Tuesday, 19th September, 2023

[Day 1282]

Tuesdays are a day to which we always look forward because it is the day when a little gaggle of us meet up in the Waitrose cafeteria for a chat and some mutual support, also including some very mordant black humour. Today, we got onto the eternally jolly topic of funerals and several of our funeral stories were exchanged with each other. One that I contributed to the discussion when on the occasion of the funeral of a beloved aunt of Meg’s, her (brain-damaged) son not being fully aware of the fact that he was at his own mother’s funeral started off the proceeedings by shouting out ‘Goood old Millie’ when his mother’s name was first mentioned. The rest of the proceedings, conducted by a very adept Methodist minister, ended with the son shouting out, at the end of he service ‘Well prayed, Vic’ The old congregation was in tears, some because of genuine grief but the other half because they were helpless with laughter. After we made our way home, I had already made the decision that I thought I would need to give my Pilates session a miss today because of other priorities within the day. We needed to have an early lunch, which we did, of fishcakes and steam-in-the-microwave veg which was absolutely aequate for our needs. Then after lunch and our post-prandial drink, we watched some of the news headlines and then I started what I thought was an important routine for Meg this afternoon. The hairdresser who has been coming to us for years is scheduled to come to us at 4.00pm this afternoon and it is not uncommon for her to be late as appointments overrun. This afternoon, she is due to give Meg a perm which is rather a lengthy procedure so I thought that it was important that Meg had a good rest well before her visit. So I got Meg sertled down on the settee and encouraged her to have either a doze or a sound sleep whilst, courtesy of YouTube, we can observe some stunning images, accompanied by some soothing music. Under the circumstances, I trust that we will get into a routine similar to this most afternoons and I think this will help Meg to manage her frailties somewhat better.

One of the news stories breaking today is that Birmingham City Council is, in effect, being put under special measures as it is effectively bankrupt. The immediate claim upon the city’s finances has been the fact that female staff have been underpaid for years, if not decades, and the bill to remedy this is of the order of £1bn. A compounding factor has been the failure of a big IT system and the fact that tthe local authority has to endure some swingeing cuts to its budget over the years. This sitution is most acute in Birmingham but not unique to it and several other local authorities are said to be in a similar plight. Of course, from the viewpoint of a Tory central government, all of this is like ‘manna from heavan’ as they can argue that it is is Labour incompetence and financial mismanagement that has brought about the present situation and thereby hope to generate much political capital over this. There are also hints that incredibly valuble assets such as Birmingham International Airport and the National Exhibition Centre might need to be sold off (to the sharks no doubt waiting and circling in the water) and this could cripple Britain’s second city for years, if not decades.

It is not often that a government minuster gets a real roasting on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme but this does happen occasionally, including this morning. On the programme this morning, Nick Robinson told Barclay (the Health Secretary) that the move to practically ban junior doctors and consultants from he picket line ‘risks worsening already bad industrial relations between ministers and medics’. The health secretary insisted the new law was necessary in the interests of patients, and said the doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) would face fines if its members still went on strike in defiance of the rules. Nick Robinson said: ‘You didn’t plan to do this just a matter of weeks ago. You didn’t think it was a reasonable thing to do then and you’re doing it now. So presumably you’ve changed your mind about the BMA. Have you decided this is a battle to the political death, that one side or the other is going to win and you’re determined to fight them?’ Barclay replied: ‘It recognises the fact that there has been an escalation from the BMA.’ But Robinson told him: ‘It’s recognition of the fact, Mr Barclay, that you have no answer to the strike 181 days since you had talks.’ A clearly-irritated Barclay was clearly annoyed about being taken to task in this manner but one has the suspicion that when the dispute is eventually settled, which indeed it must be eventually, there will be ‘blad blood’ between Tory Ministers and the BMA that might take many years to resolve. The longer this dispute rumbles on, a fight to the death will continue but the Scots solved this problem by coming to a workable agreement weeks ago. Of course the very heart of the dispute is how much of a pay cut the doctors are willing (unwilling?) to accept, given the past rates of inflation and the below inflation pay settlement that has been proposed.