ITV Debate

For anyone interested in public affairs watching a debate of candidates for Prime Minister (PM) should be a pleasure #ITVdebate. It’s the summer heat. Pleasure it certainly wasn’t. It was a formulaic event that was enough to make milk curdle. The toxic blue-on-blue punch-up was uninspiring. A college debating society might have made better peak time TV.

The matter of who will be the British PM in only 7 weeks’ time is important. As the first question put it, we are at the start of an actual cost of living crisis. Unfortunately, Sunday night a lot of fairy tale economics were on show. Rubishing the past took front stage. All Conservative candidates said they would not have the caretaker PM Boris Johnson in a new cabinet.

All candidates vaguely rattled on about Brexit opportunities. When asked if the winner needed to call for a General Election to consolidate their mandate they all said – no.

Tom Tugendhat MP stood on a hill shouting “clean start,” but it was as if no one was listening. He said he was in mortal fear of the leader of the opposition. He shifted around in an uneasy manner.

Liz Truss MP wanted to emphasise that she was “honest” but admitted to not being “slick” as she sideswiped the other candidates. Here neo-Thatcher stance is thinning as quickly as it arrived. Word of the night was – bold.

“Time for a change” was Kemi Badenoch MP’s mantra. Being brave and asking for unity are all designed to create good vibes. The Twittersphere has dubbed her #badenough as if to mark that as the criteria for winning. To target the giveaway candidates Badenoch said there’s “no easy option”.

As the front running Rishi Sunak MP, former Chancellor, got the most kick backs from other candidates. “I want to be honest” and responsible were his themes. He put the stress on prudent conservatism, a phenomenon that may not exist anymore.

Penny Mordaunt MP was all about saying she’s a team player but not acting like one. Asking for an innovative approach and that the system is broken is appropriate. Sadly, filling the vacuum with nothing much hasn’t helped her case. She’s the spend, spend, spend candidate. She told a fib about the state of the polls too.

Robot like, Truss wanted it known that she has “served” and will stand up to Putin. She stressed her legacy of trade deals and getting things done. Her project fear was to mention the inflationary spiral of the 1970s. Truss and Mordaunt can across as arrogant and patronising by calling for change but being unclear what change is needed.

Badenoch was not ashamed of her role in Government. Strangely for a politician she hit out at the others by saying “talking is easy” Tugendhat is a fan of nuclear power and never misses an opportunity to mention his military service.

Sunak was the only one to come across as relaxed. Open shirts are his uniform. He was unshaken as he skilfully batted back all the balls bowled directly at him. If there was a winner – he was it.

Bridge the gap

Trying to understand the motivations of people that I don’t agree with is something I try to do. It can be fruitless and frustrating, but it does get away from social media’s ever-present algorithms. It’s not good to only listen to people with whom I wholeheartedly agree. Last night, in a moment of curiosity I switched on the TV and watched GB News. That’s until it got far too boring.

There’s one sure thing. The channel is nothing to do with News. My observation is that GB News is focused on delivering disinformation to a British target public. Not much cheer or many smiles on this channel. There’s a sullen diatribe of announcements covered in red, white, and blue. Its style is that of a pound shop American Fox News, but tone would have been at home in Soviet times.

The themes are entirely predictable. It goes like this; the European Union is an evil empire but European are weak. The enemy is at the gates. Amongst the worst are “Remainers” and the waves of “woke” minded. Forget hardships, Brexit will one day bring a utopia that others will envy.

An evangelical zeal gushes from the screen. Interviewees who say they once voted against Brexit but now see the light. There’s a strong projection of victimisation. It takes an intolerant form. How dare they say I’m wrong. How dare they say I didn’t know what I voted for in 2016. Underlying this is a collective “they” who are believed to be conspiring to overturn the will of the people.

What makes these observations chilling is that I’ve been told by my local Member of Parliament that British Prime Minister Johnson is being attacked by an unfair prejudicial media. Populists have a sharp partition in their minds. On one side is the righteous propagandists and on the other is the mainstream media, who’s a danger to their cherished projects.

Liberal Democracy loves diversity and media pluralism. Let many flowers bloom. However, these current changes in public dialogue are heading in a dangerous direction. More polarisations will lead to more disillusionment. The middle ground must reassert itself. In starting that journey, I wouldn’t start from here, but we must start from here to bridge the gap.

Gap Grows

“One rule for them. Another rule for us.” It’s always an emotive slogan. It’s not my favourite saying in a time of great political polarisation. First you must see yourself as, one of us. Second you must see them as alien and privileged.

