm thick front end that dyke workers could use as a fulcrum when levering up basalt blocks and other heavy weights. The cheese museum is basically a shop run by the Henry Willig company – which makes cheese and chocolate, but not at the same time thankfully – with a short film in the reception area to show how cheese is made. The nice thing about this is that they have stands with people looking Disneyesque in traditional bonnets and clogs – I’m tempted to say that this is a bit “cheesy” – who let you try little slivers of different types of cheese. Dutch cheese – basically Edam – was considered exotic when I was growing up in the 1960s. As a result of being exposed to it at an impressionable age I have retained a prejudice that it smells and tastes of feet and and has the texture and “mouth feel” of rubber. It was good to have this dispelled with some strong but subtle varieties; the characteristically blunt Dutch designations of “young cheese” and “old cheese” notwithstanding. “Glorious goat” is pretty good.

By the Double Headed Phoenix café/bar – which specialises in making their own liqueurs, and gives you a shot of one of them in a tiny glass with squirty cream on top if you ever have a coffee – is the toilet. As most of the visitors are coach parties of a certain age, the queue is a long one. I am standing in a long line behind about half the population of Taiwan when we are suddenly disturbed by a furious woman from New Zealand, venting her frustration that the turnstile both costs and doesn’t work, and that the woman giving helpful advice has put her nose out of joint because she’s telling her what to do- “you have to pay to get in and it doesn’t work, then she says you have to stand on a spot, and it still doesn’t work. I’ll just hold it. I can’t wait to get out of this country!” Hopefully she will have found a toilet she can get into before then. The angriest I’ve seen anyone for days. It all seemed a bit over the top. The woman she seems to have been taking exception to was a young black cleaner; who went out of her way to explain how to get through when I had the same problem with a good deal of grace and charm. Which wasn’t her job, but she did it anyway. I wonder how much of the NZ woman’s angst was bound up in resentment at having to take instruction from a black cleaner? Hopefully not, but, if so, it illustrates that racists are never happy.

The Anne Frank House leaves you emotionally numb. Even when you know what happened. Especially when you’ve read the book. The original building, the warehouse owned by Otto Frank with the secret annexe at the back, is encased in a newer structure. The queue is long and quiet and let in in time slots booked long in advance. Everyone gets a hand set with recorded information that works when you point it at stations on the tour. There are a lot of people going round. Not a lot of conversation. This is not a place to make light of, but no one seems to be ghoulish either. Each station hammers home the story we already know with details we didn’t; and everyone walks through the warehouse, up the steep narrow stairways and into the tiny rooms that 8 people hid from the Nazis in for just over two years – kept alive by a tight group of close friends on the outside – with increasingly grim expressions. They were discovered and arrested in August 1944, just two months after D Day had given them hope, but 9 months before Amsterdam itself was finally liberated on May 5th 1945. By this time, everyone in both families was dead, except for Otto Frank, who managed to survive Auschwitz long enough for the Red Army to get to . His wife and daughters died in Auschwitz or Belsen. Anne was 15.

Anne’s diary, a thoughtful, deeply felt, sharply observed, articulate and witty account of growing up in almost impossible conditions with a threat of imminent arrest, degradation and death constantly in the background, is a deeply humane document that stands as a rebuke and witness to everything the Nazis did and what they stood for. As a narrative about individual people it engages readers empathy in a sustained way that statistics, or photos don’t. We tend to make the former abstract and flinch away at the latter. Primo Levi’s books of memoires about Auschwitz have a similar impact.

This is a spare summary. Hyperbole isn’t necessary. The facts speak for themselves. At a time that the far right is reasserting itself across the Global North, racist narratives are the daily bread of the tabloids and peddled by Ministers at the despatch box, the Great Replacement Theory gets aired at Nat-Con conferences on both sides of the Atlantic, and far right demonstrators in Israel call for “death to Arabs” and “may your villages burn!”; we have to assert implacably that “never again” applies to everyone.

I was also left with a greater sense of admiration for Otto Frank, who made sure his daughter’s diary was published and the house opened as a museum. Frank’s concern when the diary was first making an impact in the late sixties and early seventies to emphasise the human side of it and downplay the politics was something I didn’t think was right as a zealous young activist at the time. While the story only made sense in the context of the Nazis racist exterminism, perhaps what he was trying to do in pushing them to the margins of the story of his daughter’s life was to at least keep her memory safe from being defined solely by the people that murdered her. But, the interaction of the personal and the political has meant that they are now more in her shadow than she in theirs.

A spare, controlled, thoughtful and incredibly resilient man, who looked after the diary while she was writing it without ever reading it because he’d promised her he wouldn’t, his wistful remark after doing so that, however close the relationship, no parent fully understands their child, shows what a good father he was. I get the impression that, having lived through the worst that humanity could do, he spent the rest of his life looking for the decency in people and, because he was looking for it, by and large he found it.

Photo: PA

With thanks to my daughter, seen here sheltering from the mother of all thunderstorms in the café at the American Book Centre, without whose creative imagination, formidable organising skills and zest for life this trip would not have happened.

