A Return to the Status Quo is What America Needs

Please excuse my absence on this blog, I’ve had a busy few weeks. Some of you will be here for the book content, so ignore this if politics isn’t your thing, but it’s one of my passions that I simply can’t help writing about. Ahead of the US Election Result, in this piece, I make the case that despite his many faults, Joe Biden is what America needs right now. If you’re an American reading this and you haven’t already – vote, and vote sensibly.


There was never going to be anything radical, or life-changing about Joe Biden, but rather that is the point.

After 4 rollercoaster years in power, Donald Trump has exhausted, not reignited, the American people. From denying climate change to inciting a war over words with the leader of North Korea, to the more recent trivialisation of a deadly disease that has come to define our lives, the time has come for a bit of normalcy in American politics.

And it seems that American voters are now recognising that too.

In the key battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin to name a few, Biden is on track for some leads which will be essential for him to dominate the Electoral College, and securing the magic number of 270 needed to win the presidency. The mood has shifted since what seems like a lifetime ago back in 2015 when Trump was given the keys to the White House.

The pandemic has caused the world to wake up in many ways. During national shutdowns, international travel was halted, and the stay at home order for many meant that towns and cities across the world, for the first time in years, became silent. The sound of rush hour traffic became a distant memory. This gave the planet a temporary rebate from impending climate disaster, but has since, made the issue even more imperative for us to solve.  

Regardless of who wins the election, the US is on track to leave the Paris Climate Change agreement, thanks to Trump. However, if he gains power, Biden has insisted he will make sure the US is added straight back in. His policies on climate change, including his commitment to a gradual transfer from oil to renewable energy, may have kicked up a storm, created by his rival, but at the heart of it – is a man who cares about the planet. Though seen as radical in some American circles, a Biden presidency would put the US back on track to meeting their climate change targets.

Biden’s Green New Deal directly draws the connection between the economy and the environment, something Trump has labelled this as socialist and clownlike due to the requirement of $3trn required to completely overhaul the US economy. If Biden gets back into power, the US can get back to business and focus efforts on combating the biggest threat to all our futures, instead of ignoring its very existence.

Furthermore, Trump’s branding of this election and his rival candidate as being part of “a choice between a socialist nightmare and the American dream” is deliberately intended as a divisive, political tactic, but it doesn’t work. Trump is drawing on the historic fearmongering tactics to paint anyone who veers against Republicanism with the same brush. We saw it in the 1950s with Communism – and it has been used again to add fuel to Trump’s own fiery, Red wave. By Britain’s political standards at least, Biden could not be further from the left – he is the middle ground candidate who is essential for getting America back on track, getting out of the pandemic and moving beyond.

Biden’s dullness, and the feeling one gets of wanting to snooze doing one of his speeches, is problematic for many reasons, but it is what is needed in American politics right now. During his bid for President in 1988, Biden fought against Ronald Reagan and stated in a series of BBC interviews that the thing he hated the most about this president, was how he divided the American people. Over thirty years on, he is fighting on the same grounds, but it might just be enough this time around. His deliberate reincarnation of the unity candidate is what America needs, and it feels like this has managed to convince voters too.

American’s are fed up. They have had their lives turned upside during this pandemic, the lines of racial, social and gender division are now bolder than ever before. The land of the free is in turmoil – and what does it need? A return to normalcy and the status quo. Only then and after – will it be able to make way for the pathway towards radical change.

PMQs ~”getting on, helping companies through it, helping people through it”

As the country opens up further, the problems caused by the crisis are mounting. Thousands will be out of a job by the end of the year, and many businesses are on the brink of closure as our already desolate high streets struggle with the cost of Covid-19.

Rishi Sunak’s announcements may seem like a beacon of hope for some, but for many others, it bears no insight into their reality. The pressure is mounting even further as the government prepares for the inevitable – a second wave.

Image: CNBC

The week in politics so far

This week marks another U-turn to add to the collection as the government announced from 24 July, face masks will be compulsory in shops in England and refusing to wear one could result in a £100 fine.

