HP Source: Is Dominic Cummings too important to sack?
‘This is a beautiful day
It is a new day
We are together, we are unified..’
Mr Johnson’s U-turn late last Thursday, ditching the NHS surcharge for overseas care workers, only 24 hours after his statement of public support for the policy, signals a government in chaos.
The change was necessitated because the public spoke out about this uncaring administration. A better government would never have considered a policy so crass.
Voters shouldn’t be fooled, Johnson changed tack because he had to not because he wanted to. We have had useless governments before, at times some might have been heartless, never have we had one that is both uncaring and useless.
‘We have had useless governments before…..never have we had one that is both uncaring and useless’
There is the much vaunted ‘track and trace’ app that was going to be the piece of magic that would enable the lifting of the restrictions that have kept the virus under relative control.
As it still isn’t ready it has gone from being essential to merely ‘the cherry on the cake’, there’s no need for us to worry if it’s not ready yet. No wonder the NHS Confederation is warning of ‘a second surge’ if the lockdown is eased any further.
This cart-before-horse strategy highlights the opaque messages coming from government.
Whist ‘stay home’ was clear and simple advice, when it was replaced by ‘stay alert’ there was a drop from 90% to 56% for the clarity of the government’s communication.
Johnson said people should be ‘actively encouraged’ to return to their workplaces before those places had been retooled for physical distancing.
‘increased usage of public transport, which his own transport minister said he wouldn’t use’
This, inevitably, lead to increased usage of public transport, which his own transport minister said he wouldn’t use, before he’d ensured a sufficient, accessible supply of the face masks necessary for such travel.
Finally, there was his announcement of schools reopening on 1 June before the extra teachers and classrooms are in place that would allow socially distanced teaching to be viable.
Chaos and confusion abound.
Inevitably, we now turn to Dominic Cummings, the all-powerful Rasputin who is seemingly too big to fail (or sack)
The reason Cummings has such importance is simple; firstly, there was his simple but effective messaging, ‘taking back control’ which won the referendum for ‘Leave’.
Secondly, he crafted the ultimately successful brinkmanship strategy that Number 10 employed during the bitter battles over Brexit during the last parliament.
And finally, his revised electoral strategy delivered Johnson his 80-seat majority.
This column has constantly warned of Cummings importance to Johnson and his cronies. He shines out as a beacon of competence in a very lightweight administration.
‘He shines out as a beacon of competence in a very lightweight administration’
He is a man on a mission, nothing stands in his way. He ignored a parliamentary committee when he was summonsed over alleged mal-practise during the Brexit referendum campaign and was found in contempt of parliament.
Recently one former cabinet minister said of him: ‘Cummings has complete contempt for parliament and for the cabinet whom he regards as shit.’
Johnson’s cabinet is a collection of believers; they believe in him and Brexit. They were selected for this reason only; competence wasn’t an issue.
That is why Cummings, an unelected adviser, was welcome at the meetings of Sage, the body under the chairmanship of Sir Patrick Vallance, tasked with delivering dispassionate scientific counsel to the government.
‘complete contempt for parliament and for the cabinet whom he regards as shit’
Some scientists on the committee realised that his presence was the only way to get their advice transformed into policy. They understood that he would take the initiative, whereas the PM isn’t renowned for his devotion to detail
It has been rightly said that there is one rule for him and one for everyone else, and there is little doubt that Cummings has handled the fall-out badly.
This should come as no surprise, he doesn’t care what people think about him or what the press writes, he doesn’t do humble apologies, none of this registers in his thought process.
The real question isn’t can the PM continue to defend him, it is, can the PM afford no to?
‘Hey rainmaker, he got golden plans, I tell you,
You’ll make a stranger in your own land..’
Last week’s article finished with the statement that if ever there was a time for rebellion it was now.
Yet, whilst several governments, not least our own have failed to protect their citizens, there are no obvious challenges to the established political order.
This is despite the fact that there is a consensus among business leaders, scientists and pundits that the world will never be the same again, and that millions of the younger generations will feel the knock-on effect of the pandemic for years to come.
‘younger generations will feel the knock-on effect of the pandemic for years to come’
Aristotle wrote in Book V of The Politics that inequality is the chief cause of revolution. Justice and equality are ‘the fundamental basis of any state’, and inequality, being a kind of injustice, is potent grounds for challenging that state. ‘The lesser rebel in order to be equal, the equal in order to be greater. These then are conditions predisposing to revolution,’
The pandemic has highlighted the inequality that was already prevalent in society, its impact has been deeply unequal, decisively determined by social class, race, ethnicity, income, nutrition, education, living conditions and geographical location as well as by gender and age.