Hart of Whiteness?

Its a little known fact, and not a lot of people know it, that from 1896 to 1898, while he was writing “Heart of Darkness”, Joseph Conrad lived in Stanford Le Hope in Thurrock; initially in a house he described as “a damned Jerry-built rabbit hutch”.

Thurrock has a habit of playing down its historically illustrious residents. At the back of Grays Hall was an arboretum attached to the house that Alfred Russel Wallace built near a worked out chalk pit; after working out the theory of evolution around the same time as Charles Darwin. The story goes that Darwin, having agonised about his hypothesis and hesitating to publish it for about twenty years was bounced into doing it when he heard that Russel Wallace was about to do so himself, securing himself the popular historical status and making Russel Wallace a more obscure figure that only people interested in Natural History will have heard of.

Russel Wallace lived at The Dell for four years from 1872 to 1876, describing the arboretum below it as  “a bit of a wilderness that can be made into a splendid imitation of a Welsh valley“. The house was made of concrete, as a tribute to the burgeoning local cement works, flourishing at the time and scouring out bigger, deeper pits progressively to the West; with factories getting ever larger all the way up to the huge excavation that now houses the Lakeside Shopping Centre, filling the air with dust and giving the town a definite sense of nominative determinism.

However, once he left, the arboretum fell into gloomy disuse, becoming an adventure playground, known as “the big woods” to generations of kids plucky enough to scale the 6 foot high walls (which got easier as time went on, as footholds became more secure from repeated use and the bits of broken glass set on the tops, which cut my Dad’s bottom as he tried to get across on one occasion in the mid 1930s, wore away) or brave the tunnel that was like a portal through from the playing fields of Treetops School – running through the gloom listening for the voice of outraged authority heat seeking our trespasses – which we were sure would not be forgiven.

None of us living near Russel Road, or Wallace Road on the estate alongside had a clue who Russel or Wallace were, let alone that they were the same person. And there has, possibly thankfully, been no movement of Social Russel Wallaceists.

The White Hart, shortly before it closed.

This is the pub that gave the town a bad name. A selection of Gollie dolls hanging behind the bar, like as the landlord put it “they used to hang them in Mississippi years ago“. After the notoriety gained from a Police raid that confiscated the dolls last month, they tried to carry on, replacing them with new ones, claiming that the police were over reacting, that there was nothing racist about it, that the landlord being seen wearing a Britain First T shirt was the kind of thing anyone might do – as the landlady said in an odd echo of Prince Andrew logic, “I don’t think Chris is a supporter of Britain First, he was just wearing that shirt because it was convenient at the time” – because, who wouldn’t wear one of those if it just happened to be lying around, and, indeed, who wouldn’t have one just conveniently lying around?

When I took this photo about a month ago, the pub looked stone dead already. No one was going in or out. A contrast with the Theobald’s Arms just over the road, that had a set of lively customers spilling into the road. A disgruntled looking middle aged man with a sour expression, and a face that seemed to be made of red brick dust, was staring balefully out of a first floor window like Mr Rottcod at the beginning of Gormenghast.

They shut two weeks later after two of their beer suppliers – Heineken and Carlsberg – and the company that cleaned their barrels and lines decided they didn’t want their products associated with this and boycotted them.

Probably the best boycott in the world.

Riverside Ward, where The White Hart is, a densely populated area of former council flats built in the seventies and the sort of recent flats shown in the photo above and cookie cutter housing stretching down towards the Wharf. It is the seventh most deprived of the 20 wards in Thurrock. It is 75% White, 13% Black, 8% Asian and 4% other ethnicity, with fewer pensioners and more young people than most. It has a higher incidence of smoking and binge drinking, adult and child obesity and hypertension than national averages; and life expectancy a year lower for women and three years lower for men. It has a much higher crime rate than Thurrock averages, but well below national. Only 43% feel safe going out after dark, but 49% are generally happy with the area. (1)

It returned a Labour Councillor with 1,191 votes to her Conservative opponent’s 386 in the local elections on May 4th this year. Riverside has been consistently represented by Labour, even though at the high water mark of Brexit mobilisation, the combined Conservative/UKIP vote was some way ahead. In 2016, the successful Labour candidate polled 857 votes, just ahead of UKIP on 748, with the Conservatives at 379. The turnout then was 27%. This May it was down to 19%, so nothing to be complacent about. The Conservatives have stood Black evangelicals as their candidates for several elections in a row, which might be suppressing their vote among the white racist component of their supporters.

1 Stats from here

2 Stats from here

Writing on the Wall in Ukraine.

An info graphic tucked away on the back page of Tuesday’s Financial Times shows why articles have started appearing across the press in recent weeks, rowing back on previous optimism, to project that the forthcoming Ukrainian military offensive is a last throw of the dice.

Confirming the analyses of commentators like Brian Berletic, who has argued from the beginning that this is a war of attrition, the info graphic compared the munitions so far supplied to Ukraine by the US and its allies, with the annual production of those munitions that they can manage if working their factories at full stretch (“surge” production) and the number of years it would take to replenish stocks already expended.

