Where’s Mr Flint when you need him?

We live in a distinctive but tutti putti flat; designed and built by a locally famous architect and builder called Ernest Trobridge in the late 1920s. Trobridge believed in using natural, local materials and had a real thing about compressed wood. His houses and flats are scattered around NW9, the earliest ones heavily thatched, and include the Castle Flats on the corner of our road; which appeared with Sir John Betjeman standing on top of them in his Metroland documentary in 1973 (and the Madness “Our House” video nine years later… from what feels like a very different time). His designs are part Tudor, part medieval, with imaginative twists – particularly tall, spirally chimneys – that make me wonder how many spoons of magic mushrooms he took in his tea. All the fireplaces in our row of flats are variations on a theme of decorative brick that look hefty and solid. But, the structure of interior walls (and some exterior walls) was described in our pre sale survey as “exceptionally flimsy”. So, though they don’t look just the same, they are, in parts, definitely made out of ticky tacky.

A while back, one of us knocked into one of the bedroom walls and a hole appeared. Pulling away a layer of wallpaper revealed a 6″ x 9″ rectangular cavity with an air brick at the end, that the previous owners had just papered over. Brushing out the dust and cobwebs revealed several rusted nails left over from 1927 and an air brick at a visibly wonky angle; implying that 1920s craftsmanship wasn’t all that it has been cracked up to be. Definite sense of “that’ll do” combined with an undue haste to get done. With the impending energy price rise putting a premium on closing off sources of drafts, I bought an air brick grille. This, like all good Christmas toys that arrive without batteries, arrived without screws; but with the instruction to use “Grade 6 round headed screws of appropriate length”. I needed four of them. The only packs they had in Wickes contained 50. So, having screwed them in, I am left with 46 spare. In the absence of another 11 and a half grilles to put in, I’ve just put them in the tin box that contains all the other packs of screws and nails; where they will stay unused, possibly forever.

When I was growing up in Grays, there was a tiny shop on the corner of Orsett Road and Derby Road that was run by Mr Flint. Flints was a bit like the shop in the 2 Ronnies “For…k…andles” sketch, but much smaller and qualitatively neater. In fact, it might be best described as a shrine to the most anally retentive possible kind of man cave. Presided over by Mr Flint: a small, bald, bird faced man in one of those brown coats that proclaimed that he was a tradesman and proud of it. He sold all sorts of DIY related bits and bobs, and a nice little side line in Airfix plastic models and armies in a box, and the dinky little tins of Humbrol paints needed to paint them. One line that seemed to sell quite well was models of the ships involved in the Battle of the River Plate – probably recalled in plastic because it was a moral boosting early victory for the Royal Navy at a time when everything else was bleak; or, given that it was on Dec 13th 1939, hadn’t properly kicked off yet. The German pocket battleship Graf Spee and the British and New Zealand light cruisers Ajax, Achilles and (rather more prosaically) Exeter; of the sort that were strikingly described as “eggshells armed with hammers”. I’ve known people like that. Me, sometimes. These were on display above the counter, as a sort of decorative flourish. But the main trade of the shop was tools, screws, nails, nuts and bolts and such. You could buy these in exactly the quantity you needed. If you wanted 4 Grade 6 Round headed screws, Mr Flint would sell you 4 Grade 6 round headed screws. And charge you a ha’penny for it. So, you got what you needed, no more, no less; no waste, no overconsumption, no pointless storage.

Mr Flint from memory circa 1964

In the middle of the parade of shops in Kingsbury, there is a large store to let. That is the sort of space that we need for a Library of Things, one of the Repair Workshops the Council is planning and possibly a free book exchange. The main shopping drag is part of the Roe Green Green Zone, along with the Park, the Primary and Secondary Schools and the streets to the North, which will be the prototype for local transformation. Early days and the Council has limited resources, but we should be thinking big.

50 Shades of Frost.

Lord Frost must have choked over his freshly ironed copy of the Daily Telegraph this morning. Spread across the wide open spaces of its front page – because, as long as there is an England, the Telegraph will forever be a broadsheet – was a map with the whole of Southern England coloured red.

This is to show the areas in which – in the current drought – wildfires are just a flicked match, barbecue ember, or suns rays concentrated through a thrown away bottle away. As the wildfire in Wennington showed at the end of last month, if vegetation and buildings are dry enough, and the winds are strong enough, a small fire can spread out of control and burn down whole streets. We should note that Wennington is on the edge of Rainham marshes, not an area we would normally expect to catch fire. In fact, we got lucky that time, because the winds were quite low. So, anyone who owns a property in that red zone, which stretches right across the Tory heartlands of the soft South, has real reason to be worried.; which would be why the Telegraph published it.

But, this is where ideological dissonance slips in. The Telegraph puts a lot of effort into bigging up all the forces on the Tory right, from Lords Lawson and Frost, to Steve Baker and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, who like to argue that Climate Breakdown is all a woke plot; that because dealing with it requires a fairer society that would be uncomfortable for people like them, not dealing with it, while hoping with Mr Micawber that “something will turn up”, is the better option.

Indeed, this is just two days after Frost opined in an essay on Public Exchange, that “there is no evidence” that the UK faces a climate emergency.

One can only conclude that he goes through life with his eyes. and ears firmly shut, and has not bothered to read very much. He could just look around him. Perhaps, like so many “non elite” Brexit supporting members of the House of Lords, he hasn’t been around to notice what’s going on here because he’s off on holiday somewhere continental. But, he can’t really miss it there either. If he is in Italy, perhaps he has noticed coverage of the drought that has cause the Po river to dry up on parts of its course. If he has passed through Germany, he might have noticed that the Rhine is now so low that shipping is being restricted. If he has gone to the United States, he can’t have missed the epic drought and wildfires there this Summer which have produced fire tornadoes in California; or the floods in Kentucky that washed whole houses down streets turned into torrents. Had he popped up to the Arctic for a bit of whale spotting, he might have been made aware that it is heating up four times faster than the rest of the planet and the permafrost is melting 43 times as fast as it was.

If he wants some written evidence, maybe he should just read the latest IPCC Report. Current policies, which he thinks are too fast, have us heading for a 2.7C average temperature rise by the end of the century. Crisis? What crisis?

But, of course, he is from a political current that dislikes “experts” and prefers its own prejudices whenever that’s more convenient.

Frost’s proposals are designed to make other people, in poorer parts of the world, pay the price for the over consumption of people like him.

He blathers complacently on – with that blithe self confidence that so many upper class people have, that if you state total bollocks with enough conviction you can disregard any evidence to the contrary – “the prevailing mood is one in which individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy and in which unsatisfactory renewables technology is touted as the best solution to our problems. Instead of focusing on technological solutions that enable us to master our environment and get more energy in a more carbon-efficient way — nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion – we have focused on managing demand so we can use medieval technology like wind power.”

This is such flabby thinking that it beggars belief that he can be taken seriously by anyone with a fragment of critical intelligence. But, let’s look at them one at a time anyway.

