I continue to worry over the consequences of the unwise decision of the nation to leave the EU. Almost everyday now thee is news of the chickens coming home to roost. Just today I read that EU students studying in the UK will no longer be able to pay home fees but will have to pay the same fees as all international students. That is likely to result in a reduction in the number of students which is bad on two counts.
The EU have said that cars made in the UK must have the majority of its components made in the UK to qualify as British made. Unfortunately. European motor manufacture is geared to being part of the EU, with many parts being manufactured in one country and distributed around Europe. It is unlikely that any of our foreign owned motor manufacturers could meet the requirement. Motor manufacture is one of the more significant pillars of our economy. Without a deal that enables cars and commercial vehicles, along with their parts, to move freely without customs interference, we will probably see much of our industry move to Europe.
Deal or no deal, it is certain that British banks and the financial sector of the City of London will no longer be able to operate freely in Europe as they have done in the past. This must hamper their business transactions and will probably lead to a slow reduction in the income that has been so important to our economy. It will also make life a little more difficult for the individual. I understand that ex-pats living in Europe will find they no longer have such easy access to their pensions that are paid into UK banks.
We are already aware of the anticipated traffic jam at the ports, so much so that the government is already planning to build huge lorry parks in Kent. How ridiculous, what a way to run a country, to deliberately build in a waste of time with goods stuck in lorry parks rather than being delivered?
I remain convinced that we are all going to be poorer as a result of Brexit, and poorer still as a result of the virus.
What can one say?
We all know that the government made a mess at the start, largely due to failing to heed warnings and to learn from the experience of others. Whether or not it is fair to say they have continued to make a mess of it is largely a matter of individual judgement. Certainly, it seems, they did succeed in greatly increasing the testing rate, but. without increasing the ability to increase the rate at which the tests could be analysed, it was rather pointless. Hopefully that is being rectified now, but how much of that problem was due to trying to centralise the laboratory work rather than making use of the many local laboratories, is a matter for conjecture.
In their anxiety to get the economy going again, it could be argued that they eased the restrictions too quickly. They not only eased the restrictions quickly, but actively encouraged people to behave more as they did before the virus struck, trying to get those that they encouraged to work from home to go back to work, and encouraging people to get back to eating out by giving a government funded 50% off the bill
Not surprisingly, people started to act as though the danger had passed. Consequently, the rate of infection rose rapidly and soon the virus threatened to get out of hand. In desperation they have been introducing measures in an attempt to get it back under control.
Understandably, perhaps, they insisted the schools went back, but I think it was a big mistake to insist that the universities went back also. The mass migration of the older teenagers and concentrating them in halls of residence in major towns was asking for trouble. As it has worked out, hardly any universities are giving face-to-face lectures or instructions and are working on line. Students could have stayed at home and avoided the concentrations in the university towns. How much of the desire to get students into those towns was driven by the universities anxiety to get their £9000 out of the students? Surely it would have been better to delay the move of students rather than impose tougher restrictions on businesses?
The government do have a very difficult job and have to make difficult decisions. How much of their apparent failure is due to their actions and decisions and how much has been due to the irresponsible behaviour of a significant minority of the public? Unfortunately, at the time of writing things seem to be getting into a mess. Too many people are now fighting the government, conservative MPs are disagreeing with other conservative MPs, local councils are opposing the government and threatening not to impose restrictions and individual members of the public are deciding on their own actions of disobedience. It seems to me that, in their efforts to appease, the government is not implementing the tougher restrictions that the situation demands.
Harold Wilson was elected leader of the Labour Party in the early sixties and went on to win three elections. I think it fair to say that he is not particularly well remembered, except for those like me.
A grammar school boy, he succeeded in obtaining a place at Oxford where he distinguished himself as a brilliant scholar. His tutor regarded him as one of the best students that he had had.
Harold won his first election in 1964, beating the then Tory leader, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, but with a very small majority, he went back to the electorate in 1966 and greatly increased his majority, leaving him in a comfortable position to govern.
He inherited a difficult national situation, like many of our newly elected Prime Ministers, he found a desperate financial situation. We were greatly in need of some help from the Americans, but the fact that we had a Labour government counted against us, the Americans regarded Labour as neo communists. To some extent they weren’t very wrong because, following the demise of the Communis Party in the UK, many former members joined the Labour Party and they strengthened the left of the Party.