Key figures in US finance have recently acknowledged that danger that inequality posed to hopes of weathering the pandemic:
- ‘This is our chance to do the right thing,’ by reducing income disparities, said top investor Mark Cuban.
- Ray Dalio, a hedge-fund billionaire, described inequality as a national emergency. ‘If you don’t have a situation where people have opportunity, you’re not only failing to tap all the potential that exists, which is uneconomic, you’re threatening the existence of the system.’
- JP Morgan’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, called the pandemic ‘a wake-up call … for business and government to think, act and invest for the common good’
Such an agenda for change would also require the need to address poverty and the north-south wealth gap, greater focus on climate change and, perhaps the adoption of so-called doughnut economics that measures prosperity by counting shared social, health and environmental benefits, not GDP growth.
‘There’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board..’
But, if there is to be change, we need consider what, how and who can deliver this.
Firstly, lets us consider what might need to change, to understand this we need to consider what went wrong during the pandemic.
Why was the UK death rate so high after seeing what was happening is countries such as China and Italy?
The health services in general have been subjected to a high degree of privatisation, commercialisation, outsourcing and offshoring, limiting their ability to respond to a crisis.
For example, the shortage of PPE highlights a system built around the needs of corporations and commercial contracts:
- Four layers of commercial contractors stand between doctors and nurses and the equipment they need, creating a fragmented, uncoordinated supply chain.
- Among the many weak links in these chains are consultancy companies like Deloitte, whose attempts to procure emergency supplies of PPE have been criticised by both manufacturers and health workers.
- At the end of the chains are manufacturing companies, some of which have almost monopolistic status, who either failed to meet their contracts, or provided defective equipment, e.g. the 15m protective goggles and the planeload of useless surgical gowns that had to be recalled.
These companies cut costs by minimising stocks, when the emergency happened they were unable to scale-up fast enough to meet the shortfall.
The pandemic has also exposed the privatised care system; in 1993, 95% of care at home was provided publicly by local authorities.
Now, almost all of it, including residential care, is provided by private companies.
‘unable to balance the needs of their patients with the demands of their shareholders’
Even before the pandemic, the system was falling apart, as many care companies, unable to balance the needs of their patients with the demands of their shareholders, collapsed under excessive debt as owners sought to extract profits from their investments.
Privatisation with its commercial imperatives and drive to maintain profits has created a fragmented, incoherent system, that fails to meet basic standards required of a health and care service.
In addition, we have the added issue of Brexit and a trade deal with the US.
Whilst the Conservatives promised in their manifesto that ‘the NHS is not on the table’, they have already broken their accompanying promise, ‘we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards’, when, earlier this month, they voted that measure out of the agriculture bill.
US companies are aggressively demanding access to the NHS, and there will be plenty of opportunities to give them what they want while fooling voters.
‘Been standing still for much too long
And I realise there’s something wrong
I’m feeling strange, I need a change..’
Moving on for the above example, what needs to change, let us now consider how things might be changed.
As in 2008, central banks have led the way in maintaining economic stability, preventing collapse in the financial sector, with the G7 nations injecting $2.5tn of new money into financial markets in March and April through quantitative easing and related liquidity programmes.
Faced with demand-and-supply shocks industry is contracting leading to widespread unemployment.
To counter this we now need banks, asset managers and stock markets to take advantage of this liquidity by lending to productive and job-creating sectors of the economy.
‘currently only 10% of their lending goes to non-financial firms’
This needs to be ‘patient finance’, long term, committed, high-risk investment to enable the transition required. This requires banks to reconsider their lending practises, currently only 10% of their lending goes to non-financial firms, the bulk goes into existing property and supports financial trading of some sort.
However, there is precedent here; post-WW2 advanced economies faced an epic recovery challenge, with public debts even higher than those predicted to arise this year (the UK’s debt-to-GDP ratio reached almost 250% in 1947).
Finance played a key role in the recovery and ‘golden age’ that followed, as central banks did not just create new money but worked closely with governments to ensure the money was directed to the right parts of the economy.
‘Credit guidance’ policies steered bank lending into priority sectors, such as exports, manufacturing, housing, and transport infrastructure.
State-owned development banks channelled government and household savings into infrastructure and innovative high-growth sectors.
Capital controls restricted speculation helping to keep interest rates low enabling government spending programmes leading to full employment.