  1. “Individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy”. At the moment, the biggest pressure forcing people to reduce their use of energy is the rapid increase in fossil fuel prices (and the profits of the energy producing companies that flow from them). Frost does not favour taxing those profits to give people a break. He stands for the free market (in this context). Nor does he favour an insulation programme that would allow people to keep warm and cook food, using less energy and getting lower bills as a result. Using less energy means less demand for fossil fuels, therefore fewer profits for the producers. Can’t have that, can we? This is of a piece with his complaint in the Brexit campaign that the EU was introducing standards to force vacuum cleaners to become more efficient – on the grounds that a proper clean needs to burn lots of joules. Vacuum cleaning for petrolheads.
  2. That “unsatisfactory renewables technology”, overtook fossil fuels in UK electricity generation in 2020. “Medieval” wind power produced 24% of UK energy demand in 2020, increased 715% from 2009 to 2020 and is now much cheaper per Kilowatt hour than fossil fuels or nuclear; and steadily getting even cheaper. That reduces bills. Once the turbines are up or the solar panels installed, the wind and the sunshine is free. “Unsatisfactory” for fossil fuel producers, no doubt. Very helpful for the rest of us. Oddly, Lord Frost does not seem so keen on “the market” here. He wants to restrict renewables as such. Perhaps not as suicidally keen as France’s Marine Le Pen, who wants to “tear down” turbines that are already up; but in the way that the Conservatives have restricted onshore wind with all sorts of planning “red tape”. You’d think, with onshore wind being among the cheapest energy sources, he’d want to cut the restrictions and “let the market work its magic”; but not a bit of it. You’d think, as a patriotic Brexiteer wedded to notions of “energy security”, he’d want to make the most of an energy source that doesn’t have to be imported. He could make a bit of a campaign of it, painting them red, white and blue and calling them “Freedom Farms”; with banner headlines in the Tory Press screaming “It’s Britain’s Wind!” But, no. If its low prices for energy users with fewer carbon emissions on the one hand, and sustained fossil fuel profits generating billowing clouds of carbon dioxide on the other, its no contest.
  3. In full macho mode, Lord Frost prefers “technological solutions that enable us to master our environment” (my emphasis). So butch. 50 shades of Frost. Let’s see what he has in his special room. “Nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion“. While its in the nature of denial for people to clutch at straws, this is a peculiarly old fashioned vision of modernity. Taking them backwards, which seems an oddly appropriate thing to do… “Fusion” has been the holy grail for nuclear power that has been full of promise for at least 50 years; but has never actually arrived. This year, next year, sometime, never. He might as well argue that “one day” we will power ourselves with Unicorn farts. “Fracking” for oil and gas. No one wants a fracking site in their backyard. Presumably Frost wants to enforce them on unwilling communities “in the national interest” of the profits made by the fracking companies. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed that oil and gas are fossil fuels. So, not a solution to a problem created by burning too many fossil fuels. And not a “carbon efficient” way to generated energy. “Carbon Capture and Storage.” The IPCC Report made it very clear that this is not a technology capable of economic deployment at the scale needed. Indeed, given that this would be such a “get out of jail free” card for carbon intensive industries, you’d think that it would have been developed by now. Instead, rather like fusion, it is the solution that’s just around the corner; and has been for decades. “Nuclear”. There is an argument about how “low carbon” nuclear energy generation is. What is in no doubt is that it is immensely costly. Costlier than fossil fuels. Costlier than renewables. And slow. By So, Frost’s “solutions” are a mix of unproven wishful thinking combined with a cavalier disregard for costs; both environmental and financial. And, that’s it.

With the whole of Southern England a tinder box, perhaps the threat of wildfires in the backyards of prosperous Tory speissburgers might make a few of them pay attention – especially if house price values start being affected. But, with Frost highly influential with Liz Truss, and medieval thinkers like John Redwood slated for cabinet posts in our new and unimproved Conservative government, we can expect a lurch even further to the right. Their problem is that its only possible to safely deny reality so long as that reality isn’t imposing itself on people’s lives, as climate breakdown is. It has been argued that climate is “above politics”. It isn’t, as Lord Frost and his ilk demonstrate. But the reality of it is foundational to any politics that is relevant from here on. We’re not in the Holocene any more Toto.

Clockwork Orangemen.

A weird coda to the TUC cost of Living demo in June was that the Orange Order marched down Whitehall behind us at about 3pm, just as I was drifting away in the opposite direction in search of the free loo at the National Gallery.

They made a very strange sight. Loads of them. Big flute band at the front playing a tune I know as “Come out you Black and Tans”, but I guess they have different lyrics. Stopping outside Downing Street and going no further, they started playing “There’ll always be an England”, which struck me as a bit abject. 

At the front there was a squad of rather short and overweight blokes all dressed up in original UVF uniforms, all Khaki and Puttees, doing an impersonation of marching. It was all very weird. A throwback in so many ways. Rehearsing for when they become completely a museum exhibit (hopefully).

From all over the country, with those odd little icon style banners in orange and purple; a few with bowler hats, most without, all white, mostly men, from places you might expect (Toxteth) and places you wouldn’t (Salisbury).

What struck me about them was that they looked like people who could have walked in off the set of a film with Will Hay in it; what the working class looked like in 1937. And prominent on the sashes their fathers wore, the acronym for Loyal Orange Lodge – LOL.

I wonder if any of them had noticed…

Why it will be Truss

The Conservative Party is full of racists and Rishi Sunak is not white.

Watching the Sky hustings yesterday, Sunak came across as much cleverer than Truss. Very quick on his feet. Slightly puppyish public schoolboy enthusiasm. Close your eyes and, y’know, it could be Tony Blair. Look at him and he even has some of Blair’s mannerisms – the parallel chopping hands, the way of remembering the names of questioners in the audience to engage “personally” with them, the fake self deprecation. But being clever could be a problem. “Too clever by half” to lead a Party full of people “tired of experts”. The Conservative Party is full of people who employ people like Sunak to do their accounts. They don’t want to be bossed by smartarse backroom nerds, however slick.

More substantially, “its the economy stupid”.

Truss, 2D cardboard figure though she is, rapidly reduced to speaking clock responses when caught out, represents a continuity of the “triumph of the will” style delusions that fuelled Brexit.

The sense that she is both a Margaret Thatcher tribute act and “continuity Boris” – having been loyal to the shameless charlatan ’til the end – nevertheless indicates that a cosplay version of the real thing is the best they can do now. Thatcher was PM at a time before the reunification of Germany, when the UK cut a more powerful global figure than it can possibly do now. Johnson could genuinely embody “cakeism” because of who he is – Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon, the Spectator. That shameless sense of entitlement that he could always eat his cake because someone else would keep supplying him with more – and his projection that the country could reassert its imperial habits of doing the same – were quite genuine in his case. Bone of his bone. Blood of his blood. For Truss, middle class girl from Leeds, taught, like all of us are in the state education system that the way to get on is to impress others, can’t convince in the same way. At Eton, they are taught that, whatever their limitations, they are the people that others have to impress. Truss can, at the most, impersonate that. And she tries very hard. And it shows.

