This Week with Brian
Including a climate change, leaks, floods, a third-choice goalie, two worst mistakes, a toxic brand, bad actors, prevailing mores, the Fat Controller returns, a successful life, a suggested apology, the wrong town, lost communities, a missed window, agency staff, water scrutiny, sporting scrutiny, tangled seals, solar deals, national express, not speaking English, two undefeated winners, a short coastline and a week off.
Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening).
If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at [email protected].
Reuters reports that Rishi Sunak will give a speech this week “in which he is expected to delay some of the government’s policies to reach net zero emissions by 2050, saying the response to the climate change should be more proportionate.”
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Proportionate to what? To the extent of the threat or the the chances of his party getting re-elected? Not a day goes past but that there is more bad news – from Libya, Antarctica, the USA, India – about the extreme disasters that are being visited on us by climate change. At present, our best model is that this is caused by human activity resulting in a creation of greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2. Most countries have introduced measures to combat this. There’s no doubt that these will involve some tough times. However, if we accept that the problem is a real one we can’t delay mitigation just because it’s inconvenient.
Either we believe in climate change or we don’t. If we don’t, scrap all the net-zero rules. If we do, implement them properly. It’s a about as daft as saying, in the middle of a global pandemic, that we’ll go back to having some attempt at social distancing but only after a month-long government-sponsored pizza-fest and lager-frenzy called…oh, I don’t know – “eat out to help out” or something like that.
Michael Gove has said that the ban on sales of new fossil-fuel vehicles – one of the things that Sunak has threatened to row back on – is “immovable,” so we’ll see what happens between him and Sunak. Mind you, Gove has said things before that proved not to be true, such as in 2010 when he thought that investing in schools maintenance was a bad idea, something he’s since admitted was his “worst mistake”.
Labour has said that, if it gets elected, it will reverse this reversal. Even the car manufactures, whom one might have expected to be behind Sunak, seem underwhelmed. The BBC reports that the Ford and BMW have told Sunak they need more certainty, Ford adding that it has made investment plans based on the 2030 target. Other manufacturers have since echoed these remarks.
It’s possible, of course, that the 2030 goals were not likely to get hit. That isn’t the point. By kicking the target down the road we are sending the message that (a) we can’t his targets and (b) the interest of our economic performance is more important than contributing to a solution. If we aren’t likely to meet the targets we should ask why. Changing the deadline is just dismal.
It appears the volte-face was leaked by someone in government or Number Ten, in which case Sunak is probably pretty cross that he had lost control over his machinery. Or is he? Stories are often leaked so as to judge public reaction to the plans. If this is negative then they can always say “it’s not our fault if you choose to believe tittle-tattle in the press.” On this occasion, though, he seems to indifferent to the immediate response, gambling on the fact that it will play well with the voters come the hustings.
Others in his party seem less sanguine. Michael Gove, as mentioned above, has said that the current policy is “immoveable”, Boris Johnson has urged the PM “not to falter” over the green pledges while Chris Skidmore, who led a government review into net zero, has described the likely U-turn as “potentially the greatest mistake of Rishi Sunak’s premiership,” before adding “so far”.
• Arbitrary targets
The Telegraph has written today that Sunak’s announcement has “jump-started” the election campaign. The article goes on to say that “the Conservative Party may be split on environmental issues but the electorate favours a moderate approach, balancing concern about the Earth with an unwillingness to meet arbitrary targets.”
I find the use of the last phrase rather odd. Any target is to a large extent arbitrary as regards its date (unless there’s some other event that can’t happen until the target has been met) and I suppose any date like 2030 that ends in a 0 or a 5 does have the look of the nearest round number. The same can be said for what’s to be achieved by this time, such as the sale of all new fossil-fuel cars. That seems quite specific to me. If the ambition had been to cut them by say 80% then that would have been arbitrary.
In any case, the point is that by whatever method the targets have been set. Perhaps they are now seen as unachievable – but that’s not the same as saying that they’re somehow random or capricious.
The more of hear of Rishi Sunak’s pronouncements, the less impressed I am with him. He seems to be someone who’s quite a good middle manager for a large company but somehow lacks, as Nadine Dorries said, that X factor. Mind you, BoJo had the X factor and look what happened to him.
Sunak is, of course, only our third-choice PM. In footballing terms, that’s like having a third-choice goalkeeper on the pitch for the last third of a cup final. The first one got sent off for a large humber of rule violations shortly before half time. His replacement lasted about five minutes and then went mad. Sunak’s the rookie replacement. Meanwhile, as the match drifts towards a penalty shoot out, the opposing centre forward (who hasn’t found the net too many times) is shaping up for a showdown. It’s not a very edifying thought. Give me Hartlepool v Rotherham on a rainy Tuesday evening any day.
I’ve never cared for Russell Brand that much and never found him that funny. He seemed in any case less concerned what people thought of his than with his self-image, a cross between bodacious highwayman, priapic elf, armchair revolutionary and hyper-active new-age savant. Opinions differ about whether he’s a good writer or an awful one, a sincere or a cynical commentator, a talent or an imposter. Now the questions being asked are more serious.
