Sunday, 21st January, 2024

[Day 1406]

Today we enter our normal Sunday morning routine which means getting us both up, washed and dressed and sitting down in front of the Lorna Kuenssberg show at 9.00am. This morning was one of the first through which I have not actually dozed through and the big political interview this morning was with Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, who was explaining to us the threat that Russia is offering not only to the Ukraine but the rest of Europe as well. Once this had concluded, we were contemplating a visit down to Waitrose when our University of Birmingham friend phoned up inviting us down for a coffee later on in the morning. Our friend and I got into one of our usual conversations (how degrees were classified, the various problems we had faced in the examinations process) and perhaps we had been talking quite loudly and excitedly but our conversation was overheard. Eventually we were joined by a person who was a fellow academic, had worked in the Open University Business School and also, for several years, at the CNAA (Council for National Academic Awards). Before the polytechics had their own degree awarding powers and eventually became part of the generation of ‘new’ or ‘modern’ universities, the CNAA was the body that awarded degrees. The thoroughness of the documentation demanded and the rigorous inspection standards over the course of a 1-2 day visit helped to ensure the quality standards of the ex-polytechnics. In many cases, too, we were cognizant of the fact that the CNAA helped to keep standards high by insisting on a certain degree of staffing which had to be wrung out of the grasp of the Polytechnic authorities and in this way, the CNAA became the students’ best friend ensuring that their qualification had academic credibility and that the colleges which came under their aegis were resourced at least to a minimal level. When the new universities acquired their own degree awarding powers and after the demise of the CNAA, the various directors of the polytechnics were delighted not to have to comply with increased staffing demands enjoined by the CNAA. So we had a very interesting conversation with the lady who joined us who seemed to have quite a lot of strings to her bow (e.g. a postgraduate degree in Music) so we invited her to come along and join us next Sunday when we can carry on with our trips down memory lane and our oft-repeated refrain that standards were so much higher when we were working and in charge.

I always look forward to an in-depth read of the ‘Sunday Times‘ to get the background to the stories that have surfaced during the last week – in particular, because of the revelations in the Post Office scandal I was expecting some detailed reported of the various transgressions both in Fujitsu and the Post Office itself. But I was to be disappointed because whatever analysis there was proved to be thin in the extreme. Instead many more column images were devoted to the machinations that lay behind the Rwanda vote in the House of Commons this week. I suspect that all of this is due to essentially lazy journalism. To investigate the wrong doings of large corporations requires good and persistent investigative skills as well as an examination of a mound of documents. But how much easier just to sit in a bar and talk over ‘who said what’ to an MP who is providing the information on a non-attributable basis. It rather reminds me of the war correspondent(s) who used to file stories such as ‘we had to negotiate our way through the alley ways of the city whilst sniper bullets whizzed past our ears’ whereas the truth of the story was that they had never left the confines of the bar in a safe hotel and got all of their information second-hand.

There is an interesting story emerging from the other side of the Atlantic. One of Donald Trump’s Republican challengers is Nikki Haley who is an ex US ambassador to the United Nations. She was well behind Trump in Iowa but is reported to be ‘within touching distance’ in the forthcoming primary poll in New Hampshire. She has indicated that she might only appear if Trump does likewise whereas Trump himself seems to have confused Haley with Nancy Pelosi the ex Democrat Speaker of the House of Commons. So Nikki Haley is publicly questioning the mental competence of Donald Trump and who knows how this might play out in the more liberal political environment of New Hampshire. The point here is that Trump appears massively ahead but in the primaries, things can change very rapidly as candidates gain (and lose) momentum. However, at this point it does look as the centre of American politics is evaporating. There was an ITV programme on Trump recently that revealed that many illegal immigrants were being ‘dumped’ upon the Democratic stronghold of Chicago. As these migrants are housed in makeshift shelters of plastic sheeting and random materials acquired from anywhere, so the predominantly poor (and black) citizens of Detroit are turning against Baden. The president is blamed for having to cope with these migrant ‘camps’ which is eroding the core support for the Democrats. We have seen hints of this policy played also in the UK where asylum seekers have been known to be visited upon poor communities (eg the Potteries) where there is little power to resist. This is one of the reasons why UKIP and the associated Brexit vote was so strong in poor communities such as Stoke on Trent.