“Saved by greed and capitalism”. Is Boris Johnson right?

Boris Johnson is right on the money when he credits greed and capitalism with the UK’s runaway Covid-19 vaccine success. Greed is Good is back in fashion and there has certainly been a lot of it about lately.

“The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends,” said Boris Johnson last week to a triumphant meeting of his cabinet.

The UK vaxx’ing fest has probably more to do with the NHS rolling out the programme themselves, rather than mirroring the staggeringly inept “NHS” Test and Trace programme, which incidentally has nothing to do with the NHS. That programme is the proud property of Serco, the accident prone outfit that so very nearly brought the London 2012 Olympics to a juddering halt.

Boris Johnson is correct. But why stop at the vaccines? Why not highlight the long line of events during this past 12 months, all entirely down to greed and capitalism?

The March 2020 Cheltenham Festival and the football at a rammed Anfield stadium both went ahead with a government seal of approval the very same week that the shadowy breath of Covid-19 descended on our land. And how about the pile of multimillion pound failed contracts for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), or the bright idea of Eat Out to Help Out, the 1% pay rise for nurses and the poverty pay for carers in for-profit care homes, to name but a few.

All can be laid at the door of greed and capitalism, no more, no less. Without greed and capitalism, our Covid journey would have progressed very differently and thousands of our fellow citizens would likely now be looking forward to that pint down the pub with their families and friends.

Of course, our Prime Minister is a master of spin, selective evidence and sleight of mouth. Attributes that win him prizes.

But the rest of us will not forget in a hurry. We will remember that at the very moment when everyone else was locking out Covid-19 by locking down their countries, Boris Johnson decided to be off to Cheltenham for the races! Yes! Let’s all 250.000 of us don our top hats and outlandish outfits and go for a big bet bonanza. Kerching! To greed and capitalism!

Besides, Tory darling Dido Harding (she of Test and Trace) sits on the board of the Jockey Club, which is responsible for the Cheltenham Festival. Who knew?

Let’s throw in another 60.000 tightly packed Liverpool and Atletico Madrid fans at Anfield for a raucous game of footie. Wouldn’t want to upset scores of football fans by cancelling that. They all vote and millions of them inhabit those precious Red Wall Seats. To no one’s great surprise, two weeks later, cases of Covid-19 mushroomed close to both venues and beyond. Oops!

The ensuing tsunami inundating the country’s hospitals brought with it the urgent need for mountains of PPE and millions of test kits. Who do you call?

A 10 Downing Street panicked conversation might have gone something like this: How about that bloke who lives next door to Matt Hancock? He might like to have a crack at that multi million pound contract. Ok, so he has no experience whatsoever, but neither does any of our other mates who we’re giving contracts to, so that’s ok. Keep it in the family.

After all, that’s just how greed and capitalism roll.

And so we all careered whack-a-mole-fashion through 2020, mingling merrily for Christmas and on into 2021, with hospitals and cemeteries running out of space, shops and hairdressers opening and shutting and opening. And shutting.

Tens of thousands of friends, neighbours, grannies and grandads, mums, dads, aunts, uncles and young children dying – alone. At the time of writing that’s the equivalent of the entire city of Gloucester – annihilated. Hundreds of front line staff sacrificed on the alter of the bungled provision of PPE, as supplied by a random selection of ministerial mates.

The economy tanked – obviously. But never short of a novel solution, our government performed a breathtaking handbrake turn, flipping their daily message effortlessly from Stay Home, Save Lives to Eat Out to Help Out.

Gagging for a pint and a burger, everyone piled in down the boozer and a vacant restaurant table became more scarce than a lateral flow test kit.

Tick…tock…tick…tock BRRIIING!! Two weeks later, rampant infection spikes all over the place. We were back in the death spiral, the only shot in the arm going to greed and capitalism.

So, Boris Johnson, what do you think of the greed and capitalism show so far? You forgot to mention that, had it not been for greed and capitalism, we would now be in a very different place. As it is, exactly one year since our first lockdown, we have the fourth highest number of covid deaths in Europe and the third worst economic downturn on the planet.

We also have a select band of newly minted millionaires. Now would be an ideal moment for them to give us back our ball. They should not be hard to find. Boris Johnson has them all on speed dial.

Led by donkeys

The Westminster Dating Game

On Monday the 11th of May 2020 Boris Johnson ruffled up his coiffure and with customary big arm movements made a major announcement.  Johnson cheerfully proclaimed that, in two months time, on Saturday the 4th of July to be exact, we could all go to the hairdressers again. To add a bit of froth, the pubs would open too. Had Johnson been visiting Mystic Meg or had he just peered into Dominic Cummings’ very own crystal ball?

The country was in the darkest hour of Covid lockdown, new coronavirus cases were exploding daily to above 32,000, deaths from Covid-19 were soaring to what then seemed a staggering 14,573. We were all clapping our carers on Thursdays and children would likely not be back in school till September. So what did he know that the scientists didn’t? What magic did Saturday the 4th of July hold, that would wash away our virus woes?

The answer, of course, is that Boris Johnson did not know and the 4th of July does not have any particular powers over global pandemics. What it does have, being the American Independence Day, is great recognition value. And that’s something Boris Johnson does understand – style over substance. Johnson could smartly sell this as the British Independence Day. Ironic really, given how the original July 4 came about – declaration of US independence from the rule of the British monarch.