Nevertheless, on the economics, she is trying to make out that the only reason we are heading for a recession is because people are saying we are (“talking us into a recession”)- thereby neatly inverting reality. Her formula for the immediate crisis is to

  • hold down wages and “stop unions holding working people to ransom”,
  • a Kamikazi Brexit, slashing and burning all residual EU regulations on labour and environment standards within 18 months and possible trade war with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol,
  • trying to keep the economy from tanking with immediate tax cuts, which by and large benefit those who are least badly hit.

This may be based on a calculation that whatever they do, they are likely to lose the next election, so they might as well try to “move fast and smash things”, as they say in management, safe in the knowledge that an incoming Labour led government under Starmer would be too wed to ruling class interests to overturn very much of it.

Her rapidly withdrawn proposal to cut public sector pay to match local cost of living figures – claiming that it was “misunderstood” because it was understood only too clearly that, if you put out a press release claiming “savings” of £8.8 billion based on figures calculated on “savings” from the salaries of nurses, teachers, and police officers, it is not a “misunderstanding” to conclude that it is precisely those people whose wages would be cut – indicates how badly thought out so much of this is.

The fundamental flaw in her idea is that seeking to boom an economy by boosting consumption without investment was exactly what started the global inflationary surge when Joe Biden did exactly that with his stimulus package last year. Underlying all this is the low level of private sector investment, which none of Truss’s programme will boost. Inflation will bite hard into living standards.

Sunak, by contrast, is a “sound money” man. He seems to think it doesn’t matter if human civilisation perishes in rising floods and fires, so long as the books are balanced when it does. The Governor of the Bank of England thinks likewise, hence the rise in interest rates this week. This signals an impending series of clashes between Downing and Threadneedle Streets as the crisis intensifies.

This goes to the heart of the Conservative conflict and the impossible dilemma they face; given that they exist to politically block any solution that might actually work, if that was based on state investment or greater equality. Raise interest rates, keep money tight, and zombie companies, those that are only able to keep ticking over if the interest rates on their debt stays near to zero, go bust. Everyone employed by them loses their jobs, and have to claim benefits. Everyone with a mortgage gets squeezed and cuts back (and landlords with mortgages put rents up). Measures taken to curb inflation leads to recession. Measures taken to avoid recession fuels inflation. Snookered.

On other matters, they are agreed.

Both see the solution to the inflationary spike in gas prices fueled by the Ukraine war – which hits the UK very hard because we have such a high dependence on gas for cooking and home heating in the draughtiest houses in Europe – as a Ukrainian victory. Its increasingly evident that this is a fantasy. The options are a negotiated compromise peace; or a long term frozen conflict (which NATO will go for so as not to lose face). The only way to get an immediate cut in gas, and therefore energy prices, is to push for peace, not keep fuelling the war. Jeremy Corbyn was right to call for the UK to stop supplying arms this week.

Both see the solution to the increased costs of energy from fossil fuels is to double down on fossil fuels. Sunak’s responses to “Net Zero Questions”

New coal mines? “Yes” to avoid coal imports, even though he knows that the projected coal mine in Cumbria would export 80% of its production.

Fracking? “Yes” – where locally supported.

Onshore wind? “No”. Not caveats about local support. In the immortal words of Hermione Granger. “What. An. Idiot”.

And Truss wants to cut the “green levies” on energy bills, even though this is marginal and their effect over the years, in paying for what little insulation has been done, is to reduce bills. She has also made noises about letting the 2050 Net Zero target slip; thinking, like Johnson, that we can get away with a “Climate Pass”. As if the laws of physics will bend because she wants them to.

Both are fully paid up Cold War Warriors against China and both will ramp up military spending, not noticing that Nancy Pelosi’s brinkmanship this week was not at all popular in Taiwan; where, by and large, people are quite content to fudge along with the current ambiguity in relation to the People’s Republic rather than be used as a causus belli by the US (which is a long way away from where the fighting would take place – as it is from Ukraine).

Both favour using racism – deportations to Rwanda just a start, a new definition of Refugee based on the Australian model that dumps desperate people on far off Pacific Island camps, imprisoning and criminalising people for being desperate (and actually wanting to come here and make a contribution) restricting of access to “legal routes” that don’t actually exist. None of these restrictions apply to people who can buy their way in of course.

Truss adds a petty twist all of her own that goes down really well with her audience, in seeking to keep the UK together by goading Scots nationalists. This goes down a ton at 19th holes in Hampshire. Not so much in Glasgow.

With 16 million people already cutting back on food and essentials, even before energy bills go through the roof in October just as the weather gets colder, with the war in Ukraine increasingly going badly for NATO and voices for peace getting louder, with unions taking up the fight to defend their members and even non union workers in places like the Amazon warehouse in Tilbury expressing collective self respect by holding a sit in against wage cuts, with arguments now being heard that we need to redistribute wealth away from profits back to the people whose work made those profits, and the likelihood that our next Prime Minister will be someone who wants to go for confrontational broke on all fronts; we are in for a Winter in which there will be desperate struggles and serious political shifts.

Facing the realities of climate breakdown, the slippage of US global hegemony (with everything that flows from that), the global economic impasse of neo-liberalism – given a local twist of Brexit deepening the stagnation and slow disintegration of the UK, there is almost an imperative for the Conservatives to double down. As the old gods fail, the true believers worship all the harder and the old songs take on a willed manic quality that will be increasingly shrill. We will get political leaders to match. Far from looking after the apple stall, they will kick it over to see which way the apples roll. “Steady as she goes” does not fit times in which time is not on their side.

That’s why it will be Truss.

Stats for Socialists: Energy Price Rises – the Cost of War and Private Ownership.

These are the new projections for energy price rises over the winter.

The projection for Oct 22 is more than double the price from Oct 21.

This could be an underestimate because the future projections are always being revised up, with some estimate already projecting £3850 by January.

The government’s one off £400 rebate will barely put a dent in that.

The scale of the increase imposed on households is extreme by comparison with the 4% capped increase on bills in France. France has a nationalised energy supply system and the recent experience of the Gilets Jaunes protests.

With supermarket chains in Austria issuing advice to staff over what to do if mass looting breaks out during winter blackouts, its hard to avoid the conclusion that we have a government here that is drifting to a scale of disaster it can barely comprehend.

The price of energy is being driven partly by rising global demand after COVID safeguards have been largely abandoned, but is given a vicious upward twist by the war in Ukraine.

The longer the war goes on, the higher the bills will be and the longer they will stay high.

The UK government is actively seeking to prolong the war. The Labour movement should be campaigning for the earliest possible negotiated peace – both to resolve the conflict and relieve the economic pressure here and across the world.

Meanwhile, the TUC has produced a very serious plan for affordable energy which everyone should read and spread about, noting that the projected cost of nationalising the big five energy suppliers is no more than this government has spent on bailing out the weaker private sector suppliers so far.

Reflections from not such Muddy Waters

The view from the Bridge at Wallingford looking East towards an Estuary that feels a world away.