When read in conjunction with comments from Ukrainian military figures that Ukraine is fast running out of the Soviet era S300 air defence missiles that it has hitherto relied on to contest the air space above its cities and the battlefront, this makes a harsh reality check for anyone arguing that the NATO military input into Ukraine should be increased; because, even if you think that’s the right thing to do, its not actually possible.

For 155mm shells, over a million have already been supplied. They can be produced – when really pushing it – at 240,000 a year. It would take 7 years to replenish stocks to previous levels at that rate* and, its quite evident that even if every shell produced went to Ukraine, that would supply around a quarter of the supply for the first year from here on.

155mm precision shells would take 4 years to replenish, Javelin missiles 6 years, Stinger missiles 7 years and Himars systems 3 years.

To significantly increase military production capacity would require

  • significant investment, that would have to come from elsewhere in the economies, at a time when all the Western countries are undergoing a sharp squeeze on living standards and increasing political turbulence.
  • time, to make the machine tools, build the factories, put in the infrastructure, train the workers; a matter of years not months.
  • a rethink about how the Western military industrial complex functions; as it has hitherto been set up to produce very expensive and sophisticated kit that requires a lot of training to use and, because it is so sophisticated, very lucrative for the manufacturers. This is a viable approach when the wars the West was fighting were either relatively short, or low key against opponents with limited capacity who could be technologically overawed, though is not so effective in protracted attempts to occupy hostile countries, hence the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. It does not hack it at all when what’s needed is the sustained mass production of simple munitions like shells for a prolonged war of attrition; which the Russians are set up to do very effectively, even though they spend a lot less on their military than NATO countries do on average, and far less in total ($1 to every $19 spent by NATO in fact).**

That is a material constraint on the US and NATO because they want sufficient of a stockpile to be able to credibly threaten or fight wars elsewhere. So the longer they have to supply more munitions than they can produce to Ukraine, the weaker their global position becomes.

Hence the increasingly open anger of right wingers in the US who think that engaging in this war is a strategic error; because they want to keep as much powder dry (and missiles in stock) as possible for the war with China they see as the priority to fight before the end of the decade.

This is causing a reframing of the narrative for the forthcoming Ukrainian offensive.

Into the Valley of Death?

Whatever view you take on the rights and wrongs of this conflict, it is hard to contemplate this forthcoming, and much advertised, offensive without a sense of horror for the appalling loss of life that it will require. Like knowing that the battle of the Somme is about to start.

Posed initially as a big push with new Western weapons – primarily Leopard tanks – that would break through Russian lines and lead to a political crisis in Russia leading to a victory and reconquest of all territory up to the 2014 borders, the expectations for this offensive are now being downgraded.

Commentators from Admiral Chris Parry to Daily Telegraph columnists to arch hawk Simon Tisdall in the Observer, are now arguing that, in the words of Admiral Parry, the Russians are “too well dug in” to be shifted much. The logic of this is to try to ward off too much disappointment and war fatigue, such that pressure for a ceasefire and negotiated settlement grows significantly. Reports, from Russian sources, so take them with a pinch of salt if you like – of an increasing tendency for Ukrainian soldiers to surrender and, in some cases, offer to turn change sides, indicates what could happen on a wider scale as the prospect for “victory” is no longer posed as just over the horizon, but as an uncertain and remote possibility in an and unending slog with horrific and remorseless casualties.

So, in some quarters there is now an explicit argument that the aim of the offensive is to gain ground to put Ukraine into a more advantageous position when these negotiations come. The overt call, coming from the Ukrainian military and these same writers, is that the supply of munitions from NATO is insufficient and should be, or should have been, even greater than it has been. The problem with this position is that, in reality, as outlined above, there is insufficient capacity in the Western military industrial complex to provide the level that is demanded. So, it is a demand that cannot be fulfilled. In the event of a debacle these commentators can nevertheless cry betrayal, as reality rarely stands in the way of a politically useful myth.

The scale of the shift in investment required to make it so would require a shift in resources on a scale that could not help but hit domestic living standards very hard indeed; and the militarisation of society that would follow would require dissent to be repressed as treason. The legal case already being taken out in the US against four members of the anti war African People’s Socialist Party for “conspiring to covertly sow discord in U.S. society, spread Russian propaganda and interfere illegally in U.S. elections” is the beginning of what threatens to be a much wider and deeper process across the NATO countries.

Its possible that this offensive will make no ground at all. That the 50,000 or so troops assembled for it will make little or no headway against heavily fortified Russian positions and be hammered by superior Russian artillery and air power and, ultimately, a concentration of reservists that will outnumber them. It is, however, also possible that a heavy enough concentration of forces could break through and reoccupy territory. The Russians have been evacuating civilians in preparation of such a possibility. This is posed by our press as “abductions”, though, what they’d have them do to keep these civilians safe I don’t know. Given the way the Ukrainian army has tried to use the continued presence of civilians as human shields, the chutzpah here is quite extraordinary.

