What would really be involved in a no-deal Brexit and why we should be really worried

July 30th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

In the last few days, a whole bunch of new Cabinet ministers will have been briefed by civil servants on the consequences of a no-deal Brexit and the planning that will be required to mitigate these consequences. These Ministers will now know what a cabal of ex Cabinet Ministers have known for a long time – that a no-deal Brexit would be a enormous risk with consequences that will be terribly hard to manage.

The immediate threat would be to supply chains. A deadline of 31 October is about as bad as it could be: companies are already building up supplies ready for the Christmas market on top of earlier no-Brexit stockpiling and there just won’t be the transport and storage capacity for much more.

Cabinet has been briefed to have five priorities – in order:

  • Life-saving medicines
  • Key medical equipment
  • Fresh food
  • Nuclear power parts
  • Purification chemicals for water companies

After that, fuel and cash are critical components of the planning processes and these are interlinked. The banks need fuel to stock their cash machines and customers need cash to pay for fuel. Once petrol stations run out of supplies or people can’t pay for their fuel, we’re in trouble.

The new technology both helps and hinders the situation. On the one hand, many customers will be able to pay for fuel with credit or debit cards. On the other hand, any shortages – or, more likely, fear of shortages – will instantly be communicated and exaggerated through social media. That could lead to panic buying of fuel – or key foods – and in no time we could have queues and even riots which in turn will be spread all over social media.

At what point do hard-pressed and under-resourced police forces need the help of the military? These decisions cannot be left until panic hits the streets. It takes time to deploy troops and equipment and the timing and circumstances will be highly political considerations. So war-gaming is going on in Whitehall now and Ministers are being pressed for decisions now. Some 8,500 troops are on stand-by to intervene if there are transport blockages or civil unrest.

If the Cabinet gets this wrong and panic grips the nation, the Conservative Party will not be forgiven and will suffer an existential threat whenever the next round of elections comes round.

So what’s going to happen?

If Boris Johnson cannot negotiate a materially better exit deal with the other 27 Members States of the European Union (as seems very likely) and if Parliament makes good on its intention to block a no-deal Brexit (which also seems likely), Boris may well go for a General Election and, from a timing point of view, his options are distinctly limited because of the 31 October deadline and the turning back of the clocks on 27 October. A favoured date could well be 24 October.

Alternatively, Boris could bow to the inevitable and seek a further extension of EU membership under Article 50 in spite of his “do or die” promise.

In any event, it’s going to be a rough ride. Fasten your safety belts!

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (2)

There are still some Americans who think that President Trump is not racist …

July 29th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

They should watch this short clip from Victor Blackwell of CNN – until the end …

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (1)

A review of the new version of “The Lion King”

July 28th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

I’ve never seen the original 1994 animated movie musical – my son was too old and I didn’t have grandchildren then. But I decided to catch this 2019 remake even though the granddaughters were away on holiday.

Clearly the main reason for a new version is the advance in technology and it has to be said that this is a spectacular blurring of real life and animated representation in which computers have created African landscapes and animals that look just like a nature documentary but with zooming shots that no human cameraman would be able to record and an outstanding castlist of actors providing the voices.

Of course, animals – whether real or animated – can’t actually act, so sometimes it all feels a little weird, but the reprise is going to make Disney plenty of money. I saw it in IMAX, but deliberately went for 2D, and it was a wonderfully immersive experience. 

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A review of the memoir “Becoming” by Michelle Obama

July 26th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Barack and Michelle Obama occupied the White House for the eight yeara 2009-2017. He has already written a memoir – but only of the first three decades of his life – in the form of the 1995 work “Dreams From My Father” but he has yet to write about his time as President. She has now written a memoir of the first five or so decades of her life which includes, but does not major on, her time as First Lady. When “Becoming” was published in mid November 2018, it sold more copies than any other book published in the United States in 2018, breaking the record in just 15 days. It has since achieved outstanding sales all around the world and become a genuine literary phenomenon.

It is very well-written, having been researched and structured by a team of excellent writers led by journalist Sara Corbett. Above, though, its tells a remarkable story in a revealing and insightful manner, making this a joy to read. 

A working class black woman raised on the South Side of Chicago improbably manages to become a graduate of both Princeton University and Harvard Law School before starting her career as an attorney and then taking on a series of roles with a strong social justice agenda. And she meets and marries the man who will just as improbably become the first black President of the United States. By the time she leaves the White House, she has raised two wonderful daughters, supported her husband with utter professionalism, created a White House vegetable garden, launched four major initiatives supporting childen and veterans – and meanwhile “we’d managed two terms in office without a major scandal”.

How was this possible? 

It started with her own talent and determination. She studied and worked incredibly hard and describes herself as “a control freak”and “a box checker – marching to the resolute beat of effort/result” before she fell in love with Barack which she calls my swerve”. It was buttressed by wonderfully supportive parents and then great friends and mentors. She records how in turn she has always tried to encourage others – especially girls and women of colour – to aim high. And it was enabled by the transformative power of education at both her schools and colleges. But she has always suffered from an kind of imposter syndrome, never quite believing that she was good enough. Her life has not been trouble-free and she candidly refers to smoking pot, having a miscarriage, and needing IVF as well as fighting with and yelling at Barack and she and her husband using counselling to work through a rough patch in their marriage.

