I'll start with my favourite nationality, the French. It seems that the newish French president, Emmanuel Macron, spends a hefty sum on cosmetics to maintain his youthful and tv image which, quelle surprise, is making the rest of France's male population jealous and therefore angry. With waning popularity since his storming election less than a year ago, Macron has failed to galvanise the French into moving into the 21st Century. Arcane working practises, excessive subsidies and a work ethic that makes us British seem absolutely workaholic by comparison have all contributed to a malaise that now threatens the future of much of French industry. We should not snigger up our sleeves for we also have much to do to bring our corporate attitudes, behaviours and ethics up to scratch, particularly with the Brexit clock ticking away remorselessly. Bristling Brock reported yesterday how those employers who have exploited low paid but diligent EU labour have not served British industry well having put greed before ethics, morality and, frankly, good business practise. Now - belatedly - we need British industry to grapple with changing its outlook, dispensing with the notion of ever-cheap labour and preparing itself for a competitive market outside of the EU. After all, the British would not like to be compared in parallel to the French, would they ?
As Jacob Rees-Mogg is to the Conservatives we now find that the redoubtable Emily Thornberry occupies a similar position in the Labour Party. Strongly tipped as the next party leader, she has secured the unlikely backing of that old Trotskyist, Len McCluskey of UNITE. That may be a dubious backing but he does command the allocation of many votes, so it's a given that politicians will remain on good terms with him. Never let it be said that we had morally righteous politicians in Westminster... That all said, I quite like her sharp and gritty style and she would represent a much improved and more electable Labour Party if she were at the helm. That's perhaps something Mr Corbyn should reflect upon given his 'for the good of the people' stance over many decades.
Brexit negotiations re-commence this coming week and our team will no doubt wade in waving their positional papers so flamboyantly published this last few days. I'm pretty sure M'sieur Barnier will politely say he's read them all but that they change nothing in the sequence of events the EU is enforcing in these negotiations. Quite apart from the fact that these positional papers are really nothing more than a collection of possible options, not strategic directions as we might have wished, the EU will continue to demand satisfaction on the three mountainous issues of the Irish border, EU citizen rights and monetary compensation owed by Britain to those hard done by chaps in Brussels. Unless those matters are signed off, it seems there will be nothing further to discuss, so why haven't our erstwhile civil service actually put pen to paper specifically on those topics ? Well, my suspicion here is that we British still believe we have a meaningful voice in world affairs and that anything we utter must be taken into account. I would not wish to do us down unfairly here as I'm sure British affairs do, here and there, have some impact, but let us not be fooled by thoughts of our own importance: in these Brexit negotiations we are one against 27 and we need to be very clever in negotiating a rightful deal for Britain. As you'll know from previous posts, I have some scepticism about the quality and objectives of our negotiating team, but there is little point in ignoring the elephant in the room and waving our much lauded positional papers about. I'll quote Mrs May here, 'No deal is better than a bad deal'. Get real, get tough and get on with it team and if there is no deal to be struck then let's leave as swiftly as possible and forge our own path.
Again, alluded to in earlier posts, it seems astonishing that in our revised and updated the broadsheets GCSE examination culture a student can gain a decent grade in Maths with just 15% correct answering. There's clearly much more to be done in reforming our system and making qualifications meaningful. If 15% is regarded as satisfactory then we'll never make our way in the world against foreign competitors.
It's reported that a former IRA chief turned informer has passed away peacefully and that seems to warrant a lengthy obituary in most of the broadsheets. Whatever this mans motives were, they started out as those of a killer but using nationalism as a cloak of decency. We may forgive what both we, the State of Britain and the IRA (plus countless other factional groups) engaged in nearly fifty or so years ago - for there were many wrongs on all sides perpetrated, but I find it extraordinary that we should celebrate the life of individuals (from either side) in ways that must offend many who were directly affected by events in Northern Ireland. Civil War is a tragedy for any state - learn from it and God willing never repeat it.
And finally, as I'm on a bit of a diatribe roll, a comment or two about our understanding of both statutory and common law in this land. There is a contempt that is widespread throughout our population about obeying the law. That's a fairly sweeping statement but look around you each day and observe what you see. Our cultural and social changes have evolved in ways that have made us disrespectful, venal and self-centred in many of our behavioural ways. Family discipline has all but gone, and children are brought up in many instances without the anchor point that the family unit once provided. We flaunt what we regard as petty laws and apply our own interpretations to justify breaking them - but let us be clear. Without laws, petty as some may be, we forego the social discipline of living in a society that is broadly at one with itself, having common considerations and respect for order and institutions that should convey that order. That may sound utterly Victorian to many but I repeat, look around and see the evolving mess of our social structures. We need to grapple with these as a unified society because many of those institutional lifelines like government, religion and community are being rapidly lost.