This was announced just days after Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said that wearing masks should not be mandatory, as he believed the British public had a great conduct of common sense.

Although welcomed, this policy has also been criticized for its lateness and for its exclusivity to shops. Many have called for the wearing of masks in office spaces and other workplaces.

Tensions have increased between the UK and China, as the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, told the House of Commons that Huawei will have no involvement in the building of the UK’s 5G network. This follows a background of sanctions from Washington, as Donald Trump gears up his rhetoric against the rival super power.

This week, experts have predicted the worst case scenario for a second wave of Covid-19, suggesting a death toll of 120,000 in the coming Winter. Pressure has been mounting on the government to reveal their plans ahead of a second wave.

Rishi Sunak’s economic policies were announced last week, including reducing V.A.T from 20 to 5% to encourage consumer spending. The announcement also included a job retention bonus of £1000 per employer, and a new voucher scheme to encourage families to “eat out to help out.”

PMQs summary

  • Keir Starmer opened with a critique of the economic announcements, highlighting there was no sector specific support.
  • Boris Johnson defended the criticism in claiming there were a range of measures issued by the Chancellor, including the job retention bonus and a kick starter scheme. He was keen to point out that the government cannot save every job.
  • Starmer refused to engage in“rhetorical nonsense” as we saw the return of the PM using this tactic to avoid scrutiny from the opposition.
  • Starmer drew attention to the new report on the worst case scenario and asked the government what their plans were. Starmer asked the PM if he had read the report, to which he replied, he was aware of it.
  • Johnson stated the government were preparing for a second wave by investing in the NHS and preventing it from becoming overwhelmed in the months to come.
  • Starmer returned to Test and Trace, pointing out that the number of people contacted had fallen from 90% to 70%.
  • The PM reassured Starmer that we had the best system in the world and 144,000 people, as a result of Test and Trace, had agreed to self isolate.
  • The PM was keen to point out they were doing everything in their power to prevent a second outbreak but did not give details about how.
  • Sir Ed Davy MP tried to get the PM to commit to a future inquiry into the Covid crisis, amidst the UK having one of the worst death rates in the world. Although the PM didn’t commit to one there and then, it appears it is not off the cards entirely.
  • Darren Henry MP raised the issue of the mental health implications from the crisis and asked the PM what the government planned to do. The PM cited a new mental health investment of 12.5 billion.

Analysis

I’m finding listening to PMQs increasingly tiring as the weeks go on. This is part of the reason why I don’t do these every week. Each week we see the return of the same rhetoric issued by Johnson, as he avoids scrutiny from the opposition.

When faced with difficult questions, the PM simply turns the criticism on its head. This diverts attention away from the PM and the issue at hand, and allows him to get away with it. The debate becomes one of rhetoric, rather than policy.

At the heart of preparations for a second wave appeared to be financial investment, mainly within the NHS. Money is all well and good, but it would have been beneficial to see an outline of the policies that are going to reduce the severity of a second wave. Indeed, it was slightly worrying that the PM was aware of the recent report from experts, but didn’t appear to have read it himself.

Each PMQs paints an increasing picture of government confusion as the current crisis unfolds. In a time of penultimate upheaval, it is endlessly disappointing that the PM cannot issue the public with the answers they deserve.

Covid-19 has made a government of disgrace the new normal

For any government, facing a global pandemic would be an enormous political challenge. The implementation of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown could never have been predicted back in December, when the Tories won their majority. However, the actions they have taken will indiscriminately define the rest of their tenure.

Regardless of the demanding nature of our current climate, without a doubt, this crisis has exposed this government and the Prime Minister, for what they really are.

Crises are known for bringing to the surface the real nature of leaders in defining moments. For over a decade, our country has been led by the same party, but the crisis has revealed ever more blatantly, the kind of politics they wish to govern by. In the wake of the pandemic one would hope the world will become a better place. But will this transfer to British politics?