This memoir is very much about how Michelle Obama became the immensely impressive woman that she is and not so much about her famous husband. Barack does not appear in the text until a quarter of the way through the book; only three-quarters in do we reach her time in the White House; and the second presidential term is covered in merely a couple of dozen pages. While Barack Obama may be the consummate politician, Michelle Obama makes it very clear in this memoir that, at every stage of her husband’s political career, she was reluctant for him to run for election. The price was so high – for her own aspirations as a talented professional woman and for their daughters who would see so much less of their father and, once he was President, have to live their lives in a kind of security bubble. 

Yet, in the end, she always backed his decision to run and gave him her total support. For herself, she makes it clear that “I’ve never been a fan of politics” and that at times she found it “demoralizing, infuriating, sometimes crushing” and she is adamant that “I have no intention of running for office, ever”.

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So how does the British political system actually work?

July 25th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Britain has a new Prime Minister and a new Government. The media today are full of information about the new personalties and speculation about what this all means for Brexit.

But how does the British political system work? It’s very different from other systems around the world and even the British are often confused about how it operates. You can find my guide to the British system here.

The British political system is very different from the American political system and I’ve spend some time comparing and contrasting the two. You can read my comparison here.

Posted in American current affairs, British current affairs | Comments (0)

The dude who is now Britain’s Prime Minister

July 24th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

“We know the mantra of the campaign – in case you have forgotten it – it is deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn and that is what we are going to do. Some wag has already pointed out that deliver, unite, defeat was not the perfect acronym for an election campaign since unfortunately it spells dud. But they forgot the final e, my friends, e for energise. And I say to all the doubters: dude, we are going to energise the country.”

Extract from speech by Boris Johnson on winning the Conservative Party leadership election which now makes him Prime Minister or First Dude or Mini Trump.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (1)

What is the most successful film of all time?

July 24th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

There are so many ways to judge this.

Usually, because movies are essentially a business, the key criterion is money – but even here we have a choice between tickets sales in cash to tickets sales adjusted for inflation.

This week, it was announced that in cash terms “Avengers: Endgame” has just overtaken “Avatar”. You can see more on this story here.

But, if you adjust for inflation, then the top money-making film of all time is “Gone With The Wind” from 1939.

Another valid measure is number of ticket sales. On that basis, again the top movie is “Gone With The Wind”.

Still another measure is the number of Academy Awards won and, on that criterion, three movies share the record for the most Oscars. “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” (1997) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) each nabbed 11 Academy Awards in the years in which they were nominated.

Personally I think the best film ever made was “Lawrence Of Arabia”  (1963).

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (1)

Why does Iran hate Britain?

July 23rd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

They blame us (and the Russians) for the Persian famine of 1917-1919 when some two million (out of a population of 10M) died. Britain and Russia occupied the country at the time. More information here.

They remember that we (and the Americans) emgineered a coup in 1953. This overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh and restored the rule of the shah. More information here.

Earlier this month, British Royal Marines helped detain an Iranian tanker in waters off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, after Gibraltar’s government said it believed the tanker was transporting oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. More information here.

Actually, many Iranians – especially in the cities where support for the regime is weakest – are well-disposed towards the British (and other Western nations) as I found when I visited the country in 2009. An account of my trip here.

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Here in Britain, it’s going to be quite a week …

July 22nd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

We’re going to have a new Prime Minister – almost certainly Boris Johnson. The contrast in temperament and style with Theresa May could hardly be more stark. Although it remains to be seen whether policy changes – especially on Brexit – are really that different.

We’re going to have a new Government with major changes in the Cabinet. We know that the Chancellor for the past three years, Philip Hammond, will resign if Boris Johnson wins the Conservative leadership election, so the critical role of Chancellor is going to have a new occupant as well as many more posts.

Even more urgent than the Brexit fiasco, the new Prime Minister faces a crisis with Iran. This might be resolved quickly and painlessly but it could easily lead to armed conflict and even war. Johnson’s short term as Foreign Secretary is not encouraging.

Meanwhile Britain is expected to suffer a heatwave. The forecast for London on Thursday is 37C (99F). That’s nothing compared to what many parts of the United States have been experiencing – not to mention recent heat waves in place like India and Australia. But the British are used to mild weather and 37C will have consequences.

I guess – in the words of the wartime poster – we will just have to keep calm and carry on.

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Online connectivity and confidence still a work in progress

July 19th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

This week, I attended an event at the British Library organised by the communications regulator Ofcom under the title “Making Sense Of Media”. At this occasion, Ofcom launched a Making Sense Of Media Network and a Making Sense Of Media Advisory Panel.

The proportion of non-users of the Internet in the UK is unchanged since 2014 and stands at 13%. Older people and those in socio-economic groups D & E remain less likely to be online. Some 33% of those aged 64-74 and 48% of those aged 75+ are still not on the Net. Some 23% of DE groups are off-line.

Discussion at the event highlighted that the problem of online media literacy is not simply a question of whether one is on the Net or not. A significant proportion of those who are online only have access via a smartphone so they are using a small screen which makes many interactions more difficult.

Also there are issues of skills and confidence. Many of those who use the Net access a limited number of web sites and struggle with the use of online services whether it is completing application forms or purchasing goods. Furthermore there is quite widespread lack of understanding of which Google search results are sponsored and how trustworthy are different sources of news.

So we still have a way to go with digital literacy.

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