Whatever the impact, the question of what happens when it runs out of steam – as casualties mount, munitions are used up, soldiers succumb to exhaustion – is rarely addressed. There seems to be a presumption that the Russians will be equally exhausted, will not have military reserves in place, or the political will, to push back; which seems unlikely.

Any assessment of what happens then is necessarily speculative. A successful Russian push back with limited territorial aims but aiming for regime change in Kyiv – as spelled out in tub thumping terms by Dmitri Medvedev – would involve a loss of face for NATO that it would find unbearable. So, a partial occupation of Western Ukraine by some NATO forces as a face saving territory holding operation is being rumoured; with the Polish Army being set up to do this. If this is clearly understood and expected by both sides through back channel diplomacy it could lead to a ceasefire and frozen conflict on pre determined territorial lines and avert the very real risk of direct engagement leading potentially to nuclear catastrophe. If not, we could all be in very serious trouble indeed.

In that situation, the cries of betrayal from the right – and some sections of the NATO supporting left – would be very loud; and there would be every prospect of a lower intensity continuing conflict with Azov type forces trying to conduct raids across whatever DMZ might be set up. Alongside this there would be continuing campaigns to increase military spending in the NATO countries and attempts to line everyone up behind it; and demonise and criminalise those that don’t.

At the same time, the price for the aid to Ukraine, which is in the form of loans, will be called in by the NATO powers and Ukraine’s mineral and agricultural resources will be asset stripped on a grand and ruthless scale from the part of the country it occupies. So much for sovereignty and the rights of nations to self determination. The war time legislation stripping workers of what rights they still had will be reaffirmed in the name of national survival and the oligarchy in Kyiv will make a comfortable living on brokering the deals.

Chinese solutions

There have also been articles arguing that China could put pressure on Russia in order to pull NATOs nuts out of the fire; which is more wishful thinking. Why China should do this when the US is actively trying to mobilise the reluctant population of Taiwan to play the same role viz a viz China as it has managed to get the Ukrainian oligarchy to do viz a viz Russia, is unclear. China’s capacity to broker a peace should not be underestimated. They have managed to get Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic relations, which has led to a real prospect for peace in Yemen. The recent call between President Zelensky and President Xi opens the door to an end to the conflict that is not primarily framed by NATOs interests; which will therefore be resisted by it. The comment of a US major about the Vietnamese village of Ben Tre in 1968 “in order to save the village, it was necessary to destroy it” could end up as the preferred US position on Ukraine, if the alternative involves a Chinese brokered peace.

*These are the FTs figures. Although 1,074,000 divided by 240,000 gets you just under four and a half years, presumably they are taking other factors into account lime depreciation, use on live fire exercises etc.

**A World War 2 analogy might be in comparing the T34/85 and the PZKWV (Panther) tanks. Panthers were designed as an answer to the T34. They were heavier, better armoured, faster, more sophisticated and overall more effective tank to tank, but they were far more prone to breakdown (with only 35% of vehicles considered “combat ready” in 1944) and were more expensive and time consuming to build; so that from 1943 to 45 the Nazis built around 6,500 of them, while in the same period the USSR built 29,400 T34/85s.

Postcards from The Big One

I don’t know what they were expecting, but there were dozens of armed police at Westminster tube station on Friday morning; sub machine guns casually displayed like a militia that had just staged a coup. Perhaps its a sign of harsher days to come, if the government gets away with its restrictions on protests, closing down dissent and nibbling away at the right to vote, and the state becomes fully rhinocerised to cope with the fall out from economic stagnation and environmental collapse.

It seemed an unlikely response to a protest that has been flagged up as completely peaceful for months, with not even any non violent direct action that might cause someone to be arrested; and those of us heading for it looked at them with bemusement. But, if they were there for a tip off about something else, there was nothing in their demeanor to indicate that they expected trouble. They were quite relaxed, as though standing around a tube station entrance with a machine gun was as normal as leaving your copy of the Metro on the seat on the tube. Perhaps they are just getting us used to it.

It certainly didn’t seem to be a response to the shrill panic in headlines from the Sun and Daily Mail this week – when will someone get a grip on the eco fanatics?– presumably by putting us all under martial law and locking us up, so their readers can watch the snooker without being disturbed by any thought that the world is beginning to burn around them. Displacement anxiety on their part, in a way.

Sometimes there is a protest in central London that overwhelms and redefines it for a while. On the first day of The Big One, it was almost like that. You could hear the drums in the underpass. “Oh God! Those drums! We’ll all be murdered in our beds”, as they used to say on colonial verandas (and possibly still do in Daily Mail editorial meetings). Out of the tunnel and into the reassuring grey of the sort of London Spring characteristic of the epoch we are losing, and the streets are seeded with business like protest organisers in high viz jackets with XR stickers, in an odd balance with lots of tourists, doing the things that tourists do, moving in herds led by guides holding up umbrellas so they don’t get lost, taking photos of each other leaning on the doors of the iconic Gilbert Scott red phone boxes no one uses anymore (with the Houses of Parliament as a backdrop for the perfect evidence of having been here and seen that) school trips in chatty crocodiles up and down the paving stones, in and out of the Abbey.