The country held its breath when Boris Johnson was taken into intensive care in early April and it was a defining moment in the nation’s experience of the crisis. Furthermore, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, contracted the virus at the end of March. Unlike Johnson, Hancock managed to escape with a mild experience of the virus. Despite having a real and life threatening experience, it seems ludicrous that the PM has opened the floodgates as early as July 4th, even encouraging a return to hustle and bustle, despite a still ever present threat in circulation

Image: Insider. Soho, London, 4 July.

Furthermore, these past few weeks have seen the rise of racial tensions in Britain, in response to the death of George Floyd, who was murdered by a white policeman in Minneapolis. The Black Lives Matter movement has hit many cities and towns across the country in joining the fight against exposing the persistent racial inequality in our country and expressing solidarity with America. However, this was also met with protests from the far right, evoking, “scenes of violence, desecration and racism” in central London just a few weeks ago. 

Johnson’s treatment of the BLM movement was half hearted and his address only initially prompted by the leader of the opposition at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Moreover, the biggest blunder during the address of the BLM movement was Dominic Raab’s treatment of “taking a knee.” The term refers to the symbolic gesture adopted by footballer Colin Kaepernick in 2016, during a national anthem to highlight the persistent racism underpinning American society. Despite this, the foreign secretary described it as “a symbol of subjugation and subordination” originating in the Game of Thrones TV series.

Not only does this show a sheer lack of sensitivity during a pivotal moment for the BLM both here and in the US, but a mirror into how out of touch this party really is. 

Scenes from Central London, depicting a far-right protest. Image: The Guardian

The Covid crisis has exposed the bare bones of the charleton, Johsnon. He is a career politician that thrives from using the tactic of “political bluster” as seen in this season’s PMQs. It worked with Jeremy Corbyn, however, with the meticulous Keir Starmer, he only appears more out of touch than usual.

During the crisis, we’ve already witnessed two major U-turns in the government, with the abandonment of the NHS surcharge for migrant healthcare workers and the Marcus Rashford led campaign to continue food provision for some of Britain’s poorest families. U-turns alone are not proof of weakness, but these examples certainly illustrate that this crisis reveals a government and leader out of touch with the rest of society and their concerns. 

And then there’s Dominic Cummings. The evident breaking of the lockdown rules by the government’s chief advisor was the cherry on the cake in terms of symbolising hypocrisy and ignorance.

If the maker of the rules himself could not abide by them, how was there ever any hope for the public? The Cummings debacle may have been brushed under the carpet, but it is one that will certainly define the Tory’s handling of this pandemic in years to come. Moreover, it provides us with the most glaring of symbols into the realities of this government. 

The sea of social change anticipated by the joint experience of Covid-19 and the BLM movement could be on the horizon, however, the leadership of this government has maintained its status quo and exposed itself for what it really is; a government of disgrace, hypocrisy and removed from the issues felt by the majority.

Experience of a crisis can often bring out the best in people, however, for the Tory’s, their worst sides have definitely been revealed. The most worrying part? It has become the new normal. 

The actions of Dominic Cummings symbolise the wider government failures during this crisis

In the early hours of last night, we were greeted with the breaking news story that Dominic Cummings, the senior advisor to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had broken lockdown rules by leaving London to travel to his family’s farm in Durham

Here reportedly, his wife was unwell with Covid symptoms. Cummings’ motives and further explanation, was that this was an essential journey as he had to help with childcare. There is confusion over whether at the time of travel, Cummings had symptoms or not but even so, he ignored his own public guidance to stay put and “protect the NHS and save lives.”

It doesn’t serve the public message and only adds to further confusion. Additionally, his sister and nieces (who hadn’t developed symptoms) had already offered to help look after the children. In the wake of the findings, the Tory party seem to be divided over whether these actions are forgivable or not. Michael Gove, in a Tweet, proclaimed, “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime” – it seems politicians are exempt from their own rules.

If we put the actions of Cummings aside for one moment, we can see how this lack of responsibility has been a prominent feature at the heart of the UK government during the COVID-19 crisis. As an individual, isolated issue, it does partly feel like the media are dragging it out a bit, when we should be focusing on more prominent issues. I think it’s wrong what he did, and he does deserve to be sacked, but I think it’s significance is in the bigger picture it points to.