‘these policies effectively deflated away the public debt that had built up’
Industry was transformed and modernised, and, by keeping nominal growth, I.E. GDP plus inflation, above the rate of interest on government debts, these policies effectively deflated away the public debt that had built up.
This changed in the 1970s as high inflation was blamed on too much government interference in the economy, and that credit-guidance policies distorted the efficient allocation of capital by market forces; sometimes referred to as ‘financial repression’ (1).
These policies were abandoned and prohibited in the 1980s as part of the liberalisation and deregulation of finance.
Today, in response to the economic crash caused by the pandemic, we are starting to see aspects of financial repression returning, e.g. ultra-low interest rates and financing government debt.
However, rather than the central banks directing the use of this financial support, they are using it to support areas of the financial system, such as capital markets.
‘in response to the economic crash caused by the pandemic, we are starting to see aspects of financial repression returning’
For example, The Federal Reserve has created programmes to purchase corporate assets in sectors that arguably make little contribution to sustainable economic growth.
This has led to asset bubbles as investors search for yield. To date, all this cheap finance has achieved is to support stock markets which in-turn does not guarantee any investment in the real economy.
In addition, some central banks and governments have supported key sectors such as aviation, oil and mining, without conditionalities such as a to transition to zero-carbon emissions attached.
To restructure our economies central banks need to forget maintaining ‘market neutrality’ or independence, and to return to the credit-allocation and investment-led growth policies that worked so well after 1945.
Something is fundamentally wrong when we the stock markets rallies whilst unemployment is predicted to increase to record levels.
If this continues, we will experience a recovery like post-2008, one where the masses continue to come a poor second.
‘Cummings gets thing done…..the difference between business as usual and a modern economy designed to benefit the many not the few’
Last, and by no means least we need to consider who can deliver such challenges. Johnson has assembled a lightweight cabinet; he has more quality on the back benches.
He is a man who likes grandiose statements, and nebulous projects, e.g. HS2.
Behind him is a Tory party steeped in financial discipline, many of which see the need to repeat the failed strategy of austerity.
They will follow Johnson while he is popular, but they know his attention to detail in minimal.
In short if we aren’t careful it will be back to the future part 2. Love him or loathe him Cummings gets thing done, in a government so lacking in talent he could be the difference between business as usual and a modern economy designed to benefit the many not the few.
‘Nobody knows about my man
They think he’s lost on some horizon
And suddenly I find myself listening
To a man I’ve never known before..’
- The term ‘financial repression’ was invented by Stanford economists Edward Shaw and Ronald McKinnon.
Philip’s put in a good shift this week – and boy has he got plenty of ammo; one thing’s for sure, he has little time for a government that he sees as incompetent and uncaring.
Boris’ volte face on the NHS surcharge, timing the announcement of track and trace – in lieu of the app – and the partial relaxation of laws/rules/guidance that had become completely muddied seem to be designed to allow us to ‘move on’ because Dominic Cummings is too important to sack.
Having declared last week that now was the time for revolution, he contends that the current inequality in the country could point towards that, but there is little to challenge the establishment and seemingly little appetite to ensure we emerge a kinder or greener society.
When it comes down to clearing up the financial mess, he sees little to commend the banks, nor the fact that markets have been buoyed by speculators punting on investments intended to prop up failing sectors.
Finally Philip concludes that Mr Cummings could actually be the answer to many of the questions he has been posing; that would be some comeback.
Some cracking lyrics this week; with a whopping 25 pts up for grabs, those with 20 and above should text ‘CLAIM’ to the usual number by stumps on Monday.
First up a track from a ‘seminal album which saw this band break into the big time’ with a ‘seriously cool frontman’ – two apiece for Primal Scream and ‘Come Together’; he’s offering an extra 3 for the band the bass player found fame with (below)*
Next ‘madchesters finest’ – two apiece for Happy Mondays and ‘Step On’; then a 60s classic – three each for The Impressions and ‘People Get Ready’; a bonus for the group’s most famous member (below)**
Then a ‘welcome return for my favourite noisenicks’ – 1 pt for Jesus and Mary Chain and 3 for ‘Something Wrong’; last but not least ‘hauntingly beautiful whilst being suitable scary’ – not sure you’d expect to find her here, but two apiece for Kate Bush and ‘The Man With The Child in His Eyes.
Enjoy, have a splendid weekend, and if you need to test your eyesight, try Specsavers.
* Stone Roses
** Curtis Mayfield
Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s
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