As the day goes on, the number of protestors increases, so they begin to define the streets much more. The drums have dominated the soundscape from the off, but now there are contingents of people from here or there wandering like pilgrims between ministries, sometimes with drummers, sometimes not. And in the distance those strange silent processions of priestesses proceeding silently in bright scarlet or eery green robes, saying nothing, moving slowly, bearing witness.

By mid day, the cafe in St James Park is mostly occupied by what the Mail calls the “Eco mob”; for the most part middle aged, thoughtful, quite middle class people, more women than men, politely drinking coffee or holding the door open for each other in the long queue for the loo. The mound outside is occupied by the Bristol Climate Choir; about a hundred of them. Polite, peaceful, determined, not singing yet. A couple of curious coots cautiously duck their heads at them, trying to work them out – and probably closer to understanding them than the Daily Mail is.

At the Department For Education to make a speech for the XR Educators picket (see separate Blog). It is drizzling steadily. The road remained open; so anyone speaking, delivering a model lesson to show what the curriculum could be like, or performing -they had dancing later -had to pause from time to time as a vehicle went past. On one occasion – symbolically enough – a Clapham Omnibus, possibly occupied by average people who we will need to convince; though 70% of them already want more action on climate, so they are more on board than the government is. The rain is dismal but the mood determined.

Photo Graham Petersen This is opposite the DFE. The building behind houses the Adam Smith Institute. The last time there was an XR picket of the DFE, the Adam Smith Institute, an offshored annex of Tufton Street, played loud music through the windows to try to drown it out. This was a mix tape of tracks extolling the joys of driving cars or taking trips in aircraft. “I like driving in my car”, “Buy me a ticket for an aeroplane” and so on. Like the Institute itself, an ideological support for the short lived fever dream of the Truss government, their music choices were out of date and out of time. This time, they were silent; which is just as well; and entirely appropriate.

The pickets at other Ministries a little down the road and round the corner, were bigger. And they had drums. Impossible to walk along and not want to dance to them. The crowd outside the Department of Energy was spilling over the pavement. Outside the Home Office there was a “die in” of climate refugees. Alongside the Ministry of Transport a big crowd arrived from South Yorkshire shouting “We’re from South Yorkshire and we want better buses!” Pretty plain and direct. No need for rhymes. They also had a song about how miserable it is to wait for a bus that doesn’t turn up. Especially when its raining. The tragedy of this, for anyone who can remember back forty years or so, is that in the early 80s Sheffield was an inspirational public transport success story. The fares were low. The timetable regular. The buses reliable. People came from all over the world to study it. The GLC based its Fairs Fare campaign to boost public transport in London on it. Then the Thatcher government forcibly deregulated the system, with the usual nonsense about how the private sector will be more efficient; and it all went to shit.

The crowd outside DEFRA blocked the side street completely. A quiet picket, largely made up of Quakers, strings all the way along the pavement outside the Foreign Office, bearing witness to all its accumulated sins; perhaps symbolised by the statue of Sir Robert Clive at the end of the road; founder of the Indian Empire and a man who reduced Bengal, the most prosperous province in the Mughal Empire, to famine within a decade of conquering it. Clive, who gave a strong impression of being able to brass out what he’d done and revelled in the staggering wealth he accumulated, nevertheless committed suicide at the age of 49 by stabbing himself in the throat with a penknife. So, perhaps it got to him after all. Our current masters have better insulated consciences.

Some of the Ministries are quite strange. Digital Culture, Media and Sport, which had a small picket outside; with a few Equity banners. The seeming polar opposites of Digital Culture and Sport glued awkwardly together by Media. And why just digital culture? What about the rest of it? Perhaps it could be renamed the Ministry of Propaganda and Commercially Lucrative Distractions. Time was that Equity was run by a right wing faction headed by Sir Laurence Olivier, challenged by a WRP bloc led by Vanessa and Corrin Redgrave. Meetings must have been really performative.

The statue of Field Marshall Viscount Allenbrooke turns its back on the Nurses not Nukes banner and its nose up at the teach in going on outside the Ministry of Defence (even though he was such a keen bird watcher).

The Ministry of Defence is playing host to an open air seminar being chaired by CND. One of the most dangerous aspects of our current crisis is the deployment of investment that could be going into green transition into building up the military instead. The United States is spending 14 times as much on its military as it is allocating to investment in transition under the Inflation Reduction Act. According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, in the UK, there is 30 times as much Research and Development on weapons systems as there is on renewable energy. That could be why the patents for the turbines in wind turbines are held by Danish and German/Spanish firms. And this goes on. In the last budget, £5 billion extra for the Ministry of Defence. For insulation? Nothing.