Image: SkyNews

There are many instances of this, “do as I say, not as I do” attitude from senior government officials, which points to further failures of dealing with this crisis. Most notably, this includes Neil Ferguson, who’s epidemiology model on the virus was used to shape lockdown regulations in the UK. Ferguson broke lockdown rules to receive frequent visits from a lover (who wasn’t a part of the same household). Although I am not a fan of the “name, shame and blame” culture, it does point to some wider issues that surround this crisis. Failures from individuals, and the government as a whole, illustrates the aversion of responsibility and denial culture that Boris Johnson’s Tory party embodies.

Image: Yorkshire Post

Take the return of Prime Minister’s Questions. In his second performance as new Labour Leader, Keir Starmer pressed the PM on when exactly the Test, Track and Trace facility will be available ahead of the plan to reopen primary schools in England from June 1st.

It took time and time again before Johnson eventually blurted out that he “promised” that by next month this system would be in place. The week before, Johnson claimed the meticulous Starmer was “ignorant” and didn’t know the facts. Besides from reading out the advice from the government papers themselves, this mere slither of Johnson’s performance feels to me like a blueprint for what’s to come over the next four years. In professing the “ignorance” of the opposition, Johnson uses rhetoric to avert attention from his own scrutiny, and avoids delivering a response to the criticism at hand.

Johnson also told the House of Commons he wished the Leader of the Opposition wouldn’t be so, “negative”. This is a dangerous line of defense, which allows Johnson to appear to have the upper hand. The very point of facing the opposition is so the government can be scrutinized, the PM is evidently aware of this, however, he uses it to his advantage to avert any responsibility. Starmer’s criticisms over the government matter more than ever in the light of their appalling handling of this crisis. 

In deliberation, Johnson uses this unique characterization that he has managed to perfect over the years. He plays the idiot to avoid responsibility and always fails to directly answer a line of questioning. It’s this ignorance and sheer lack of accountability that is a sign of the deterioration of the Conservative Party. They may be ahead in the polls and be the shining beacon in many minds of the public, but in reality, they lack imperative accountability and the humanity to admit mistakes. If Cummings, Matt Handcock, (the Health Secretary) and Johnson were simply able to apologize for their mistakes and move on – they would at least have a portion of respectability, even if it were to be short lived. 

Keir Starmer was never the ideal Leader of the Opposition in my eyes, but I have to admit, his performance at PMQs has taken me by surprise. He is definitive, meticulous and has an unwavering sense of dominion over Johnson who appears to be crumbling at the seams as the weeks go on. Without the support of his backbenchers, Johnson is revealed for what he really is. He’s not a leader, he doesn’t have the accountability that politicians need, for he was always a mere campaigner even back in his Mayor of London days. Faced with criticism, Johnson never accepts responsibility. Will he ever accept failure over the horrific PPE shortage that NHS workers have had to deal with? 

Johnson told the public to practice, “Good, solid, British common sense” with the loosening of the lockdown. The switch from, “Stay at Home” to, “Stay Alert” is irrefutably vague. However, it seems that even before this subtle change, his own senior advisors couldn’t cope with following the simplest of instructions. And when faced with criticism (rightly so) senior Tory’s practice their public school boy tradition of worming their way out of accountability – it’s what they do best. 

Johnson and his clapping for the NHS whilst stripping them of adequate PPE, and formally making immigrated NHS workers pay a £400 surcharge for using the NHS, shows himself for what he really is. He’s hypocritical and all about proclaiming a false image of national unity in a time of crisis. It’s the illusion of display at its finest – however, it doesn’t take much for the cracks to be revealed.

In the weeks since recovery and addition of another heir to the great Johnson bloodline, the PM has taken a back seat in the workings of his government. Barely appearing in daily Press Conferences, it does beg the question over whether this figure of fun is more of a part-time Prime Minister who simply lacks the skills of tackling scrutiny. Where is he today to defend the actions of his senior advisor? It would certainly fit in with the theme of avoiding accountability that has protruded during the worst health crisis of a generation.

