Wednesday, 1st February, 2023

[Day 1052]

Today has seemed an odd day in many ways. It is the day upon which our domestic help calls around and we are always pleased to see her. She had walked to our house because there was a beautiful clear blue sky when she set off from home so it seemed as the day was going to be good for a pleasant walk. But by the time Meg and I were ready for our walk, the sky had clouded over and there was quite a biting wind. Nonetheless, we were determined to make the best of the day and hence we prepared our flask of coffee and our elevenses and set off for the park. Having got there, it was not pleasant sitting in a cold wind to drink our coffee but nonetheless we did do so before home beckoned. On the way home, I knocked on the door of a friend who lives down the road and is the principal flower arranger/organiser at out local church. She did not happen to be in but I would like to have a quick discussion as an item occurred in the church meeting that was held last night where she might like to learn the flavour of the discussions that were aired in the committee last night.

In the late morning, we had just started to prepare vegetables for the midday meal when the doorbell rang as it was the appointed day for our hourdresser to call. We have a planning white board board in our kitchen and on this we record all of the forthcoming events which is particular useful to us. The problem today was that the last time I had updated the board, my fingers must have rubbed out the dry-wiper entry for the fact that our hairdresser was calling around today and hence when she arrived at the door, she was completely unexpected. Today was quite a long session because Meg was having a perm and this process takes the best part of a couple of hours. But Meg is very pleased with the results of the perm and I get my own hair cut in some of the pauses within the various stages. Eventually, we had our dinner which was partly prepared and cooked but had to wait until the hairdresser was finished – so this created quite a large hole in the middle of the day.

Today was the day when several categories of public sector workers were on a one day strike in a semi-coordinated move. Up to half a million workers, including teachers, train drivers, airport, university staff and civil servants, went on strike on what was nicknamed ‘Walkout Wednesday’. The UK faced its biggest day of mass action for more than a decade. There is an evident trial of strength last seen, probably, in the government vs. the mineworkers in the 1980’s. In disputes like this, both sides appeal to the public and, in the long term, which side seems to get and retain public sector support will gain the upper hand. What is amazing about the current set of disputes is that, despite the evident inconvenience, public support for the striking workers seems to have been quite constant – and according to the latest opinion poll may well have increased by a degree or so. But this is the first time that the education sector has been hit in a really big way so it would not be surprising if public support starts to ebb away from this point on. The point being made by the striking teachers is that we are not just talking about the massive blow to living standards in the past year but a decade of less than inflation pay rises. In addition, particularly in the case of teachers, the increasing work pressures and bureaucracy as well as shortage of teachers in key areas are additional sources of contention. It is hard to predict how this particular dispute will play out but there are not even glimmers as to which side might ‘blink’ first.

After the sacking of Nadhim Zahawi for breaking the ministerial code, a lot of attention is now being paid to the Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab. Some two dozen complaints of bullying have now been laid againt this minister and they are being investigated at this moment. The sheer volume of complaints and the new ‘mantra’ of ensuring that due process is completed means that that a decision in this case may well be some weeks off. There is a briefing war going on on both sides with one side claiming that Sunak must have been aware of these allegations of bullying before appointment but the counter-argument is that No. 10 claims that the PM was never formally told. And, as a complicating factor, we have the case of the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who was sacked by Liz Truss for a breach of the ministerial code (using inappropriate i.e insecure methods of electronic communication for government business) only to be reappointed by Sunak some six days after the initial sacking. It is inevitable that commentators are observing a common thread in all of the transgressions, which is that there seems to be an inability to comply with any kind of rule-governed behaviour. The impression given (as with Johnson’s ‘partygate’) is that there one rule for most of the population which is blithely ignored by Cabinet Ministers.