Walking up the Ridgeway from Goring towards Wallingford with Jamie, its hard to believe that this limpid stream is the same river as the slow, sludgy, salty, ship laden delta of the North Sea I grew up with. The cleanliness of the water – so clear you can see small fry fish darting in the shallows by the banks, with the “Prince of Wales Angler Club” signs everywhere warning off casual fishers and showing that the age old aristocratic war against the poacher is alive and well (“Day Passes NOT available”)- is complemented by people paddling punt like boats and inflatables, and one swimmer. Swim in the river off Grays and you’d need several injections and a stomach pump. Large, comfortable looking houses the size of small hotels are lazing on this sunny afternoon in Summertime; with elegant motor cruisers tethered at the bottom of their immaculate lawns; and I’m sure the people in them love to live so pleasantly, live this life of luxury…(1)

Something dream like about these houses, with their tall slim Tudor style chimneys in red brick; some of them with thatched barns where they might keep pet Hobbits. Live in this part of the world and it would be hard to imagine there is very much wrong with it – at least in so far as it impinges on your own life. Troubles elsewhere are “noises off”. The downside of course is that, living in a place like this, all such noises are implicitly threatening.

The Ridgeway is said to be the oldest continually travelled route in England. Going back well before the Romans, it runs alongside the Thames for a bit, then up and across the Chiltern hills, hence Ridgeway, past the Vale of White Horse and ending up (or starting) just under a hundred miles on at Avebury, the largest stone circle in the world, that late Stone Age people started building 5,000 years ago. So, this has been a highway of sorts since at least then, at least half the time since people first started edging into the country as the glaciers retreated 12,000 years back. In continuous use throughout the Holocene.

Its now mostly a footpath, mercifully inaccessible to motor vehicles but much used as a Bridleway. We stand back to let pass a couple of riders coming the other way. The horses are enormous close up, which reinforces how daunting cavalry must have been to foot soldiers for so long.

Partly overgrown like a tunnel through trees; further on parts of it are a classic Hollow Way where continuous erosion from walking feet and the hooves of driven animals and carts have worn it down to well below the level of the surrounding fields, but where we were there were just some cool, shady, green lit avenues over arched by trees, like the naves of a living cathedral, followed by exposed paths alongside burnt out fields of stunted wheat, fried in a merciless sun.

Dragonflies cruise and flit like predator drones. J points out that dragonflies have the highest successful predation rate of any insect. The sensitive vision of their huge eyes complemented by their capacity to hover and fly fast gives them an 80% successful hunt rate.

Wallingford was not our target. The original idea was to get up onto the hills, but after about four hours of walking, our strategy of stamina through dehydration was hitting its limits, so we headed for it as the nearest town; in the process testing the limits of online navigation well beyond its (or possibly our) capacity. Overshooting it to the East, we had to cut back and approach it from the North. In doing so we passed the house in Crowmarsh that Jethro Tull (1674 – 1741) had lived in. This was the inventor of the horse drawn seed drill in 1701 after being partly inspired by the mechanics of musical organs when he was just 27. Not to be confused with the highly successful and distinctive band of the same name, who were monikered by a history loving agent; who wanted something that stuck out from the morass of common or garden band names on a poster. 2. Hey aqualung!

Wallingford is a tight little town; still inside the neat square of its medieval wall boundaries and evidently wanting to stay that way. Incorporated as a Borough in 1155, under Henry II, its Jubilee Union Jack bunting is complemented by flags displaying the town arms. It has the feel of a place that might just issue its own passports if provoked enough. It is twinned with two similarly prosperous small towns, one in Germany, one in France: showing that the rest of the world that’s worth knowing is “people like us” and nothing to scare the pony club. No riff raff.

Established early around a strategic river crossing, it had an Anglo Saxon earthwork on the higher ground overlooking the ford, then a powerful medieval castle doing the same for the bridge; which was first mentioned in the historical record in 1141. The castle was enough of a strategic stronghold for the Empress Maud for it to be put under siege by King Stephen during the “Years of Anarchy” in the 12th century; but never taken. It was the last Royalist Fortress to surrender to Parliamentary forces in the Civil War – underlining the oft made comment that Oxfordshire has often been the last home of lost causes – and then demolished. Only the mound for the keep and a few bits of wall and buttress remain, alongside a sheltered graveyard left over from a Priory alongside that Henry VIII dissolved before Cromwell could knock it about a bit.

Alongside the mound is an information board that notes all this and adds a couple of odd stories about a local pub designed to make people have a drink in it with an added historical frisson.

1. That the sweetheart of a Royalist officer killed after a row in the bar mixed her tears with soot from the fireplace and smeared them on a wall – tears that are both enormous and still visible. Touching them up probably comes with the landlord agreement.

2. That infamous Highwayman Dick Turpin, jumped out of the first floor window neatly onto the back of his waiting horse to spur himself away from pursuers; just like he reputedly did in many other pubs in the South of England that were standing at the time.

We rather wearily climb to the top of the mound and watch a red faced toddler with curly hair fire off a foam rocket from the summit with a foot pump powered device, then bump down the slope on his bottom after it; but instead of retrieving it imperiously order his patient grandparents to “fetch that rocket”. It looks like a vision of Boris Johnson’s childhood. In an archetype of conversations with toddlers the world over they wearily riposte with, “If you don’t say please…”

Instead of a castle and priory, it now has a very large and swish Waitrose, which we visit for a while to take advantage of its air conditioning, and lots of “Antique” shops; which have window displays full of stuff that look like they’ve actually been retrieved from house clearances and polished up. Old tat, but OLD tat. None of these shops are owned by the apocryphal antique dealer Robin Bastard, but probably should be.

On the West side of the bridge there is a small children’s playground and a tiny, but perfectly formed, Lido doing a roaring trade with loads of families and small children splashing, jumping and screaming in a happy sort of way. A little vision of heaven. On the river itself boats are up for hire and people are messing about in them with a joyful abandon that we observe warily as we much our Quorn burgers in the shade of one of the bridge’s mighty stone arches.

With our feet about to drop off, we decide a bus journey is preferable to a two hour walk along the Riverside path back to Goring. Waiting for a bus in the tiny market square behind a war memorial that looks more pacific than most – topped with a wreathed female figure that could be a goddess of peace, or victory, or both; the two being indivisible in most British remembrance – in front of a courthouse with a memorial plaque to Sir William Blackstone, he of the Common Law Commentaries that are still updated and used in UK and US Law – who presided there in the early Eighteenth Century. Just before the bus arrives, the church clock strikes five. Five clear, single notes with a mellow tone, but audible across the whole town for people who could count up to twelve to be able to work out how late it was. 5 bells and all’s well.

Back in Reading, as the Friday evening festivities are getting under way, loud music from the pub on the corner, people eating and drinking out on tables on the street, we pass a youngish bloke holding up a large Ukraine flag alongside a cluster of LGBT rainbow flags; an irony given how hostile the Ukrainian far right – who are now the backbone of their country’s military – are to gay rights of any description, and how many violent attacks they have launched on attempts to have Pride events there. Putin’s hostility is well known and energetically publicised here. That of Azov, C14 and the Right Sector not so much.

Cinematic post script

Taking the weight off our feet, and drinking vast quantities of water, we plump to watch American Graffiti rather than 7 Samurai; much more summery. I’d previously seen this as an undergrad in 1974 or 5 in a lecture theatre in York full of slightly drunk students; who added a dimension of audience participation I’ve not experienced before or since. I hadn’t realised it was a George Lucas, nor that it had Harrison Ford in it; looking younger and more svelte than he has ever managed since. Worth watching for the soundtrack alone, with a generous range of tracks from Rock Around the Clock by Bill Hailey (1952) to Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs (1962) and everything in between; and for the vintage cars cruising the strip, each of them characters in their own right – the sort you’d expect Jerry Seinfeld to step out of with a fellow comedian in search of coffee.