In a divided society this slogan gets thrown around like candy. However, it has a core truth in it. Inequality is a fixture in England. It was fine for Blair and Brown to say: education, education education, but they only shifted the dial a small amount.

Recently, I did a guided tour around a well-known English public school. Its history is fascinating, and some notable people have gone through its doors. The experience of schooling in that place is a huge leg up on prospects. There’s absolutely no way that a state school experience can match up.

One of the factors is the huge resources focused on creating opportunity for each pupil. Another, advantage is the closeted environment that creates a private network of lifelong contacts.

What then of “levelling up”? As a political slogan it seems to imply an almost communist attempt to increase the wellbeing, opportunity, and quality of life for every single citizen to a new common level. That makes me wonder why equivalents like eliminate poverty or prioritise education or fix climate change aren’t getting a look in.

Could it be that “levelling up” is in fact “covering-up”? Objective measures say that the gap between the richest in society and the rest of the population has widened over 10-years[1]. Rather than a natty political slogan surely corrective action to address this gap is needed.

This year household finances are going to be under extreme pressure. A cost-of-living crisis is upon us. It’s not just energy bills. It’s post-COVID-19 business failures. It’s supply chain chaos made worse by BREXIT. It’s incompetence and waste in Government responses.

Unfortunately, this Conservative Government has forfeited any trust people may have had in it. Trust matters if solutions to our challenges are to be met and overcome. Trust is broken when one privileged group demands the right to cling to power regardless of circumstances.

There’s need for urgent action. There’s need for a new plan. There’s need for a new Government.


Here’s where we are, I think.

May is a month of rebirth. Trees look greener than they do all year round. A fresh breeze and light rain fans this greenness as the natural world wakes up. It’s a good time for looking at life anew.  Sunny spells and showers come and go as we take stock of the spring. 

Worldwide COVID-19 pandemic deaths are up to just over 3.3 million[1].  Despite the successes of its suppression in the UK, the virus continues to rage around the world.  Sadly, desperation continues to spread across India.  On the positive side, vaccination plans are successfully being implemented. I’m more than ready for my second jab in just over a week’s time. 

What hasn’t changed is that aviation chiefs continue to provide roadmaps to bring back some semblance of normal but often sit back mystified at Government reactions and peculiar decisions. 

For international travel, to and from the UK, a curious traffic light system[2] is being put in place in the UK.  Unfortunately, there’s a lack of transparency as to why countries are categorised as they are in this unique national system.  Obviously, it’s better than a national lockdown with unending uncertainty but there’s little to be happy about. 

On entry control, the practice of quarantine hotels is unpopular and of highly questionable effectiveness. They are a crude measure that is discriminating, expensive and unsustainable.

The European Union (EU) has been slow in reaction and is still testing COVID-19 vaccination, test, and recovery certificates.  There are reports that this system is on-track to be rolled out next month.

It’s a miserable time to travel across borders. Plans are made and cancelled and re-made. Travellers are often left out of pocket and in limbo.  Yes, these are extraordinary circumstances but as advanced nations our general performance in managing the situation is remarkably poor. 

Although UK Government decisions are said to be guided by evidence and the science, there’s a fair amount of ideology driving decisions contrary common sense. 

Surprisingly, if the recent round of elections is anything to go by, the UK Government is sitting pretty. Now, its political opponents who are the ones who are struggling.  Commentators have speculated that this is a kind of national Stockholm syndrome[3]. I wonder. 

Post Coronavirus recovery of UK air traffic may not be seen until the end of 2022. 

The EU has developed a broad system of relationships with neighbouring states. Post Brexit there remains lots of loose ends in the relationship between EU and UK.  In fact, it’s probably time to stop using the word Brexit altogether. It’s not a meaningful word looking forward.    

Calls for a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) and a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA) between the EU and UK are muted but their importance remains.  Aviation and aerospace industry voices are being ignored. 

[1] Worldwide (from Johns Hopkins): Deaths: 3,322,294.  


[3] What is Stockholm syndrome?

Brexit & Aviation 78

The political cartoonists are having a field day.  Brexit is giving them so much ammunition.  There’s never been a more fertile time for creative portraits of the ridiculous antics of politicians.  Every metaphor you can think of has been tried at least once.  For me a picture of headless chickens just about sums it up.  UK MPs have had the chance to identifying a way forward but keep coming back to stalemate.

