from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Five Giants

Lord Hennessy

June 23.  This week, BBC Radio 4 is running programmes under the heading of: “Re-think.  People’s Hopes and Dreams for the world post-corona.”   It launched the series with a talk by Peter Hennessy on yesterday’s World at One programme.

Peter Hennessy, Lord Hennessy, is, for those who do not know his work, the leading historian of modern politics in Britain.  As a Times journalist and later an academic, he has written widely and authoritatively on the practice of government in Britain since the Second World War.  His views repay attention.  This is what he said:

“It is possible that out of our experience of a cruel, capricious and deadly pathogen something of real and enduring value could emerge.  That out of tragedy could come possibility and purpose.  Is there a usable piece of our past to guide us, to give us hope?  I think there is.

The Covid 19 experience has sharpened our sense of the duty of care we have one for another, that a state has for its people, all of its people, to a degree we’ve not felt collectively since World War II and its aftermath.  We heard it week after week on Thursdays at eight when we clapped, cheered and rattled our pots and pans in salute to the NHS front line and other key workers.  It was the sound of people, rediscovering themselves. 

There are too many differences between six years of total war and the likely length of the Covid emergency for easy comparisons to be made, but what we can learn from those war years is just how powerful and beneficial a never-again impulse can be if it is poured into the making of a new deal for the British people.  The great World War II coalition led by Winston Churchill and Clem Attlee began to plan for exactly that on the back of what was and still is the most remarkable report ever produced for a British government.  In late 1942, Sir William Beveridge, the leading social arithmetician of his day, identified what he called five giants on the road to recovery, and he put them in capital letters: Want, Ignorance, Idleness, Squalor, Disease.  The report was a best-seller. Beveridge’s great insight was that all five giants had to be struck simultaneously if the hard crust of deprivation was to be shattered.  After the war, governments of both parties were fuelled by a Beveridge-ite consensus for over thirty years. 

Through the grim Covid weeks and months of 2020, can we see the possible outline of a new Beveridge, a new post Corona banner we can all rally round, a banner emblazoned with the heraldry of a new consensus?  We can. I think there is a hard edged, not a fudged consensus to be crafted, using five priorities.  Social care.  Something must be done, and fast.  A big public-private push on social housing.  Getting technical education right at last after a hundred and fifty years of trying.  Combatting and mitigating climate change.  Preparing our country and our people for the full impact of artificial intelligence on our productive capacity and our society.

If our politicians could pick up this new consensus and run with it, finding the right tone and pitch of language in which to express it, the early twenty-twenties could be one of the most creative and productive patches of our history and a worthy memorial to the Covid fallen.  It has taken a pathogen for us to find and refresh our shared duty of care, but rediscover it we have.”

More tomorrow on this vision.  Others may wish to comment on his optimism, and on the five giants he has chosen to slay.

Add Mss (2)  May 21 Being Local.  “The NHS has decided to write its own track and trace programme, rather than install the simpler and operational Apple / Google app.  To no-one’s surprise, it is already in trouble and missing deadlines.  At this level, the bespoke solution is a mistake.”  Thus it transpires.  The only comfort is that in spite of the words spoken at the launch of the project, a computerised app seems no longer to be crucial, whoever designs it.  A voice on the phone, preferably from the locality of the infected person, is what you need.  And we have had telephones since 1875.

From David Maughan Brown in York: Rain!

June 3rd

Rain!  In York it doesn’t arrive accompanied by the unmatchable freshness of the scent of parched African grass being revived after a drought, nor does it usually come heralded by thunder and lightning, with the accompanying risk of hail damage.   But if allotments are into the business of praying silently for relief, their prayers have finally, if probably temporarily, been answered.   May 2020 was the driest May on record in England and the sunniest month ever, at least as far back as records go; this spring’s sunshine hours smashed the previous record by all of 70 hours, and have only been exceeded by summer sunshine hours in three previous years.  So you will gather that it has been dry.

Exceptionally welcome as waking up to unexpected rain has been after days of cloudless skies and temperatures in the mid to high twenties, it has brought a minor element of frustration with it.   Having seen an obese pigeon lumbering clumsily around in my strawberry bed two days ago, I concluded that it was past time to net the strawberries, and decided that, in spite of the heat, I needed to do that yesterday  afternoon.   I don’t enjoy the heat, and still can’t get used to finding that it seems to be hotter here at three in the afternoon than it does at midday.    When in the middle of January, in the deepest gloom of a York winter, people commiserate with me on the stereotypical assumption that I would rather be back in Africa, I assure them entirely truthfully that I would far rather be in York in winter than enduring the heat, humidity and mosquitoes of a Pietermaritzburg summer.  I suspect they don’t believe me.  But I digress.

Netting the strawberries involves the simple process of putting the various sections of a tubular steel frame together, positioning it over the strawberry bed and putting the net over it.  Simple in previous years, not simple in 2020.   The soil is rock hard, water poured onto it to soften it had about as much chance as it would have had on granite, so I couldn’t push the uprights into the ground.  The BBC weather forecast did predict a change in the weather, with the possibility of some rain, but the weather-app said there was only a 60% chance of rain in York, and experience tells me that a 60% chance almost invariably flatters to deceive where York is concerned and is more realistically a 0% chance.  So I decided I needed to make my way back to the car, go home, collect my largest hammer and hammer the uprights in.  Careful as I was in that process, the ends of the steel uprights were slightly splayed by the lengthy hammering and the plastic connections wouldn’t slide cosily onto the tops of the uprights any more.  So my whole netting structure has been compromised – and today it rains.

Keeping the allotment going through what has been a mini-drought has involved refilling our water-butt on a far more regular basis than usual.  This means dragging one end of a length of three connected hosepipes all the way to the nearest stand-pipe, and doing so as early in the morning as one can face getting up so that one isn’t monopolizing the tap when other people need it.   That is something of a hassle, but it is compensated for by the birdsong  – and at least one can still do it.   At the end of the driest May on record, one might have expected a hosepipe ban.   The reason that there isn’t one in the offing, and that the muttering about the possibility of one coming is still very muted, is that December, January and February were very much wetter than usual.  While one can be thankful that the reservoirs are still around 75% full, the contrast between the exceptionally wet early months of the year and the exceptionally dry spring, another entry in the record books, is almost certainly another indicator of climate change.   With all the other, Covid-19 induced, anxieties lining up to be worried about, one can probably be forgiven for allowing climate change to slip down the list a little.  But it certainly mustn’t be allowed to fall off the list altogether, and gardens and allotments will equally certainly help us to keep up to the mark on that one.