There is an unacknowledged militarism that runs through the UK, which is by some way the most bellicose nation over the Ukraine war in NATO; and in central London there is a war memorial or statue of a Field Marshal or Admiral every few yards if you have eyes to see them. A few years ago, I was showing two teachers from Limpopo Province in South Africa around Trafalgar Square. One of them looked from Nelson on his column to the busts of Beattie, Jellicoe and Cunningham ranged along the Northern wall and muttered “Hmm. Nation of warriors”. I’d not seen it like that before, somehow just taking it for granted as normative; but after he’d said it, it was impossible to miss how the military side of all that imperial history is celebrated and sanctified in bronze.

The speakers are pointing out that the US and its allies – essentially the core of the Global North – are increasing military spending at a dizzying rate; with the US itself hitting a record level, and sharp increases in France Germany and Japan. Japan is doubling its military spending and working together with Italy and the UK to develop a next generation fighter aircraft. One of the speakers uses a strange formula to describe this. That Japan’s increase is “in response to the rising tensions in the world”. Given that, even before these increases, the US and its direct allies are already responsible for two thirds of global military spending, it would be more accurate to describe them as the source of it. And the trajectory is quite clear. As Meehan Crist wrote in March last year, “One of the worst outcomes of the war in Ukraine would be an increasingly militarised response to climate breakdown, in which Western armies, their budgets ballooning in the name of “national security” seek to control not only the outcome of conflicts but the flow of energy, water, food, key minerals and other natural resources. One does not have to work particularly hard to imagine how barbarous that future would be”.

Not hard to imagine, because that’s the world we’ve already got, but a bit more so.

The Saturday was bigger, younger and sunnier in all respects. Stunts get publicity. Mass events build movements.

My speech to the trade union hub can be read – and partly seen – here.

“We are the majority”. Speech to the XR picket of the DFE.

I convene the NEU Climate Change Network and edit the Greener Jobs Alliance Newsletter, which brings together trade unionists active on climate breakdown with climate activists serious about working in and through the unions. Please look us up and check us out.

I’m here as a warm up for XR Youth, who will be talking about what schools are for in a few minutes, so lets think about that.

Michael Gove’s favourite Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, said that every society reproduces itself through its education system.

But, if the society we have is unsustainable, schools have to anticipate a sustainable society and transform themselves as part of the process of constructing it. That necessarily challenges the existing social, political and economic order.

In assessing the Department for Education we should measure their performance against the legal obligation under Article 12 of the Paris Agreement; which states

Parties (that’s governments) will cooperate…to enhance climate education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information recognising the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this agreement.

That means that the whole of society – not just schools and universities, but all media, all government at national, regional and local level – should be participating in a mutually reinforcing education and action movement to prevent climate change and respond to its impacts.

Hands up if you think they are doing that… (there were no hands).

I think that Just Stop Oil people on the media are spot on in turning the question “are you bringing the public with you?” back onto media interviewers. Why are they not dealing with it? We have to be here, partly because they are not doing their job.

Photo Graham Petersen Portrait of the author as an old man.

Looking at what the DFE is doing in its Net Zero Plan, there are two fundamental flaws

  1. There is no plan to review the entire curriculum and no integrated skills programme. Some institutions are doing amazing work. Some primary schools integrate their whole curriculum around climate and sustainability. Manchester Met University has a climate module built into every course. But in a climate emergency that should be the norm; and its criminally negligent that it isn’t.
  2. There is no plan – and no budget – to retrofit the entire schools estate to Zero Carbon by 2030. Small pockets of money are made available to be bid for, which allows for partial works in penny packets here and there; but its left to individual schools and Local Authorities to find their own way. Again, some places are taking a lead, Newcastle City Council aims to retrofit all its schools by 2030. Hats off to them, but again, this should be normative and treated with urgency.

Even the good things they are doing, the National Nature Park, which aims to link up all school, college and University grounds into one greening space, and the requirement for all schools to have a Sustainability Lead by the end of this year – have no budget.

By contrast, in the last Budget, the Ministry of Defence got an extra £5 billion, companies were handed £9 billion in investment tax relief for investments they were going to make anyway.

Anticipating this critique, and responding to the school students strike movement, the DFE published, at the same time as their Net Zero Strategy, its guide to teaching “controversial subjects” with “impartiality”. This is a more subtle version of what Ron DiSantis doing in Florida. DiSantis bans books to do with racism, gay rights. What we have here is a requirement to teach “controversial subjects” like world poverty, racism, the legacy of Empire and climate breakdown in a “balanced” manner.

Which is mind boggling. How do you teach about racism in a “balanced” way? On the one hand, Martin Luther King…on the other hand Adolf Hitler? What are you “balancing”?

Let’s be clear about this. Hands up if you think that the impartiality guidance means that you have to teach climate denial in the interests of balance? – (No hands up. Cries of “No!”)

You’re right. We won that one. This is what the guidance says. “Schools do not need to present misinformation, such as unsubstantiated claims that anthropogenic climate change is not occurring to provide balance”.

Its a pity that that message hasn’t got through to the rest of the government. A spokesperson for the Department for Business and Trade said recently “There are various think tanks in Westminster that have sceptical views about climate change, and Ministers meet those people all the time”. One of them is right behind us, right here, the Adam Smith Institute.

