Tuesday, 28th March, 2023

[Day 1107]

I do not know whether it makes one feel better or worse that the wet, windy and blustery weather is being experienced over the whole of the rest of the country. But Meg and I did not mind too much because on Tuesday morning, we always treat ourselves to a visit to the Waitrose café where we hope to meet up with people. We met with one of our pre-pandemic friends and exchanged news about our various comings and goings since the last time we met. An interesting little incident occurred when a women who had been occupying a seat in the café and was working on her laptop was eventually challenged by the store manager and was politely asked to move on as she had not purchased a coffee to ‘justify’ her existence. Her excuse was the lamest I have ever heard and was to the effect that she could not find anything that she wanted to buy. As she left, one of the other customers exclaimed with an audible ‘Well Done’ to the manager as he walked past. There was no rancour or raised voices in this particular exchange but I wonder if the woman will bother to return to Waitrose again after this little incident. When we got home, I got my Pilates gear together and then walked down without getting wet, I am pleased to say. Our Pilates teacher always asks us how we are feeling at the start of every class (the benefit of having a small group) and then if necessary she can amend the exercises for any one of us if we happen to have a little niggle. I observed that I ached a little after the exertions of the lawnmowing yesterday and two of my fellow classmates had also taken advantage of the fine weather yeserday afternoon to start their lawnmowing as well. The class proceeded at its normal pace and then it was home for a fairly delayed lunch of quiche complemented by some plum tomatoes.

Rishi Sunak is appearing before the Liasion Committee of the House of Commons this afternoon. This committee is composed of the chairs of all of the other select committees so the Prime Minister can expect to be questiond in detail and at length about any aspect of government policy. To say that one has to be at the top of one’s game must be an understatement because to be grilled by this committee must be a daunting prospct. Boris Johnson was badly mauled by this committee but then Johnson’s lack of attention to detail was well known. Rishi Sunak, by contrast, has the reputation of being a master of detail but he did not exactly cover himself in glory in his showing before the committee today. During questioning on migration, Mr Sunak also rowed back from suggestions that flights carrying migrants to Rwanda will take off this summer. He intimated that flights to Rwanda will take place as soon the legal proceedings have been completed. This seems to be a watering down by the commitment made by Suella Braveran, the Home Secretary, that flights to Rwanda would commence by the summer. On other subjects despite intense questionning, Sunak seemed to revert to a broad statement of government policy whereas the committee wanted some more meat on the bones.

We have seen quite a lot of bare politics ‘in the street’ in the past few days. In particular, the sights of violent confrontations in Paris reminds us that the French seem able to turn up on the streets once in every generation or so. I think this was first very evident in 1968 when students were the leaders of insurrectionary politics in France. But today, I must say that I cannot quite remember what was the actual reason for the riot. I needed to consult the web to remind myselfof the traumatic events of 1968 which, incidentally, was the year in which we graduated. In the decade preceding May 1968, the French student population had nearly trebled, from about 175,000 to more than 500,000. It was an era of international ‘youth culture,’ yet French society remained autocratic, hierarchical, and tradition-bound, especially in the eyes of French youth. What is perhaps surprising to us these days is that it was the French Communist party who organised the transition off the streets and back into the factories. No doubt, the French Communists felt that they were losing their position as the party that spoke for the organised working class in France and were thoroughly upstaged by the students. Of course, the French authorities at the time made matters worse by sending police into the Sorbonne whist the rest of Europe watched at the time in a kind of fascinated horror. But over the years, we have seen French farmers often taking militant action in support of their demands – the nearest equivalent that we have ever seen have been the demonstrations against the poll tax which helped to bring down the then Conservative government. There were enormous demonstrations in the UK against the invasion of Iraq under the premiership of Tony Blair but somehow the French seem to have a lot more flair to living their politics on the streets, approximately once in each generation or so.