So, this was purely a, now familiar, case of shipping out the science, and just picking another daft date with which to navigate the nation’s viral tsunami, never mind the fallout. Medics and scientists are nervous, to say the least, that, after three months of idle beer pumps, pubs are opening on a Saturday. “Can’t it at least wait till the quieter Monday?” they ask. No, Monday is the 6th of July and that sounds just a bit lame. No sound bite and oven-ready headline for Johnson to trumpet.

And the Tories do have form when it comes to picking daft dates. Here are a few of their recent prize picks:


01 April, April Fool: Day One after Brexit (it didn’t happen, fooled you?)

31 October, Halloween: Announcing a new Brexit date (Zombies?)

31 December, New Years Eve: Brexit – (again)


04 July, US Independence Day: End of the (First?) Covid-19 lockdown

At least this daft-date map comes in handy for planning our own future diaries. We can at least guess which dates we can expect for more big headline announcements from the Government:

13 July, Battle of the Boyne (controversial)

31 August, Summer Bank Holiday (let’s send this virus packing! Again)

25 October, End of Daylight Saving (darkness falls…)

05 November, Guy Fawkes Day (could be a winner)

08 November, Remembrance Sunday (in case Guy Fawkes doesn’t work)

So there’s our Boris Johnson/Dominic Cummings event roadmap for the next six months. Forewarned is forearmed. Wear a mask, wash your hands, carry a tape measure. And your diary.


London – A Never Ending Story

2017-10-03 18.30.29London is now the only English region where more people are leaving than arriving from other parts of the country – only immigration is keeping the population steady.

According to Wikipedia, city is a large human settlement. It can be defined as a permanent and densely settled place with administratively defined boundaries whose members work primarily on non-agricultural tasks. Cities generally have extensive systems for housing, transportation, sanitation, utilities, land use, and communication.

I have called many a great city my home over the years – Copenhagen, Rome, Madrid, Sydney, Los Angeles…Birmingham (not Alabama) and London. I have swung by countless other metropolises on the way but, in the end, I chose to hammer my tent pegs into the vibrant and verdant London turf.

Several decades, a nuclear family and much career action later, I look at London and wonder what the hell happened?! I can still sense the muffled echo of 70s music, the 24/7 crazy madness, the cool challenges, delicious opportunities, the daunting jeopardy.

But today all around me, instead of exciting curiosity, I detect an exhausted scowl on our collective face, leaving me to wonder if all the great London quotes we know so well, still hold true, fashioned as they were, by fabulous Londoners throughout this city’s illustrious history?

Did Samuel Johnson ever scowl at London life? “You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”. Certainly no regrets there for Johnson, having relocated south from his native Lichfield.

Yet more than a third of a million citizens got tired of London in 2018, the largest number since data collection began in 2012. Surely, they can’t all be tired of life? London is now the only English region where more people are leaving than arriving from other parts of the country – only immigration is keeping the population steady.

So let’s look for a better answer. Do we need to swap Samuel Johnson for Jane Austen? The truth is, that in London it is always a sickly season. Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be.”

Our Jane penned those words a cool couple of hundred years ago, but she might as well have brought them into the world yesterday.

For London and we Londoners anno 2020 are in serious trouble, and not just due to the  Covid-19 pandemic. Far from bubbling along merrily, our city is slowly imploding but, in true Titanic style, the music keeps playing over at the Albert, while across in Hyde Park the deckchairs are being straightened meticulously.

Ever more gazillions of pounds are hoovered up by a shambolically delayed Crossrail project, while the existing London Underground is collapsing under the strain of five  million Londoners trying to get to work every morning, in order to create the wealth that pays for it all.

Gleaming apartment blocks, built for profit, not for people, stand empty while the numbers of homeless and poorly housed families go through the roof. Housing charity Shelter’s 2019 calculations estimate that 1 in every 52 people in London is homeless.  I know. Surely that can’t be right, you say? Go on, look it up. It is right.

How much more will it take before we get a grip?

Perhaps those 370,000 Londoners, who now leave town every year, just want their kids to be able to breathe some old fashioned fresh air? The kind of sweet fresh air we are breathing right now, courtesy of the Corona lockdown. That’s not too much to ask. Except that in London, in normal times, it is too much to ask. London typically reaches the legal air pollution limit for the whole year around the third week in January. Yes.

The Mayor of London’s figures show that more than two million Londoners live in areas exceeding legal air limits – including 400,000 children. Bizarrely, according to recent air quality measurements, one of Camden’s worst spots for air pollution is the leafy junction of swanky South Grove and Highgate West Hill. Here, the pollution level frequently reaches double the legal limit. And to think that I always imagined that once I got out of London and up to the top of Dick Whittington’s vantage point, I could start safely filling my lungs again.

But CO2 and especially the really nasty, but nimble NO2 don’t quite work like that. It’s all to do with the appliance of science, molecular weight and air currents. Apparently.

Nevertheless, we North Londoners who salute the old adage A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else” are so lucky to have scores of Green residents, who care deeply about our environment and the welfare of our fellow citizens.

And there never was a better time for rolling up our civic sleeves and start setting to work fixing our great city. Campaigners in the civic societies, the neighbourhood forums, the Transition Towns groups, the tenants’ and residents’ associations and the army of truly amazing unsung legends, all, in their own way, shine a light into the murky corridors of power, asking tough questions wherever decisions are made.

For “It is not the walls that make the city, but the people who live within them”, Wikipedia never mentioned the people. George VI did!

So, to all you community spirited people: Please don’t stop doing what you’re doing! London is a never ending story.

181227 W'LOW PK WS

Waterlow Park, Highgate