There are too many stories about him at present to link to any as these will all have been superseded by others before you read this. There will be more.
If anyone has five or so minutes empty, then I can self-interestedly suggest that you have a listen to a song called Bad Actors that I wrote a few years ago, inspired by Ursula Macfarlane’s superb 2019 til Untouchable about Harvey Weinstein. Other bad actors are waiting to be exposed.
II have just one one word of caution. In the self-righteous media frenzy that often attends reporting of such issues there’s generally a lack of context. I accept that what the two above-mentioned people did (or, in Brand’s case is alleged to have done) , and Jimmy Saville before them, was very badly wrong. However, every crime, incivility, or inappropriate remark has to be judged according to what not the law but also the social mores that then prevailed. There is no such thing as an absolute moral code – were there to be so we would all long have agreed what was right and wrong – but only one that evolves over time. To accuse Jefferson of being a bad man because he owned slaves or Henry VIII to be sexist because he executed two of his wives is rather to miss the point.
We are all the product of the time in which we live and not subject to some absolute standard of behaviour. Ultimately, humans are just animals with a thesaurus and are subject only to whatever limitations we feel society can impose on us. Some of us feel that we are entitled to get away with more than others. Hitherto they’ve largely been proved right. Hopefully, this might be starting to change.
• And he’s back…
The Fat Controller has returned from his trip to Russia in his armour-plated and treat-stuffed train to a rapturous and doubtless completely un-choreographed welcome at Sodor HQ. The photo on this Reuters report shows a long line of people (all for some reason wearing clothes in the four traditional printing colours of cyan, magenta, yellow and black) who seem to be enjoying what almost amounts to a collective orgasm. If he’s had the World Cup in one hand and a cure for cancer the reaction could hardly have been better. The building itself – presumably Pyongyang railway station – looks like a pretty grim place, a cross between a multi-storey car park and a meat market. This is probably about as close as many of the population will ever come to meat or a car.
It’s very easy to mock Kim. I suppose that’s why I do. It’s also true that he’s a very dangerous man, particularly for any of his subjects who don’t toe the line. He’s also a very successful one. Humans have controlled the planet not because we’re stronger than other animals or perhaps even in some ways more intelligent but because of our unique ability to act in a collective and flexible way. If you can control the collective action, you control everything. It certainly helps when your two predecessors – the Great Controller and the Dear Controller in North Korea’s case – happen to have been your father and grandfather but many others have made less of similar advantages.
Kim has defied expectations to cement his grip on power and has proved to be an adept diplomat. Opposition is inconceivable because no one knows anything else and there are no other organisations around which collective action can coalesce. In purely biological and evolutionary terms, Kim has ticked the two most important boxes – he’s survived and produced offspring. The next controller is, even as I write this, probably playing with his train set in the palace.
• And finally
• The BBC reports that scenic pictures of Richmond upon Thames in London have been displayed in a branch of Greggs in the North Yorkshire market town of Richmond. It added that Greggs has been approached by the BBC for a comment. I think I can supply that on their behalf: “sorry – we made a mistake.” In fact, what we’ll probably get is “as a result of a careful review of dispatch and checking protocols in our warehouse, we have established that on this occasion the correct monitoring procedures were not followed. Several staff members have been placed on a three-week training course and consultants have been appointed to carry out a company-wide review of our marketing fulfilment processes. We take the issue of geographical integrity very seriously and would like to sincerely apologise for any offence this error may have caused.”
• It could have been worse. years ago I remember reading a story of a couple in Poole who got an invite to the wedding of their niece, who was marring a Kiwi. Never having been to New Zealand they excitedly booked their tickets to Christchurch and a few days before the event duly set off. Judge for yourself their embarrassment when they realised on arrival that the wedding was not there but a few miles down the road from their home, in Christchurch, Dorset.
• A letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News makes a very good point about RAAC. As the problem was known about during the pandemic and as the schools were wholly or partly closed and as construction was an essential sector, could the work not have been done then? Looks like a missed window of opportunity.
• Periods of heavy rain have the side-effect of revealing how many leaks you have in your roofs and windows. Today’s downpour has so far revealed four, not the number of was hoping for. One of these is flowing out of the shaver socket in the bathroom, which is by any standards not normal. On the other hands, tens of thousands of people across the world, particularly in Libya, have had their entire communities swept away by rain. Armed with that comparison, a few leaks I can now live with.
• I was speaking to someone from Libya the other day who told me that virtually nothing of any substance has been created or maintained by the “governments” for many decades, which is why she left about twenty years ago. Since Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011 the situation has in some ways got even worse with several different groups controlling different areas of the country. A major dam collapse was, in these circumstances, always likely. When the state also collapses, humans revert to an almost total reliance on local familial and community networks which, in a country like the UK, have largely been eroded. When a natural disaster destroys your village, you therefore have very little left. What, therefore, is to stop you from leaving? Someone offers you an escape route across the Med and onwards to the UK and suddenly you’re another artistic in the Daily Express.
Climate change is almost certainly a major trigger for this disaster, Reuters quoting German scientists as saying that this made the incident “fifty times more likely.” All of this makes our PM’s U-turn seem even more difficult to accept – which brings me back to where I started…