Wednesday, 25th January, 2023

[Day 1045]

Today is the day when our domestic help calls around so, as always, we have a good chat and a cup of tea before she starts on her weekly round. This morning I showed her the little German weather station which I purchased when we were in Droitwich last Thursday. The weather station deploys a thermometer, the barometer which is the largest dial in the centre and finally a hygrometer and my researches on the web show that it is a fairly well known make of West German manufacture and identical versions are still on sale via eBay. We were quite keen to watch Prime Ministers Questions today at 12.00pm so we had a brief walk in the park, once we had picked up our daily newspaper. We bumped into two people in the park who we know quite well by sight. As they were regular dog walkers they were having a chat whilst their respective dogs had a romp around. Eventually, though, we got home and we were wondering whether the Prime Minister had forced the resigation of Nadhim Zahawi after the tax avoidance scandal where he paid nearly £5 million to HMRC in past taxes including a 30% penalty. The attack on the PM by Keir Starmer was fairly effective but there was no knockout blow and, as we suspected, the PM by instituting an enquiry into the tax affairs of the Conservative Party chairman, was either buying himself some time or kicking the ball into the long grass (possibly both). There was no rush to defend Nadhim Zahawi and it is reported that Conservative MPs may be losing some faith with their parliamentary colleague but as often happens in politics, a certain amount of playing for time may work to the advantage of the government. A new development has been added to the story this afternoon as No.10 has refused to say whether Rishi Sunak has ever had to pay a tax penalty arguing that an individual’s tax affairs should remain confidential. But the same question has also been asked of Keir Starmer the Labour Party Opposition Leader, and the reply has been received that this is not known but the spokesmen would get back to the enquirer in due course.

The foreign news is dominated by the decision of West Germany to let Ukraine have some Leopard 2 tanks. This policy shift has occurred after a great deal of soul searching and some understandable ‘angst’ in view of their past history. However, it may well be that a certain log jam may well now be released. There are rumours that if the US contributes some of its Abrams tanks after the West German decision as now the Poles may commit some of their Leopard 2 tanks (as the manufacturers and the West German government have to give permission) and other European governments may well follow suit – and a number as much as 100 has been mooted but this may be optimistic. The Ukrainians are saying that they need 300 tanks altogether but once they have a goodly number, then the Leopard tanks can probably outrun, outgun and prove to be generally superior to their Soviet counterparts. So if we have an old fashioned tank battle (like the North African theatre in the Second World War) then the Leopard tank is likely to prevail. The military implications of all of this is that the Ukrainians can move from defense to a more aggressive strategy which can gradually push the Soviets out of Ukraine altogether. But all of his will not happen immediately as the critical element is the training of the tank crews and this takes a certain amount of time. In fact, it is said that the American Abrams tanks are so bristling with technology that the training times are likely to take perhaps months rather than weeks before they cen be deployed. So committing American Abrams tanks may be more of a political support move as Joe Biden has just announced that training troops to use this complex technology may well take a long time.

A new report released today has documented the stark differences between North and South in our country – and why levelling up may never be achieved. The North of England receives one of the lowest levels of investment among advanced economies, a think tank (Institute for Public Policy Research) has said. Greece would be the only OECD nation to see less public and private investment, if the region was a country, according to a new IPPR North report. Researchers found the UK as a whole ranks 35th out of the 38 OECD countries in terms of receiving the least investment. Slovakia, Poland and Hungary all enjoy more investment than the UK. If the OECD average was applied to the UK for 2017 to 2020, £397bn more would have been invested. Meanwhile, the exisiting ‘levelling up’ shows all of the examples of what the Americans term ‘pork barrel’ politics. Pork barrel, or simply pork, is a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to an MP’s constituency (e.g. Richmond in North Yorkshire which has received funding and which just happens to be the constituency of the Prime Minister himself)