I began my final blogs in both 2017 and 2018 with the following:
“This is my last blog of 2017/18 which has been a momentous year in which the speed of change in many areas accelerated and most political leaders failed to keep up with it. In writing a blog I try to reach a definitive conclusion on an issue, but such is the speed of change that soon events have also left me behind. Here are a few afterthoughts on issues I addressed during the year, but where new information has come to light.”
It seems apposite in 2019 to do the same as it has been another momentous year …etc.
As last year I must begin with Brexit, the biggest issue in British politics for a generation. As last year I blogged three times on the subject and as last year progress has not been good enough and Boris Johnson correctly defined it as the principal defining factor in this week’s General Election. His mantra of “Get Brexit Done” came from people up and down the country not from some spin doctor, while Labour‘s solution of straddling the division in their followers was not credible. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats paid the price for adopting the highly unDemocratic policy of committing to revoke Article 50.
The Conservative manifesto commits the new government to leaving the EU by the end of January 2020 and negotiating a new trade deal by the end of December 2020. The first of these should now be straightforward with a majority of 80 in the House of Commons, but the second is more challenging as it will require goodwill on both sides as I have argued before and I discern little goodwill on the EU side. However, Boris was told before that he would not get better terms than Theresa May in his withdrawal agreement and he did.
Civil servants and others also keep telling him that he has to decide which of the major powers is his priority because he can’t have free trade deals with all of them. In that case will someone explain to me how Chile can have free trade deals with the USA, China and the EU? If little Chile can do it why can’t we? I had dinner with the Chilean Ambassador last week and he told me that a trade deal between the UK and Chile has already been agreed. It cannot be implemented until we are out of the EU but it’s ready to go.
While Brexit was the key issue in the General Election, political leadership was also critical. I also blogged on this just before the Election and I pointed out how unpopular Jeremy Corbyn is. I never look at anything on Facebook but my daughter showed me a post by a contemporary of hers which compared Johnson and Corbyn. It suggested that while Johnson might be a little careless with the ladies and given to telling the odd porky pie, Corbyn had a charge list as long as your arm. It then detailed all the contacts Corbyn has had with known terrorists and murderers as well as his failure to deal with institutional anti-Semitism. The list of real incidents was over a hundred.
Importantly although the Labour Party was described as efficient with a large number of activists in fact the Conservatives were far more efficient. We can see this from the following list of how many voters each party needed for one seat in Parliament.
Scottish Nationalist 25,883
Liberal Democrat 334,122
Democratic Unionist 30,516
Sinn Féin 25,979
Plaid Cymru 38,316
Social Democratic & Labour 59,368
No doubt the first-past-the-post system is unfair in some ways, and certainly the Green Party will feel aggrieved that nearly a million people voted for them and they still have only one MP. However, my point is that the Conservatives targeted a number of Labour marginals and won nearly all of them Labour did the same and only made one gain in Putney.
Boris Johnson is undoubtedly the best political campaigner of his generation. Against the odds he won two mayoral elections in London, a natural Labour voting city. He was the leading campaigner in the Brexit referendum in 2016. And he has now won the largest Conservative majority in a generation. We must hope that he will prove as successful as a Prime Minister.
During the General Election campaign Boris also had to host the NATO celebrations of its 70th anniversary. It had been Mrs May’s idea but of course she could not have foreseen that another General Election would be going on triggered by her own failure to get her Brexit withdrawal agreement through Parliament. It is one of the myths of the EU that it has kept the peace in Europe after centuries of repeated wars. It is NATO that has kept the peace in Europe, and before that it was the winners of World War II. My father fought in the War from 1942 to 1945 and when the War against Japan ended in August 1945 he knew that as an Army officer he would not be repatriated for some time. He wrote to my mother that priority would be given to the sick and the wounded and the prisoners-of-war. So it was and so he did not get home until October that year. Then on Boxing Day he was called up again to join his regiment in a peace-keeping mission in Germany. He was there until the second half of 1946. So don’t tell me that the EU, which has no army, has kept the peace.
I have not blogged specifically about Facebook this year but I have referred to it frequently in blogs on more general issues citing its involvement in the flow of internet revenue abroad; failure to meet its moral tax obligations; civil war in Somalia; genocide in Myanmar; misleading and fraudulent advertising; its echo chamber effect in encouraging a more polarised society; and its excessive and growing carbon footprint. This latter point is not unique to Facebook and I blogged this year on the effect of digital technologies in climate change. I think this needs further comment as I find most people seem unaware of it.
Greta Thunberg has undoubtedly been very successful through her Extinction Rebellion campaign in raising awareness of Climate Change but in none of the coverage of this issue do I ever see mention of one of the fastest growing sources of carbon emissions. Electronic data processed over the internet through energy intensive servers accounts for over 4% of global emissions and most of this energy comes from coal and gas. This is double the impact of air travel and is growing much faster. Nearly all the coverage references air travel and none of it electronic data. The Japanese government calculates that at present rate of growth electronic data will require 100% of Japan’s present electrical capacity by 2030. And how do Extinction Rebellion members communicate to each other? Through Facebook.
Again I have not blogged specifically about Amazon this year but have referred to it frequently in blogs on more general issues citing its involvement in the flow of internet revenue abroad, failure to meet its moral tax obligations, and its role in killing the High Street. But it recently started to play a role in a quite insidious way in spoiling our national game. The English Premier League is the most successful sports organisation in the world, bar none. It has developed a global audience for its product and at the same time through negotiating TV rights with many broadcasters earned enough income to attract many of the world’s best footballers to play here. By the same method many of the world’s best managers ply their trade here.
But for reasons I don’t understand it has opened up this treasure to the TV disrupters. Most showed no interest. Netflix, for example, wants to control its own content and realises that sport must be shown live to have maximum impact while much of Netflix content is watched in binge format. Amazon, however, decided to join in and won the rights to show two rounds of matches this season. The first round was shown last week and the second will be the matches just after Christmas. What’s the problem? Well, first, as a Manchester United fan I already subscribe to Sky and to BT to ensure that I can see the games they show. Now, I will have to subscribe to Amazon Prime. Spoiler alert. My wife already does have an Amazon Prime account but I would prefer she didn’t and now I must shut up and let her. But the night Amazon Prime showed United’s game with Spurs we had a dinner engagement, (the one with the Chilean ambassador) so I asked her to record the game. She called Amazon and it turned out this wasn’t possible. So much for progress.
There are other problems too. If you stream live sport there is a delay. So those who watch TV but also are on their mobiles talking to their friends at the same time will know a goal has been scored before it is shown on TV. Those who like to bet while watching will know the result of their bet before they see it. Then there is buffering. Anyone who relies on streaming will know the problem but in sport it is infuriating. So much for progress.
I still receive Campaign magazine and their last issue of the year was devoted to celebrating the end of a decade and looking forward to a new one. But they are a year premature. This is not the end of a decade. The first year of the Christian era was not 0AD but 1AD and so the 10th year of the first decade was not 9AD but 10AD and so on. It’s like a batsman celebrating his century when he’s scored 99.
It only remains to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a New Year in which you and yours get more of what you wish for and less of what you don’t need. Thanks to all those who give me feedback which I really value. I’ll be back in 2020, the last year of the second decade of the 21st century.