“The Owl of Minerva spreads its wings only as dusk is falling”, Marx citing Hegel arguing that we can only properly understand events after they have happened. Carved owls in Goring.
  1. Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks. A song I have always associated with this part of the world after a holiday on a boat up the Thames between Shepperton Lock and Henley on Thames with my family in the late 60s. It was played a lot on the Radio at the time, and it seemed to fit the world I could see on the banks of the river. One of the happiest weeks of my life.
  2. Hey Aqualung by Jethro Tull – track that would make a great theme tune for a series of talks about Stranger Danger.

Intimations of mortality 3. Holocene nostalgia

Looking up at the grey temperate sky on Thursday, and feeling the cool breeze, there was no sense of a return to normal after the Anthropocene heat of Monday and Tuesday. More a sense of being in remission for a terminal prognosis we are not doing enough to avert. Embrace it as it slips away.

The flowers on our straggly rose bush out the back have been seared into dry fossils.

The banks of wild flowers along the side of the park have been scorched into thickets of tinder.

The grass is bleached to its roots in widening bowls of dust. A few patches of green in the shade of the trees.

Down by the shops, people have directed their feet to the shady side of the street; a rapidly learned habitual reflex.

In a reflection of the times, in Iceland a display of energy drinks from Tyson Fury, with a picture of the man himself looking like a berserker, encourages us to drink the drink so we can “hit the day hard”. Just what we need.

J’s cousin died of a heart attack in the heat on Tuesday. He had Covid at the time. And underlying conditions. So, one of the vulnerable, discountable ones.

At the chemists, Rishi Sunak is on the TV talking about all the challenges facing the country. He does not mention the climate. Crisis? What crisis?

On the front Page of the Daily Telegraph in the Kingsbury library, Liz Truss “tells France to fix holiday travel chaos” (my emphasis) which is laugh out loud ironic. I suspect the response from the Elysée will be “Pfff!”

Outside Holocene Court, the new set of “Luxury 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with basement parking” down on the Edgware Road, there’s one of those hologram type images of the future when the building is finished showing gridlock in both directions up and down the road. And no new trees.

Tony Blair – Yesterday’s Man in Tomorrow’s World

If you read the speech by Sir Anthony Charles Lynton Blair KG on “After Ukraine – what lessons for Western leadership” , take a moment or two to contemplate his photograph. Right down to the washed out tones, this is the face of a man who has split his soul into many parts and scattered them like depleted uranium shells all over the world; a tightened mask showing the strain of a twenty year struggle to suppress the self awareness of the consequences of his decisions that is nagging away at the back of his mind. As a practicing Anglo Catholic, he must have confessed to some of them, and worn out a few rosary beads, all the better to double down on the world view that led him to make them in the first place.

His central argument is that, like 1945 and 1980, 2022 “the West is at an inflection point”. He says “the West” because the rest of the world is defined in relation to it and only comes into the picture as an object for “Western Strategy” to manipulate. As always with Blair, his use of language is designed to obscure as much as it illuminates. “The West” is a shorthand phrase that he uses because it has largely positive associations (in “the West”). Try substituting “The Global North” throughout, and there is a jarring dissonance in his message. The “Global North” is redolent of Global inequities in wealth and power, ruthlessly maintained by its members, is therefore a more accurate label for the powers he is talking about, and this undermines the foundations of his argument; which is why he doesn’t use it.

This can be seen in his opaque description of 1945 as his first “inflection point”. At this time “the West had to create new institutions of international governance, of defence, of European cooperation in place of not one but two world wars caused by conflict between European powers”. This awkward phrasing is designed to skim over the nature of those World Wars – as inter imperialist conflicts between Global European Empires, the result of which was the crushing of a challenge from Wilhelmine, then Nazi Germany and replacement of the weakening Global dominion of the British Empire with the Pax Americana. Nor does he examine the beginning of a breakdown in global imperial dominion in the Russian revolution and foundation of the USSR, nor growing movements for colonial freedom. Nor the way that the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was dependent on the Red Army and largely Communist led Partisan movements in Europe; and the people of China in Asia; both Nationalist and Communist. This is the context for the West’s strategic choices at that point. Blair’s “new institutions” were those required to coral weaker European imperialisms beneath the USA’s new dominion. In 1945, the USA was producing 50% of global GDP and was able to afford to rebuild its rivals as subordinate powers, drive the Communist Left out of post war coalitions in Western Europe by 1947, and cement them into NATO by 1949. These were the initial moves in the first Cold War; predating the formation of the People’s Republics in Eastern Europe in 1948, and the formation of the Warsaw Pact in 1955.

Blair goes on to argue that the strategy for the 1945 “inflection point” in Europe was broadly Social Democratic, building welfare states, modern infrastructure for health and education “to make available to the broad mass of the people what had hitherto been restricted to a privileged few”. He can no more bring himself to say “for the many not the few” than he can note the nationalisation of significant industries, but this is broadly right. What it misses is why this was done. Marshall Aid was not charity. The calculation in the USA was that if the US did not rebuild Western Europe on its own model, and provide some hope and prosperity, the civil war against Nazi collaborators led by Communist Partisans in countries like Italy would re- erupt and the USA could “lose Europe” in the way it “lost China” by 1949.

In 1980, by contrast, the “inflection point” overturned that settlement. “In 1980, after years of nuclear proliferation, we (sic) sought the final collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of liberal democratic values.” This was via the Reagan/Thatcher “revolution in favour of markets and private enterprise” against “a burgeoning state power that seemed to hold back the enterprise of the people, not nurture it.” It should be noted that Blair declares himself quite agnostic about the character of the strategy launched at these inflection points, so long as there was “a governing project” whatever it might be “, a plan, a way of looking at the world which sought to make sense of it and provide for the advancement of the people.”

His problem here is that the results of the “triumph of liberal democratic values” and “revolution in favour of free markets and private enterprise” has been a shift in wealth and power from “the broad mass of the people” to “the privileged few”. As he notes, “living standards are stagnating”, while “inflation is causing real wages to fall” and public services like the NHS are “pretty much on its knees”. We could add that in countries like the UK and USA, life expectancy is now actually declining. He further notes that the 2008 crash led to emergency economic measures that “rewarded those with assets” while “penalising those without.” The polarisation of wealth has become dizzying. The mass of young people today do not expect to live as well, or as long, as their parents. Even leaving aside climate breakdown, the future looks less like a promise than a threat. Needless to say, Blair doesn’t propose anything that would change this.

Instead, he bemoans the way that “the broad mass of the people” have become susceptible to “rampant populism” and “laying the blame for the condition of the people onto ‘elites'” Perish the thought that the stagnant living standards of the many should have anything to do with the grotesque over accumulation of the few. With no answers, Blair simply bemoans the decline of centrist, consensual managerialism of the sort he embodied in government.