Have an opinion? Join in with the debate in the comments 🙂

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Book Review: Social Creature

Image: The Irish Times

Title: Social Creature

Author: Tara Isabella Burton

Rating: 3/5

Publisher: Bloomsbury, Kindle Edition

Synopsis

This dark, twisted and enigmatic story follows the life of Louise, an aspiring writer nearing her 30s. She lives in New York and is floating around jobs but is always hoping to make it as a writer. Louise has nothing, but like many young people, hopes she can make something of herself in the city.

Louise then meets Lavina. Lavina has everything that Louise doesn’t and soon invites her into her flat to stay. It all seems to good to be true. Louise relishes the prospect of living rent free and living the sophisticated writer life she had always dreamed of. However, we soon learn of the demands of Lavina’s friendships and social circle.

Louise is swept under Lavina’s wing with constant socialising, parties, relationships, gossip, drinking, drug taking and fine dining in America’s big city. Louise, would rather a quieter life, but she has to keep up with Lavina’s lifestyle in order to earn her place as her best friend and have a right to stay in her apartment. She has to perform the role of being her own personal, social butterfly.

Slowly, but surely, Louise manages to sneak money from Lavina’s bank account into her own. Her justification is that Lavina will not even notice such small amounts when her balance is over $100,000, and this is so that she can eventually escape and live out her own life. Also, this arrangement she has crafted, supposedly will allow her more time for writing, rather than working in jobs she doesn’t want to be in.

Many tragic events unfold and change Louise’s life for good. It’s a story of demanding friendships, the maintenance of a certain lifestyle and living in the ever present social media age.

Review

It feels strange to be writing a review on a book I only warranted three stars. I think that’s even a first on this blog…? But at the same time, you can’t always sing the praises of every book you read. Saying that, there were elements to this book that I enjoyed, but I can’t help but think everything about this was slightly cliche.

I was initially attracted to this book due to its portrayal of the social media age and its critique of the hold it has over our lives,

“Lavina does so many interesting things that week. Louise seems them all on Facebook and Instagram.”

Tara Burton

I think it is a very interesting topic and it was explored in the book well. Louise and Lavina’s whole friendship is based on telling the world of their latest outings, events and friendships by posting it online for everyone to see. They cannot go a day without taking each other’s photograph or resist a selfie when there’s good lighting. There is never a social setting where a picture isn’t taken and posted online, there always has to be proof. Proof that they weren’t sitting at home in their pajamas on a Friday night.

I think the idea of exploring this dependency on social media in friendships is an interesting topic and generally explored well in this book. However, everything else seemed a bit incoherent and unrealistic. The turn of events were completely unpredictable, but they did make me want to read on. I found Louise, the protagonist, quite likable but as events progressed, it was like following a different person who went from bad to worse. As a result, I was not able to fully develop a connection with her character as her actions were so unpredictable. I feel as a reader, I never really ‘knew’ her or had the chance to.

It was interesting to see New York used as a setting of a story in a negative way, as in many novels, this city is glamorized. However, Burton plays on its faults to critique the styles of social interaction which are prevalent in young people. Life for Louise, Lavina and their social groups, revolves around crack-cocaine, alcohol, 4am finishes, money and constant posing for their social media profiles. In a way, no one in this book is a ‘social creature’ but merely playing to the disguise of being one. Every night is more of the same thing,

“Nothing in this city changes, and every party is the same, and every bar is the same…”

Tara Burton

but yet it is all done again and again, as that is what is expected of you.

Above all, I thought it had the potential to be an interesting story due to the complexity of some of the ideas that Burton put forward. However, the characterisation of the main protagonist was weak as their was no consistency in her development and actions. At some points the writing felt very cliche, but perhaps that was the point. Nonetheless, I never wanted to stop reading this book due to the sheer craziness and unpredictability of it. It’s worth a read, but is not something that I would go back to.

If you want a quick read that deals with some interesting, contemporary ideas which require little concentration or awareness, this would be a good one.