Unfortunately, that leaves the worst-case scenarios still on the table in law.  The worst-case being a No-Deal Brexit outcome.  Study after study[1][2] shows that a No-Deal Brexit threatens to put the aviation and aerospace sector at a significant competitive disadvantage in the UK.  Failure to secure a sound Brexit deal that maintains a good strategic partnership will cause significant supply chain and investment problems.  We must remember that an aircraft may have over 4 million parts. These components come from all over the world to be integrated into a product.

Although some politicians remain in denial this should not come as any surprise.  For one, the EU’s Single Market has over 500 million customers and an economy over 5-times bigger than the UK’s.  Before 2016, the Single Market was often championed by the UK because it made it easier and cheaper for UK companies to sell their products.  Now, we are in the Brexit Twilight Zone[3] there’s a pretence that these facts don’t matter.

In a sad way, it’s ironic that many voted for Brexit and leaving the EU in June 2016 with a view to protecting their jobs in fear of globalisation.  Now, UK jobs will be lost as it’s clear that the civil aviation and aerospace sector is entrenched in the EU.  Miltary spending alone can not support the thriving sector we have come to take for granted.

In a recent statement, the European Commission said: “A No-Deal scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario”.   A “disorderly” Brexit by accident is still avoidable but it may mean a UK General Election or a further referendum, and if there was a long extension, there maybe participation in the 2019 European elections due to take place between 23-26 May 2019.  Since there’s still no coherent strategy coming from the UK Government, I suspect a long extension is inevitable.  The possiblity of a so called #flextension is already built-in to the existing treaty.  This could be agreed until say; 31 December 2019.   Such an extension could be shortened only if both sides agree.  That would be time enough to work up a coherent strategy with a workable majority in the UK Parliament.   

Update: Now the UK Prime Minister is seeking a further extension from the EU to delay Brexit until 30 June 2019.  So, that’s the starting position with an aim to try to aviod European elections being needed in the UK.  





May Vote

IMG_2351What do the May local elections tell us?  The message is important since this was the biggest test of public opinion since the UK General Election in 2016.  It was real votes in real ballot boxes.  I see the outcome in three parts.

Firstly, two old dinosaurs locked in a never-ending battle.  Both looking bruised and battered.  One wins a bit and the other loses then the other wins a bit and so on into perpetuity.  Stale leadership and tired policies leave both in the doldrums.  The two fossils of British politics: Labour and Conservative Parties.  Neither has a vision for the future.

Secondly, the good news is that the Liberal Democrats are climbing back to represent a real force in British politics.  The Party has a younger spirit than the rest.  Its energetic and hard working.  Big wins represent an endorsement of their position as a Party with ideas and competent deliverer of services.  They are the main ones to see the true folly of Brexit.

Thirdly, it’s also good news to see that UKIP has breathed its final breath.  If there’s any justice, the BBC and the newspapers will now stop paying so much attention to this antiquated relic.  UKIP is no more however much its corpse wriggles.

In addition since I didnt want to say fouthly; the Greens continue to have a patch of ground that they alone occupy.  They do split votes and upset outcomes but that’s all part of our dreadful first past the post system for local elections.

May 2018 may not have been transformational, but it does firmly point a direction.  Yesterday’s Party policies and sound bites are running out of steam.  Neither of the two biggest UK Parties have much to offer except more of the same.  This is not a good situation of a mature Country to be in at a moment when its about to step into the unknown.  It’s time to turn around and set a new direction.

Simple Unity

Fundamentals remain the same. Arguments rage, careers rise and fall and it’s easy to get lost in the tidal wave of media. There’s noise everywhere trying to obscure the essential facts. The basic question is a simple one. Regardless of the flurry of questions that get asked there will only be one on the voting paper on 23 June 2016 – remain in or leave the European Union. All the huge complexity of Europe then boils down to heads or tails, on or off, in or out. Most critically, that basic question is only going to get asked once in a typical lifetime. The long-term consequences for Britain, right or wrong are massive. It’s a trip without a return ticket.
I think long-term. It’s the EU in a world where China, India and South America are powerful. Keep that in mind. It’s a more interconnected world where goods and services move ever faster. It’s a world where disasters natural and human caused will need commitment, coordination and resources used for the best interests of everyone.
My position is that Europe, working together can meet the challenges coming our way. There’s a strength in diversity and unity. These two are complementary but there is real effort required to succeed. Britain has what it needs to take the lead in the EU. A vote to remain is a confident vote. It’s a vote with a plan. It’s the choice that makes sense for future generations.
On another subject, perhaps its time to look for positive spin-offs from this UK referendum. For the moment, let’s assume that Britain remains in the EU. There are a couple of good outcomes that will help address problems highlighted during the debates on the big question.
For a start, after the vote there will be many more British people acquainted with how the EU works. Consequently, that should encourage more engagement with elected representatives and officials. This is not just for the general public but there’s a clear need for Councillor, MPs, MSPs and MEPs to talk to each other more often. To bring down barriers and work constructively together more often.
Additionally, the EU reports already published for the sake of accountability, openness and transparency should get a greater readership as interest in knowing what goes on, how and why grows. In time, greater feedback from the public will help improve the information provided.