He goes on to argue that the “partisan, ugly and unproductive” domestic politics is destabilising for “the West’s” projection of power internationally; but with no answers to provide hope or decent living standards and, in fact supporting polices that will make the economic attack on “the broad mass of the people” worse, he has simply put his finger on an unresolvable conundrum for anyone with his politics.

He argues that as US global engagement is “determined” by domestic politics, it lacks consistency and coherence. “Foreign policy looks unpredictable”. This is nonsense, as there is a direct continuity in US foreign policy in the “tilt to Asia” and preoccupation with containing China. The tactics may change, but the strategic objective has been consistent.

In ringing the alarm that “domestic politics appears dysfunctional” he does not reflect that the economic basis no longer exists for it not to be. In an attempt to stimulate the economy to prevent it being outgrown by China, the Biden administration put in a huge economic stimulus package – $1.9 billion in 2021 – 96% of which went on consumption and only 4% on investment. The net effect of that has been stagflation; GDP growth of 0.4% in the first quarter of 2022 with inflation eating away at wages and pensions at 9.1% and a dramatic knock on effect destabilising the rest of the world. It should be noted that 75% of the price increases in the US predated the start of the war in Ukraine. With the “American dream” faltering for so much of its population, the approach of the increasingly fabulously rich billionaire class is to fund massive campaigns of online distraction designed to divide the unity of the population; racism, “anti woke”, encouraging nationalist militias like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, alongside poisonous anti feminist currents like the Incel movement, and spiced up with wild conspiracy theories like QAnon; with its tepid British echoes in the debacle of the Brexit delusion. This “turmoil” is a function of the gross inequality that Blair is unwilling to challenge, because the people pulling the strings are the milieu he moves in now. Whether he did or did not have an affair with Wendi Deng, the rumour that he might have illuminates the world he lives in.

Blair has no answers to the reasons for this crisis, so he moves swiftly on to something “new”. “Western democracy needs a new project. Something which gives direction, inspires hope, is a credible explanation of the way the world is changing and how we succeed within it”.

Now, what might that possibly be? Is there an existential threat facing the whole of humanity that’s crying out for global leadership, that countries with wealth and technology have contributed to more than anyone which requires urgent and immediate action if the despair felt by the 54% of young people who feel that “humanity is doomed” is to be turned to hope, respond to the credible explanation for why the world is heating up and give direction to everyone in overcoming it? A look out of his air conditioned apartment at the Red Heat conditions, or a quick look at the wild fires across Europe, the drought that has reduced the Po to a trickle in places and lowered the water level in the Rhine to a point that shipping barges up and down it is now in question might give him a clue. You’d think Climate Breakdown would be a no brainer. There is no bigger issue. It has the potential to unite humanity in creating a better world, because we will need one to keep temperatures down and survive it. Blair does not go for it. This is not because he is dim, but because the sort of leadership required from the world’s wealthiest countries would be as difficult for them as a camel threading the eye of a needle; as its the polarisation of wealth, domestically and internationally, and the over consumption of the top global 10% – most of whom live in “the West” – that is accelerating us beyond 1.5C. Rather than take that on, Blair, and the class he represents, ducks the biggest issue of our time. These people are no longer even in a position to pretend to be leading humanity.

He rather lamely mentions climate change in one other place, saying “we should continue to lead in the climate debate.” Debate?! How about leading in climate action? His problem here is that the West/North seeks to carry on with its current “way of life” and hopes to get away with its gigantic carbon footprints by dumping the costs of transition onto those parts of the world that have done least to cause the problem and are already suffering the most from it. Now that Senator Joe Manchin has finally scuttled the last feeble twitchings of Joe Biden’s massively watered down Green New Deal – killed it stone dead – the United States is now naked in the COP Conference Chamber; and, again, can no longer get away with even pretending to lead on the greatest challenge facing us. The prospect of a Republican controlled Congress and Presidency after 2024 (whether it is the horror of a disinterred Donald Trump or a smoother Trumpite like Ron Desantis) means that the US may be moving back to outright denial and sabotage of Global cooperation. Blair averts his eyes from the reality here, because, for him, being in a bloc with the USA is an imperative, averting climate breakdown somehow optional.

So, having ducked the global imperative, Blair fishes around and decides that the West’s domestic mission has to be “all about harnessing the technology revolution”. As Eccles once said in the Goon Show, “I’m the anti-climax”. This is no more than a re-tread of Harold Wilson’s “white heat of the technological revolution” as the solution to all ills in the 1960s. So, not so new.

Its also quite clear that its more about making the world safe for Google, Facebook and surveillance capitalism in general than providing a genuine global vision, as, having make a token genuflection to “legitimate concerns around data protection and privacy” he confirms that these concerns should not “shackle innovation or lose us competitive advantage”.

The attraction of a technological/technocratic way forward for Blair is that the “20th-century politics of right and left don’t really fit with it”; which is a wonderfully confident declaration that simply isn’t true. His problem here is that investment in general, and in R&D in particular, in neo liberal capitalist economies is very low. UK business investment is still below what it was in 2008 for example. Technology is only deployed when it is profitable to do so. Without “a burgeoning state power” to “nurture” investment, on the Chinese model, there won’t be enough of it to break out of Blair’s doldrums. But doing so would require a break with the “triumph of liberal democratic values” and “revolution in favour of free markets and private enterprise” that Blair is in favour of. So, snookered.

So far, so stuck.

Moving into foreign policy its impossible to read a sentence like “Ukraine should be a pivot point, reviving our sense of mission” without realising that – far from learning anything from Iraq – he wants to do it all over again, all over the world.

His lack of self awareness is illustrated by his argument that the Russian invasion means that “we” can no longer believe in “big power rationality” ; as the Russian invasion is “a brutal and unjustified act of aggression…on the absurd pretext that (Ukraine) somehow threatened the aggressor”. Let’s go back to 2003. The UK, along with the USA and others, invaded Iraq, on two pretexts. 1. That it was involved in the 9/11 attacks – which everyone knew it wasn’t – and 2. That it had “weapons of mass destruction” capable of being deployed against the UK in 45 minutes. These WMD turned out to be a work of fiction concocted by our Intelligence Services to make the invasion sellable to the public; which should make us take anything else they say with at least a pinch of salt. More to the point, this was precisely an “absurd pretext that (Iraq) somehow threatened the aggressor” (in this case us). When you compare that with the Russian fear that 1. NATO, the most powerful military alliance in the world, spending over 60% of global arms spending, and $19 to every $1 spent by Russia, has expanded right up to their borders and 2. has started the process of incorporating Ukraine, training its troops from 2014 on, and 3.has refused to discuss mutual security guarantees and 4. NATO missiles stationed in Ukraine could hit Moscow in less than 5 minutes (not 45) you might begin to wonder whose fear of being threatened was more “absurd” and whose “big power rationality” should be subject to question. For Blair, of course, reason is compliance with the most powerful force. All else is subordinate to that.

His view that Ukraine should be seen as a “pivot” is, however, not primarily directed at Russia, but China. After all, as he says, inadvertently revealing how how “absurd” are NATO claims that Russia is poised to steamroller all over its neighbouring countries, Russia has an economy “70% the size of Italy”.