And that guidance was just for the facts in the Science and Geography curriculum. Climate breakdown becomes “a political issue” when discussing what we do about it. So, you can see why a governing Party that

  • abstained on the Parliamentary motion to declare a climate emergency
  • contains within in the organised core of Parliamentary climate change denial in the form of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which includes current Ministers
  • was taken to court because its Net Zero plans did not meet its targets, and lost

would be sensitive about this and want teachers and students to be inhibited about discussing it. Am I being “partisan” in pointing this out?

There are two aspects to this.

  1. Mainstream Parties, those represented in Parliament, will have different approaches to climate breakdown. The guidance prohibits “partisan” support for any of these. So, you couldn’t walk into a classroom waving the Labour or Green Party Manifestoes over your head and calling for support for them. But, you wouldn’t do that anyway. No one would. And the guidance doesn’t stop you teaching the facts about what different Parties say in relation to the crisis and discussing them through. It also does not prohibit the expression of a personal point of view, as long as you identify it as such and make it clear that other views are available.
  2. “Extremism”. The definition of views that are not expressed within the mainstream parties, particularly when linked to campaigns of Non Violent Direct Action, as “extremist”. As all the mainstream responses are inadequate, this dovetails with overall government attempts to close down the space for protest and dissent and, on this issue, shoot the messenger.

What this doesn’t take into account is that we are the majority. Two out of three people want more action to prevent climate breakdown. It has been a top four voter concern for well over a year and will become more so as the crisis intensifies. At the risk of being “partisan”, is this top voter concern one of Rishi Sunak’s top five priorities? Who is it that’s out of step here?

So, because we are the majority, we should not allow the Thought Police into our heads. We need a full, open, exploratory discussion in schools and society – because no one has all the answers, we’re making this up as we go along and its not all under control. The people in charge do not have a grip, and too often have a vested interest in not getting one.

So, getting colleagues, management, parents, governors, students all on board is crucial.

I’ll leave you with a quote from UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez, to put all this “extremist” stuff in context and might make a good start for a Philosophy for Children session.

“The truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness”.

Maths Questions for Ministers

As Rishi Sunak has now decided that extra Maths teaching up to 18 is the “silver bullet” to solve all the UK’s problems of low productivity, in search of a more positive attitude towards numeracy, here are a few questions for him

Rishi Sunak.

  1. If the 11% decrease in the number of teacher training applications in 2023 continues at the same rate, estimate how many years it will be before there are no applications at all; and what year will that be? Answer: Roughly 10 and we will be at zero applications by 2033.
  2. If teachers had a 13% real-terms drop in pay between 2010 and 2022, while average earnings across the economy have gone up 2% in real terms over the same period, and your pay offers for teachers remain well below the rate of inflation in 2023; how is this going to reverse the trend in question 1? Answer. it isn’t.
  3. If 12% of Maths classes in Secondary Schools are being taught by a teacher without a Maths degree, and almost half of Secondary schools are using non specialist teachers for Maths classes, and 13% of new Maths teachers quit within 5 years, but you want all students to take additional Maths classes through to age 18; how does all this add up? Answer. it doesn’t.

Kemi Badenoch

If the Trans Pacific partnership benefits the UK economy by 0.8% but the negative impact of Brexit is 4%

  1. What is the effect of doing both? Show your working. Answer. -4 + 0.08 = -3.92%.
  2. Express your answer showing how many trade deals on the scale of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be needed to make up for the impact of Brexit. Answer: 4/0.08 = 50.

Ben Wallace

If the UK spends $1020 per head on its armed forces, while Germany spends $674, Russia spends $455 and China spends $204 per head

  1. How much greater is the burden of military spending for a UK citizen over a German citizen? Show your working. Answer 1020/674 = 1.5 times.
  2. How much greater is the burden of military spending for a UK citizen over a Russian citizen? Answer 1020/455 = 2.24 times
  3. How much greater is the burden of military spending for a UK citizen over a Chinese citizen? Answer 1020/204 = 5 times

Grant Shapps

If the IPCC states that the number of new fossil fuel projects that can be explored or licenced if we are to prevent climate tipping points is 0,

  1. What is the number of new fossil fuel projects the UK government should be allowed to licence for exploration Answer: 0
  2. Applied Maths: explain the discrepancy between the 0 and the number that you are licencing and quantify what you think the impact of that will be. Answer: It won’t be good…

From Yorkshire to Buddha

On the Metropolitan line, heading North by North West, a small boy dressed in a blue puffa jacket emblazoned with yellow lightning flashes – to show he is a live wire – determinedly pulls himself up on the bar above the seats where his parents are sitting and languidly swings himself along with the same seemingly effortless grace you’d expect from an orang utan. His parents ignore him and no one else pays him any mind. The loneliness of the short distance gymnast.