Europe sets standards

Oh brother! “You don’t need a trade deal to trade”. “Just look at all the goods in the UK shops that say: Made in China”. This simple nonsense is coming from the LEAVE campaign. Its’ deception. What seems harmless enough isn’t. There are several reasons why this proposition is wrong.
To start, if you buy goods at any standard the seller offers then sooner or later you’re going to have problems. But if you don’t want say; lead paint on children’s toys then you have to insist on specific safety standards being met. The exporting Country accepts the deal and meets your standards. So, the – Made in China – goods we see in the shops in the UK have to meet European standards. The opposite is true. European exporters have to meet Chinese standards if they are to accept our exports. When a formal trade deal is finally done one aim is to harmonise standards as much as possible to make more future trade possible.
If we didn’t have common standards in the European Union, then even in the European market you could have 27 different arrangements for each Country. The combinations and permutations get complex, expensive to implement and keep track of as they change over time. The results are of little benefit except to those who profit from processing the piles of paperwork. Ask anyone who has worked as an export clerk before we joined the Common Market.
Next, if you have common standards that work well then inward investors line-up to make products in the UK so as to access a large European market. If those investors were only offered access to the domestic market, then they are more likely to go elsewhere.
Next, if you are sitting at the table and voting on the European standards to be used then its advantageous for you and your exporters. Standing back and letting others do that work leaves a Country in a vulnerable position. Modifications to standards can wipe out an industry overnight.
Next, in reality parts, components and supplies come from everywhere. So, even if you don’t care about anything other than the UK domestic market for your products then trade deals still make a difference. For example; you might be making an artisan cheese that sells to a few retailers in a small area but the machinery in the creamery comes from Europe.
On this subject the REMAIN campaign is about holding on to these advantages, maintaining influence and increasing prosperity.


The polls closed at 10 pm on Thursday. I’ve been wearing my yellow Lib Dem rosette and people have been waving enthusiastically. Must be a good sign. This has been a complicated mix of elections. Being in Surrey, just outside of London then the mayoral elections didn’t have an impact. The only vote I had was for the election of a police and crime commissioner. However, we had campaigned in a by-election for the Staines South and Ashford West Division of Surrey County Council.
Although an increasing number of people vote by post there is nothing quite like turning up and putting a mark on a ballot paper. This being a by-election the turn-out of voters was not expected to be high. That’s a euphemism for saying; large numbers of people don’t vote in local elections. In my mind, not voting is an act of submission. There’s no rebellion in sitting on ones hands.
I spent the evening meeting local people as they went to vote at Buckland School. Yes, school buildings are often used as polling stations in the UK. There was a steady flow of people returning home from work and then popping out to vote. It’s a very civilised affair. Even the local Party banter is generally civilised. At least it was on that sunny spring evening. There was only myself, as a Liberal Democrat and a Conservative activist standing outside the school collecting polling numbers.
An evening with the voters can provide some interesting moments. There are those who shun any kind of contact as if a conversation might invalidate the secret ballot. There are others who keenly want to chat about a local problem or bring up a subject like the coming referendum.
Talking to one guy we found we were on different sides of the argument about continued European Union membership. What we did both agree is that the best result for the UK would be a clear decisive result. If in June this year, the final outcome of the referendum is say; 51% to 49% either way, no one is going to be happy. A decisive vote to REMAIN would be good for stability. It would mean that we will get back to acting on the issues that matter to people like; education, health and the environment rather than endlessly talking about institutions, regulations and structures.
As it got dark so it got chilly standing outside the polling station in Staines. That’s how it will be if people who support Europe don’t come out to vote in June. A chill wind will blow over our country. So, step up and don’t let a noisy bunch of merchants of doom dictate our future.