China is a different kettle of fish. China has an economy already larger than the US in PPP terms and is growing significantly faster, which means “We are coming to the end of Western political and economic dominance.” Even on Blair’s chosen field of the technological mission, “China has caught up with America in many fields of technology and could surpass it in others”. 5G a case in point.

Us dominance is already unravelling. As Blair acknowledges, “China…has pursued an active and successful engagement with the world, building connections in respect of which, as far as I can witness, there is a deep reluctance, even on the part of traditional American allies, to give up” whereas “the West and the international institutions it controls have been bureaucratic, unimaginative and often politically intrusive without being politically effective”.

So, the difference with 1945 and 1980 is that the West is no longer ascendent and “for the first time in modern History the East can be on equal terms with the West”. This is a bit exaggerated. We’re not there yet, but Blair can see the writing on the wall.

What concerns Blair is that after 2008, President Xi has “re-established the supreme power of the Communist Party”. We should note that this is a Party of 90 million members and enjoys around 95% support from the population, according to studies from Harvard University; which has no reason to inflate or prettify these figures.

The 2008 crash was indeed a moment at which a lot of people in China took a hard look at the neo-liberal model and saw through its failings, supporters of being more like the US, and accepting a role within a US dominated global system, got a lot quieter and, as Blair notes, now “China will compete not just for power, but against our system, our way of governing and living.” Given that “our way of living” is unsustainable, that’s probably just as well.

Again, Blair argues “we cannot rely on the Chinese leadership to behave in the way we would consider rational”. This translates as, we can’t rely on them to do what we tell them, and they are big and powerful enough to be able to get away with that sometimes.

His argument that an invasion of Taiwan should not be ruled out because peaceful re-unification is inconceivable shows a poverty of imagination, unable to project forwards to a point at which China is constructing a prosperous “ecological civilisation”, as Xi puts it, and becomes a relatively attractive prospect for people on that island.

His presumption that divisions can be fostered and pro Western/Global North forces cultivated would require “the West” to be able to offer a more positive alternative. The example he chooses is almost surreal. “As his Covid strategy has shown, strongman leadership carries inherent weaknesses when people fear to challenge what should be challenged.” As China’s Covid policy has kept deaths there below 5,000, compared to over a million in the US and 200,000 in the UK, you might be forgiven for wondering who should be challenging what. Had China modelled its response on the chaotic insanity of Donald Trump and busines first approach of Joe Biden and had a similar death rate, they have lost over 4.7 million people by now. Clearly people must be mad not to be demonstrating in the streets to follow “our way of governing”.

Blair’s strategy for dealing with a world in which “China is not rising, its risen” is to consolidate primarily around core military alliances, NATO SEATO, AUKUS, 5 eyes, increase military spending, invest in cyberwarfare and attempt to promote “soft power”. Increasing military expenditure at a time of declining wages and life expectancy, is likely to be unpopular in the medium term. Hence his statement that “we need political leaders prepared to stand up to domestic political pressure”. There is an undemocratic logic in this, as one way of standing up to domestic pressure is to restrict and remove the levers available for people to express it.

He favours hanging tough. Once committed to an intervention, whether in Afghanistan or Libya or Iraq, it becomes imperative to sustain it. There is a strong whiff of wishful thinking about this. Permanent occupation propping up corrupt puppet regimes was unsustainable in Afghanistan and Iraq, and not primarily for domestic reasons. An armed forces permanently bogged down in two, three many Afghanistans, is not going to be capable of intervening elsewhere when needed. Blair wants his cake and eat it.

His resounding liberal human rights mission also falls foul of some of his key alliances. Even taking “the West” at its own self estimation, Joe Biden fist bumping Mohamed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia underlines the point that the USA has never been squeamish about the regimes it allies with, promotes and defends. As FDR said of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s OUR son of a bitch”. As Blair puts it “if we have disagreements about human rights we should say so, but that shouldn’t prevent us supporting them when they’re faced with threats common to all of us”. “All of us” here meaning the Global 1%.

As Blair notes, “the human spirit wants to be free”. In large parts of the world that takes the form of wanting to be free of US sponsored coups and the conditions of IMF finance that act a lot like pay day loans and sabotage development.

His final point is that “the craziness in our own politics has to stop”. He cites the influence of Nigel Farage (an agent of Trump) and Jeremy Corbyn (a rare blast of sense and decency) in the UK, but is oddly silent about Donald Trump. With the US Supreme Court on an evangelical end of times rampage against abortion rights, environmental protection, and gun control, he does not mention the January 6th attempted coup, nor the pending Supreme Court case slated to hand State Legislatures the right to ignore the popular vote in the next Presidential election and choose their own slate of electors just like Trump wanted them to last time; nor the measures being driven through Republican controlled States to disenfranchise global majority voters. The “craziness” in the USA is just getting started. Blair will no doubt find a way to accommodate to that, but those who have thought like him in the past, confronted by the increasing “craziness” and rogue state aggression coming from the USA, will have to resolve a political crisis of their own.

Class Struggle inside Ukraine

Two recent articles in Open Democracy report responses from Ukrainian trade unions to the “Lugano Declaration”, which came out of a conference between high Western and Ukrainian officials in Switzerland last week and sets out plans for economic reconstruction “after the war is over” by the Ukrainian Oligarchy* and its major imperial sponsors; the US, UK and EU.

This exposes the way that Ukrainian Oligarchs are ruthlessly using the war to entrench their position against the working class.

Natalia Zemlyanska, head of Ukraine’s Union of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs commented, “No representatives from Ukrainian trade unions, nor our social partners from the employers’ side, were invited to help develop the reconstruction plan.

Thus, Ukrainian unions are not considered by their ruling class to be a significantly valuable part of their nation to deserve any voice in discussions about helping shape its future economy. This is not new. As Zemlanskya noted, the principle of social dialogue “died in Ukraine long before the Russian invasion”.

Its worth bearing in mind what the pre war baseline they are “reconstructing” was. Overall, Ukraine was a country in structural crisis and decline. In 2019 the population was down 10 million from the level of 1993, declining at about half a million a year. Its GDP was lower than it was in 1989, with an aging population despite a low life expectancy of just 71.76 years (67 for men) and the shortest healthy life expectancy in Europe. Unemployment was consistently around 9%. It was 88th out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index – well below Russian and Belarus, just below China, Ecuador and Azerbaijan; and just above the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and Tunisia.

The reconstruction planned at Lugano will entrench these trends by consolidating the liberalisation of labour legislation that has accelerated since the Maidan events in 2014 – which has now been entrenched by emergency wartime regulations – to further squeeze the space for trade unions to operate, to give employers a free hand, and remove state oversight of the labour market.

This has been supported by countries like the UK for some years. Alongside the military training delivered since 2014, in 2021 the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office funded a propaganda project to make labour deregulation popularly acceptable; in a clear demonstration of what making “development” subordinate to foreign policy imperatives looks like.

This highlights something that at first sight looks paradoxical. While seeking EU membership, Ukraine is moving sharply away from EU labour standards. In October 2020, eighteen months before the Russian invasion, the joint report of the Ukrainian unions and the European TUC , noted that obligations to enshrine “international labour norms in law and in practice, ensure freedom of association and collective bargaining in particular, strengthen social dialogue and capacities of social partners, and gradually align its legislation with the EU Acquis in the field of employment, remuneration, social policies and equal opportunitieswere just not being done. As they noted, “no reasonable progress has been achieved“.