Harold courted the left of the Party in his bid for election as leader, subsequently his actions as PM were more middle-of-the-road politics, this disappointed the left and led to accusations of duplicitousness. An accusation that was levied against him from several quarters during his time, and, in some quarters he was considered unprincipled. To some extent this may have been justified, but he wriggled and strived to keep a divided Party together, with some success. Harold was a true socialist, he was appalled at the way in which class and elitism dominated British society, he saw it as a society run by the elite for the elite, and was determined to direct his efforts towards changing society for the better. He was, however, a pragmatist who believed in the importance of only attempting that which he believed was achievable.
Because our economy was at the mercy of the Americans he was put under considerable pressure by them. They wanted Britain to maintain a strong presence east of Suez, Wilson endeavoured to do this, but it was too costly and was not popular at home, later in his term he was forced to withdraw our troops. At the time the Americans were fighting a major war alone in Viet Nam, they were uncomfortable with the fact that no other western nation was willing to give them any support (apart perhaps from the Australians?) and they put considerable pressure on Harold to send British forces to Viet Nam. One of his greatest achievements, perhaps, is that he resisted that pressure without incurring too much wrath. This must have been down to his diplomacy and personal charm, I think.
During his premiership he struggled with powerful, left wing, belligerent union leaders. At the time unions were all powerful, most major industries operated a ‘closed-shop’, you had to be a union member to work there. This gave the union leaders considerable power, they could shut down industries and bring the country to its knees, and it seemed they were quite willing to do that. Wilson tried very hard to reason with them. With his blessing, Barbara Castle, one of his ministers, produced a paper entitled ‘In Place of Strife’, that laid out a procedure for dealing with industrial disputes. This was rejected by the unions. That must have been a huge disappointment for Harold.
On the economic front he struggled, unwisely, to maintain a fixed rate of exchange for the pound but was eventually forced to devalue. This led to him making a rather foolish statement on TV “this does not mean the pound in your pocket is worth any less”, and he suffered some ridicule.
So why do I regard him so highly?
Firstly, because he kept us out of the Viet Nam war, I doubt if a Conservative PM would have done that, and he trod a difficult path between us and the Americans.
Whilst he was dealing with these difficult economic, industrial and international problems, he encouraged and supported his Ministers to introduce Bills for social change.
During his premiership we saw; the abolition of hanging, the legalising of abortion, the legalising of homosexuality, divorce was made easier, a balanced budget, freeing theatres from the need for censure, improved welfare and social services, and steps towards greater equality for women, including legislation on equal pay.
On housing, he re-introduced rent restrictions and succeeded in getting new homes built at the rate of 400,000 a year, a good proportion of them were council houses. We have been struggling for many years to build at half that rate.
He believed in the importance of sport, especially as international sport was becoming more commercial, and saw the establishment of the Sports Council to support and develop talent. Prior to that it had been down to the universities and elite clubs and they tended to only look for talent in a relatively small pool.
Believing that education was the key to greater social equality, he introduced comprehensive schools and raised the school leaving age. He believed that, for comprehensive schools to succeed it would be necessary to close the grammar schools, but, as we know, he failed in that mission because of the strong public support for grammar schools. That does not mean he was wrong.
He was a firm believer in the importance of modern technology to the future of Britain, he introduced the Polytechnics, requiring them to produce courses as intellectually challenging as university degrees but orientated more towards the needs of society. He oversaw the creation of the Open University.
I think it is true to say that during the swinging sixties, personal wealth increased, class barriers in society diminished, as did barriers to women’s progress. In that respect he was successful.
At the end of his term, in 1970, he was defeated in the election by the Tories, led by Ted Heath. At the end of Heath’s term, Harold Wilson won again and carried on the good work. To the surprise of many, however, he resigned two years into his premiership. The reason given was early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, that was very sad for a man known for his quick brain and outstanding memory, he had certainly lost some of his sparkle. I think he must have been greatly disappointed by the irrational and intransigent behaviour of the unions, and, perhaps, the leaders and management in industry.
I don’t think there was ever so much achieved in the development of our society and culture by any other Prime Minister
He was replaced as PM by Jim Callaghan who subsequently lost to Mrs Thatcher and much of the progress was lost as we started to regress.