In Chili Masala at the bottom of the hill, waiting for a take out while being serenaded by film music on the flat screen on the wall, all yearning, echoey lyrics and shots of beautiful young people staring longingly at each other on dancefloors and across roofs: or doing formation dances on the tops of steam trains – as you do. Rather more surreal, a grim faced man in black standing in front of a brand new bright yellow JCB parked in an industrial wasteland straight out of Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” sets about a small army of disposable henchmen, also in black but wearing V for Vendetta masks with a base ball bat and small axe and a choreographed balletic grace. On the wall, a solid home made open fronted MDF box, with the words HAND SANITIS shakily scrawled in sharpie. Empty now of course. I still have a few sachets of Clinell wipes in my back pocket that I tempted to post in it to make it seem a bit less sad.

In the window of one of the flats on the way to the doctors, someone has stuck up one if those centre spread St Georges flag pull outs the Sun does during football tournaments and left it there long afterwards; no more inclined to take it down than I am to remove the Clinell wipes from my back pocket. Over time the ink has faded from the letters not inside the red cross, so it now reads “t’s coming om”.

The Strike Wave gets its Second Wind.

On a cold, bright day in April, on the Euston Road at about midday on Thursday, a solid phalanx of junior doctors picketing the Jade Green eminence of University College Hospital, arrayed up the steps like a choir in orange BMA hats; and all still singing after standing there for over four hours.

This lot shall not be moved.

And now they are being reinforced by RCN members who voted against the miserable pay deal the government offered; even though their union leadership got cold feet and recommended they accept it, in a desperate hope to get something from the struggle without going for broke.

I have to say that I am proud of my own union, the NEU, which recommended rejection of a similarly insulting “offer” (a one off £1000 now plus a 4.5% percentage rise for September below half the inflation rate that would have had to be paid out of existing school budgets). NEU members voted 98% reject on a 66% turnout. The other teacher’s union, the NASUWT, also voted to reject by 87%, and so have the Heads unions, ASCL, by 87% and NAHT by 90%. These unions will now be reballoting for action and so will the NEU, to get a mandate to continue action into the Autumn and Winter if need be.

Suddenly the ground is shifting under Rishi Sunak’s attempts to defuse struggles with minimal offers; and the delusion of stability generated by abandoning Brexiteer brinkmanship over the Northern Ireland Protocol is now looking shaky. The local elections are just a few weeks away. If the Conservatives get the hammering they deserve, Sunak could be on the skids. This would be a real problem for the Tories – as he was brought in after a succession Prime Minsters who were becoming increasingly, visibly, deranged – from May to Johnson to Truss – as a competent bean counting technician to steady the ship; rather like the way Italy sometimes deploys a technocrat; or a company on the slide brings in a consultant from PWC.

If they haemorrhage votes in May, and the already frantic recriminations among Tory backbenchers go into overdrive – as they scrabble around for a way, any way, to hold onto their seats – turns into open factional fighting, the ruling class might have to turn to Starmer as the only viable option to maintain their interests; a role he is very keen to carry out.

This is shown by all the moves that signal his reliability for them, from banning Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour candidate, to an aversion to supporting picket lines, to attacks on law and order and military spending from the right; all the way to a preparedness to use racism in recent personalised attack ads that made even David Blunkett’s stomach turn. This is reassurance for them and a warning to us. But it also means that Starmer is not only dampening down expectations, he is also damping down the Labour vote; as people unhappy with the changes he has made since 2019 walk out of the open door he has challenged us to exit by, and the poll lead steadily slips. While the standing of the Party is held up by hostility to the Tories, his personal ratings are floating like a lead balloon.

Given all this, the best conditions in which a Starmer government could come to office would therefore be if the Tories had visibly been brought down by popular resistance in the ongoing strike wave; which would make it much harder for Starmer to carry out the “hard choices” he has lined up; and face him with a mobilised and increasingly politically conscious movement with a government’s scalp on its belt.

It feels significant that a song often heard on the Doctor’s pickets has the same tune as “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”; so the ghost of the Left’s last surge is haunting the soundtrack of the latest one.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night

Alive as you and me

I said, but Joe you’re ten years dead

I never died said he…

When they say there is no money…

Health Secretary Steve Barclay says the Junior Doctor’s claim to restore their salary levels to where they were in 2008 are “unaffordable” he does so in a tone of voice that is almost bewildered in its puzzlement that anyone could possibly think that their work should be valued as highly as it was 15 years ago. No one in the media seems to have the gumption to ask Barclay, or other Minsters saying the same thing, what has gone so badly wrong on the Tories watch that so many people are so much worse off now than they were before they came to power.

All the same, Barclay’s claim should be examined in relation to the cost of the Junior Doctors claim in full would cost £1.08 billion.

This is just under the £1.1 billion the Chancellor handed out with no apparent stress at all as tax relief for the most lucrative private pension pots. A straight hand out to the top 1%.

Its is just over a fifth of the £5 billion he handed out to the Ministry of Defence for extra military spending; which we’d better hope is wasted, because if its used its deadly.

And a ninth of the £9 billion in Tax relief to companies making investments; which is also a straight hand out with no effect, as incentive loop holes like this never lead to additional investment, just to the companies in receipt of them paying for the investment they were going to make anyway courtesy of foregone investment in more useful things by the state.

So, there is money, but they are spending it on the wrong people. Visually, that looks like this.