Now that the EU powers like Germany and France, which previously might have aimed for a modus operandi with Russia, both militarily and economically, have been brought to heel by the US and will be paying the economic price both for increased arms expenditure and being forcibly weaned off relatively cheap Russian energy supplies, negotiations on labour standards with Ukraine could well be used by neo liberal forces in the EU to leverage a weakening of its own current levels as an unaffordable luxury in straightened times – in an odd mirror image of the downward pressure exerted by the UKs trajectory of a post Brexit race to the bottom.

Before the war, wage levels were already among the lowest in Europe, with one quarter of the population receiving an income lower than the actual living wage, fuelling a persistent and massive exodus of younger workers in a search of better pay in the EU, particularly in the neighbouring countries, and avoiding being conscripted to fight in the Donbass at the same time.

It has got worse since. Employers are now able to suspend employment contracts: so employees do not receive wages, but are still considered employed. And this is being widely used. By 1 April, roughly five million citizens had applied for income loss benefits – 16 times more than the 308,000 registered number of unemployed at the end of May.

This gives carte blanche for ‘shadow employers’ who do not employ people officially. The state now no longer monitors wage debts – a long term problem in Ukraine.

In response to the war Parliament has further suspended parts of workplace protections and collective agreements, put forward legislation to take employees of small and medium-sized enterprises – 70% of Ukraine’s workforce –outside of the scope of current labour legislation and given employers the right to terminate employment contracts at will.

Wages fell by an average of 10% in May, compared to the pre-war period. Wages in raw material extraction, security and manual labour have almost halved.

Future Faking?

Right now, under the impact of the war, six million people, mostly women, have left the country. In Europe, many of them are now living in countries where wages are higher, laws are largely obeyed, and housing and Nurseries are affordable. Their return en masse gets less likely the longer the war goes on, and, after the end of martial law, which forbids men under the age of 60 from leaving the country, many who can will leave the country to join them. A long war will create tensions on this front too.

In the immediate term the state wants to develop microbusinesses to relaunch the economy: which amounts to lending to micro-entrepreneurs or training people in IT skills. This will be hampered by the destruction of Ukraine’s infrastructure, low purchasing power and general instability which present small businesses with enormous problems in setting up supply chains or finding customers.

The Lugano Declaration rests heavily on ‘A Blueprint for the Reconstruction of Ukraine’, published by a group of international economists in April, which aims to:

1) introduce more flexible employment contracts and eliminate labour legislation that precludes the development of liberal economic policy;

2) provide government subsidies for foreign companies;

3) large-scale privatisation, including Ukraine’s biggest banks;

4) priority credit support for export sector;

5) use of low-skilled and labour-intensive public works to fix infrastructure;

6) establish a technocratic agency that will distribute international aid.

The kind of future society envisaged here is quite clear.

And this is beginning to generate tensions. As Vitaliy Dudin notes, “Ukrainians were ready to endure any difficulties in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion. But as the tide of the war has changed, not everyone thinks the current situation – where business has advantages over workers – is fair”.

The extent to which this finds expression remains to be seen. This is a very important perception. “As the tide of the war has changed”. A spirit of unquestioning national unity might be viable in the immediate shock of an invasion, or when it looked, briefly, as though the Russian withdrawal from Kyiv might be the prelude for a general victory for Ukraine in the short term. But, the longer the war drags on, and the more Russia advances, the more the class contradiction on the Ukrainian side is likely to find expression.

Dudin’s argument that an alternative based on state investment to create secure, sustainable jobs, with popular engagement and trade union involvement, skills training, proper state scrutiny and regulation of employer practice because, as he puts it post-war Ukrainian society needs integration, and that will be ensured by the development of state-owned and cooperative enterprises that do not make profits to the detriment of society and environment, and this requires policies of redistribution through taxation and the confiscation of surplus wealth from Ukraine’s richest people runs counter the interests of those running the state – who are precisely “Ukraine’s richest people” – and contrary to the kind of society they are fighting the war for; in alliance with the most predatory imperialisms on the planet.

Achieving a programme like Dudin’s won’t be done with the Oligarchs in power, nor with NATO backing them. Zemlanskaya’s argument that “The most important thing is to win – and then to see in what form Ukraine has ended the war, and what the future will look like,” is declaring a class truce while the war lasts – a truce that is not being respected by the ruling class. It also begs two questions

  1. Is the neo liberal dystopia the Oligarchs and NATO have in mind worth fighting and dying for?
  2. When and in what circumstances will the war be over, and what interest do the working class in Ukraine have in the circumstances in which that happens? The US, UK and the gung ho wing of NATO are for fuelling it for as long as possible, years not months; and are quite insouciant what might be left of Ukraine at the end of it. They are pre-emptively opposing diplomatic negotiations.

This is also a question for the international labour movement, being hit increasingly hard by the economic blowback from the war itself and, more severely, the sanctions the US has imposed to pursue it by other means. None of us has an interest in this war continuing.

Arguing against negotiations on the grounds that this would “reward” Russia should bear in mind the consequences for all concerned if the war continues. And that peace on the Russian terms – Crimea and Donbass not part of nationalist Ukraine, Ukraine not in NATO, Mutual Security arrangement (or even long drawn out negotiations around them) – would be better than a resolution on NATO’s terms – forcible reconquest of Crimea and Donbass, Ukraine fully integrated into a triumphant and triumphalist NATO with rapidly increasing military budgets, readying its new 300,000 strong strike force for interventions further east against countries they would consider ripe for plucking.

*Ukraine, we should note, had more politicians named in the Pandora Papers than any other country; 38, twice as many as Russia’s 19. President Zelensky was one of them.

Beauty Contest?

And then there were eight…

Suella Braverman; the Marjory Taylor Green of Titchfield.

Liz Truss, who, is trying very hard to be a 2D cardboard replica of Margaret Thatcher.

Tom Tugendhat, MP for MI6 Central, who has the rare talent of making Keir Starmer seem exciting by comparison. “I am ready to serve”. We are ready to sleep.

Jeremy Hunt, a man who is 110% smirk and wants to do for the country what he’s already done for the NHS.

Nadhim Zadawi the mad axeman, who would cut 20% of everything to show how wild and free he is.

Rish! Sunak whose response to climate breakdown is “drill baby drill” in the North Sea.

Kemi Badenoch who thinks the only thing holding back the private sector is the state support it gets.

Penny Mordaunt  “I officially request to be removed from this video…anything but blue please.”

None of them gets the climate crisis.

All of them want to pursue the new cold war, regardless of the blowback.

None of them will deal with the cost of living crisis – as they are in favour of letting wages decline relative to prices.

All of them want to keep deporting refugees to Rwanda.

All of them want to cut taxes instead of investing.

All of them want to this country to be more like the USA in ways that most people just don’t.

They sum up the exhaustion of the Brexit project as optimistic nostalgia. No jam today.

If the answer is any of this lot; the wrong questions are being asked on our behalf.